The STP Syndrome

I’m gobsmacked at how a word or phrase that seems unique on first hearing can become commonplace so quickly. Gobsmack is a perfect example.

I don’t remember exactly what I was reading when I first encountered gobsmack. But it wasn’t that long ago. I was reading something and a person described himself as gobsmacked over something. Although I had a feeling the person meant he was surprised, I had to go look up the word. I found that it means “utterly astonished; astounded; flabbergasted” and that it originated in Britain.

I thought it was interesting and swore to remember this unusual word to use in a column or article at some point. But then a few days later I was half-listening to some morning TV program and I heard the word. Some actor declared that he was gobsmacked at the public’s reaction to his movie. Maybe the word wasn’t so unique.

It turns out it isn’t. I’ve read and heard it about a dozen times since then.

The same thing has happened recently with a phrase—“the STP Syndrome.” The first time I heard the phrase was in a statewide meeting at which someone was bemoaning the difficulty in finding volunteers for a project. The speaker said it was a case of the “STP Syndrome,” and explained that STP does not stand for the fuel additive, but is an acronym for “Same 10 People.”

The speaker went on to explain that so often in an organization it is the same 10 people who show up at meetings, that serve on committees, that do all the work. Just about everyone at the meeting nodded. We had all experienced STP Syndrome.

I thought it was an incredibly clever acronym, but I also had a somewhat negative thought. I’ve been involved on some committees that would be delighted to have 10 people involved. Sadly, STP can also stand for “Same 2 People.”

After hearing the phrase, I thought I’d tuck it away to be used in a future meeting to try to encourage people to get involved, to be part of the STP. Once again though, within a few days I heard the phrase again. As I read about the March 2014 West End visioning meeting at Birch Grove, there it was.

The facilitator of that meeting encouraged the West End leaders to make sure all citizens had a voice. He said community planning is not successful if it is impacted by the STP Syndrome—if only the same 10 people show up at meetings. A good message, but I was disappointed that my great new phrase was already in common use.

Not too disappointed though. Although it sometimes seems like STP Syndrome is rampant, if you take a look around Cook County, you’ll see that voluntarism is alive and well. There are a few boards and committees that are stretched thin, but it’s because there are so many amazing opportunities to give back to our North Shore community.

keep-calm-and-volunteer-9There are many, many community members who wear multiple hats, serving on an arts or service organization board while also helping out with a trail association or a local church. There are people who act or build sets at the playhouse and people who offer classes at community education or higher education. There are boat builders at North House and interpreters at one of our community’s historical museums. There are people who read to children and people who monitor water conditions in our lakes and rivers. People serve on the PTA and are Girl Scout and Boy Scout and 4-H leaders. Volunteers are there for those who need help at the Violence Prevention Center and for those who need a friend at the Care Center. There are volunteers who rescue animals and volunteers who fight fires and serve as First Responders.

When I stop to think about it, our community is blessed with an abundance of volunteers. We don’t really suffer from the “Same 2 People” or “Same 10 People” syndrome. No, if you take all the folks that volunteer on the myriad boards and committees and organizations in Cook County, we probably have a thousand volunteers or more.

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week 2016, so it’s a good time to thank these thousand-plus volunteers. Thanks to you for being the “Same 1,000 people.” When I think of all you do, I’m gobsmacked!


The interior joy we feel when we have done a good deed is the nourishment
the soul requires.

Albert Schweitzer

Kindness overcomes mud

I love living in Cook County. I like being here in the bitter cold, in the humidity of summer. I like it when the lakes are frozen and we have to fish through the ice and when we get sunburned fishing from a boat. I can endure mosquitos and biting flies. But mud season tries my patience.

Every year around this time, I start thinking about a vacation. When I look at my mud-covered car or as I wipe up muddy dog prints for the umpteenth time, I dream of heading out of the county, of going someplace warm—someplace dry!

That was the case once again this year, but the annual Community Easter Egg Hunt gave me a different perspective. The Community Center and Kids Plus crew always does a great job. There are always fun activities for kids— tossing games, fishing for prizes, Easter crafts and cookie decorating, a cake walk, a delicious brunch and a friendly Easter Bunny. This year the “bunny” went above and beyond. The big bunny not only welcomed little ones to come sit on his lap; he walked around and high-fived kids. And then he joined the kids who were enjoying the ice left behind by the Cook County Curling Club.

It was amusing to see the bunny skating circles around unsteady skaters using chairs for support, giving them thumbs up or racing up and down the rink with talented little skaters. Kudos, Easter Bunny, you made my day—and that of many happy kids.

Easter Egg huntAnd this year, for the first time in many years, it didn’t rain. It has rained on the day of the Easter Egg Hunt for so many years that organizers have come to expect it. Umbrellas and Easter egg hunting just go together in Cook County.

But this year we were blessed with a fresh dusting of snow. It was only about an inch and it melted away quickly, but for the 10 minutes it takes for excited kids to collect the hundreds of bright colored, candy-filled plastic eggs, there was beautiful, fresh, white snow on the ground.

That made me happy to be here, despite the fact that the snow melted and once again made a mess of my driveway and much of my yard.

What really made the day special though was something that happened at the end of the Easter Egg Hunt.

The Egg Hunt was over and most of the happy families had made their way back inside the Community Center to open the plastic eggs to “ooh and ahh” over all the candy collected. As the last few people headed in, there was a family standing off to the side with two small boys. One little boy was in tears; the other looked sadly on at all the kids with overflowing Easter baskets. It was clear they had arrived too late for the egg hunting adventure. Their parents looked almost as sad, obviously disappointed that their children had missed the fun.

But then something wonderful happened. Other parents noticed. They stopped their excited children and bent down to whisper something to them. Kids with candy-filled eggs looked at the kids without. With barely any encouragement from their parents, kids went up to the dejected young boys and handed over eggs. Despair turned to delight as the late arrivals filled their pockets with eggs.

I saw the family inside a little bit later, all smiles as the kids took part in the Easter activities. I said to Mom, “Wasn’t that neat that kids shared their Easter eggs?”

She nodded and said, “It was wonderful! It was almost better that way.”

That is so true. It was sweet to see sadness turn to happiness because of the kindness of others. It was touching to see little kids showing empathy, setting an example for all of us. It was a wonderful Easter moment.

And it was just what I needed to find good cheer in the midst of mud season.


There is no small act of kindness. Every compassionate act make large the world.
Mary Anne Radmacher

Silly but Simple

In my efforts to get ahead, to write the imaginary column-in-the-can I talked about in Unorganized Territory a few weeks ago, I have Post-It notes stuck all over my desk, on my laptop, and on the dash of my car. The Post-It notes have phrases intended to give me an idea for a column later. Unfortunately these cryptic notes don’t always help.

At the time that I write them, the notes apparently make perfect sense. However, later if I can decipher my own scribbled handwriting, I can’t for the life of me remember why I wrote “Nellie Bly” or “Canadian spelling” or “gloves in pocket.” These were topics worthy of a column. But unfortunately I frequently don’t leave myself a good enough clue to know what I was thinking.

Over time I’ve become more careful about writing notes to myself. I try to jot something that will joggle my memory later. So I was delighted this week when I discovered a Post-It note in my purse that made sense. The crumpled sticky note reminded me to share some thoughts on the simple things in life.

First, a question. Well actually, first a small complaint— who developed these weird rectangle laundry jugs that stand on a shelf with a spigot? Are there that many people on the planet that have a shelf designed for a big jug of laundry detergent?

I am not one of those people. I do not have shelves in my laundry room at all, let alone one designed to accommodate a pouring spout on a laundry jug.

I bought laundry soap in these convoluted jugs several times before I realized what a hassle they were to use. In my little laundry area, the soap jug sits on the floor. So to use this new-fangled soap container, I have to lift up the big jug, balance it precariously on the edge of my washing machine, remove the cap that serves as a cup, fill it from the little slow-pouring spigot, set the cup down on top of the washer, put the jug back down on the floor, open the washer, pour in the laundry soap, close the washer, rinse the cap so it won’t drip all over the awkward jug and the floor, and finally replace the cap.

laundry jugs

New is not always better!

How is this easier than the good old-fashioned jug that only requires opening, pouring into the cap, dumping into the washer and replacing the cap?


After fighting with the unnecessarily elaborate laundry jug, I started shopping not for the type of soap I preferred, but for the type of container. It has been tough. These goofy rectangle containers are on all the store shelves. There is only a tiny section of old-fashioned bottles of laundry soap. But I take the extra time to find them.

I don’t care if the rectangle jugs with the pour spouts are a bargain. Unless I’m getting the laundry soap free, I’m going to buy the detergent that comes in a simple jug with a handle and a twist-off cap.

I know this is an incredibly silly grievance. The point I want to make—the reason I scribbled “weird laundry jugs—who needs them?” on my pink Post-It note—is that I need to not let myself be bothered by little things like this, but instead to appreciate the little things.

There are much more important things in the world to be concerned about, so it doesn’t make sense to be upset about an uncooperative laundry soap dispenser. Instead I will just not buy the complicated new style of laundry jugs and I will stick with my simple, traditional bottle of laundry soap that works perfectly well.

Laundry is easier now. It’s a simple thing, but it makes me smile every time I fill the washing machine.

Now if an enterprising inventor could figure out how to keep socks from going missing in the wash, life would be truly wonderful!


Here’s to the moments when you realize the simple things are wonderful and enough.

Jill Badonsky

Where are We in April?

Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

Everyone who guessed in the March WHERE ARE WE? was correct. The photo was taken of the historic stone footpath bridges at the Tofte Town Park. We especially enjoyed the note from Beverly Johnson of Schroeder who wrote, “where I played when I was young.” Drawn from the correct entries was Mike Nelson of Tofte. Mike wins a free subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the April photo. If you think you know where this photo was taken, send us your answer. You don’t have to be the first to reply. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers.  where are we - April

Whoever is drawn from the correct entries receives a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Answer to the April WHERE ARE WE? must be received by May 17, 2016.

Send your entry to:

Cook County News-Herald
PO Box 757
Grand Marais MN 55604

Drop it by our office at:

15 First Avenue West
Fax: 218-387-9500
Questions? 218-387-9100

Where are We in March?


Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

The February WHERE ARE WE? had a number of guesses and the person drawn from those correct entries was Betty King of Tofte. Betty knew that the WHERE ARE WE? photo was taken inside the Grand Portage Heritage Center, looking up at a stunning mural by North Shore artist David Gilsvik. The mural is one of three at the Heritage Center that capture the essence of Grand Portage, past and present.

Betty wins a free subscription to the Cook County News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the March photo. If you think you know where this photo was taken, send us your answer.

You don’t have to be the first to reply. The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers. Whoever is drawn from the correct entries receives a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $32 value). Good luck!

Answer to the March WHERE ARE WE? must be received by April 11, 2016.

Easter’s early arrival

I like to decorate my house for special occasions, although I’ve gotten busier and busier over the years so I don’t do as much as I used to. In fact for the past two years I haven’t decorated a big tree at Christmas time. I’ve simply brought out an assortment of little knick-knacks, hand towels and so on with a holiday theme.

I have a collection of seasonal trinkets that I rotate through the year to at least acknowledge holidays and changing seasons.

For Halloween, I have a pumpkin wall-hanging that my son Gideon made in elementary school and some creepy character candles on display. For Thanksgiving, I have “my pilgrims,” two adorable little Styrofoam figures that Gideon and Ben made at daycare. They are complemented by dish towels and a table cloth with a fall theme.

I also have a few decorations for Valentine’s Day, which are still on display. I have some pretty hearts on an end table and a funky red stuffed monkey holding a heart that says “I love you” sitting on the couch.

I don’t know about News-Herald readers, but Easter snuck up on me this year. I haven’t found the time and energy to put away those Valentine’s Day items and to haul up the Rubbermaid tub with Easter goodies.

1517821_10202147465991692_2213691616329112656_nIt’s not that I don’t like Easter—I cherish the special day. I have many happy memories of special Easter dresses for joyous church services when I was little. One of my earliest memories is of finding my Easter basket sitting on top of our electric meter when I must have been about 5 years old. I remember many happy evenings spent dyeing eggs with the scent of vinegar in the air, arguing with my sister over whose turn it was to use the purple dye.

I enjoyed creating clues and making my boys search for their Easter baskets until they got too old for that torment. I’m delighted that now my grandkids get excited about dyeing eggs and Easter egg hunts in my yard.

But, I’m not ready for the holiday this year. As I write this, Easter is just a few days away and I haven’t bought a ham or found my stash of plastic eggs.

I did a little research and I found out that I’m not imagining the time crunch. Easter—on Sunday, March 27—is earlier this year than it has been for quite a while. The good folks at Wikipedia report that last year Easter was on April 5. The year before Easter fell on April 20. In 2013, Easter was also in March, but it was still not this early, it was on March 31.

Wikipedia explains that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. The earliest Easter in history was apparently in 1818 when the full moon fell on Saturday, March 21. Since that was the equinox, Easter was the very next day, March 22. I’m glad someone else keeps track of all that!

So although it seems too early to say this, it’s not—Happy Easter everyone!


All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!

Lucy Van Pelt (in Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz)

A bit of blarney

The last few weeks of Unorganized Territory have been filled with thoughts on the financial challenges facing our local school board, on the possibility of a Dollar General store coming to Cook County and about the contentious national political process under way.

Lest anyone take anything I write from my bully pulpit too seriously, I thought I’d lighten up a bit. I thought I’d try my luck with a non-controversial topic.

I should probably write this and “keep it in the can,” as I was advised to do by local author Joan Drury in a writing class years ago. Her advice at that time was to have a generic column—or two—on standby for weeks that are busy or when writer’s block strikes.

It’s a great idea and has also been suggested by my friend and colleague Bill. Every time he sees me frantically finishing this column and contemplating quotes, Bill logically suggests that I plan ahead and write a column to keep on file.

Truly a fantastic idea, but I can never seem to get it done. The column-in-the-can, I tell Bill— not so logically—is like the unicorn. It has never been seen. It likely will never be seen.

Bill keeps reminding me that one of my publishing heroes, the News-Herald’s longest serving editor Ade Toftey, used to fill his column—Jots by Ade—with a collection of random comments, ranging from weather updates and phenology reports to tidbits about visiting relatives and what was discussed over coffee at the El Ray Café that morning.

Although it makes me smile to think that Ade must have been a bit unorganized himself to write in that manner, I don’t want to imitate him. Jots by Rhonda just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Part of the problem is that I like Unorganized Territory to be timely, reflecting current events or dates on the calendar. A column-in-the-can may not always work with what is happening when a reader picks up the paper.

Although I’m not always on top of things when I write weekly. For instance, if I was going to talk about St. Patrick’s Day, I should have done so last week. By the time this issue of the News- Herald is on the newsstands, the holiday will be over.

But as I write this on St. Patrick’s Day eve, everything is Irish! For my deadline night dinner I grabbed a meal at Dairy Queen and I could not resist a grasshopper mint mini-blizzard. Tomorrow I am getting together with my Girl Scout troop and we are celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with shamrock shakes and shortbread cookies and learning about Girl Guides, Ireland’s version of Girl Scouts.

So I’m in the mood for a bit of blarney. Thinking of St. Patrick’s Day makes me think of Ireland and the Blarney Stone. I remember studying the Emerald Isle when I was the age of my Girl Scouts and reading about the magical stone that if kissed gives you the gift of gab.

I was thoroughly intrigued by the idea of leaning over backwards on the parapet at the Castle Blarney and then being able to speak without reservation. It is hard to believe, but I was nervous about talking to people at that age. I almost forgot that myself until recently when a childhood friend Kristy, a paraprofessional at a local school, mentioned that I used to be very shy.


My aunt Dottie

I think that is why I turned to writing. I could say anything with ink and paper, but speaking out loud was tough. When I learned about the Blarney Stone, I so wanted to travel there to receive its magic. But then Dottie, one of my dear aunts, gave me some advice. She said although it would be wonderful to travel to Ireland, it really wasn’t necessary. She suggested that I think that I had kissed the Blarney Stone and I would find the courage to speak.

I guess it worked. Although once in awhile I still get butterflies when meeting new people or speaking to groups, I get through it. Perhaps it’s the luck of the Irish with me in the form of a caring aunt!


The ability to express
an idea is well nigh
as important as
the idea itself.

Bernard Baruch


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 306 other followers