Week 35 – For my Brother in Law on his 60th Birthday


cher ger

My sister Cher and my bro-in-law Gerry.


Today is my first brother-in-law’s birthday. Gerry Anderson has been around the Johnson family for – well, since 1968 by my recall, when he started hanging out with my little sister Cheryl. They dated throughout their public school years and then married in 1976, just a few days after I returned from a trip to Europe with the Gustavus Adolphus Jazz Band and Pop Choir – there’s s story there that involves Ger’s nice hot Camaro, a meal of hot dogs, and me suffering from jet lag, but that’s not what this blog entry is all about.

Anderson, Ger

Gerry, visiting me in the early years of my time in Brainerd. 1977.

Gerry is quite the guy. He and my sister make a whale of a married team – as well as any married couple I know. Gerry is industrious – he earned a college degree while he was working – and has worked for several companies, and owned his own. He is highly talented with skills involving tools (oh, I wish I fit into that category . . .) – which makes him awful handy to have around when the drier quits working or there’s some rewiring needed somewhere. He is a dedicated husband, a great father to his 3 sons (Hey – sounds like a TV show we used to know), and just a good buddy to all his pals – I include me in that group.
He and I have shared some good times – early on, he and I dealt in swapping favors involving camera equipment and travel – and speaking of travel, the four of us (Ger and Cher, Wilma and me) did a cruise to Mexico, which was a great time.
Gerry enjoys his ethnic heritage – no person I know can fire up and enjoy a sauna like Gerry does. (To you neophytes out there – that’s pronounced “SOW-NAH”.) He thoroughly enjoys his extended family – over the years, I’ve seen him revel with his siblings, enjoy his aunt’s cooking, and being dedicated to his mother. He is a serious hunter (Deer, elk, pheasant) – a hobby he has passed onto his sons, who revere him in the same way Gerry reveres his own roots.
Spoiled? Not Gerry – unless you add in his granddaughter. Then the guy is wrapped around that tiny little finger so very firmly and lovingly.

Gerry and granddaughter Raelyn.

Happy Birthday, Gerry Anderson. May there be a good 60 more years.

Week 34 – Protesting and Demonstrating with a Purpose

I have been a teachers’ union member and have gone to school board meetings when it came to protesting teacher cuts or some other educational issue. It would make no sense to go to the local gas station and expect my protests to be heard and/or acted on.

I joined in on a few OCCUPY sessions in our town. We stood outside the city hall once when the issue was government control. We stood outside a bank once when the issue was the whole banking controversy a few years back. It would make no sense for such a group to picket a cub scout meeting.

It makes sense for the pilots of SunCountry airlines to picket when they are in negotiations for a new contract. This just happened in our state, and their actions made sense. However, if they were to picket at a local knitting shop, it would have made no sense.

When Black Lives Matter demonstrates in Ferguson, I understand that. When Black Lives Matter demonstrates at Capitol Hill in Washington, I see the purpose. Recently, here in our state, Black Lives Matter demonstrated at a light rail station to protest police brutality after an incident that occurred there. That made good sense to me.

But I cannot see the sense in this. That same chapter of Black Lives Matter that protested police brutality at the train station will be demonstrating again to bring attention to police brutality. However, this time they are going to stand at the 25-mile mark of the big marathon race in the town, disrupting that race to bring attention to that same police brutality issue.

Could someone explain this to me? A marathon has no more to do with police brutality than a gas station has to do with teachers, or the local OCCUPY group to show up at a cub scout meeting, or pilots at a car dealership.

I hear it already. They have the right to protest. Yes, oh my and that’s a big DOUBLE YES you bet they do. It just seems to me that when you protest something, you are somewhere connected with the source of the issue. Take that demonstration elsewhere, and people will not necessarily understand. Your group may suffer a credibility problem.

Like I said, could someone explain? Please?

Week 33 Stephanie and Michael and Vance and Steven

Once upon a time, about 30 years ago, I handed an alto clarinet to a new girl in the school.  Julie enjoyed band, (she did pretty well with that horn, as I recall) and we got along well – to the point of where we kidded each other.  I told her she reminded me of Stephanie from the NEWHART show – you know who I mean; the dingy blond maid in the Vermont Inn, run by Dick and Joanne Louden.  Julie picked up the idea and referred to me as Michael, also of the NEWHART show – the shallow-minded tv exec. who drove everyone else nuts with his trivia.  It became a thing for us as we played our roles.  Julie was a student just for that year – maybe a bit longer.


Once upon a time, not quite so long ago as that, it became my duty to take my 5-year-old son Steven to the Early Childhood classes which were sponsored by our local school district.  As he and I sat on the floor, another young lad joined us, and I heard that familiar voice, in the proper Stephanie intonation and whine, “Michael!  What are you doing here?”


Yes, it was Julie, now married and with her son Vance.   The reunion for the two of us was fun – we got right back into the joke of being on NEWHART, and our boys played together while Julie and I got caught up on the last few years.


Once upon a time, even more recent, our boys had become the best of friends.  In elementary school, the boys would get together at one of the homes and just go to it.  They played, they talked, they fooled around.  They invented their own games.  Mostly, however, they built things with Legos and Construx or anything else they could get their hands on.  We parents marveled at their ingenuity and at their witty aptitude at building things.  There were cars and planes and boats and rubber band guns, all of which got built, tested, modified and rebuilt as the boys saw fit.


Once upon a time, as the boys got older, their aptitude to build and work together developed even further.  There were video games to conquer, paint ball guns to learn to use (safely, I might add – these boys were not prone to being rash and careless . . .) and so many other things.  Steven got a few lessons in welding from Vance’s dad Brian.  Vance picked up a few things from his time here at our house.  There was always something for the two boys going on – something fruitful and good.


Once upon a time, the boys graduated from high school, and still remained in touch.  Vance stayed in town and developed his own computer business.  Steven went off to college and earned a degree in theatre technology.  Yet apart as they were, when they got together, it was as if nothing had changed.  They boys now talked about constructing careers.  They talked about the finer points of their interests, sharing as only two very good friends can do.  They had their social lives as well, so they also discussed girls and dating – Steven was more active in that area first, but Vance caught up on his own, which brings me to the purpose of today’s writing. . .


And just this weekend, Vance married Alyssa.  Steven was the best man.  We attended the reception, where I danced with Julie – we both took on our NEWHART personas for a bit and had a good laugh.  Who knew, we mused, those many years ago, that our sons would be so tight, such good friends.


For me, it is a fun little quirk in my teaching career; having my son become such good friends with the son of a former student – and for the two families to so much enjoy the whole friendship as we watched it develop.


And so I wish Vance and Alyssa a very happy marriage – and I look forward to seeing what is next for the Vance/Steven connection. And HERE is the happy couple . . . (photo from Alyssa’s page…)
Vance an Alyssa Walsh

Week 32 – My Wife Wilma

My Wife Wilma

Sue and Me in Cologne

I have been gone for a month from my blog – only because Wilma and I took a 20 day trip to Europe, thoroughly enjoying ourselves as we boated from Amsterdam to Vienna – but more on that later, and I will make up for those missed weeks on this blog as time goes on, especially with some words about that trip.

This is Wilma’s birthday week, and if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll find I’ve been writing about significant people in my life as their birthdays come up. Wilma is next. And no, you don’t get to know her real name… “WILMA” has become quite a fun joke on this blog.

We’ve been married 32 years now. Wilma has been a superb partner for me. She has taken care of me in so many ways – she is my go-to. If I need to discuss something, she’s there. She sees that I have good meals. She sees to it that I take care of myself. She and I have teamed in raising two very fine kids – and I thank her for all of this.

Those of you that know her have seen a woman who works hard – who has a work ethic that is unsurpassable. She retired after teaching over three decades, where she taught high school music, elementary music, and a handful of years in special education. She has served as church choir director where she was admired and respected for her work there. She has been a driving force for 3 years of the music festival here in town – none work harder – well, maybe AS hard, but not harder.

She has been on the community theatre stage often – and we’ve shared that interest since the beginning, when we met. She was the rehearsal pianist for GUYS AND DOLLS at the local community theatre, and I came in to audition. Since then, we’ve been in many shows together – OKLAHOMA, RUTHLESS, a couple of the DON’T HUG ME plays, and two CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES. More to come, I’m sure.

Add to that a local choir that we’ve been members, where we’ve had some fine vocal experiences that in some ways rival some of the best musical experiences of our life – and since we were both music teachers, that is quite a list.

At home, we have our different interests, but we also share a great deal. We read, we take in movies, plays, and tv shows, we like much of the same foods – it goes on and on.

So during her birthday week, I thank Wilma for all she has been to me. I wish her a good many more years of good living and joy.

Week 31 OUTRAGE!


You could make your own list. This one is just a start.

Lions and Dentists
Abortions pro and con
Walleyes and Lake Mille Lacs
Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump
Flat Footballs and Brady
Precious Metals mining in NE Minnesota
Guns, pro and con
Voting rights
Mass shootings
Oil drilling in Alaska
Oil Pipelines through Minnesota
… and this is just recent things in the news

Do you sense it? Outrage is out there. It is coming from all kinds of people. Old, young, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, various ethnic groups, proponents of this and that, opponents of this and that . . .

I am guilty of outrage myself. I’m guessing so are you. And so is the guy down the street and the lady in the laundromat and the banker and the butcher. And the little kid in the barber chair and the . . . well, it seems like everyone has an ax to grind.

And do you notice how in the media (whether its social media like Facebook or the journalism media members) that name calling and insults are the rule of the day? It seems rare to watch a news show where diatribes don’t get a bunch of the news.

And this outrage sometimes is directed in places you wouldn’t expect. Close, personal friends get teed off at each other. Families argue at the dinner table.

We are all angry about something or someone. Where does it come from? Why is it so rampant? Better yet, how do we tone it down?

My theory – we have developed a certain insensitivity to others. We have forgotten what it is like to actually consider that the other person is every bit as sure of their thoughts as we are of our own. We have started to think that if someone differs with us, they are a bad person. We have been conning ourselves with such thinking. Maybe this arises from our displeasure with our government’s gridlock. Maybe it comes from the ridiculousness of stories we see on the news – or what passes for news (and no, I don’t necessarily mean FOX or MSNBC . . . consider also the ‘news’ shows like ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and TMZ.)

I think we have forgotten how to be empathic – not just sympathetic; we have lost the skill of sensing how others feel. We have forgotten how to sense what others are feeling and saying. We have diminished the value of good listening skills, of compassion, of true patience.

So look, if you catch yourself getting your neck hairs up, maybe stop a bit and take stock of your motives. Is it really all that crucial to get angry? Is there a better way to handle news you don’t like?

There is more fruit in such things as that. Let’s get rid of the weeds of the negativity and grow us some good stuff.

Week 30 – My sister Jean

With this week’s blog, I wish to say a few words about a gentle, musical lady I know.

tcgm 2014 Shirley Jean Aria

My Sister Jean

I refer to my sister Jean. She has always been so good to talk with for words of wisdom, for words of direction, for words of calm. Even as teens, we had ‘bathtub talks’, where we would sit in the bathtub at home (fully clothed, for those who need it explained to them) … and discuss matters of all sorts.

She is the oldest of the three of us – so she led the way through all those family milestones from first days of schools, to piano lessons in second grade, to confirmation, to getting that driver’s license, to college. She did all this quietly, calmly, and with a seemingly steady demeanor all the way. I can say I never saw her outwardly angry – at least not that I can remember. Sad, yes. Hurt to her insides, yes. Silly, oh my, goodness, yes! Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she can become angry – I’ve just not seen the kind of anger that comes with yelling/hitting/screaming kinds of behavior.

But what I have seen has come with listening and love and compassion – add your own positive words to the list and you’d be right. Need to have someone listen to get a different outlook on something? Jean is good at it. Then, when she’s done being good at that, she’ll be good at doling out some words that will be helpful and useful. This will often come in a form of a question, as she leads you to a solution.

And have you heard her music? She started on piano with mom as teacher when Jean was in second grade (as did we all … ) then she stepped up to the piano lady of the area, Dorothea Helenius Thomes, who had her playing all the usual piano stuff … the later John Thompson books, then into Clementi and Hanon and all the skill building stuff .. and then into Grieg’s piano concerto, Beethoven Sonatas … and organ at church wax next .. and quick, can you name another ninth grader who accompanied an entire production of AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS? Probably not. Choir accompanist, etc etc… even through college.

She and her husband Tim Johnson (yep – Jean never had to change her name) … have been together a long time, and have two good kids in Karin and Joel . . . it has been good to see these parents and their kids become such friends .. and a good deal of that is due to Jean’s gentleness and wisdom … add to that the granddaughters Cadance and Aria, and you have one pretty fine lady full of love for her family.

So Happy Birthday, Jean…. Best big sister ever.


Jean and Tim

Week 29 – Book Review on Colin Powell … and why he (or someone like him) should run for president

A Book by General Colin Powell

As I have been taking in the already overloaded and overdone presidential pool that is expounding itself before us, I decided to read about someone other than the standard presidential molded candidate. I read a book about Eisenhower to get started, and then I came upon this one.

I will say it now, and say it straight, and I hope someone out there will say either YAY or NAY to the following statement:


At least, according to his book, that’s my thought.

In this book, I met a man who grew up in New York City, the child of Jamaican immigrants (LOOK! I used the “I” word….) and was at best a fair to middlin’ student in public schools… and didn’t exactly fire it up in college, either. He got himself going in the military via the ROTC bit in college – and lo, a career military man arose.

In this book, I met a man who rose through the ranks, thought he had made it as high as he was going to get promoted, but then found himself advancing further because he paid attention and worked hard.

In this book, I met a man who learned that leadership is nothing unless there’s followship – and both require loyalty. In his military career, he saw the value of making sure the privates (the grunts of our army) were taken care of … and heeded. He related tales of how the upper echelon brass would screw things up because they did not listen to those on the front lines. In his public service career as Secretary of State, he found the same things to be true – the decision makers that isolated themselves, listening only to those at similar levels, were doomed to major mistakes in policy matters – his big example was the decision to take on Iran on the assumption that they had weapons of mass destruction — and that decision was wrong. Did President Bush and all lie about that as we’ve heard? According to Gen. Powell, no. The fault lay with the sources of their intelligence – some from the CIA, and a legal brief prepared by Dick Chaney pal Scooter Libby … (which I found interesting) … Powell went on to say that he was put off by using a legal brief for an international matter – he would have preferred intel from actual covert groups like the CIA … and the rest is history.

Also interesting – Powell freely states that the conclusion about Iran and WMDS was wrong – and wishes that could be undone. I like the humility in his words.

Powell also spoke of his relationships with so many others – teachers, other military brass, politicians, his family, international ambassadors of other countries – and how he learned something from all of them.

I got the feeling that Gen. Powell is a good man. He chose to not run for president, but as for me, I wish he had . . . and I am keeping my eyes open for one like him if he won’t run.

Any suggestions?


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