Posts from the ‘Thoughts on stuff’ Category

Presidential CRINGE

president heads

He is the president. He’s my president, and yours, too. He was elected by our laws and duly inaugurated, so on paper, he’s the president. Now, that’s just the raw fact – all talk of Russian influence and “He’s not my president” aside, I continue.

The office of president is revered. The creation of the institution of the President of the United States was a break from the idea of kings, of autocratic rulers. It is a position of great power, of great influence that has existed since the late 1700s. The entire world has looked at past presidents with awe and wonder at the leadership exhibited by our presidents.

We have video of George Bush reading to elementary students. We have Barack Obama singing AMAZING GRACE. We have Ronald Reagan challenging Mr. Gorbachev to tear down a wall. We have Jimmy Carter, forty years out of office, working to build homes for Habitat for Humanity. We have LBJ signing a civil rights bill. We have Nixon opening relations with China. We have many citizens who have served in the Peace Corps because JFK saw the need and pushed it into being. We have Eisenhower building an interstate highway system. We have the calming effects of fireside chats on that new-fangled radio with FDR. These are some of our past presidents providing reasons why the office of the President of the United States has become so respected and revered.

But I Cringe to watch our president. Cringe. With a capital C.

This man presently holding the office in the last eight months has soiled that office with his words, his lack of fruitful actions, and his disregard for the history that those past presidents have provided.

Shall I enumerate them? Where do you want to start? There’s a long list. Say what you want to about the latest storm (his Charlottesville comments; versions 1,2 and 3), but since January 20, 2017, there’s been one bizarre circumstance after the other of which Charlottesville is just the end of the list.

While the president tweets about fake news, young children are awaiting the school year to start where they experience old textbooks and crumbling buildings. While the president blusters about a wall, our soldiers wonder if they’ll be sent into a military (possibly nuclear) conflict. While the president gets in several rounds of golf while on vacation, there has been no bill passed that addresses the bridges, roads, utilities and other infrastructure needs across our fifty states. While the president listens to some people who have zero experience in government (at any level at all), any kind of tax reform sits and decays. While he disparages women, health care dies on the floor of congress several times.

And energy. And labor. And international diplomacy. And budgets. These matters – these routine matters, are not given their necessary attention. Never mind the promises (walls, jobs, being the greatest everything possible) made by the president during his campaign that have yet to even receive a start, much less been realized.

It is time for the talking heads (whether in the media or in congress or in gathering places across the country from the small restaurants on main street to board rooms in corporate offices) to call for the present man in the office of President of the United States (Donald Trump) to live up to the standards that we have seen from past presidents.

And if he can’t do that, get out.

BOOK REVIEW: DEAR HOMEFOLKS

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BOOK REVIEW:
DEAR HOMEFOLKS
By Candace Simar
Published by River Place Press
Of Aitkin, Minnesota
ISBN 978-0-9989116-2-5
195 pages

If this collection of short stories and poems were a restaurant, it would get five stars for its offerings.

Candace Simar provides a large menu of literary tastes in DEAR HOMEFOLKS. There are longer stories several pages long for the larger appetite. There are shorter stories of just a few pages to cleanse the reader’s palette. Is gourmet more to your liking? There’s some of that, but then there’s some very tasty ‘meat and potatoes’ stories, too. Do you want some dessert? There are humorous accounts as well.

Candace Simar draws from several sources for DEAR HOMEFOLKS. She gives us a taste of her understanding of the pioneer prairie days of Minnesota that you may have read in her Fort Abercrombie books. There are testaments to her Scandinavian heritage. There are some touching memoir-type moments, as the reader gets to meet the real Candace Simar as she reveals herself in a story or two about her own life experiences. There is a bit of a follow-up (maybe you could call it a semi-sequel) to one of her later books, SHELTERBELTS, in which we meet one of the characters of that book as he struggles to maintain his farm.

As for the poems, they are often paired with one of the stories – and the pairing reinforces both the story and the poem. You’ll find this especially true in the memoir section of the book.

Yes, there are sections; four of them. Each section is set off by a page with a short paragraph or two from the author, where she offers an introduction of sorts to each section. This lends yet another angle of getting to know the author in a personal way.

The tone throughout the book, like the first paragraph mentions, is a grand taste of Candace Simar’s writing. The vocabulary is accessible to all, the style is warm. The storytelling offers a spectrum of emotions from sadness to some truly happy and joyous pronouncements.

Candace Simar’s DEAR HOMEFOLKS would be a solid addition to the bookcase at home.

 

BOOK REVIEW: THIS STRANGE WILDERNESS The Life and Art of John James Audubon

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BOOK REVIEW:
THIS STRANGE WILDERNESS
The Life and Art of John James Audubon
Juvenile Nonfiction by Nancy Plain
Published by University of Nebraska Press
91 Pages, followed by an appendix of notes, glossary and index
ISBN 978-9-8032-4884-7

John James Audubon – the boring bird man, right?

In Nancy Plain’s well -researched book, the reader finds out that Audubon was much more than that boring birdman. John James Audubon’s life crossed international borders, reached levels of academic achievement on his own, enjoyed his family, and truly experienced the American pioneer years as they grew from its very rugged beginnings in the early 1800s until his death in 1851. He influenced the entire world of sciences with his observations, thoughts, and artwork.

The reader meets the young James in his birthplace of Haiti. Then off he goes to France, then to America, where he travels the outback of the new country – and his artwork brings him back to the larger cities in search of a publisher for his work – and even to England for more publishing opportunities before he returns home to an America that finally recognized his work for the excellence it held.

Ms. Plain takes us on the journeys that Audubon underwent, as he observed new species, as he added to the knowledge of already known birds. These trips included the frontiers of Kentucky, the bayous of Louisiana, and the far reaches of the remote north end of the Missouri River. Audubon meets a variety of folks on his travels – the roughnecks in the local taverns, other naturalists who question his skills and abilities, and some Native Americans, who leave quite an impression on the artist/scientist.

Ms. Plain includes a large selection of the artwork of Audubon – from the smallest sparrow to the egrets and eagles. These pictures became the basis of the definitive book on the birds of America – and that book and those colorful drawings are still the standard of anyone who calls himself a ‘naturalist’, as Audubon often chose to call himself.

The book is billed for juveniles – starting with ten-year-old readers. Even with the great amount of illustrations, the text is extensive and the vocabulary is not for the beginning reader. The color illustrations are interesting to explore for the features of the bird and the habitat that is favored by that bird. Some of the illustrations are quite graphic when it came to the meat eating birds – causing controversy even when they first appeared in print. To add to the bird art, there are also some pictures of John James Audubon himself, and of some of the homes he lived in. Maps of the Audubon excursions would have been a good plus to include – perhaps such will show up in future editions of the book.

There is a strong historical value in this book for the young reader seeking to learn more about the man and his times – not only does Ms. Plain deliver deeper details about Audubon, but she also includes a solid basis of the first half of the 19th century of American History.

You can’t ask for much more.

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

MURDER BOOK
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.

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Scene from TWELVE ANGRY MEN

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.

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(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 –

DAY 1

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.

DAY 2

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.

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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.

DAY 3

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

Nice.