Book Review: HUNDRED MILES TO NOWHERE: An Unlikely Love Story

By Elisa Korenne
Published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minnesota
ISBN: 978-1-68201-064-8 (Paperback); 978-1-86201-080-8 (Ebook)
328 pages (Reader’s Guide and an Afterword follow the text)

In her memoir of her transition from Big City Girl to Small Town Citizen, Elisa Korenne describes her presence in central Minnesota as she transplants herself, a musician from New York City looking to improve her songwriting skills, to a small artsy town known as New York Mills, where she finds a new breed of people, one of whom becomes very important to her. It is a struggle in some ways, and a natural flow of her life in other ways. She takes the reader from day one (arriving in New York Mills, Minnesota from New York City, totally throwing anything resembling caution to any kind of wind) to the end of the book, where she finds she has become entirely comfortable in her new self that develops out of her New York Mills experiences.

We follow the love between Elisa Korenne and the man in her life, Chris. The two grow together and grow apart, and back together in ways that every couple faces. This is the ‘city mouse – country mouse’ element that the reader might expect – and the story is totally believable with every stressful moment and every tender scene that the couple shares.

There are other people here as well: her long-time friends in New York, her new friends in New York Mills; all of whom vary between nice, ordinary examples of Americana to eccentric folks formed by their surroundings – and of course, the families of Elisa and Chris. We find the landscapes of both places clearly described, often poetically – the big city has its manicured parks, its fine architecture, its robust and crowded traffic patterns. The small town has its serenity (and the boredom that often comes with it), its simple, slow life pace, and smaller vehicles (canoes and four wheelers) that would be out of place in New York. Ms. Korenne’s descriptions help the reader sense the qualities of both environments in every way possible.

Ms. Korenne’s adventures include outdoorsy tales of canoe trips and watching early morning birds in a field. Switch to the big city, and the reader is taking in the sounds and smells of city traffic – and indoorsy things like coffee at the local diner in the small town, singing for crowds in towns with populations smaller than her apartment building in her New York City days. Her writing for such goings-on include humor and an emotional range of pure joy to loathsome moments of conflict with even those closest to her. Guaranteed laughing moments: a wedding that features a blend of Jewish culture and Lutheran traditions, and an experiment in lost ways to experience adult language. Pieces of drama appear throughout as well – self-revelations, those outdoor adventures, and nasty weather top that list.

There’s a big difference in setting throughout: we find the hard-concrete world of the city, and just a few pages later, we find the hardscrabble existence of families who keep their houses barely tar-papered and sealed against the elements. The common element is Ms. Korenne’s literary vocabulary that keep the reader totally aware of every tree, every animal, every sound, taste and smell, and every twinge in her introspective mind and heart as she evolves into her new self – sometimes willingly, sometimes, not so sure about the whole idea. There’s a delightful, clear style here – literary, yet reader-friendly.

Suffice it to say, Elisa Korenne can verify that one can’t hail a taxi in front of the New York Mills Cenex gas station with a loud two-finger whistle any more than one can drop in on the Hello Deli just off Broadway in New York and order a pastrami on rye with a “Yah, sure, you betcha.” But, in the end, she sure makes her choice clear to the reader as she leads us through the years covering this memoir.

On the Fourth Anniversary of a Great Show . . .

church basement II

Here I am, four years ago with four talented ladies. This is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever done.

The show was CHURCH BASMENT LADIES; A SECOND HELPING. It is the second in a set of several shows that tells the story about the ladies who run the affairs of the kitchen in the basement of your basic Lutheran church in Minnesota. I played the pastor, who tried to keep these ladies somewhat on task. Let’s start with these four ladies, left to right:

SUE JOHNSON (yes, my wife) played Vivan Snustad, – the head, the leader, the ruler of the kitchen squad. Sue and I have done other shows together, but when we did the first Church Basement Ladies show, we just couldn’t resist when the Pequot Lakes Community Theatre scheduled the second one.

Sue was great! She enjoyed the part, she was funny, she sang up a storm. She brought out all of her tools and gave us one superb church basement lady.

Then there’s DANA GJOVIK RINGLER (she wasn’t RINGLER back then; Happy Wedding, Dana…) who played Beverly. We were stuck early in the casting of the show. We didn’t have someone to play the part of Beverly – and then, Dana was suggested. She was called, she came to a rehearsal, and fit right in – and it was her first community show ever. I sure hope there are more.

Side note: Dana is a former student of mine. One theatrical moment we shared: I directed the one act play for Pillager school one year, and Dana was one of the cast of that show. It was so special to connect again with her heartfelt Beverly, after having directed her in high school.

Like I said, Dana, I sure hope there are more.

Next is KATE DAVIS. She, along with Sue and me, was one of the cast in the first CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES for Pequot Lakes. She again took up the part of Karin, a young lady who is so very dedicated to working in the kitchen, and wants eventually to rise to the station now occupied by Vivian. Kate’s gentle humor and good singing gave a tender touch to the cast.

Kate has become one of the real leaders of the Pequot Lakes group – having been on stage for other shows, and even took on a directing chore, as well as some choreography – Kate, the multi-talented.

And then, there with her Jazz Hands out, is JANIS BEAR. She gave us the character of MAVIS, a lady prone to blurting out comical comments. Janis brings years of experience to the stage, having performed several times in the Brainerd Lakes area and down in Oklahoma, where she’s an English teacher and theater person who also had a good many directing credits to her name.

Janis (and her husband Dave) have been friends of ours for a long time – We go back to the 1980s, for heaven’s sake. Here’s to a friendship and theatrical experiences with the Bears – long may they continue.

I can’t close without mentioning the director of the show – AMY BORASH. Also a vet of stage acting, and of choreography and directing several shows. She led us into the script, taught us the dance steps, all with enthusiasm and positive words of encouragement. Not only that, she brought her girls to be backstage help – so thanks to Sylvia and Libby for all that. Amy also had a hip replaced during the rehearsal of the show, and didn’t miss a single session. Think about that for awhile.

So many others involved in putting on a show … Beth as our stage manager, the cooperation of the Pequot Lakes Community theatre and the Central Lakes College for having to stage the show in Brainerd –

Let me say that this kind of experience is why I’ve done community theatre, and will continue to do so.

MURDER BOOK by Frank F. Weber – A Review

Murder Book cover

By Frank F. Weber
Published by North Star Press
Of St. Cloud, MN
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-1-68201-068-6
263 pages

I live in central Minnesota, where the murder rate is quite low. However, according to author Frank Weber, when there is a murder in that locality, it comes from a dark world steeped in horror, suspense and a good dose of nastiness. Fortunately, the author also blends in some great forensic police work and characters who are believable, no matter what side of the law they favor.

Using actual towns and places (Little Falls, Pierz, Genola and the Black and White Café), we are introduced to a decade of interest in a cold case murder, farm families with ties to success and failure, and secrets that are better left as secrets.

We meet John Frederick, a native of the area, who has become an investigator for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He finds himself back home at the investigation of a missing ten-year-old child, but as he digs into the case, he finds threads to a different (yet very personal) case from ten years back. John is professional in his thinking, but his heart’s memory nearly compromises that work.

We meet Serena Bell, a lady that John knew back in those older times. She has retained her beauty, as well as her friendly ties with John. As they are reunited, other matters surface that she handles sometimes with innocence, sometimes with insecurity.

We meet the mind of a killer who manages to disguise such tendencies with the taciturn manner we have come to know as “Minnesota Nice” when it is to that killer’s advantage.

We meet a squad of criminologists who work together (mostly), finding themselves amid a crime that seems to lead everywhere and nowhere at the same time – or at least in circles.

We meet a team of townspeople as well, who work into the story in clever ways, thanks to the thoughtful writing of Mr. Weber.

The book reads nicely for someone like me who is not a big crime novel fan. Having lived in the area for forty years now, I know the locations and can imagine the surroundings as the events unfold – but I can also assure a new reader that the author writes in such a way that having been in Minnesota is a requirement before enjoying this novel.

The plot moves along quickly – I felt no slacking in the pace of the story, as is so common in some other crime novels I’ve read. At the right times, the suspense and tension ratchets up at a satisfying rate that will increase the reader’s blood pressure and raise the hairs on the back of one’s neck.

This is no pasteurized Saturday afternoon movie or the plotline of a MATLOCK episode. When you page through this one, you will be drawn into an adult world of crime, police work, personal failure and success, and even some passion.

I look forward to more crime novels from Frank Weber.

Our System: The Jury System. And Why It Might Be Good to Shut Up About it Sometime.

twleve angry


We use a jury system here. That means ordinary folks like us are called as part of the duties of their citizenship to sit as decision makers in trials. That means the prosecution and the defense actually unite in one phase of a trial (which is mostly adversarial by nature) to decide who will serve on such a jury. That means a judge instructs the jury before, during, and after the trial on many matters – and such a jury is expected to follow those instructions. That means the prosecution and the defense try as many ways as they can to persuade that jury towards a verdict, and that persuasion may include all forms of methods, legitimate or otherwise.

The jury system is also human. That also means it is not perfect. A jury can miss things by a mile or two. A jury can get it right. Or, it can come out somewhere in the middle of it all. Every day, juries sit in courts throughout our country, deciding everything from small disputes to major litigation of huge cases.
Most of the time, they get no recognition for their work. Most of the time, they just go home, job done, and may never be called to jury duty again.

Occasionally, certain cases become very public. The media breaks out weapons of journalistic strength. Groups affected by those cases show up outside the courthouse – sometimes well organized, sometimes not so much.

And, maybe too often, some of us get all balled up about the outcome of some of these more publicized trials and talk about how unfair, how evil, how crass a verdict may be. Some of us are sure (maybe even DAMN sure) that the whole system is just a sham, totally useless, totally unfair. We’ve seen quite a gamut of reactions – demonstrations, sit-ins, police stations surrounded, riots – you name it.

Like I said, the system is flawed, simply because it is a human concept. We have the right to express our feelings when and if we feel such a system is flawed and needs fixing. We have a right to go about it any way we feel necessary, and will passionately insist on that right.

But then there’s this. What’s your attitude when that letter comes from the court administrator that you are expected to show up for jury duty? Are you one of those who seeks out ways to ‘get out of jury duty’? Do you crab when you read the dates? Do you have all sorts of reasons why you can’t serve? Are you as passionate at getting out of jury duty as you are about expressing your feelings when a jury “gets it wrong”? What kind of example are you setting for your neighbor, your fellow citizens, your own KIDS?

We claim it is our right as citizens to vote, to express our thoughts on the government and its leaders, to make sure we are heard. We should also be as sincere when it comes our turn to do jury duty. It is a solemn, difficult job.

Reform the system? Sure. Let’s do what needs to be done. Are there laws that need to be addressed? Are there ways to make jury duty a more acceptable way of expressing our citizenship? Are there social standards that are in question? Yes, all in cases.

It just seems to me that perhaps we should just start with ourselves with a review of our attitude about jury duty, and a review our attitude about those who are serving that job for us.

Such a thing would make better citizens of us all.


(Personal Note: Yes. I’ve been called and served on a Grand Jury, hearing evidence on two different murder cases in one year.)

How I Spent Time with My Two Sisters –

With my wife Sue planning to be off to Indiana to visit her two sisters and their mother, I thought I should do the same with my sisters.

So –


My sisters Jean and Cher drove up from the Cities this past Thursday, arriving around 6:30 pm. (We won’t get into the getting lost’ episode at all.) I grilled up five brats, even soaked and cooked them in beer, using the burner on the grill. I also grilled 3 hamburgers, so I was ready to feed them when they arrived. Provided ketchup, mustard, pickles, onions, potato chips, and potato salad and we were ready for a feast.

After the meal, I presented Cher with a birthday present – (She had just turned XXX years old . . .)
A handful of weeks ago, Sue and I were in Indiana, where we browsed our way through a good many flea markets and antique stores. Sue happened upon the perfect gift for Cher.

Cher is the proud owner of a set of china that feature what is called the DESERT ROSE pattern. So, when Sue saw a DESERT ROSE teapot in one of those flea market stores, there was simply no question that we’d get it. For four bucks, how could we not?

Cher opened the gift – and oh, she was so happy! The DESERT ROSE china was our Grandma Ruud’s dishes, so this just added to the legacy and good fun.

Meal done, gift presented, and all three of us could hear the pontoon calling, offering us an evening boat ride. Down to the dock we went, complete with plastic cups and a bottle of cheap champagne that Jean had picked up at the liquor store. Out into North Long Lake we went, cruising into the western part of the lake (along highway 371) and back again, getting back to the dock right near sunset. Up to the cabin for a little chat, and then back into Brainerd for bedtime and some sleep. And yes, we emptied the champagne.


Get out of bed, get dressed, get coffeed up, and head out for some garage sales. The first is one down on Graydon Avenue – no purchases. But today, luckily, is the garage sale day for the North Brainerd Neighborhood Association – all kinds of stuff in many driveways in that area of town. The three of us wade our way through tables of doodads and gizmos of all sorts – through clothes hung on poles suspended between two step ladders – finger through boxes of books, of DVDs, of VCRs (remember them?), and we each make a purchase or two. Jean got a doll. Cher picked up a few little things, and I procured a nice Ryobi hedge trimmer. Nice shopping, ladies. Can anyone say “LUNCHTIME?”

And with us three Johnson kids, there is no better than A&W! Here we come, Nisswa! We park near the pioneer village and head right to the A&W – after a short stop in CRANKY HANK’s shop, where the clerk recognizes me as having been in plays. (Gee, that’s fun to hear …. ) and finally, 3 root beers and three burgers, along with fries. Can there be a better summer lunchtime with sisters? Won’t be the last; I feel that in my bones.

three nelsons and a&w

And more stores … down one side of the town and then the other. We started on the north side of town, headed south, got to Stonehouse Coffee and returned on the other side. I bought nothing, but my sisters found a few items each. It was a nice day for shopping … not too terribly hot, and being a Thursday, not so very busy as I’ve seen Nisswa get. Some ice cream at the Chocolate Ox, and I talked up some of my writing buddies that have books in the book store (Simar and Salli – I pushed your books well . . . .). Then back to the lake place (which was closer than coming home all the way into Brainerd) and start getting our minds set for the Nisswa Stammen concert.

What’s that, you may ask. The Nisswa Stammen is a Scandinavian Festival of quite a large magnitude. It has been running for nearly 20 years now, always on the first weekend of June. Friday nights feature a ‘sampler’ concert, in which a good many visiting musicians assemble, giving the audience a taste of what’s to come. I’ve seen the concert before, but my sisters had no idea what was to come – and this year, we saw some fine music. Ther e was Maya Kjaer Jacobsen, a Danish lady who sang some very nice songs . . . there was LUSTSPEL, a group of students from Lund, Sweden . . . and there was our favorite, Sara Pajunen and Teija Niku, who call themselves AALLOTAR. They gave us some superbly performed, highly sensitive music – one on violin, one of accordion, and both of them adding some fine vocals.


Let’s not forget, too, the others that performed. The warmup band gave us some nice music – and more groups performed … one precious moment glowed highly for the audience when two local girls (ten years old, I think) sang/rapped a song along with playing their violins with their instructor Arne Anderson accompanying them on accordion.

With the close of the concert, it was time for a late supper, so we retreated to PONCHO AND LEFTY’S, where we regaled our server, ate our food, and enjoyed an adult beverage… home, to bed, and wrapped a good day in happy sleep.


Not so much to report – we went to COUNTRY KITCHEN to breakfast, and then the two left for home.

It was a fine time – and a fine idea for the three of us to get together – just us, just the three Johnson kids.

us three




Sometimes it is important to recognize long-time friendships and the accomplishments of such friends.

Sue and I, along with our friend Janis, took in a performance of HEPHZIBETH, WOMAN OF IRON at the Pequot Lakes High School Theatre. This one-woman show was written and performed by Lauren Nickisch, who I have known for four decades now – and Sue and Janis know her as well.

The play is a story about Lauren’s great great great great grandmother – and to my RANGER friends, you will recognize the name. That person of so many generations ago was HEPHZIBETH MERRITT, the mother of the Merritt Brothers, who were so instrumental in the iron mining industry of Northeastern Minnesota. In 90 minutes, the audience learns about Mother Merritt, the adventures of her husband and their sons, and a good deal about life in the late 1800s.

She researched her family history to come up with the play. It took her a year, and then some. With the help of many, the show came to fruition. She’s performed it several times throughout Minnesota. Sue and I saw her perform it for the first time down at St. Cloud State a good 25 years ago.


But for me, this is a good deal about Lauren, too.

Lauren taught for a long time in the Brainerd schools – led an idea called WINDOWS ON…. Which was a musical revue for elementary school kids (oh, she didn’t do it alone – but she was there….) She plays the flute in the Heartland Symphony. She’s active on stage as an actress (SO many roles) and she’s directed many shows, and she’s been vocal coach for many shows. She’s active in the arts community around here, serving on several boards that deal in the arts. She and her husband C.J. have been a part of AARON BROWN’s Great Northern Radio Show many times.

lauren and CJ

On a personal level, I met Lauren pretty much when I first came to Brainerd in 1976 – playing in Heartland Symphony, and in playing in a few pit orchestras for plays she was in. She and my wife Sue worked together so very much on many musical events (for instance, the WINDOWS ON programs) … and then we all have done shows together. Lauren has been an encouraging factor in my own work on stage – a positive, teaching voice, a person who has helped me grow as an actor in many ways.

The dream – to see HEPHZIBETH, WOMAN OF IRON continue to grow. To my friends on the Range – she’s done it a few times up there, but hey, wouldn’t it make sense to have her come and do it for MERRITT DAYS in Mt. Iron?   See what you can do about that …. Or as Lauren talked about today in her after-show conversation with the audience, maybe a documentary, or a movie …

So, I am proud to count Lauren as a friend. Her great great great great grandmother HEPHZIBETH MERRITT would be just as proud.


(photos from Lauren’s FB page . . .)

The TURING TUMBLE: A game? A learning tool? It’s BOTH!

When I was growing up, Mattel produced a game called HIGH GEAR.

high gear

The object was to move your pegs along the procession of gears until you reached the top gear. Each move required the player to figure out where each gear turn would go and what it would do to his pegs – and his opponent’s pegs, for that matter.

When my son was young, he had a similar toy. It used gears that could be placed on a board, allowing the player to form different configurations

We both learned about mechanics, logic, and planning through the concrete examples presented to us by our mechanical toys.

And now we have Paul Boswell’s game – or, rather, his device called TURING TUMBLE.


In what appears to be a game like PLINKO on THE PRICE IS RIGHT, TURING TUMBLE provides more than random chips that fall into random slots. Paul Boswell’s innovative project takes those random chips and slots, throws in some cleverly designed pieces (ramps, bits, gear bits, crossovers, interceptors, pressers, a book with 51 projects for the player to try, and even red and blue marbles), allowing the player to learn how computers work.

To quote Paul from his video on his kickstarter page, “We know how computers behave. Turing Tumble shows us how they work.”

You can find Paul Boswell’s words, videos of his prototype version, and more information at this link:

The site will go public on May 30 of this year.

*** A personal note: Paul’s wife Alyssa is a former student of mine, as were her two brothers and sister. Their parents taught with me for 25 years. That may not matter to you, but there it is.