Sign of Spring: Cookies


Sign of Spring: Cookies


While the winter of 2022-23 marches on (and on), Girl Scout Cookie sales last a mere six weeks. Poof. It ends in April.

The annual sales are billed as local efforts – it’s the young lady from the neighborhood going door-to-door with a wagon or sled filled with goodies labeled Adventurefuls®, PB Patties/Tagalongs®, Lemon-Ups®, and Girl Scout Smores®. Careful eyes will note the trademarks as a way for the scouts to protect ideas, names, or symbols from knock-off competitors. The legal profession calls it IP for intellectual property. In short, the scouts own the brands they’ve worked so hard on and the trademark gives them protection just like the protection enjoyed by Big and Small Business.

While local, it’s global, too. The cookie program has become the world’s largest entrepreneurial program for girls. It teaches scouts important lifelong skills, including financial literacy, planning, budgeting, teamwork, critical thinking, and decision making. Add confidence to that list. Even with a mom or dad towing the inventory, it takes a whole lot of confidence to ring door bells and make a sales pitch. Sales professionals may tell a tired, down-and-out scout, “That last no means you’re one step closer to a yes.”

A couple years ago, a fast-talking economic development guy in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley promised a girl scout she’d earn a sale if she could recite the five P’s of a business plan. She looked to her mom for help. The fast talker gave them a hint, Product, Price, People, Place, and Promotion. Her mom jumped in, noting her daughter had cookies as the product; the price was $5 a box, the people consisted of a daughter-mother team, they were selling in a lobby as the place, and a double-sided sign served as their promotion. A sale was made and the tip jar got a George Washington, too. George was smiling.

Just like in real business, there’s no resting on laurels for the scouts. The Raspberry Rally® cookie is new for 2023. It’s offered exclusively online and includes direct shipping only. The roll-out was intended to enhance the scouts’ e-commerce sales and entrepreneurial skills. Are e-sales in 2023 the forerunner of a digital future for all cookie sales? Stay tuned. The so-called free market responded to the Raspberry Rally® in a big way. News outlets are reporting the limited edition treats are resold on eBay and other channels for up to $100 a box. Scouts aren’t happy. Call it the Cruelty of e-commerce 101.

Why support the cookie sales? Net profits from the sales stay local. Funded activities extend beyond summer camps. They include important service projects that vary from locale to locale. In a world short of big thinking entrepreneurs, the annual cookie sale effort pays big dividends. Really big dividends. Business Ethics. People Skills. Money Management. Decision Making. Goal Setting. Those foundational building blocks are listed on each cookie box.

Here’s to a cookie. When the doorbell rings or as a makeshift booth is sighted, consider stopping. Listen to their pitches. In the St. Croix Valley and elsewhere, the Girl Scout Mission is laser clear, “Girl Scouting builds girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.”

Danny Boy, if only for a day


Danny Boy, if only for a day


With the Luck of the Irish, St. Patrick’s Day 2023 falls on a Friday. Write your own punchline. There could be two- and three-day celebrations. Write your own itinerary. Parades. Toasts. Cabbage. Irish soda bread. Corned beef. Toasts. Shephard’s pie. Toasts. More Toasts. We’re all Irish for a day. Heck, even our Pepper Festival friends in North Hudson, Wisconsin, known for a heavy emphasis on Italian lineage, will tip their derbies and darbies to neighbors claiming the Emerald Isle as their own. Ditto for the Dutch contingent in Baldwin.

Irish for a day. Celtic music will be played as close as New Richmond, Wisconsin or in nearby hamlets of Cylon, Erin Prairie and Emerald. Keep an eye out for musicians carrying flutes, fiddles, tin whistles, Bodhrán drums, and Uilliean pipes – – Ireland’s national bagpipes. Follow them to their gig.

Irish for a day. In saloons, there’s undoubtedly an old timer at the bar disguised as a leprechaun. The red hair may be faded but the freckles are give-aways. Shout out a last name like Moore, Donahue, Ring, Casey, Geraghty, or O’Keefe and watch for a flinch. Out of nowhere, the leprechaun may belt out a version of Danny Boy. The din yields to the soulful tenor. Patrons may join in. Tears flow freely.

Irish for a day. Danny Boy for a day. Danny Boy is Ireland’s ballad. It was written over one hundred years ago – by an English songwriter named Fred Weatherly who’d never been to Ireland. The product was so-so. Weatherly’s sister in-law, an Irish immigrant, introduced him to the melody of The Londonderry Aire, an old Irish tune. Weatherly put his Danny Boy words to Londonderry’s melody and the rest is history.

The words are haunting:
O Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen and down the mountainside
The summer’s gone and all the roses falling
’Tis you, ’tis you must go and I must bide
But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
’Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
O Danny boy, O Danny boy, I love you so

Many interpret Danny Boy as a message from a parent to a son, wishing a safe return from war or distant travels, perhaps to America. Danny’s return is uncertain. The final line, ‘And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me!’ brings a sense of hope of meeting again, one way or another.

Danny Boy has been universally performed, including by Sinéad O’Connor, Eric Clapton, Celtic Woman, and yes, Johnny Cash, the son of an Arkansas cotton farmer. It was played at the funerals of President John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, and numerous Irish-American police and firefighters, who died following the September 11 attacks in 2001. Twenty plus years ago, the Diocese in Providence, Rhode Island banned Danny Boy and other secular songs from funeral Masses. To that, retired police officer Charlie McKenna wrote, “I want ‘Danny Boy’ sung at my funeral Mass and if it isn’t, I’m going to get up and walk out.”

Irish for a day. There’ll be plenty of revelry in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley on March 17th. A Public Service Announcement is offered: Pace yourself. And when the tenor leprechaun hits the high notes of Danny Boy, it’ll be a moment to remember. Erin go Bragh – Ireland Forever

Penny Here, Penny There


Penny Here, Penny There


It may be a sign of impending old age, but a few residents in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley still get excited finding a wheat penny. In fact, a fast talking community booster recently freed a penny from an icy tomb in a parking lot. Too shiny for a wheat cent, it still found a place in a coat pocket.

The wheat penny or wheat cent has a special place with U.S. currency. It’s a coveted treasure. The distinctive penny gets its name from the two wheat stalks or sheaves on the reverse side of the coin, with ONE CENT and UNITED STATES OF AMERICA between the wheat. And of course, E PLURISBUS UNUM – Latin for out of many, one – is along the top. The front of the penny features the likeness of President Abraham Lincoln.

Wheat pennies were produced from 1909 through 1958. 1909 marked the 100th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, and the roll-out of the wheatie was the first time a president was featured on a circulating U.S. coin. Commemorating the 150th anniversary of Abe’s birth, the design was changed to include the Lincoln Memorial. Fifty years of wheat sheaves was a good run.

Pennies are tied to many phrases:
-penny saved is a penny earned (money not spent now may be spent later)
-bad penny (unpleasant or unwanted person or thing)
-penny wise and pound foolish (don’t focus on the little things and lose sight of the big picture)
-in for a penny, in for a pound (all-in on something)
-penny for your thoughts (to ask what a person is thinking)
-worth every penny (completely worthwhile)
-penny pincher (a frugal person)
-cost a pretty penny (very expensive)
-shiny as a new penny (extremely bright and clean)
-pennies from heaven (unexpected good fortune, a windfall)

Whether it’s a penny, nickel or dime, experts say the use of spare change is in decline. Fewer Americans find a useful purpose for change. Credit cards and other hip electronic payment methods are seemingly more attractive than cash options. Using cash results in an unwanted quarter, dime and three pennies in spare change.

Does nearly $20 million in sales tax distributions from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue to St. Croix, Polk, and Pierce counties put the lowly penny in better standing? All three counties collect an extra half-cent on top of the state’s five cents assessed to taxable goods and services. On a $100 taxable purchase, merchants collect an extra $5.50. Our friends in Madison keep five dollars and return fifty cents to the county where the purchase occurred. In 2022, St. Croix earned $11.9 million (rounded) from Revenue; Pierce got $3.23 million and Polk received $4.83 million. All three counties use the distributions in different ways, but most importantly, they lower property tax bills. Rather than borrow money, special projects are paid for with cash. The interest charged on borrowing is avoided.

The lowly penny has great value. Tourists and travelers in the St. Croix Valley are encouraged to spend away. Ten percent of the sales tax revenue will find its way back. Old Abe would be proud of how a coin bearing his likeness provides ongoing benefits, one cent or a half-cent at a time.

Winning Ticket: Valentine’s Day and ‘Big Game’


Winning Ticket: Valentine’s Day and ‘Big Game’


And they say true romance is on a hiatus or perhaps faces the same headwinds as the economy. Both romance and the economy are fragile. Buckle up. Even with dark skies and turbulence, they shall prevail.

The all-knowing National Retail Federation (NRF), a trade association promoting the importance of retail, recently predicted consumers will spend almost $26 billion (with a “b”) on Valentine’s Day this year. In 2022, romantics-consumers shelled out almost $24 billion. The $2 billion increase is akin to local innkeepers and steakhouses holding the winning lottery ticket. For them, true loves may celebrate on, say, Friday through Sunday rather than on Tuesday, February 14th, a work day for many. Their cash registers will likely ring a little louder for a few days in what otherwise could be a quiet, mid-winter weekend.

Maybe the same innkeepers and steakhouses upgraded their lottery ticket with the Power Play option at the point of purchase? This means cash prizes double on matched numbers other than the grand prize. If they can’t win the entire lottery, there’s a double-down option to win something extra. Innkeepers and steakhouses are savvy players. They’ll be ready.

Those savvy players looked at February’s calendar a long time ago. They choose the Power Play option. Super Bowl LVII, a/k/a the Big Game, will be contested on Sunday, February 12th. So it’s a Big Game – Romantics celebration over the course of a couple days. Cash registers will really ring.

The NRF also forecasts spending on the Big Game. An estimated $16.5 billion will be shelled out this year and includes purchases on things like hosting a party, attending one, watching at a bar, stocking up at liquor stores, team apparel, and even new TVs.

Why is $42.5 billion in spending for two events important? Consumer spending, even when consumers are disguised as romantics and sports fans, accounts for about 70% of the U.S. economy. Every 90 days, consumer spending in the U.S. totals as much as $14 trillion (with a “t”). That’s a lot of appetizers, football shaped desserts, office pools, greeting cards, flowers, dinners, get-aways, and even treats for special four-legged friends.

Romantics and sports fans may wish to know if they’re above the spending norm or below it. The NRF says as much as $190 per person may be spent on celebrating Valentine’s Day this year. Likewise, a little over $85 per adult will be spent on the Big Game. Cupid doesn’t dish out IOUs and neither do unsympathetic employers who expect high productivity versus sick days immediately following the Super Bowl.

In Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley, innkeepers and steakhouses offer plenty of options for either day or both. Dine-in or take-out. Add a selection from a local winery, distillery or brewery. Local, family-owned butcher shops are not marriage counselors, but they can offer tips on premium cuts and how to prepare them. Regardless of the locale, Cupid will be there. So will Packer and Viking fans, even when they are part of the same family. If an innkeeper can win the lottery based on sales volume, then true romantics and sports fans can do the same in their enjoyment of special occasions. Above the norm or below, here’s to mid-February’s special spending days in the St. Croix Valley.

Rodeoing in Madison


Rodeoing in Madison


Wiki says George Strait is one of the most influential and popular recording artists of all time. His authentic cowboy image and back-to-roots sound earned him the title, King of Country Music.

One of Strait’s best known songs is Amarillo by Morning. It’s a tale of a rodeo cowboy and his life on the road. The song goes, “Amarillo by mornin’, up from San Antone. Everything that I got is just what I’ve got on. I ain’t got a dime, but what I’ve got is mine; I ain’t rich, but Lord, I’m free. Amarillo by Morning, Amarillo’s where I’ll be.”

There is no evidence, however, that Strait ever spent any time inside the state capitol in Madison. Maybe his entourage passed through Madison’s belt line in the middle of the night, but the tour bus was not sighted inside Capitol Square, framed by the capitol and a series of one-way streets.

Meanwhile, about four hours northwest of downtown Madison is the St. Croix Valley. Residents and businesses in St. Croix, Polk, and Pierce counties enjoy an exceptional quality of life and pro-business advantages. Two of the three counties, St. Croix and Pierce, are included in the federal definition of the 15-county Twin Cities Metro Area. Polk County may be added to the metro area in the near future. The 3.75 million residents of the Twin Cities include a few rodeo cowboys, trailers, bucking stock, and wannabe urban cowboys.

A metro area encompassing two states is not without confusion. Does Minnesota claim St. Croix and Pierce? St. Croix and Pierce claim nothing west of the pristine St. Croix River. Wisconsinites have long said, “Nice place to visit, but (fill-in-the-blank with a metro punchline).” The late Kitty Rhoades of Hudson proudly called her legislative district Winnesota. Former State Rep. Dean Knudson, also from Hudson, reminded capitol colleagues he represented the most populated area of the state, in reference to the Twin Cities metro area. Take that Milwaukee. You too, Madison.

Growing regions like the St. Croix Valley invariably have long lists of wants and needs. Many require assistance beyond the hometown legislators. The wish-list includes funding for transportation projects, broadband, health and human services, and even modernizing how state aid is distributed to units of local government in the form of shared revenue.

About this time each year, civic-led advocacy groups begin their respective treks to Madison. Examples include Superior Days and the Chippewa Valley Rally. In the fall, La Crosse promotes Oktoberfest in the Capitol. All pound their drums and this includes folks with the St. Croix Valley Legislative Day effort, whether individually or as a group. The St. Croix Valley has great senators and representatives. Several have earned leadership roles in key committees, but they cannot do it alone. They need civic groups to spread the word and pound the drum.

One long-time participant of the St. Croix Valley’s advocacy effort insists he’s working on a tune even the King of Country Music would admire. It has the working title, Madison in My Rear View Mirror. If Strait’s rodeo character can make it to Amarillo, then Winnesota’s brave souls can safely return to the St. Croix Valley’s twinkling lights after six hours in the capitol. Wish them luck.

Good news for Strait fans. He’ll be playing at American Family Field in Milwaukee this June after a two decade absence. No word if his playlist includes Madison in My Rear View Mirror.

Census Bureau: Urban, Rural, Country, Rock ’n Roll


Census Bureau: Urban, Rural, Country, Rock n Roll


Star Wars has nothing to do with Donny and Marie Osmond and neither has anything to do with the U.S. Census Bureau. Until now, that is.

The opening crawl of the Star Wars film series begins, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…..” For old timers, the late 1970s isn’t exactly ancient history and a variety show called Donny & Marie could have been the center of a TV galaxy for millions of viewers. The brother-sister act ruled Friday night television with comedy skits, celebrity spots, and of course, songs.

A reoccurring segment was the so-called Concert Spot. Marie insisted she was a little bit country by performing a country music song, and Donny, who was a little bit roll and roll, would sing a popular rock ’n roll tune. Oh those two kids. What did they grow up to be?

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau is the primary statistical agency for the U.S. government. The Bureau goes back to another galaxy far, far away when Thomas Jefferson ordered the first census count in 1790. The U.S. Constitution requires a census every ten years and the results determine the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for each state along with the annual distribution of hundreds of billions of federal funds.

The results of the 2020 Census are now seeing the light of day. One topic is the classification of urban and rural areas. On one hand, Census said our nation’s urban population increased by 6.4 percent between 2010 and 2020. However, Census also announced it changed the way urban areas are defined.

Let’s set the stage. St. Croix and Pierce counties in Wisconsin are included in the federal definition of the 15-county Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI Metropolitan Area, a/k/a the Twin Cities Metro Area. Urban right? Tell that to the young lady on a $500,000 tractor in the middle of a few hundred acres of corn or beans or the operator of a five generation dairy farm and its 1,500 cows. Their perspectives are pretty rural. But to empty nesters wishing to be closer to grandchildren, St. Croix and Pierce may be ideal landing spots for urban qualities in small town settings. The Really Big Cities are across the St. Croix River in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Going back over 100 years, the Bureau used the threshold of 2,500 residents to define urban. As of late 2022, the revised definition is 5,000 residents. A community under 5,000 can still be classified as urban if it has at least 2,500 housing units.

Population in St. Croix’s Hudson, New Richmond, and River Falls are all above 5,000. They’re urban by virtue of both the Twin Cities Metro Area designation and their 2020 population estimates. Baldwin, with around 4,300 residents, was previously designated as urban, but is now rural. Ditto for Prescott (4,333) and Ellsworth (3,350) in Pierce County and Amery (2,962) and Osceola (2,765) in Polk County.

Confused? Don’t be. If you understand Star Wars and Donny & Marie, it’s possible to understand the Census Bureau. Urban or rural, Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley has plenty of wide open spaces and metro amenities to enjoy.

Days are Long; Years Short


Days are Long; Years Short


With the refrains of Auld Lang Syne still fresh, political cartoons will continue a tradition of depicting a sash-wearing Baby New Year morphing into a haggard Father Time over the course of 365 days, 52 weeks, or 12 months. The days are long but the years are short.

The days are long but the years are short. What does that mean? A New Yorker by way of Kansas City, Missouri named Gretchen Rubin (no relation) is credited with this inspiring quote. Wiki says Rubin studies and writes on topics like habits, happiness, and human nature. Interesting, but the quote? It first appeared in Rubin’s 2009 book, The Happiness Project, subtitled, Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun. “Happiness” spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list and millions of copies have been sold.

The days are long but the years are short. When writing the book, Rubin created a short story she turned into a one-minute video called The Years Are Short. It’s easily found and viewed on the web. Rubin’s revelation began when she rode a city bus with her young daughter on their way to school. Sometimes Rubin tugged her daughter to the bus stop. Most times it was an impatient ride. Meanwhile, her daughter found wonderment in the treasures of The Big City. One morning with great excitement the daughter pointed out an ordinary dog on a leash and Rubin discovered “It”. The bus ride was parenthood and those experiences helped comprise the childhood of her daughter. It was life itself. Rubin determined that in the not-too-distant-future, they’d no longer ride the bus. She made a point to think, “Thank goodness, another chance to ride the bus.” Fast forward and the two began walking to school. Years later, both recalled the rides. “I loved that bus,” said the daughter. “So did I,” Rubin said. With that, “The days are long, but the years are short” was born.

In a blink, infants become teenagers and then young adults. Coulda-woulda-shoulda resolutions are forgotten and fall by the wayside. Life happens, all within the reality of long days and short years.

Through her writing, Rubin is quoted extensively. They have the same relevance on January 1st as they do on December 31st. Many stand out:
-“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”
-“Work harder to appreciate your ordinary day.”
-“I can DO ANYTHING I want, but I can’t DO EVERYTHING I want.”
-“Never start a sentence with the words, ‘No offense.’”
-“One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy. One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”
-“The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”

Even in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley, there are still 12 months, 52 weeks, and 365 days in a year. The days are long but the years are short. Make the most of them. Happy 2023.

Shop, Drop, and Roll


Shop, Drop, and Roll


Before the wishbone from the Thanksgiving Bird was pulled in two, the National Retail Federation (NRF) released its forecast of record breaking holiday spending in America this season, to the tune of $942.6 – $960.4 billion. NRF said this year’s sales increase could be between six and eight percent over 2021’s $889.3 billion, soon to be just another record breaking number. What’s a couple of percentage points between hardy shoppers when billions are at stake? For starters, billions are at stake, and sometimes the thin margin is the subtle difference between retailers realizing a good year or great one.

NRF noted consumers (“us”) were feeling the pressure of inflation and higher prices in this shopping season. Alas, the NRF concluded consumers (“us”) remained resilient and continued to engage in commerce (“spending”). Thanks for the pep talk, NRF.

Crowded main streets, bistros, and stores? Slow broadband service? You-we-us (“consumers”) were likely shopping after Thanksgiving, mano-a-mano style. NRF predicted as many as 180 million Americans shopped during a five-day span between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. Keep in mind the U.S. population is around 332 million.

If post-Thanksgiving shopping days were reindeers, the Jolly Old Man would shout out, “On Blackie (Black Friday), now Tiny (Small Business Saturday), and onward Cybie (Cyber Monday)!” Those three reindeers are like the center and two guards of an offensive line in football. They pave the way for consumers and shoppers (“us”) to make big plays in electronics, sporting goods, or toy aisles. News outlets reported a record $9.12 billion was spent online during Black Friday (online!). Foot traffic at brick and mortar Big Box stores was reportedly down, leading one 70-something male shopper to proclaim, “If the product ain’t online, I ain’t buying it.” Analytics from Small Business Saturday in the U.S. estimated local spending at $17.9 billion. Cyber Monday racked up a reported $11.3 billion in sales. The beat, with a “b” for billions, goes on.

Intelligence from the NRF says shoppers (“us”) plan to spend around $833 on gifts and holiday items, which is in line with the average over the last ten years. A competing forecast from PricewaterhouseCoopers put the average spending at $1,430 for gifts, travel, and entertainment. PwC’s estimate is up 20 percent from the dark days of 2020 and more than 10 percent over 2019 spending.

Cash, credit, debit, or ‘other’? In 2015, PwC first inquired about consumer payment methods. Surprise! Cash was the most popular method, and 80 percent of polled consumers ranked it among their top three choices. So-called contactless payment options are the most popular in today’s shopping circles. The top three preferred methods are debit cards at 60 percent, credit cards at 53 percent, and cash, holding its own, also at 53 percent. The 70-something hipster may be on the leading edge of other methods, including Apple Pay/Android Pay at 19 percent, other mobile payments at 16 percent, and “buy now, pay later platforms” (hint: the old hipster says pay later platforms are options using downloaded app’s).

Enjoy the hectic days ahead. Whether it’s a new hoodie, a coffee card, holiday travel, jewelry, or electronics, here’s to a memory-filled holiday season in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. We’ll do it again in 11 months.

Overcooked: Thanksgiving 2022


Overcooked: Thanksgiving 2022


It’s a poorly kept secret that Mr. Grinch resides in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. He is relieved Halloween is in the books. From mid-September through November 1st an inflatable Scary Grinch competed with Holiday Grinch for both shelf space and attention in Big Box stores. At ground-level, the cart-pushing real Grinch was mesmerized by his likenesses, causing shoppers to gather. Alas, Grinch left the Big Box in a huff. Can a Happy New Year Grinch be far behind?

Grinch shares many traits with neighbors and fellow consumers. He is not cheap or tight fisted. He watches for discounts and cuts occasional coupons. And, he embraced his Inner Nerd long ago. A three dollar item at one store purchased for two dollars elsewhere is not just a one dollar savings, it’s a thirty-three percent savings! The extra dollar is tucked into a secret coffee and taproom account, reportedly Grinch’s only known vices. Unspent change is designated for holiday shopping in November and December. Climbing out of a two-year pandemic, main street grills and shops in Whoville could use a boost and hometown booster Grinch will be the first in line.

Before official holiday shopping, Grinch will join his family for Thanksgiving. The headlines are foreboding: higher farm labor costs, soaring feed prices, another round of avian flu, supply chain woes, logistics and fuel spikes, and of course, inflation. Just like Halloween candy increasing 13 percent, the price of turkey is a reported $1.99 per pound. In 2021, the price was $1.15. Inner Nerds, that’s not just eighty-four cents, it’s a 73 percent increase! For a ten pound bird, Grinch will pay $8.40 more, meaning a likely withdrawal from the secret account, causing a chain reaction. A teetering domino tips toward fewer holiday shopping dollars, which tips another domino toward fewer transactions locally.

Grinch was reminded of other meal options. Frozen turkeys cost less than fresh ones. Alternative proteins like chicken or pork are less expensive but are not immune to rising costs. According to September’s Consumer Price Index, the price of chicken is up over 17 percent from 2021 and pork is up almost seven percent.

Other essentials for Thanksgiving dinners in Whoville are higher too, including the price of eggs (up 32.5 percent), butter (up 25.8 percent), flour (up 17.1 percent), fruits/vegetables (up only 7.3 percent), and pie, presumably pumpkin, is up over 20 percent. No word on the green bean casserole price index.

Do not despair St. Croix Valley residents. During his time here, Grinch knows valley residents are resilient. And giving. They find a way. They share their bounty, including an extra plate for the ‘seasoned’ citizens up the street or those unable to travel. Grinch pledges less coffee and taproom stops in the next couple of weeks. He’ll use the savings for the family feast, and in true Grinch fashion, he’ll put slices of pie on the neighbor’s top step and knock lightly. They’ll never know.

The adage of too many cooks in the kitchen still applies. Neither Martha Stewart nor the Grinch endorse anything overcooked. Here’s to a memorable Thanksgiving 2022.

THX VETS Says it All


THX VETS Says it All


The state of Wisconsin first required motor vehicle registrations that included displaying license plates way back in 1905, according to Wikipedia, the all-knowing online encyclopedia. Today, vehicle registrations and plates are handled by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles. Plates measure 12 inches by 6 inches, are made of aluminum, and going back to June 2000, the format is three random letters and four random numbers, along the lines of ABC 1234.

From 1905 to 1911, Wisconsin’s plate design was a riveted serial number on a black plate, such as 32W, with “W” referencing Wisconsin. The serial format was 12345-W and ranged from 1-W to 21983-W. Does the long-lost 1-W still exist in the corner of an old barn?

Riveted numbers were replaced by the first series of embossed numbers in 1914. In 1940, “America’s Dairyland” slogan was introduced, and in 1986, new graphics included a sailboat and sunset, flying geese, and a farm scene. The slogan and graphics still exist.

Like other states, vanity or personalized plates are available in Wisconsin, subject to certain standards. WisDOT may refuse to issue, or may recall after issuance, a request that may be offensive to good taste or decency, misleading or conflicts with any other license plate. They come with a price. A $15 personalized plate fee is required each year in addition to the regular annual registration fee. Motorcycles and farm trucks, which are renewed biennially, cost an additional $15 for each year of registration.

WisDOT offers a search site to find out if personalized license plates are available at Bad news. Both BIGFAN and XCUZME are not available. Good news. LUVAR12 (Aaron Rodgers #12), GO-CHZ, CHZ-EATR, and FISHFRY are available.

A vehicle was recently spotted in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Its plates read, THX VETS. Seven letters say it all. As Veterans Day nears, THX VETS is particularly meaningful. Veterans Day is a federal holiday observed on November 11th each year to honor military vets. It coincides with other holidays around the globe marking the end of major fighting in World War One. THX VETS.

“Don’t forget: hire a vet” was a public service announcement from 1965 to 1980. The message is now Hire Heroes. Employment assistance is the Number One requested service from military members transitioning to civilian life. Hire Heroes USA is an example of a nonprofit veteran employment service organization. It provides assistance to thousands of veterans and spouses each year. Wisconsin counties have a fully-staffed Veteran Service Office (VSO) which can help determine if a veteran or a veteran’s family may qualify for local, state, and federal benefits. VSO staff may be a friendly voice or face veterans are looking for. It could start with coffee and a conversation.

Employers large and small continue to look for hard-working associates to hire. Veterans served our country. They can serve business and industry, too. Veterans make great employees. Hire Heroes.

Look for the vehicle with special plates in the St. Croix Valley. Today, tomorrow, and especially on November 11th, THX VETS, 3X.

Holy Gourd! The Great Pumpkin


Holy Gourd! The Great Pumpkin


Just like Halloween displays popping up in big box retail stores in mid-August, pumpkins in all shapes and sizes are finally available, just ahead of October 31st’s scary day. But before there’s a Halloween celebration, pumpkins are deserving of their own day. Yes indeed, Wednesday, October 26th is National Pumpkin Day. Good Gourd Almighty! Circle it on the calendar.

What about the lowly pumpkin? Friend or foe? Do they bring an economic impact? The details are here:

-Reportedly, eating pumpkins is good for your health: Pumpkins are high in potassium, which has a positive impact on blood pressure. This news pleased the St. Croix Valley’s fast talking economic development guy. Anything for lower BP, he vowed, anything. Pumpkins are full of fiber, what a relief, as well as vitamin C to help reduce the risk of stroke, loss of muscle mass, and reduction of kidney stones.

-Pumpkins taste good (reportedly): Baked, boiled, steamed, or fried, there are many ways to prepare and enjoy pumpkins.

-Fruit or Vegetable: Because of the seeds, pumpkins are considered a fruit, and the average pumpkin has a one cup of them. Pumpkins are 90 percent water.

-History: The oldest evidence of pumpkin seeds goes back to between 7000-5500 B.C. to seeds found in Mexico.

-Pumpkins are grown all over the world and are found in six of the seven continents. You won’t find them in Antarctica, however.

-According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, all states in the U.S. produce pumpkins, but six states produce most of them. Illinois leads the way. An estimated 40 percent of so-called pumpkin acres are usually harvested in the Top Six pumpkin producing states.

-Illinois is on a roll. In 2020, growers in the Land o’ Lincoln increased their acreage and harvested more than twice as many pumpkin acres as any other state. Almost 80 percent of the acres in Illinois produce pumpkins for pie-filling or other processing uses (read: pumpkin puree).

-Yields vary: Illinois grows about 40,000 pounds per acre, while also rans Indiana, Michigan, and Virginia grow about 20,000 pounds per acre.

-The National Retail Federation, the source for all things involving spending, estimates almost 150 million Americans plan on buying pumpkins to make jack-o-lanterns. Inflation has impacted the price of pumpkins, going from $4.83 in 2021 to $5.40 in 2022. Embrace your inner nerd. It’s only 57 cents, but equates to nearly 12 percent.

-The increased price means $804 million will be spent on pumpkins this year, up 13 percent from 2021’s $709 million.

-Pumpkins can fly if they’re launched. Bridgeville, Delaware hosts the World Championship Pumpkin Chunkin’ contest every year in early November. High-tech and low-tech contraptions fire pumpkins into an open 200-acre field. Their world record is 4,694.68 feet. Can the holy grail of one mile or 5,280 feet be far off?

-As recent as October 10, 2022 a grower from Minnesota set a new U.S. record for heaviest pumpkin at a contest in northern California. It weighed 2,560 pounds and beat the previous record by 6 pounds, set just 10 days earlier by an upstate New York grower. The world record is 2,702 pounds from a grower in Italy.

-Cheers: Brewer Samuel Adams makes a Jack-O Pumpkin Ale.

-Get rich scheme for kids: A jack-o-lantern is a way to add value to a pumpkin. Keep looking for neighborhood signs from kids hoping to make a few bucks by carving jack-o-lanterns to consumer specifications.

Here’s to 2022’s Great Pumpkins in the St. Croix Valley.

Homecoming 2022: Wake up the Echoes


Homecoming 2022: Wake up the Echoes


Graduating classes come and go.

Marching bands come and go.

Cheer squads come and go.

Coaches, team managers, and cable television announcers all come and go.

But there’s only one homecoming. And across the U.S., an important date on the calendar is near, Homecoming 2022. Coronations, parades, bonfires – oops, that’s a specter from a bygone era, and pep rallies all lead up to the game – perhaps better phrased as Thee Game. Win it and teammates rejoice for decades. Lose it, and those same teammates are haunted beyond decades.

What about the economic impact of homecoming? A 2011 news clip from Albany, Georgia proclaimed, “City officials say Albany businesses should receive an economic impact between four to five million dollars from Homecoming.” The owner of a restaurant said homecoming was biggest week of the year by far. “There’s nothing like the Albany State Homecoming weekend,” the owner boasted. Is it possible for college fans to spend a little over $380 traveling to their alma mater as a 2021 study suggested? Ouch. And Yes. Gotta eat. Gotta sleep. Gotta get swag. Gotta celebrate. Or commiserate. Remember, consumer spending is responsible for 70 percent of the country’s economic activity. This includes spending on football and homecoming.

Bringing it down to a local level, bars and grills will be full before and after games. Concession stands will be busy, too. Floats for parades don’t decorate themselves. And topping the tank to and from big games is a must, even as gas settles in at $3.70+ a gallon. Back in the day, new dresses and coats were purchased for homecoming. Fast forward to 2022 and more than one family elder may ask, “You paid how much for those jeans and they came with all those holes?”

Families in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley find ways to come through. They’ll do it again for homecoming this fall. Boosters play a big role behind the scenes. An undersized 220 pound defensive lineman needs pasta on the eve of big games, followed by brownies and milk for desert. Boosters make it happen. Eight and nine-year old kids playing organized football for the first time soon become high school juniors and seniors. Unpaid boosters played big roles in getting them there.

An unnamed university in South Bend, Indiana has high expectations for academic achievement and even higher expectations for success on the football field. Their fight song asks followers to wake up the echoes, cheering her name! This is a call for all loyalists, living or not, to pull for a victory. How can the opposing team stand up to a legion like this?

And now on to the big game, Homecoming 2022. Good luck players, coaches, drum majors, cheerleaders, and fans. Blackhawks, Hilltoppers, Panthers, Raiders, Spartans, and Tigers will call upon their legions. Wake up the echoes!

Scary Choices: Back-to-School Shopping


Scary Choices: Back-to-School Shopping


Moms, dads, and extended family members in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley were not immune from scary shopping experiences leading up to the start of a new school year. Part of the scare was linked to the Halloween merchandise on full display at the big box stores since early August. Halloween still falls on October 31st, so the appropriate sequence for consumer spending is still back-to-school shopping, a state fair in nearby Minnesota, Labor Day festivities, football homecomings, school breaks, and then Halloween. Billions will be spent on Halloween candy and costumes. In a money saving effort, the spendthrift Grinch in the St. Croix Valley will continue to celebrate as himself.

Parents, disguised as consumers, quickly discovered ‘must-have’ back-to-school items were impacted by the latest boogeyman called inflation. Meanwhile, the list for must-haves keeps getting longer, including notebooks and pencils, the latest in fashion, accessories, computers, and other electronics. The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted spending for back-to-school and back-to-college could reach $110.7 billion, up two percent from 2021’s record setting $108.1 billion. Perhaps the NRF’s school spending estimates were intended to draw attention away from research from the Brookings Institute on the cost to raise a child to age 17, estimated at slightly more than $310,000 or $18,300 per year!!!

The NRF says households may spend an average of $864 for the 2022-23 K-12 school year while back-to-college spending is stable at around $1,199 per household. Parents-consumers are expected to spend almost 41 percent more in back-to-school shopping this year compared to pre-COVID 2019.

The retail analytics company DataWeave noted the following increases from 2021:
-backpacks are up nearly 12 percent
-lunchboxes increased 14 percent
-notebooks and folders take the top prize with an increase of 31 percent

Newell Brands makes good old Elmer’s Glue and Sharpie pens. Their 2022 prices were set to cover inflationary costs from suppliers. Newell offered a hedge by saying it has no control over what retailers charge for their products. Sharpie permanent markers are reportedly up seven percent and highlighters up 8.5 percent, but the Elmer’s glue products were up almost ten percent.

St. Croix Valley residents are resilient. Moms and dads likely shopped early, starting in July. Online shopping sometimes translates into lower prices. In-store brands are usually priced lower than brand name products. Working extra hours or making an additional sale when commissions were involved helped soften the financial blow of school supplies.

St. Croix Valley residents and business are also generous. They’ll find a way to pick up extra supplies for classrooms. Free backpacks and school supplies are now common activities for numerous clubs and organizations. Social media and school districts will make the important connections of where and when.

As long as children and young adults continue to grow a few inches between June and September, there will be back-to-school shopping needs. Remember, those students will soon be on their own. Ideally they start new chapters as residents in the St. Croix Valley as parents and community members. Their shopping carts will be brimming with supplies. And the beat goes on.

Economic Beat Goes On


Economic Beat Goes On


Headwinds. Icebergs. Torpedoes. Despite the recent gloom-and-doom economic headlines, consumers perched in a mythical crow’s nest say it’s cautiously full speed ahead, especially in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. In reality, those commanding in the ship’s bridge are on heightened alert. The course remains the same – in a forward direction — even with looming obstacles.

Econ 101 reminds us the economic vitality of a region, state, or country largely depends on the spending habits of its residents. Consumer spending is an important metric because it directly impacts the measure of gross domestic product (GDP). The U.S. economy transitioned to a service-driven one long ago. At least two-thirds of consumer spending is on services. One armchair economist put it in understandable terms, “We’ve become a country of haircuts and hot dog stands.”

More Econ 101: Disposable income drives consumer spending. It’s the money potential consumers have after deducting taxes and other withholdings from paychecks. Without sufficient disposable income, no one has the funds to buy the things they need.

Nearly every household experienced serious belt tightening of late. Doubters can check on the meteoric rise of gas, food, shelter, and vehicles – new or used — up, up, and up. Wages and benefits could not simply keep pace. As fast as gas prices rose, they are parachuting downward ever so slowly. Belts were tightened. They still are, and a reoccurring topic around dinner tables likely centers on Wants versus Needs.

Even with headwinds, one measure of vitality bodes well for the St. Croix Valley. The measure is sales tax collections. Almost all Wisconsin counties opted into an extra half-cent sales tax to go along with the state’s five cent tax. A one dollar purchase of a taxable item means the bill is $1.055. On ten dollars, it’s an extra fifty-five cents. You get the picture. St. Croix County enacted its half-cent collection in April 1987. Millions have been collected and wisely expended. Rather than borrow and incur an interest charge, St. Croix County applies much of its sales tax revenue toward capital improvement projects.

Not too many years ago, a strong collection year for St. Croix was $5.5 million. Then $7.25 million. Then $9.75 million. In 2021, the county pushed through the $10 million ceiling with $10.8 million collected. A couple factors helped contribute to a county’s collection fortunes – federal stimulus money to consumers and a 2018 Supreme Court ruling requiring online retailers to collect sales taxes on electronic purchases. Cha-Ching. Five of St. Croix’s top collection months have occurred in the last 13 months, ranging from the highest of $1.13 million in June 2022 to $1.031 million in July 2022.

Weird science or armchair economist? Wants v. Needs? Smoke or Mirrors? Serendipity? Maybe it’s a little of each. Consumers will continue to spend because that’s what they do. There are big shopping days ahead, including back to school, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.

Icebergs or tightened belts, here’s to determined consumers in the St. Croix Valley.

Lemons: Take a Stand


Lemons: Take a Stand


As predictable as dandelions in April and boulevard flags on July 4th, neighborhood lemonade stands are popping up again in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Business owners in search of the next generation of leaders say the stands are a sight for sore eyes. It takes a lot of resilience to plan, operate, and sustain the lowly lemonade stand. But they can also spark successful entrepreneurial careers.

Lemonade stands took a big hit during COVID. Kids tried creativity by using canned products and drive-through service. One sign featured a masked lemon. Another proclaimed an immunity boost from the lemons. That statement was not evaluated by the FDA, however. Another sign read, “Last Chance Lemonade” located one block before drivers hit a state highway with no turning back. Consumers still shied away.

They’re back in 2022. Recently, residents in a North Hudson, Wisconsin neighborhood may have witnessed an economic development leader slow his vehicle to a crawl after he spotted a stand. It was a no brainer. Out he jumped and was greeted by the stand’s operators. They asked, “Lemonade?” He shook his head to signal no. “Where’s your tip jar?” he asked. “And your signs up the street?” He got a couple of shrugs. “Here’s a dollar for a tip,” he said. “And keep up the good work. We need more business people like you.” The operators quickly figured it out. A transaction did not take place, but they received some good advice and were a dollar ahead.

The economic development guy resisted the temptation to embellish the young operators about the Five Ps of a business plan – product, price, place, people, and promotion. He’d save it for another day or another stand. If the Five Ps came up again, he’d suggest the Small Business Development Center, a resource where businesses of all sizes and shapes receive timely advice, including a class along the lines of Business Plan Writing 101.

Lemonade stands still face many uphill battles, including successfully navigating rules and regulations. It took the governor’s pen on November 26, 2019 (not a misprint) for Wisconsin kids to operate lemonade stands without licenses as long as the stands are on private property, the operators are under 18 and sales are less than $2,000. The bill also prohibited local units of government from imposing bans on kid’s lemonade stands. Huzzah! Several other states are recognizing the value of the can-do lemonade stand.

As a wrap-up to the North Hudson story, the economic development guy stopped at the curb and asked, “Open tomorrow?” He got a “Yep” in unison. Sounding like a warning but intended as advice, he said, “OK, I’ll be looking for the tip jar and signs. And keep up the good work!”

From resiliency to heartwarming, don’t underestimate the economic impact of neighborhood lemonade stands, especially those in the St. Croix Valley.

Celebrate the Fourth Locally


Celebrate the Fourth Locally


Happy 246 years of independence, America.

2022’s July Fourth is a well-deserved three day weekend. For consumers, this translates into an extra day of recreating and spending. The importance? Economists repeatedly say consumer spending props up 70 to 75 percent of the U.S. economy. They point to 2018’s Fourth of July on Hump Day – Wednesday – meaning fewer people were able to celebrate the holiday’s full impact. Translation: Consumer spending was down on July 4, 2018. COVID has impacted celebrations, too.

Record spending over the Fourth is forecast this year, even with red hot inflation, weekly gas price adjustments, and supply chain woes. Main streets in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley could use the boost. Most communities have special events, whether it’s a parade, baseball-softball tournament, carnival, or fireworks. Give them a visit. St. Croix Valley residents and tourists are sure to make cash registers ring. In a nod to modern vending, Bitcoin and Venmo® could be payment options, too.

The websites for National Retail Federation and WalletHub list several fun facts about July Fourth, including:

– 84 percent of Americans will celebrate Independence Day this year
– Food is a major expenditure on the Fourth; an estimated $84.12 per person will be spent on food and a total of $7.7 billion will be spent on food
– The shopping list is topped by beef ($727 million), chicken ($273 million), and pork ($195 million)
– Cookouts, BBQs, or picnics are the most popular ways to celebrate, followed by attending fireworks or a community celebration, attending a parade, or traveling/vacations
– Consumers will pay 30 percent more on fireworks this year; fireworks were up 35 percent in 2021; a pyrotechnics association reported an unprecedented demand for fireworks for backyard celebrations starting in 2020 due to COVID
– 150 million hot dogs are eaten on the Fourth; no word if hot dog eating champ Joey Chestnut will travel to the St. Croix Valley; his 10-minute eating record is 76 hot dogs
– $1.45+ billion is spent on beer and wine, with beer claiming $1 billion of the purchases (public service announcement: don’t drink and drink)
– 48 million people travel 50+ miles from home for the Fourth; in 2020 the number of travelers was estimated at 34 million
– 91 percent of travelers will drive to their destinations
– 100 places in the U.S. have independence, liberty, freedom or eagle in their names
– 95 percent of all U.S. fireworks are imported from China
– 14,000 public firework displays are held on the Fourth
– $1.5+ billion is spent on firework displays
– The cost of hosting a municipal fireworks display can approach $200,000
– $5 million is the recommended insurance coverage for fireworks shows

Here’s to three great days of weather in early July. Here’s to community celebrations in the St. Croix Valley. Here’s to local cafes, bars, grills, ice cream shops, food trucks, breweries, and distilleries. In 2022, make a new traditional in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley.

Bird? Plane? Construction Crane!

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Bird? Plane? Construction Crane!

The line from an early 1950s black-and-white TV series the Adventures of Superman went something like, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!

Fast forward to the spring of 2022 and the line in the St. Croix Valley can be changed to, “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a construction crane!” That’s right, a no longer sleepy county at the Wisconsin-Minnesota border has transformed into East Metro’s Construction Central. Numerous commercial and multi-family sites in St. Croix are hosts of what used to be rare sights – construction cranes.

Get used to it. Cranes could be commonplace. St. Croix County, Wisconsin has its rightful place among 14 other counties that comprise the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington MN-WI Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). For bragging rights, the Twin Cities MSA is the 16th largest in the U.S. with a population of 3.75 million people and third largest in the Midwest. More civics lesson backfill – the best counties – St. Croix and Pierce – are the only Wisconsin counties in the MSA designation. All others are to the west in Minnesota, including Big Brothers Hennepin and Ramsey and St. Croix’s nearby cousins, Washington and Dakota.

Pushing the civics envelope a little further, the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says there’s also a Combined Statistical Area (CSA) definition that gives the Twin Cities a total of 21 counties by picking up outlining metro and “micropolitan” areas like St. Cloud, Faribault-Northfield, Red Wing, Hutchinson, and Owatonna. The all-in population of the CSA is 4.1 million people. This still pales in comparison to the four-state New York-Newark CSA that boasts 23.5 million+ people. It’s all relative. Big is big. But a farmer in rural St. Croix or Pierce may not agree that he or she is remotely included in any sort of metro designation.

Back to construction cranes. Bridge building historians remind residents of the mega-cranes brought to the St. Croix River in April 2016. Construction on the St. Croix Crossing had fallen behind schedule so massive “ringer” cranes were dispatched. The river project enjoyed the notoriety having two of the four ringer cranes in North America at its construction site. Their 660-ton capacity made quick work of lifting 180-ton bridge segments into place. At the peak of river crossing project, as many as 14 cranes were operating along with 400 workers.

And how do contractors speed up work on large-scale construction projects? Bird, plane, or construction crane? The $50 million Hudson Medical Center north of I94 along Carmichael Road in Hudson has had a crane on site since October 2021. It was used to set concrete wall, floor, and roof panels into place. Just up the street at Vine and Carmichael are two cranes that complement each other at a large apartment project. Other cranes will pop up around the county, too.

The St. Croix Valley’s landscape is changing. It’s a sign of growth and progress, especially relating to commercial activities. The greater east metro area is vibrant. It’s a preferred locale and address. Here’s to construction cranes. They are now common sights.

Dads, Naps, and ATMs


Dads, Naps, and ATMs


2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Father’s Day as an official national observance in the U.S., thanks President Richard Nixon’s 1972 proclamation. “Ladies first” as they say, meaning the recognition of Mother’s Day came 58 years earlier from President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

A Hall of Fame for Dads likely does not exist, but it should, covering all the bases, including compassion (“kid, you’re not hurt, get back in the game”), understanding (“kid, when I was your age . . .”), protection (“kid, let me know who’s bullying you”), leadership (“kid, follow me, I’ll go first”), industrious (“kid, it can be fixed with duct tape”), provider (“kid, let’s order a pizza”), and adventurous (“kid, don’t tell your mom”).

In reality, it’s Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Offspring Day 24/7/365. Dads and moms lack manuals entitled, How To. It gets figured out. Mistakes are made. Kids grow up. And the cycle repeats itself, at which time dads and moms become proud grandparents.

Here’s to dads, fathers, father figures, and grandpas in Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley and around the globe. On June 19th, here’s to burgers, brats, weenies, and steaks on the grill. A thirst-quenching pint. Maybe two. A baseball game, amateur or pro. Eighteen holes of golf (a good walk spoiled). A boat or dock, and fishing poles. And here are some light-hearted reflections for Father’s Day 2022:

“I’m a Dad, Grandpa, and a Veteran. Nothing Scares Me” -Unknown

“Because I said so.” -Universal Dad

“I don’t need Google® – my kids know everything.” -Unnamed North Hudson, WI resident

“My daughter got me a ‘World’s Best Dad’ mug. So we know she’s sarcastic.” -Bob Odenkirk.

“Dad taught me everything I know. Unfortunately, he didn’t teach me everything he knows.” -Al Unser

“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.” -Charles Wadsworth

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” -Mark Twain

“I just taught my kids about taxes by eating 38 percent of their ice cream.” -Conan O’Brien

“How do you spell Dad? Answer: ATM.” -Universal Dad

“Remember: What Dad really wants is a nap. Really.” -Dave Barry

Cheers to all Dads, past, present, and future!

Congrats 2022 Grads


Congrats 2022 Grads


Time honored graduation traditions will soon play out across Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley. Some ceremonies already occurred at colleges and universities, and those seem to arrive earlier and earlier. Many will recall when June was a time for grads and dads.

Regardless of the timing, graduation is a significant event – a so-called life event by some. Graduation? Commencement? Are they the same? Well, Google® says Graduation is the completion of all educational requirements; Commencement is the ceremony celebrating the completion of a degree.

Twelve years after entering first grade in the 2010-2011 academic year means a milestone arrived. A scary thought – 75 percent of an 18-year old’s life has revolved around education – starting with pre-kindergarten programming, then kindergarten, elementary, middle school, and finally, high school. Think of the teachers, recesses, lunchrooms, field trips, pop quizzes, finals, and hallway walks between classes. Hopefully the trips to offices bearing the word, Principal, were minimal.

What about graduation traditions? Google® came through again:

Cap: It’s also called a mortarboard, a square, previously having three or four peaks, linked to clergy and academicians. It was originally called a mortarboard because it resembled a mortar board used by bricklayers. At one time, only individuals earning master or doctorate degrees wore the square cap. Today, it’s universally worn by all grads.

Gown: The gown reportedly goes back to twelfth century at universities. With poor heating in the Middle Ages, scholars wore gowns to keep them warm.

Pomp and Circumstance (P&C): This song goes back to the early 1900s, and was modified to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII. When Edward received an honorary degree from Yale, P&C was played. It quickly became the tune for graduation processionals and/or recessionals.

Diploma: Yes, diplomas were referred to as a sheepskin because they were produced on very thin sheep hides. Parchment paper replaced this practice and then standardized sizes emerged.

Tassel: A tassel has been used for centuries. The tradition of moving it from the right side of the cap to the left side once a diploma is received symbolizes going from a candidate to recipient of a degree.

Cap Toss: The U.S. Naval Academy started the cap throwing tradition in 1912. Previously, grads of the academy needed to keep their hats as part of a two-year assignment as midshipmen. In 1912, Navy grads were immediately commissioned as officers, meaning they received new officer hats. The old hats were thrown into the air after the ceremony and the tradition quickly caught on.

Class of 2022, you’ve completed your graduation requirements and commencement ceremonies await. Remember this – commencement is a beginning, not an ending. A know-it-all may write or say the word ‘commence’ has its origin in Latin. . . blah-blah-blah. Let’s stop right there. Grads at any level have so much more to learn.

Good Luck Class of 2022! Here’s to the next milestone

St. Croix Valley Moms


St. Croix Valley Moms


The age old question is here. What to get mom for Mother’s Day? Regardless of the monetary value, moms will likely say, “It’s the thought that counts.”

And it does count, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF), the world’s largest retail trade association. Along with its advocacy for retail, which NRF calls the industry that powers the economy, it forecasts spending habits on eventful days like back-to-school shopping, Black Friday, Valentine’s Day, and yes, Mother’s Day.

Here’s NRF’s jaw dropping estimate – – 2022 Mother’s Day spending in the U.S. is expected to total $31.7 billion (with a “b”). That’s up $3.6 billion from last year’s record amount. For historical purposes, $23.1 billion was spent as recent as 2018, representing an upward hockey stick trend according to professional and wannabe economists.

Hold on, the spending layers are about to be peeled back. Sons and daughters and the young and old plan to spend $25 more on Mother’s Day 2022 than last year, bringing the per person estimate to just over $245. Spendthrifts in 2018 only racked up $180 in per person spending.

NRF says jewelry and special outings like brunch or dinner are leading 2022’s spending increases. Jewelry purchases this year may reach $7 billion dollars. NRF reminds us that jewelry is timeless, and purchases in this category rose from 34 percent of those making purchases in 2021 to 41 percent forecasted this year. Spending for special outings could reach $5.3 billion. The nearly 28 percent increase from last year perhaps signals a post-pandemic return to restaurants and cafes for those seeking more quality time with moms.

Greeting cards are not the most expensive purchase. Moms like the ones that are handmade, but NRF predicts 75 percent of all shoppers will spend just over one billion dollars on cards.

What about the road for consumers that is less traveled? Try the gift of experience. NRF says this could mean a gift that’s unique or different, or finding one that creates a special memory. Does that mean a Grateful Dead concert? Live theater? Paddlewheel excursion? Amateur or professional sports? Sculpture garden? Unique. Special Memories. You get the picture.

The gifting of a product subscription service is a new and growing category for Mother’s Day. It’s a way to extend gifting beyond a special day. NRF cited Birchbox or Stitch Fix as examples. It’s not a crime to look them up. Birchbox is a monthly beauty box and makeup kit service. Stitch Fix is a personalized way to shop for clothing based on size, budget and style. There’s a good bet Stitch Fix relies on algorithms and data science, and, it’s a publicly traded company.

Wisconsin’s St. Croix Valley residents are bound to make Mother’s Day 2022 a very special event. There are plenty of shops along main streets to choose gifts. Restaurants, cafes, and innkeepers stand ready. Don’t forget the walking and cycling paths. And ice cream shops. And garden centers. And, well, you get the picture. “It’s the thought that counts.”