Book Review: A Notion of Pelicans

By Donna Salli
Published by North Star Press
173 Pages


I have met ladies who are like the women who populate the world of Donna Salli’s book. I would bet that when you wade into A NOTION OF PELICANS, you will find women you know, too.

There’s the church basement lady who is firm in her ways and solid in her faith. There’s the uppity college professor who makes sure you know her opinions. There’s the lady thespian who is proud of her artificial world on the stage but not so sure of her real world. There’s the pastor’s wife, who recognizes her place in the community but still has her desires. And of course, it all comes from the pioneering spirit of the lady who founds a church based on a heavenly sign in the form of circling pelicans above the hills along the shores of a beautiful lake. Interspersed among the story of each ladies are short vignettes of a night in the town where the church and the ladies reside. And yes, the lore that began with those pelicans so many years ago presents itself, sometimes unnoticed, sometimes obvious.

Each woman is featured in a chapter all their own. Ms. Salli more than tells us about each lady – she shows us the life and emotions of each lady. By the time we read of each woman, we know what she looks like, what her habits are, her preferences in culture and men.

Just like the women who have so many aspects, the setting of the story offers so many moods. The small town of the Pelican church is located on the shores of the Great Lakes, which can be clear and sunny, or stormy and dark, and every mode in between. Is it a cool night? Rainy? Sunny? What season is it? The descriptions in the book fill us in well with every breath of wind and movement of the lake.

Salli’s writing style presents humor and pathos as we meet each woman – her writing skills are many, and very precise, so that all the words are used in a crisp, clear manner. Each chapter moves right along with its purpose. Ms. Salli’s training as a writer began with poetry, so we see her preference of economical use of words, and of choosing the right word in every sentence.

I am fortunate to count Donna Salli as among my writer friends. I have been allowed in on some of the decisions that led to this book. In so many ways, I see Donna’s world, and I also saw some new matters that let me know Donna even better as a writer and as a person.

When you buy your copy of A NOTION OF PELICANS, buy two. I can guarantee you have a friend who will like this book as well as you will.


The Minnesota Twins, Veterans, and my fourth grade teacher

(this article was written for and appeared in the Aug. 13, 2016 issue of the Hometown Focus of Virginia, Minnesota)


Grandson Ryan Rossman and Mr. John Pagliaccetti

Baseball is a very American thing. So is honoring our veterans.

For every home game at Target Field, the Twins select a veteran to raise the flag during the Star Spangled Banner. At the game against the Atlanta Braves on July 26, 2016, that honor fell to John Pagliaccetti, retired Mt. Iron school district teacher, and his grandson Ryan Rossman. Mr. Pagliaccetti served in Korea, discharged as a sergeant first class. Major Rossman, still on active duty, has been deployed twice to the Middle East. Proud family members and friends were there to and share in the pride of the night. When I saw the event listed on Facebook, I knew I had to go.

In 1963-64, John Pagliaccetti was my fourth grade teacher in Parkville. People ask me who my favorite teachers were, and the name Pagliaccetti comes instantly to lips. My classmates and I recall an exciting, enthusiastic teacher, whether he was in the front of the classroom delivering a science lesson or playing baseball with us on the playground. I became a teacher, influenced in part from Mr. Pagliaccetti.

From my home in Brainerd, I caught the North Star train in Big Lake, headed for Target Field. When the train stopped at the Ramsey station, I looked out the window to see several Pagliaccetti family members boarding the train – John Pagliaccetti, his wife Loretta, their daughter Sandi Scott and her husband Tim, and their daughter Abby. In a lucky turn, they boarded the same car I was riding. We greeted each other with smiles, hugs and introductions. I learned that it was Abby who had arranged for the day. Abby, a music teacher in the Cities, had led a group of students who sang at the stadium awhile back, and when she saw how the Twins honored veterans, she thought of her grandfather and her brother, and how it would be so grand to have them selected for that duty. She completed the necessary paperwork, and the rest was all set. Then she posted the event on Facebook, and that’s how I learned about it. I asked if I could take pictures, and that’s how I got to be there.

The train pulled into the stadium with plenty of time. We found our way through the concourse of the stadium to our seats, where more friends and relatives joined the group, including my sister and brother-in-law Cher and Ger Anderson, who were students of Mr. Pagliaccetti as well.

Abby had instructions for us to meet at the flagpole at 6:30. Once there, Mark, the Twins official in charge, described what would happen, and that he’d be the cameraman – meaning that images would be on the huge jumbotron screen. As the time neared, Mark arranged the two veterans at the foot of the pole, with the family in a line extending from the flagpole. The flag was spread out among the family and friends and then connected to the flagpole cable. As a local church choir began singing the Banner, Ryan started cranking the handle that winched the flag up the pole as John guided it from the hands of those standing alongside. When the flag reached the peak of the flagpole, John and Ryan raised their eyes and saluted the flag, grandson and grandfather side by side.

Cheers arose as the anthem concluded. The family shook hands and embraced in prideful hugs. Mark arranged for family pictures around the flagpole, allowing those of us with cameras to take more shots as well. We returned to our seats to take in the Twins/Braves game and to visit and enjoy the evening.

There was another bonus on the night. Mark arranged for John and Loretta to be part of the Kiss Cam tradition at the stadium. In the break during the sixth inning, cameramen all around the stadium focused on couples as they kissed, their images appearing larger than life on the jumbotron. Several couples appeared on the screen, including a few couples from the Pagliaccetti group. The best couple of the night, saved for last, was John and Loretta Pagliaccetti as they kissed and then embraced in front of the nearly 27,000 fans in the stands. The ovation they received would almost rival any Iron Range celebration of similar joy.

Though the game ended in a Twins loss, we returned to the train, where we again ended up on the same car, and then saying goodbye with more smiles and hugs and handshakes. What a wonderful way to honor our veterans, and what a way for me to honor a teacher I so much respect.

John Pagliaccetti and his wife Loretta recently moved to Champlin to be near family. They have lived in Parkville, Mt. Iron and Buhl. Mr. Pagliaccetti graduated from Chisholm in 1950 and then joined the army, where he served one year in Korea. Loretta graduated from Hibbing in 1952. The two married in 1953. They have 3 children; Sandy, Gary and Debra.

Major Ryan Rossman, Sandy’s son, graduated from Chisholm in 1997. He attended St. John’s, where he was part of the ROTC program. He has been deployed twice to the Middle East over the years. Ryan is a brigade operations officer and works out of the Bloomington armory. Major Rossman is married to Andrea and they reside in Brooklyn Park with their 3 children: John, Lia and Grace.

The necessity of decency in teaching – and elsewhere.

After 34 years of teaching, there’s a whole lot I learned about the profession. Here are three of them.

If I insult students with handicaps . . .

trump handicap

If I reject students just because they’re new to the district and don’t ‘fit in’ . . .

trump and immigrants


If I demean women . . .

trump reporter

These things would potentially happen to me:

– Called on the carpet
– Suspended
– Fired.

I’ll leave it at that.



For at least one day, on our own Independence Day, let’s focus our attention on the word that comes AFTER those hyphens that are so popular nowadays. That word is AMERICAN.

You know what I mean. We have subdivided our citizens into so many groups – and I hesitate to list them for two reasons. I will be derided for who I list first (which may make me racist or sexist or some other –ist) or I will be derided for who I list last (same reason.) So, contemplate your own list.

And me? I belong to my own hyphenated groups. White- , Male- , Retired- , College Graduate-, Married- , Right handed- , Middle Class- , Lutheran- , Homeowner- , . . . and there are more.

Put the word “American” after each one of those and you’ll see what I mean.

I am aware that those hyphens matter – but maybe sometimes we get too wrapped up in them. I know I do.

Wouldn’t it be great if for one day, we honored the fact that we’re ALL American? Can we do that tomorrow, on our own country’s Independence Day? Can we set aside those hyphens for a time and be unhyphenated Americans?

When you go to a parade tomorrow, look around. All those folks there are Americans. They were born here. They were naturalized here. They work here. They contribute here. Shake some hands and say hello to some of them. Do the same at a community picnic. Do the same at your town’s fireworks display. Just for tomorrow – or longer than that if you want.

On our Independence Day, let’s focus on how our founding fathers used such great words as “We the People” and “All men are created equal” and “E Pluribus Unum”.

Give it a thought. Give it a try.

Trump and Clinton? Really?

Two years ago, it would have been ridiculous to consider that Hillary Clinton would emerge as the ‘old-school” establishment candidate.

Two years ago, Donald Trump was a mere TV name with some celebrity from his business dealings.

And look where we are now.

Mr. Trump clobbered his fellow Republican candidates in the primaries.  He has become known as a ‘shoot from the hip’ kind of guy, who holds no words back.  His words have seriously stung women, Mexicans, his fellow candidates, and Muslims, to name a few.  He has vilified our allies across the globe, and had good things to say about our foes.  He personally came up with nicknames for Republicans and Democrats alike – “Little” Markie Rubio.  “Lyin’” Ted Cruz, “Crooked” Hillary, and “Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren.   Even though he is the presumptive Republican nominee, the big name Republicans have been slow to endorse him, even to the point of announcing their intention to miss the Republican convention in Cleveland.  His policies have been deemed lacking in any substance, detail, or practicality.  (PS – thanks to a friend on FACEBOOK who sent me a site where I could read his platform in more detail than I’ve seen otherwise.)

Having been a teacher for 34 years, allow me to make a comparison.  Let’s say there’s a wonderful curriculum out there.  It effectively works for a great number of students.  It is well thought out, it is clear and concise, it is a proven winner in so many ways.  Let’s say, though, that the teacher presenting that curriculum insults his students.  He puts them down based on who their parents are.  He cusses in class.  He pays no more than lip service to the curriculum, preferring to give his own version and methodology to the concepts, couching them in the promise that the education he presents would be fantastic, amazing, and totally unbelievably wonderful.  Such a teacher would never last in a classroom.  He would be summarily dismissed for such behaviors.

And so is Mr. Trump.  His behaviors and his ill treatment of people negates anything his platform may carry. Mr. Trump should not be president, no matter how wonderful his policies and proposals may be.   His demeanor is unacceptable.

Her candidacy was considered more or less a formality, but then what, Mrs. Clinton?   There’s no question she’s been in the national and international scene for a good 25 years now, serving as the First Lady, as a senator from New York, running for president in 2008, and serving as Secretary of State.  There have been the elements of controversy over those years as well – you can name them in many ways, but there’s White Water, the whole Lewinski thing, Benghazi, email servers – and she’s been seemingly embroiled in them but never quite formally tagged with any charges.    Add the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, and that formality isn’t quite so secure, is it?

Yes, allow me another comparison from my teaching years.  As it happens so often, there is often that student in a class who seems to have it all going – smart, efficient, maybe, but this student is often the one who seems to be in the middle of turmoil in the school.  The kids come back from a bathroom break, and one of them is crying over something, but no one quite knows why.  Another student seems to get shunned by the others for some rumor that’s been started – and that rumor can’t be pinned down, nor can the source.  Upon investigation, there’s that student who seems to always be in the middle of such situations, but can never quite get pinned down as the source of the problem.  This kind of student drives teachers nuts – they know something is going on, but because there’s no hard evidence, there’s just that aura.

And so it is Mrs. Clinton.  I myself have problems with her having somehow running for and elected senator from New York – her background was a childhood in Illinois and then in Arkansas with her Bill Clinton – sounds like carpetbagging to me.  Then there’s all those other things – can’t quite pin them on her, but nonetheless, there she is, amid the situations in some way or another.

So, as of now, I have not selected a candidate.  In the past, I’ve hoped for Colin Powell.  I’ve also recently seen Gen. Michael Hayden.  Perhaps against all odds, one of these, or others like them, will get drafted so run for president.  Will Bernie arise?  Will one of the Republicans resurrect themselves?

I just have trouble thinking our choice is between an outright bully and one who apparently instigates things in secret ways.




Meanwhile, Downtown at Mac’s Bar . . .

… an effort to write what could be a monologue in a play . . .

Siddown and listen, willya? Look, it ain’t rocket science at all. We got these goofs running for president and you know, they got me steamed . . . I mean steamed like pure boilin’ water that just scalds me inside and out. Why can’t there be someone sometime who will just listen out loud instead of yack out loud alla time? I don’t get how they talk so much about how we gotta do this and gotta do that for the little guy but then they make it so some people who get so much more than their fair shake when there are people who could use any kind of shake at all, much less a fair one. And you know what else I’m sick of? I’m sick my car fallin’ apart from goin’ over bad roads and bridges. I’m tired of seeing pictures of the kids in school in ol’ flimsy desks that still got their grampa’s name still carved in ‘em and plaster chunks fallin’ off the wall – and then I turn around and see that there’s some big snot govermint dude pissin’ about how its soooo tough to only get a new car every two years and only have 15 weeks off a year and still get five times more money than good ol’ Dicky here behind the bar, pushin’ his drinks just to earn enough to make a house payment. Just don’t make no sense. And all that Middle East crapola – it just seems so useless to mess around with – but that doesn’t stop those weepy eyed talking heads on TV tellin’ me all about who is shooting who and how it costs so much, well, dammit, if it costs so much then why – hey I’m talkin’ to you – why do they do it? I mean, lookit ol’ Butch there at the pinball machine, who ain’t been the same in the head since he lost himself a leg with one o’ them roadside gizmos seven years ago over there and he gets told in the hospital he’s gotta wait and wait to get more help. I’m no more nuts than everyone else in this bar – we’re pretty much all good people here, and just want to see the govermint work and see all those poly-tishins pay attention once or twice when they’re in town. Let THEM get shot at and get a arm ripped off. . Let THEM not be able to make a house payment because the factory got shut down. Let THEM drive down the roads that are hardly better than dirt. Let THEM walk under the bridges and see the rust. Let THEM see our souls rust and corrode just like the bridges while we wait for ‘em to do something. Well, like I said, it ain’t rocket science. Hell, my beer makes more sense than those bozos. You just watch. I’m just gonna vote for my beer in the next election. It’s got a better head on it than any o’ those boobs that are runnin’, and I don’t care what party you’re talkin about. I just wish they’d get the job done or let’s just jerk every last one o’ them outa there!


MONEY MONSTER; a movie review


Starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts
Directed by Jodie Foster

Take your bigmouth TV economic show-off, add a quick thinking director of that bigmouth TV economic show-off, and multiply it by a very angry, armed small time investor, and you get this movie.

Excitement comes along in the form of nasty banter (F bombs aplenty, folks), intense moments between characters, situations that snap along at a pace that require the audience to watch and listen all at the same time – and don’t forget some of the humor (often snide, biting and/or stinging).

Clooney portrays the mouthy host of the advice show with a practiced eye – and it is clear Mr. C has observed such characters on TV, which allow him to craft his character with plenty of the personality we hate to love from such folks. He is dashing, he is quick – and yet plays it cool when the armed investor enters the scene.

Roberts gives her character a great deal of quick thinking skill – professionalism as a TV director, and some fine wit, which is a sign of some very good writing. Despite the emergency of a madman in her studio, she holds together her control room crew, her stage crew, and in so many ways, the whole situation. Solid job, Julia.

Jack O’Connell plays the down on his luck schmuck who has lost money in the stock market – and he blames the Clooney character for that loss … and in will no uncertain terms, and with any amount of anger, will extract his pound (or 8 million pounds) of flesh.

There’s more than the drama here. Clooney has given us films about the game show cover-up (QUIZ SHOW) and another fine piece on Edward R. Murrow (GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK) … and now this one that combines the loud brashness of a TV money advice show, an armed angry man, and a wall street deal that has gone so inexplicably sour – well, no spoilers here….

And as I was watching, I heard echoes of past films that addressed similar situations…. NETWORK, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, CHINA SYNDROME, and even THE TRUMAN SHOW can be felt as influences. Roll bit and pieces into the fine writing for this one, and there you go – another fine Clooney-produced number with a solid cast and good writing.