Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Riling the Edgerton community, Part 2

My saga of creating conflict in the City of Edgerton continued last week when I ran an article titled “School’s budget may lead to future cuts.”
The premise of the article is the Edgerton School District passed an unbalanced budget. The original budget had expenses $300,000 more than revenue. When they approved a revised budget, it jumped to a $900,000 gap, which they paid for out of fund balance. The budget did include $260,000 in one-time expenses for technology upgrades. I have no beef with that. But it also included at least $200,000 in salary and benefits. Well pardon me, but I do not think fund balance should pay for reoccuring costs. My article was based on budget documents and an interview with the Director of Business Services Mark Worthing.
The district administrator said the title was inaccurate (I disagree) and board member Sue Tronnes said she was disappointed in the article and called it an editorial. I venemently disagree. But what say you?

Here is the full story: 

On Monday, Oct. 28, the Edgerton School Board approved a revised 2013-14 budget for $309,899 less than the amount approved at the Annual Elector’s meeting.

The revised budget included $102,148 less in taxes and $232,594 more in funding due to open enrollment and state aid, additional one-time and ongoing expenditures are being paid for out of the district’s fund balance.
The revised budget included an additional $542,493 in expenditures, among them $260,000 to purchase the last pieces of equipment needed to upgrade the Tech Ed department. Additional expenditures include a $23,555 increase to 4-year-old kindergarten; $55,025 increase for open enrollment; and $208,547 increase for salaries and benefits.

The problem the district faces is with the revised budget, district expenditures come in at $20,687,181, while district revenue is only $19,784,111. And according to Edgerton School District Business Manager Mark Worthing, the district is near the top of the state’s revenue cap, which limits its ability to pay for the additional expenses through a tax increase.

That leaves the district with two options: pay for the gap, which with the revised budget jumped from $593,171 to $903,070, out of the district’s fund balance, or make cuts.

This year the district opted to take almost $1 million out of existing fund balance. The district began building up its fund balance three years ago, according to documents provided by Worthing. At the end of the 2009-10 school year, the fund balance had just shy of $1.8 million. By the end of the 2012-13 school year, it had doubled to just shy of $3.6 million.

Edgerton School District Policy 620, which can be found online at, states the district must carry a minimum fund balance of $1,528,332. After the revised budget, the district’s fund balance will be $2,690,066.13. While still above the board-established minimum, the district could run into trouble sooner than later because as it stands, the district does not have a balanced budget.

“We are running pretty lean, and the bad things with schools is 75-80 percent [of the budget] is people,” Worthing said. “The only way to make up real ground on making cuts is people, and that is always tough to do.”

It is even tougher to do considering the school board voted to add staff at the end of the 2012-13 school year. According to Worthing, the additional positions included staff for the district’s Gifted and Talented program, an at-risk position at Edgerton Middle School and two new teachers at the elementary school to keep class sizes low.

In order to make cuts, some schools, such as the Antigo High School, required staff to teach six classes instead of five, which resulted in one less position in the different educational departments. For the Edgerton School District, that is not an option.

According to Worthing, teachers at the middle school teach six out of eight periods. At the high school, staff also teach six periods and supervise a seventh. The final period is used as prep time for their classes.
While the district’s fund balance will make up for the budget gap this year, and possibly during the 2014-15 school year, by the time the 2015-16 school year rolls around, school board members will either have to change the district’s fund balance policy or look at making cuts.

Aside from staffing, the two other big chunks of the district’s budget are maintenance and technology. But with the new technology infrastructure and the integration of iPads into education, cuts to the technology budget will be difficult.

“You cannot skimp on the technology budget because you need it to work,” Worthing said.

As for maintenance, Worthing said the district cannot afford to cut preventative maintenance either, especially considering the work, such as new roofing and parking lots, that was performed during the recent referendum.
One area the district could generate more revenue in is athletics participation fees. The district currently charges students $10 per sport at the middle school, and $20 per sport at the high school. 

Many districts charge much higher fees for student participation in athletics. 

A survey done by the Sun Prairie Area School District in 2012 revealed that Janesville charges a base fee of $75. Some sports pay less, such as baseball and softball ($23) and football ($65), while hockey players pay $600 to participate. Madison area high schools charge a base of $115 per sport, while Verona charges $125 and Middleton, $172.

Closer to home, middle school students in Cambridge charge $50 per sport, and $60 per sport at the high school, according to Cambridge School District Director of Business Services Kathy Davis.

The Milton School District is not far behind neighboring Cambrige. The district charges seventh and eight graders $40 per sport with a family maximum of $120, and $50 per sport with a family maximum of $150 at the high school level, according to Milton School District Director of Business Services Mary Ellen Van Valin.

“Once the family reaches that max, then their kids participate for free,” Van Valin said.

Although Edgerton’s student participation fees are lower compared to other districts, the board is not discussing increasing fees at this time.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Riling the Edgerton community

Last week I ran a photo collage of some Edgerton Halloween parties. There was a sexy teachers, flight attendant, a slightly inebriated bumble bee, a vampire king and queen, demons, nun, fairies, Ironman, witches, the list goes on and on. When my page and a half of photos was complete, I had a collection of some very interesting characters. I could not run the photo of the man dressed as a Hooters chick with fake boobs hanging out, but I did get a go ahead on the following photo:

But alas, there was no blowback, no problems with Matt King playing willing sacrifice to devil's minion Cassie Nottestad and her vampire queen mother, Terri Nottestad. Surprisingly, it was the picture of the Lakeview Campground Halloween contest winners that irked the locals.

The accompanying caption: Edgerton resident Ken Kueng, dressed as a terrorist, won for scariest costume at Lakeview Campground, while the crowd could not decide whether Kristen Ransom (teacher) of Evansville or Stephanie Jacobson (stewardess) of Janesville was the sexiest, resulting in a tie.

Here are the results:

"It was fun seeing all the Halloween pictures in the paper, all except one! I feel publishing the picture of the terrorist as a winner of a costume contest was in poor taste in light of all the recent shootings and bombings throughout the world. Halloween is about having fun, this was a little too realistic and offensive to me. Thank you for listening and I do really enjoy reading the paper every week." - Disappointed Reader, Cindy Johnson

The second letter writer was a little more agitated.

"I would like to express my sincere concern about the Halloween section of the most recently published Reporter. A man (who won a costume contest) was pictured in a turban, long beard, holding a gun and the display read "Terrorist." By publishing this picture, it solidifies the idea that negative stereotypes about a certain culture are okay. I was disgusted to see that the town that I grew up in was openly promoting negative images of a certain group. Who knows what kind of implications this picture might have on some members of our community. Please think before you publish something so distasteful and wrong." - Bethany Wedvick

I must admit, I personally get bothered when people treat all people from the Middle East like they are terrorists. At the same time, I cannot deny that since 9/11, our society has been programmed to do just that. My own cousin a couple years ago admitted to wanting to get off an airplane after seeing someone of Middle Eastern descent, and I was outraged.

When I ran this photo, my intention was to show the Halloween costume winners, not to make a political statement.
And while it was a little frustrating to hear that people were bothered by the picture, I am also a little proud that something I did infuriated not one, but two people so much they felt the need to write a Letter to the Editor. More than three years in Sun Prairie working for The Star, and I that never happened.

And like I told my boss: "Instead of complaining about the terrorist winning most scary, they should be relieved the man in assless chaps did not win for most sexy OR scary." Thankfully she chuckled.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween musings

Later tonight the streets will be filled with witches, superheroes, vampires, ninjas, ballerinas, pop stars, minions and more. Accompanied by their parents, young children will go door-to-door trick-or-treating, their buckets filled with store-bought candy.
Halloween is the night when it is acceptable to don your scariest costume. When I woke up this morning, it was with a love for the frightful holiday. And yet I never expected to have one of the scariest revelations of my young life. 
For the past 10 years, our country has been at war in the Middle East. As freedom-loving individuals, many times we abhor the Muslim religion for how it treats women. As a woman, I myself have had those harsh thoughts. But this morning, I did they get there? And are we really that far behind?
I cannot help but fear that our society is on the same path. After all, very rarely is change overnight. Many times change occurs slowly. After all, if you tell someone to objectify or demean someone, they may resist. The degradation of society does not occur overnight. It is a slow process that occurs by gradually changing group mindset. 
If you turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, what do you see? Shows teaching good values? Or scantily-clad women and seduction? Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not a prude. But movies that used to be rated R once upon a time would most likely now be considered PG or at the most, PG-13. What used to be private is now, well...not. 
What if this is our undoing? Sure, sex sells, always will. But by objectifying women - or any segment of the population - it belittles those to little more than property. Men desire what they see, and they see as not as people with rights they should respect, but as something they want, or must have.
I am not perfect. When Magic Mike came out...whew! Just the thought of it brings a smile to my face. And therein lies the problem. When I get dressed up for Halloween, I feel like one of the only women in an actual costume. I see sexy nurse, sexy teacher, sexy flight attendant, sexy everything. And here I am as Lois Lane or a minion, in pants or floor length dresses. 
Our society is one of instant gratification. There is no thought to the future, just now. What if this is our undoing? What if in 200 years, we are the new Middle East? Will anyone be able to trace it back to its roots, pinpoint the exact moment when everything began unraveling? 
Yes, there are people that work to make this world a better place. But to my eyes, the younger generation - people my age and younger - are as a whole, not worldly. Their worries are personal, not global, and they struggle to see how events link together, how one action stems multiple reactions. 
Many times my peers look at me strangely. When I make a decision, I think about all the different outcomes that could occur as a result, outcomes others do not even consider until I bring it up. What a sad commentary, when foresight and consideration are not a part of our thought process.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong, and that our instant gratification culture does not degrade our society to the point that we do not value and respect life. 
The Most Cynical Optimist

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Edgerton the center of Halloween invasion

**I am trying something a little different this week. To see photo cutlines, position the mouse over the photo.**

Photos by Rachel Wittrock

By Rachel Wittrock
Reporter staff

Edgerton is being invaded. Large spiders have begun teaming up for a roofside assault on an Edgerton home. Zombies have begun to claw their way to the surface. A mummy and his new
bride take up an observational post, watching locals as they go about their day, gathering information for their fearless leader. The mischievous yet lovable minions from Despicable Me have arrived in town, and have been spotted plotting outside another resident’s house.

Halloween may be a week away, but some Edgerton residents have begun preparing for the annual spookfest. From zombies to ghosts, mummies to minions, much planning and care has been put into the lawn decor. Many houses feature pumpkins on the porch, but a few clearly show a love for the spooky holiday.

The house that stands at 311 Marlboro Ave. could double as a Halloween shop. A large spiderweb stretches from lawn to roof, and oversize spiders prepare to make the climb. A skeleton riding a lawn mower is on the other side of the yard, and a skeleton head hangs from the basketball hoop. Tombstones, skulls on posts and skeleton warriors have been placed in the yard. Is this where the zombie apocalypse will begin?

The mummy and mummy’s bride are keeping an eye on everyone from outside 315 W. Fulton St. Or are they keeping an eye on their skeleton and pumpkin head children, playing nearby?
If you wander down Rollin St., you just might catch sight of seven of Gru’s minions. But watch out, a couple of them look like they might have a prank or two up their overalls. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Tackling Rockman 2013!

The past couple weeks have been quite busy. Edgerton hosted the one and only Patch Adams on Sept. 27 and 28 for the Sterling North Book and Film Festival. I was privy to his visit at the Ronald McDonald House in Madison on the 27th, and later that evening at the red carpet author’s reception. He is a very caring, comedic and serious man.
Unfortunately, I did not make it to the book and film festival. Instead, I was in Watertown participating in the 3rd annual Rockman Challenge. The triathlon begins with a paddle on the Rock River (2 miles this year), a 15.5 mile bike course, a 5K run, quarter mile military style obstacle course and 50 meter sack hop to the finish. Your reward? A finisher medal and chicken dinner!
The past couple years my goal was just to survive. And after my canoe rental was not there in year one and my borrowed trick kayak submerged in the middle of the lake, it was rough. But I was determined to finish. That first year I spent 4.5 hours completing the course.
Last year, my canoe rental was actually there and that alone shaved a half hour off my time. Although taking time off is always a good thing, I was disappointed with my 3 hours, 56 minutes finish.
During the past year, I have taken steps to a healthier lifestyle. I’ve found a nutrition plan that works for me, and I have shed 15 pounds. When I began this year’s Rockman Challenge, all of that work became apparent. Despite the fact I had not paddled any kind of boat in a year, I found myself moving much quicker on the lake. The bike portion - well a huge part of it no doubt was my road bike versus the mountain bike the last two years - but even that was easier. I pedaled up hills instead of disembarking and walking, and I was biking a mile in 4-5 minutes versus 6+ minutes last year.
Sack hop to the finish baby!
The run and obstacle course were the same. The 5K run is always the hardest. My muscles need warming up from all the biking. I had run/walked two of the three miles before my muscles finally warmed up and running was comfortable. The third mile I finally hit my stride. The obstacle course felt harder this year, probably because I was pushing myself harder.
When I finally crossed the finish line, my time was 2 hours, 51 minutes, 15 seconds - a full hour and 5 minutes faster than last year. Granted, the paddle and bike courses were each a mile shorter this year, but I figure that only accounts for 24 or 25 minutes - the other 40 minutes were personal improvement.
Talk about neon swag!
Looking towards next year, I plan to train a lot more for the race. My road bike is relatively new - I brought it down in June - and I think also figuring out what speeds for going up and down hills will help. Next year, I am aiming to slice another 30 minutes off my tri time.
Although I plan to do the Rockman Challenge again next year as an individual, it would be great to make it a group event. I encourage anyone interested in triathlons or looking for a fun, personal challenge to check out the race.
Much thanks to the Watertown Challenge Association for continuing to host this event, and to Rutabaga for the amazing canoe/kayak rentals!

Hope to see you there in 2014!

(How about that Rockman T-shirt? I am planning to don my race shirt for the Glow Run in Madison next May!)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Military flavor offered at Boot Camp run

The Army and Army Reserve team of Sgt. Mitroka, Sgt. Kersten, Sfc. Reveles and Sgt. Whitlow received top military team during the first ever Edgerton Hospital Boot Camp run.

By Rachel Wittrock
Reporter staff

Edgerton residents Janet Fandrey and Amy Hockenberry scale a wall.
Edgerton residents not afraid of a challenge could be found at Edgerton Hospital on Saturday, Sept. 14. The traditional 5K/10K run was held at 8:30 a.m., with the 5K walk opening at 8:45.

Approximately 60 of the day’s 137 runners signed up for the challenging new race, Boot Camp, which took residents over, under and through different military-style obstacle courses.

From monkey bars to walls, scaling up and over a cargo net held in place by two Marines and walking or running while carrying a bag of sand, the race, true to its name, gave participants a taste of military boot camp.

“I think the cargo net climb was the most fun obstacle for people because it is something the average person does not run into in their life,” Eric Stockman of Milton Family Recreation said. “I think after getting over it, they had a deep sense of accomplishment.”

Current military personnel mann-ed the different obstacles. Did you fall on the monkey bars? Go back and try again. Fall off the balance beam or use your hands for balance? Drop and do 10 push-ups. While the roughly 60 Boot Campers had the option to skip any obstacle, most chose to face the course.

Brody Butterfield decked out in Army camo
“The Marines said it was a great event for them to get out of the office and get a chance to support the local community,” Stockman said. “It [Boot Camp] is pretty much doing what they do in real life. They train that way.”

With categories for military, law enforcement and civilians, the 5K obstacle course run drew everyone from local military recruiters to individuals wanting more than the traditional run.

Dressed in camouflage shorts and a black Army T-shirt, the four-person United States Army and Army Reserves team of Sgt. Mitroka, Sgt. Kersten, Sfc. Reveles and Sgt. Whitlow captured the top team time spot.

The team Jeff and 5 College Kids captured first place in the citizen team competition.

Edgerton resident Janet Fandrey signed up for Boot Camp as part of a personal goal to do one race every month from April to October. The race was also an anniversary of sorts, marking one year since Fandrey embarked on her weight-loss journey. With her friend Amy Hocken-berry by her side, both in training and Boot Camp, Fandrey lost 30 lbs. and tackled the challenging course.
Janet Fandrey and Amy Hockenberry weren't afraid of a bit of mud.

And neither was I!
Although Boot Camp waves were scheduled to run from 9 a.m. to noon, no one was game to tackle the course in the afternoon. The final heat - a field of five females, including Fandrey and Hockenberry - took off at 10:30 a.m.

After two loops of the military course, racers had to wade or crawl through the water below the monkey bars, then crawl under a net through mud before getting their just rewards - pears, oranges and water - at the finish line.

“Everybody always thinks the event will not be for them because they have it in their mind what these runs entail,” Stockman said. “But in reality, it is fun for everybody. Everybody that walked away had fun. I saw a lot of extreme laugher when people crossed the finish line.”

Wondering what you missed? Check out this video clip from the race: 
Hope to see you there next year!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Iron will: Wellenkotter top at 2013 Ironman

By Rachel Wittrock
Reporter staff

With a smile on his face, a man dressed in a blue and white triathlete uniform strode across the finish line, his hands raised in a sign of victory.

“Jedd, you are an Ironman!” the announcer proclaimed in a booming voice.

A man and a woman, dressed in light blue T-shirts marking them as race volunteers, rushed up to wrap the exhausted competitor in a thermal blanket and guide him to water and a chair.

The athlete was none other than Edgerton’s own Jedd Wellenkotter, who began Sunday’s race with dreams of making it to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

But what does it take to be an Ironman competitor? The 140.6-mile race is not for the faint of heart or the weekend warrior. The grueling race challenges competitors to complete a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and cap it all off with a marathon.

Yet every year, thousands sign up for the ultra-triathlon, which is held in different cities around the world.

In preparation for his return to the Madison Ironman - Wellenkotter competed but did not finish due to health reasons in 2009 - the Edgerton resident put in 15-25 hours a week for months. He trained two to four hours during the week, and put in four to five hour workouts on the weekend.

“It is a lifestyle,” Wellenkotter said, explaining his drive to compete in long-distance triathlons. “I am never bored, my weekends are always full and I always have something to do.”

The race began at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8 with approximately 2,800 competitors, both male and female, plunging into Lake Monona to begin the 2.4-mile swim. When Wellenkotter emerged from the lake an hour and three minutes later, he was ranked 128th overall and 14th in his male 30-34 age division.

The 30-year-old paced past the competition during the bike ride, picking up 87 spots throughout the 112-mile course. By the time he arrived at Monona Terrace and prepared to trade cycling shoes for running shoes, he had shot up to 41st overall and fifth in his age division.

The third and final part of the race was a marathon around Madison - including two loops up the challenging incline that is Observatory Drive.

Despite experiencing severe stomach cramps, Wellenkotter maintained a strong mile pace, running an average mile time of 7:52 for the first half of the race. As the Edgerton resident hit mile 16, trouble set in. His stomach cramps disappeared, only to reappear in his legs, glutes and hamstrings.

“It was pretty bad cramps that wouldn’t allow me to run more than a half mile, then I would cramp up and I would have to work my cramps out. Then I’d be able to jog a little more. It really slowed me up for eight miles,” Wellenkotter said.

Meanwhile, Tinley Park, Ill. resident Mark Higgins - who Wellenkotter passed during the early part of the bike race, began challenging Wellenkotter. Although the Edgerton resident had an eight minute lead on Higgins entering the marathon, by the time Wellenkotter crossed the 16.8 mile marker, Higgins was just 13 seconds behind.

When Wellenkotter passed the next checkpoint at mile 19, Higgins had passed him and had more than a minute’s lead.

Higgins went on to finish the Ironman in 10 hours, 5 seconds and garnered the last male 30-35 age division qualifying spot, with Wellenkotter finishing shortly after, in 10 hours, 11 minutes and 58 seconds.

“There is a lot of times during the race where you are not feeling good, and you can never really completely bag your race and get down on yourself because it really affects Ironman and your performance,” Wellenkotter said. “You just have to deal with the bad and embrace the good.”

When he was struggling, Wellenkotter found encouragement in the thousands of people who showed up to volunteer for the Madison Iron

“It is the best race I have ever done as far as crowd support and volunteers go,” Wellenkotter said.
“It really kind of shows how Madison is when it comes to events like that, people coming together, and I think it is kind of a Wisconsin thing too,” Wellenkotter added. “Of any place I’ve ever raced, Madison volunteers and fans are just top-notch.”

Despite his struggles, Wellenkotter placed 52nd overall and 11th in his age division, placing him within the top 2 percent of the day’s competitors.

While his dreams of competing with the best at the Ironman World Championships may have been delayed, Wellenkotter is not ready to give up. He has already signed up for the 2014 Madison Ironman race, and is considering signing up for Ironman races in other states this spring, with the hope of qualifying for the 2014 World Championships.

So what does it take to be an Ironman?
“You have to be motivated. It definitely takes a level of self-motivation. You have to train, you have to really put in the work to get there,” Wellenkotter said. “It just takes being open to new things too.

“Try running, try swimming, try biking, and if you enjoy even one of those things, start doing it,” the Edgerton Ironman added. “As you become more involved in the endurance-type community, it seems like all roads always lead to a triathlon, no matter what endurance sport you are in.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Catching up...

Well, I have been working at my new job long enough to get my first paycheck, and boy am I happy! (;

I must admit, Edgerton is a much smaller town than Sun Prairie, population around 5,500, but you would never know it with all the events going on. Chilimania, Thresheree, the Sterling North Book and Film Festival, Edgerton Hospital Boot Camp Run, a historic Tour of Homes...

My first day on Monday, Aug. 26 went well. I joked that my first day in Sun Prairie I met the mayor and was at St. Mary's when they saw their 10,000 patient. My first day in Edgerton I covered two Stoughton teens who broke the world record for the longest ping-pony rally - one serve lasted 8.5 hours! Imagine being in Guiness before you have graduated high school!

This past weekend I covered Chilimania in Edgerton on Saturday and then headed back to my old stomping grounds to cover Ironman in Madison. Edgerton residents Jedd Wellenkotter and Alan Severson participated in the 140.6 mile race. Wellenkotter was 52nd overall out of a field of 2,800, while Severson was 309th.

I'm going to give my blog a little facelift in the upcoming weeks. In Sun Prairie I would post links to my stories on the website. The Reporter has a PDF viewer on its website, so you have to subscribe to read the stories. I have nothing against that, but I will probably post one or two of my stories to my blog every week so those of you that follow me can read some of my work.

My first story will be the one on Edgerton Ironman Jedd Wellenkotter. Watch for that to pop up tomorrow morning!

What is on post for this weekend? Why none other than the Edgerton Hospital Boot Camp! I intend to tackle the 3-mile course, which includes military obstacles, dressed in my desert camouflage pants, a green T-shirt, hiking boots...and Army face paint.

Until next time!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

More exciting news!

I must admit, even though I know change is not something to fear, it sometimes makes me nervous, especially when I am plunging into the unknown. But change is coming my way, full throttle, and this time I am very excited! 

On Thursday, Aug. 1, I was offered the news/government reporter for the Edgerton Reporter. On Wednesday, Aug. 21, I had my last day with The Star in Sun Prairie. The next day, on Aug. 22,  I met with my new landlord to hand over my security deposit and rent for the rest of this month. I am very excited to be moving from a 2-bedroom apartment in Sun Prairie to a house in Edgerton. 

I know, I know, the whole house is not mine, just the second story, but it has been converted into a new 2-bedroom apartment. The house is about 90 years old, but thankfully is up to date on electricity, which means if I get a window AC unit or plug my computer in, it will not blow the circuit, lol. 

It comes with my own washer and dryer in the basement and my own garage, but the real gem is the fenced in backyard. 

I will also be saving on gas - work is a half mile away, city hall is two blocks away, and so is the place that houses School Board meetings! The local library, police and fire station are also just a couple blocks away, and downtown is right around the corner!

The only thing that could possibly make my life better is if I can find a subleaser for my Sun Prairie apartment before September 1, so I do not have to pay for rent at two places. Keeping fingers crossed. 

Move-in was Saturday, Aug. 24. A more exhausting weekend could not be imagined. Saturday morning I ran Mud, Sweat and Beers in Sun Prairie (a post on that with pictures will soon follow), and the whole afternoon was spent finishing packing, loading up the U-Haul, my parents' van and two more cars. Then the drive to Edgerton and unloading everything. 

An angel came my way with Karen and Rick Klemp, my "second parents." They made the day go a lot more smoothly and faster. We would have been moving until midnight were it not for them. As it was we wrapped up around 8 p.m. and then my parents and I took them out for dinner at 2 Brothers. Delicious! 

Now time to unpack the boxes and start getting the apartment set up. Well, next weekend. I start my new job tomorrow. Can't wait!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Moving on, up, out

It has been a harrowing couple months. I am not going to get into too much detail for a few reasons, but suffice it to say life was moving a little too fast and I was getting burned out and physically ill. 

On the same day in mid-July, I came down with pink eye, a viral infection and was minutes away from heat exhaustion. My physical exhaustion caused me to come close to passing out three times in a week. I’m sure my body fighting off two infections simultaneously played into it as well.

However, in the past three weeks things have gotten much better. I am over my bouts of illness and the weather has begun to cool off, postponing my battle with the scorching gaze of Mother Nature for another year.

In the midst of all the craziness, I did send my resume out to a couple papers with open positions. One of them was the Edgerton Reporter. 
I must admit, when I graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater I originally hoped for the Fort Atkinson newspaper position to stay close to my alma mater and my martial arts gym. When I instead got the position at the Sun Prairie Star, I joyfully accepted, and for the last three years I have driven to Whitewater for martial arts. The downside is the money I saved on monthly dues was swallowed up in gas commuting. But it is family and I love it there, so I continued with the hour-long commute. 

But beginning Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, the commute will be getting much shorter. Beginning Thursday, Aug. 22, I begin working for the Edgerton Reporter.

The community is about a seventh of Sun Prairie, but hey, I grew up in Antigo, I’m familiar with the small town community. And Madison is only 30 minutes away. Let’s face it, with the traffic on Washington, it takes me about 25 minutes to drive 12 miles to my friend’s apartment in Madison. I’m glad to tack on an extra 5 minutes for faster moving traffic and skip the 26 traffic lights. 

The benefit of a smaller community - oh hell, a community outside of Madison - is a much cheaper cost of living. I’m currently paying $840 a month for a 2-bedroom in Sun Prairie - no heat, electricity, water or sewage included. I’ve begun looking for places in Edgerton, and 2-bedrooms are running $600-$650, some with heat/water included. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love Sun Prairie. For the past three years I have enjoyed living in a community that is bustling. It may not be Chicago or New York City bustling, but were you not listening to me earlier? I grew up in ANTIGO...when the nice restaurant in town has a fake deer on the roof and half your dates end with a walk around Wal-Mart, you can only go up. So Sun Prairie is a bustling, busy city to my perspective. The people are great and friendly and I have been blessed to grow and mature as a journalist. 

But as I thought about, I had to consider one thing: while I love the fun stories I do, will it bring me closer to my career goals of covering military affairs or international news? And the answer was...I don’t know. And that scared me. I like settling in and getting comfortable. At the same time, I do not want to wake up in five years and realized I got comfortable and my life slipped past. I am OK with being comfortable, but I also want to move forward, and I feel like covering news and government in Edgerton will bring me closer to my career goals.

The shift is scary, but also exciting. Change is not something we should fear. Although it is hard, we must embrace change, welcome it, learn and grow from it. Nothing worth having comes easy. You must be willing to make sacrifices and face the unknown, but in the end, it will be worth it. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Veterans Camp for Families - Part 3 - May 5, 2013

Alrighty, should have had this up last weekend. I apologize, things got a little hectic...

For the third and final day of the Veteran's Camp, we gathered together after breakfast and headed into town for a boat tour on the Wisconsin Dells River. I must admit, it was kind of amusing to have two trailors each with a couple dozen people hooked up to tractors and driving through the town. Granted, it wasn't that far, maybe a mile, but it was enough. By the time we arrived at the parking lot, we had started a little parade. Behind the second tractor was a string of oh, probably 8 or 9 cars that were forced to slow down - presumably on their way to church - and wait for us to reach our destination.

We did get to disembark at Stand Rock and see a German Shepherd jump the gap at Stand Rock, as well as do some exploring at Witch's Gulch. I must admit, I think it is much more impressive that a human being made the five foot jump at Stand Rock. Not that seeing the dog jump wasn't impressive - because it was - but I think dogs have a little advantage in that department. (;

The Dells boat trip marked the end of the weekend for the veterans. After the tour we went back to camp, had some lunch and a gathered in a circle and just shared a couple thoughts from the weekend. I loved the fact that being with the older kids enabled me to share in the experiences with them. It was more like a vacation than work, to be honest.

Afterwards the veterans and their families began packing up and heading out, while the staff and volunteers - myself included - began cleaning the cabins. After helping strip the bedsheets from some of the cabins, I headed up to the larger cabin because I was told that usually took a long time to clean and the more people cleaning, the better.

I was joined by a couple other females there, and I must admit, I probably wiped down 40-50 mattresses to make sure they would be clean for the next campers. Of course that was when I was told that staff had already cleaned in there and all the work we had been doing for the past hour was pointless. I maintain that it was just that more clean for the next group of campers. Plus I managed to wipe up some stuff off a couple mattresses that I guess the previous person missed. We'll just say I'm very thorough. (:

I have to admit, I really enjoyed my time volunteering with Easter Seals Wisconsin, and if they will have me back, I would like to return in September for the next Veteran's Camp for Families. Who knows? Maybe next time I'll ask to work with the younger children. Variety is the spice of life...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Family Day for Veterans - Part 2 - May 4, 2013

On Saturday the real work began, and by work, I mean a full day of awesome.
After an early breakfast, we broke into two groups: one group boarded a shuttle bus and headed to a nearby pond to do some fishing. The other group took a tractor-drawn wagon ride to the ropes course. Since my partner, Keri, was heading to the ropes course with some of the older children, I decided to go fishing with the others. Most of the parents chose to have their kids with them, so there really was not much for me to do...except join in the fishing.
Granted, I am pretty sure that I was as old as some of the younger children - the ones using the red and blue Spiderman poles - the last time I went fishing. And today I remembered why: I hate touching worms. Luckily, one of the veterans was nice enough to put a worm on my line, and after I caught my second fish, taught me how to de-hook the fish so I could throw him back in the pond. I was able to try my hand at that solo, when a young boy, Connor, caught his FIFTH fish! I told his dad he could catch our supper, lol. I unhooked his fish - poor little guy was snagged right through the left side of its lip - and hand Connor the fish so he could throw it back.

Young Connor catches his fifth fish of the day. I still say we should have let the children catch us dinner...

After lunch we had craft time - the veterans and older children transformed regular black and white composition books into journals, using glue, glitter, colored paper, tape, magazine photos, stickers, whatever struck their fancy.
The activities continued into the afternoon when the younger children (ages 11 and younger) headed to the gym for an obstacle course, while the older children were with me and a counselor, Annabelle, doing more journaling.

Two camp girls show off the journals they created.

Around 4 p.m., we were divided into two groups again: this time I was headed to the ropes course. Man, did it take me back to high school summer phy ed. There were three different climbing walls, each a different difficulty. Once you climbed to the top of the tower using one of the three walls, you then hooked into a zipline and weeeee! Away you went!
There was also a high-ropes course, approximately 50 feet above the ground. Only unlike my high school’s high ropes course, which had Jacob’s ladder and a post you climbed before jumping off to grab a trapeze, this course was connected. You walked onto a bridge and were hooked into the first station, where you grabbed a rope and walked across a wooden bridge. At the end you hooked into the second station and began crossing on rubber tires. The third section is when it started to get tricky. Unlike the two bridges, which had ropes you could grab onto for balance, the third station had no ropes. You could grab onto the rope connecting you to the zipline, but otherwise you had to cross the wooden log unaided. 

Camp staff Ben helps hook a young boy in for the climbing wall at Easter Seals WI's Family Camp for Veterans.

I thought that was tough enough...until I got to the fourth section. Although ropes were spaced out overhead, the real trick was reaching the five feet to the first rope, while walking a tightrope. I tried walking the tightrope straight on, but slipped and fell. I managed to catch myself before I zipped over to the other side, and from then on sidestepped across the tightrope. Once I reached the end of that section, it was time for the fifth and final part, which was also the easiest. It was basically a cargo net rope tunnel. The rope netted up high on either side, so you felt like you were cradled within the ropes, and it was just a matter of walking to the end.
Again, since I was technically with the children ages 13-17, there was very little babysitting or watching on my end, and it was more participating with everyone else, and visiting with the veterans and their families.

One of the youth at the Family Camp for Veterans scales one of the climbing walls. Once at the top, campers were able to hop a quick ride to the ground via a zipline.

Our night concluded with a kickball game with the children. About halfway through this 3-year-old, Jeremiah, joined in, and I just about died he was so cute. He came up behind me, with his hands out in front of him like claws, and chased me: Shark Attack! Nothing throws a wrench in a kickball game than a shark attack!
Afterwards we all gathered around a campfire for s’mores and campfire songs. Some of those were just so hilarious I could not stop laughing. Others I remember singing as a child, and now laughed because listening to the words, I can’t believe they are children’s songs. Henry the Worm, constantly increasing in size because he ate his sister, then brother, then mother, then dad, then shrunk when he burped them all up. I’m sitting there going, oh no! Matricide! I’m not feeling too good about his dad....
I finished up the night by talking with one of the veterans, Pat Jahnke. He and I were joking all day. He saw me come out in my camouflage pants and green shirt and was joking that we should play paintball in the woods later. Except he and one of his buddies would grab the paintball guns and I’d be hiding in the woods. I told them I’d be up for it, but they better be ready, because I would not make it easy on them. They would have to find me...

Weee! Parents and children alike enjoyed the climbing wall and zipline at the Easter Seals WI Family Camp for Veterans in Wisconsin Dells this past weekend.

However, the other volunteers and staff were not too keen on the idea, so I told him I’d work on it for the next Family Day for Veterans in the fall, lol.
Today is the last day of camp, and thankfully it will not be as long, or as strenuous. We will actually be taking a 2-hour boat ride in Wisconsin Dells, and after lunch it will be time to pack up and say goodbye. I must admit, I signed up thinking I would be working with the kids, and I have, but this weekend has been more fun than I expected. Getting to interact and do the activities with the families makes me feel more like a camper than volunteer, plus they provided food and board for the three days/two nights.
Unfortunately I cannot help out with the summer camps they have going on - those are run during the week instead of on the weekends, but I will make sure to keep an eye out for any future camp weekends Easter Seals Wisconsin offers. And I hope to be back in September to help with the next veteran’s camp. 

Me in front of the high ropes course.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Day at Camp

I’ve said before that it is hard to plan too far in advance when it comes to my personal life, mainly because my plans change so suddenly and sometimes with little warning. That happened again this week, but in a great way.
About a week ago, my friend Katka Showers-Curtis sent me a message on Facebook. She had noticed I walk for Wounded Warrior Project using the Charity Miles app, and was wondering if I wanted to volunteer with Easter Seals WI for its upcoming camp for veterans and their families. My answer? Where do I sign up?
Unfortunately my life is a little busy, and I did not get a chance to submit an application until Thursday, May 2....and the camp is scheduled for Friday, May 3 - Sunday, May 5. Luckily they were able to get my application scheduled, run a background check and one of my references submitted a form online the same day. In the end they were able to squeeze me in as a volunteer.
I was talking with Patti from Easter Seals WI on Thursday, May 2 at 3 p.m. when I realize that the in Wisconsin Dells. I had originally thought it was in Madison and would be able to show up to help on Friday and Sunday, and help with Hammer with a Heart on Saturday. But when I realized the camp was in Wisconsin Dells, I would be needed all three days and would be housed on-site for the duration of the weekend...I had to scramble.
I called one of my Sun Prairie mothers to see if she would know of anyone who could take care of Artemis, and as it turns out, she was free. That was my big worry. A cat can pretty much take care of itself, but dogs need more TLC and exercise, not to mention nature calls.
With that huge burden lifted off my chest, I could focus on getting everything packed and ready - I had to be there in 24 hours.
Somehow - between the interviews and the martial arts and work - I managed to get everything done and packed in time to hit the road at 2:20 on Friday. I pulled into Camp Wawbeek about an hour later, and the first of the families began arriving around 5:30 p.m.

I was joined by five other girls - most of them from the University of Wisconsin - LaCrosse - who also signed up to volunteer. I have to admit, it feels a little weird being big sister - I am the only volunteer with a full-time job and who is not currently attending college. But half the time I feel older than my 26 years, so it isn’t exactly a new thing.
Anyway, we will actually be working with the children of the attending veterans. A couple of the other volunteers were really excited to want to work with the 8 months-6 year old kids, so I let them have that group. Another two wanted to work with the next age group, 7-12 year olds. A small part of me wanted to work with the younger children group, but honestly, I am pretty flexible. And truth be told, thanks to all the interviews I do with students at Cardinal Heights Upper Middle School and Sun Prairie High School on the job, I actually have a pretty easy time connecting with the teen crowd. It comes pretty easy and I can laugh and joke with them, it is much easier to find that common ground.
During dinner on Friday we were able to meet with some of the attending families and strike up a conversation. Afterwards we all headed to the gymnasium, where we all gathered around in a circle. One person would then go in the middle and say “I like my neighbor who likes....” and however the person finished the sentence, anyone who also liked whatever it was would move to another spot in the circle. Between ice cream, animals, sunshine, running, swimming, dancing and a slew of others, I was constantly running to another spot. 

Karaoke with Tony the Tiger and Superman do a stirring rendition of Livin' the Liva Loca while Spiderman watches.

Our first day finished with some karaoke (yours truly polished off the pipes and did a fairly decent job singing “Beauty and the Beast”). I must admit, I did love it when people would dress up for their vocal debut - a tiger teamed up with Superman to sing Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca.”
I am not quite sure what Saturday will bring since I will be with the older children. A part of me is kind of hoping they will want to try the high ropes course the camp offers - because then I would probably get a chance to do that too. The forecast right now is calling for rain though, and my guess is if that happens, our plans will change.
Whatever the day brings, I am just glad to be able to give back to some of Wisconsin’s veterans. They have sacrificed so much for us, it feels good to be able to give something back.
Until tomorrow....

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 4: Humbled

At 9 a.m. on Friday we disembarked for Hoboken, N.J. for our Fun Day. We arrived close to 11:30 a.m. and began our day by touring the Cake Boss site. Unfortunately, he was filming today and was unable to greet us, but we did get to tour inside because one of the St. Albert parishioners’ daughter works on the show. Upon entering I just smelled the delicious aromas. Oh, and the cakes. Wedding cakes, a Sesame Street cake, a cake shaped like a wrestling ring, cakes, cakes and more cakes. Unfortunately I cannot show any pictures because the episode they were filming will not air for a few months, but I can tell you some of them were quite elaborate.

From there, we were given 5 hours to wander around New Jersey and sightsee. A number of people chose to visit Carlo’s Bake Shop, which is the Cake Boss’s shop. Originally I was going to check it out, but when I saw the line stretching down a block and heard the average wait was 1.5-2 hours, I decided I did not really want a cupcake or slice of cake that bad. A small group of us decided to walk down along the shore and try to get closer to the Statue of Liberty. Then we discovered that if we boarded a ferry, we were only 10 minutes away from New York and the 9/11 Memorial. When we realized we could purchase a round trip for $12, all seven of us were sold.

Going rogue: Me, Arlene Skrenes and Susan Leet were among the 7 that went rogue and fled the state of New Jersey and hopped a ferry to check out the 9/11 Memorial.
The ferry departed every 30 minutes, and lucky for us the next ferry was due to leave in 10 minutes. After disembarking in New York, we were only a few blocks from the Freedom Tower. We asked a couple locals for directions and figured out where we needed to go to get tickets. The tickets were complimentary, it was just a matter of waiting in line.

What really struck me was the atmosphere in the 9/11 Preview Center. The walls were covered with the timeline of 9/11 and enlarged photographs from the aftermath. In one photo, a man was holding a sign asking if anyone had seen his loved one, while his face was an expression of loss. In another a man was pinning up a poster of his loved one, also missing.

All of a sudden, it hit me. These were people’s brothers, sisters, parents and children. I was 15 years old when the towers came crumbling down, and neither my parents nor I personally knew anyone working in the vicinity. I remember being in a state of disbelief as I watched the second airplane hit the World Trade Center and when the buildings crumbled to the ground within seconds, but like I said, I was 15. It didn’t seem “real” to me at the time.

I’ve seen the long-term aftermath, the war, the fallen soldiers, the imposed restrictions, especially on airlines, but there is something totally different about seeing the Memorial, seeing the faces of 9/11. It really did strike it home for me, that yes, it was real, the people were real. I don’t think I truly appreciated what 9/11 meant to our country until I visited the site.

One of the two Reflective Pools at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
As we made our way over to the Reflective Pools by the 9/11 Memorial, the feelings just got stronger, what it means to be safe, what it means to be free. I popped onto Facebook quick and messaged a couple of the guys I know who are currently serving, and thanked them for the sacrifices they make. Many times, we take our freedoms for granted, not realizing that if it weren’t for the men and women at arms, we could very well end up in a country where speaking out against the government or voicing your opinion could result in spending the rest of your life in jail, or even death. We have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press. We can speak our own minds and are free to follow our bless. Not everyone enjoys those liberties, which we do take for granted.

I feel so blessed to have been in the right place at the right time with the right people that I was able to have the opportunity to visit the 9/11 Memorial, I have wanted to do that ever since it was completed, but it was not something I would get to normally do. I honestly thought it would probably be another 10 years before I had the opportunity. The Memorial Museum is still being built, so I do hope to one day be able to return to New York to visit the Memorial when it is fully completed.

The tone of the afternoon for me was one of excitement to be going to the Memorial, amazement at the beauty of the architecture (not that I’m an expert or anything) and somber because of what the Memorial stands for. However, that does not mean I was totally serious. With this amazing group of people, that is hardly an option.

The rogues: From left to right, Me, Arlene Skrenes, Susan Leet, Bill and Maggie Zimmerman, Phil Jerg and our bus driver Tim in front of the 9/11 Memorial Reflective Pool.
During the ferry ride to New York, the upper deck of the ferry was closed. However, the upper deck of the ferry taking us back was not, so of course we had to go up on the deck for the ride. And of course we had to go all Kate Winslet in Titanic and take photos of ourselves leaning out over the bow. We were also joking around all day that we were “going rogue” because we took off, hopped the border into New York and had our own little expedition.

Well with me in the group, you know there is bound to be trouble. Although I am proud that I only had one police contact while here (surprisingly I was not caught the first day when I went WAY beyond the Police Line Do Not Cross tape). What can I say? In order to live, you’ve got to take risks, and all of them on this trip paid off.

Earlier today I closed my eyes, clicked my red ballet flats together, and recited “I don’t want to go home, I don’t want to go home.” Unfortunately, it did not work. I have enjoyed being the last one to bed at night because I am up until midnight blogging for you guys, but this will be my last trip entry. As I sit here at 11:27 p.m. on Friday, April 5, I am sad that at 6 a.m. on Saturday, April 6, our bus will depart New Jersey and begin the long trek back to Wisconsin. The days passed by in a flash, and the work was so rewarding. I’m sure my mom will see the irony: I hate cleaning my apartment, but was totally excited to clean up for complete strangers. If I could, I would totally stay here for at least another month, helping out in whatever way, shape or form I could. 

Every night in my dreams...Modeling Kate Winslet in Titanic on the ferry. The 9/11 Freedom Tower stands tall in the background.
This trip has definitely been the fuel to my fire, and the flames are being fanned. Every time I do something like this, helping someone else, it really does make me feel good, makes me feel like I am having an impact on someone else’s life for the better, and I have been searching for a way to do that since college. As time goes on, I would love to be able to serve my country and the world in whatever capacity I can, helping others and changing lives for the better.

I am so thankful for the people in my life who helped give me this opportunity. A large thank-you goes out to the people who sponsored me, my Aunt Joan and Uncle Ned, Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve, Aunt Sue, Aunt Julie and Uncle Scott, Aunt Barb and Uncle Charlie, Aunt Elaine and Uncle Bill, Grandma and Grandpa Wittrock, Grandma and Grandpa Goetz, Karen and Rick Klemp and the surprise last-minute donation from Peter Klein. Without all your generous donations and support, this trip would not have been possible. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all of your generous contributions.

I also want to thank St. Albert Youth Minister Lisa Kueter-Anderson, who was the brains behind the mission trip. She organized the whole she-bang and kept us updated during the whole planning process. She was also the one who dreamed the whole trip up. Without her, there would have been no trip, and I would not have the wonderful memories I made on this trip.

Thank you to my boss, Chris Mertes, and our General Manager, Barb Trimble, for agreeing to let me go on the trip and giving me the time off to go. I know firsthand how difficult it can be when one of our staff members is gone for a week. There is still layout to do, meetings to cover, and when I am gone, it is up to Chris to finish up my layout and cover my meetings and events. It can be a very heavy burden. Both Barb and Chris will be pleased to hear that I did not get nailed in the head by a 2x4 and develop brain damage, so I will be able to return to work on Monday.

Outside of the World Financial Center in New York City. (Photography by Rachel Wittrock)
Finally, I would also like to thank the group from Elyria Catholic High School in Elyria, Ohio. Without them, this trip would have been over before it begun. We needed 30 people to take the bus on the trip, and only had 16. Were it not for them agreeing to share their bus with us, this trip would not have happened. And kudos goes to the strong high school males on the trip, they took the initiative on the roadside cleanup and were carrying up all the heavy equipment: air conditioner units, doors, docks, a random metal jug. They played a big role in our efforts. Without them, we would not have been able to get as much done.

I hope that volunteer efforts will continue in the upcoming months. The people definitely need help, and the men and women I was able to speak to will remain in my prayers. In the meantime, I hope others will step forward and do what they can to Restore the Shore.

To see more photos from the day's events, click here.