Posts Categorized: People

A Few Groovy Questions with Author and Musician Eric Litwin!

Inspire(d) was thrilled to have a chance to ask Eric Litwin, original author of Pete The Cat, The Nuts, and Groovy Joe, a few groovy questions! 

Eric Litwin will sing, dance, and read live at the Decorah Middle School Auditorium on Saturday, November 18, at 11am. Registration is free, but required to attend the event. Click here for more details from the Decorah Public Library!  This event is brought to the community by the “Friends of Decorah Public Library”.

Mr. Eric is a song-singing, guitar-strumming, New York Times Best Selling author who brings early literacy and music together. His dynamic performances are fully interactive. According to Joan Roach, Children’s and Youth Librarian at Decorah Public Library, “Litwin has a unique musical approach to early literacy. He brings stories to life with interactive songs that get families singing, dancing, laughing, and falling in love with literacy.”

Litwin is the original author of the beloved first four “Pete the Cat” picture books: I Love My White Shoes, Rocking in My School Shoes, Four Groovy Buttonsand Pete the Cat Saves Christmas. These four books have sold over 10 million copies, are #1 New York Times Bestsellers, have been translated into 14 languages, and won 19 state and national literacy awards including a Theodor Geisel Seuss Honor Award!

At the Decorah performance, Mr. Eric will share his “Pete the Cat” books as well as The Nuts and Groovy Joe. Following the show, Litwin will also do a book signing.

And now…. a few groovy questions!

Inspire(d) – I(d): What came first, writing stories or playing music? 

Eric Litwin: Playing music and “telling” stories came at the same time. This means I was a folk musician and storyteller. As a teacher I realized that many of the characteristics within folk music and folks tales, such as call/response, repetition and melody, would help early literacy. So I adapted them to early literacy books.

I(d): We’ve heard that Pete the Cat was based on a real cat. Groovy Joe seems like a pretty neat pup – is he based off of a real dog as well?

Eric Litwin: Groovy Joe is amalgamation of many groovy things. There are some favorite beloved pet/dogs as well as myself and the artist Tom Litchenheld. And, then again Groovy Joe is his own unique groovy personality as well.

I(d): Your books always include music – with a great story. What was your inspiration for that and how does it effect your readers?

Eric Litwin: All my books have music because music helps children learn to read. It also engages them in the reading process. And, it makes early literacy more FUN.

I(d): Are you more of a plain ice cream fan or load it up with yummy stuff? What about Groovy Joe?

Eric Litwin: I am a solid chocolate ice cream guy. No need to load it up.

I(d): The Washington DC area is home for you, correct? Any unsung regional literary or music heroes you’d like to share with our readers?

Eric Litwin: I moved to Washington DC a few years ago. I live in an area called “Shaw” that was the home of many inspiring jazz players such as Duke Ellington. Their creativity inspires me.

I(d): Who is your favorite Nuts character? Do you think the Nuts have a larger lesson for our world (that often seems nuts)?

Eric Litwin: I love all the Nut Family characters. And, yes, the Nuts have a message. That message is that nutty (unique/fun) is normal. And love and acceptance keeps a family together and strong.

I(d): Speaking of Dinosaurs and ice cream – do you know how to make a dinosaur float?

Place one scoop of ice cream in a glass of root beer and add one dinosaur… ROARRRRRRRRRR! (It’s a terrible joke, we know…)

Eric Litwin: I love terrible jokes. Keep them coming!

Eric Litwin’s performance is generously sponsored by Friends of the Decorah Public Library with support from the Walmart Foundation. The Decorah Community School District is graciously hosting this event. For additional information, please contact Joan Roach, Children’s and Youth Librarian, at jroach@decorah.lib.ia.us or (563)382-3717. Full details online here.

Community Builder: Mike Ashbacher

Community Builder:
Mike Ashbacher / Decorah Fire Department

By Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

For some, it’s the thrill of riding in a fire truck, adrenaline pumping, or feeling the intense heat that a fire gives off, but for Decorah Fire Chief Mike Ashbacher, it’s the thriving community of volunteer firefighters and the service they provide that has kept him involved.

With deep ties to Northeast Iowa, Mike’s family moved back to the region when his father was offered a full-time position in law enforcement. Mike was just about to start kindergarten, so Decorah has been home for most of his life.

After school, Mike followed in his father’s footsteps at first, in criminology and law enforcement, but it was a chance EMT class that sent him in a different direction. He now sits at the heart of what has been – and continues to be – an incredible and professional group of emergency service responders. He has been a full-time Winneshiek Medical Center paramedic since 1987, and also a flight paramedic for Gundersen Lutheran since 1994.

On top of work life, he and his wife have two grown sons, and are also new grandparents. So one could easily see the day-to-day schedule overflowing, yet Mike has been a dedicated member of the Decorah Fire Department (DFD) since 1991, and Fire Chief since late 2001.

“I’ve always felt it was important to be involved in service, and the Fire Department allows me to give back to our community,” he says.

Decorah, like many small, rural fire departments, is staffed mainly with volunteers. There are just over 30 members – a tightknit community of firefighters who give their free time for numerous hours of training to keep the region safe in case of fire or emergency.

These men and women are called out for a variety of emergencies – from fighting fires to helping folks in trouble on the Upper Iowa to, yes, even rescuing a beloved family dog from a limestone cliff’s edge at Palisades Park in Decorah.

The group works hard together, and shows pride in that work, and the camaraderie that is built through training and service is what makes the organization so worthwhile.

“It is a large time commitment, and families sacrifice all sorts of time while a member trains, serves, and is called out on a moments notice,” Mike says. “It’s the support from those families, as well as employers, that makes a volunteer organization like the DFD work.”

All of that time spent together is what makes it a real community. It also makes for some fun times within the department. The firefighter’s skills spill out in ways that serve the larger community through social events, fundraising, and community service – like the popular DFD Red Hot Bucket of Color In Your Face 5K run each spring.

In the post 9/11 world, the risks and realities of responding to emergency situations are very real. “Having a driven, and educated group of individuals who want to keep learning skills, techniques, and technology makes for a great department,” Mike says. “Our guys do the training and know what to do when we are sent on a call. It makes my job as Chief easy.”

Community Builder: Lissa Carlson

Community Builder:
Lissa Carlson / Coulee Parenting Connection

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos courtesy Lissa Carlson
Originally published in the Fall 2017 Inspire(d)

When you become a new mom or dad, you automatically join an amazing, yet ever-complicated new group: the parenting community. You’ve got no choice! Once you’re in, you’re in. As they say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

But a lot of new parents feel like that village up and moved to the next valley… and didn’t leave a note.

Lissa Carlson, founder of Coulee Parenting Connection, wanted to change that.

Lissa was 32 years old when she had her first son, Christopher. Their second, Corbin, came along three years later. But her first “child” – albeit, made of paper – will always be Coulee Parenting Connection (CPC), born in 2001. CPC is a La Crosse-based parenting publication that strives to improve life for families in the Coulee Region.

“I wasn’t a parent yet, but I knew it was a lot to be one, and I was interested in the power of parenthood to change a community. Keeping up with local activities and events, and new or better ways to parent, while raising a child…yeah, it’s a lot,” she says. “I wanted to make it a little easier, and make Coulee Parenting Connection a one stop shop for busy families in the area.”

As a kid, Lissa, armed with a Pippi Longstocking book or the latest in the Boxcar Children series, was drawn to the printed word. Books could come along for the ride as Lissa’s family moved around Wisconsin through her dad’s work with Aflac.

When Lissa landed at UW Milwaukee, her love of writing led to a degree in journalism and mass communication, then landed her a pivotal internship with Metroparent Magazine that fostered her career path.

“I didn’t really daydream about my wedding day, or what my life would be like with my future husband,” she says. “I daydreamed about having kids…about being a mom.”

Lissa and her then-husband, Eric, met in the Navy Reserves during college. After graduation, they moved to the Twin Cities for Eric’s job with the Army Corps of Engineers. Lissa went to work for a really niche publication – Marine Store Merchandising – for two years, but she wanted to get back to something she felt passionate about.

Luckily, Eric’s job brought the couple to La Crosse, and while working at UW La Crosse, Lissa hatched the idea for Coulee Parenting Connection. She was 30 years old, and they didn’t have kids, but Lissa knew she wanted to help bring families together. That was 2001. By the third issue, they were expecting Christopher. Back then, Lissa was doing all the editorial and design work, but now she employs designers, writers, and distributors, creating her own community right within CPC.

“A team has had such an impact on everything,” she says, “and I’m grateful that there were and continue to be people along the way who believe in our mission and help us keep our commitment to families in the Coulee Region.”

Published six times annually, Coulee Parenting Connection is available for free in libraries, schools, shops, and more across Southwest Wisconsin, Southeast Minnesota, and Northern Iowa. From the Family Fun Calendar to kid-friendly stuff to check out to stories about real parents, each issue pulls together family-oriented ideas and helps folks navigate – and join-in on – the local parenting community.

“I like to believe we’ve had an impact on family life in the area,” Lissa says. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily because of Coulee Parenting… but I do know I’ve seen a lot of growth in events and organizations we’ve worked with, and it does my heart good when someone says they did something special with their kids because they read about it in Coulee Parenting.”

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Learn more about Lissa, her team, and Coulee Parenting Connection at www.cpclax.com.

Watch for CPC’s annual Family Fun Expo at the Onalaska Omni Center. 50+ businesses set up to show off their offerings, there’s cool, kid-friendly entertainment, and 3,000-4000 people come to check it out.