St Croix River Road Ramblings

Welcome to River Road Ramblings.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Reading the Easy Way

Just before Christmas, Margo and I were shopping at the local Menards in Rochester, MN. In the electronics area there was a stack of electronic book readers with the price sign $29 after $30 rebate. We could buy a book reader for only $29!

We bought two, one apiece. Margo sent off the rebate forms and last week we got back $60 from the rebate, so each ebook reader was only $29 plus tax plus a $7 service contract for 2 years or just under $40 each.

The Aluratek e-reader came with 100 free books. It has a color screen and takes a camera SD chip for extra books. It can show movies, photos as well as books.

Margo and I have become addicted to reading with the new book readers. Menards sold out, but it was a heck of a deal!

Almost every book ever printed that is out of copyright (before 1923) is available free for a download from I am reading all of Christopher Morley's works before 1923 now, having just finished all of David Grayson's books (Ray Stannard Baker from St Croix Falls)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Breathing Continued

After 6 nights using a CPAP -- to keep me from stopping breathing at night, I am somewhat getting used to it.

I find myself going to bed later and getting up earlier just to avoid using the machine! However, I have to admit that I am sleeping better.

My nights used to be what I called "light sleeping." Now I do heavy sleeping. I get into bed, read a little with my book reader and then put on the mask and start the machine. I seem to fall asleep much quicker and wake only rarely at night, and seem to be dreaming a lot--all different from without the machine.

I do feel more rested, and have noticed more ambition during the day. So, it looks like a good change, even though it seems like a real nuisance!

Margo adds, "I am a lot more rested and ambitious too with Russ sleeping quietly!"

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bernice Abrahamzon died Wednesday

An email sent to the Northwest Regional Writers -- local writers group founded by Bernice

"I just found out that Bernice died yesterday morning (Wednesday, Jan.25) at the the Frederic Nursing and Rehab Community where she'd been cared for since Jan.13.
The funeral will be on Saturday, Jan 28 at the Lewis Methodist Church at 11 o'clock, with visitation at 10. That's all I know at the moment.
I think we should keep our February assignment of writing tributes to Bernice."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Machine Breathing

Click to Listen to me Breathing

I made it through the first night with the CPAP machine and face mask. I put it on at 10:30, took it off a couple times at night for a few minutes and took it off at 7:00 am.

I actually did sleep better and didn't wake much during the night. So far this morning, I don't notice anything different, don't feel like a "young man" again, but as the tests did show I needed this machine, I will continue to use it for now.

Before going in for the test Monday, I searched sleep apnea on the internet I found a series of face, tongue and throat exercises that are supposed to help solve the problem.

There is a tremendous amount of junk medical advice on the internet--all sorts of quacks peddling their ideas and products. I go to, or the Cleveland Clinic or Webmd or the big organizations supporting groups like the American Cancer Society or the American Sleep Apnea sigith at The Federal Government National Institutes of Health (NIH) has much of the latest research available.

Also, many articles said that weight loss might help. I have already decided to drop 25 lbs in 2012 (my New Year's resolution that I started on December 20th and have managed to get down 5 lbs in the 1st month). There is surgery that may help also.

Well prepared ahead of time, I asked Doctor Hansen (yes--he is of Danish roots), about all the options. His answer "You have very severe sleep problems. You stop breathing almost every minute. In your case, the exercises, weight loss and even the surgery would probably not work. I don't understand how you have managed to live with it when it is so severe."

I imagine medical researchers will some day find a better solution than this machine and face mask, but in the meantime, I plan to try to get used to it.

Did you know that the main reason most men snore is evolution? Back in the caveman days, the man who slept with his family in the cave and snored loudly echoing out the cave entrance scared off the saber toothed tigers. Those who didn't were eaten and couldn't pass on their genes to the next generation.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Out of Breath!

Last night I spent in the Mayo Sleep Center learning if I was sleeping soundly. This morning I found I was not and went home with a breathing machine.

It happened after I had surgery on my knee in December. The nurses said that my blood oxygen level was too low—and the alarm kept going off while in recovery room. Before I could have my knee replacement, I needed to have a check on why I wasn’t getting the oxygen level needed.

The possibilities included lung problems, heart problems, circulation problems or breathing problems. I went through a series of tests that ended up clearing everything but the breathing, leading to my stay over last night.

I went in at 7:00 pm. First a dozen or so electrodes were glued to me. Some in the hair, some near the eyes, some near the heart and one on each leg below the knee to record electrical signals from brain, eye muscles, heart, and leg movement. Two elastic bands with electronic sensors were stretched around my chest and belly. A microphone for recording snoring taped to my pajama top. A tube to just below the nose to register air flow.

The test was to be in two phases. First at 9:30 I was to try to go to sleep while they recorded 4 hours. Then a breathing machine, called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP)—an air pump would be hooked to a nose mask to assist in breathing.

The CPAP theory is that the dangling stuff in the back of my throat, the stuff that rattles when one snores, was relaxing too much and closing the airway when I slept. The machine senses when I breathe in and pushes in a little extra air to blow the danglers out of the way, then relaxes to let me breathe out again.

The test went as scheduled, and I did manage some sleep in the quiet darkened room. The machine was somewhat uncomfortable, the surroundings uncomfortable, but I had stayed awake most of the previous night to assure sleeping during the test.

At 9:00 in the morning, I met with Dr. Hansen, a sleep-ologist. He showed me colored graphs, charts, tables of numbers and all sorts of wonderful scientific readings that said one thing: I am a lousy sleeper. The solution is a CPAP for nights.

So, I went to the Mayo Sleep Store and spent an hour getting one and learning how to use it. Medicare will pay 80% of the cost (at first I just rent it), if and only if I have it on and working at least 4 hours each night average for the test period of about 6 weeks. The machine is smart enough to record the time I am really on it, so there is no cheating.

“You will feel a whole lot better with this machine. You stopped breathing an average of 60 times per hour and never got into the deep REM sleep until the machine part of the test. You will be surprised at how much it will improve your life!” said the Doctor and the Pharmacist.

My life has been reasonably good, and I wasn't really aware of problems with breathing, but the doctor assured me that I would feel invigorated--like a young man again!

So, beginning tonight I try to get used to the thing. Having a face mask, even if it is just over the nose, strapped to my head and a vaccum cleaner type hose (much smaller diameter) running to the bedside machine will be a challenge for me and Margo. It is very quiet, relatively small, and pretty much foolproof, so I guess it will be a matter of seeing if I can adjust to it. About 1/3 of the folks who try one out don't continue as it bothers them too much.

My knee replacement doc says that I have to be on the machine for the stay over night a day or two after surgery--or they won't do it. That adds to the motivation!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Maple Syruping Tale --A Science Experiment

Back in the early ‘60s, we were making syrup pretty much the same way Great Grandma, one of those NY Yankees come to Wisconsin, made it in Maple Grove Township near Barron WI. She married a green Swede, just barely off the boat, and taught him to make syrup with buckets, spiles and a big round kettle, that doubled for making soap and scalding the hogs.

We had upgraded to a flat pan, a hundred 3-gallon cherry tins (from the bakery), and metal spiles, getting them from Norman Anderson over at Cumberland. “Have you heard the latest,” Norman told us when we got some supplies that year, “some folks have taken to hooking up the milking machine vacuum pump and tubes or pipes to the maple trees and suck the sap out. They get more sap.”

Well, that was sure something new! We milked 25 cows on the farm, and maple syruping was more of a hobby those days than a business, so Dad wasn’t much interested in tubing.

Already at age 14, I was planning to become a scientist. I had a telescope, microscope, chemistry and electronics kits and thought science was everything. I was feeding old Brahma, the boss cow with the strange hump, more and more grain, keeping track of the milk production to see if it was profitable.

We had a lovely large sugar maple in the hard between the house and barn, It was our best shade tree—probably 100 years old and at least 3 feet in diameter. We put 5 buckets on it every year, and it gave the sweetest and most sap of any tree in the woods nearby where our 100 buckets hung.

Well, being intrigued with the idea of vacuum on a maple tap, I just had to try it. I found the long garden hose and put on a fitting to hook it to the milker pump vacuum line, ran it to the tree and rigged up a tap that hooked to the hose without any vacuum leak. The vacuum line ran to the milkhouse where I hooked it to the step-saver bucket so the sap would come in directly to the bucket from the tree.

After the morning milking, I hooked it up, with Dad skeptically watching me to make sure I didn’t mess up his milker system. The vacuum line check valve ran at 15 psi for milking cows. I left it at that, turned on the vacuum pump and watched. The other 4 pails were dripping slowly that morning. In my vacuum tank, I could see through the clear tubing at the step saver, that sap definitely was coming in at a faster rate! It worked! Even Dad was impressed!

Well, sometimes a scientist must experiment more. “I wonder what will happen if I bring the vacuum up to 20 psi,” I thought and then followed through tighting down the check valve watching the pressure creep up to 20. Sure enough, the sap was now running a tiny stream rather than just the drips, looked like double the rate of the pails.

I got the big pipe wrench and tightened the check valve down as far as it would go. The pressure gauge rose to 21, 22, 23,… and soon pinned at 25, while the pump motor strained to pull the vacuum deeper and deeper. Sap gushed into the step-saver.

All of a sudden I heard and explosion outside. I shut off the pump and rushed outside to see what had happened.

The tree was there, but didn’t look like a tree at all. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Dad, who was in the middle of his morning wheat bisquits, had rushted out too. After studying things, he said “Man alive Russell, you must have put so much vacuum on that poor tree, you sucked it inside-out! You and your science experiments have ruined our best shade tree! No more monkeying with the vacuum pump.”

I never felt the urge to try vacuum on a maple again. However, an interesting thing happened. The tree, besides being inside out, was dried out and when I took the chainsaw to cut it up, the chunks just fell apart into nicely split sizes. It was ready-made for burning!

I did try this later on an old oak, thinking I would get firewood in a hurry with that too, but it was so filled with holes, squirrels and birds, the step-saver bucket kept plugging up with them and I really couldn’t get much vacuum with the leaks. I patented this method for making firewood, but recommend it only for younger trees that are still sound!

Those of you trying for high vacuum on your maple tubing lines, should take care when you get over 25 psi, and remember my experiment or you might turn your whole sugar bush inside out. Maples inside-out probably look just as ugly as one of us would look with our insides on the outside.

I did go on to be a scientist. However, I was always careful in my experimentation to never push things to the limit. If you don't learn from your mistakes, you are not a very smart person!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Maple Syrup History Book

Took 28 books along Saturday the 21st to the Annual Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producer's meeting and sold all of them at $10.00 each and then ran out!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

You Must Count!

This week we order garden seeds!

You Must Count!!!

“Did he practice an hour each day last week?” queried Mr. Green sharply?
“Yes” replied mom. “He even practiced Sunday!”

This was not what he wanted to hear. If I had skipped practicing my saxophone he would have still had hope. It must be that I was just incompetent. Worst of all, just a few months earlier, Dad had sold a milk cow to pay for my brand new saxophone.

All the spring and summer of my 7th grade Mr. Green came to Cushing school for individual lessons each week. I learned how to control my mouth (embrochure), the fingerings and soon could make a pleasant sound and a joyful noise. I could rattle through scales and the notes on the page easily, but that wasn’t good enough.

“You must count!” exclaimed Mr. Green after his tenth try at explaining how notes had different durations. I knew the theory but it just did not click in my brain and fingers. The sax lesson book had page after page of technical exercises teaching new sharps and flats and increasingly complex mixtures of variable duration notes and rests, but no familiar songs.

I became concerned that I was not up to the mark. My parents assured me that the sound was good. Playing the melody in our old piano song books at home sounded good even to me. With increasing dread I faced my weekly lesson of scales and exercises.

In early August, Mr. Green announced that lessons would end and not start up until the new band teacher started in the fall. On the last page in the lesson book he wrote for my new teacher “You must count!!” “Five weeks on this lesson!”

September came too quickly. I had continued to practice on that page, having the notes wonderfully memorized but totally in the dark about counting. I debated tearing out the page. I liked playing the sax, but dreaded the coming lesson with a new teacher seeing that page.

Mr. Bilderback was young, stocky, with closely cropped hair. “Excellent tone! Great technique!” he exclaimed after having me play a few scales to get acquainted. “You must have been playing for several years!”

The moment I dreaded all summer came as I opened the book to the heavily annotated page. “I can’t count” I said quietly trying to keep from blubbering. He took the sax, pretended to wipe of the mouthpiece and played the short piece I had been working on all summer. This was the first time I actually heard how it was supposed to go. He handed it back and said “Well, let’s see how it sounds?”

Imitating his rhythm I rattled it off.

“That was great! You must have figured out what was wrong over the summer!” He turned to the next page. As we started each new lesson after that, he first played it for me, and soon I did learn how to count.

In his first five minutes with me, Mr. Bilderback made the whole difference.

Bernice Abrahamzon in Frederic Nursing Home

Bernice Abrahamzon is in the Frederic Nursing home. Her address is
Bernice Abrahamzon
Frederic Nursing and Rehab Center
205 United Way East
Frederic WI 54837
Her 91st birthday is Saturday.
Her friend, Alice, tells me Bernice has lost a lot of weight and is bedridden and hardly looks herself until she smiles and starts to visit. She is prepared to move to the next chapter.

"Life is like a novel. You can guess what will happen on the next chapter, but you will not know until youre there."

Monday, January 16, 2012

Weekend Up North

Dad and Me buzzing wood on the farm 1950s

I took a break from southern MN and spent the weekend and Monday at the Cabin in WI. It was so mild, didn't take me a cord of wood! Less snow up there than down here in Pine Island. All sorts of vehicles out on Little Butternut Lake and in Atlas--so the ice must be pretty thick. The weekend was beautiful with 30s, sun and hardly any hint of winter!

Chuck (from Luck History Society) and I are planning a session for beginning maple syrup makers in Cushing in early March. The December meeting at Anderson Maple was more aimed at small producers becoming larger and automating. Probably the first or second week of March on a Thursday night. I think we will try the upstairs museum room 2 as it is heated now!

The Luck Area Historical Society is planning an early March "get acquainted with the new Polk County Museum Director" session for representatives from local historical societies--probably the first or second Tuesday afternoon of March. Margo and I, my new knee willing, plan to make aebleskivers for the afternoon lunch. Judy W is organizing it.

Saturday is the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers annual meeting in Neilsville, WI. Our GPS says that we leave Pine Island, head to Red Wing and then catch Hwy 10 into WI to Neilsville, about 130 miles away. We plan to leave Sat am, catch the meeting, and return in the evening, weather permitting. Saturday is predicted to be 30s and Sunday 45!

Friday of this week I visit the Sleep Studies unit at Mayo to learn about sleep apnea, something Margo says I have--quit breathing and then snort to life at night! My regular doc says lose 20 lbs and it will likely go away--so starting December 20th, I began a diet and as of the first month I have lost 5 lbs. I am trying to change my pattern of eating as well as eat stuff good for me rather than stuff that just tastes good. Not too hard so far, and the 5 lbs reinforces me to keep on doing it. I really don't think I could adjust to a machine and face mask -- the cpap machine that is the usual treatment. I wonder if I couldn't rig up a bicycle tire pump and a face mask and Margo could just give it a couple of pumps when I get to snoring too loud! She says it wakes her up anyway.

Waking up abruptly several times a night is pretty handy at the cabin where I have to come down stairs from the sleeping loft to feed the wood stove to keep the cabin toasty. Between waking up to breathe and waking up to drain my radiator, I do miss out on some sleep. But, now that I am retired, there isn't much need to be lively and wide awake during the daytime anyway....!

It takes me three days of warming the cabin up to get the lady bugs and houseflies lively again. A two-day weekend is just right--they stay in hibernation waiting for real spring to come around. There is no heat in the cabin if I don't use the wood stove--of course I have totally shut off the winter until I return for maple season in mid March.

An Amazing Amazon event--have sold 9 online books already including 2 of the very latest on Maple syruping history! Of course the total profits of almost $25 goes to the history society, but it is pretty nice!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bernice Abrahamzon Birthday--and Cancer

Bernice turns 91 this month. For a half century she has been a writer for the Inter-County Leader. She is a founding mother of the Indianhead Gem and Mineral Society as well as the Northwest Regional Writers.

She has just found out she has pancreatic cancer with grim prospects. You can send her a birthday card

Bernice Abrahamzon
3446 115th St
Frederic, WI 54837-4664

Thursday, January 12, 2012

River Road Ramblings Column

Radio Days

When Brother Everett and I were in our early teens, we were enthusiasts for anything to do with electricity, science and radio. The Madison Free Traveling Library sent “The Boys First Book of Radio” to my mailbox with all sorts of electricity plans. My 4-H electricity project book showed how to make electro-magnets, a telegraph and an electric motor, all projects I Blue Ribboned in at the Polk County Fair.

The telegraph was, as I remember it, a piece of board with two nails pounded in about an inch from one side and a piece of steel tin-can cut in the shape of a fat “T” nailed with the bottom of the T on the other side and the roof of the T over the nails. We then wrapped the two nails with “bell wire” (insulated door bell wire from the hardware) making sure both were wrapped in the same direction and connected together. To this another smaller piece of the tin can was made for a switch and then it was hooked up to two flashlight batteries making a crude telegraph.

Two of these could be connected together by long wires and you could push down a key on one and the tin cans would be drawn down to the nail magnets on both. Morse code instructions were included so you could bang out dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot and be sending SOS! You just clicked your switch and released it quickly for a dot, held it a second or more for a dash.

We bored a hole through the wall between our adjacent rooms, threaded the connecting wires between them and started sending code. Of course, after each send, the sender would run around through the doors and hall and ask if the other got the message right.

The batteries ran out quickly. Mom wouldn’t buy more and didn’t like having all the flashlights dead. Luckily we remembered Everett’s electric train had a 6 volt transformer that plugged into the 120 volt wall outlet, a never ending source of enough power to communicate even the most lengthy messages.

I had my old Zenith short wave band radio, given to me by Uncle Maurice after it quit running. For years it had been the radio for the Cushing Feed Mill where Maurice was working when it quit. He knew I liked to try to fix stuff, and gave it to me outright as they had a modern replacement made from plastic instead of the beautifully varnished wood table model Zenith. In the photo attached, just below the radio dial is the Magic Tuning Eye – a green tube that showed if you were sharply tuned to the station or not.

I took the radio home. It was filled with ground feed dust, like the whole mill was, covered a quarter inch deep. I took the four screws holding the radio mechanism out and pulled it apart. I carefully cleaned the case and speaker until it shown. I removed the 6 tubes and then vacuumed (a traveling salesman had come to Mom’s house in the 50s and convinced her to buy a vacuum with every attachment known to man or woman for $400, an amount that was a month’s income or more) it out and then scrubbed it out and tried to get off the rust of the metal parts. It cleaned up nicely.

Then I put it back together and plugged it in. One tube didn’t light up at all. It was a 7B8 as I recall. Everett and I had a good supply of radio and TV tubes by then having scavenged all old sets that came through the Sterling Dump. Mr. Edler, the radio repairman in St. Croix Falls, occasionally gave me an old un-repairable radio to take home to study too and the neighbors were free with their old ones too, knowing we would give them a good home. Everett had advertised in the local newspaper “Wanted old floor model radio with short wave bands,” and the neighbors had emptied their attics from big old floor models to wooden table models that had been disgarded when the radio became a small part of the living room and the TV took its place.

I put in an un-tested 7B8 and turned it back on. The tube glowed warmly orange and the radio crackled to life. I had cleaned the tuner and it turned smoothly with the freshly rosined string connecting the knob to the large glass enclosed pointer dial. Of course, I had already hooked it up to the big antenna hung from my window upstairs in the house to the barn a 100 feet long and high in the air.

Station after station came in on the AM dial. I switched to one of the several short wave dials and soon found Radio Moscow, and all sorts of sounds only someone familiar with the shortwave bands knows how they sound. Clumped in some areas were Morse code signals, some of them slow enough I could recognize a few letters.

The shortwave band was a window onto the world. Not only were there stations all across North America, but from all over the world. As I got familiar with them, I learned when they broadcast in English, usually for an hour a two every day. I could listen to the BBC from England, practice my HS Spanish (two years with Rodger Meyer in SCFHS), find out what the Commies were saying, and if I strained, improve my Morse code listening too the ham radio folks pounding out their Morse code to each other.

When I went away into the world first, when I started college at River Falls, I immediately joined the local ham radio club. Along with several others including Reg Ronningen out of Frederic, I studied Morse code and radio theory trying to get up to 5 minutes per word on the telegraph and learn the rules and regulations for Amateur Radio. Most of us got our Novice license—allowing us to go on the college ham station and talk to other hams across the world!

The station at River Falls was a bunch of surplus Navy equipment we got for free for being affiliated with MARS (a military radio network where we agreed to forward radio messages from soldiers—mostly in Vietnam—to their families in America). With right setup, you not only could pass along a text message, but you could “phone patch” them in and let the two parties talk to each other for free.
Our transmitter was 24 volts. Dr Brown, our advisor, managed to get a huge metal box with two 24 volt dynamos in it that we could plug into a 240 volt outlet. They would slowly rev up to speed and put out a 24 volt source of power, shaking all of 4th floor North Hall from our headquarters in the unused coat closet.

As an active group on campus wanting to upgrade our equipment we approached the Student Senate. Alan Murray was our spokesman. A funny thing happened. The Student Senate (Judge Robert Rasmussen was a member then), got a little confused and jumped onto the idea of a campus radio station rather than an upgrade in our ham radio station. So, within a year, WFSP FM (where the free spirit prevails) was up and running under the Journalism department while we were still shaking 4th floor North. The radio station still exists but the name is changed to WRFW. It covers about 50 miles at 88.7 on the FM dial.

I didn’t do much ham radio activity. I found hams mostly wanted to talk about their radio equipment, radio shacks, and ham radio rather than converse about what was of interest to me.

I upgraded my license to Technician level in the 1980s at Rochester where a very active group still exists. Again, the traffic amongst hams didn’t really interest me, so I let my license KZA0 (I can’t quite remember if that is right) lapse.

Nowadays communication is so easy with the Internet, I haven’t thought about ham radio until the other day when I was moving some things in the basement and came across my massive Hallicrafter tube short wave receiver on my old unused ham radio corner in the basement next to my unused photo darkroom. I fired it up, waiting patiently for the tubes to warm to their jobs and again heard the familiar chirps, dots-and-dashes of my youth. I returned to those days of yesteryear when I timidly listened to propagandists on Radio Moscow turning occasionally to hear a speech from Fidel on Radio Havana all of the time worrying if Joe McCarthy might come into my bedroom and haul me away.

— — • • • • • • — — (73 Ham for Best Regards—the good bye in Morse Code. Aloud we would say it as dadadididit dididitdadah)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

St Croix River Valley National Heritage Area

I attended a meeting today at River Falls where the feasibility of having Congress declare the St. Croix River valley (the whole drainage basin in WI and MN) a National Heritage area.
The idea is, if the area has a unique historical heritage, and local groups (i.e. history societies) believe it is worth highlighting, they can work together to get this declaration. It is does not really mean the Federal govt doss anything except agree with the local groups who make the proposal.
What the local area gets out of it is an overall theme for guiding their local history efforts as well as publicity to encourage tourism and to encourage local business and organizations to co-operate in doing things related to this theme.

It seemed a worthwhile effort and I am likely to jump in and volunteer to work on the project. The next meeting in my area is in Polk County Saturday Feb 11th (not sure of time or place yet).

There are 48 heritage areas in the US right now--none nearby.
Info at

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

History of Maple Syruping in the USA

I just ordered proof copies of a brand new book I have been working on for two years. It is called "Making Maple Syrup in the USA since 1650: A Brief History."
Having done my family history, I found my great grandpa, Charlie Hanson, who came to Wisconsin in 1871 from Skee Sweden, married a Yankee girl, Abigail Beebe. The Beebes came to America in the early 1650s to New London Ct. where the family history is that they learned to make maple sugar from the Indians and the family has been making it ever since. Lathrop Beebe came to WI in about 1863 and his daughter Abigail married the Swede in 1872, and taught him to make syrup.

The book is a mixture of very old history of sugaring taken from books and magazines from the 1700-1800s, many old recipes for using maple sugar or syrup, and my own experiences making syrup in WI. Highly illustrated. It will be on in about two weeks for sale for $10 in 8x10 paperback with 125 pages.

It is very easy and inexpensive to create your own book and sell it on Amazon's I build the book in MS Word inserting the pictures and controlling the layout; convert it to a pdf and make a pdf cover too, then upload them to createpace and it becomes a print-on-demand book with no upfront cost for me. I am able to sell the book through Amazon and make a couple bucks each sale or buy 10 or 25 or 1000 and sell them myself and make almost 50% even on the $10 buck sale. This is the 6th book I have put on Amazon for printing. Some are also ebooks on Amazon and others ebooks on google books.

Monday, January 9, 2012


Six squirrels have been entertaining us here in Pine Island. Our house is located on 8 acres of woods surrounded by open fields. The squirrels live in huge oaks and basswoods eating corn all fall and usually hitting the bird feeders in the winter.

This year had an excellent crop of acorns and bitternut hickory nuts -- they are thick on the ground. With no snow, the squirrels have plenty to eat and don't bother the feeders.

Yesterday, three gray squirrels spent the day chasing each other through the woods out the window. I assume it has something to do with sex and mating. It is amazing to see them run full speed up and across the trees at full speed. Another two gray squirrels ignored the chase while the red squirrel continues to haul nuts into my workshop in the garage.

A crow visits the bird feeder, picking up dropped sun flower seeds on the ground each afternoon. Once in a while we see the huge pileated woodpecker on the suet block. The pair raised one noisy youngster for the second year in a row in the big dead elm trunk still standing in the yard.

I started reading "Notes from Little Lakes" by Mel Ellis this week. Back when I lived in Milwaukee, Ellis wrote a short nature note in the Milwaukee newspaper that gave us city dwellers a touch of the woods. I found the book for 99 cents on -- in excellent condition with an autograph from his wife!

Almost finished with my newest book -- History of Maple Syrup Making-- a collection of my own writing as well as a collection of articles written in the 1600s-1800s about the subject.

Don't fall through the ice.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Knee replacement Feb 3

My new right knee gets put in on Feb 3rd! That means I should be ready for mid-March maple syrup season! Jan 21 we head over to Neilsville WI for the annual Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers meeting

If you are into maple syrup making and like web discussions, go to People all over North America visit about making syrup, equipment, maple shacks, etc.

This week I plan to attend a meeting at the History Research Center at River Falls. The info I received says:

A reminder that you are invited to attend one of two meetings hosted by the Area Research Center and the Polk County Historical Society discussing the possibility of National Heritage Area status for our region. These meetings are being held specifically for local historical organizations in the St. Croix River watershed to discuss how this effort could enhance the important work that is already being done in our communities. Please feel free to attend the meeting that is most convenient for you. Please RSVP to Jonathan Moore at 715-386-9490 or by Monday, January 9 with which briefing you plan to attend.

The two meetings are at 2 pm Wed at River Falls and Friday at St. Croix Falls at the National River Headquarters.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Do HS Math Requirements Destroy Budding Mathematicians?

I taught school during the 1970s. After I retired 6 years ago, I substitute taught for two years averaging two days per week. It was interesting to contrast what teaching in HS was like then and 30 years later.

Probably the biggest difference I noticed was in the math classes. As a HS student I was required to take only 1 math class to graduate. I took all four years of math because I really liked it. After the first year of required math, Algebra I, the classes started to really be fun as both the teacher and the students were math nerds -- we all loved math. The teacher was at ease and we students were free of the chaffing of those who didn't like math. For three years we could delve into whatever seemed interesting!

When I returned as a sub, including 3 weeks as a short term replacement teacher, I found algebra much the same--forced on everyone. However, I was most amazed at the pre-calculus course, the course normally reserved for the real hard core math students. Now, with 4 years of math required for graduation, the class was filled with folks who really didn't care for math, making the teacher's job miserable and making life for the few math lovers painfully aware of their nerdiness.

Of 100 graduating students, if you get one or two people who go on in advanced mathematics in college, you supply the US need. What force feeding everyone 4 years of math has done is ruin the experience for teachers and math loving students alike while creating a majority of students who hate mathematics.

Finally, while I am on my soapbox, I believe there is very little need for most of the people in our society to learn mathematics beyond a year of algebra. Even me, with my job as a scientist, rarely used most of what I learned. My computer essentially did most of the work for me, just as cash registers do change nowadays.

Dump the 4 years of math requirements! Let math be studied by those who love it!

Thursday, January 5, 2012


There is no snow here in SE at Pine Island and the temperature nudged 50 degrees this afternoon. Margo and I took a drive back to WI to pick up some things I had fogotten to bring along down for the winter.

Mom is doing well--studying garden catalogs and brother Marv is busy making 20 wooden trophies for next September's Family 22 rifle target competition. Every one under 16 gets a trophy as well as the 3 best shots in the older crowd. Marv spend a lot of time making a wooden base, mounting a tiny gold sprayed plastic rifleman on the trophy with whatever else looks fancy. Of course, 15 of the 20 will go to his own grandchildren!

Farmer Chuck, who rents the farmland we have has three large piles of turkey manure dumped by semi-truck in the different fields waiting to be spread in the spring. I borrowed a little last year and put a quart or so under each watermelon plant on our sand garden along the old St. Croix River Road. It boosted the melons greatly, but the early frost meant few actually got ripe. This year, instead of mostly black diamonds, we are going with rattlesnake and those other oval light green/dark green striped ones that ripen earlier and taste just about as good.

There was only one mouse in the traps at the cabin on the lake--frozen stiff. He was one of the pretty brown and white country mice that live in the woods. City mice are gray and not nearly so pretty!

Projects for tommorrow and next week include a web site for the Sterling Eureka and Laketown Historical society as well as a newsletter to be sent out in two weeks or so.

I bought a 15 foot video cable so I can run one from my laptop computer directly to the TV and show Hulu videos as well as youtube on the TV while controlling the whole thing from my easy chair!

We are still uncertain about heading south--may do it in a few weeks as my knee replacement surgery is now set for March 12th unless a cancellation happens in February.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Knee Knews

Had the stitches removed from my knee today. Looks like the new knee won't be put in until mid March--a nuisance as that is when maple syrup season starts. Luckily Margo has a good back and can carry all the pails this time around!

Two weeks ago I had the hardware removed from the leg and 25 stitches put in, all from the roofing work fall two years ago. We are now debating going south for a few weeks or so or not.

No snow in our yard in Pine Island--looks and feels like early November. My projects this week are to get all the old books out-of-print we have put together on Amazon's print-on-demand so anyone can order them for $15 plus postage of 3.50.

The Inter-County Leader newspaper didn't run my final column this week--it was somewhat critical of paper. Of course, it is posted here a week ago so you can judge if my dropping the column in the newspaper makes sense.

We are in the area where we get Iowa TV and the Iowans get MN TV out of Rochester and Austin--so we have been bombarded by advertisements, mostly attack ads. With the caucuses over until MN has theirs in Feb, we will get a break. Our own local politicians, Gov Pawlenty is probably kicking himself for getting out way too early, and Michelle Bachmann for staying in so long.

Check out the Luck historical society website at

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Moon Shines Bright!

The Moon Shines on the West Sterling Barrens

George Sornson of the Sornson family who lived on Hwy 87 a few miles north of Cushing sent a comment on moonshining along the St. Croix River Valley—in the Sterling Barrens north of Wolf Creek. He wrote:

I was hoping some day you might compose a column on the "stills" in the general area during the prohibition. You told me of a conversation a few years ago with LeRoy Hedberg and George Williamson about a still on my grandfather's/great-grandfather's property which was located in Sterling Township at the intersection of River Road and County Line Road---running three 40's to the east.of the intersection.

My mother [Hazel Danielson Sornson] and grandmother [Esther Nylen Danielson] occasionally talked about a button under a rug in front of the kitchen stove that was connected to a wire that ran out into the woods where a still was located.[Battery powered of course]. If someone came into the farm yard---the alarm was sounded. Mooney Blue lives in the log house now. In the 1920s and 1930s the road into the property was located in a different fashion than it is now---had to drive thru the woods a bit from north of the house. Very tippy road!! My grandfather's name was Claus E Danielson [liked his beverage!]. Great grandfather's name was Peter Erik Danielson [died in 1937].

I asked LeRoy Hedberg once about it in a phone message--but didn't get a follow through answer. He may not have understood my inquiry. He is a relative on my original grandmothers side who passed away with diptheria in 1907. Her nane was Anna Hedberg.

I like reading about the depression and prohibition--but don't know anybody who knows the "local" suppliers. The old dilapidated shed I have on the farm was built in 8 foot sections and was supposed to have been a moonshiners shed moved in from the Barrens--easily taken apart!

A few of my (Russ’) memories on the topic

LeRoy Hedberg is recovering from a heart attack suffered a few weeks ago. He had some stents put in and hopefully is doing better--haven't had an update for a few weeks.

I have never been able to get people to talk much about the stills. The Harris family was involved too--I know Vedon was arrested at least once and spent time in jail.

I will see if I can find out more about the moonshining. A man in Osceola has been trying to do this for many years too, but has not gotten very much from the Sterling area either.

Dad said that he visited a still in the 1930s (they continued after prohibition--as they were tax-free producers of alcohol) and remembered the exhaust from an old two flywheel engine pumping cooling water was piped into an underground barrel dug into the sand with holes in it to muffle the sound--from their trapping cabin in far nw Sterling they could hear the hushed "whoosh, whoosh" of the engine running and went to investigate.

People living near the bigger operations were very careful to not look or know anything about them for fear of being found out. Norman Larson told me this fall at the Ramble that when he was a teen aged pulp cutter out at Floyds Harris (Floyd ran the cook house), Floyd drank more than normal and told him of a car with two revenuers buried somewhere nearby in the barrens--but would never talk about it again when he was sober.

Dad and Mom's house on Evergreen had a still in the basement at one time when the Nelson's lived there. It blew up and caught fire and charred some of the basement ceiling. When dad moved in, the big cattle watering tank was left--it had been chopped many times with an axe and then carefully all soldered back together to hold water.

Mom's cousins, the Carnes family ran the Sunrise Ferry across the St. Croix River out in West Sterling from about 1909 to the early 1940s. They often had late night moon shiners taking the ferry across. "We were paid well and they were always nice to us--without them we probably wouldn't have had enough business to keep the ferry running!"

They used trucks and large cars specially equipped with tanks built in to haul the moonshine. Coming over they brought supplies for the still and returning they brought the liquor. Many of the stills were not run by local folks, but experts set up by Twin Cities bootleggers. Local people left these folks alone as they were as likely to shoot you as let you be.

The most difficult part of moonshining was getting the large amount of sugar needed, according to Emil Nelson. The law found out who bought a dozen 100 lb sacks of sugar and tracked the moonshiners that way. I am not sure about the moonshining process, but didn't know they needed sugar--thought the corn provided it--anyway I haven't studied the process of making corn liquor. Now it is done on a huge scale at the ethanol plants.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

May 2012 bring us all good fortune!

We are starting to think about maple syrup season, only two months away!