Table of Contents

Back to Top


Living as we do in Minnesota, we can count on four seasons to track the year’s progress. In the political atmosphere we live with now, it seems another season has been interwoven relentlessly into our daily life. This is the season of the demagogue and easy answer merchant. Pick your brand of politics and you can hear just about anything. The next two years will try our patience. Whether you are liberal or conservative, undecided or confused, you will hear just about any simple-minded solution to questions that can’t be answered absolutely. For hidden in each dim-witted reply is a denial of the complexity and diversity of life.

Walk out into your back yard and you get an introductory lesson in diversity. I have never been able to grow the perfect lawn. Part of it is time, part of it is the financial investment I would have to make to get the job done, and part of it is wondering what all the chemicals poured on the scraggly grass might do.

As I walk around the half acre, I count thirty trees, including Norways, Spruces, White Pines and Birches, five different types of shrubs in various states of trim and a vegetable and flower garden that begs for weeding. The lawn is ninety percent grass, five percent dandelion, two percent plantain, and three per cent other plants I couldn’t possibly identify, with a healthy sprinkling of ant mounds. This in an area the size of three city lots. If I wandered a little farther out of town, I would find the area I live in very complex. There are forests, swamps, rivers, lakes, and animals I share space with.

When a weekend trip takes me to a large shopping mall, and the family hits all the stores I don’t want to go to, I’ll sit in some central court and watch people as they rush by. There are thin ones, tall ones, chunky ones, Black, Hispanic, White, Native and Southeast Asian – – quiet, noisy, well-dressed, casual and unkempt. They are all there.

Of a Sunday morning in most towns, people make their way to religious services. The rituals they engage in are as diverse as their creeds, acknowledging a central truth, a dependence on something larger than ourselves. There are many pathways to this reality.

When psychologists make their living they frequently give tests. These examinations when written into a report that the layman can understand, point out individual differences. We are the same, but we are also different.

In the season of the snake oil salesman/politician, simple solutions are offered to us in a way that negates the world around us. The resolutions to complex issues they would have us believe, fit into a seven second sound byte or catchy phrase. The narrowness of the answers is in the minds of the speakers, not the places we share with its richness and diversity.

When political discourse takes into consideration the intricacy of our incredibly bountiful world, then real solutions to real problems might happen rather than some preconceived one size fits all. The demagogue and naïve or manipulating answer merchant won’t have an audience. Wouldn’t that be just awful?


This winter was a little on the long side, and it seemed to begrudgingly give up snow and ice for warm temperatures. Snowbirds this year played it smart if they were able to extend their time in the South. Others with resources, took shorter trips to the Caribbean for a recharge with sun and surf.

So why go to Scotland for a break? Hardly a warm spot. Motivation came for an out of town adventure from my wife and her cousin who wanted to see the family castle of the Lindsay clan in Edzell, Scotland, before age and the ability to get around is a problem. As it turned out, getting around WAS a problem.

Getting to Europe is not difficult with a multitude of airline options. Used to be a person could go by boat, but most ships today tend toward a luxury experience and it costs at least double or more for the fare. Flying is the ticket, unless you want your clothes with you.

It’s uncomfortable if you must make do without clean clothes for four days. I should have known at check-in when I overheard one of the baggage persons say, “We can’t assign a number to her luggage this way, but if we use this back door, we can get it done.” In this case, back door meant out the door.

Even with this glitch, we adapted and made our way to Oban, on the West coast. Our luggage was to follow. We had been there before and loved it. It’s also the gateway to the Isle of Mull and the small island of Iona, one of the earliest settlements of Christianity in Scotland. This spot was also our doorway to the island of Staffa, the east end of the Giant’s Causeway, a geological formation that starts across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland. It is also an excellent place to see Puffins, a favorite bird of my wife.

The trip across calm seas to Staffa was uneventful. The boat offloaded us and we made our way up a steep metal stairway to the island’s plateau, clinging to steel cables on the way up. The Puffins were everywhere. They come in by the hundreds because they know when the tourists come, the Golden Eagles stay away.

On the way down to the boat, my wife slipped on a muddy section of the trail, and despite the assistance of a walking pole, fractured her fibula in her left leg. Getting down the steps to the boat took some time. The crew on the boat were extremely helpful and the medical care once we returned to Oban was caring and professional. But, hiking anywhere during the rest of the journey was over.

During this trip we rented a SUV to get around. It was a high end vehicle, diesel, like most vehicles in the UK, with a fuel and pollution saving start-stop feature. The only hitch was, one time it stopped and then refused to start, right before entering a roundabout; nothing, nada, kaput – couldn’t even get the four way flashers to work! After phone calls to the Rental Company and negotiations, it was towed away and we caught a cab to our next destination – Edzell Castle. A retired firefighter and local police officers made the three hour wait tolerable.

They say things happen in threes. This was certainly the case on this journey. The ancestral home was more than a pile of rocks as had been reported to us before. It was well worth the effort. The broken bone is healing and the UK’s Guinness beats the heck out of what we get here!

Fishing Trip

They stand around gas pumps in small towns, usually male, a little long in the tooth, but occasionally there are younger men, sucking on “Dews” and devouring bags of “Skittles” or “Doritos”. The trucks they drive are pick-ups or sport utility vehicles. As one truck finishes refueling, the next ones move forward. They lean over hitches to make sure the trailers are secured and cup their hand over wheel hubs to check for overheated bearings. No, it’s not Hannibal heading for the Alps, just a bunch of men headed north on a fishing trip. Our lives are peppered with rituals; protocols of an annual adventure up north must be observed. Discussion begins during the “Super Bowl” game. Instead of watching wardrobe mal functions, Beyonce shaking her rear end or Maroon Five guy’s bare-chested tattoos, last summers’ trip video is reviewed – with comments. The women roll their eyes and head to the kitchen for more guacamole.

To accommodate sensitivities regarding colorful expletives on a catch or heaven forbid miss – (NBR – Near Boat Releases), a sanitized version of the tape is displayed, expletives muted. The trip down memory lane gets adrenalin pumping and some discussion ensues about the time of the next excursion. The postcard and calendar from the Canadian fishing camp arrived right after Christmas, so the discussion is timely.

Mid-July, thoughts of the Canadian become a preoccupation. A “Strategic Nuclear Planning Session” is convoked. Lunch at a local restaurant provides a venue for the caucus on logistics. Protocols are rarely altered, after years of excursions. How to split costs is clear now. A retired BSU economics professor is the designated accountant.

Those that bring boats have a more complicated role – they boats need to work. One year, the very last day of the trip, a lower unit took a hit on a reef, a depth finder kept showing 10,000 fish marching in neat little rows, and a SUV had a blowout. Sometimes it would seem easier to go to the locker plant and just buy the “Catch of the Day”.

Fishing spots have been given names over the years. No, “Donnie’s Bar” is not a local beer joint, but a reef extending from an island tip out into the middle of a lake. It got its name one night when a local stopped by to ask us if we had seen Donnie. We were clueless about Donnie or his whereabouts, but the name stuck. “Bali Hai”, a few miles down the lake is not a south sea isle with maidens beckoning, but a whimsical (wishful) name applied to a pine-strewn island.

To the uninformed, the gentleman standing around gas pumps next to pickups, sport utility vehicles and boats appear to be aimless. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are on a mission. Whether it falls into the impossible category remains to be seen.

Fever on the Water

The fever comes on slowly. It’s not an unpleasant feeling, just a mild blush on the skin, subtle agitation and a shift in awareness. When the first catalog appears there’s a vague sensation of needing to wet the lips in anticipation, then an acceleration of thought and a rise in heart rate and blood pressure. A flyer from a Canadian locale and dispatches with colorful pictures start to appear in snail mail and over the net; symptoms intensify. Finally, the days grow longer and with the promise of snow melt, the fever hits it’s stride. There is little hope.

The warmer days of March bring a return of the Cabela’s and Bass Pro catalogs. The boat that served quite well last season has shortcomings. A new piece of marine hardware would make for a better catch, the boat seat that is ragged needs replacement, and an extra switch on the console will undoubtedly ensure reserve power from the batteries. If funds have been quietly squirreled away, the big stuff can be added, upgrading electronics or propulsion. The list gets longer and level of delirium soars.

With each day comes other incursions from the “In-Fisherman” on TV, feeding the fires. These guys never miss a beat or a fish. There is a rational part of every angler that says, “There is no way these guys can catch that many fish in a half hour!”

Things ramp up even more after the end of the dark house season. The windswept shanty towns on frozen lakes disappear as four wheel drive pick-ups haul away the remnants of what was once a fishing village.

When the last of the year’s snowfall melts and trickles off the blue tarp sheltering the boat, an undeniable urge to rip off the rest of the cover persists. This, despite the fact that two feet of snow must be navigated to even get near it. As more icy mounds disappear in the strengthening sun, the trailer is hitched up and towed to the middle of the driveway. Last season’s pine needles, leaders and dead minnows are removed, never mind that open water is at least a month or longer away.

Rotting ice and the submerging of a truck or two signals open water is approaching. Contagion spreads in the quest for an ice-free harbor as agitated anglers crowd boat landings for access. When a small lake is finally ice free, starters rattle as they turn over motors and clouds of oily smoke rise skyward with the roar of pistons. The fever has broken.

Strength returns after Spring’s discontent dissolves. Next comes tackle preparation and lure purchases and recalibration of electronic mentors. The wait for the official door to spring fishing can be tolerated.  After all, when the fever ends, the fun begins.


A knock on the door. It opens and three little bodies come racing into the kitchen and barrel into the living room. Arms get thrown around aged legs and hugs are doled out to all, a grandparent’s bonus as we get to hear about their escapades.

There really is not all the time in the world for a post-70 oldster when the old guy with the long beard and scythe stands in the corner checking his watch. At least the dude with a black hoodie on and his ragged edged scythe isn’t knocking yet, as far as I know! Getting to this point in life when time is available is a reward for those moments when hours were in short supply, when a living had to be made.

After greeting comes the eating. Every nook and cranny where a Tootsie Roll or Cheeto is squirreled away is fair game. Even when taking great pains to conceal sweet indulgences on the highest shelf behind the chicken soup fails, (they know the game you play), trying a diversion to the lower shelf where “healthy” treats are kept is sure to be fruitless. C’mon now, has anyone ever heard of HEALTY treats?

Having grandchildren around to break the daily routine lifts a spirit occasionally preoccupied by the consequences of wear and tear on an aging superstructure and psyche. They are way better than Advil or Zoloft for aches and pains and a foul mood.

They play. Wooden blocks are touched, stacked and tasted. And when the configurations mastered are obliterated, starting over and doing it again teaches and demonstrates even more competency. Finding out why things work and what happens when the square peg won’t go into that round hole, educates how to manage frustration and move on to solving problems. Their imagination fuels creative outcomes, drawings and chunks of play-doh all over the place. How they view the adults in their lives are revealed by watching the multiple changes of cast off dresses and old suits that encourage role playing.
Discovering where to put a body in space and time is a skill that is learned and relearned for a long time, along with managing emotional states when things don’t go well. Getting hockey pucks and soccer balls into a goal requires focus and persistence.

Personalities evolve. There are powerful dynamics at work that involve genetic inheritance, environment and placement in a family. Intelligence and giftedness articulate themselves in many ways by superior academic performance, hands-on brilliance and being socially skillful. Given that all grandkids are smart, a first child could be driven, assertive and athletically gifted. Number two might have artistic interests that produce unique creations, and the third could have many of these characteristics but earns the title, “The Boss”.

If we are lucky enough to be around to see grandchildren grow up, the excitement and hugs still remain when they come in the door. Then its time to sit down and hear of the adventures.

He did it. She did it”

“He did it!”
“She did it!”
“I did not!”
“Yes you did!”
Sound familiar?

When we hear these words, it’s usually coming from younger children or teenagers who haven’t learned how to take responsibility for their actions. We all like to remain faultless or at least blame free. Who likes to take the incoming when there’s a screw up?

Saying makes it so, doesn’t it? Not really. But if you say something over and over it starts to get traction. Consider this.

“She hit me!”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did.”
“No I didn’t.”

One of the combatants starts to cry and seeks to establish credibility for their accusations. The wailing and recriminations go on and on and on. Taking sides for a parent is a losing proposition. Trying to play Solomon makes the arbitrator feel like he’d rather cut his throat than pass on a wise judgement about who is the offender.

Unfortunately, the same words escape from the mouths of adults who haven’t grown up yet. There are all kinds of systems in place for escaping accountability for behavior. The legal system is full of dodges when the piper must be paid. It starts like this.

“Officer, how was I supposed to know there was a Stop sign there? That’s a stupid place to have one. No one drives down this street! I was late for work.”

Perhaps the excuse works and the offender escapes the summons. Other times the offender gets the ticket and decides to contest it in court, or ends up there in front of a judge for failure to pay the fine. Either way, by self-representation or hiring an attorney, the intent is to sidestep blame. The Stop sign was still ignored. Trying to find the line where someone’s immaturity, lack of foresight or judgement excuses them from consequences requires a steady hand on the judicial wheel.

There is also the Eeyore approach to life that things will be bad and you better get used to it. Whining takes top billing in most of these interactions.

“If I just had more time.”
“She doesn’t appreciate what I do around here.”
“I am so tired. Would you bring the newspaper here?”

Another one, “life is unfair” shows up when misfortune or mishap has crimped expectations. Fairness is in the eye of the beholder and why things are given or taken away is way above our pay grade.

One comment frequently heard after a stretch of cold weather is, “We deserve this warm weather.” Did we work so we could guarantee a nice day? How noble are we to have suffered through -10 temps. Give me a break!

Yes, life is unfair, whatever that means, but it’s also loaded with moments when the privilege of breath lightens every step. Taking responsibility for one’s life is a sign of maturity. There’s nothing like having a child or another adult admit without hesitation that their actions were out of line. We all screw up, but at least own up.

Back to Top

Mice, Mice, Mice Everywhere

Its late fall as I write this. Temperatures have taken a dive. There’s even not so subtle indications that it’s best to put the snow tires on. A first snowfall keeps law enforcement and tow trucks on overtime and body shops on edge. They all know what’s coming.

Then there’s the mice; no hesitation here, they are looking for a warm place to stay, unwelcome and not on anyone’s Christmas party list, just rarely seen.

Wandering off in the middle of the night to snack on that last chocolate chip cookie and a glass of milk, there are sounds – – – scritch, scritch, scratch, with an occasional crinkle that brings the munching symphony to a close. You’re lucky if you beat them to the treat.

Other times, chilling out in the basement rec room, wrapped up in an afghan watching the Kardashians (who I don’t imagine have ANY mice issues) one little rodent beats it across the room tucked in close to the splashboard on a mission to who knows where. Screams follow (not from the mice I’ll have you) and calls for traps.

Any residence can have this concern. Older homes with gaps in foundations and other points of entry, seem most susceptible to invasion. It’s just part of living there.

There are all kinds of ways of getting rid of the little rodents, from sonic, to live traps, poison and that sticky paper stuff. The tried and true method still remains the spring loaded ambush that leads to a quick and humane conclusion.

But the little fellas are resourceful, and reaching a resolution is not accomplished in a straight line. Traps need baiting, sometimes cheese, sometimes bacon, other times lunch meat (think hard salami) or aromatic peanut butter. Lately, nothing works – bait gone, no critter.

After trial and error and a great amount of thought for the task at hand, impregnating the bait platform with a tender morsel, making it hard to extract, seems to do the trick. The population is collapsing. There are, for the moment, fewer cadavers and little black specks scattered around.

There are a couple things to keep in mind however, even with these recent successes. KEEP THE TRAPS AWAY FROM WHERE THE GRANDCHILDREN ROAM! Nothing like an evening’s enjoyment interrupted by a snap and yowl from a curious four year old. And in relating stories of turning back the yearly invasion, NEVER, NEVER refer to success as whacking Minnie and Mickey. There is a lesson here also for deer hunters out there who speak of eliminating Bambi. These kind of observations are best unspoken, especially around little ears. Just enjoy the deer sticks and keep your mouth shut.

Animal Rights folks may object to the levity of this exposition. I get it. But also keep in mind the saying of the Buddha, that “Life consumes life”. – No . . . don’t eat the mice!!

Back to Top

Icons of Spain

“Traveling broadens horizons.” – True, but I guess it’s all in what you mean by “broaden”. If a trip starts on belt notch number two and devolves toward hole number one, an expanded perspective is happening, or perhaps, there’s too much time spent in restaurants and bars along the way. Caloric intake correlated with weight gain is a good, solid, objective measure of at least some kind of growth. Unfortunately, it might also require shopping for a new pair of pants along the way.

A screw up in transportation on this trip meant a shift from a quiet, relaxed, train ride, to a nail-biter experience driving a rental car in a country where the rules of the road ultimately make sense, but have to be learned quickly. Dr. Google, an ever present female companion, tells when and where to turn, but she still hasn’t made roundabouts fun!

Goals in travel need to be thoroughly evaluated before any expedition. Is a single location chosen for R and R a good choice, or is a survey of multiple interesting places the best approach? It all depends on stamina. In the case of the second approach, there are bonuses along the way, moments when WOW is the only response to an iconic event or tableau.

Then there are those moments. From a highway, silhouetted on the horizon, stand four windmills and a castle – – – the real deal LaMancha of Don Quixote. The song from the musical, “I, Don Quixote,” returns as an instant ear worm.

Museums and churches are always a draw. There are world class galleries and places of worship on the Iberian Peninsula.

Consider Goya and El Greco. Days of youth gone by, paging through magazines and books on El Greco’s elongated figures on the edge of spiritual ecstasy, are interspersed with the cool sensuousness of Goya. What young man could resist a quick glance at the Naked Maja, or for that matter, the one with clothes on?

Picasso on this trip becomes less of a mystery after seeing his museum in Barcelona; an incredible introduction to his work. The early portraits, conventionally presented, evolve and become the more familiar cubist work we are acquainted with. “Guernica”, his painting of the bombing of a village in northern Spain during the civil war, resides in another museum in Madrid. It is a very different thing to stand in front of this painting than to gaze at a post card or a picture in a book.

Churches are everywhere. The styles are largely Gothic, elaboration and gold everywhere. Especially in Cordoba, the blending of cultures in the south of Spain endured for a long time until one of the kings got a wild hair and drove out the Moors. A Roman Catholic church was erected in the center of the city’s already existing Grand Mosque. There is no better place to see the differences between a Christian and Muslim view of religious observance. One is elaborate, the other unadorned – all in one place. It raises the question, “At what point does art enhance or distract from religious experience?

Another Icon has been emerging in Barcelona for 136 years and will reach completion in the next decade or two – the Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic basilica, incorporating Gothic and Art Nouveau architectural themes. As a corner is turned, there it is – stunning. Check out the link:

Travel changes us. It need not be a grandiose journey. If nothing else, in Spain, you get to watch Flamenco. Give it a shot.

Back to Top


Life is never simple. We start in one place and end up in another. Plans are made and then change. So much of what we experience appears to be arbitrary; a coin toss that could just as easily have flipped the other way. Those who think they have control are seriously delusional.

Where we pop out in time is pretty random. You could have been born during medieval times. We complain about the 1% now. Back then it was most likely the .25% or less. There were a lot of serfs, and I don’t mean dudes with blonde hair and great tans. No, these folks got bronzed sewing and reaping. Life was short and grueling. It was a lot quieter then too. Other than the occasional territorial war with shouting and clashing of arms, it was pretty peaceful. No wanna be monster truck drivers with big pipes roaring by on the cobblestones.

In tracing ancestors, most of us will find very few had castles to hang around in. Mostly it was huts of various construction, ranging from mud to stacked stones with luxurious straw roofs inhabited by a variety of critters. For those in the neighborhood, both the citadels and the humbler homes didn’t have a microwave in sight. When people could immigrate, they did. There’s nothing rewarding about grinding away for the local landlord 24/7.

Being alive in this time we frequently fail to appreciate the advantages we have, modern medicine being one, education another. Medicine gives us a chance, education gives us a grounding in how to make our way and options to make our own luck.

While much of the human body and the manner in which it works remains mysterious. We have at least moved a distance from using “humors” as an explanation, unless of course you watch old videos of “The Three Stooges” or “Laurel and Hardy” to lighten a foul mood. MRIs, CAT scans and a variety of imaging devices gives us a peak into our inner workings.

A recent revelatory medical adventure included for this oldster a peak at why I can’t raise my arms anymore to wave at chicks as I drive by in a convertible. Seems like the rotator cuff has deteriorated into fat, leaving a thin strand of muscle and tendon to do the work of being obnoxious. And here I thought most of the fat was between my ears!

There’s also the benefits of modern chemistry that tweaks this and fine-tunes that, adding to longevity and interventions when body chemistries go awry.

Besides providing a launching pad for the young, education in whatever way it comes provides options when Plan A goes south – as it will. If nothing else, keeping an open mind and nurturing a curious mind by blowing the dust out by learning a new skill or proficiency provides motivation for living enriches existence and makes daily living more manageable.

A note. I am painfully aware that many don’t have options or are suppressed by genetics or history, both personal and cultural. But we make our luck too. We need not be part of the 1%.

Back to Top

Wisdom by Any Other Name

Wise men are gifts. Oops, I’m NOT excluding women here. Consider both sexes lumped together. Whew, I’m tired already. Maybe I should take my nap and start over!

In fact, the most famous wise men in history probably needed to bring women along on their journey to see the newborn savior. Perhaps then they would have gotten there on time instead of meandering around in the desert hauling all that gold, frankincense and myrrh around thinking they knew where they were going.

Same thing with old Moses. Seriously? Forty years of wandering trying to make it to Israel? A woman or two would have come in handy by asking directions of the nearest Bedouin on a camel. If these travelers had listened to the women before they all got into an argument about the right road to take, Moses and the Israelites wouldn’t have needed God to bail them out with manna!

Being wise doesn’t come with dropping in to this universe and then making pronouncements. We aren’t born with discernment. We earn it through experience and hard work. It’s making mistakes as we stumble along that leads to the most important element of wisdom – good judgement. Goofing up the first time is understandable because a person is new at something. But the mistake shouldn’t be repeated again and again in order to learn. If it does, then either someone isn’t listening, is dumb, or needs supervision at “the home”.

There is a line between wisdom and being a smart a– or aleck. I never could figure out the distinction between the two “smarts” even after consulting Dr. Google. There probably isn’t one. Many of these wise guys tend toward the snarky or irritating and at times are annoyingly clever as if they know everything.

A wise person knows his or her limits. Stepping out of your own knowledge base and telling someone what’s what makes you look foolish. In conversation with someone who knows a lot about a subject it’s wiser to listen. A good approach might be to say, “Tell me more.” That’s when we learn. Advising a rocket scientist on how to get to the moon after completing your GED seems a bit presumptuous. There are people who might be able to do this, but I’d bet they’re rare.

The next time there is a large family gathering, watch for the Aunt Berthas or Uncle Ernies who don’t say much. Unless their hearing aids are on the fritz or they’re tipping on the edge of dementia they don’t need to say much. They already know. When asked they will tell, but they don’t need to prove anything.

The sage person is compassionate, a good listener and open-minded. Most times they are non-conforming. Taking this perspective allows them to examine things from new or unique perspectives. This doesn’t necessarily mean flamboyant display, as their approach to problems is reflective and unselfish. No need to show off. They appreciate humor and have a highly developed sense of irony that comes from a refined and educated view of the world.

The next time you get lost in the desert, ask for Pete’s sake. I bet the woman or man next to you might have a thing to say. Hopefully it will be a wise answer instead of a smart — comment.

Inspired by J. Friedt.

Season of Summer Reads

By the time you read this, the end of summer will be peeking over the seasonal fence close by. It won’t be a full head shot, just eyebrows and wisps of hair blowing in a wind that suggests summer and the leisurely reading that comes with it, is coming to an end. Of course with global warming the season may be stretched; yellowing leaves won’t quite be ready for raking any time soon.

There are books and there are books. Some we start, and after a couple pages we ship them off to the recycler or delete them. Others are for fun and at their worst are good sedatives for those nights when sleep gets interrupted by the Harley going by at 2:30 in the morning. Stephen King books probably don’t fall in this category. Then there are those reads that linger, that make us pause and consider the human condition.

I know a voracious reader. The library can’t keep up with her. It’s not like she doesn’t have anything else to do or is a social isolate. No, she is a book lover – to the max. So, I thought I would ask her about her favorites. Here they are, and some short whyfors:

All the Light We Cannot See, (Anthony Doerr) is number 1 in this non-professional reviewer’s assessment. Set in occupied France during World War II, the novel centers on a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths eventually cross. “The book has development of characters over time and how they adapt to changing circumstances.” The style of writing is also a big draw.
Seabiscuit, An American Legend (Laura Hillenbrand) Again, setting here is key. This is above all else a story of an awkward racehorse that does not look like a winner. The narrative portrays the times around the Great Depression and the inspiration of this down at luck horse who persists and becomes an inspiration for the nation.

Unbroken, (Laura Hillenbrand). While Louie Zamperini was an incredible athlete and most remembered for his Olympic feats, he was not defined by them alone. He survived a plane crash at sea during World War II and spent 47 days drifting on a raft and then endured more than two and a half years as a prisoner of war in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. He was a model of resistance, tenacity, and an illustration that the choices we make can insure a life lived well.

The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx. Setting and the sense of place make this book an outstanding read. The story centers around Quoyle, a newspaper reporter who returns from upstate New York, to Newfoundland after a series of tragedies. The character development and overcoming great odds clearly demonstrates how a changed life affects not only oneself, but others as well.

The Boys in the Boat, (Daniel James Brown). Back-stories in this book lay out the route for the resolution of conflict later on. The book is about the University of Washington eight-oared crew that represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. They narrowly beat out Italy and Germany to win the gold medal. Great odds against success and overcoming obstacles are further enhanced by the sense of place and time in this narrative.

Switching genres and not being a fan of sci-fi, this ardent booklover thoroughly enjoyed The Martian, (Andy Weir), and The Sparrow, (Mary Doria Russell). Andy Weir’s story merges a solid scientific knowledge with a determination to survive. The story is about an astronaut who is mistakenly presumed dead and left behind on Mars.

In The Sparrow, The SETI program at Arecibo Observatory discovers radio broadcasts of music from the vicinity of Alpha Centauri. The first expedition to Rakhat, the world that is sending the music, is organized by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), known for its missionary, linguistic and scientific activities. Maria Doria Russell very subtly exposes us to an alien world that at first glance feels like ours but is very different. The strength to live and survive through the trauma of horrible circumstances and find allies in unexpected places enriches the narrative.

I am sure this bibliophile could come up with an endless list of other books that have provided pleasure and inspiration over the years. Some she has returned to like an old friend because they hold truths that sustain.

Grammar Nazi

When reading an article in the Pioneer, the last thing a subscriber wants to hassle with is poor grammar. It grates, interrupts, and distracts from the message a writer/reporter tries to convey. When someone has a great idea and puts it down on paper, unless they are a certified genius or Avant-garde author or poet, sticking to the rules of composition serves everyone. Then there is the Grammar Nazi!

Not having a Nazi available to point out the differences between lie, lay or lying, or their and there is fraught with peril. Sentences like, “He lied in wait,” become perplexing. Was this dude a politician, standing around in the State Capitol or is it Capital? (Don’t want to confuse things further with the tendency toward indiscrete usage of taxpayer dollars.) Or was the legislator spreading falsehoods or “fake news?” On the other hand maybe they were standing around waiting there turn to lie down for a nap. I mean its hard work looking like – your or is it you’re – working? See what I mean?

I have a friend who enjoys reading crime thrillers. When he comes across an example of poor grammar or lousy punctuation, he will underline the mistakes graciously in pencil before he returns the book to the library. My own personal Grammar Nazi has come across his alterations in her reading of the same books. They have developed a kind of booklover synergy, attempting to out-evaluate author missteps. Good on them I say.

The Urban Dictionary makes note of three levels of Grammar Nazism. The mild Nazi is kind and tells you respectfully about your screw ups. The experienced fascist browses through whatever they are reading, hoping to find terrible examples of grammar and spelling. The hardcore devotee of the discipline feels only they have the right to sPELL liKe thisss. Obviously they are virtuosos!

Syntax soldiers are invaluable for the writer when they help refine an author’s craft. Most writers have the luxury of revision. This allows for errors to be addressed. There is time to do that.

The speaker on the other hand, whether it is in intimate conversation or in front of adoring throngs, has no such buffer. They better get it right or it will be remembered – forever. George W. Bush was famous for verbal stumbles. Librarians became Liberians, and don’t forget his attempt at governing an unruly democracy where any misunderestimations were immediately confronted. I don’t know how many Liberians are librarians, but I am sure they too would relish the opportunity to correct spoken lapses.

Regional dialects will drive a grammarian nuts. “I am going to warsh the dishes.” Say what? Some of these variations can show up even within the same state. “My lawnmower needs fixed.” Really? In the eastern part of the state, “My John Deere needs TO BE fixed. Oh well.

Then there’s always him and he. If you think before you speak, HE sounds a lot better than HIM when it comes to, “He is really a great guy.” On the other hand, maybe on an off day, him ain’t so good.

Back to Top

Terminal Irritation

“Don’t make old people MAD. We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to tick us off.” This sign caught my eye recently in an appliance parts store as I tried to make sense of a home repair. As they say, “The road to perdition is paved with good intentions!” The sign was spot on, especially when the project went south.

Resiliency fades as years meander by. Used to run five miles, drive to graduate school 120 miles away and then drive home to work the next morning. Now it’s take a nap along the way – preferably not while driving, stop at gas stations, (a biological imperative) and while there, feel obliged to buy a Snicker’s bar because you sure didn’t need gas for the car.

Emotional elasticity stretches with everything else and doesn’t rebound as quickly either. Complexity creates crises, especially when it comes to managing multiple inputs. Listening to Siri tell you to turn left at the next stoplight, changing lanes to get it done, while at the same time grandma tells you about little Bertie’s recent catastrophe with macaroni and cheese. This requires juggling responses so there’s less of a chance that you’ll T-bone the Metro transit bus at the stoplight. Straight lines and routine go a long way toward easing vexation. Keep it simple. Take the turn before the update on Bert.

Then there are those times when we can’t avoid being annoyed, when our senses are assaulted. That person you saw waiting for the non-stop Flight 101 from Minneapolis to London’s Heathrow (a nightmare in its own right), whom you just happened to overhear at the gate talking to his cousin about Aunt Gracie’s gall bladder surgery, is the last to board. Guess where he sits? And you thought the seat would remain empty. Hah! After a few minutes it smells as if he’s never been introduced to a bar of soap. Fortunately most airlines still don’t allow transatlantic phone calls. Wouldn’t that be a treat!

All of this is influenced by the dance between genes and environment. The genetic highway is there to drive when we start our trip. If the road is smooth, it’s pleasant. But if the road has potholes, dips and cracks, it will rattle something loose in our suspension, making it a rougher ride. We become sensitized by experience to what lies ahead and become more easily irritated dodging or swerving around the bumps.

There’s a lot to get testy about. The revered American philosopher Whoopi Goldberg once said, “I don’t have pet peeves, I have whole kennels of irritation.” There are all kinds of ways to end up terminally irritated. Our ability to cope is measured by multiple strategies we keep in reserve to get through a day. Just make sure to get a nap.

What the. . . !

“What the . . . !” No, this not an emergent language from the tech world or popular culture. It’s not even a slip of the tongue. Rather it’s a response to the insult of aging.

At the start of a “normal” day, a cup of coffee still comes, required for anyone who requires a minimum of focus. Instead of a Mr. Coffee automatic brewer/alarm clock encounter, a more up to date alternative requires putting a little plastic cup of premeasured caffeine into a holder and letting Keurig get the job done – kind of. A latte generated by a “roommate” of forty four years, fresh roasted beans finely ground and packed into a portafilter seems a much better alternative. The hiss of frothing milk makes for an elegant caffeinated experience.

Recollections from years gone by as you sip the robust stimulant bring back to consciousness how you used to leap out of bed in the morning to take on a new day. Well, alright, . . sorry, maybe not leap, but at least ease out of rising slumber. Now, that same moment calls for marshalling resources, both mental and physical, accompanied by groans and mutterings. The rotator cuff hasn’t gotten better overnight. The left leg used as a prop to swing your rear end into the driver’s seat of the Camry yesterday, appears to have taken a vacation from offering support. The tendons that offered assistance to the weak knee made a strange noise as a pivot was made onto the seat leather. “What the . . .?” along with a supplementary expletive for effect, seemed entirely appropriate. Now, “Vitamin A” (Advil for the uninformed) in therapeutic doses, appears to be the course set for the road ahead. Don’t forget the ice.

Narrowing of perspective is also a frequent by-product of diminished physical capabilities. Can’t run that half marathon anymore? Can’t drive to the Cities and back in one day without paying a price for the next three? Stamina recedes over the horizon, not a precipitous departure, but a slow leave-taking, a leaking away of what once seemed like limitless energy, where “I think I can. I think I can,” becomes, “I sure hope I can get home before it gets dark!”

Clarity of vision as eyesight falters also calls for adjustment. Floaties, those little chunks of protein that break off inside the eye and drift around create havoc. The eye Doc says, “Can’t do a thing about them. You’re gonna just have to get used to it.” Humph . . .! Sometimes its’s hard to tell if those mice that seem to be zipping across the hood of the car as I drive down the interstate are rodents or age induced hallucinations. Must not be mice I guess. Don’t see any cheese stuck under the windshield wipers.

Then there’s circling the target phenomenon of trying to recall someone’s name at morning coffee by going around and around who it is, but not being able to hit the bullseye. It goes like this. “Bill what’s his name. You know, the guy that lived over by the Cenex station, the guy who drove that old Cadillac with the bashed in passenger door, the guy who had that black lab with three legs who leaves for Sun City in August. You know who I’m talking about don’t you?” Keep circling dude. At some point you’ll nail it. Get used to the “What the . . .!” At least you’re breathing.

Back to Top


The alarm clock goes off at 6 AM. In a home where there are two bathrooms, only one with a shower, don’t screw around with the schedule or someone will be banging on the door. If cold water comes out of a shower because someone overstayed their allotted time, it will make anyone grouchy. If you are in a rush, as happens most mornings, the Cheerios, bagels or whole wheat toast better be where it’s supposed to be. Heaven forbid if little Johnny doesn’t get his strawberry-laced cream cheese.

Routine gets a bad rap. In a hyperactive culture, anything that smacks of repetitive, mundane or humdrum, is immediately judged as b-o-r-i-n-g; novel is good, predictable is bad. But there is a fine line between excitement and stimulation and its by-products, uncertainty and anxiety. If you’re off your game at the start, it can take a long time to get your mojo back. A “normal” start to any day anchors and directs what comes later.

The favorite shirt that goes with your khakis and blue blazer isn’t in its usual place. A quick search of the laundry basket in the basement reveals it didn’t make it into the wash over the weekend. And the tie you counted on to make a good impression at a meeting walks out the door slung over the shoulder of a son who is in the running for Homecoming King. Bye-bye good impression. At least he’s got a chance for his fifteen minutes of fame.

Then there is the car keys. Could have sworn they were on the counter when you went to bed last night! Paranoid thinking follows. Did young Juliet sneak out again for a late night rendezvous with her budding Romeo, or were the utensils of independence buried in a pile of sweatshirts in the closet after last night’s yard work? A frantic search and muttered accusations ensue and neither scenario holds sway as they are found under yesterday’s bills in the middle of the dining room table. A mumbled apology and icy stare complicate an already complex relationship.

So when morning plans disintegrate after the hot water heater dies and the bagel sends up a cloud of smoke from the toaster because little Johnny forgets it and becomes involved in a video game, look at it this way, perhaps a cold shower will dampen Juliet’s ardor for a microsecond and Johnny will have to suck it up and drag out the Rice Krispies. He won’t starve.

Circumstances beyond our control like power outages or lack of attention and its consequences, teach us that we depend on the expected, perhaps a bit too much. We make choices about what is important and plan or fall into habits that ground our hopes about how any day should go. We depend on routine and return to it even in the midst of chaos and the disruption of normal patterns as soon as we can. The mundane and humdrum may not serve as a steady diet, but it anchors and underscores those time when we can really enjoy that hot shower and fresh bagel.

Back to Top


If things can be done simply, it is best to proceed with efficiency and directness, otherwise details get in the way and problems multiply. What should be fairly straightforward ends up multi-layered and convoluted. Let’s talk moving, relocating or repositioning – whatever. Moving across a continent is a lot cleaner process than relocating three hours away.

Theoretically, if you have the luxury of time, you should have thinned and thrown out stuff you don’t want – theoretically. The big stuff is easy to figure out. You like the bed you sleep on – check: the couch that weighs 3000 pounds – check, but maybe not so much the old macramé wall decoration you labored over for hours when you had hair and it was longer. The artwork and the polyester bell-bottoms head for the dumpster.

When a house is “staged”, to make it appear more “desirable” to a buyer, a lot of stuff remains if the relocation is geographically close. The dining room set and the comfortable recliner and floor lamp stay – at least for the time being. This leaves a bit of a hollow feeling in the new digs. They are not essential for living, but they are comforting and they are yours. Which leaves the rest.

A short 150 mile move complicates things. If something gets left behind it can always be retrieved later. Unfortunately that one thing makes it impossible to cut the loaf of bread or open the can of soup. Many Target trips to make up the hardware deficit leave countless bread knives and can openers lying around, usually in the wrong place.

On the other hand if the move is 3000 miles away, household equipment gets packed and delivered in one fell swoop. Want that can opener? Try the box that United Van Lines just delivered.

Even if boxes are compulsively labeled to insure they go to the right place in a new dwelling a short distance away, a lifetime of power tools, screws and bolts and toiletries are never where they’re needed. As adaptations to a new location are made, fine adjustments sought are interrupted by the quest for the right tool or torx screw to secure it. Time may not be of the essence, but it matters when being settled equals serenity and domestic tranquility.

Situating pots, pans and bowls for easy access after a move is not an orderly procedure either. A desire to restore order to a kitchen is interrupted by finding the best place to put the wok, waffle maker or George Foreman grill. Multiple attempts to find the right spice when preparing a meal, never any easy exploration any time, is made beyond difficult with numerous transposings of the condiments to places that make sense one time but are absurd the next.

Moving is a change. Like all modifications in life, getting comfortable with the unfamiliar takes time. What stimulates one minute is a source of tension and stress another. Just getting used to where the bathroom is in the middle of the night can be a challenge!

Back to Top

Follow Your Heart

When we launch from our families we carry for good or ill our genetic baggage and history. We drive, but depending on what the engine is like, the car might handle like a shiny new Corvette or a rusty old Buick. We still need to steer.

There are bucket-loads of quotes on “Following Your Heart”. In the trunk of succinct sayings are the wise, the foolish and the obvious. A lot of these drivers are starry-eyed, dreamy and quixotic, feeling comes first. Fantasy pops open closed doors and gives free rein to the open road. Pursuing your “bliss” or using intuition is a point of departure, but before gears engage, you need to know how to turn the wheel and avoid potholes and cliffs. When you follow your heart your brain is an essential navigator.

By the time we reach our mid-twenties we take fewer random turns and off-road ramps. Impulsive behavior slows down. Decision making falls in line with goals we have tempered by the relationships we value.

“Following Your Heart” evolves as we change and get older. The psychologist Erik Erickson provided sign-posts along the way that point to the road ahead. As we reach each marker, we have tasks to undertake in our development as human beings. Each crisis has its challenges, and how we address these tests determines the path forward.

At the age of most senior citizens, the time when nobody gives a damn about what you think, Erickson says there is the option to choose between integrity or despair. The positive outcome is wisdom, a not so valued virtue in this culture. At the end of the road depending on preference is fulfillment and integration of your life’s story. The decision to choose dissatisfaction characterized by a sour attitude and curmudgeonhood, tips to hopelessness at death.

Bemidji has been home for the last thirty four years. That is changing. There are reasons to move, one the freedom to choose where, before “The Home” looms and the other more important, the opportunity to be a more integral part of grandchildren’s lives before their own developmental tasks spin them away from thinking grandpa and grandma are hot stuff.

We raised three kids here, seeking a recreational environment that included more lakes, forests and snow. Northern Iowa was good, but not this good! We also had the added bonus of living across the street from grandpa and grandma. It was a benefit to both households early on with emergency day care when little bodies had high temperatures and later the privilege of delivering custom made “meals on wheels” to older folks who wanted to stay in their home as long as they could.

Mornings in either household with “Today” in the background enriched our kid’s lives immeasurably. Grandma’s coffee in demitasse cups for dipping soda crackers and then covering them with sugar were a hit with one child, and Easter ham dinners and razor-thin peanut brittle at Christmas rounded out everyone else’s usual morning repasts of Cheerios.

Steering past the potholes and pitfalls of life requires attention. Very little time is spent in cruise control. What matters in the end are the people we know and the relationships we have. Thanks Bemidji. We will be gone, but never far away or forgetting.

Back to Top


Children are gifts, not possessions or objects to control. The most important lessons kids receive are those learned from example, not by dictates or pronouncements. The parent who tells their child not to smoke or drink while they puff away or pound down three more beers, demonstrates that words mean little. Its actions that count. What is spoken is sometimes heard, what is done, is always remembered.

What children learn by example plays out in the themes they will live by. If they are respected, they will respect, if they are cherished they will values others. If being responsible and accepting responsibility for mistakes and missteps is exhibited, that too will be an important part of their life. When it comes time for a child to set their own course, they will live out a new story. The particulars may be different, but the underlying narrative will be consistent with what they have observed.

When life altering choices are on the horizon, seeking advice from a parent is helpful, but the investment in the outcome is complicated, confounded by the hopes and dreams of the parent and the need for the child to have their own identity. Sorting this out takes time and patience, as conflicts will arise. While parents can provide guidance, most often they are not asked. Advice given when not asked for, is usually ignored.

For many, having or choosing a person to guide or mentor, is one of the most important events in a young life. The term comes from Greek times and was meant to indicate someone who would accompany, show or catalyze in some way, sowing the seeds of knowledge and wisdom. In our time, it is a person, a family friend, teacher, relative or neighbor. The investment they have in the relationship is very different from a parent. They can provide a source of advice and feedback that is valued and valuable.

One of the seminal moments of the boomer generation was the Viet Nam War. It showed that a love of one’s country could be viewed in two equally responsible ways, the articulations quite different. One conscientious approach was to volunteer, to serve the nation in the military, fulfilling the desires of the commander in chief. The other formulation was to challenge the process by which the nation chose to go to war. This lead to very different choices.

The Second World War was pretty clear cut when it came to the challenges to freedom in the world. Subsequent adventures by politicians and those in governance have been muddled by ideology and opportunism that drove decision making. Having an older person to sort out the choices available makes the implications of those decisions distinct. What at first blush appears to be noble and just, ends up being something else.

While the term “mentoring” is thrown around a lot these days, the process of coming to maturity in our judgements, requires that we have someone who can assist us in taking the themes learned earlier in life and articulating a unique vision that honors and respects the past but acknowledges the quest for an individual identity.

Back to Top


“I’m gonna go see my shrink today.”

“Yeah, you definitely need your head examined.”

The work of therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists is mysterious to many. It engenders fear and hostility and sometimes reflects an older understanding of the therapeutic process, one that reduces people to causes and symptoms rather than a cooperative effort at returning to a productive life.

Being a good therapist is not rocket science, but it does have its requirements. Like all professions, therapy requires a solid knowledge base, coursework that includes heavy doses of psychology, both normal and abnormal, and an understanding of human development and behavior. Education and clinical supervision diminishes prejudice and bad judgement.

A therapist has to like people with all their idiosyncrasies, limitations and faults; to stand amazed and respectful of individual difference. The clinician may not agree with how another is living, but they must acknowledge their right to find their own way.

Empathy, the ability to travel in another person’s world is the ticket required for getting on the train for this trip. Each person has a history, good or bad, that has influenced how they address their existence. While “having been there” is helpful, it’s not a requirement for starting the trek.

I have been humbled by the life-paths others have tread and their adjustments along the way. The young girl who has been physically and sexually abused, unable to sleep, hypervigilant and angry still seeks affirmation and a way out sadness. The chronically mentally ill person hears the voices, but has learned to ignore them and insert rationality into a world abuzz with thoughts that try to disassemble a clear course. They have not given up. “I am the professional here” demeans the person seeking assistance and ignores the randomness of fate. “There I might also be.”

Therapy is an art, a blend of knowledge, intuition and genuineness. A clinician never knows what will cross the threshold. The question, “What brings you here today?” opens the story of a person’s life. The narratives are layered, complicated and frequently complex. It is never simple. It is an organic process. Answers don’t come quickly or arrive in a predictable manner. Inquiries made in one direction over time, come back with insights on both the clinician and client’s part that are revelations to both. The route is dynamic.

The person seeking help drives the way forward. This requires great discipline on the part of the therapist. A good psychotherapist never gets in the way of the client they are working with. If they do, they serve their own needs. They must walk a fine line, press not push and give advice only when asked. The basis for progress is mutual respect.

Years ago I worked with a young boy who was in foster placement. Towards the end of my time with him, his social worker and I had a discussion about his progress. She said, “He is different since he started seeing you. What did you do?” While I am sure there are all sorts of measurable ways of marking progress toward a more functional life, I told here at the time, “Damned if I know.”

Call it what you will, it still remains a mystery. There are those occasions at a point of intersection where insight and clarity occur, a moment in time when a conduit opens and the numinous flows, a gift for both.

Back to Top

That Big Black Bag

Kids used to play sports because it was fun, got them out of mom’s hair, or to hang out with friends. While those reasons to play still hold sway, there is a difference today

A baseball game a generation ago required a glove, a ball and some old cardboard for bases. Hockey games called for skates, a puck, a Christian Brothers’ hockey stick, ice on a rink or pond and a hard plastic cup tucked between the legs.

While all the modern additions to athletic equipment have helped reduce injury, hauling all the stuff around has eliminated the spontaneity of a pick-up game. Stuffing an athletic bag that sometimes is as long as the kid is tall, necessitates either an exceptional memory or a long checklist. Having observed a five year old budding Gordy Howe get ready for practice, here is the list – Safety wear: helmet with face mask, gloves, shin pads and a mouth guard. Uniform: hockey socks, pants, a custom made jersey and shoulder pads. And of course, especially with younger players, there are the marginally sharp skates and skate guards. In their off hours the skates sometimes get used as shoes on the way to the car.

There is no way the kid carries the bag. There is an adult somewhere in the mix. Multiplied by the number of players it takes to have a game, it’s obvious that a Suburban, Minivan or at least a crossover is required. The amount of equipment for each child’s athletic endeavor varies depending on the sport, the one exception being the size of the bag for swimming. Even with that, it seems the size pretty much remains the same.

Over time, the big, black-strapped containers that haul equipment end up being conveyances for everything else in a kid’s life. School books get tossed in, whether they are used or not, and changes of clothes for band, chorus or the night shift at McDonald’s. Also ending up in the shadowy depths are the occasional musical instrument and if the young person cringes at the idea of a school lunch, vegetarian, gluten and pesticide free organic bologna or peanut butter sandwiches can be added. The bag becomes heavier and frequently drags on the sidewalk rather than carried. The younger pack mule develops a list to port or starboard. The next stop the chiropractor.

Winter as all seasons, has its own set of images and memories locked in our consciousness: a crisp cold night with boots squeaking on frigid ground, a gentle snowfall that muffles the sound of passing cars, or chilled hands wrapped around a warm mug full of hot chocolate with bobbing marshmallows.

The mental pictures endure, but now there is a new one to add . . . that bag! It’s nice to have a one size fits all repository, a real convenience. However, if the adult that has marginal control of a kid neglects to investigate the fragrances emanating as the bag rolls by, those socks at the bottom no matter the sport, tend to take on life or a life of their own. Eeww!

Back to Top


We live and move through landscapes, fortunate to see different places. Even the drive from Bemidji to Grand Forks changes quickly just beyond Fosston. Good-bye forest lands, welcome sugar beets and small grains.

Physical landscapes are diverse and a product of the elemental energy of water, wind, fire and ice. The interaction of these forces happen every day. A still morning and a glass-flat lake is very different from one with a strong east wind that predicts rain. Ice forms when wind rests and cold penetrates and stiffens water’s waywardness. A bonfire by an ice covered lake moderates cold’s relentless pursuit.

Travel brings to light an awareness of the four basic elements. Throw in the interactions of humankind, and what has been given takes on whole new forms.

Iceland, appropriately named, sits to the east of Greenland, a rock strewn elemental world. It is raw, explored but untamed. Its riches are a moving target; it is always in motion. There is however, primal beauty.

Ice, ice everywhere. One can stand next to a sulfurous geyser, the little brother of Old Faithful in Yellowstone, and at the same time see the sun glance off a glacier in the distance that feeds the stunning power of Gulfoss as it relentlessly carves its way through granite escarpments thrust to the surface by two continental plates making their acquaintance. Never very far away are steam clouds rising, an indicator of the fires below that shape-shift the ice.

Leaving Iceland on WOW, yes WOW Airlines, seems appropriate in the move to more civilized environs. One stopping point along the way is Paris. Not a chunk of ice in sight unless it’s in the bottom of the glass of whiskey at the Charles DeGaulle airport bar. The cold loses even more of its power when the Mediterranean comes into view during a long decent to Venice, a city surrounded by a warm lagoon.

Venetians made the city work, making adaptations to accommodate the surrounding sea over the centuries. This venue is now at risk from rising water levels despite the crush of tourists in search of gelatos and gondolas.

Solitude is not part of the mix. Walking, while not a necessity, assures some time away from crowds, where the distinctive charm of the city can slowly soak in. Eating lunch on a shaded veranda along the Grand Canal makes midday gnocchi washed down with a glass of the local vino taste even better.

Then there is Lake Como in the north of Italy. It looks like an upside down Y from above. Surrounded by mountains, a multitude of small villages abut one another along narrow roads above the lake. Driving here requires patience any time of the day; forget passing or making time unless you have a low-slung red Ferrari and a death wish. The passages are so narrow that having a vehicle with folding mirrors is not a bad idea. It is after all, important to keep Avis happy. Along the way keep an eye out for George Clooney as you pass through Laglio, although a stay in the hotel up the hill in Tremezzina is its own reward.

We may not all get to travel the world. It is a privilege. Sampling the planet whenever it’s possible, even on a small scale, makes the comforts of home that much more appreciated. At least we know where the bathroom is every night.

Back to Top

Adventure – October 2016

“This is an adventure.”

Ever hear that? It means one of several things: I have never done this before – This is exciting! – I have no clue what I am doing. – Or, how did I get into this mess and how can I get out without killing myself?

Even if you’re on the cusp of “The HOME,” and you have lived almost seven decades, you’d think it would be time for a more sedate pace with massive doses of good judgement and awareness of looming physical limitation. Not a chance.

A bike trip in Italy – fantasy and reality collide. Never seen Venice. How about a trip from the city on the canals, along the north end of the Adriatic into Croatia? Sounds like a plan. Sign me up!

There are a multitude of outfits that will tailor a cycling adventure to your wishes. The one we chose hauled our luggage from point to point so the ride could focus on other things: the views, the food, the exercise and quaint villages.

The bikes provided by the company were custom-made for a variety of circumstances. They were sturdy, visible, and generally accommodating. Since a lot of time would be spent sitting on them, the seats were wide, fine for those with expanded horizons, but not so accepting of skinny butts. The gearing was good and provided a variety of ranges for varying conditions that included asphalt, gravel and brick. A tour of this type is not a rocket ship experience, so skinny tires and light weight are not part of the picture.

The orientation for the ride was thorough. Questions were answered in detail. Maps and written directions designed to thread through the Italian countryside were provided and explained. The first day would be about twenty miles, an easily done distance.

The start of the “adventure” dawned hazy and warm. Getting out of town was complicated by bad turns and missteps. It was going to take more time than we thought – a lot more time. When all was said and done, the twenty miles ended up being closer to fifty; the first night’s lodging approached at dusk. So much for wandering around in the fading light greeting the locals with “Buona Sera”.

There was no thought of “A man’s (woman’s) reach should exceed their grasp.” It was after all the start of the trip. Surely the days would get shorter once we got into a rhythm. The countryside was Minnesota nice, largely agricultural, occasional sea views, with the Gailtal Alps in the distance. Then the rains came. Not just showers, but downpours; no messing around. Raingear afforded some limited protection, but a crash on a dogleg turn meant a jammed rib for one of us.

Fortunately, accommodations each night were welcoming, and breakfasts in the morning substantial, fueled the journey ahead. The rides didn’t get shorter, complicated by a return of rain and the need to travel on occasionally busy highways, where respectful Italian drivers still zipped by inches away at 100 kilometers an hour. On one stretch, two of the company expressed undying affection for each other, with the hope that they would be alive at the end of the day. At a lunch stop, a Romanian waitress offered to be adopted to escape her servitude.

As the trip progressed and fatigue mounted, options to skip parts of the trip by taking ferries or train rides that shortened distances were readily engaged. One ride even had “Elvis” as captain. The reach was getting shorter than the grasp. On the final day one rider hopped the sag wagon and missed out on two long climbs, one on a gravel road, the other ascent at the end of the day on a stretch with at least a 25% grade.

“We are on an adventure,” fell somewhere between, I have no clue what I am doing, and how can I get out of this mess without killing myself? It was a bonding experience, not without penalty however. Next time, heaven forbid, maybe a tour bus with “old people” might be an option.

Back to Top

An American Dream – September 2016
An American Dream

Early this year there was an article in the National Geographic about our National Parks. When we have chosen to see America, we typically drive. Many in my extended family prefer point-to-point travel – go to the airport, get on the plane, and hopefully arrive stress free in a few hours. Maybe that’s why 190,000 miles just rolled over on the Subies’ odometer. Travel is about the adventure, seeing friends along the way and in between, camping.

A disclaimer. No matter how you camp, tent, log cabins in a state park or an RV, there is a 50% hit rate on whether or not you get washed out. When it’s gorgeous it’s great, when it’s not, make sure life jackets are at hand for all concerned.

Camping does not need to be an elaborate affair. A tent, something to cook on, a sleeping bag and flashlight do well as basics. Of course it’s important to remember to bring these things. During one canoeing excursion on the St. Croix River, the tent didn’t make it – not a good plan. It didn’t rain, but there were mosquitoes – a lot of them.

When a family gets bigger, tent size goes up. The snug, two person ridge tents of youth, give way to much larger frame tents that accommodate a growing family. As with all things in a camping clan, larger is better, assorted domestic altercations in the car on the way to a park are alleviated somewhat by more elbow room in a tent.

Food; the issue here keeping fresh, fresh. Cranky kids, unhappy about large amounts of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at the rest stops on I-90, while a simple, nutritious meal, wears thin after a few lunches. A stop along the highway at McDonalds can be a treat, given the expense, but other times a necessity when the menu gets boring. Other times, hamburgers, hot dogs and chips supplemented on other days with pasta topped off by s’mores, tames the famished beasts. There are pancakes and eggs and bacon in the morning, rich sensual odors gliding between tent flaps that wake the sleeping masses for another adventure-filled day.

Time of year is important for camping also. June is a good month if it isn’t raining too much, July works too, but August evolves into elbow to elbow campgrounds where getting a good night’s sleep is a stretch. That guy two sites down who likes to play “Blowing in the Wind”, again, again and again, will never sound like John Denver. October brings its own challenges with a lot of places shut down; no water, no heat and maybe no electricity.

Then there are times when the family unit tips close to the edge. Overheard on one trip to the Grand Canyon at an overlook. Father speaking to mother, “I wonder if anyone has ever thought of throwing their kids off one of these?” Fortunately there were no reports of homicide and the threats didn’t reach the level of required reporting to child protection services.

When the kids leave home and the dog dies, grandma and grandpa can retreat to a tow-behind or truck camper. Everything has a place in these and the trailer does not change every time you park for the night. The milk and beer stay cold, the coffee cooks quickly on the stove and when it rains like crazy, there’s just the patter of the drops on the roof, no leaks in the tent seams!

Keep the checklists up-to-date and the gas tank full. Don’t worry about the chance of rain. If it does pour, just roll over, take a nap, and remember – at least you’re not working

Back to Top

It’s Not About the Doughnuts – July 2016

We assume when we punch those numbers on a phone, that someone will be there on the other end to clean up the mess, to get things back on track.

Law enforcement is like a mirror, a reflection of the community. If the image is distorted or dirty, we have only ourselves to blame. Fortunately the image in the mirror here is clear. In Bemidji and Beltrami County, two men take the lead in setting the standard for protecting and serving, Phil Hodapp, Sheriff of Beltrami County and Mike Mastin, Bemidji Chief of Police. Over the next few months I will be talking about the people who keep us safe. This month it is Phil Hodapp, Beltrami County Sheriff. Next month I will be talking with Chief Mike Mastin, Bemidji Police Department.

Phil comes from a family with a tradition of law enforcement service. His father was a State Patrol Trooper after serving in the Korean War as a forward observer for a Marine recon unit. After graduating from Mankato Loyola High School in 1974, Phil entered the Law Enforcement program at Mankato State University. In college he worked as a dispatcher for Nicollet County. Passing through Amarillo Texas when returning from a ski trip in New Mexico, Phil, on impulse, applied for a position there, took the tests, was accepted, entered their police academy and started work as a patrol officer. “Field training then was riding with an older officer for a few weeks before you were cut loose on an 11 PM to 7 AM shift. I worked the north side of the city where things happened fast.”

Phil was later recruited by the State Police in Texas and worked in the Amarillo and Houston areas. He was promoted to Investigator and went undercover in San Antonio working narcotics, going under cover in work with the Mexican cartels. “The tech gear has taken vast leaps for monitoring and surveillance since 1980. There was no computerized digital recording equipment then and everything had to be put on duplicate cassette tapes. It was very labor intensive. I would be gone for a month at a time in a listening post or working surveillances. Some of the work we did was just like you see in the movies.”

In 1985 he and his wife Marilynne returned to Minnesota where he worked for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for over twenty-one years before running for Sheriff. He has held that position since 2007.

Sheriff Hodapp is inspired by his work in the profession, although much of what he does now is administrative in nature. “The work has evolved over time. I have grandkids. I want things to improve so their lives and the lives of the people we serve will be better. When you look down from 50,000 foot level how can we help kids growing up?” He is grateful to community members who tell him how much they appreciate the Sheriff’s Office’s efforts, the kindness shown by deputies and staff.

The Sheriff’s Office employs over 100 people. It includes patrol deputies, investigators, administration, records, dispatch, court security and corrections. When looking for a new hire, Sheriff Hodapp looks for a person with a strong work ethic. He hires for character. “If they are solid and have the education in law enforcement, we can teach them to be a good cop.”

It is no secret that law enforcement is under pressure. “I am very aware that I must be thoughtful in my work as Sheriff,” says Hodapp. “I am the face of law enforcement in the county. It is a great responsibility. Before the advent of social media, there was a recognition that we are all human and make mistakes. Today people are unforgiving of even minor slips. As a result, there is a hesitation by many in public service to engage at times because of the worry of extreme scrutiny.”

The Bemidji area also has other challenges unique to the area. The presence of two Reservations with different governing structures require close communication and coordination. In addition, geography, lack of resources and funding to assist people are chronic. The jail has become a mental health facility by default. Initiatives on the horizon hopefully will alleviate some of these problems and get everyone pulling in the same direction.

When 9-1-1 is called we expect a response. The Wild West and vigilante justice is long gone. We depend on the men and women in law enforcement to make this a safe place to live. Then the rest of us can go about our business.

Back to Top

A Trip to the ‘Inane’ Asylum – June 2016

Sometimes people need to be locked up for a while. I don’t mean this in a punitive, inconsiderate or heartless way, but out of concern for their mental health and our need to be left alone to navigate a complex world. Used to be all a person had to worry about was three square meals and a roof over the head. Now we have to be concerned about surveillance from buzzing things flying overhead, “friendly” credit card companies, and impulsive acts made eternal on social media. Fretting about the government? – think again!

Then there is the inane comment. There are actually quite a few ways of describing these. They range from empty, insubstantial and vapid, to ignorant and ridiculous. Or more generically, clueless or dorky.

A lot of inane comments have to do with weather. “Boy, it’s gonna be a hot one today!” or “Looks like rain,” when the sound of thunder is already rattling windows. This is alright as long as it’s understood that you’re filling air time. To impart timely or interesting information is more challenging and requires some thought.

There are other examples of remarks that denote a firm grasp of the obvious or are just funny. Yogi Berra was a master of the quip that danced around the evident, but never sank to inane, “It ain’t over to till its over” or “We made too many wrong mistakes today.”

Pairing the apparent with the absurd in a context where we expect a knowledgeable explanation or words of wisdom makes it humorous. For example, a Hollywood actresses’ comment about the Holocaust, “I didn’t know that six million Jews were killed. That’s a lot of people,” is trite at best. But Frank Sinatra’s observation that, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. They wake up in the morning and that’s the best they are going to feel all day,” is humorous, insightful, and sad.

Questioning can also roam into inane territory. Consider; “Why are softballs hard?” or “Why do they sterilize needles for lethal injections?” and “How come you press harder on a remote control when you know the battery is dead?”

What drives the inane remark?

Awkwardness, lack of common interests or social class is one reason for clichéd conversation. This can be observed at events such as a wedding receptions or other social functions where the man who fixes Mercedes’, chats up the guy who drives them. The auto technician may be incredibly bright, but he travels in a different orbit and has different interests than the man who just pushes the start button. Socially gifted individuals get around this by asking questions about the other person and in the process learn something new, or at least drive away the inane fiend.

Long time associations including marriages or friendships where things have gone stale, make an environment ripe for inane discourse. Reminiscing about “Glory Days,” drives conversations a short distance before they run out of gas. And there are only so many grocery lists spouses can talk about before dullness seeps in and spoils a meal; routine becoming the norm. Fresh input, however it comes, keeps things moving.

The vapid, insubstantial or boring comment is tolerated in conversations because they lubricate the wheels of discourse with the hope for more substance. For those who can’t break free of dull reflection, perhaps assignment to an inane asylum where convalescence and a tune up are required would serve everyone better.

Back to Top

Reflections on the Tour de Scam – May 2016

El Nino is a curious beast. Oscillating weather patterns, warm days in March, and ice melting on lakes, give way to cold spells, nighttime temperatures great for Maple syrup, but not for tops down on convertibles, unless you want to shovel snow out of a bucket seat!

Snow is great in season, delightful when it falls, exhilarating in a downhill sweep on a toboggan, but an annoyance when it comes and goes – and comes and goes! Time for the “Tour de Scam”.

The Tour is not possible for all, it requires time, inclination, and money. It need not be expensive; distance not essential for a good outcome.

The Tour may be run in a variety of ways. There is the southwest or southeast version, warm temperatures a must, dry sunshine or ocean breezes desirable options. Shorter varieties are most often determined by going beyond the snow melt line, where the days are not toasty, but warm enough to sit outside in the sun.

While scamming off friends and relatives on the journey is central, there are protocols: 1. Do not overstay – fish and friends get ripe after three days. 2. Go out for dinner at least one night, or at least offer to get lattes and bagels for breakfast. Bringing wine or beer also greases the way. 3. Leave them when they wish you could stay longer, not until they ask, “When will you have to leave?”

Anchoring a trip around an event can give the trip some additional appeal. Concerts or plays are a good way to celebrate having survived the first leg of a journey through Nebraska or Indiana. Depending on your age and tolerance for loud music, bear in mind that a Santana performance for a senior citizen can pretty much guarantee an increase of, “What? – What?,” behavior that’s guaranteed to irritate a spouse more than usual; ear plugs not a bad plan.

An extended trip in a vehicle can stretch the fabric of the most stable relationship. Modern GPS systems are a boon to travel adventures, but they most often fail at the end of a long drive and increase the likelihood of mutually “shared” reflections on the limitations of the driver or navigator doing anything competently, especially finding a hotel.

In some respects it might seem effortless, less stressful, and cheaper to fly to warmer climes for a break, although current air travel is anything but relaxed or problem free. It’s easier to grab a meal on the interstate than hope for the beneficence of an airline.

One other advantage of a driving tour is the opportunity to see the continent as you go. History, geography and local color and culture are there for the taking, with many chances to talk with people along the way who are more than willing to share their lives.

Flying may be quicker, but you miss a lot at 600 miles per hour. While the view from the heights can be stunning, the scam is off. What’s the point?

Back to Top

Ike April 2016

Small businesses, schools and government services make a community work. But those organizations are only as good as the people who populate them. Banks, restaurants or gas stations must give good service so people want to return. The threads of a community that make it strong are tied together by individuals – ones like “Ike” Patton.

You might have met or seen Ike at Raphael’s Bakery having breakfast or lunch with an old friend, or sweeping the sidewalk in front of Brigid’s Cross in downtown Bemidji in all kinds of weather. Dust, grit or snow is given no rest when Ike approaches. “I was supposed to be a girl. My parents had “Ike” picked out, and I arrived as a boy. The name stuck.” His more formal name is George.

Ike is from Federal Dam, Minnesota, born there on October 17, 1928. His mother and father moved to the Leech Lake community from Marshalltown, Iowa. The family ran a boat launch service on the lake in the days when fish were abundant. “Dad guided on the lake, pulling rowboats behind the launch for those that wanted to fish that way.” There was a park located next to the business, where people could pitch tents.

Ike graduated from Boy River High School in 1948. He stayed in Federal Dam working construction for a contractor who did work for Cass County. His brother went to school in Longville and moved to Bemidji in 1940 after graduating, to work at a bread business. Ike’s sister came to Bemidji to go to BSU. In 1956, he moved to Bemidji also “just to do something different”.

For a time, Ike worked as a painter. In the winter he would return to Federal Dam to take care of his mother who had health problems that required his assistance. Eventually he went to work for the Johnson Baking Company in Bemidji, hauling bread from Duluth to Bemidji on a regular basis, starting work at one p.m. and finishing at ten or eleven at night. He lived with his brother and sister-in-law for a time and then above Dewey’s from 1959 to 1971, when he moved above the old O’Meara’s Clothing Store, where he took care of the building and worked there for twelve years. He also worked for Tom Lloyd, hauling and delivering bulk oil all over the area.

In 1984 Ike went to work for the First National Bank. He transported coins between two bank buildings, did general maintenance and worked in the mail room. Back problems created difficulties for him and his work load was restricted until he retired in 1995. For a while after he first retired, Ike worked for Spaulding Motors. Since then, Ike has worked at Brigid’s three days a week, cleaning up after their busiest times.

Kristi Miller of Brigid’s Cross says of Ike, “He is tenacious in keeping the pub spotless. He cleans it from wall to wall. It is pristine. He comes in at five a.m. and is very fastidious with the floors and counter tops. Ike knows the building in and out, is proactive, and figures out any building problems before they become big issues.”
Ike has seen a lot of growth in his time living here. Early on downtown stores were open till eight p.m. on Friday nights, with many locals coming to shop, go to movies at one of the two theaters and visit with friends. That changed with the introduction of the mall and its drawing businesses away from the downtown area. “Some things got lost in that change.”

When asked if he had ever been married, he stated, “I was too busy for courting and romancing. Taking care of my mom took up a lot of my time.” Ike’s sister lives in Irvingboro, his brother passed away in 1976 from a heart attack.

Bemidji has a lot of people who contribute, who make it work. Ike Patton is one of those who keeps his part clean, making it enjoyable for all of us. When you see him making a clean sweep, stop and chat. It’s time well spent.

Raphaels – March 2016

Back to Top

Raphael’s 2016

Doughnuts! When the grandson comes to town, we go to Raphael’s Bakery and Café. On one trip, an attempt at rearranging a mangled doughnut with “sprinkles” met with the “death stare,” a shaming, pointing index finger and, “No Grandpa.”

Ray and Brenda Sweeney purchased the old Naylor’s building for their business in 1989 and remodeled it in 1991. Later, more work was done on the apartments upstairs.

Ray grew up around baking. He worked in his father’s bakery in the Twin Cities starting when he was ten years old, icing cupcakes and doughnuts. He worked at different bakeries in the area including Byerly’s, until the family came north, drawn to the area by stays at their cabin on North Twin Lake. Ray’s father purchased the Blackduck Bakery and the family moved there in 1973.

Brenda and Ray met in 1972. They have two children, Ryan, who works as a baker (doughnut master), and Megan who is manager of the Bemidji Target store. Many of their five grandchildren can be seen before or after school or on weekends in the café.

Bakeries in times past used to take Sundays and Mondays off, but Raphael’s has chosen not to. Vacations are few and far between. The bakery and café have seasonal and daily rhythms. “There is usually a steady flow. Holidays are busiest,” reports Brenda. “We manage things differently during the holiday season because of the perishables. Help over those times can be a problem also. People need time off. There are few backups.”

Both Ray and Brenda are early risers, but not as early as Ryan and Mike Pannkuk who arrive at two a.m. They start the doughnuts and Danish, then mix and scale flour for breads and buns. When Ray comes in between four and five a.m., he helps at the mix bench and the proofer, a temperature and humidity controlled cabinet used after dough is made up for the day’s baking. Raphael’s provides baked goods to Slims and some gas stations and convenience stores in the area.

Ray shares his recipes. The results have a lot to do with intuition and experience. “If you give the formula to ten different bakers, you most likely will get ten different results. We like to welcome people and have fun. Things need to be reasonable and simple.”

“No matter the customer’s disposition, they are all treated the same. We adapt. Wait staff is respectful of those who like to tease and others who like to be left alone,” reports Brenda

Some tables are reserved for different groups. Waitresses have nicknames for people and put down their preferences on sheets of paper and place them in a box until they know them better. Waitress hires are by word of mouth. Most have been with the cafe and bakery for two and half to four years. “When I make a hire, I look for that special something that will make them a good match. We have a lot of nice people working here,” says Brenda.

The restaurant doors open at five a.m., but “officially” opens at six a.m. “Years ago Elvie Burnham came in early and got the coffee started.” Brenda oversees the bakery counter and menu planning. All the restaurant recipes are hers.

Daughter-in-law Maria manages the dining room. Both she and her sister Angela Sanden can sense the mood of the room and adjust. For Maria every day is different. “You come and get a feeling of how it’s going to be. I read it, see who is here, and make it a point to get around the room. The people that come here become like a family. If someone hasn’t made it in for a while other customers will call them and check in on them.”

Both Maria and her sister Angela have worked in customer service. Maria trained as a travel agent in the Twin Cities and had thoughts of being a flight attendant. Both women worked at McDonald’s in Bemidji for extended periods of time where they learned customer service and management skills that Brenda feels have made them invaluable. Angela says, “When you get here you put a smile on and get to it. If things become routine you change it up and try something different. Attitude and team work is important. You have to trust one another.”

Cindy Andreas of Puposky is a long time waitress. She worked in home health care for three and half years before coming to work at the restaurant. “I was a waitress when I was younger.” When the time came she picked Raphael’s and was hired right away. “I like serving people and dealing with the regulars. I like the interaction and fast pace. Working in a place where you are isolated all day doesn’t suit me. I want to give good service.” She comes in at five a.m. which means she is up before four. “Busy times are from seven to eight a.m., but every day is different.” She loves customer’s funny and entertaining stories. “I especially like the ‘coffee ladies’. People here are pleasant to work with. You can’t be lazy.” The women who work the bakery counter and put in time back in the kitchen executing Brenda’s recipes are also part of the team.

Friendships develop between customers and wait staff. Shelley, another waitress, enjoys doing things for some of her elderly customers. “She will grocery shop, help put up holiday decorations and visit with them. Its part of her daily routine,” reports Brenda.

There are a multitude of breakfast and coffee groups at Raphael’s. The Byron Lundmark group on Saturday mornings are regulars. They have been coming for fifteen years for fellowship and friendship. Their wives have their own table adjacent to theirs. Byron says, “There is just something about this place. We’ve been coming her so long we get a reserved table.” Terry Smith chimed in, “We aren’t snowbirds. We don’t go any place.”

Jim Fink, another weekday regular, had this to say, “Brenda and Ray give a lot to the community. They do a lot of donated baking for different fund raising events.”

So when you think doughnuts, don’t think about those sitting on the kitchen counter in a cellophane bag for four or five days. No it’s the one with the “sprinkles” on top, mangled by a little boy, fresh, every Saturday morning. Just remember 444-BUNS.

This is one of the threads that is woven into Bemidji. There are many more and there will be more to tell. See more of Doug Lewandowski’s writings at


Back to Top

Threads – February 2016
Community in Latin refers to an unstructured group where people are equal, or to the spirit of a village, neighborhood or town. There are all kinds of ways of describing a town’s identity. The soul of a community however is something else.

Relationships are what make a town work. Government, churches and other institutions give structure to the desires, wishes and aspirations of its residents. People and what they contribute make it run.

To make the garment of community that protects, warms and appeals, requires a multitude of threads in a variety of colors. Each filament has its place, binding one to another to create a functional whole. The design, if it is good and pleasing to the eye, will attract. If it lacks, it will not hold our attention or produce value. Durability matters, fashions come and go. Who would wear polyester bell-bottoms in this age, unless it were for a very retro party?

As much as law enforcement and occasionally the courts are belittled by politicians, they make it possible for the rest of us to go about our business. The romantic images of frontier towns that appear in movies deny the fact that they were unpleasant places to live. We need law and order. Stability and the application of law must serve everyone.

Once there is order, enhancements occur, making life richer. Places where everyone can gather to eat, worship, learn and enjoy one another’s company, become the threads that bind the fabric of community.

Newspapers, radio, television and the internet provide a vehicle for maintaining relatedness. People are informed and made aware of things that affect their lives. The protection of rights given in our Constitution are enhanced by the free flow of information when responsible journalism is in play.

Non-profits provide services that the private sector cannot afford to give or has no interest in providing. These frequently voluntary, low-cost operations plug holes and fill cracks that government and for-profit organizations are unable to provide when need shifts. The less fortunate in our communities most often run out of personal and financial resources by dint of circumstance, not on a larger organization’s time schedule.

Other threads that bind but are commonly overlooked create and maintain physical space. The design, engineering and construction of buildings and roads is a complex interaction of a multitude of skills, requiring craftsmen who can see around corners and anticipate the implications of processes that baffle most of us, all at the same time keeping cost and efficiency in mind.

Over the next few months, I will talk about the threads that bind and the people that weave the fabric of our community. My first effort will be about the people who make “Raphael’s” what it is, both those that serve and are served. While no way inclusive of all those that contribute to Bemidji, the stories will I hope demonstrate the importance of relationships in making it all work.

Back to Top

Season’s Greetings – January 2016

Is it over? No, I don’t mean the 2016 elections. Some nightmares continue, no matter what side you’re on; lies, lies and more lies. It could be the latest Kardashian catastrophes – not really. Seriously – the Holiday Season.

We did have snow – a white Christmas. It’s just that there wasn’t much of it. If you snowmobile, rocks on the trail challenge the most durable machine. Cross country skiing? How many face plants can one person do with rock skis (skis you don’t care about) when dirt and leaves are underfoot – plenty. Buena Vista makes snow when “Snowmagedons” are predicted, a wise move given forecast reliability.

There is a lot to eat. I don’t mean the usual holiday meal of turkey, ham or dare I say the word – “Lutefisk”. This year in an attempt to make things easier, there were barbecued steaks and twice baked potatoes. A Kale salad was there to offset the artery clogging effects of meat, cheese and sour cream. An extra dose of a medically prescribed statin was sure to limit the damage.

Wine, wine, wine. This year the wood box next to the fireplace was converted to a wine cooler. Who needs to cut, split, stack, haul and ignite? Now its punch the remote and warm the room from the recliner. To heck with ash hauling. Careful not to sit next to it however, as it’ll melt your polar fleece. The wine stays cold.

In addition to wine, holiday brews are in abundance, downtown or from the other cooler on the shop floor. With nineteen people, most of them adults, having a dumpster outside the garage from Waste Management is not a bad idea. Saves a lot of trips to the transfer station.

Desserts were in abundance; there were a lot of pies, cookies and candy. The youngest grandson donned a red chef’s hat and apron and consulted with grandma about the proper mixing and spreading techniques for green frosting on sugar cookies. Even though the senior baker loves red hots, she was overruled by the apprentice.

Games were played; Trivial Pursuit a good way to unwind after strenuous eating. Some aspects of the game require cognitive capacity in good repair. Are you kidding, after meals washed down with a favorite red or white? Never mind the fact that some editions of the game require a knowledge of popular culture in the 80s and 90s. Sorry, Rap is not on the radar screen. Sticking with UNO with the younger kids is a good plan.

Thank goodness allowance is made for certain aspects of the season, like Christmas Cards. I suppose it’s not PC to say “Christmas” in some circles, but I can get around that by sending out salutations by mid-February, when memories of December have faded, thus avoiding controversy.

We still wait for snow. Valiant attempts by trail groomers at Three Island make getting out and away from the onset of cabin fever a possibility, even with the lack of raw snow material.

The snow blower rests and the shovel stands in the corner. If it gets really bad, there’s always the Kardashians. Geeze!


Back to Top


We sit on a deck in a yard, in the summer, on a cool morning before the sun heats up the day. Birds and insects fill the early hours, the air full of life, going about its business. A dog barks down the street. It happens not once but reverberates around the neighborhood, repeating itself for a short time – echo.

Physics tells us that echoes are a reflection of sound. Like many other ways of describing the observable universe, the labels of science bleed into metaphor and become the property of the writer, movie maker or musician, sparking creativity from intuition. An echo has repetitive qualities, can be imitative or elicit a sympathetic response.

A dog bark in the middle of the night, banging off the walls of surrounding buildings is an annoyance. Later in the day, the squeal of discovery by a young child of their power to incite the physical universe to a reflective response, yields a smile from a grumpy oldster awakened by the inconsiderate canine earlier.

Memory is an echo. It can propel to déjà vu. When coupled with sights and smells, the experience is more intense, eliciting floods of emotion and association, at times pleasant, wistful or traumatic. The chatting and chortling of Purple Martins recalls cups of hot coffee and donuts on a deck in the morning as birds nest in a house on a pole down by the lake.

The consequences of actions or governmental policies ricochet from the past to the present. What seemed like a good idea at the time, frequently driven by myopia or arrogance, becomes disastrous today; history a severe judge. The actions of the British Empire and other colonial powers, decimated native populations and set in motion conflicts that remain unresolved to this day. The partitioning of the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by arbitrary line drawing has exacerbated ethnic tensions creating an even greater mess. Our country with its chronicle of slavery and genocide is no stranger to the aftermath of short-sightedness and provincialis

Music is sustained by echo. It takes a theme and repeats the melody in a variety of ways, using different instruments and combinations, layering a phrase here, an expression there, plumbing the depths of harmony and structure. Modern improvisation takes echo to a whole new level. This approach enriches the textures of a tune or sound. Dissonance in this context elicits an emotional response in a very different way, taking the spontaneous reverberations of sound and twisting them to a different, more elemental awareness.

Writers capture raw material from the rebound of experience, add a dash of intuition and mix it with the flour of genetic bequest. Associations captured and teased from memory are challenged by the need to communicate in a clear, vibrant manner. Poetry, fiction and non-fiction that does not connect with the life experience of others is a self-indulgent, narcissistic exercise. Why do it other than to demonstrate how clever you are! — Really?

Whether it’s the yapping mutt in the middle of the night or the cries of delight as a child feels the power of their voice, echo, a metaphor pilfered from the physical world, opens doors to the unity of our experience.    

Back to Top

Cars, Cars, Cars

“How many car magazines do you get?” she says, looking at the checkbook.

I cringe – I was raised that way. I can’t help it. I am preoccupied with the latest developments in automobile design, technology, manufacturing and marketing. It has slowly descended into an addiction.

Seriously. I know I have a problem. I get three car magazines, Road and Track, Car and Driver and Motor Trend. I even put one of them in my daughter’s name so I could get a price break on a subscription. Utterly shameless!

Then there’s the websites perused every day: Kicking Tires, New Car Test Drive and Canadian Car Reviews and Consumer Reports. There are a multitude of others, but these are tops and I download them as I drink that first cup of coffee in the morning. The New York Times has to wait.

I blame my preoccupations on my Grandfather Alex. We used to drive around the back roads near Diamond Lake in Kandiyohi County on the way to the dump. It was always an adventure. You never knew if the snoose he was chewing would end up in the coffee can under the front seat or drift in the window when he forgot the can. As cars came toward us there was the, “Here come a one,” burned into my childhood consciousness.

Cars were at a premium after World War II. Dad managed to snag a 46 Oldsmobile. As we got older we moved up to a Pontiac Chieftain, then, sad to say a Nash Rambler. He gave that one up shortly after the right front wheel fell off. Then there was that sweet, green, four door 65 Chevy Impala hardtop with the 327. As we were launched, along came the Chrysler Newport, a true highway cruiser. Mom got a red 72 Plymouth Duster. It was scary fast. Touch the accelerator. You were gone!

As you can see I was well trained. Unfortunately the salary of a starting teacher in 1969 meant I drove an old Chevy Biscayne. That lasted a year. It being the 70s, I bought a Bug, a poor man’s Porsche. That must have really hammered dad. He’d come back from bombing Volkswagen factories in Germany. Marriage and a series of utilitarian vehicles followed. Tough to put three kids, a dog and bikes into a Ford Pinto. A series of station wagons and SUVs took care of transportation needs. No flash, no dash.

After kid liftoff, there was a little extra cash around – surprise, surprise. Instead of putting it into an IRA, I did the next best thing – went to a driving school in New Hampshire. Some would say, “He must be having a mid-life crisis.” That’s correct, no wine, no women, just learning how to left foot brake in a rally car. It WAS fun; still left foot brake, but no Subaru WRX-STI on my horizon!

Several years ago when the wife was out of town, I bought a little red Miata from a friend. My daughter was appalled. “Dad cashed in a life insurance policy to buy that car?”

You betcha, and I still have the tattoo on my shoulder too!

Back to Top