Birthplace Flooding

I was born and spent the first eleven years of my life among southeastern Wisconsin’s dairy farms, corn and bean fields. My birthplace is also home to a large Nestle’s chocolate plant. When I was a kid, it was the world’s biggest, and the whole town smelled of chocolate; how was one not to fall in love with chocolate, smelling it everyday?

We arrived in town last Friday to visit family. Friday night it stormed, and again on Sunday. We had a big storm Tuesday night, with six inches of rain. Then, on Wednesday, the Fox River overflowed at least two dams, one in East Troy and another in Burlington, rising three feet higher than any previous flood in history. Flood level is 11 feet, and we crested at 16.5. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes, and thousands of acres of farmland were flooded. The whole of downtown Burlington closed—businesses guarded by sandbags to save what they could.

Fortunately I have heard of no one killed; that’s where I so appreciate the communication systems and the public service workers in small town USA. Governor Walker quickly declared a state of emergency, so insurance, federal and state funds will hopefully help people recover financially from property damage and loss of income.

Our corn fields turned into corn paddies, reminding me of the rice paddies in Japan—though in that case the crop is intended to sit in water. Sadly, flooding is not great for corn or beans.

Our local baseball diamond is most definitely out of commission for a while.

Our city park became a lake. Rescue workers launched their boats in the former parking lot.

And the ground floor of our beautiful new Veteran’s Memorial building was filled with several feet of water.

It was very difficult to get anywhere, as so many roads and bridges were closed. Thousands of homes lost power throughout the area.

Please keep these hardworking, friendly people in your thoughts and prayers. Let’s hope the power comes back on soon and that recovery can proceed smoothly.

ChocolateFest!

DSC_0169©I grew up in a very small farming town in southeastern Wisconsin, amidst fields of sweet corn, soy beans, pigs, cows and chocolate. What, chocolate? Yes, my birthplace— Burlington, Wisconsin—was at least at that point in time, in the 1960s, home of the world’s largest Nestle’s chocolate plant. When the plant was running, the smell of chocolate filled the thoughts and the subconsciousness of those in town and the surrounding areas—anyone within whiffing distance. No need for me to wonder why, as an adult, I crave chocolate.

In the late 1980s some entrepreneurial municipal leaders started Chocolate Fest. It quickly gained popularity thanks to Hershey’s suing our town over it’s newly adopted byline, “Chocolate City USA.” The lawsuit was written up everywhere, including the Wall Street Journal, and my little hometown of Burlington gained some welcome press (plus, we still use the tagline). Click any photo to view it larger or see a slideshow.

This year, thanks to our desire to get to DC to witness Danny receive the Congressional Award, we are in Wisconsin much earlier than usual, in time for Chocolate Fest—it’s always on Memorial Day weekend. How could anyone resist a festival with such a cute retro logo? And loads of chocolate of every kind? And rides? And games? And carnival food?

I wanted to go and take some photos, and Greg was kind enough to humor me and act as photographer’s assistant, carrying my gear and helping me set up. We had a blast watching a brother and sister’s intense concentration and commitment to a game of chocolate Jenga. Their teamwork and mutual support were a sight to behold. If more families were like this, America would be oh-so-great! In the end, when the tower finally fell, there was no shame and blame, just pats on the back, shared sadness, and smiles. God bless those two! Ends up the two men against whom they were playing were their Dad and, I’m guessing, their uncle. Mom and little sis were in the audience. I do love small town Midwest!

Next up in the chocolate tent was the cupcake eating contest. I was very quickly enchanted with vampire boy (he had his face painted like a vampire). He easily won the child portion of this child-parent contest. Check out his passion and skill. Sadly, while his Mom did her absolute best, she wasn’t able to keep with the Dad next to her who cleaned up his plate quite easily.

We absolutely love our home in Mazatlán, México. It is a blessing every year to be able to reconnect with loved ones north of the border, and to experience the beauty up here. Every culture on this earth has so very much to offer; if only we’d take the time to truly embrace one another and realize that we all have our truths, our contributions and our pieces of the solution. It was a privilege and a joy to share Chocolate Fest with all of you today!

The city fair in Burlington goes on today, Sunday and all day tomorrow, Memorial Day. Then next weekend is our church fair—St. Thomas here in Waterford, which includes my all-time favorite: cow pie bingo. Plus a pig roast. I think we’ll have to miss it, though, as we plan to drive to St. Paul to visit Danny.

Thank you, parents and kids, for being such good sports about letting me photograph you all! If you want the high-res versions of any of these photos for your family use, just let me know!