Friday, October 30, 2015

Ghost Hunting in Wisconsin: The Wausau Paranormal Research Society

Things that go bump in the night.  A cold draft where there shouldn’t be one.  A hazy image of a young man perhaps in a Civil War uniform.

When I was a teenager, one of my best friends claimed a ghost inhabited her house.  I was never quite sure. But she believed it was real, and I believed her. I do know that some odd things went on that we could never explain. Too bad we didn’t have Ghost Busters to ferret out the truth for us. Or even better, paranormal investigators.

Today there are a number of paranormal investigative groups throughout the U.S. One of them is based right here in Wisconsin—The Wausau Paranormal Research Society (WPRS).  And they love ferreting out the truth about things that go bump in the night.

I first read about these paranormal investigators in the LaCrosse Tribune.  Every year about this time (October) the group sponsors a haunted walking tour of historic downtown Wausau. 

According to the LaCrosseTribune article they also go on the hunt whenever they get a call about "doors opening on their own, apparition sightings, strange smells or objects moving by themselves."  The reason they do it?  To find out whether paranormal activity is actually occurring. And apparently, most of the time it's not. 

“We don’t go into an investigation thinking it’s paranormal all the time,” WPRS investigator Bill Beaudry is quoted as saying. “We don’t jump to the conclusion that every creak, every knock, every sound is a ghost. We try to find a logical explanation.” Often as not that explanation has to do with plumbing or the electrical wiring. But sometimes they can find no logical explanation. And on rare occasions they might capture an auditory recording or even a photo image of something that isn't supposed to be there. 

Shawn Blaschka and Jim Coscio of the Wausau Paranormal Research Society 
Photo by D.J. Slater of The Wausau Daily Herald, courtesy of
The team has quite an array of equipment with which to capture evidence of spirit life: digital video recorders, a night shot camera, an infrared sensitive video camera, various high-tech audio recorders, thermal probes, a variety of meters designed to detect changes in the electromagnetic field, vibration and motion detectors, a Geiger counter, and even a laser grid. They are determined to catch their ghost in the act—assuming there is one. 

Some members of the team have had paranormal experiences of their own. Co-director Anji Spailek told the LaCrosseTribune reporter about an investigation during which she spotted a person wearing a work jacket and work pants, except that there was no one in that part of the building but her. She followed the figure into the kitchen area, but by the time she got into the room it was already gone. 

At this point I was so intrigued I just had to find out more. So I contacted WPRS Director Shawn Blaschka by email and asked him some questions that had been haunting me. And he was kind enough to respond.

Shawn, how did the Wausau Paranormal Research Society get started?

Shawn: I joined the group in late 2000 when it was about 6 months old. By February 2002 disagreements with leadership forced the group to dissolve. I and another member immediately renamed the group and continued to operate as the Wausau Paranormal Research Society.

How did you learn to do what you do in terms of investigating possible paranormal experiences?

Shawn: Much of what I have learned was through reading various publications. My remaining education in the paranormal was received when I started with the original group and through years of experimentation along with trial and error.

About what percentage of your cases do you feel actually have a paranormal aspect to it?

Shawn: I would say maybe 10 to 15 percent have some form of paranormal activity or occurrences that can’t be readily explained.

Have you uncovered evidence of real ghosts?

Shawn: Proving the existence of ghosts is impossible at this point. Science demands that absolute proof or validation of a ghost must be able to be recreated in a laboratory setting many times over. I have captured evidence of what I think are spirits but again I cannot prove absolutely that they exist.

What do you do when you capture evidence of what you think are spirits? How do you follow up or help people resolve issues that you feel are truly paranormal in nature?

Shawn: Most of the help we provide comes in the form of education or validation of claimed events. Usually we are able to explain to the client what may be going on and then educate them regarding the issue at hand. Several times we have used the method of laying down ground rules. This consists of us speaking out loud to the entity and giving it rules to follow if it wishes to coexist with the present family living there. Of course the client must also follow rules as well for this to be successful.  We have had I would say about an 80% success rate with this approach.

Do you feel there are other paranormal explanations for some events other than “ghosts?”

Shawn: I think so such as telepathy, telekinesis, remote viewing, etc.

What is the most notable or unusual case your group has investigated?

Shawn: I think the place where we had the most unexplainable activity and captured the best photo of a spirit would have been at the Retlaw Plaza Hotel in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

[Note: Most paranormal activity at the Retlaw apparently centers around one room--#717--from which hotel staff and guests have heard screaming, banging on the walls, felt their hair being pulled, and experienced lights and faucets being turned on and off randomly. If you are interested in an overnight stay, you can check it out at]

Where, besides Wausau, have you gone to investigate paranormal reports? What is the farthest you have traveled to do this work?

Shawn: We have traveled all over the State Of Wisconsin. Also some areas of Upper Michigan and into Illinois. The farthest I have traveled to ghost hunt would have been Deadwood, SD and The Menger Hotel in Texas.

Do you and your investigators hold other jobs? If so, how do you balance work with paranormal research?

WPRS Member: (from top left): Sharon Williams, Sara Shaw, Nick Von Gnechten, Anji Spialek,
Shawn Blaschka, Bill Beaudry, Betsy Duginski. 
Photo courtesy of
Shawn: We all hold a “normal job”, ghost hunting is not a profit making venture. We don’t charge for our services and never have. Most of us just work around our schedules and make the time to do the research and spend the time with clients that need our help.

You have quite a bit of equipment listed on your website. How do you fund your equipment and your investigations?

Shawn: The only funding we have for the group comes from doing our Historic Haunted Walking Tours each October and through the sales of our book, Haunted Wausau: TheGhostly History Of Big Bull Falls. 

Do you get people calling you "Ghost Busters?" very often,  and if so, what is your reaction to that?

Sometimes we do but it is not what we are. Don't get me wrong, I love the movie but the title is disrespectful in our eyes. We don't get rid of ghosts, we try to help people through educating and finding non-paranormal explanations for our clients.

Are you affiliated with any other paranormal investigating groups? For instance, is there any kind of a national registry or organization that your group belongs to?

Yes, we are TAPS Family Members (Ghost Hunters from SYFY Network). We are area representatives under TAPS for the State Of Wisconsin.

~ My thanks to Shawn Blaschka for taking the time to fill us in on the work of the Wausau Paranormal Research Society and for all the WPRS team members for their work to delineate "where paranormal and reality meet." 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Finding Your Way Forward With a Life Coach

As I approached my retirement after 40 years of teaching, I found my head spinning with all the possibilities, worries, fears, and questions that come with a major life change. I turned to my friend, Mary Aleckson, a Life Coach. And to my amazement, in just a couple of sessions she helped me corral and organize my thoughts, prioritize my needs and wants, and envision my own path forward, addressing both personal and creative goals.

I had never used a Life Coach before and was intrigued by the profession. So I asked Mary some questions about her role as a Life Coach via email. Here is what she said.

Mary Aleckson, Life Coach
What exactly does a Life Coach do?

Mary: The simple answer is we coach! If you take the word “coach”, you might think of a “carriage”. A carriage takes you to a place you wish to go and so does a Life Coach. We develop powerful partnerships with our clients to help them design their future. We do this by asking powerful questions which get our clients thinking. 

It’s not therapy or advice giving, so we talk about present situations and ask where they want to go in terms of dreams and goals. We use an array of tools such as the wheel of life, metaphors, new perspectives, value clarification and more. These tools help to create new awareness which can benefit our lives and make it more fulfilling. We are trained and devoted to guiding others into increased competency, commitment and confidence.

What drew you to this type of coaching?

Mary: I am an educator with lay counseling and crisis intervention experience.  I am always looking for new ways to be a resource for my family and friends. Training to be a life coach seemed like a natural evolutionary tool to add to my educational repertoire.  After doing the research, I enrolled in the UW Dept. of Continuing Studies PLCC (Professional Life Coaching Certification) program. It was a nine month, highly rigorous programs which expertly prepares us as a trained Coach. Personally I was looking for a career which would provide flexibility to my schedule. I am hoping to coach for the rest of my life, I love it.

Have you ever been coached yourself? If so, what was that experience like?

Mary: Funny you should ask. It was a requirement for PLCC. My coach, Pam, was from Phoenix Arizona. She was also certified in mentor coaching so she was able to give me advice on starting a business, as well as personal goals. We spent quite a bit of time in class coaching our cohorts, too. In class we were free to discuss our coaching topics as long as we sought permission from each other. Otherwise, we learned that what we coach on is always confidential and will not be discussed with others. Being coached can sometimes create new awareness, which can be uncomfortable at times, but ultimately provides personal growth, which makes us a better and more productive person. It is important to experience what it felt like to be coached while learning the art of coaching.

What is your biggest challenge in coaching?

Mary: I had many challenges. My background is teaching, tutoring, lay counseling and a person willing to give advice or guidance on any topic at any time to any person. I love to do research and I read a lot, and folks would call me up for advice all the time. This included looking for jobs for them. I love it! Coaching, on the other hand, takes a different approach. We hold our clients to be creative, capable, and confident, and in charge of their own lives. So what this meant for me was that I had to learn to remain silent and ask questions and be a better listener. And trust the client will come to their own conclusions and direction in their own lives. As a teacher, I always had a good life lesson narrative to share, so I needed to learn it is not about me and my life lessons, but my clients. This challenge took some time to learn for me, but I think I got it now.

What has surprised or perhaps delighted you most as a coach?

Mary: Initially I thought it would be a wonderful trait to help others be more satisfied in their lives, but what truly surprised me was just how effective life coaching really is! Part of the requirement in class was to coach at least 50 hours for practice. I was delighted to know so many family and friends trusted me to coach them. Amazingly, it turned out to very beneficial for them and they said coaching really helped and some clients volunteered to write complimentary testimonials for my website, which I appreciated.  Coaching is about growth and change, so I was happy the PLCC program did such a nice job of training us to help make that happen.

I understand you are doing some pro bono (free) coaching. Talk about that for a bit, please.

Mary: There is a group of women from Indiana who came together to create a national program to help women wanting/needing coaching but couldn’t afford it.  It’s called Women for Change. It’s a win-win situation.  They screen the women and match them to a coach.  I have just been matched with a young woman from Texas. I will coach her for 12 weeks [for free]. This opportunity keeps me in the loop, plus it counts as paid coaching hours which I need for higher certification from the International Coaching Federation. W4C3 also provides free workshops for me so I can continue to receive CEUs.  Since most coaching is over the telephone, I have the opportunity to coach folks from all over America. Not to mention I feel it is a very valuable cause to help others in need.

What should people know or think about before hiring a coach or going to their first coaching session?

Mary: People should know that coaching really works. They should keep in mind it is not therapy. It is about where they are and where they want to be. I would tell them to be excited about coaching because it works. So if they are not ready to grow, or make a change, then it’s not for them. But if they feel stuck and would like to make a change, coaching gives them the ability to create new perspectives and awareness. The coach provides the technique and the environment to make it successful. 

They should know that coaching is totally confidential, nothing is discussed with anyone else. Since Life Coaching is about the individual, they can be coached on work, career, anything personal, health issues, relationships, or really anything. 

Expect the coach to use tools like the wheel of life, metaphors, values and value conflicts, or new perspectives. Most coaching takes place over the phone, so it is convenient. The first session is about designing our time together and what that will look like. And we suggest you come with some goals in mind. The coaching session usually runs from 30 to 60 minutes. Coaching can be once a week, every other week, or even once a month.  I coached a young woman who “got it” after one session.  I was happy for her.

What advice do you have for someone who might like to become a Life Coach?

Mary: Well, I don’t give advice (wink) but in my opinion if someone wishes to expand who they are personally and achieve their own goals, becoming a life coach can only make your life better and more enriched. Many folks in Human Resource find coaching enhances their departments. 

As far as starting a business, recognize that embarking on a new profession can take time, but with tenacity and patience (and a good coach) anything is possible. We are often advised to find a niche, as well, even though we are trained to coach any person and topic. 

Since my background is in Education, I created a coaching website addressing families experiencing learning, health, or emotional challenges, in themselves or their children called, Family Life Coaching Matters I also created a niche website called, Second Life Coach

If wanting more information the University of Wisconsin Department of Continuing Studies PLCC website is a good place to start. They are ACTP certified which means they meet all the requirements for an excellent program through the ICF.  

I would also recommend trying a coach first to see what it is all about. I offer a free coaching sample session for anyone interested in trying it out. Trust me you’ll love it! 

~ My thanks to Mary Aleckson for sharing her insights about the benefits of working with a Life Coach. If you've had a helpful experience with a Life Coach, please share with us in the comments.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe for Cooks Who Are Clueless in the Kitchen

This weekend I had a huge butternut squash sitting on my counter complaining that it was going to waste. It had been given to me by a good friend who plucked it straight from her garden as I looked on. When she'd asked if I’d like it, I was too embarrassed to fess up and tell her I had no clue what to do with it. But c’mon! Someone gives you a gift of love from their garden, something they planted and nurtured with their own hands? How cool is that. So I took it.

She mentioned that her husband loved her roasted butternut squash soup so there was my clue. Soup! 

Um, okay. I must have found two dozen recipes via Google. And all of them required that I roast the squash first. Well, one of them wanted me to roast half of the squash and use half of it raw. I don’t think so. In my kitchen it’s all or nothing. So I decided to roast it. 

How To Peel, Cut, and Roast Butternut Squash For Soup or a Side Dish

I used Ina’s method for roasting butternut squash. You know, the Barefoot Contessa? Love her! So down to earth. She even has a little video to show you how. Turns out there’s an easier way to roast butternut squash if all you want it for is soup, but I’ll tell you what I did first then I’ll tell you the easier way. 

Well, Ina didn’t tell me exactly how to peel and cut my butternut squash. For that I went to Simply Recipes.  Basically, you want to cut the bottom and top off the butternut squash so it sits flat and stable while you peel it. I recommend you get a serrated vegetable peeler. I used a cheap carrot peeler and my knuckles suffered as a result.

After you peel the squash, cut it in half. Be sure to use a good, heavy duty chef’s knife

Scoop out the seeds—a soup spoon will do. Then cut the squash into chunks. 

Toss the chunks with olive oil, kosher salt, and crushed black pepper. 

I roasted the chunks on a foil-lined cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. Ina recommends you turn the chunks half way through with a metal spatula. I’m sure that's a good idea; but if you forget, like I did, no big deal. I will say, the roasted squash chunks are yummy as is. They would make a great side dish, especially paired with asparagus. But my goal was soup.

How to Roast Butternut Squash the Easy Way for Soup

Here is what I didn’t do, but will do next time. Sooo much easier if your goal is soup. Cut the squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds.  Lay the halves, open side up, on a foil lined cookie sheet. Brush with olive oil; salt and pepper liberally. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes. 

When done, let the squash cool until you can handle it comfortably. Now scoop the meat of the squash from the skin and plop it into a bowl. How easy it that? Why didn't I didn't do that to begin with? What can I say? I'm a slow learner--truly clueless in the kitchen. But the upside is that now I know how to make yummy chunked squash as a side dish.

How to Make Butternut Squash Soup

Now that the squash has been roasted, using whichever method you prefer, it’s time to make the soup.

Here are the ingredients:

1 Butternut Squash, roasted (using your preferred method)
1 Granny Smith apple (for its tartness)
1/2 yellow onion (use a full onion if you're adventurous)
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tsp Ground Sage (or 7 Sage Leaves if you know what those are)
1 Garlic Cloves, minced (if you know how to mince garlic) or 1/8 Tsp Garlic Power (if you're like me, and that's all you have in your kitchen)
3 cups Vegetable Broth 
2 cups Water
1/3 cup of Half & Half
Salt & Pepper to taste                                       

Okay, so here's how to do it:

Start by peeling the Granny Smith apple, coring it, and cutting it into small chunks. 

Dice the onion. 

In a dutch oven pot, sautee the apple and onion in the butter. Add the sage and garlic. Sautee this mixture for about 7 minutes or until soft. Don’t let the onions get brown.

Add the roasted butternut squash to the sautéed apples and onions. Pour in the vegetable broth and water. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer it for about 15 minutes. 

Now add the half and half to the squash soup to make it creamy. 

At this point you will want to puree the chunky soup to make it more soup-like. You can do this in a blender or a food processor. Once pureed, pour the soup back into the pan to keep it warm on low heat. Feel free to add extra salt and pepper to taste. (Note: I didn't put salt and pepper into the soup mixture because I had added those ingredients liberally to the squash when I roasted it. Also, I tend to go light on salt; you might choose to add more.) You can also vary the amounts of the liquids (vegetable stock and/or half & half) depending on how thick & creamy or how soupy you like the end product to be.

Serve the soup in individual bowls and sprinkle nutmeg over it. 

I served the soup to my guests along with a good, crusty, multi-grain bakery bread on the side. It turned out to be a hit.

Give it a try!  If I can do it, you can do it.  And good luck!  

p.s. If you experiment and add something that makes your butternut squash soup zing, let us know!