What Betty Strand Pavlowich has in common with the Central Lakes Community College (Brainerd, Minnesota) Concert Band

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Sometimes the world seems a whole lot smaller than we think.

This spring, I spent my Monday nights rehearsing with the band mentioned in the title (its too long to type often). I play trumpet for the group, led by Steve Anderson, who has done the job for 26 years now, retiring at the end of this school year. I have played in the band over the years, having played trumpet, baritone, percussion, and clarinet.

A good twenty ago, a guy named Don Forte played trombone in the band. As he and I talked back then, we realized we were from the same area – he was from Eveleth, I was from Mt. Iron …the difference is he is 30 years older than me. There were several conversations that year, little of which I recall right now. This year, after having taken care of his wife for many years, Don was able to rejoin the band, so we continued our conversations. He is now 95 years old.

The night of the concert last week, he and I got to talking again … and he, after all those years, remembered that my dad was a railroad worker for DM&IR, as well as a few other things we had talked about back in those original years. His memory was flawless – he brought up many of the details of those conversations two decades ago.

Then we talked about him and what he had done. He had served in the navy during WWII, having graduated from Eveleth in 1941 – well, knowing my family history, I just had to ask … “Did you know any of the Strand kids?”

“Oh yeah – there was a Betty Strand in my class.”

I told him that Betty was by Great Aunt – and how neat it was to have a common connection. Oh how I had taken a picture with him to post here.

If you ever think the world can’t get any smaller …

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Brainerd School Referendum: something to consider regarding crowding.

FORD                                                   SCHOOL
A few years ago, I got into a discussion with a lady who insisted we could keep our old schools maintained and fine for today’s kids. Her reason? She owned and restored an old car …for our purposes, lets call it a 1961 Ford Galaxy. She said it was in fine order, clean, and running fine because she kept it up. Therefore, we should be able to do the same things with our schools. Unfortunately, I was not glib enough with an answer. Until now.
Okay, Mrs. Galaxy. Consider this. In your car, you have room for six riders … five passengers and a driver. You get to pick who rides. You get to pick to drives. You get to pick the rules – no smoking, no food, etc etc. You get to pick the destination and where the car is used and stored. I’m glad the car is in tip top shape. That’s a big accomplishment.
But now, Mrs. Galaxy, let me tell you this. Our schools are designed for a certain amount of kids…. Lets say two classes of each elementary grade – lets make that Kindergarten through fifth grade … with 24 in each room, that’s 288. And you don’t get to pick who those kids are. Now let’s say more people move into town, and that 288 kids becomes 325… and then 350 … and more. You STILL don’t get to pick who comes and goes. Imagine putting seven in your car, all the time … or maybe even 8 …. And you don’t get to pick who those people are. Will your car still hold up?
AND, you need to adapt the building for handicapped, whether there are handicapped kids assigned to you or not. DO you want to add a wheelchair access to your car? Remember, you don’t have a choice. You might get a kid who needs that. Has that Galaxy been designed with such a thing in mind?
So when you consider your vote in the Brainerd referendum, remember what the district is telling you. There are 300 more students than there are room for right now, with another 200 above and beyond that in the next few years.
You can find more information at blueprint181.org for more information.

BOOK REVIEW: WEST OF PENANCE

Book Review: West of Penance
By Thomas D. Clagett
278 pages, plus an epilog and comments from the author
Published by FIVE STAR, a part of GALE CENGAGE Learning
ISBN 13: 9781432831417

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WEST OF PENANCE by Thomas Clagett

Behold the cliched western novel – a gunfighter or two, a saloon singer, a haunted gold mine and a tribe of hostile Apaches. Not here – not here at all in Thomas Clagett’s WEST OF PENANCE. Through some fine historical research and hard work, here is a superb story spun out of a famous French Legion Battle, a Catholic clergyman and a land grab plot in the wild west days of New Mexico. Though the setting may be the American Wild West, Clagett weaves a tale that extinguishes all of those “Western Novel” clichés, delivering an interesting and exciting story as the reader follows Clement Grantaire from his humble military beginnings (on and off the battlefield), his growth as a spiritual leader, and his attempt to make good on a promise to a man he owes so much. This is a swell combination of a historical novel and the western themes of the Great American Frontier.

We first meet Grantaire in a poker game in Paris, France. No sign of a western tale here. On then to a flight from the law and into the secret life of the French Foreign Legion – still no cactus or horse in sight. Jump a few years, and the reader finds Clagett’s main character, having experienced a change of morality, serving the poor in the arid west of the territories of the new American frontier. Now, we get a savory taste of a western. Clagett weaves more of his tale, and sure as the sun sets beyond the hills, here’s our western, complete in its setting and its characters.

It is the late nineteenth century at the New Mexico/Texas area. Towns are growing as the settlers are arriving to farm, to be merchants, to create a new state. However, rich men hungry for more and more land, use every legal angle and corruption to gain acreage, strong-arming many in search of wealth. It is in this world that we find Clement Grantaire and a majority of his tale. Will he get help from the Sheriff? Who can he trust? Turns out, some are more trustworthy than others, and some are so corrupt that they can’t help but get in Grantaire’s way.

The worst of this bunch were those who chose to steal as much land as they could – be it through intimidation or even raw torture. The names and personalities are for the reader to discover – and those scalawags are as nasty as the rattlesnakes in the rocks.

Clement Grantaire’s allies a few, but effective. Some of the henchmen of the land grants bosses have a change of heart, for example, but it the strongly able lady rancher Rachel Scott who provides the encouragement Grantaire needs.

Thomas Clagett gives us deep characters, both the good and the evil. He gives us realistic scenes as the characters interact. He gives us colorful descriptions, concise dialogue, and solid emotions as we learn to love and detest each character and situation.

Thomas Clagett is a well-trained writer who has also done work in the film and television. WEST OF PENANCE is his second novel. Let’s hope Mr. Clagett continues to blend his practice of historical research with the world of the western genre.

PS … Since I posted this, I learned that Mr. Clagett is releasing a new book in April 2018.  Entitled LINE OF GLORY, it is a tale based on the last hours of the Alamo.  I am looking forward to it!

 

Shut up or Shut Down?

all three

Over the last year or so, I have delved into the world of writing to congress/senate/president, trying to be an involved citizen. Many of those folks heard from me regarding one issue or another. I didn’t just stick to my own people (Franken, Klobuchar, Nolan) but also Trump and several other major politicians, ranging from Pelosi, McCain, Ryan, etc. I got a few responses, most of them thanking me for the input – and such responses sounded like the typical boilerplate stuff they send out.

But there were other outcomes from my efforts. Since I emailed my thoughts, they kept my email in their banks. Ergo, I received many an email – many more than I got responses – soliciting money of all kinds. I was asked to participate in surveys – most of which were worded in such ways that made them instantly clearly useless to me. And you.

I got a true flurry of emails once the government shutdown came about. Surprise of all surprises, all blamed the ‘other’ side. All of them, no exception.

I’ve listened to the media talking heads – and I understand the thoughts of the various opinions over who did what and who is at fault for problems A, B, C and D and more. You name it … DACA, frozen pay for this and that – its all there. I think I grasp at least the basics of the arguments.

And the blame game continues. The Democrats blame the Republicans and/or the President. The Republicans blame the Democrats.

Plain truth is, folks, they not only won’t work together, maybe its time we face the idea that they CAN’T work together. They are ALL at fault, and its been that way for more than just the past year. There are five important words there – I’ll type them again. They are ALL at fault.

Solution? I don’t know. Vote them ALL out in 2018? Not sure that’s perfect, but its something to consider. If that’s what is chosen, then new candidates who are WIDE OPEN to run and work need to be found. Another solution: one of those leaders finally grow some guts and rise to the top of what we hope would be some kind of leadership position. It could happen … McCain is ailing, Bernie is aging, Trump is inconsistent, Warren – maybe, Corker, maybe – Jeff Flake? Maybe he’ll change his mind and run. Another solution: You tell me. Seriously, you tell me … and tell your friends, and have them do something. Clearly our Feds are stuck. I know I’m not giving up.

Time to take out the garbage. Literally (trash pickup tomorrow in our neighborhood) and figuratively.

Davina and the Vagabonds; A Review

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We don’t get many jazz groups here, but when we do we get good ones.
This past Saturday at Central Lakes Community College in Brainerd, Minnesota, Davina and the Vagabonds presented two concerts. We attended the second one.
We saw and heard a group that was so unique! Davina and the Vagabonds consisted of a trumpet (Zack Lozier), a trombone (Steve Rogness), a drummer (George Marich), bass player (Keith Yanes), and Davina Lozier herself on piano. The group gave us a taste of music that included New Orleans jazz, rock and roll music of the fifties (Chuck Berry and Fats Domino), and some original tunes. Originating from the Twin Cities, the band has become almost a cult group, having given rise to some very loyal fans in the Brainerd area and in many cities throughout the country.
Not only were they a tightly knit band, but each performer was a virtuoso in their own right. Davina’s piano skills were a joy to hear and to watch. Her hands flew up and down the piano, sometimes giving a solid rock and roll feel to the music, sometimes a boogie-woogie beat. Vocally, Davina’s voice, despite fighting a cold, was thrilling and solid. If there was anything unique to say about her voice. it was that she could be percussive, popping for consonants and clipping her sounds. Other times she could wail like Janis Joplin or a gospel singer. As the leader of the group and as the host of the night, her witty repartee with the audience contained humor, personal notes, and facial expressions that delighted everyone. She established a rapport with the audience of warmth and ease. The two brass players were clearly well trained and well-practiced in everything they played; each was featured with several solos, allowing them to demonstrate the jazz potential of their instruments. The bass player ran his fingers up and down the fingerboard and plotted the strings strongly and clearly, laying down a bassline for the group to follow. The drummer was just a solid, giving us kicks and rhythms that supported the band. Not to be left out of the limelight, the drum and bass player had their moments to shine with solo work as well.
A highlight for me of the night occurred when Davina had the stage to herself. She sang an original piece called “In the Deep End”, which she had written in a very sad mood. It was clearly hard for her to get through the piece as she recreated the mood that led her to write the song in the first place. A second moment that was particularly fun featured an interplay between the trombonist and Davina. She would scat sing few notes and he would answer on his trombone with the same licks – it was clever and surprising.
An hour, an intermission, and another hour passed by much too quickly. They concluded the concert with an upbeat New Orleans jazz version of His Eyes Are on the Sparrow”. After a standing ovation, they close the night with a solid performance of “Saint James Infirmary Blues”.
Thanks for the good night, Davina and the Vagabonds. Can’t wait to see you again.

WHY I DONATE BLOOD

BLOOD DRIVE

But first, a challenge: To all my FB friends who know the circumstances I mention a little later here, take the time to donate blood by the end of January. The website that will find you a place to donate is https://www.redcrossblood.org/.

Every 60 days or so, I give blood at a Red Cross donation site. I grew up watching my dad come home with a bandaid on the inside of his elbow. I grew up with a mom who was a registered nurse. The importance of donating blood is a family thing. The example set by my family got me donating blood.

It is not that I got right to it as an adult. I found the hours for most blood drives to be rather unavailable for me – but that, I confess, was a lame excuse. I should have started donating right away. I didn’t start giving regularly until I retired from my teaching job, and that was only 7 ½ years ago. But once I got to it, I really got to it…. I didn’t miss many times at all – and I’m proud to say that. I just regret that I didn’t make a bigger effort all along.

Lately, I have some very good reasons to continue. Here’s why.

. . . a cousin had heart surgery. And then there were complications.

. . . a friend had a lung transplant.

. . . another cousin’s wife died after a battle with inoperable cancer. She had had surgeries prior to this.

. . . I have a friend – a work buddy – who underwent treatment for leukemia.

. . . I have a former student who underwent treatment for leukemia and will be doing bone marrow transplant.

. . . I have a former student who had a child with a rare illness that requires special attention.

 

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These six are no more than 100 miles from me, and all pretty much needed blood in the past year or so – and there are more folks like this in my life who live further away with similar circumstances – California and Pennsylvania come to mind.

I would guess you know at least six people who would benefit from someone else’s blood donation. They, and so many others, need all the blood that the Red Cross can get. YOU can do this. Go to https://www.redcrossblood.org/ and find a place near you where you can donate.

MOVIE REVIEW: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBINGS, MISSOURI

 

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Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh
A Blueprint Pictures Production
Rated R

Frustrated with the lack of progress on her daughter’s rape and murder, a mother rents three billboards and uses the space to announce her displeasure with the local police department’s inaction. The story occurs in a small town of the backlands of Missouri, fraught with social mores that would embarrass many.

One must think writer/director Martin McDonagh had the Coen brothers over for a visit as he came up with the script for this movie. The story is dark, filled with vengeful behavior, crimes committed in full view of the audience, nasty language (cinching the R rating, as if the first things mentioned weren’t enough) but there are humorous moments as well, with biting, sarcastic shots from one character to the other and back again – all as would be expected in Coen movies.

Frances McDormand plays the mother here; this role is right in her acting wheelhouse. She gives us the seriousness in her character’s accusations of inaction by the police department as they flag in their efforts to find the person responsible for her daughter’s horrible death. She is stone faced in her confrontations with the police chief (Woody Harrelson) and so thoroughly in control of her own emotion – and yet we can see her seething underneath it all as the more she tries, the less gets done. She is certainly worthy of the nominations she’s already earned for her acting – and this is just another one to add to the list.

Woody Harrelson left his persona on TV’s CHEERS as good ol’ Woody Boyd from Indiana a long time ago – and as the chief of police in Ebbings, that innocence of Woody Boyd is long gone. The chief, as created by Woody Harrelson, is a professional all the way for the police department of a small town. He is aware of the lack of progress in the rape and murder of Frances’s daughter, and wishes he could do more, but he is facing his own challenges that require Woody to show us the flaws of a family man who must make some very difficult decisions. No spoiler alert here –

Sam Rockwell portrays one of the underlings in the police department – you might say he’s the Barney Fife of the town – the difference being that Barney’s bumbles were innocent goofs — Sam Rockwell’s character gives us bumbles that aren’t so innocent – and tend to be a bit more destructive.

Ebbings, as a set for the movie, is the typical small town, filled with aging brick storefronts and populated with citizens that, through no fault of their own, have quite severely limited horizons – a nice way of saying they’re basically rednecks. They gossip, they judge – small town America at its usual best – or worst. Camera work is nice, as we see the billboards, as we travel the roads with Frances, and as we watch the actions of the characters from the police department building to Woody’s barnyard.

A tragic movie, yes. Dramatic and adult, yes. (Spoiler alert for sure here: F bombs aplenty, if that matters for you). Biting humor, yes. Worthy of its nominations to date? Yes. Worthy of your money? Yes.