Shut up or Shut Down?

all three

Over the last year or so, I have delved into the world of writing to congress/senate/president, trying to be an involved citizen. Many of those folks heard from me regarding one issue or another. I didn’t just stick to my own people (Franken, Klobuchar, Nolan) but also Trump and several other major politicians, ranging from Pelosi, McCain, Ryan, etc. I got a few responses, most of them thanking me for the input – and such responses sounded like the typical boilerplate stuff they send out.

But there were other outcomes from my efforts. Since I emailed my thoughts, they kept my email in their banks. Ergo, I received many an email – many more than I got responses – soliciting money of all kinds. I was asked to participate in surveys – most of which were worded in such ways that made them instantly clearly useless to me. And you.

I got a true flurry of emails once the government shutdown came about. Surprise of all surprises, all blamed the ‘other’ side. All of them, no exception.

I’ve listened to the media talking heads – and I understand the thoughts of the various opinions over who did what and who is at fault for problems A, B, C and D and more. You name it … DACA, frozen pay for this and that – its all there. I think I grasp at least the basics of the arguments.

And the blame game continues. The Democrats blame the Republicans and/or the President. The Republicans blame the Democrats.

Plain truth is, folks, they not only won’t work together, maybe its time we face the idea that they CAN’T work together. They are ALL at fault, and its been that way for more than just the past year. There are five important words there – I’ll type them again. They are ALL at fault.

Solution? I don’t know. Vote them ALL out in 2018? Not sure that’s perfect, but its something to consider. If that’s what is chosen, then new candidates who are WIDE OPEN to run and work need to be found. Another solution: one of those leaders finally grow some guts and rise to the top of what we hope would be some kind of leadership position. It could happen … McCain is ailing, Bernie is aging, Trump is inconsistent, Warren – maybe, Corker, maybe – Jeff Flake? Maybe he’ll change his mind and run. Another solution: You tell me. Seriously, you tell me … and tell your friends, and have them do something. Clearly our Feds are stuck. I know I’m not giving up.

Time to take out the garbage. Literally (trash pickup tomorrow in our neighborhood) and figuratively.


Davina and the Vagabonds; A Review

We don’t get many jazz groups here, but when we do we get good ones.
This past Saturday at Central Lakes Community College in Brainerd, Minnesota, Davina and the Vagabonds presented two concerts. We attended the second one.
We saw and heard a group that was so unique! Davina and the Vagabonds consisted of a trumpet (Zack Lozier), a trombone (Steve Rogness), a drummer (George Marich), bass player (Keith Yanes), and Davina Lozier herself on piano. The group gave us a taste of music that included New Orleans jazz, rock and roll music of the fifties (Chuck Berry and Fats Domino), and some original tunes. Originating from the Twin Cities, the band has become almost a cult group, having given rise to some very loyal fans in the Brainerd area and in many cities throughout the country.
Not only were they a tightly knit band, but each performer was a virtuoso in their own right. Davina’s piano skills were a joy to hear and to watch. Her hands flew up and down the piano, sometimes giving a solid rock and roll feel to the music, sometimes a boogie-woogie beat. Vocally, Davina’s voice, despite fighting a cold, was thrilling and solid. If there was anything unique to say about her voice. it was that she could be percussive, popping for consonants and clipping her sounds. Other times she could wail like Janis Joplin or a gospel singer. As the leader of the group and as the host of the night, her witty repartee with the audience contained humor, personal notes, and facial expressions that delighted everyone. She established a rapport with the audience of warmth and ease. The two brass players were clearly well trained and well-practiced in everything they played; each was featured with several solos, allowing them to demonstrate the jazz potential of their instruments. The bass player ran his fingers up and down the fingerboard and plotted the strings strongly and clearly, laying down a bassline for the group to follow. The drummer was just a solid, giving us kicks and rhythms that supported the band. Not to be left out of the limelight, the drum and bass player had their moments to shine with solo work as well.
A highlight for me of the night occurred when Davina had the stage to herself. She sang an original piece called “In the Deep End”, which she had written in a very sad mood. It was clearly hard for her to get through the piece as she recreated the mood that led her to write the song in the first place. A second moment that was particularly fun featured an interplay between the trombonist and Davina. She would scat sing few notes and he would answer on his trombone with the same licks – it was clever and surprising.
An hour, an intermission, and another hour passed by much too quickly. They concluded the concert with an upbeat New Orleans jazz version of His Eyes Are on the Sparrow”. After a standing ovation, they close the night with a solid performance of “Saint James Infirmary Blues”.
Thanks for the good night, Davina and the Vagabonds. Can’t wait to see you again.



But first, a challenge: To all my FB friends who know the circumstances I mention a little later here, take the time to donate blood by the end of January. The website that will find you a place to donate is

Every 60 days or so, I give blood at a Red Cross donation site. I grew up watching my dad come home with a bandaid on the inside of his elbow. I grew up with a mom who was a registered nurse. The importance of donating blood is a family thing. The example set by my family got me donating blood.

It is not that I got right to it as an adult. I found the hours for most blood drives to be rather unavailable for me – but that, I confess, was a lame excuse. I should have started donating right away. I didn’t start giving regularly until I retired from my teaching job, and that was only 7 ½ years ago. But once I got to it, I really got to it…. I didn’t miss many times at all – and I’m proud to say that. I just regret that I didn’t make a bigger effort all along.

Lately, I have some very good reasons to continue. Here’s why.

. . . a cousin had heart surgery. And then there were complications.

. . . a friend had a lung transplant.

. . . another cousin’s wife died after a battle with inoperable cancer. She had had surgeries prior to this.

. . . I have a friend – a work buddy – who underwent treatment for leukemia.

. . . I have a former student who underwent treatment for leukemia and will be doing bone marrow transplant.

. . . I have a former student who had a child with a rare illness that requires special attention.



These six are no more than 100 miles from me, and all pretty much needed blood in the past year or so – and there are more folks like this in my life who live further away with similar circumstances – California and Pennsylvania come to mind.

I would guess you know at least six people who would benefit from someone else’s blood donation. They, and so many others, need all the blood that the Red Cross can get. YOU can do this. Go to and find a place near you where you can donate.




Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh
A Blueprint Pictures Production
Rated R

Frustrated with the lack of progress on her daughter’s rape and murder, a mother rents three billboards and uses the space to announce her displeasure with the local police department’s inaction. The story occurs in a small town of the backlands of Missouri, fraught with social mores that would embarrass many.

One must think writer/director Martin McDonagh had the Coen brothers over for a visit as he came up with the script for this movie. The story is dark, filled with vengeful behavior, crimes committed in full view of the audience, nasty language (cinching the R rating, as if the first things mentioned weren’t enough) but there are humorous moments as well, with biting, sarcastic shots from one character to the other and back again – all as would be expected in Coen movies.

Frances McDormand plays the mother here; this role is right in her acting wheelhouse. She gives us the seriousness in her character’s accusations of inaction by the police department as they flag in their efforts to find the person responsible for her daughter’s horrible death. She is stone faced in her confrontations with the police chief (Woody Harrelson) and so thoroughly in control of her own emotion – and yet we can see her seething underneath it all as the more she tries, the less gets done. She is certainly worthy of the nominations she’s already earned for her acting – and this is just another one to add to the list.

Woody Harrelson left his persona on TV’s CHEERS as good ol’ Woody Boyd from Indiana a long time ago – and as the chief of police in Ebbings, that innocence of Woody Boyd is long gone. The chief, as created by Woody Harrelson, is a professional all the way for the police department of a small town. He is aware of the lack of progress in the rape and murder of Frances’s daughter, and wishes he could do more, but he is facing his own challenges that require Woody to show us the flaws of a family man who must make some very difficult decisions. No spoiler alert here –

Sam Rockwell portrays one of the underlings in the police department – you might say he’s the Barney Fife of the town – the difference being that Barney’s bumbles were innocent goofs — Sam Rockwell’s character gives us bumbles that aren’t so innocent – and tend to be a bit more destructive.

Ebbings, as a set for the movie, is the typical small town, filled with aging brick storefronts and populated with citizens that, through no fault of their own, have quite severely limited horizons – a nice way of saying they’re basically rednecks. They gossip, they judge – small town America at its usual best – or worst. Camera work is nice, as we see the billboards, as we travel the roads with Frances, and as we watch the actions of the characters from the police department building to Woody’s barnyard.

A tragic movie, yes. Dramatic and adult, yes. (Spoiler alert for sure here: F bombs aplenty, if that matters for you). Biting humor, yes. Worthy of its nominations to date? Yes. Worthy of your money? Yes.


EscapeToFortAbercrombieFront - Copy.jpgBook Review: ESCAPE TO FORT ABERCROMBIE
By Candace Simar
Published by Five Star Publishing
49 Chapters
275 pages
ISBN: 9781432838188


Candace Simar’s first books featured the lives of Scandinavian pioneers in west-central Minnesota, living near Fort Abercrombie. In ESCAPE TO FORT ABERCROMBIE, Simar’s latest effort focuses on the adventures of children of those Scandinavian pioneers, as they struggle in the late summer’s heat to find their way to the safety of the fort amid an Indian uprising during the 1860s. Ms. Simar establishes the routine of the pioneer life in the first few chapters, complete with farm chores, disgruntled parents, children who think they are worked too hard as they hunger for school, and the escapades of the livestock. The next few chapters reveal details of the uprising at it strikes the Landstad family farm, just a few miles from the safety of Fort Abercrombie. A majority of the chapters concern the children who had gone off to school, arriving home to find themselves alone. They are required to scrabble their way to the fort through several days of hunger, thirst, and threats of attacks by both Indians and beasts. They are frightened in some instances, and yet they revel in their successes that allow them to progress their way – often at a cost that is not expected. Each chapter deals with an episode towards safety, allowing a buildup to the question, “Will they make it?”

Candace Simar gives us a fine taste of pioneer spirit in her characters – the reader meets the hard-working father and mother, each with their own set of regrets and wishes. The children bubble with the traits of their ages – the oldest, Ryker, has a sense of responsibility but still fights his own juvenile tendencies. The younger children follow Ryker, butting heads with each other and with some of Ryker’s decisions. We meet other adults – some of them Indian, some of them pioneers, some of them the soldiers at the fort – all of them lending a part to the story. All of them carry motivations that span from “I can’t wait to get out of here”, to “Why did I ever come here” to “I can’t stand that person” to “I miss him so much” – and more.

The spectrum of the action certainly ranges from peaceful serenity to frightful violence (therefore intended for mid-teens and above) . . . there is joy, there is suspense, there is relief, there is tragedy. Such emotions are not limited to the children. We learn, too, how the emotions affect the adults as we meet them through the book. The reader rides along with the characters through each cornfield, each mosquito infested bog and along wagon ruts and chilly streams to find a book that grounds itself in historical storytelling that is so well done by Candace Simar and her writing skills.

Book Review: AL FRANKEN, Giant of the Senate

Book Review: AL FRANKEN, Giant of the SenateFranken.jpg
By Al Franken
Published by Hachette Book Group
396 pages, including a forward and an acknowledgment
ISBN 978-1-4555-4041-9

What do you get when you read a book by a guy who has written for one of the premiere comedy TV shows of all time and is in his second term as junior senator from the great state of Minnesota? Do you get a light hearted, white bread pun-filled tale of silliness? Do you get a serious discussion of political philosophy and an issue-oriented debate? You get both.

Franken’s wit is renowned from his years on Saturday Night Live, and it shows up throughout the book – mostly in the first half when he discusses his years on SNL and in how he learned the ropes of running a campaign for the office of senator. The wit tones down some in the second part of the book as he turns more to his intelligence as he discusses issues, as he describes his feelings as he faces disagreement with senators from both sides of the aisle – and reveals who he admires and who he finds seriously in need of some help. In such cases, he pulls no punches as to who fits the last category.

To conclude the book, Franke includes a pep talk about thinking positive, of maintaining a constructive attitude as we struggle through the tough issues of the day, no matter where they come from.

But let’s not leave it there. I do think there are times when Franken spends too much time trying to sell the line of the Democratic Party – yes, its good that he does so to some degree, but at times, he surpasses that level for me. Franken includes a good amount of personal words – his family, his co-workers, his constituents back in Minnesota – and that’s good, too. Let me point out, too, that there are some fine tributes to citizens of Minnesota who have affected Senator Franken’s way of working.

AL FRANKEN, Giant of the Senate is a readable book – no heavy vocabulary to burden the reader; it is plain spoken and honestly stated.

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.