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By women... for women...about women...

Water World Plus...


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C o ntents




Water World

Growing up in the heart of lake country, Samantha French now lives and works in New York City while selling her water-filled art across the world wide web. By Karen Ogdahl

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Ojibwe Artist


Yoga and More Yoga


Alaskan Adventure


The Primo Art Spa





Mushing for a Cure





This writer combines one of her favorite activities with one of her favorite causes. By Pam Landers Beading and quilting are Ojibwe arts learned by Cheryl Minnema from her grandmother, mother and sisters. By Carolyn Corbett

Educator Denise Sundberg entertains us as she experiences a variety of yoga classes in the area. By Denise Sundquist

An adventure seeking teacher from Staples brings home tales from Alaska. By Sandra Opheim

Writer Mary Aalgaard creates a new business in the area that’s bound to stir your creative juices. By Sheila Helmberger

In This Issue






Lean In by Meg Douglas Beauty More Than Skin Deep by Cynthia Bachman



Hope and Healing from Addiction by Kathleen Kr ueger

clubs and clusters


cultural diversity



witty woman

Downsizing is a Disaster by Joan Hasskamp

P h o t o s fo r F o r eve r by Bever ly Marx


art enterprise


Bright and Beautiful by Jenny Holmes


Just Joan by Jill Ander son


good reads

S t i t c h i n g To g e t h e r F r i e n d s h i p s and Quilts by Cindy Grotzke Elemental Studios By Jan Kur tz



Divorce by Mar y Aalgaard



Creativity in Bloom by Mar lene Cha bot



Chaga Saga by Elsie Husom


On The Cover

“ B r e a k t h r o u g h ,” a n o i l p a i n t i n g by Brainerd native Samantha French.



Read Online:

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Photo by Joey Halvorson

fro m the ed i to r

Working mothers Susan Mezzenga (right) and daughter Nicole Pomerleau

Lean In


When Susan Mezzenga hosts her family for a meal, you can count on plenty of conversation. Lots of good food and fun all come together in a comfortable chaos. In an earlier era, conversations between mothers and daughters centered on recipes, children…now, says Susan, she often talks to her daughter about work. Recently retired, Susan worked 28 years for Crow Wing County Social Services, 20 years as supervisor for the aging and disability division. Daughter Nicole Pomerleau graduated from Brainerd High School in 1993, St. Thomas University with an English/ journalism degree, worked in media and advertising for the past 15 years and is now media director at Colle McVoy in the Twin Cities. Both women have plenty to say about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In.”

Issues around women and work aren’t new but Sandberg brings her perspective as a chief operating officer of Facebook. While women make up half the work force, earn 57 percent of the undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of the masters, they still compose only 4.2 percent of the CEOs and earn only 77 cents for every dollar men earn. (2011 statistics ). While acknowledging external factors hold women back, Sandberg encourages women to examine a culture where women take fewer risks, doubt their skills and fall back on ‘Minnesota nice.’ “I backed into my career,” says Susan, whose college degree was interrupted by raising a family and a move. In her era, she says women were teachers, nurses or secretaries. When she found herself a single mom in an entry level job, she knew she needed to finish her degree. In contrast, Nicole’s world offered a range of career options. “My mom was my first mentor,” says Nicole. “She always said, ‘Go, do! You can be what you want.’” In no rush to settle down, Nicole followed the dot com bubble to San Francisco, until it burst. Then dreams of adventure took her to Thailand. “I trusted my gut,” she says, that work would await when she returned. Both agree that women continue to struggle balancing family and work. Very conscientious about her job, Susan would leave 10 year-old Nicole home sick, putting pressure on herself to be a good worker. In the current climate laughs Susan, “Social Services might have had us evaluated.” Mother to 18-month-old Lucia, Nicole describes her family-friendly work place as based on trust, where mothers can leave at 5 p.m. to pick up a child at daycare or miss a meeting to nurse someone sick. “It’s still scary,” she says, like you’re breaking a long established rule. But it’s all about getting the job done, which often means iPading for work on the couch at night. Nicole credits her boss, a woman, for creating this culture, and in fact, looked for a supportive work environment when she was ready to start a family. Can women have it all? “Not without support,” says Nicole, who believes men need more permission to “lean-in” to family life.

HV Meg Douglas, Editor

For more on women and work read “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink.Ó Co-authored by Maria Shriver, this new report reveals that nearly one-third of American women are living at or near the poverty level and outlines women’s roles in the economy. 4

Staff PUBLISHER Tim Bogenschutz EDITOR Meg Douglas ART DIRECTOR Cindy Spilman PHOTOGRAPHER Joey Halvorson COPY EDITOR DeLynn Howard




IS A QUARTERLY PUBLICATION OF THE BRAINERD DISPATCH • For advertising opportunities call Ashly Johnson 218.855.5846 or 1.800.432.3703 Find our publication on the web at

E-mail your comments, suggestions or topics to or mail them to Her Voice at Brainerd Dispatch, P.O. Box 974, Brainerd, MN 56401 copyright© 2003 VOLUME 12, EDITION ONE SPRING 2014

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Story by Karen Ogdahl


Sam French’s water-themed paintings harken back to magical moments from her youth in the lakes area.


Water World D

Does the geography of our childhood shape what we love? Artist Samantha French believes it does. Although she has left her lake country childhood behind and has found a successful career as a painter in New York, most of her art focuses on the water she knows so well. “I grew up in Nisswa surrounded by lakes,” she said. “Water was my childhood, and it has found its way into my work.” “I try to capture a moment in time, like when you were a kid and everything was perfect. The sun is shining and everything’s glistening, and it’s somewhat magical. My work is about escaping into these moments,” she said. “Some of my work harkens back to an earlier era. I’ve always been nostalgic.”


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Big and

BOLD Sam’s big and bold creations often begin with a series of photos.

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Samantha’s work is currently on display at the Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis through March 1.

Samantha’s art career began soon after she enrolled at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD). “I wasn’t sure going to MCAD was the right decision, but once I got there, I knew it was a good fit for me,” she said. “You had to be very selfdirected, which I liked, but it was hard work and it was stressful. There were times when I thought, ‘I’m done.’ It was costing so much money, and I worried that my art never would amount to anything.” Then she started painting. “It was one of the most challenging things I’d ever done, and it made me want to keep working and get better at it and see where I could take it,” she said. It wasn’t long before Samantha knew she might be able to make art a career. “My first semester at MCAD I was encouraged to submit a piece for the school art sale. I entered a sculpture, a sheet metal waveshaped piece — water was showing up in my work even back then. I was working at the 8

event the first night, probably passing around hors d’oeuvres, when I saw someone carrying my sculpture. He had bought it the first night for $100. When you’re 19, that’s a lot of money! It gave me the confidence that I was doing something that people might want,” she remembered. Samantha also began exhibiting her work in her parents’ Nisswa coffee shop and those pieces began to sell. Her work at MCAD found buyers as well (she still holds the record for highest sales), and she began to build a reputation in the Minneapolis area. Now New York is her home, and her Brooklyn studio is her sanctuary. “New York is a beautiful city, but it’s a city. It’s loud and it’s hard and it’s gritty. It’s so not Nisswa. My work has nothing to do with New York. When I leave the city and walk into my studio, it’s serene and quiet. It’s a place I can escape to,” she said. Her boldly colored paintings of swimmers begin with an underwater camera. “I

take thousands of photos,” she said. “I may start with 2,000 and then narrow it down to a few hundred. I do a lot of the work on the computer, picking elements from some and combining them with others. Once I have the image I want, I take that to the studio and begin painting.” Her paintings take anywhere from a couple weeks for a small painting to a couple months for the larger ones. “I’ll do some work on one and then let it dry and go back to it. Occasionally they’ll take up to a year. I put them away and bring them out again after some time has passed,” she said. “After I finish a piece, I immediately think about changes I can make on future paintings. Each painting leads to the next one. My work has really changed over the years. It’s gotten more detailed and colorful. The more I do, the more I want to challenge myself, and it’s still about the water. I’m not done with the water yet,” she admitted. For commissioned work Samantha usu-

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“Refresh” ally gives her customers a 16-18 week time frame, depending on the size and detail and how busy she is. She recently completed a 7 x 8 ½ foot painting in six weeks but had intentionally carved out time for that project. Samantha also has begun making prints of her work. “I find that with the prints, the price point is low enough so that they’re accessible to everyone. Once a buyer has a relationship with me, they may buy a larger print or a gift for someone and then eventually buy a painting. Then their friends see the work and contact me. My return customers have been very good to me. I also really feel that people want to have a relationship with the artist. Even the big collectors who work with art consultants still want that personal connection,” she said. A successful artist must also be a dedicated businessperson. “Many talented artists have trouble with the marketing end of it,” she noted. “If you want to make a living, you

have to be out there selling yourself. Years ago artists would find a couple galleries to take their work and represent them, but today you don’t need brick and mortar as much. The Internet can be your gallery. I am a brand, and I have to present myself as such out on the Internet. I have to make sure people from all over see my work.” For Samantha that marketing has paid off. “Customers have so much direct access to artists. I would guess that 80 percent of my sales are Internet and word-of-mouth, and the other 20 percent are gallery sales.” “The business side has been a bit daunting,” she admitted. “There’s a lot to do. It’s not just the painting and photography. I do all my own printing. Then there’s the shipping and the bookkeeping and all the email. I really need to hire an assistant, but before that I need to set things up so that someone else can come in and do that part of the work.” A big city address apparently helps, too.

“New York has been very good to me,” she said. “Having a studio in New York seems to have credibility with most buyers. People from all over tend to visit New York for work or vacations and can come and view my art and meet me.” New York is a long way from Nisswa, but Samantha has used her substantial artistic talent to, as she puts it, “preserve the transitory qualities of water and remembrance.” That creativity, coupled with some business savvy, has allowed her to share her lakes and her memories with the rest of the world.

Karen Ogdahl

Karen Ogdahl, of Baxter, is a retired teacher, community volunteer and arts enthusiast. Spring 2014 | her voice

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Story and Photos By Pam Landers

Mush for the Cure celebrates the sport of dog mushing while raising funds for breast cancer.

Mushing for a Cure


If sled dogs and drivers can save Nome from diphtheria, can they save women from breast cancer? At the Mush for a Cure, they pour their hearts and muscle into it — and have a great good time. At the end of racing season in early March, dog drivers gather on the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota: The usual serious pre-race concentration is noticeably missing — this is not a race. In the words of founders Sue Prom and Mary Black, “Mush For a Cure” is a fun event to celebrate the sport of dog mushing and to cap off a winter of hard work, training and racing at the same time raising funds to find a cure for breast cancer.” Since I am a breast cancer survivor myself, and have driven a small dog team non-competitively for years, I really wanted to be part of this. Both natives of far northern Minnesota, Sue and Mary founded this noncompetitive dogsled pledge run seven years ago in honor of friends with breast cancer. The first year, four mushers, all women, hit the runners.


This year 40 mushers set out on the trail together. To date, this pledge run has raised over $100,000 for the Breast Cancer Foundation. To add to the fun and frivolity, the organization gives a prize to the most Outrageous Pink Outfit worn by drivers and spectators, a prize for Best Dressed Team, the Dorkiest Thing That Happened on the Trail Award, and of course the Pink Lantern award for the last team in. Two runs make up the Mush For a Cure, the four-mile run for four dogs and under and the 24-mile run for five dogs and up. My four-dog Samoyed team and I ran the fourmile short run in 2012 for the first time. Sixty teams hit the trails in both runs. It was great good fun, but I felt a bit lonely, being one of only two teams with Samoyeds, a very old, but uncommon arctic breed. This year was wonderfully different. After the Mush last year, a couple of articles appeared in some Samoyed journals. Samoyed mushers on Facebook and in emails began to imagine how great it would

be to bring many Samoyed teams together at the same event. This year, of the 40 teams (24 teams in the long run and 16 in the short run), 12 were all Samoyed or mostly Samoyed. Of the 12 Samoyed mushers, eight were women. They came from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Dakota and from faraway places such as Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington and Louisiana. (This team had never been on snow.) The festivities start on Friday night at the Windigo Lodge where participants check in, turn in their pledges, and join the group for dinner, music and dancing, as well as the crowning of the Mush King and Queen. This year the Mush volunteers had laid the trail for the run through the forested lakes and hills of the Minnesota-Canada border country. We all gathered at the Gunflint Pines resort for a pancake breakfast before the mushers’ meetings. Everyone is wearing pink. We see fuchsia ball gowns and foot high pink wigs, pink mustaches, pink cowboy hats, flying pink capes, pink

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pajama pants, pink and purple feathery hats, a totally pink Mexican serape and sombrero. Sled bags are decorated to the nines — pink flower leis, waving pink and purple banners, sparkly glitter, stuffed pink teddy bears and the dogs! Pink T-shirts, pink tutus, pink ruffles around their necks, colored pink tails and even pink and purple glittery flames! Of course the white Samoyeds showed off this regalia best. The short course runners started at 10 a.m., and finished, it seemed, before we knew it. Even without the trail, anyone could follow the course by the line of pink and black booties thrown off by running feet. We were all back in time to help the long course mushers ready themselves and their dogs for their noon deadline. We helped harness dogs and hook them to their ganglines. Those of us not mushing had plenty to do holding eager dogs and standing on sled brakes. There is great power in a team of yelping, leaping dogs who don’t know that they aren’t in a race. The 24-mile run begins with the mushers leaping out of sleeping bags and jamming on their boots before taking off. The “pawparazzi” (all of us with point-and-shoots)

fired our cameras as the teams took off, one, two, or three at a time, across the snowy lake toward the start line. Four of the 24 teams that made the run this year were made up predominantly of Samoyeds. Women drove two of the teams. The rest of us were able to watch their progress at points along the Gunflint Trail where the trail came close to the road. While waiting to see them go by, we immersed ourselves in the quiet beauty and majesty of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Early in the afternoon, the snow began to fall thickly, adding to the challenges of the day. The run ended three to five hours later for the mushers. The run finished at Trail Center, a grocery store, mini-mart, gas station and bar along the Gunflint Trail. Trail crews had set up a large, white tent on the lake where we all gathered to cheer the teams coming in to the finish line. Music and races for kids pulling dog sleds entertained us while we shuffled in and out of the tent to keep warm. Late in the afternoon, one by one, the teams began to appear around the bend in the lake. We could gradually see them coming through the snow. Large Samoyeds are so different from the slimmer, longer legged,

shorter coated dogs now racing. Watching the white dogs appear as moving shadows in the distance and then grow steadily larger out of the snowstorm, I felt that I was seeing spirit teams from long ago. Once everyone was in, Sue and Mary presented the awards of the day. Of the more than $34,000 raised by the team pledges, the Samoyed teams contributed over $16,000. This year the Most Outrageous Pink Outfit Award went to the musher with the pink sombrero. The crowd selected the Best Dressed Dog Team and I am honored to say my team, in their pink and purple NASCAR flames on black jackets, won it. People who had purchased Pink Memorial Sky Lanterns and inserted their own memorial, message or wish, released them at dusk on Saturday, a grand finale for a grand experience.

Pam Landers

Pam is a retired environmental educator who is now a part-time writer and artist. She shows her Samoyed dogs in conformation and agility and trains them for sledding.

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B e aut y

By Cynthia Bachman Photo by Joey Halvorson


While practicing a healthy lifestyle, Lottie Oehrlein provides skin rejuvenation and cosmetic procedures at Chrysalis in Baxter.


What is your beauty concern? Aging? Spider veins? Acne or acne scars? Unwanted hair? Lottie Oehrlein is the woman for you if you are in search of younger, smoother, more radiant skin. She is also a woman of positive energy and a role model for women wanting a healthy lifestyle. As the owner of Chrysalis in Baxter, her goal is to enhance her clients’ natural beauty using non-surgical techniques in the art and science of aesthetic medicine. Lottie’s professional career began as a registered nurse (RN). She praises her supportive family for helping her through college when she was a young single mother with three children. After completing her registered nursing degree at North Hennepin College in Minneapolis, she later attended the College of St. Scholastica for her bachelor of art degree, and after that her certificate in skin care. Lottie grew up and continues to have family ties in the Avon area. For many years she worked in St. Cloud at the Centrasota Oral and Maxillofacial surgery center, then moved to Brainerd and was employed at Brainerd Medical Center (BMC) in aesthetics for seven years. It was

at BMC that she met Dr. Grace Khouri M.D., who is Lottie’s medical director at Chrysalis. Family is very important to Lottie; she spoke lovingly of her parents who are now in their 80s. With a smile she refers to herself as a farm girl from a large family, which includes four brothers and four sisters. She exudes joy, speaking of her husband Joe Brenny, of her children, grandchildren and two dogs and believes people who love pets are good people. Starting her own business was Lottie’s way to have more freedom in life. “It is a means to be able to manage my time, to promote family and health on my terms. That said, it is a challenge to launch a business,” she says. Lottie has been selfemployed for five years, the first two were “self-promotion,” she says. Her newest belief is that all glory goes to God and that it is time to give not get. While developing her business, Lottie also believes in good health practices, taking time away from work to regularly attend a hot yoga class, run daily and walk her dogs. Presently she is training for her fifth marathon next May in Fargo. To train she runs trails and roads with a mix of 10 friends that join her on any given day. Lottie also believes nutrition is important for good health. “My nutrition is pretty lean and green, except for the occasional sweet tooth and a glass of wine,” she says. In her search for more knowledge and skills Lottie earned her certification as a personal trainer. Currently, she has used this to further her own health through training and as a role model for others. She lives what she promotes — wanting women to be the best they can be through a regimen of skin care, nutrition and exercise. Continued education is required for each of her practices: 15 credits every two years. These are obtained through the Center for Advanced Aesthetics and for her personal training certificate through Aerobic and Fitness Association of America. At Chrysalis, Lottie provides skin reju-

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venation and cosmetic procedures for women, men and teens. Within that setting is her office and her treatment room. There is also space rented to Leah Swift, a deep tissue massage therapist, and Julie Blanchard who specializes in massage with oils. Lottie is a non-surgical specialist who works to defy age with science. A sampling of the treatments available include microdermabrasion, a clinically proven exfoliate which promotes new collagen, chemical peels that reduce fine lines, collagen induction therapy which can reduce acne scars and stretch marks, and laser treatments for hair removal and decrease diffuse redness and scars. Another service is permanent make-up which includes eyeliner and brows. For the protection of each client, cold sterilization and/or disposable instruments are used. Also available is a full line of pharmaceutical-grade skin care products, and 100 percent mineral makeup products such as glo therapeutics and glo minerals.

You can schedule a complimentary consultation with Lottie at Chrysalis in Baxter to discuss an individualized treatment plan by calling 218-824-3041 or emailing

Lottie practices what she preaches and believes women can look as young as they feel.

Cynthia Bachman

Cynthia Bachman grew up and lives in the Brainerd area with her husband, Brian. She commutes to work as a registered nurse at the University of MN Hospital/Fairview in Minneapolis.

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Story by Kathleen Krueger

Hope and Healing from Addiction


Peg Myers earned her sobriety in a 13-month inpatient program through MN Adult & Teen Challenge.


“I truly did enter into every recovery program with a sincere desire and expectation of getting sober.” This is a statement from Peg Myers, a Brainerd resident who graduated from MN Adult & Teen Challenge (MNTC) in March of 2013 and is now attending the Teen Challenge Leadership Institute (TCLI) in Minneapolis. Pati McConeghey, Communications Manager for MNTC affirms Peg’s statement: “While it is often misunderstood, addiction is suffering. It is a deceptive, progressive and devastating process that robs the person of much of what they love and the ability to choose.” For many, it is a trap that seems to work like quicksand, ensnaring its victims deeper into its clutches the more they struggle to get out. For Peg, this downward spiral into misery and hopelessness was certainly the case. In February of 2008, Peg was a homeowner and held a position as a staff accountant at a local company, where she had worked for over 10 years. She also had been living a sober and health-focused lifestyle for over 15 years. But when personal tragedy turned her life upside down in the months to follow, she turned to her old friend and foe – alcohol. Although her friends rallied around her, offering support and love, she continued to sink deeper into her addiction. 2009 brought several trips to the detox center. Finally, in December of 2009, in order to relieve the deep concern of her friends, Peg checked into a 30-day chemical dependency treatment program in the area. She spent her Christmas there with others battling their addictions. Peg had been an active member in the AA community in the Twin Cities prior to her move to Brainerd, but she was amazed at the large network of AA meetings available in our community, as well as the many mature members who provided leadership and stability to the membership as a whole.

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“You can find an AA meeting any day of the week in the Brainerd area and at almost any time of day,” Peg says. “There are gender specific groups, Christian-based groups and lots of people attending multiple meetings a week.” Peg felt she’d found the support she needed. She connected with a very strong sponsor and began attending several meetings a week. In spite of all this, she continued to drink. At times, she would be able to hide her failure to stay sober, but eventually she’d go on a multi-day binge where she didn’t eat or sleep, only drank, ending with another trip to detox. In November of 2011, Peg tried inpatient treatment again, this time, in a program renowned for its success rate. Peg came home excited about the progress she’d made during her 30 days in treatment, but her sobriety lasted only a couple of days. By this time, all her funds had been exhausted and several credit cards had reached their maximum limits. At the end of January 2012, she was given an eviction notice and three days to move out of her apartment. With nowhere to go and the encouragement of many of her friends, she

finally agreed to enroll in the MNTC 13-month program. Thirty-two days into the program, Peg felt she had reached a point where she could return home to Brainerd, begin rebuilding her life and remain sober with her local support system. She was wrong. Her first night out of MNTC, she ended up getting drunk. The quick return to alcohol frightened her. This was a major turning point in Peg’s recovery. She returned to MNTC determined to gain everything possible from the program. Not everyone needs to go through the 13-month inpatient program at MNTC, like Peg did, in order to obtain sobriety, but Peg insists that SHE needed this. “I had a big hole in my heart that could only be filled with God,” Peg explains. “Healing takes time, and I needed a lot of healing.” Peg notes that there are several things different in the MNTC approach from the other programs and support systems that she had availed herself of in the past. “It isn’t just the length of the program. We are never identified as or called alcoholics in Teen Challenge,” Peg shares. “Instead, you are constantly reminded that you are a

person of great value and worth, that you are loved.” When Peg graduates from TCLI in the spring of 2014, she expects to be involved in a ministry of reconciliation for women with addictions. Women, who just like her, need hope and healing.

Kathleen Krueger

Kathleen is a contributor to several lifestyle magazines across the nation and is in demand for her content writing services to marketing firms and businesses. She has lived in Brainerd many years with her husband, Steve. You can find her online at

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c lubs a n d c l u st e rs Story and photos by Cindy Grotzke

Twenty years of quilting and friendship (Back, left to right): Cindy Grotzke, Jean Collins, Sharon Syvertson, Trissie Simmons, Marcia Chouinard. (Front, left to right): Kathee Stanwood, Marilyn Morrison, Pat Loya, Ellie Knold.

Stitching Together Friendships and


What makes a friend? Webster

defines it as “one attached to another by esteem or a favored companion.” Friends can be hard to come by but can be born out of a simple common interest that grows into friendships.


Over 20 years ago, an area quilt club had an interest group sign-up based on different aspects of quilting. Ten women signed up for Christmas-themed quilts, not really knowing each other but having that common interest. A cross-generational group, the youngest was in her 20s, the oldest in her 70s, the group met monthly and began lifelong friendships. As we met, we realized we held different characteristics: jobs, families, beliefs and challenges. Down through the years we have had children, become grandparents, gone through divorce, buried husbands and children, changed jobs, dealt with health challenges and have even bur-

ied our oldest and youngest members. One day one of the members came with a story of how she felt she had been shorted in a business situation. Upon hearing all the details, we definitely thought she should call attention to the matter with those involved. “No” she said, “I just needed to know that you thought the same way, so I am fine now.” We often refer to that time; we are cheap therapy for each other in all aspects of life. After the first few meetings, we decided that we had the bond of quilting but were not going to specifically stay with the Christmas theme. It only takes one member with a new pattern and we’re easily

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convinced to go along. We have tried all sorts of techniques, experiments and patterns to extend our quilting skills including A group favorite round-robin quilts, where each member makes the center and Russian Creme Recipe then passes it around to all the others who add additional borders. 1 T. unflavored gelatin Through these times, we see each of the member’s personalities 1 c. cold water come out in what they do and the colors they use. It is a common 1 pint half and half occurrence to see everyone hovering over a show-and-tell item 1 ½ c. sugar and applauding one another for her work. Several of us have 1 tsp. vanilla picked up on the mission of finding old quilt blocks, made by some 1 pint sour cream quilter years ago and never completed, and finishing them into 1 package raspberries, sweetened real treasures. Sprinkle gelatin on top of cold water — do not stir. We may have given up the theme of Christmas quilts, though Combine half and half and sugar — heat at low temperawe still do them here and there, but our Christmas gathering is ture until lukewarm. Add gelatin mixture to warm cream always a special day. The china and crystal come out and each and heat gently, stirring until sugar and gelatin are dismember brings her special appetizer to go with the meal. It is solved. Remove from heat and cool. When cool, beat in never complete without our traditional Russian Creme. Dreams sour cream that has been mixed with the vanilla. Pour into are shared and goals for the New Year. sherbet dishes and refrigerate. When firm and well chilled, What makes a friend? A friendship can be born with a common serve with sweetened raspberries on top. interest and turned into a life-long commitment of sharing experiences, motivating skills, comforting during times of loss and physical challenges and rejoicing in victories. A friend does not need to be the same age. We have learned from members older and younger and have appreciated everyone’s input. We have found at Cindy Grotzke the end of the day great reward in sharing stories, teasing who gets Cindy lives in Brainerd with her husband, Dave. She is the mother of five first dibs on sewing rooms, tears of struggles and uncontrollable laughter. A friend takes you when you are down and lifts you up children, mother-in-law to four and grandma to six. Quilting, reading, gardening, ministry involvement at church and a passion for entertaining fills her days. and supports you along the path of life.

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c u lt ur a l d i v e r si t y


By Jan Kurtz Photos by Joey Halvorson and Jan Kurtz

lemental S

Are you normally hunched over a computer? A sewing machine? A garden spade? Are your shoulders perpetually in ‘winter mode’ nearly touching the tips of your ear lobes? Do t h e phrases: “Sit up straight” but, “Don’t call attention to yourself” resonate? Would you like an activity that accepts you as you are and brings your soul a sense of freedom? From the Elemental studio in

Jessica Bleichner teaches dance that is ethnic and folkloric wearing long puffy skirts and sparkly bangles.


Franklin Arts Center, Jessica Bleichner reflects into the dance mirrors on the walls. “Our culture,” she begins, “has given us messages from childhood that we are not ‘OK’ as is. We curl into ourselves,” she continues, rolling into the fetal position, “and lose the delight of movement, of claiming our space.” Her arms have glided open into an all-encompassing circle. “The willingness to be ourselves, to be with a flow of energy, to stand proud in who we are…these are all benefits of what we do as a community of women. And, as a bonus, we can fashion a new persona through our costumes! Regardless of culture, children are spontaneous beings that play ‘dress-up,’ twirl in a frenzy and fall into a heap of happiness. This gets disciplined out of us as we are assim-

ilated into an adult world of what? Intimidation and self-consciousness? Jessica came into the realm of dance movement following several car accidents, the birth of her children and being an at-home mom. Therapy had not removed the pains of neck, shoulders and back. Childbirth left hips and abdomen re-configured. Being at home without regular adult social contact was headed for depression. Through a Facebook posting and a YouTube clip, Jessica discovered an outlet that encouraged wearing long, puffy skirts, tasseled shawls crocheted with sparkly bangles and long fringe plus music that lifted her out of her physical and emotional funk. She already loved to knit, sew and crochet. Now, all she had to do was learn the dance! “The term ‘belly dance’ conjures up misconceptions of ‘entertainment for men’ or ‘cult rituals,’ which is unfortunate. Woman are already socially inhibited against holding themselves proud and exercising their natural strengths. My friends and I began practicing in my living room. We moved on to take classes with Gaia Sophia of Pine River, learning more of the spiritual aspects of these dances.” “Next, some of us branched off into our own group. When we say our dance is ‘ethnic,’ ‘folkloric’ or ‘interpretive,’ the ‘belly-dance’ stereotypes fall away,” Jessica explained. We named our troupe the Vespertine (blossoming in the evening) Tribal (from the musical genre ATS, American Tribal Style). It is a fitting name for women who are forming community and exploring a variety of music known as ATS, American Tribal Style, to express themselves. “We have taken our music from of an eclectic mix of Turkish, Arabic, Egyptian, Rajasthan and Spanish flamenco. Each woman has her strengths and weaknesses. Dancing involves communication. One must pay attention to the cues of the others. Sometimes, we have a solo, to accentuate individual strengths, but we tend toward dancing together.”

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Jessica teaches a variety of classes in her studio including hula hooping.

Studios What might we learn from paying attention to others as we interact? What if our culture focused more on being in the moment? What if we tuned into how others respond to our signals? How do our actions create the environment in which we live? There is more than good exercise, world music and camaraderie going on here. Jessica places her hands together in front of her heart, in the Namaste position. She is demonstrating a puja (Sanskrit), act of centering. Putting her attention to her feet, for grounding, lifting first the right and then left arm out in an arc, to recognize the space encircling her, she pauses to be aware of her breathing. There is a moment of thanking the music, thanking the ancestors, acknowledging those around her, a moment for herself and back to the heart. She has anointed a sacred space. “Yes” Jessica concludes, “Dancing takes practice. But, everyone is a dancer. Some are just more practiced,” she smiles. “It has healed my pain. It has brought wonderful people into my life. Our kids participate and maintain their free spirits. It has provided venues to do community outreach. We have danced for Arts in the Park, done fundraising for HART and this December’s annual benefit is for the Women’s Shelter. We offer classes in ATS, Tribal Fusion, FIRE and hula hooping — all family friendly!”

Do you have cellular memories of twirling around? Of floating with the wind and the music? Ah. Let your shoulders sink away from your earlobes. Stretch your spine upward, chest slightly raised. Slowly lift your arms above your head. Open your heart space. Feel yourself breathing. Accept yourself and claim your space.

I grinned as my kinks melted away, recalling that: “The most beautiful curve of our body, is our smile.”

Jan Kurtz

By the end of May, Jan will be phased out of her career at CLC and phased in to the next stage! She is excited to write the next chapter.

Elemental Studios will present at Cultural Thursday on March 6 at Central Lakes College at noon at the Chalberg Theater. Sponsored by Resource Center of the Americas, admission is free. Call Jan Kurtz, 855-8183 for more information.

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By Carolyn Corbett Photos by Joey Halvorson

Ojibwe Artist


Cheryl Minnema never used to think of herself as an artist, but people outside the native community, seeing her skill at bead working and other crafts, praised her as an artist. She has come to accept herself as thus, though she points to the many talented and more experienced bead workers in the Mille Lacs Band, which has over 4,000 members. Beading, quilting, making moccasins — for her all these are a way of life. Cheryl has beaded for most of her life, having learned from her grandmother, mother and sisters. She started in first grade stringing beads. The Ojibwe are known for their flowered beadwork on velvet and Cheryl is skilled at the craft. Cheryl was born in 1973 in Minneapolis, the second youngest of six children. Her mother taught Ojibwe language and crafts in the Minneapolis schools. There wasn’t much work at Mille Lacs at that time. When Cheryl was about 5, her family moved back and her mother began teaching the Ojibwe language and culture at Nay Ah Shing tribal school. After attending school through sixth grade in Onamia, she transferred to the tribal school, learning more of Ojibwe traditions and crafting. When she graduated from Nay Ah Shing, she wore a traditional buckskin dress with long fringe that her mother made with a black velvet beaded cape. Her grandmother made her beaded moccasins, and Cheryl beaded the 20

leggings and belt. This outfit is with the Minnesota Historical Society. Cheryl grew up a hoop dancer, learning from her sister and cousin. She started with three hoops when she was only three years old. As Cheryl grew older, she began to add more hoops and by age 29, danced with 16 hoops. Cheryl used the hoops to create images of a butterfly and a river. When she went down for a hoop, she would “grow” the river. The next hoop would “grow” the butterfly. Cheryl’s grandmother had certain times of the year for each type of craftwork: birch bark and basket work, braiding rugs, quilting in preparation for the spring and fall ceremonial dances. Cheryl didn’t see her grandmother do a great deal of beadwork because she was becoming quite old. She had completed an enormous amount of beadwork but now was busy with other forms of crafting. One recent day at the Mille Lacs Trading Post, Cheryl traded a pair of baby moccasins and a pouch for a package of beading needles, some caramels and four of Louise Erdrich’s “Birchbark House” series of books for young readers. She grew up helping her grandmother bring her crafts to the trading post as well. Her grandmother mostly sold her birch bark baskets, canoes, miniature teapots, basswood dolls and purses and braided rugs. Cheryl was married July 4, 1999, at the Clearwater State Forest. Cheryl’s family worked for a year to create her spectacular wedding attire of white velvet with floral beadwork and floral lace. She beaded the cape and dress; her mother put the gown together. One sister made her beaded belt and the moccasins for the groomsmen, while another made the groom’s moccasins. Her husband-to-be made her beaded barrette, his first beading project, and her mother-in-law made ribbon shirts for the groomsmen. Her cousins helped prepare a traditional meal of fish, venison and wild

rice. The wedding cake was a creation of frosted floral beadwork. The Minnesota Historical Society acquired both Cheryl’s wedding attire and that of her husband. Cheryl is also a writer. When her seventh grade English teacher at Nay Ah Shing encouraged her to submit her work to a contest, Cheryl’s essay about her grandmother’s life and crafts won first prize. She has written poetry most of her life, has had a number of poems published and has a poetry manuscript, “Turtle Heart,” out looking for a home. Recently she began writing picture books for children. The first, “Hungry Johnny,” will come out in the spring of 2014. A real-life Johnny, Cheryl’s funny and cute younger brother, was the inspiration for her book about a 5-year-old who is hungry. Grandmother invites him to a community feast where he learns patience and to respect his elders. The book has humor along with Johnny’s ongoing refrain, “I like to eat, eat, eat!” The book, which will be published by the MN Historical Society Press, won the Loft Literary Center Shabo Award for Children’s Picture Book Writers. The contest is for writers with a manuscript that has not yet been published but is “nearly there.” As one of eight winners in 2012, she attended a day-long master class with Susan Marie Swanson, a poet and picture book author from St. Paul. Cheryl is presently working on a second children’s book, “Johnny’s Owl.” In the summer of 2013, Cheryl began work on her master of fine arts degree through Hamline University, with a specialty in writing for children and young adults. She would like to teach creative writing courses for young adults, perhaps through community education or summer programming. Cheryl is the design creator for an Ojibwe Shoulder Bag Activity Kit in conjunction with the Minnesota Historical

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Society. The activity kit for young people in grades 3-7 provides a hands-on introduction to the arts, culture and history of the Ojibwe people. When Cheryl presented the project at the Brainerd Public Library in June, over 50 children eagerly participated in making their own versions of the shoulder bag, which is not to be confused with a genuine beaded bandolier bag. A bandolier bag is an intricately beaded shoulder bag with a wide shoulder strap, a pocket and decorative tabs or fringe along the bottom of the bag. Beads were introduced to the Ojibwe by the French traders. The bags were traditionally worn at special occasions as medicine bags and for prized possessions. Today, as the labor intensive projects are undertaken, bandolier bags are crafted with a special person or purpose in mind. Using her natural creativity, Cheryl designed the pattern for her first bandolier bag in 2007, sketching out flowers for the wide shoulder strap and front panel. She was inspired by nature, but also created her own flowers. She worked on the bag from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. If she took time off during a weekday she made up for it on the weekend. It took her nine months to complete.

This bag is on display in the Mille Lacs Band’s Legislative Office and was on tour in Minnesota as part of the Mni-Sota: Reflections of Time and Place exhibit. In 2012 Cheryl was given the Minnesota State Art Board Partnership Grant and elected to be one of two Minnesota artists to represent our state at the Midwest Folklife Festival in Bishop Hill, Ill. Yes, Cheryl Minnema is an artist.

Ojibwe artist Cheryl Minnema does beading, quilting and moccasins.

Carolyn Corbett

Prior to her passion for playing with words, Carolyn Corbett taught elementary school for 14 years. At 35, she resigned and sailed off into the sunset. Literally. Along the way she became a contributing writer for a number of sailing magazines. Today, as a freelance writer/editor, she has over 200 articles published in cruising, parenting and general interest magazines.

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w it t y w o m a n

Story and photos by Joan Hasskamp

Downsizing is a

I F Joan Hasskamp offers a humorous look at office organization.


I’m not sure what you store in your office but let me tell you a few of the items I found when cleaning out mine: • A stuffed rat • Two wigs • A gigantic padded bra • A VHS copy of the Breakfast Club • A Coke glass full of Canadian coins • 40 stuffed animals • Dozens of plastic snakes and mice • A maternity top with the words, that’s my baby! Due to office reorganization, I was assigned to a much smaller office. I gasped when I heard the news because I realized there was no way I could fit all my treasured goods into a space half the size. What would become of my bowling trophies, scores of autographed memorabilia and extra purses? In my heart I knew I had to sort through everything and pick out only what I needed and either toss, donate or recycle the rest. So I devised a plan. First I identified those items that were absolute keepers like the fake bloody limbs, severed finger and bloody brain! And my hog nose from Arkansas would certainly come in handy sometime just like the blow up doll. Some people might say six extra bottles of hand sanitizer is excessive — not me! Progress was going a bit slowly when several well-intentioned co-workers decided to “assist” me. I nearly tackled one of them when they tried to dispose of my beloved pink Easter bunny ears. After I herded them out the door I pulled a roll of police tape out of my desk drawer and cordoned off my office. Then I tacked up a couple of “No Trespassing” and “Beware of the

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Dogs” signs to insure the elimination of all helpers. Fortunately, I had stashed those signs behind my door years earlier. I started to hear murmurs from co-workers insinuating that I never dispose of anything. That’s not true! Under a stack of movie posters I discovered a box containing items that were coated in dust and clearly never used. Just to prove to the office naysayers that I could part with something, I gleefully tossed the whole box on the donation table. I don’t really know why anyone would want such useless items but some indiscriminate co-worker took home a pedometer, ankle weights, dumbbells and a couple of nutrition and fitness books. As moving day neared, my anxiety level increased. All I seemed to be moving was dust. In fact, the dust was so bad I started coughing, sneezing and gagging every time I moved anything. Even the dust masks I found in an overhead bin were caked in layers of disgusting powder. My half dozen stress balls were showing signs of wear from overuse. Downsizing was proving to be far more difficult than I ever imagined. Bummed, I sat at my desk contemplating my dilemma when two movers showed up at my door. They shook their heads and frowned as they looked over my disorganized mess. I begged and pleaded with them so they reluctantly gave me an additional 24 hours to pack up. I had almost given up hope of saving my possessions when it occurred to me there was another option. I quickly loaded up several large boxes with gobs of goodies including fingerless fishnet gloves, Halloween masks, squirt guns, whistles and rubber chickens and threw them on the donation table. As expected, my treasures were scooped up quickly. Co-workers were extremely skeptical at my willingness to part with my belongings. Several actually accused me of being up to something. And of course they were right. With reorganization, I realized that many staff members would soon be relocating, which meant they would have to downsize too. And when they cleaned their cubicles and unloaded my former goods back onto the donation pile, I would simply snatch them back up. They would unknowingly serve as my personal storage keepers. My plan was so brilliant I could barely contain myself! Then the memo came out — no more moves anticipated in the foreseeable future. Does anyone have a hog nose they’d be willing to part with?

Joan Hasskamp

Joan Hasskamp is working on downsizing but progress is slow. She is a policy and planning analyst with Crow Wing County Community Services and lives in Crosby.

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By Denise Sundquist Photos by Joey Halvorson

Yoga and M


One of the best experiences of my life was crossing the finish line of my first half marathon. I felt fantastic except for an aching hip. Weeks after my race, it was still too painful to run. My physical therapist and chiropractor both told me I needed to be patient. Someone suggested I try yoga, but what kind of yoga in the Brainerd lakes area would repair my hip and prevent future injuries? The challenge began.


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More Yoga Denise Sundquist (left) attempts a yoga move demonstrated by teacher Christi Langerud (center) and Jennifer Klecatsky in Lakes Fit Yoga studio.

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Beginning Yoga at Lakes Fit Yoga

I train for triathlons so how hard could this be? While I was ready to showcase my strength, Tara Giese was instructing us in the proper breath-

ing to bring more oxygen to the blood and brain. As we moved through the beginning poses, I did exceptionally; however I struggled the remaining 55 minutes of class with any poses that required strength, balance or flexibility. Staring down at my mat, I realized I had a lot to learn. Positives: Tara does not compete in triathlons. Yet. Negatives: My feet could have used a pedicure.

Hot Yoga Sculpt

Joleen Platt teaches at The GYM in Nisswa and the Brainerd YMCA. The yoga studio is very warm, allowing your body to go deeper into your poses and light weights are added for toning. The music was loud and energizing. The instructor was engaging and encouraged her students to express their thoughts during some of the more difficult sequences, usually resulting in laughter. When I smelled smoke, I thought a space heater overheated, but it was just my triceps on fire. Positives: All impurities in my body were released. And some other stuff too. Negatives: Someone smelled terrible in class; then I realized it was me.

Yoga Mix at the YMCA

I grabbed a yoga class at the YMCA over lunch one day. Since no heat was added, I was sure I could go back to work fairly intact. I mentioned to the instructor, Christi Langerud that I was recov-

ering from a hip injury. During the last 10 minutes of class, all we did were hip stretches. She takes requests! After class, I just laid on my mat in bliss. They eventually had to escort me out of the building. Positives: I loved that instructor so much I friend requested her on Facebook Negatives: She denied my friend request.

Barre3 and Restorative Yoga

Kari Stengrim conducts her classes at the Just for Kix studio. Her barre3 and restorative yoga class lengthen, strengthen and tone your core, arm and leg muscles. Kari is interactive with her students by walking around the studio making sure we are working the right muscles and avoiding potential injury. She also gives modifications for many poses. The moves seemed basic but after a few repetitions, I started cursing a tiny bit. Positives: Thank goodness I only have two legs. Negatives: Her moves to lift and strengthen your butt muscles are sinister.

Tuesday Morning Yoga

Board member with Lakes Area Yoga Association, Sarah Gorham offers a yoga class Tuesday mornings at the Fine Line in Brainerd. I snuck out of work to attend this class as part of my “research.” Unfortunately, when I limped in, the class was filled with retired teachers. Busted. As we practiced each pose, Sarah methodically explained which muscle/ bone structure we were benefiting. The students asked questions throughout the class and there was a lot of “sharing.” (Teachers are good at that!) Positives: It was great to connect with my former co-workers. Negatives: I might be the next former coworker if my boss reads this article.

Denise (left) attempts a yoga move demonstrated by teacher Christi (center) and Jennifer in Lakes Fit Yoga studio.


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Central Lakes Healing Arts

Matthew Rohr is a certified massage therapist and yoga instructor. This class was different from the rest and I finally understood the mind-body-spirit connection. He does not demonstrate poses; he describes them and we had to follow his verbal direction. This was challenging for me because I am not the best listener. He walks from student-to-student helping them adjust their poses for maximum benefit. After class I was tearful; it was the first time I was pain free in weeks. Positives: No Pain! Negatives: No Kleenex.

Silver Sneakers Yoga at the YMCA

Welcome to the friendliest yoga class in the lakes area. I walked in and was instantly greeted by a group of lovely women and one of my favorite instructors, Christi. Most poses were done with a chair to aid in balance and stability. The instructor guided us through the movements that were very similar to the yoga poses I was learning in my other classes. While I was the youngest person in the class, it was a great choice as I was recovering from my injury. Denise (left) stretches in the child pose while teacher Christi (center) and Jennifer Positives: I can’t wait to retire and partici- demonstrate head stands. pate in this class regularly! Negatives: I can’t retire until 2028. I was looking for the perfect yoga experience and what I found was a variety of different yoga styles from passionate instructors. Talk to your friends and find out what classes or instructors they love. Call a studio and describe what you are looking for. Ask if you can try a class for free. Perhaps the most challenging decision you will have to make is picking just one. Namaste.

Denise Sundquist

Denise is the health and safety coordinator for the Brainerd School District. Since her sons left for college, she has embraced a more active lifestyle including local triathlons, running races and mountain biking with her husband, Matt on the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System.

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b us in e ss

Story by Beverly Marx

A special photo gift for grandpa: Ashley with Spirit (left) and Ashley with Rainbow.



Eleven years ago, my granddaughter Ashley called and asked what she could buy her grandpa for his birthday. That is a million dollar question. My husband adores his granddaughter and loved his hunting dog, Spirit. After much consideration, a perfect idea flashed into my mind: professional pictures of Ashley and Spirit, a gift that will last forever. Pictures are forever so I contacted Connie Meyer from Connie’s Studio of Photography in Nisswa. We met at the Pioneer Village in Nisswa and Connie took some very memorable photos of Ashley and Spirit. My husband was shocked and nearly brought to tears.


Spirit has passed but Grandpa has another English Setter called Rainbow. Rainbow does not hunt but is still loved dearly. Once again I contacted Connie, and we met in Nisswa at the same place to photograph Ashley and Rainbow. This was very challenging since Rainbow is afraid of most noises and activities. To make matters worse, it was the day before the Fourth of July and I forgot about the Turtle Races on Wednesdays and the horse and carriage running through town. Connie had her work cut out for her but she did an outstanding job. Once again my husband was surprised which makes it all worthwhile.

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Connie’s passion for photography began at a young age. Her grandfather gave her an old Brownie Camera when she was just six years old. Brownie Cameras were the first “point and shoot” camera and they actually took great photos. Her next camera was a Polaroid Swinger Camera, which she received when she was 7 or 8. The window showed “yes” when the exposure was correct and “no” if it was not. Connie’s love for art runs in the family. Her mother was an occupational therapist and taught art to her patients. Her mother also loved photography. Connie continued to expand her expertise in visual arts by taking a filmmaking class and a film study class in high school, which really got her excited about visual arts. Connie’s other passion is traveling and she found a job with Northwest Airlines right after high school. To help gain acceptance to an attendant program, she attended a modeling school, sometimes working with a photographer. Connie found herself watching what he did with the camera, lighting and posing and was so inspired she decided to return to school for photography. She attended a four-year college in Minneapolis for communication and arts, The College of Art & Design. Connie’s first business was a small studio by the University of Minnesota in 1979, which she opened with a fellow photographer. She started shooting for the modeling school where she attended, and that grew to photographing models for portfolios, fashion shows and other events in the area. It was during that time that she took a job traveling around a five-state area photographing children at Walmart, Target and Pamida. She would set up the equipment in the store photograph 200-300 children in

three to four days then travel to another destination. The company would follow up a few weeks later and sell the photographs to the parents. This is where Connie says she learned a lot about photographing children of all ages. Connie’s specialties include babies, children, pets and seniors. Her family has horses, which she loves to photograph, finding them beautiful creatures. Her pet portfolio also includes dogs, cats, birds, snakes and even a huge iguana. She says she is obsessed with eyes and often makes them the focal point in her photographs. Connie started her Studio of Photography in 1983, first in Circle Pines, Minn., and then downtown Nisswa in 1995. Her current indoor location is in Brainerd’s warehouse district. Connie can be contacted at 218-963-8246 or Her web page is

Beverly Marx

Beverly lives on Nisswa Lake with her husband George and their English Setter, Rainbow. A previous contributor, she enjoys being a part of Her Voice.

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Story by Sandy Opheim

Above: Teacher Sandy Odden in a kuspuk (native dress) with her Alaskan students in 1977. Right: Sandy returned to Eek, Alaska June 2013 and visits with former student, Alex Alexie.

Alaskan Adventure


It is always an adventure being a teacher, but imagine actually looking for unique experience far from home. Sandy Odden is very adventurous so after teaching on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, she and her husband applied for positions in Alaska. After returning to Minnesota, “A telegram was delivered to us saying we have been offered jobs in rural Alaska. I was thinking rural to be like Staples or VerndaIe. I was okay with that kind of rural,” Odden said. They accepted the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) positions in February 1977 and began their planning. Odden said, “We got a packet in the mail that included a catalog and instructions. We had to order a year’s supply of groceries. I remember we ordered a case of toothpicks, ketchup and mustard,” she laughed. “I also thought, oh my, we must be in a very remote area to have to buy a groceries by the case.” Ordering the food supplies was just the beginning. “I was scared to death and my


husband was thrilled,” she recalls. They had to tell their families about their decision. Sandy said, “I gave my mom a very nice handmade birthday gift then broke it to her that we were moving to Alaska. She was devastated with the news.” She continued, “The government sent a semi truck for all our belongings to be placed in storage. All costs were covered as long as we fulfilled the two-year contract. If we backed out, the costs of returning home were ours to pay.” Sandy and her husband ended up teaching in the Yupik Eskimo village of Eek, Alaska, for more than four years. “I remember it well. It was March 22, 1977, when we flew into Eek. Gazing down from the tiny plane was snow, flat terrain and a treeless village next to the vast Eek River. When we stepped onto ground, the little smiling Eskimo faces were there to greet us,” Sandy said. Welcoming a teacher in a small remote village was an exciting event. In this case, it was exciting for both the teachers and the

children. Eek, with a population of 200 people at the time, is located 60 miles southwest of Bethel, Alaska, and about 20 miles from the Bering Sea. “It was funny how we chose Eek. We had two other choices, but Eek was the easiest to spell, unlike Nunupitck and Kwethluk. Eek was also a two-teacher school versus multiple teachers, which would give us more opportunity to fully immerse ourselves into this unfamiliar culture. That settled it for us,” Sandy chuckled. She was the English Language Learner (ELL) teacher for grades K-2 as well as the teacher for grades 3-5. Her husband taught grades 6-8 and was the principal. The school was simple with two classrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen. Lunch, gym class, wrestling club and regular school activities took place in the classrooms. “To get to the other schools for wrestling matches, we took snowmobiles with sleds full of students,” Sandy said with a smile. “I was the cheerleading coach without experi-

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ence!” BIA teachers were given a nice twobedroom house next to the school, equipped with a full kitchen, bathroom, living room and kitchen for very reasonable rent. It was truly extravagant compared to villagers’ standards. The natives did not have those luxuries and instead had honey buckets that were used for toilets. When the bucket was full, it was dumped in Honey Lake. “The kids were appreciative of us. We tried to teach our students about white man culture without destroying theirs so that in the future they would not be taken advantage of. We felt a strong responsibility to do so,” Sandy said. The village school was funded by the BIA. Oil money made it possible to have computers in the classrooms, even in the late 70s. Teachers received a salary about three times the amount of a regular teaching job plus cost of living expenses (COLA). “I learned that the villagers of Eek have a culture of patience and living in the moment,” said Sandy. One older student, Larry, came to school late almost every day. When confronted, he said it was just too morning for school instead of saying it was too early. One of Sandy’s and her husband’s objectives was to teach the students about life beyond the village. They did several fundraising events in order to take the older students to Anchorage. Sandy explained. “We showed movies at the school for $1 and sold popcorn. We had spaghetti feeds too. My parents’ church in Raymond, Minn., sent boxes of clothes for us to have a rummage sale in the school. The people loved shopping for ‘new’ clothes.” After raising $5,000 and receiving a matching grant from the BIA, they headed off to Anchorage with 15 students. They took a tour of a dairy plant, learned to order from a fast food restaurant, ate Japanese food, experienced a parking ramp and slept in a church. During their four-year teaching career in Alaska, she and her husband gave birth to their oldest son, Tyler. Sandy had a difficult pregnancy so she stayed in Bethel with friends as delivery time came closer.

People heard of their visit so they made Each village had a CB radio to communicate with the district office. When Sandy’s efforts to seek out Sandy and her sons. water broke, the entire school district heard They rode up on four-wheelers to greet the the call to her husband on the CB radio. A three of them as they explored present plane was sent to Eek to pick him up on an day-Eek. She shared, “My sons were able extremely muddy and risky runway due to to go down river for king salmon net fishmuch November rain. “I didn’t think he ing with a former student, Bobby.” Their would make it in time; however, I ended up fishing trip wasn’t successful because the being transported on the major airline to river had only broken up a week earlier, Anchorage finally having my 10-pound but a lifelong memory was made on the Eek River. The river is a reminder to us all. baby 43 hours later!” On Tyler’s first birthday, as was village It keeps flowing and providing food for viltradition, Sandy held a party in which the lagers even though we grow older. This entire village was invited to attend. “We visit back to Eek has brought Sandy full served hamburger hot dish, Jell-O and I circle in her teaching career. It was a great baked six birthday cakes. People were way to end her teaching career and to celinvited via CB radio in small groups when ebrate the next adventure in her life. it was time for families to celebrate,” she said. Today she still cherishes the many gifts Tyler received especially a handmade Eskimo parka given made by an 85-yearSandy old Yupik woman. Opheim Today, Sandy Odden, a teacher of 39 Sandra is the author of years and remarried, traveled back to the the picture book, “Whose village this summer with her sons. She Hat is That?” an educator wanted them to see firsthand what life was and coach in the Stapleslike for their mom and dad and what an Motley Schools and a amazing experience it was. While there, mother and wife who loves Tyler and Zach scattered their dad’s ashes anything outdoors. after his tragic death last summer. The old BIA school and house are now abandoned since a new K-12 building was built in 1981. Today, Eek has grown to 300 people with a main street through the village with one road for four-wheelers. Boardwalks are still prevalent and a more efficient form of sidewalk because of the fluctuating tundra laden permafrost. Some newer subsidized houses have been built but many of the original wood homes still stand, some now abandoned.

Sandy and her husband camped in the Kilbuck Mountains with Yupik Eskimo friends over Labor Day, 1977. Spring 2014 | her voice

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ar t en t e r p r i se

By Jenny Holmes Photos by Joey Halvorson

Jenny Braun and her husband Jim in her Staples Ceramics Studio.

& Beautiful T There’s a sense of irony when greeted by the

vibrant colors inside the Staples Ceramics studio when you consider the dark days Jenny Braun has overcome to get to this place.


But this bright spot in Jenny’s life is one she doesn’t take for granted, and considers her shop a way of giving back and sharing her new zest for life with the Staples community. In the summer of 2008, Jenny began experiencing excruciating muscle and joint pain. Top that with debilitating headaches that kept Jenny in bed for days. “It wasn’t even six years ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago,” she recalled. “It was that feeling when people say they felt like they’d been hit by a Mack truck.”

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Despite numerous consultations with doctors, no one was able to pinpoint the reason for the symptoms that literally kept Jenny at home day-in-and-day-out for years. “I can’t even begin to tell you … I was so desperate. There was a time when I was praying for death. I just thought, I can’t go on living this way. There was no relief and no one was going to help me.” This went on for a year-and-a-half before a nurse suggested she see a physician who specialized in working with those diagnosed with Lyme disease. Jenny said she had been tested for Lyme via the Western blot test and results were negative. But she was desperate and willing to explore any suggestion. The specialist saw her and ordered an unconventional test that was sent to California to be processed. Results on this particular test came back. It hadn’t been all in her mind like many physicians suggested. She had Lyme disease, and it was slowly deteriorating her body. With her doctor’s blessing, Jenny began seeing a holistic doctor simultaneously for nearly a year. While she felt some relief, she continued to suffer until she and her regular physician concocted a pharmaceutical cocktail of sorts, working to find a balance of medications that wouldn’t make her even sicker. Then, a miracle occurred. The morning of Aug. 25, 2012, Jenny says, “I remember, I woke up and I felt good. Something happened on that day. I don’t know what. But it was like a miracle. I don’t know if the drugs kicked in in a certain way or if it was the hand of God. But my husband, Jim, and I just cried. After all that time, it was amazing.” For years, Jenny was a hermit, hiding in their Staples home. Her work involved selling vintage jewelry on eBay and catered to her chronic condition, insomnia and pain. But now, after a miraculous healing had occurred, Jenny decided it was time to get out and give back. On June 1, 2013, Jenny opened Staples Ceramics in downtown Staples. Open the front door and visitors are immediately greeted by bright, cheerful colors, paintings, mosaics and more. “This store is a result of us wanting to share our excitement and enthusiasm, and give something to Staples.” Jenny has worked with Sacred Heart Catholic School in Staples, and hosts classes of children who come to paint tiles and other projects. Students from a Staples Senior High School art class painted swirls of fanciful color as murals on the shop’s walls. “When I first opened, I thought I’d have a lot

of senior citizens. But it’s really been the children. And they are fabulous! They are all so excited when they come in here, and it makes me so happy.” Not having biological children of her own, Jenny said having kids in the store is special to her in a maternal sort of way. “I get all the benefits of the kids, without having to raise them myself.” With the help of medicine and the support of loved ones and others in the community fighting a similar fight, Jenny greets each day with new enthusiasm and is excited to get out of bed and into her shop to see what the day will bring. “It’s not like being at work at all. This is so much fun and a happy place to be.” Jenny also hosts special events each month, including ladies night and a “Paint Me a Story” program for children aged 0 to 10, where one Saturday a month, children come in to hear a special story read for them, and then sit in the studio and paint a piece correlated to the story. For example, one morning, children listed to the “Inky Dinky Spider,” then painted bisque spiders. “I was a hermit for three years and not living,” Jenny recalled. “Now, I have this enthusiasm and I just feel like I want to share it. I get that returned to me when people first walk into the store. They see the bright colors and are excited by what we offer. That’s the reaction I wanted and now I’m able to get that every day.”

“It’s not like being at work at all. This is so much fun and a happy place to be.”

Jenny Holmes

Jenny Holmes is a freelance writer and currently runs her own public relations and communications business. She lives in Nisswa with husband, Tim and their two school-aged children.

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h e alt h

By Sheila DeChantal Photo by Joey Halvorson


It was March of 1993. Connie

Statz, mother of two boys, wife to Jim Statz, and all around gogetter when it came to her job as a travel agent, was exhausted.

Life After


Connie Statz contracted AIDS in 1993 from a blood transfusion. A 33-year survivor, she runs Camp Benedict in Crosslake for those infected with AIDS.


Connie’s first thought after diagnosis? “That was impossible.”


For the young mom, this was unusual as she was known for her nonstop energy. Connie had been losing weight for months but she was also trying to lose weight, so no red flag there. On this particular March afternoon, after Connie had fallen asleep in her car in the local Walmart parking lot, she knew she had better see a doctor. When after an array of tests, Connie was called back into the doctor’s office and given the news. “You have AIDS.” Connie’s first thought after diagnosis? “That was impossible.” Later it would be determined that Connie contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion during an emergency hysterectomy in 1981. Blood testing for the AIDS virus for those who donated blood was not required until 1985. (You can learn more about this in the book and movie, “And The Band Played On.”) AIDS can stay dormant in the body for many years. In Connie’s case, she had the HIV virus undetected for 12 years. Her husband and children were tested and all were and are AIDS free. In the early 90s Connie recalls AIDS in central Minnesota was still something widely unknown. Friends and family members started to avoid Connie. At her church she was asked to sit in the back row. Probably

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the most painful moment was when a friend of her son called and said he was no longer allowed to come over to her home or see her son because she had AIDS. Connie was given a bleak diagnosis. She was advised to start planning to die and was told that she may only have weeks, possibly months to live. As Connie continued to lose weight, she went about planning her funeral, right down to who would speak and what songs would be played. In 1994 two experimental drugs were introduced for those infected with the AIDS virus. Connie had nothing to lose so she went into the lottery to see if she could be put on one of the drugs and was chosen to

Connie is now a 33-year AIDS survivor. She is still married to Jim and her younger son Nick is greatly involved in the bike ride organization and the camp itself. AIDS changed Connie’s life forever from that first time she heard those words, but Connie still gets up and thanks God every morning for being given one more day. Not every day is a good day, she says, but every day has an opportunity to do something good to help others.

Camp Benedict Fundraisers 2014 • April 27 - A silent auction and dinner at Cragun’s • Aug. 2-3 is the annual Camp Benedict 150-mile bike ride. The two-day ride is open to anyone. Riders start in Brainerd, travel 75 miles to the camp, stay overnight, and then return to Brainerd the following day. All funds raised from the dinner and the ride support the camp. For more information visit the website at call Sheila at 838-0886. be a part of a test group — those who were on the same drug as Connie become healthier. Those on the other drug continued to waste away. When Connie regained some of her strength, she knew she had to educate others about AIDS and the stigma she had experienced. Her first talk was at a local school. As time went on she started speaking to other area groups including churches and eventually she spoke at conventions in Minnesota as well as other states. Connie, the “go-getter,” had returned. In 1994, Connie started a week-long camp experience called Camp Benedict in Crosslake for those infected and affected by AIDS.The camp was named for the Benedict nuns, who were the first group to support the camp as a way for people in Minnesota with AIDS and their families to receive support and education. Through fundraising, Connie provided this as a free camp, never wanting it to be a financial burden on those who attend. 2014 will be the 20th year of Camp Benedict. Camp this year will be June 9-12. Connie now has an active board of directors who help her plan not only the week of camp and speakers, but also the two big yearly fundraisers.

Sheila DeChantal

Sheila lives in Brainerd with her husband Al and two rescued dogs. She is a huge fan of all things literary — libraries, books, authors and writing. When not working, or blogging at Book Journey, you can usually find her at the Brainerd Library, or out biking, roller blading, or her new attempt at craziness, running.

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4 4

pr o f ile



What does it say about a person who mows her neighbors’ yards for free, then pays her nephew to mow her own yard? A lot.

It’s just one of the many things Joan Hasskamp, a lifelong Crosby resident and frequent contributor to Her Voice, does for her community. And right about now, Joan is probably speechless (rare for Joan) reading this story — because she didn’t know I was writing about her, and would never dream I’d write anything nice! Joan loves to tease and be teased. Nothing brightens Joan’s day more than if she can bring a smile to your face. As her friend Sandy Arcand says, “If I’m having a ‘down’ day and Joan is around, she manages to cheer me up and show me the bright side of life with her humor.” Longtime co-worker and friend Denise Schlapkohl comments, “I don’t think anyone has ever said a mean thing about Joan, other than her friends teasing her about her quirks!” If Joan is going to meet you at a certain time, you can bet the time will have the number four in it. Any golf tee time has to involve the number four, and the only color ball or tee she’ll use is green. Superstitious? A bit. And if she doesn’t do well, that’s when Joan breaks out her pouty-Penguin walk — acting like it’s the end of the world — which makes Joan sound self-centered. She isn’t; it’s all for show. As her friend Mary Lindberg puts it, “Joan comes off outwardly as ‘it’s all about me,’ but it’s in jest. Joan has the biggest heart of anyone I know. She has such a passion for life and is always game to do something fun, although sometimes her quirks get in the way!”



4 4

Just Joan 4

Story and photos by Jill Anderson

And Joan has her fair share of quirks. Even though her sister, Mary, is a flight attendant, Joan refuses to fly. And there’s her germ phobia. Friend Debbie Enger says, “One of Joan’s many endearing characteristics is her OCD with cleanliness. I’ve seen her clean an entire hotel room with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of hand sanitizer.” Oh yes, anyone who has spent time with Joan will notice her hand sanitizer addiction. “She’s also a great cook, if you don’t mind the taste of hand sanitizer!” Debbie jokes. Talking with her brother John, he reminisces about their youth. “Joan was athletic and competitive out of the chute, and has always liked sports. She gave our brother Ken and me a good lesson growing up — it’s okay to lose to a girl.” When I asked about the many generous things Joan has done over the years, John mentions, “For a few summers in the ‘80s, Joan rented a cabin on the lake for all her family and friends to enjoy.” John also rattled off other ways Joan has volunteered over the years: Girl Scout leader, library board member, Habitat for Humanity volunteer, usher at church, Crisis Line volunteer, Kinship partner…the list is endless. This past summer Joan was busy assembling Adirondack chairs and painting them bright colors for a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser. Probably one of her greatest joys is decorating for Christmas every year. Living in the town of Crosby, it’s hard to miss Joan’s eclectic decorating, no matter the season. “Joan enjoys when the senior bus from the care center drives by to admire her Christmas decorations,” says John. Joan has worked at Crow Wing County Social Services for 30-plus years, and it’s the place where she’s met many of her friends, including Patty Reynolds, who tells of when she moved to the Crosby area. “Joan needs to take a lot of

4 4

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time thinking and analyzing every decision she makes, even if it’s just whether to switch toothpaste brands. When she went with me to look at houses and I put an offer in on one after a half hour, Joan literally went into orbit!” Patty, Joan, and fellow friend and co-worker, Martha Lusian became known as the Three Stooges years ago. This past summer, Patty was unable to mow her lawn and Joan and Martha stepped in to help. Joan rode her mower from her home in Crosby to Patty’s in Ironton and would show up wearing a gas mask, goggles and headset. “One day she scared a young neighbor of mine. I told her, ‘Don’t be afraid, that’s just my cuckoo friend Joan!’” One of the many goofy things Joan does is come up with ways she can get on the “Ellen” show. Nothing, no matter how embarrassing, is beneath her. In certain ways, Joan is a lot like Ellen; they both like to make people laugh, and are generous and compassionate. And, as Joan’s friend Sue Cebelinski mentions, “When I moved to Crosby years ago, all I had to say to anyone was ‘Joan’ and people knew instantly who I was referring to. She is just ‘Joan’ to everyone — truly one of a kind.” Just like Ellen. After reading about Joan, some might call her quirky, eccentric, humorous, kind, superstitious, generous, competitive… there are many adjectives one could use to describe her. But for those of us fortunate enough to know her — that’s just Joan.

4 4


With her love of trophies, Joan (left) attempts to acquire another from Becky Nordeen.

Jill Anderson

Jill dreams of when her days will consist of writing, drinking coffee, eating chocolate and maybe golfing a little with Joan. Visit Jill’s website at www. or follow her on Facebook at

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By Sheila Helmberger Photos by Joey Halvorson

Pianists at the Primo Art Spa decorate cookies while they wait for their turn to perform.

The Primo Art Spa T The slogan for the Primo Art Spa probably says it best: In a world of creative constipation, we’re here to get things moving. Have you ever listened to a soloist and wished your own singing voice was a little bit better? Have you eyed up a piece of hand-made pottery and wondered what it would be like to create something so beautiful with your own hands? Do you wish you had the confidence to act in a play? What was it that stopped you? Sisters Mary Aalgaard and Joy Ciaffoni appreciate that, no matter how young or old we are, sometimes it just takes the right avenue to let our inner artist free. They have created a place, and an atmosphere, for people to do just that at the Primo Art Spa at 323 North Second St., Brainerd. Driven by the infectious energy of the sisters, the spa is a busy place. Depending on the day, you might find a class designing and building fairy houses, decorating Jazzy Jars for decoration or gift giving, or creating a whimsical population of puppets. Most of the activities and events at the spa are family friendly so people are finding it the perfect spot to bring two and three


generations of family members together for an unforgettable afternoon. Besides the famous fairy houses, puppets, and other class offerings, the spa hosts Art Days and offered an artist recovery class recently on Thursday mornings. Mary is a piano teacher, playwright and writer. She also reviews plays on her blog and the Brainerd Dispatch website from various Twin Cities theatres. Joy is a talented voice teacher, theatre performer and designated Primo Art Spa goodie baker. Both women are gifted bloggers. The Primo Art Spa is the result of visions both sisters had separately. “It evolved in some of our conversations,” says Joy. When she moved to Brainerd from Portland this past year they melded their ideas and decided the time was right. “It’s a missing piece in our community,” says Mary. Of all the things the house on Second Street offers, most importantly, it is a safe haven for those who are ready to try something new. “If you wanted to do something when you were younger the desire shouldn’t have to go away just because you grew up,” says Mary. And they don’t believe

in negativity. “If you love writing but got bad marks in high school for bad grammar, that doesn’t mean you are a bad writer,” says Mary. Joy agrees, “Just because you got kicked out of choir or didn’t match the person next to you doesn’t mean you aren’t a great singer.” Bookmark the spa’s website on your computer and check back often because Mary and Joy are already planning one-ofa-kind future activities. Support and enrichment opportunities for writers, actors and singers are all planned soon. Mary will offer a puppet theatre class for elementary school children and a theatre class for kids. “I’d like to write a show with them,” says Mary, “I’ll guide them and we’ll do it together. Sometimes there might not even be a paper script.” Plans are also in the works for a play writing class for high school students and adults. “I’m excited about it,” she says, “We would all write a 10-minute play and then perform one another’s together.” Primo Art Spa will also offer more blogging and writing classes. Joy will share an experience for musicians that she was a part of in Oregon.

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Join Us.... “People come with a prepared song and perform it one time. Then pull a mood or color card from a jar and try to perform their piece using that.” She says musicians are often surprised that they are able to con-

vey what the card says and send that to others just through their music. “As performers we always think everyone is judging us. If you’re more relaxed you can just think about giving the gift,” says Joy. “Sometimes we get tainted by shows like American Idol,” says Mary, “where it’s all about being judged about everything, from how your hair looks to how you interpreted a song.” They are such great inspirations to others because both ladies are also continuing to fulfill their own dreams. Mary is writing the follow-up to her first play, “Coffee Shop Confessions.” This one is entitled, “Grace Notes – Piano Bench Confessions.” Joy is finishing a positivity journal. She said it is a spin-off of the book “Artist’s Way” and she hopes to inspire others with it by

offering week-by-week prompts for readers. Gift certificates are available for all of the offerings at The Primo Art Spa. Check out pictures from their latest events and keep an eye on the upcoming calendar at http://primoartspa. Follow Mary and Joys’ personal journeys at: http://maryaalgaard. and http://joy-ciaffoni.

Sheila Helmberger

Sheila lives in Baxter and has been contributing to area publications since 1999.

Right: Mary Aalgaard (seated) and her sister, Joy Ciaffoni (right) release the creativity of their students at the familyÐ friendly Primo Art Spa. Above: Visitors take their footwear off at Mary’s door.

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go o d r e a d s

By Mary Aalgaard Photos by Joey Halvorson

Divorce ...she found herself where so many women have gone before...


Divorce! Now, there’s a happy topic for our February issue of Her Voice, the one that has, in the past, featured romance and that all-irritating “holiday” Valentine’s Day. For anyone who finds herself solo during this month of “love,” all those ads for chocolate, flowers and jewelry are about as appealing as a rash along your bra-line. You might even be fooled into thinking that everyone else is out there having fun, falling in love and getting romanced. A walk down the self-help section of your local bookstore will prove otherwise. One book you might find is “The High Road has Less Traffic,” by Monique A. Honaman. “Monique writes about love, marriage, divorce, and everything in between,” says the cover of her second book. She writes from the perspective of a woman who felt blind-sided by her husband’s decision to end their marriage after reconnecting with a former girlfriend. She writes about her anger, betrayal and irritation that she’s a cliche. Her husband got a new job in another city. Monique and the kids stayed behind, waiting for their house to sell, before joining him. Weeks before they were going to move, she was sitting with him on the porch of their lake home, thinking how lovely this is, and “I’m going to get lucky tonight,” until he said those infamous words, “I don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce.” She writes, “I never thought it would happen to me.” But, happen it did, and she found herself where so many women have gone before, or will soon follow, down the mucky road of divorce. As we forge our way down the various roads of life, we tend to look for someone who has gone before us. They have paved the way. They know the twists and turns, the potholes and the scenic overlooks. Sometimes those people find themselves serendipitously sitting next to us on a flight, or standing on the sidelines of a ball game. Sometimes, we find them in our searches on the internet or perusing


Recently divorced, Mary Aalgaard reviews two books on this timely topic.

those self-help sections. Sometimes, we find that we are the leaders of the pack, that others seek our advice as they strap on their heels and trot through the sludge. Monique found herself counseling friends as they fell, one by one, behind her. She saw that using her story and writing skills, she could reach out to more women. She took what she learned from her experience and the result is this self-published book and its sequel “The High Road Has Less Traffic…and a Better View.”

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Monique has an easy, casual voice, not preachy, nor does she use this platform to bash her ex. She tells it like it is. She writes of the hurdles and heartaches. She offers great advice on how to talk to the kids about the divorce, parenting apart and truly taking the high road in befriending the new woman in her former husband’s life. If you keep the kids’ best interest in mind, always, you are better for it. Communication, communication and still more communication will smooth the surface of that road and reduce the amount of scars that no body shop could ever repair. Ending relationships of any kind is painful. Change, and learning how to accept it, requires strength. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and support you. Don’t wait until something happens to your partner to know what you have and where it is, especially your finances. If you find yourself heading down the road to divorce, build up your team: lawyer, doctor, coun-

down what kind of person I really wanted to spend my life with. In the end, it didn’t matter what kind of job he had, his age, where he came from or how many kids he had. What matters is that he shows goodness, kindness, gentleness, thoughtfulness, and love of family. I need to be the number one woman in his life, and above all, every day we feel and show each other love, honor and respect.

You can find out more about Monique Honaman, her books, and her blog at www.

I don’t love you anymore. I want a divorce. selor, financial advisor, police or safe haven, if needed. Tell your trusted friends and allow others to help you. I’m divorced. My story is different from Monique’s. Although, I did feel a connection to how she handles talking with the kids. The first book I turned to was “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. If you feel you are in a controlling and abusive relationship, read this book, and please, get help. Our community is full of resources for people in difficult situations. The first Valentine’s Day that I spent single, I made it all about the kids. I made brownies and cut them into hearts, with the bonus of eating the “spare” parts that don’t count as calories (wink). I called my sister, because that’s her birthday, and I wrote

Mary Aalgaard

Mary Aalgaard is a freelance writer in the Brainerd lakes area. She writes an inspirational blog,, called Play off the Page, and entertainment reviews on her blog and on the website for the Brainerd Dispatch. Mary is also a playwright who works with both children and adults. She and her sister Joy are teaching art, music, and writing classes at their new business, The Primo Art Spa.

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Story and photos By Marlene Chabot

Creativity in Bloom


Beautiful artificial floral arrangements, hand painted wood signs inscribed with thought provoking phrases and many other accessories for your home, The Woodland Meadow gift shop in Nisswa has it all. For the past 20 years co-owners Peg Schoening (mother) and Jessica Johnson (daughter) have been putting their whole heart and soul into their unique store. The women not only help customers select special pieces to finish off a room in their home or give as a gift, but they personally create the arrangements and wood signs found in the store. Their philosophy says it all: “Customers should leave the store feeling better than when they came in.” I caught up with the two successful entrepreneurs one day when they were kind enough to take me on a journey down memory lane where all their creative energy began. “The first venture began in Minneapolis,” Peg said. “I was a young mother in my 30s going through a rough patch and had two young children to support.” That’s when she thought about dried flowers and how people liked to decorate with them. Wild flowers were easy to come by. “When I and my children, Mark and Jessica, traveled from the cities to the family cabin in Brainerd during the summer, we passed tons of flowers along the roadside and began collecting them.” Once they got home, they dried the flowers and began experimenting with dying and dipping them in paint. Then Peg fashioned floral bouquets to sell at a market nearby. The creations


were a hit. Before she knew it, Peg, who attended art school and majored in design, was opening a boutique in her own home. Eventually, Peg and family left the cities behind to live up north permanently. After operating a gift shop from their cabin for two summers, they settled into a building by A&W in Nisswa for a while. “Owning your own business requires a lot of work,” Peg stated, “The kids didn’t like me much when they had to make price tags.” “For a few years we had a second shop in Baxter too,” Jessica added. It’s tough moving to different locations, but also advantageous. More people found out about the business. The store on Nisswa’s Main Street has been there several years now. “Most people assume all the shops in Nisswa are seasonal,” Jessica shared, “but we are open year around. Only our hours change.” Peg began creating her signs with verses for fun just six years ago. Once they sold she was hooked. She now creates a huge quantity of signs weekly. “The ideas for verses come from me and what I’ve gone through with a little humor thrown in.” Sometimes a bumper sticker, a sign in a house, or an e-mail received from a friend will inspire a witty saying. “It’s a matter of choosing what fits with what we sell in the store,” Jessica stated. Peg’s signs come in various sizes. One of their favorite verses is, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” The women told me their unique signs trigger different emotions in each customer and that tears and laughter end up being shared on both sides of the counter. “Many people return to the store,” Jessica said, “just to thank us for the signs and what they meant to them.” Customers interested in artificial floral arrangements have several options to choose from. You can purchase one of Jessica’s ready-made arrangements, drop off your own containers to have arrange-

ments changed seasonally or have Jessica design new creations for you. As mother and daughter’s business grew, they became more confident and got into home decor and decorating. Customers are always welcome to bring in pictures of the rooms they’d like to have the two women accessorize. Peg and Jessica, who like to share with others, took creating delightful surroundings to a whole new level the minute they stepped outside their store’s four walls to bring fresh ideas and accessories to a customer’s home. “The people appreciate our help and we enjoy meeting them,” Peg said. Besides owning a store, the women have been involved with Nisswa’s Christmas Tour of Homes for 14 years. “It’s important for us to give back to the community,” Peg stated, “and we both love doing it.” Each year they meet a new family and eventually they become an extension of theirs. The home they’ll decorate is chosen each winter. Then the planning begins. It takes a couple weeks to a month to get someone’s total home decked out with all the decorations from their store. Creativity in bloom at The Woodland Meadow is definitely not fading any time soon. Jessica’s daughter, Molly, now adds her youthful flair to sales, and Peg has another new creation — gorgeous jewelry.

“Customers should leave the store feeling better than when they came in.”

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Peg Schoening (right) and daughter Jessica Johnson, own and operate The Woodland Meadow Gift Shop in Nisswa.

Marlene Chabot

Marlene Chabot resides in Fort Ripley and has been doing freelance work since 2007. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Great River Writers. A short story of hers will appear in an anthology this spring and she’s waiting for her fourth cozy mystery novel to be published.

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Her Voice Service Directory • Spring 2014 Appliances Schroeder’s Appliance

16603 St. Hwy 371 N Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 829-3624 www.schroeders

Assisted Living Excelsior Place

14211 Firewood Drive Baxter, MN 56425 (218) 828-4770

Good Neighbor Home Health Care (218) 829-9238 (888) 221-5785


Preferred Hearing

17274 State Hwy 371 Brainerd, MN 56401 (800) 458-0895 www.preferredhearing


Men’s Depot

423 NW 7th Street Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 454-2887


Just For Kix

6948 Lake Forest Rd Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 829-7107


Arlean’s Drapery

Pequot Lakes, MN 56472 (218) 568-8280



Thrivent Financial

14391 Edgewood Dr., Suite 200 Baxter, MN 56425 (218) 297-0199

US Bank

320 South 6th St. Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 828-5406


Picture Perfect Framing Studio 610 Front Street Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 454-0870


Cuyuna Regional Medical Center

320 East Main Street Crosby, MN 56441 (218) 546-7000 (888) 487-6437

Dr. Curtis Waters Cascade Women’s Wellness Centre and MedSpa Riverstone Professional Center 13359 Isle Drive Baxter, MN 56425 (218) 454-8888

Essentia Health

St. Joseph’s Medical Center 218-829-2861 Brainerd Clinic (218) 828-2880 Baxter Clinic (218) 828-2880

Lakewood Health System

Staples Motley

Pillager Eagle Bend Browerville (218) 894-1515 (800) 525-1033


Inner Healing Hypnosis

324 South 5th Street, Suite K Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 851-7081


Northridge Agency 123 N 1st St. Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 829-1166


Showplace Kitchens 15860 Audubon Way Baxter, MN 56425 (218) 824-4228


Crosby Eye Clinic

Crosby, Baxter and Remer (800) 952-3766

Lakes Area Eyecare

7734 Excelsior Rd N Baxter, MN 56425 (218) 829-2929 (888) 540-0202

Midwest Family Eye 7870 Excelsior Rd

Baxter, MN 56425 (218) 828-9545 201 1st St NE Staples, MN 56479 (218) 894-5480

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Her Voice Service Directory • Spring 2014 Opticians Continued Northern Eye Center Great Northern Opticians

Brainerd, Little Falls, Staples (218) 829-2020 (800) 872-0005

Real Estate Exit Realty Katie Lee

Johnson Centre 14275 Golf Course Drive Suite 210 Baxter, MN 56425

(218) 831-5243

Rental/Supplies Rohlfing Inc.

Advertising Opportunities To advertise in Her Voice magazine

Call one of our media consultants. (218) 829-4705

RETIRED 923 Wright Street Brainerd, MN 56401 (218) 829-0303

In December 2013, ad rep Carla Staffon retired from the Brainerd Dispatch. Part of the team creating Her Voice in 2003, Carla has been an avid supporter of the magazine.

We wish her a rewarding retirement! Spring 2014 | her voice

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The Chaga

h e alt h

By Elsie Husom Photo by Joey Halvorson

Lynnel Anderson

Chaga Saga


With a catch in her voice, Lynnel Anderson smiles at her brother Pat Peterson and says, “Mushrooms brought our family closer together.” Pat nods agreement. I’ve read many claims that mushrooms can bring health and vitality to those who partake of them, but to bring a family closer? Pat and his wife Tammy live in Ohio. Lynnel had little contact with them for years. Now, she and her mom, Donna Peterson, have visited Ohio, Pat and Tammy have come here several times, and they all have email and/or phone contact at least three times a week. Chaga mushrooms have been the catalyst. “It all started when I attended a mushroom class at the Arboretum,” Lynnel begins. Intrigued by mushroom benefits presented in the class, Lynnel researched further and decided, “I can do this.” Her first venture involved chugging through her husband’s bow hunting area. Excitement at finding the first chaga dimmed when she realized it was too high to reach — even with a ladder — but later she spotted one easily hacked off to take home and process. The venture began. Getting her family involved came next. Her mother readily took to the idea, and when Pat called on her birthday, she mentioned a chaga expedition. “What’s chaga?” he asked. With her response, he was hooked. His planned fishing trip to Minnesota instead turned into days of tramping through woods searching for black lumps. Growing on about one in 10,000 birch trees, chaga are difficult to find. Lynnel says, “Usually we go deep into woods, craning our necks to see high and wide.” The four of them have spent entire days finding nothing. Now, friends who are converts to chaga


Their Business Is Mushrooming products also search and bring mushrooms recipe for bar soap. “Making lip balm is tricky,” Lynnel says. “We have to work fast to to Lynnel for processing. Tools for gathering chaga are very impor- tube it before it solidifies. Lotion is the most tant. Her toolkit contains a camping hatchet, difficult as timing and measurements have to a scarf to catch chunks, bags, gloves, binocu- be exact.” They all feel the benefits are well worth lars and mace. She laughs, “I added the mace their efforts. Lynnel says, “Mom’s psoriasis is after meeting up with a badger.” Foraging for chaga is an adventure. She much improved and her skin tags have vanrecalls one time in a new area. “Looking up ished. We all feel more fit, with more energy. at trees, I forgot to note where I was going.” Chaga heals from the inside out; it helps to Straying off the path, she became totally reduce the workload of the whole immune disoriented and had no idea how to get back system.” Pat adds, “I haven’t been sick in 2 ½ to her truck. “I didn’t want to have to call my years. It isn’t just their word. Among other husband to tell him I was lost, so I just kept advocates is David Wolfe, author of “Chaga, walking. Luckily, I found a path.” Another time she fell from a ladder and it King of the Medicinal Mushrooms,” who came down, smack on her face. When she got says, “Chaga constitutes perhaps the greatest back up the tree, the black lump wasn’t even medicinal properties of any single mushroom or any herb.” chaga. This family realizes they have more in Bringing the chaga home is only the first step. Processing has been trial and error. common than a good mushroom. They enjoy Lynnel’s research gave conflicting advice. just being together. Together they have She says, “I felt like a schmuck after chop- grown a side business that nurtures their ping off and discarding all the outer “black relationship and brings them “better health stuff” and then reading later that is the best and fitness.” You can contact Lynnel at her Brainerd part.” As chaga mushrooms grow, they draw in salon, Hair It Is, where chaga products are antioxidants from the birch bark, which sold or check the web site: explains why Native Americans successfully used birch bark as a poultice to heal wounds. The chaga break down these antioxidants for human consumption. Soaking the chaga chunks in alcohol extracts the antioxidants ready for use. Elsie Husom Making tincture, now their biggest seller, Elsie is a retired educator was their first success. Lynnel’s family all who lives west of Brainerd. ingest tincture daily. Although they agree it’s She loves to golf, read, travel, play mind-challenging games not great tasting, mixing with fruit juice, coffee or tea hides the flavor. Wanting to and make art. She volunteers at expand, she found recipes for lip balm and the Crow Wing County Jail and for the Crossing Arts Alliance. cream lotion, and her mother perfected a

Spring 2014 | her voice

Spring 2014.indd 46

1/28/14 10:26 AM

Spring 2014.indd 47

1/28/14 10:26 AM

Spring 2014.indd 48

1/28/14 10:26 AM

Her Voice - Spring 2014  

In The February 2014 Spring Issue: • Water World: Growing up in the heart of lake country, Samantha French now lives and works in New York C...