Morning Coffee: 4th of July Fireworks

feetCelebrating the 4th of July with fireworks goes back to John Adams, 1777, and the first anniversary of our freedom as a nation. But John Adams did not want the anniversary of our independence to be held on July 4th. He believed we should celebrate on July 2nd.

On June 7, 1776, the Continental Congress met at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) in Philadelphia where Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee introduced a motion calling for independence. There was a heated debate and a vote was postponed. A five-man committee was appointed to draft a formal statement justifying the break with Great Britain: Thomas Jefferson (Virginia), John Adams (Massachusetts), Roger Sherman (Connecticut), Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), and Robert R Livingston (New York).

The vote was held on July 2nd and was near-unanimous in favor of independence. New York originally abstained but later voted in favor. That same day John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2nd “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” and would include “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.”

The Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson, was signed on July 4th, 1776. Even though the actual vote for independence was held on the 2nd, from that day forward July 4th became known as the birthday of an independent America. John Adams would refuse all invitations to celebrate on the 4th.

It had been a tradition in the colonies to hold annual celebrations of the king’s birth, celebrations that included ringing bells, bonfires, processions and speeches. However, in the summer of 1776 the celebration of the king’s birth changed to a mock funeral for King George III to symbolize the death of his hold over the colonies. The first of many annual celebrations of our independence was held on July 4, 1777. In 1778, George Washington ordered double rations of rum for all his soldiers and in 1781 Massachusetts became the first state to make July 4th an official state holiday.

Celebrations gradually spread to many of the large cities and after the War of 1812, when we again faced Great Britain in battle, celebrations became even more widespread. In 1870 the US Congress made the day a federal holiday, and in 1941 it was expanded to be a paid holiday for federal employees.

But no matter where it was celebrated, the 4th of July has always included lots of noise, food and drink, and, whenever possible, fireworks. As a child I loved sparklers. A metal stick coated with a burning substance that, when lit, shot off white sparks and made a sizzling noise until it burned itself out at the bottom…much too soon. Our town’s fireworks were always held the Sunday after the 4th as a way to close-out the Firemen’s Picnic, an annual carnival to raise money for the local volunteer fire department. Every town had one. You could go to a different one almost every weekend, if you wanted.

This year my husband and I will be celebrating at our cabin. Last year Laona’s fireworks were better than almost any we’d ever seen, with the exception of the year we were in Washington DC. All the small northern communities in the area pooled their resources and the display went on far longer than any other. I’m hoping they’ll out do themselves this year.

(Historical facts from

Morning Coffee: June Weddings

Valentine 1We are in the heart of wedding season: beautiful brides and handsome grooms, lots of champagne and delicious cake, flowers, music and dancing. Each one is a celebration, a new beginning bright with promise.

Yes, I know, weddings are held all year round, but June has long been the traditional month to be wed. Do you know why June is such a popular month?

June is named for the ancient Roman Goddess Juno, daughter of Saturn, sister & wife of Jupiter, mother of Mars and Vulcan. Juno is the protector of women, most particularly in marriage and child bearing. It is considered good luck for a woman to be married in June. My own wedding was 38 years ago this month.

Last Saturday our nephew Josh married his love, Kellie. It was a beautiful day for an outdoor wedding, even when the rain started during the dinner. (Everything was held under cover. You only got wet if you wanted to…and some wanted to as the evening progressed.) With wildflowers and twinkle lights for decoration, they said their vows.

When did our children grow up? It seems only yesterday we were bringing them home from the hospital to show off to proud grandparents. It seems only yesterday we were seeing them off to school, watching them play sports, looking the other way when they took our car out alone for the first time…and now they’re marrying and having children of their own.

You may kiss the bride!


Congratulations Josh and Kellie!

May you have as many happy years together as your uncle and I have shared.

Morning Coffee: Bookworms

feetI’m a bookworm. I love books. I’ve always loved books. Since before I could read the words by myself, I’ve been enthralled by the realization that entire worlds existed between those covers; places I’d never been and people I didn’t know until that very moment lived on those pages. All I had to do was open the cover, read the words, and I’d be transported.

Then I started taking it one step further; I began writing the stories myself. I’d already been making up stories in my head for years, so it seemed the next logical step to want to put them to paper.

When people call me and others like me bookworms, they intend it to be something negative; or, at the very least, as a way of turning us into the butt of their jokes. They feel there’s something wrong with us for occasionally preferring a good book over the company of others. We’re nerds, eggheads, weirdoes…bookworms! Quite to the contrary, I think those who can enjoy the company of a good book from time to time are more well-rounded than those who are limited to the present moment of their own reality. The imagination is a truly marvelous thing.

Real bookworms, though, are indeed a negative creature. Despite this name we’ve given them, what we call bookworms are not worms at all. Actual book-boring insects are uncommon. There are a couple of moths who like to nibble at cloth bindings. There are several species of beetles that enjoy a nice leather to chew on. Some beetles will burrow through wood and paper, if the paper is near the wood. But a true book-eating insect would be the book or paper louse. Under 1mm in size, soft-bodied and wingless, they feed on microscopic molds and other organic matter that grows on ill-maintained paper. Their damage is most often found in very old books, treasures that have not been properly handled or stored and have fallen victim to moisture and the oils we carry on our skin. This is why old, rare, manuscripts are stored under special climate-controlled conditions, are handled very rarely, and then only by experts wearing gloves.

bookworm_imageBooks are always there when I need something to take me away from a bad day. Books are always there when I’m looking for a little adventure that won’t actually break my body into several pieces or land me in jail. Books are always there to transport me to somewhere, anywhere, that isn’t here. Books calm me when I’m frightened, and frighten me when I’m in the mood for a good scare. I can be anyone, go anywhere, with a good book.


Morning Coffee: Wannigan Days

SCF damIf you’re anywhere near St Croix Falls, WI, this weekend, or Taylors Falls, MN, stop on by because today is the start of the annual Wannigan Days celebration. There will be races, craft sales, lots of food and beer, a cake walk, music on the overlook, and two parades – one in St Croix Falls at 6pm Saturday night, followed by a second in Taylors Falls at 7pm. The fireworks are scheduled to start at 10pm Saturday night in St Croix Falls. And this is only a taste of all the fun that awaits visitors to our beautiful river town this weekend at our 59th River Spirit Celebration. (Check out

But, what is a wannigan, you may ask. It’s a Native American word meaning “house that walks on water”. And that’s what it is, a shanty built on a raft. It dates back to the lumber era. The wannigan followed the men (called river drivers, river hogs, river pigs, catty men, river rats, river jacks) as they rode the cut logs downriver to the mills after the spring thaw. The wannigan carried supplies, equipment, and maybe most important of all to these hard working men, the cook and the food. This was their floating kitchen and kept them fed and strong for the long, grueling, and very dangerous trip ahead. And before you picture lovely picnic lunches on shore when the men got a much-deserved mid-day rest, they ate while they worked. (As so many of us do today, except sitting at a desk.) They used what was called a river pig nose bag, a tin lunch bucket generally strapped to their back, so they could eat while continuing to direct their logs to the saw mills downriver.

Many men lost their lives on those spring log drives. It was easy to lose your footing and slip beneath the surface, where they would be quickly covered over by tons of fast moving logs, and either drown or be crushed…or both. Have you ever been to a log-rolling competition? Or perhaps watched one on television? Imagine doing that while moving from one log to another down a river moving fast from spring snow melt. The ones who fell off weren’t in for a dunking and some good-hearted ribbing from their friends. It’s why the job paid so well and many men were willing to do it.

The cry “log jam” brought townspeople running to view the spectacle; but, chances were great that some of the men would die before it was over. Our stretch of the St Croix River was particularly prone to log jams as the rush of logs from the wide river to the north suddenly reached our narrowed passage where the water cuts through high cliffs of traprock. The result was a complete stop, causing logs to be thrust up and over each other so violently that men could be thrown to their death. The logs would be packed solid up to 70 feet deep in places, pushing the bottom of the jam to the river bottom, and as much as 30 or 40 feet above. These jams extended for miles and could hold up a lumber delivery for months as the river drivers worked to unravel the puzzle and free them one by one. The most spectacular jams happened here in 1865, 1877, 1883, and 1886. The last one was the largest of all and involved an estimated 150 million feet of lumber. On April 8, 1865, the Taylors Falls Reporter announced “river blocked by 20,000,000 ft of lumber” – “log excitement prevailed”. *

So, if you can, come and join us as we celebrate our proud lumber history at Wannigan Days this weekend. We’re supposed to have perfect weather; and I promise you’ll never experience a more beautiful part of our State. At least, that’s my opinion. Come and visit, form your own opinion. You won’t be sorry.

*  Log jam information from “St Croix Tales and Trails” by Rosemarie Vezina Braatz.

River Spirit

Morning Coffee: Summer

SummerSummer is here. Gone are the long, dark, cold nights of winter; gone are the temperamental fits of spring where one day you feel the warm sun on your face and the next it’s snowing…again. We’ve watched all the usual harbingers that one after the other promised us the seasons were changing. We saw the first robins and heard the return of the song birds at dawn. Little spring peeper frogs heralded in chorus the coming of spring. The family of goslings is back in residence by the pond down the road. May begins with our yard filled with violets and ends with the forest floor covered in a blanket of white trilliums. And, at the end of the day I hear the click, click, click of the June bugs hitting the windows, attracted by the light.

I wrote the following as a tribute to the fat bugs that seem to want nothing more than to join me. It originally appeared in the Summer 2013 issue of Creative Wisconsin, a publication of the Wisconsin Writers Association.

June Bugs
By Jane Yunker

June bugs hurl fat bodies
against my bedroom windows
attracted by the light of my reading lamp
shells click and thump against glass
wings buzz desperation.

Do they want to read over my shoulder
or are they just afraid of the dark?


trilliums (2)