2013 Bolin Holiday Letter

Hello family and friends, and if you’re reading this letter in its back corner of the Internet, you certainly qualify. I hope this letter finds you in good spirits and good health.

It’s the end of 2013, and what a year it’s been.

I turned 44 this year and scheduled that medical exam. You know the one. The one where everyone in the exam room is trying to act overly casual, but would prefer to be literally anywhere else. Everything was going fine until, mid-way through, the doctor said:  “That Wisconsin Lottery commercial! That’s where I know you from!” I nearly took his finger off.

As you’ll all remember, last year I quit my day job to dance full time. Needless to say, I wasn’t in The Nutcracker this year. Booo! But I did land a gig cage dancing at a club called El Casa Chorizo. The regulars have even given me the nickname: “Diablo Blanco.” It doesn’t pay well, but at least it’s demeaning.

Thank God for my Amy. Not a day goes by I don’t thank my lucky stars that she agreed to marry me. I’m so proud of her. In addition to being a superhero, ridding the city of crime with her magic drawstring backpack and unique brand of vigilante justice, she still finds time to make great money with her Proactive® Direct Marketing Sales business.

The little girl keeps sprouting teeth. By our count, she’s up to 45. She’s smart as a whip, but we can’t let her go outside much on account of how many birds he kills.

We finally found Grandma Jenkins. You’ll remember that she wandered off last year. At first we thought something terrible had happened, but it turns out she opened a massage parlor in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Princess had puppies. Which was odd because she’s a cat.

Uncle Jim successfully started that new religion he’s been working on, but I think he’s going to have a hard time convincing people to worship a God named “Randy.”

You know, “Same Old, Same Old.”

Happy 2014!

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As this is the first ever Wiscopedia entry, a brief introduction is in order. Wiscopedia is named after the internet site, Wikipedia, the most comprehensive and plagiarized on-line encyclopedia there is. Each week, I will chose a town in Wisconsin and create a Wiscopedia entry. In the interest of accuracy and journalistic integrity, I promise that the information contained therein will be no less than 25% factual, proudly earning the Politifact rating of:  “Where do we even start?”

Today’s Wiscopedia entry is Mukwonago, Wisconsin.

Mukwonago is best known as the town you always mistake for Muskego. It’s located near Vernon Marsh (everyone said Vernon would never amount to anything until he got that marsh named after him), and it encircles Upper and Lower Phantom Lake.

Phantom Lake got its name from a legend about a love triangle between three Native American teenagers wherein two warriors from different tribes battled for the hand of a beautiful girl and everyone (including the girl) ended up dead. Some say that, each year on September 2, a ghostly light appears over the lake, and the whole grisly scene is re-enacted by the spirits of the departed. Still others say:  “Huh? I’ve never heard that.”

When referring to Mukwonago, it’s important to distinguish between the Town of Mukwonago and the Village of Mukwonago. In 1905, the Village of Mukwonago incorporated separately from the Town for the purpose of confusing everybody. While the Town of Mukwonago contains most of the Village of Mukwonago, some of the Village actually encroaches on the Town of East Troy. Currently, Mukwonago is holding a bake sale in hopes of purchasing a fighter jet with which it plans to annex East Troy permanently.

Mukwonago was originally settled by the Potawatomi in the 1700’s, and its name was derived from the Potawatomi word for “Place of the Bear.” By way of tribute, there is a 9-foot, 1000-pound replica of a bear created by artist Dave Watson gracing the Mukwonago Historical Society. Immediately upon the bear’s unveiling, however, it was soundly beaten by the Green Bay Packers 38-7.

According to 2010 Census data, 51.2% of Mukwonago’s population is female and, financially speaking, single women in Mukwonago are in the top 10% when compared to the rest of the state. So if you’re a single male looking for a Sugar Mama, you could do much worse than Mukwonago.

Mukwonago is also home to the Elegant Farmer, creator of the Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag because, you know, regular apple pies just weren’t flammable enough. With the Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag, now overcooking a pie can also result in a convenient insurance claim. In truth, the Apple Pie Baked in a Paper Bag tastes great; much better than those pies baked in plastic bags.

Finding the Elegant Farmer is easy, too. Just look for the famous Smilin’ Barn which is a refreshing departure from Mukwonago’s more melancholy outbuildings.

Mukwonago is the home town of actor Eric Szmanda. A graduate of Mukwonago High School where he once protested the school’s Styrofoam cafeteria trays, Eric Szmanda is best known for his role as Greg Sanders on the original CSI:  Crime Scene Investigation series. Lesser-known roles include that of my wife’s Not-so-secret television crush. Can’t say as I blame her; those eyes sure are dreamy.

Some say that, each year on September 2, he returns to Mukwonago and Phantom Lake to play the role of Native American Warrior #1.

Signs of the Recall

Spring in Wisconsin has always been a special time. As any denizen of the Badger State will attest, you know its spring when the first robin is sucked into the intake of a Harley Davidson and shot out of its Screamin’ Eagles®. You know its spring when the 3-foot-tall, herbicide-resistant dandelions take their first child hostage. And this year, you know its spring when, along with the perennials, the yard signs begin to bloom.

It started with “Recall Walker,” but soon, “Stand with Walker” appeared. And it got really interesting when the signs went up next door to each other. I’m sure, when they saw the opposing sign, both neighbors thought, “This explains everything!”

I don’t think this happens as much in the outlying communities; for better or worse, suburban communities tend to be of like mind and like signs. Obviously there are exceptions, but not like in the city. In the city of Milwaukee, neighbors go so far as to plant opposing signs inches from their property lines, facing each other like a couple of sweaty d-bags squaring off at bar time.

(By the way: If you ever get a chance to watch one of those fights from a safe distance, treat yourself. They’re usually big guys because they work out, but it’s usually the first fight ever for either of them. When they finally “go,” the high octane slap fight that ensues is delightful.)

Political yard signs provide a glimpse into the households behind them that, frankly, I don’t want to see; especially because I’m just walking past. It’s like the owner of the house yelling at me. “Hey! HEY! Stand with Walker!” Or “Recall Walker! Do you hear me? Recall Walker!” They’re like angry panhandlers. I try not to make eye contact with them.

We all know that June 5 will come and go, and the sun will rise on June 6. One sign will have shouted the winning slogan while the other will have screamed in vain. The signs will come down, but will the acrimony be as easily removed? Or will the passive-aggressive battlefield later be featured in a film by Ken Burns and narrated by Sam Waterston?

I know it always sounds condescending to the losing side but, personally, I hope we can heal, and that neighbors can go back to being neighbors. I think some healing will happen naturally after we finally go back to talking about something else. Nevertheless, I don’t think we can go back to normal right away; I think we need to be extra nice to each other for a while. And I think we can do it with yard signs.

If you put up a yard sign for the recall, after June 5, win or lose, you must display a different yard sign that says something inspirational to the passerby. Some suggestions may include: “It’s all going to work out.” “Hey! Have you lost weight?” or “Free candy in the shed!”

And then, in 3 months, we can replace those signs with signs for our presidential picks.

You can question the jobs numbers, but the folks that make yard signs are doing just fine.

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A Balanced Budget

Over the next month, you’re going to hear a lot about Wisconsin’s budget. Specifically, you’re going to hear that the budget was balanced, and then you’re going to hear that it wasn’t. You may even hear it from the same person.

Frankly, the deft manipulation of half-truths has been elevated to an art form in politics. Plus it allows us to believe what we want to believe unencumbered by facts. I don’t mean to be snarky when I say this. As a species, we naturally seek affirmation, and it benefits a politician to provide it, whether or not our opinion is, technically speaking, correct.

Besides, emotion is so much easier to manipulate than truth.

Anyway, is the stupid budget balanced or not? Governor Walker says it is, Mayor Barrett, Kathleen Falk, et al. say it isn’t. How is this possible?

The fact is, there are two accounting methods being referenced here: Cash accounting, and an accrual accounting method called Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). The difference between the two should not be discussed while operating heavy machinery, but they’re different enough to make a “balanced budget” statement true or false.

According to Wisconsin’s state constitution, every year must contain a Cash balanced budget. By this method, Governor Walker has indeed balanced the budget, and so did Doyle, and McCallum (remember him?), and Thompson…

However, according to GAAP, Walker has not balanced the budget, but, to be fair, neither did Doyle, nor McCallum (he was the one who looked like Adam West), nor Thompson…

According to GAAP there will still be a structural deficit of $3 billion next year, and the year after that. In fact, if our current economic trajectory continues and Governor Walker doesn’t have the tax revenues generated by his 250,000 jobs, it’s possible that the structural deficit could worsen. (Put that on a yard sign!)

But who knows what will happen between now and 2014.

What we do know is that when someone claims to have “balanced the budget” or that “the budget wasn’t balanced,” the claim is baseless without context. They have every right to make it; but it isn’t communicating anything of value or substance if they don’t tell you the accounting method.

This message paid for by a friend of a friend. More of an acquaintance really. It’s complicated.

The Elephant In The Room

I’ve never made a secret of my political views; I tend to lean left. Honestly, I don’t think my beliefs are that radical but, compared to what serves as the other end of the spectrum these days, admitting to some Conservatives that you have handful of liberal views is like announcing that you once opened a fair trade wind farm and abortion clinic with Che Guevara and Jane Fonda.

I do have several Conservative friends. We do our best not to talk politics but, in Wisconsin in 2012, politics is not just the elephant in the room, it’s the elephant in the room making out in the corner with a cheetah that also happens to be in the room.

I’m sure that my facts are just as frustrating to them as theirs are to me. And, while we don’t admit it, these “facts” are usually half-truths and opinions filtered through our perspective echo chambers. The “facts” are then disseminated by celebrity pundits with their own axes to grind.

I don’t think my Conservative friends are stupid; just like I don’t think French people are stupid for speaking French and not English like me. Nevertheless, I’m fairly certain that certain Conservatives just got offended and no longer trust anything I have to say because I mentioned French people.

I’ve been thinking about why then, if everyone involved is carbon-based and somewhat reasonable, are the debates are so maddening and unproductive? I have a theory that I’d like to put out there (I am, after all, paying good money for the web hosting), and hopefully it won’t be immediately kicked and beaten to death by our collective umbrage.

It has to do with a kind of ideological language barrier. You see, when I think about my longest, loudest, and, ultimately, most pointless arguments, they all have one thing in common: “You just don’t get it!” or “You refuse to listen!” I think political debates have become loud and pointless for the very same reason.

And it’s all about the game that is America, and the best way to “win.” The game is rigged for sure; we can all agree on that, and the rules to the game are constantly being made up and amended by those who are already winning and would like to keep it that way, thank you very much.

As it pertains to this game, my Conservative friends are playing it exactly how it should be played. They play by the book and by the rules set before them because it is the honorable thing to do. Besides, it is the only way to “win” according to the bylaws written by the current “winners.” It makes perfect, empirical sense, and it is the power plant for 99% of the Conservative argument.

The fact is that, yes, according to the rules of the game, Conservatives are absolutely correct in their assessment of America. Even the Conservatives making $21,000 a year are correct (despite the fact that they’re a long way from standing in America’s “winner’s” circle). However, and this is what all of the fuss is about, Liberals want a different game. Liberals don’t care for this game and its convoluted, lop-sided rules and, frankly, think that those writing the rules do not have our best interests in mind.

I think this is the reason we shout past each other instead of communicating. One side is red in the face arguing the rules of chess, and the other side is apoplectic because they want to play Quidditch. “You just don’t get it!” “You refuse to listen!”

Now I’m not suggesting that we all circle up, give each other shoulder massages, and sing Kumbaya. By all means, we should continue to yell at each other, but keep in mind that you might be yelling in different languages. And volume does little to promote comprehension.

I’m not sure what to do with this idea, or even if it will change the tone of the discourse, but if, for instance, your neighbor has a different yard sign than you, and the elephant in the room has now gotten to second base with the cheetah, maybe this theory can help mend the fences somewhat. Or maybe not. Probably not. I don’t know.

I’m sorry; I can’t stop watching this elephant…



Its catalog time again. And as thorough as market research is these days, each and every catalog is a specialized peek into the life I wish I had.

It would seem that this year is my masculine year having received glossy membership to such testosterone-rich stalwarts as Woolrich, Russell’s for Men, and Duluth Trading Company. And while I appreciate their confidence in my ruggedness, I’m afraid I might not be man enough.

Look, I love an Oxbow Flannel as much as the next guy, but I’ll probably never wear one while repairing a snow shoe or brooding next to a pile of wood. Sure, I like the idea of wool-lined, fire hose nylon pants, but then I remember that I live in a house and not on a crab boat.

And just in time for Conceal/Carry, this year, I received my first Russell’s for Men. That’s right, ladies, open this catalog at your own risk, and don’t blame us when you get the vapors so far from your fainting couches.

To truly experience the world of Russell’s for Men, it helps to picture Ernest Hemingway on meth. But you know what Hemmingway never had? A combination adjustable wrench, screwdriver, 1 3/8-inch stainless steel blade, and money clip that he could attach to his belt.

I must say, though, the idea of an ostrich skin bi-fold wallet appeals to me in a very primal way. And I hope, as the ostrich died, he had a moment of clarity where, if only just for a moment, he knew that his entire existence was so that his flesh could eventually absorb humidity from my ass. It’s called holding dominion over Nature, pal. Genesis 1-26. Look it up. And, while you’re at it, note the wrinkles and range marks of the hand-tooled leather Bible cover for just $69.95.

But I think Russell’s for Men’s greatest gift to the holiday season is its comprehensive array of military-inspired letter openers. With the Mark 2, the M3, and the Push Dagger, just to name a few, you can not only open the letter, but you can also kill the messenger.

I’m sorry L.L. Bean, but I’m a man now. Signals? Why don’t you hook up with your friend Wireless and go occupy The Vermont Country Store, you Hippie.

And if you ever feel like filling my mailbox again, be warned that I also now have a desk holster. It fits “most” pistols. Page 25.


This Week’s Menu

I’m on something of an “exotic foods” kick these days, so I thought I would share this week’s menu with you on the off chance you wanted to join me on my culinary adventure.


Breakfast: Alligator egg omelet, shamed wheat muffin, and Bishop Desmond Juice Juice.

Lunch: Stumped otter ribs in a crimson and clover reduction, emotionally-abused potato wedges, and Bananas Foster Brooks.

Dinner: Geriatric squid with cockatiel sauce, lamb embryo in a PETA pocket, and pineapple tetrahedrons.


Breakfast: Dryer lint smoothie.

Lunch: Pangaea chicken (separated), shitake owl pellets, and 1500 thread count Egyptian sheet cake.

Dinner: Jus au Jus, critically-injured possum cutlets over origami noodles, a handful of Uncle Jerod’s mystery chips.


Breakfast: Goatmeal.

Lunch: Curried bean pudding, julienned beaver tail, and deep-fried cooking spray.

Dinner: Aching mussels, stew of Freudian vegetables with banal crackers, and Erma Bombeck lemon pop-overs.


Breakfast: Immigrant toast, fancy dandies, sniffle crisp, and mink squeezings.

Lunch: Thrice-baked squash balls, tossed compost compote, and ibex jerky.

Dinner: Prohibitive fondue, poached gull over Girls Gone Wild rice, glazed hamster fingers, and Ginger oleo ice cream.


Breakfast: Irony-filled crepes and tawny kitten butter.

Lunch: Stunned badger sandwiches, crinkle-cut gluten sticks, and Caribbean dream water.

Dinner: Grateful Nation sampler platter, cornmeal-battered understated lake trout, jealous berry sorbet, and canned pumpkin swirled with Hersey squirts.


Breakfast: Exhausted rice with a maple cramped glaze and forbidden fruit juice.

Lunch: Arby’s

Dinner: Puffed stem cells, sink trap bouillabaisse, Giving Tree mixed greens, and angelfish food cake.


Breakfast: Gothic waffles, petulant cinnamon coffee, and bonobo bacon.

Lunch: Cajun pasties, Amish friendship gravy, and half-hearted empanadas.

Dinner: A pinch of basil between the cheek and gum, orphaned veal, ficus droppings with a Dr. Pepper vinaigrette, and a green tea I.V. drip.

Bon appetite!


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Beast Mode, Yeast Mode, Dianne Wiest Mode

I do not care for the Milwaukee Brewers’ “Beast Mode,” and the main reason is this: There are going to be days when you get thumped 12-3, and when you do, any displays of “Beast Mode” during the afore-mentioned thumping appear childish and trite.

I don’t mean to urinate in anyone’s Cheerios; if “Beast Mode” makes you giddy as a fan, who am I to deny you. But realize that “Beast Mode” is not a one-way street. If you allow “Beast Mode,” you also have to prepare yourself for “Beast Got Hit By A Car And Was In A Lot Of Pain So We Had To Have Beast Put Down Mode.”

It also opens the door to mockery. If you hadn’t noticed, Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina has taken to celebrating hits by miming wiping his eyes with his fists or “Crybaby Mode.” I despise him for it, but turnabout is fair play. “Beast Mode” begat “Crybaby Mode.”

And when exactly is “Beast Mode” appropriate? A base hit? Really? A base hit is the most basic of baseball feats. I don’t expect a round of applause when I make toast without starting the house on fire.

I guess I’m of the opinion that the truly rich don’t have to flaunt it, the truly tough don’t start fights, and the truly talented let their work do the talking. If you hit one deep, unless it’s your first, start jogging. A high five, a swat on the butt or, in the case of Ryan Braun, a sensual session of prolonged, roguish eye contact should suffice as celebration. The fans will take care of the rest; that’s what they paid for.

Mind you, I have no problem with pre-game enthusiasm or post-game exuberance, but I’d prefer to just assume that from the first pitch to the 27th out, “Beast Mode” is the default setting.


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Cub Scout Caramel Corn

I went to the store today. Near our house, we have one of those large chain grocery stores. Without giving away the name, on another Earth, in another universe, it might have been called Choose N Hoard. I have a card and everything.

Anyway, on the way in, two Cub Scouts eagerly asked me if I wanted to buy some popcorn. Their female chaperone (ostensibly the “Den Mother”) mussed their hair and smiled.

“Popcorn, huh?” I said, “Sounds good. I’ll catch you on the way out.” I nodded to the Den Mother as if to say: “I mean it. I’m not just saying that because I think they’ll forget when I sneak out the other door.”

My time spent shopping today was very enjoyable because I knew, when I left the store, I would then make a couple Cub Scouts very happy. Maybe I was helping fund a trip down to Chicago to visit the Shedd Aquarium or dispose of a body.

The doors opened and there they were. “Alright, fellas, what have we got here? Say, is that caramel corn?” I picked up a sealed bag of caramel corn roughly they size of a dictionary. “This looks delicious,” I added, and winked at the Den Mother, “I’ll take one of these. How much?”

“Ten dollars,” one Cub Scout said while the other put the bag in a different bag.

“Ha, ha,” I replied. There was a pause. “No really.”

“Ten dollars.”

“For popcorn?”

“Caramel corn.”

“Really? Made from unicorn turds?”

[Author’s Note: I didn’t actually say that, but I really, really wanted to. I think I actually said something like: “Let me see how much I have.” In fact, I’m sure I said that, because the next thing I said was…]

“I only have eight.”

There was a frozen moment where it eventually became clear that there would be no bartering. One Cub Scout removed the bag from the other bag and placed it back into the open space. The other Cub Scout gave me that look; the look that said: “You’re just like my emotionally-distant father who never hugs me or keeps his promises.”

“That’s an awful lot of money for popcorn,” I said.

“Caramel corn.” said the Den Mother, “Sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.” I walked to my car, and never looked back.

I fear that, for one Cub Scout, the memory of my betrayal will be the reason for the firecracker in the frog’s butt. But, c’mon. Ten bucks?