Posts from the ‘Thoughts on stuff’ Category

A Call for Civility

She was one of the plain ones in third grade.  No, wait.  She was less than plain. Her clothes came from her older sister, who got her clothes from HER older sister.

Besides, she never seemed quite as clean or as groomed as the other girls in the room.  They would look at her and think, “Doesn’t she know? Doesn’t she care? How does she stand herself?”

And what did the boys think?  If there was any evidence of girl germs in the third grade, she was prime evidence.

No one asked her to work on a school project.  She was inevitably the last one picked for teams of any kind: whether it was spelling bees or baseball games during lunch time, it didn’t matter.

Invite her to a birthday party?  It was rare. It took someone’s mommy that insisted an invitation be given to everyone in the class to include her.

And yes, other girls and boys found themselves targeted in similar ways.  The snubs, the names, the teasing, getting pantsed in the bathroom.  The teasing, the judging, the shaming, the name calling – all heaped upon kids who didn’t deserve it.  And the whole time, we knew they didn’t deserve it.

And you’re going sit there and tell me we didn’t have someone like this in your class?  That’s pure blindness, because these kids were there in more numbers than any of us are willing to admit.  The way we treated them festered and erupted into the habits we employ even now as adults.  We pick on them, we label them, we literally and figuratively spit on them, just like we did to those kids in elementary school.

It is time to break this habit – and it takes strength.  Can we alter our behaviors enough to at least be able to make up for what we did to those boys and girls in the third grade?  Can we shut off the arrogance?  Can we dispel the hate, the anger, the meanness?      

Human society has vacillated between barbarism and high levels of culture over and over again.  Society can change, and so can we.

These human tendencies, so unproductive, so ill-applied, are strong, but can be overcome. Turning off the innate tendencies of arrogance, judgment, hate, fear and the like is difficult to do.

Just as we have physical muscles that we can strengthen, I believe there are spiritual muscles.  They are love, joy, peace, faithfulness, kindness, graciousness, goodness, patience and self-control.  And just like those physical muscles, we have to practice and train those spiritual muscles to become the tools we need to treat each other with more civility. 

So, perhaps we need to dig beyond such human nature, beyond biology, and into the possible world of divine direction.

Ultimately, it is our choice to turn off those elementary school habits and to gain use of those spiritual muscles, and it is not easy.

 It’s our call.



Wally the black bear took his constitutional every morning, walking along the shore of Lake Wimoshee, seeking something to eat– perhaps a fish in the shallows or a bush of berries to pick.  Today, though, was going to be quite different.

Wally picked up an enticing, marine scent he had never detected before, so he raised his head and scanned the shore ahead of him. With his trained eye and hunting sense, he spotted something a hundred yards away.  His brought himself up to a quicker pace as he hurried to investigate.

As he got closer, he still couldn’t identify what it was, and the scent was stronger – a fishy, smelly, watery smell that was certainly not native to Minnesota lakes.  Closer yet, and he could see a large, lumpy creature, laying half in the water, half on the shore.  The creature was apparently unaware of Wally’s presence – it was humming to itself and slowly munching on something.  The creature made yummy sounds that displayed pleasure with its meal.  This puzzled Wally all the more.

Wally approached the creature.  “Hey, buddy!  Whatcha eatin’ there?”

The creature turned casually towards Wally.  It made a face that Wally interpreted as a smile.  It spoke to him in a voice that was half bubbles, half guttural.  “Oh hiya!  This stuff?  It’s what passes for seaweed here, I guess.  Ain’t nothin’ like I eat at home.”

“What do you mean, at home?”  Wally asked.  “Where ya from?” 

The creature was as cordial as can be. “I’m Scooter.  I’m from Florida.  I’m what they call a manatee.”

Well, Wally was up on his geography and zoology, so he knew for sure where Florida was, and he had heard of manatees, but he was confused.  What was a manatee doing in Minnesota? 
“My name is Wally.  I’m a black bear.  Now what in the world . . . ”  Before he could say any more, Scooter stopped him with a wave of a flipper.

“I know, I know.  I can see it in your face.  Why am I here?  Simple, Wally.  Had to get away from it all.  I was tired of the boats, the mangroves, the hot sun – I needed a change, so I just started up one river to the next and the next and the next, and suddenly, I’m in this nice lake.  I flop myself in the water, I take in the sun here – which is so much gentler than what I get in Florida – and I eat.  Even brought my own duffel bag of kelp.  It is so much tastier than this goop you got here in your lakes.”

Wally blinked, trying to understand.  His anxiety for is new friend increased.  “But aren’t you far away from home?  Are you sure you can get back?  I mean, geez, Scooter, the winters here aren’t anything like Florida.”

“Don’t really care – at least for now, Wally.  I’ll get back there, but I’m in no hurry. I’ll know when it’s time to go home.  But for now, I don’t care.”  Scooter slurped another piece of his kelp.  He contemplated his next bite.  “Maybe the local vegetation will taste better if I mix it with my own.”

Wally’s concern rose another notch.  “Geez, Scooter – I gotta say, I don’t understand at all.  You’re so far from home, you’re not sure when or how to get there, and you seem totally apathetic about the whole situation.  You’re one strange kinda dude, Scooter, manatee or not!”

Scooter flapped a flipper in Wally’s direction.  “It’s like my Uncle Daniel used to say.  He had two morals about life, and they fit pretty well right now. Wally, maybe you should think about them, too.  It might lighten you up some.  You sure seem uptight for a bear that sleeps all winter.”

Wally shook his head.  There was no figuring out what this guy Scooter was all about.  “And what are those two morals, Scooter? 

Scooter took in a breath, mixed his kelp with the Minnesota seaweed, picked a bit of kelp from his teeth, and stood up as much as a manatee could stand up, and said, “That’s easy.  Wally.  But for now, I gotta go get more weed on the bottom of the lake.  Wait a sec, woncha?”  Scooter slipped into the water and disappeared into the depths.  In a moment, he surfaced fifty yards out, blinking water out of his eyes as he floated on his back.  “So here it is, Wally.  Uncle Daniel’s first moral is “No matter where you go, there you are.”  The second is just as good, “If you don’t care where you are, you ain’t lost.”.

He dove again and disappeared, leaving Wally to ponder the philosophy of manatees.


St. Olaf College Orchestra in concert

Brainerd High School Gichi-Ziibi Auditorium

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

So on the way to the concert hall, I was hoping they’d play FESTIVE OVERTURE by Shostakovich.

AND THEY DID!!!  What a great way to start a concert!  Crisp brass, precise rhythms, all done in the great acoustics that is the new GITCHI-ZIIBI auditorium in Brainerd, Minnesota.

The piece is as Olympic as they come – it requires virtuoso performances from the entire group.  Clarinet runs, brass blends, strings flying their bows with mastery, and a solid, controlled percussion section to bring it all there.  A fine start to the concert.

The St. Olaf Orchestra, under Steve Amundson, brought their A game and used it wisely and beautifully all night long.

VALSE TRISTE (Sibelius) was next, with Amundson leading the musicians in a wonderfully sensitive tour of the piece.  Clarinetist Elijah Schouten bounced his way through a very showy last movement of the Weber clarinet concerto, playing with great facility and range that is so necessary for the piece.  Steve Amundson’s own composition GRATIA VIVA was next, a piece he wrote to honor a retiring St. Olaf College friend.  The piece is tender and deep, full of emotion and thanks.  Amundson wrote it as a thanks to his career at St. Olaf – he is retiring after 40 years of leading the orchestra.  As a tribute to the Ukraine and all the strife in the world, the orchestra performed MELODY, by Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk.  A beautiful melody wove its way around the orchestra, first very soft, and then filling the wonderful acoustics of every corner of the year-old auditorium.  St. Olaf alum Matt Peterson wrote a symphony for the orchestra (again to honor Amundson’s retirement) based on the writings of Minnesota Naturalist Sigurd Olson.  The symphony, entitled THE SINGING WILDERNESS, is based on various texts from Olson’s book of the same name.  Tonight, the orchestra played the portion “The Loons of Lac La Croix” – and sure enough, the program notes that cite Olson’s actual words, which describe hearing the loons in the spring as they cross the waters of Lac La Croix and how they and the canoeists would meet near Warrior Hill (personal note – I’ve been to that hill and seen that body of water …. Peterson’s music and the orchestra’s rendition caught it all!)  To end the concert, Amundson selected Arturo Marques’ piece DANZON No. 2 – a Latin rhythm filled piece of delicate dances and joys. This brought the audience to its feet, requiring the orchestra to play a traditional St. Olaf encore entitiled THE TURTLEDOVE, a sweet, short piece.

It was a nice evening of music.  I’m glad we went.


. . . And so much to be thankful for. 

My dad has been gone for three decades.  My mom for a quarter of a century.  In addition, there have been at aunts and uncles and grandparents that have gone on before me who are part of every single cell in my body.  I miss them all.

My two sisters Jean and Cher and their husbands Tim and Ger and their families – a great start to a list of family that extends to cousins near and far, nephews, nieces, (and GRAND-versions of those relations) near and far from every branch of the family, including a great group of in-laws.  Aunt Shirley, my dad’s last remaining sibling, a 94-year-old sister, adds her energy to our family functions. There’s my wife Sue, who has been with me coming up on four decades, (through rain, or snow, or shine).  Our two kids Heidi (and her Hubby Jon) and Steven (and his fiancé Shea), who have been so wonderful and such sources of joy.  And two grandsons – Jonathan, who will be two years old on Christmas Day, and Henry, who just joined us two weeks ago.

There are so many more – and naming names is simply too voluminous, so I won’t try, but I give thanks to God that I am surrounded by so many fantastic people.

There are many from my early years who I still see online or in person that date back to kindergarten – and that was 1959, folks!  Great friends that have delivered so much to my soul and being … friends from Parkville, from Mt. Iron High School, from the youth groups at church, and then on to Gustavus Adolphus College, where lifelong friendships flourished and still abound. I am proud to include former teachers and professors as well.

I spent half of my life as a teacher for the Pillager School district – a career of 34 years with great people – fellow teachers and students alike.  Some have left this world; some are still a big part of my life.  There’s no end to the list of people who blessed my professional career in Pillager, and then overlapped into my everyday life.

My entire adult life has been spent in the Brainerd area, resulting in so many good friends beyond my work at Pillager.  They are in the church choir, they are from plays and musical performances I’ve been involved with around the area, they are folks I’ve met through a great many different engagements.  After retirement, I found even more people who helped me foster some other pursuits – mentors from writing groups, bowling league team members, photo club gurus, and all-around experiences that have defined these retirement years.

The Facebook way on birthdays is to send comments and likes – and I am so glad to have so many friends and family who will acknowledge me on my birthday – I am always amazed at who takes the time and the good will to send a like or to add a word or two in the comments.  You are all so very special to me.  I always feel so good reading such messages.  And here’s a thought . . .

Facebook will often give the birthday people a chance to designate a charity to honor a birthday – that’s all good, but I want to break out of that notion. Here’s something I’d like you to consider instead of leaving me a birthday comment (but go ahead and do that too.  I am enough of a ham to feed sumptuously on that . . .).  It is immediate, it is easy, and it is beneficial. 

Take that good will I mentioned a few paragraphs back and share it with another.  Allow me to make some suggestions:  ask your grocery store clerk if they’re having a good day. Greet someone at work that you usually don’t see often enough. Let someone go first at a four way stop.  Pet your dog a little longer.  Smile at that person who is on the other side of your political fence.  Call that person you haven’t heard from in a while. Don’t get mad at the news (that’s a gift to yourself, really.)  Give thanks to anyone for a beautiful day.  Have that extra treat with your lunch – and get one for someone else while you’re at it.  Listen a little longer to whoever you need to listen a little longer to.  Add your own ideas – each one of you has it in you to do so.

And if anyone asks you what you’re up to, you can tell them you’re just doing an old TV commercial thing.  (You have to be about my age to know which commercial it is . . .)

Just tell them, “Charlie sent you.”

Thank you all.  Deus nobis familia et amicis.

Book Review: The Transformation of Chastity James by Kathleen Morris


By Kathleen Morris

285 Pages

Published by FIVE STAR

ISBN-13: 978-1432875312

Historical Fiction/Western

“It would seem I have a knack for killing.”

These are the first words in the prologue as stated by our protagonist Chastity James.  Here she is, folks, straight out of Vassar College for Women, claiming a straight-laced prominent horse farm near Boston as home, telling us about her desire to serve as a schoolteacher in the budding west of the United States during the 1870s and 1880s.  In first person, she fills us in on arriving in Dodge City, where she faces a few rude and crude school board members as she establishes herself in the role of school teacher to the children of the raucous and ribald cow town that is now her home.  She tells us about the people she meets; some less savory than others.    Her seemingly routine duties are crassly interrupted by one scandalous cowboy who has set his ten-gallon hat on Chastity’s womanhood, as it were.

From there, the adventure flies off the pages at the reader.  How does a refined lady of the east handle such doings?  She has learned to handle herself quite well, but then, when actual confrontation rears up like a bucking bronco, what is she to do?  The town turns on her, leaving her no choice but to flee.  In her flight, she is pressed into service as a nurse, a hunter, a lover, and even a Shakespearean actress in order to find justification in her actions.

Vivid descriptions set the mood well – from the clean, neat horse farm of her childhood to the barely sophisticated saloons of the west, to the broad range of weather conditions.  The characters, too, are strong in their morality, depth and culture (or lack of it) as the reader meets Chastity’s family, her friends and acquaintances in Dodge City, law enforcement figures (some famous, some not), a troupe of traveling performers who have surprising connections that may or may not open doors for Chastity – not to mention a good blend of thugs.  To top it off, somewhere there rises a love interest.

Author Kathleen Morris effectively uses first-person voice. In adventure after adventure of Chastity James, the story flows with a satisfying rhythmic pace.  Those pages and chapters pass by in a nicely designed plot.

One might say that Kathleen Morris, it would seem, has a knack for writing.

A Study of Experience

Elected Federal Offices held by U.S. Presidents

*in my lifetime, born in 1953

Joe Biden – 36 years senator from Delaware, 8 years VP under Obama

Donald Trump – none

Barak Obama – 3 years as senator from Illinois

George H. Bush – none

Bill Clinton – none

George H.W. Bush –8 years VP under Reagan

Ronald Reagan – none

Jimmy Carter – none

Gerald Ford – 25 years Representative from Michigan, 2 years VP under Nixon

Richard Nixon- 4 years Representative from California, 2 years senator, 8 years VP under Eisenhower

Lyndon Johnson- 10 years Representative from Texas, 7 years as senator from Texas, 3 years VP under Kennedy

John Kennedy – 6 years Representative from Massachusetts, 6 years senator from Massachusetts

Dwight Eisenhower – none

For what its worth; many say Biden has been around too long … I understand that.  Yet, you have to go back to Gerald Ford to find close to as much experience in elective Federal office, and even Ford’s presidency was an unusual circumstance.  Maybe its time we see some of this Federal experience might just pay off.


Soyala, Daughter of the Desert

By Cindy Burkart Maynard

173 pages, including a short glossary and timeline

ISBN: 978-1-54396-264-2

Self Published

Let’s go back almost a millennium to the American southwest and see what the people were like back then.  How did they make life work in the pueblos?  How did the family structure work?  How did they gather their food and prepare it?  Were there wars and disease to cope with? 

In Cindy Maynard’s book, we learn all of that, and more.  Through the life of Soyala, who we meet as a young girl, the reader joins Soyala as she faces everyday life in the time and place mentioned above.  The narrative involves four generations of her family, as well as other members of the community – some of whom come and go, affecting Soyala and her fellow inhabitants of the particular pueblo in which they live.  In time, conditions demand that Soyala and her group move on to a larger pueblo where they must fit in among a different clan.  There is love and loss along the way, and once established with the new clan, there is more.  A few twists of joy and tragedy cross Soyala’s path over the years, but there will certainly be no spoilers here.

Ms. Maynard does a brilliant job in illustrating conditions as Soyala experiences them.  The skies, the weather conditions, the personalities of the people, and even the strife-ridden situation are deftly described. As Soyala grows into womanhood and then into motherhood and beyond, the reader will meet shamans, hunters, potential suitors for Soyala’s hand, wise folks, and several relatives and village members.  Adventure after adventure form Soyala into the person she becomes.

There are some vividly described incidents in the life of Soyala that have me recommend this book for high school age readers and older.  The book reads easily, all within the 173 pages, which is a tribute to the author’s concise  and specific word choices.   

Charles Johnson

December 2020