Volume One Contributors

writers, photographers, artists

Serena Wagner


Content By This Contributor:

What the Snow Doesn’t Care About

some thoughts for my midwestern friends and acquaintances

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

Sitting by a church door, looking out at the dark parking lot, we are waiting for people to arrive. So we can open the door and let them inside. This lady and ...

We Are Grasshoppers

frittering away autumn days as the Wisconsin winter closes in

Katie Venit, design by Serena Wagner

This morning, the kitchen thermostat reads 59 degrees. It’s still dark outside, so I can’t confirm the forecasted snow and wind. Either way ...

Playing La Cucaracha

piano keys and grade school are hard to navigate

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

One time in grade school I was on the playground attempting to play basketball with my buddies when a younger kid named Benny walked up to me and said, “So, Mr. Paulus. I hear you play the piano.”

Sun Amok: Summer’s fun and all, but it’s not your friend

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I’m not sure why you all like summer so much. Because I’m pretty sure summer doesn’t like you. At least, not as much as you think it does. Especially the Sun. That big blazing ball of brightness ...

A Sporty Retorty

I’ve never gotten along with sports, and perhaps I never will

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

This is a story I love to tell. I end up telling it all the time. At the bar. At parties and get-togethers. In the car and at family gatherings. In awkward conversations with people I hardly know while waiting ...

A Span Down by the River

navigating some of Eau Claire’s very best bridges

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Here’s an exciting, engaging question that’s totally not boring: What’s your favorite local bridge?

Dry and Mighty: What happens when the good things break?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

The YouTube videos failed me. I watched so many, followed all the helpful instructions, and tried all the hot tips. With a screwdriver in one hand and my smartphone in the other, I clawed and crawled well beyond my comfort zone ...

Blinking at the Dashboard

it’s cold outside and that makes all the difference

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I sit here blinking at the dashboard because I can’t believe my engine started. It’s something to smile about. On a Friday morning while the sky is dark and the temperature is 16 degrees below zero and ...

When Push Comes to Shovel

this winter, I bid adieu to my favorite inanimate friend

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I never gave it a name. And the name of a thing is so very important. It was just always there, hanging in the garage, year after year, patiently waiting in reverse hibernation for winter to come. It came alive in cold weather. It lived for the snow ...

Snowing Is Half the Battle

living with the threat of a crusty Brown Christmas

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Brown Christmas. It’s the absolute worst. Sure, there are far more important things about which we can complain, or even try to fix, but no snow in late December? It just doesn’t feel right ...

An A Christmas Story Story

don't shoot your eye out with this holiday classic

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

It’s the very end of November, so have you watched A Christmas Story yet? No? Did you hear that it’s the very end of November? You better get on that. Make some popcorn. Call some friends. Make a ho-ho-holiday night of it. I’ll pass ...

Dark Fields

when we used to shine a beam into the night

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

We used to see 40 of them, sometimes more, out in the fields under the deep, starless sky. My shoulder aching, my fingers freezing, I leaned out the truck window and held the spotlight as high as I could. Every year ...

Booked on a Feeling

an ode to local libraries and the people who love them

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

It smelled weird, I can tell you that. Today the Internet has labeled this particular odor “old book smell,” and book lovers love it. But when I was young, it was just weird. ...

Fearful Thinking

a small collection of scary thoughts

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

I used to imagine people picking up the brooms my mother left behind at every house in which we had ever lived, maybe wondering why they were there, leaning up against a counter or standing silent in the closet ...

Store Is Hell

lessons learned from grocery adventures

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

It has come to my attention that many of my most vivid childhood memories happened in a grocery store. Grocery stores just seem to hold a special significance in my life. Is that weird?

It's Coming in the Air

when everything is about the change

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

The forest smells different today. It smells like it’s dying. Because it’s beginning to die. The grass is dried out and it’s giving up, turning yellow, fading away. Right now it’s warm under the sun, but tonight the stars and clouds will creep across the sky, pushing a chill across the cornfields ...

Sod Goals

just one more reason autumn makes me happy

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I spent seven summers working for a local landscape and excavation company. They start you out laying sod. My first day on the job, I walked up to my boss – standing there in his work boots ...

On the Hook

the adventure of fake fishing in a church parking lot

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

It may surprise many of you to learn that I attended local Catholic schools from kindergarten all the way through my senior year of high school. Or maybe that doesn’t surprise you, maybe that makes ...

Heat Lightning

staring at the horizon all summer long

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

The heat lightning was sorcery to us. Some kind of rare devilry quietly bursting across the midnight horizon, raving over the dark, distant pine trees. It just didn’t stop. Hundreds of electric blossoms, pink and white, flaring up inside a mountain of clouds ...

Beyond the Rocket

let us not forget that other notable slide o’ yore

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Yes, of course I liked The Rocket Slide. It was my everything. And by “it was my everything” I mean “whenever my mom took me to Carson Park between the ages of maybe 5 and 8, maybe five or six times each year ...

Rain Will Fall and Take It Away

on the river banks, below the streets, under the trees

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

You could call it a waterfall in that it’s literally falling water. But I told my kids to stay out of it all the same, especially the hole at the bottom where the water had collected into a milky puddle ...

Shrub Me the Wrong Way

What can one do when confronted with offensive hedgery?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

When my wife and I moved into our little house on Eau Claire’s Eastside Hill, the place came with a few things in need of fixing up. The windows needed new paint. The attic needed extra insulation ...


running down some county fair flashbacks

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

I can’t remember exactly why we ran across the carnival grounds that afternoon, but I doubt it was my idea. I rarely feel the need to travel faster than a light trot, yet there I was, chasing my cousins ...

Gust Cause

the answer is not blowing in the wind

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

One thing I didn’t expect when I moved into Eau Claire’s Eastside Hill neighborhood was all the wind. Because sometimes I can be kinda dumb. Maybe I should have expected things to be a little gustier when living in a place with “hill” right in the title ...

The 5 People You Meet at a 4-Way Stop

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

All over the city, strange little pockets of insanity are nestled at the intersections of our fair roadways. Few of us seem to understand how to navigate these asphalt obstacles, making out our own rules as we go along ...

Grand Little Bridge

some things you may not think about when crossing the river

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

A patchy, crumbling concrete strip stretches from one side of the Chippewa River to the other. You can walk out on it, scuffling over loose pebbles as you go ...

It Hit Her on the Head

a strange tale of Chinese food and minor head injury

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

What follows is the true story of one of the more bizarre and oddly poetic moments I have ever experienced in my entire life. It involves Chinese food.

Once More to the Sledding Hill

winter’s not done with us, so I’m not done with it

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

You could reach down into it, your bare hand vanishing, leaving a perfect, almost cartoonish outline at the surface. Four fingers, a thumb, and your palm. It was icy and soft against your blushing skin ...

Puddle Jump

learning from unexpected winter warmth

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Here in February, the sun’s been pushing a cosmic blob of heat against Wisconsin like a sponge, scrubbing away much of the scuzzy snow and ice we’ve been tiptoeing around for weeks. It’s been melting away our cold wintry scowl, softening our cheeks into a smile ...

The Facewash

walking with worry in the wintertime

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I was in the second grade, and my walk home from school was often fraught with peril. Not real peril, but scary peril all the same. When I think about my current mental health, and when I take a good ...

Health Premiums Are Going Up! Are You Ready?

Mark Miller, design by Serena Wagner

So how’s your “open enrollment” going for your individual health insurance plan? Do you know what you need to do by Jan. 31, 2017? I hear ya! As an independent, licensed insurance agent ...

Schools' Open Enrollment Begins in February and Ends in April

Katie Larson, design by Serena Wagner

It’s that time of the year: Open enrollment season for the 20-18 school year! Open enrollment is an inter-district public school program that allows parents to apply for their children to attend any public ...

Heavy Lifting Continues Even After Kids Grow Up

Rob Reid, illustrated by Serena Wagner

‘That’s it! I’m getting too old for this. This is the last time I’m moving any of you kids!” Those harsh words were uttered in complete exhaustion immediately after my wife Jayne and I helped move my daughter Alice from her dorm room at UW-River Falls to an apartment a few miles ...

The Sweet Sounds of Kindness

Renee Sommer, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Not everyone is born with sugar plum sweetness in her heart. Well, maybe we are but over time the world beats it out of us. Either way, I’d say my journey to kindness didn’t come until my 30s, and I learn more and more about it every day ...

6 Steps for a Strong Second Semester

Sam Fisher, illustrated by Serena Wagner

With winter break in the rearview mirror, a new semester is about to begin. It’s now time to coast until summer vacation, right? As nice as that sounds, getting off to a strong start at the beginning of the second semester is important ...

Black Ice & Other Problems

winter driving can be dangerous (because it’s dangerous)

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I’m a little neurotic when it comes to driving long distances. I worry. I worry about how good of a driver I am. I worry about other drivers and mistakes they might make. I worry about animals ...

Winter Clothes

you get a little more when you wear a little less

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I hustle outside – without socks – wearing loose fitting shoes, a threadbare t-shirt, and what we as a society have collectively, wordlessly agreed to call “jammie pants.”

Wreck the Halls

pretty sure Father Christmas doesn’t want us to do housework

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten totally stressed out over something as simple as Christmas decorations. I’m not talking to you people out there with 25 holiday-themed inflatable lawn ornaments surrounding your house like giant, poofy sentinels ...

ESSAY: Santa Claus, Childlike Wonder, and Reindeer Poop on the Roof

one father’s struggle with maintaining belief in the jolly old elf

BJ Hollars, illustrated by Serena Wagner

There comes a time in every Santa-believer’s life when that believing hits a snag. Often the seeds of doubt are planted by way of schoolyard bullies, or dream-shattering friends, or one’s own late night sneak from a bedroom to catch a parent in the act ...

Like Out of Nowhere

remember when we forgot the feel of snow?

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

First it’s the dry, white flakes wisping around the sidewalk, icy crumbs gathering in the cracks. The sky is cold and colorless, but the snow, the first of the year, turns a boring afternoon in late autumn into something to talk about ...

Sign Here: the value of a good book can be measured in memories

Rob Reid, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Last Father’s Day, my daughter Laura gave me a gift she knew I would love. No, not another tie or sweater or screwdriver. She gave me books. Books signed by the authors. I have a collection of approximately 175 autographed books, mostly children and young adult titles. I call it “The Shrine...

The Toys We're Keeping: appreciating those long-lost gifts for what they are

Eric Rasmussen, design by Serena Wagner

Santa was always very kind to me. Every one of my Christmas mornings featured some notable gift that came to define the whole year, like the animals on the Chinese calendar placemats at the Asian buffet restaurants. The year of the Nintendo. The year of Crossfire. The year of Castle Grayskull...

Overuse Injuries Can Impact Young Athletes

Alyssa Van Duyse, design by Serena Wagner

At just 13 years of age, Mikkyla Worthing is, already, too familiar with knee pain. The South Middle School athlete participates in three sports, which means she has games, meets, or practices that last 90 minutes up to four times a week. Repetitive drills on the basketball ...

Counting With Your Feet

losing the rhythm but staying on track

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

I used to count how many steps I took within each sidewalk panel. Because walking home from school was so boring. The counting became a chant inside my head, and sometimes this chant fell down into a whisper, tumbling from between my lips as if I’d stuffed too many sugar cubes into my mouth ...

Halloween Scenes

stories of yore from Octobers in Eau Claire

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

A boy in 1980s Eau Claire is so excited by his He-Man Halloween costume he can’t stop looking at it. It includes a stiff plastic mask with a thin elastic string tied around the back, with holes for each eye and each nostril ...

The Best of Me (2016)

this year’s Best of the Mike Paulus Poll was something else

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

The votes are in, the polls have been slammed shut, and the tallies have been tilly-tallied. So it is with great pleasure and excitement that I present to you the results of my 2016 Best of the Mike Paulus Poll.

Trailing Off

chasing shadows along an old Wisconsin railway

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

They say the crews of men who built the railroad tracks running through Northwestern Wisconsin would dance. As the legend goes, their hand tools were manufactured down in Chicago ...

The Biggest Thing in All the World

a hard gaze back at highways and summertime skies

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Serena Wagner

My little pickup truck blasted down Highway F, swooping around the curves and diving into low spots as the world evaporated all around me. I was driving too fast. And when I say evaporated, I mean it.


August is a time for tangled branches and rebellion

Mike Paulus, design by Serena Wagner

Maybe it’s because we never had sidewalks. Or a curb or a gutter. Everyone’s lawns just rolled right up the blacktop, no fancy concrete to separate the two ...