Posts tagged ‘Minnesota’

Book Review: IF YOU LIVED HERE, YOU’D BE HOME NOW by Christopher Ingraham

lived here

By Christopher Ingraham
293 Pages
Published by Harper Collins
Genre: sociology, biographical
Reviewed by Charles Johnson

The author, a writer for a Washington DC organization, did some research on the worst counties in which to live. Based on piles of data, his conclusion: Red Lake County in northwestern Minnesota was the absolute worst county of all to live in. With his article published, he expected little attention. Well, dismiss that notion, Mr. Ingraham.

He heard from the people of Red Lake county. But much to his surprise, it wasn’t all that nasty or vituperative – he found himself invited to visit the county, where he would be shown the highlights therein. So, he flew from Washington DC to Minneapolis, and rented a car, driving the 7 hours north and west, where he met the townspeople, experienced the small-town atmosphere there, where he visited farms, ate the right kind of foods, and shook hands with a good many of the folks there.

Long story short, he learned that statistics, accurate though they may be, often mislead, befuddle and totally confuse. Mr. Ingraham found himself appreciating the hum of the small-town life he found there.

Longer story shorter, Mr. Ingraham returned to the suburban life he led in the Baltimore area, where he had a small apartment with his wife and twin boys. After some discussion and talk, the family abandoned their big city life and moved to Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, (where, ironically enough, there is no falls . . .).

They quickly experienced the meaning of small town life – the shopping, the roads, the weather, the activities one can partake – and you can bet our author was treated to much of this – growing his own garden, keeping pet rabbits, deer hunting, ice fishing, winter festival celebrations, dog sled rides – none of which was the normal lifestyle back on the East Coast.

Mr. Ingraham writes with a humorous, personal voice in this book – it is, after all, his own story. His tales of the activities rollicks with humor and joyful discovery – and yet there art times when he writes with a sedate, reflective voice as he muses about the small town and its approach to the aspects of life – the pacing, the issues (schooling, medical care, and racism, to name a few).

New ideas, new emotions, and unexpected moments fill the book with a savory feel without getting sentimental. Here we have a good one. To read IF YOU LIVED HERE YOU’D BE HOME is to enter a world that dispels any thoughts that urban life is superior to rural life and that the stereotypes we have learned about both are not all that accurate.

Just like those lying statistics Mr. Ingraham initially started out writing about.


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.

ARTS ADVOCACY DAY at ST. PAUL – Feb. 28, 2017

art for all.jpg

Sue and I spent Tuesday down in St. Paul at the state capital as participants in the annual Arts Advocate Day. With a head count of 800 or so art supporters, our day went like this:

8:00 am – Rally, learning about the study done about the impact of the Arts in Minnesota, hearing from a few legislators who are on the Legacy committee, an award given, and then meeting in our teams that would head together to visit legislators.

Some things we learned from the study of arts in Minnesota:
Information is from the report prepared by that group. You can see the whole report at their website

Minnesota artists and artistic organizations have an economic impact in Minnesota of 2 BILLION DOLLARS.

 This generates a total government revenue of 222 MILLION DOLLARS

Minneapolis is the second best rated place for the arts in the country, behind only New York

 There are over 62,000 volunteers in the arts in Minnesota, provided over 2 million hours of their time.

Minnesota’s population is 5.4 million, but the head count at arts events is 18.9 million. 77% of these people are from households that make less than $100,000 – so much for the arts being something the rich people do.

Of the nearly 1 million students in the state, they see, hear and learn from the arts about 3 times a year from outside their own schools – either visiting artists or field trips.

10:00 am – our appointments begin. We met with Representatives Kresha, Heintzeman, Layman, and Poston. Then over to the senate building where we met with Senators Eichhorn and Gazelka. We had others scheduled but they were tied up in committee meetings – and that happens.

2:00 pm – back on the road, headed for home. Tired, but satisfied in knowing we were part of a big day.


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In the theatre at the Minnesota History Center – there are about 400 in this shot – the other 400 couldn’t get into the theatre.

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Our group (Group E – People from Little Falls, Long Prairie, Grand Rapids, Brainerd, Walker and other communities in this part of the state…. (I’m not sure I have the names right – nor were all the people in our group in this photo . . . please send corrections ….)

Back Row – Charlie Johnson, Joe Haj, Sam Grigsby
Middle Row – Millie Engisch, Mariko Yoshimura, Hannah Novillo Erickson, Kate Henricksen-Benes, Patty Norgaard, Scott Lykins
Front Row – Sue Johnson, Luan Thomas – Brunkhorst , Mark Turner, Chelsey Johnson, David Marty,

In this group, we had Five Wings Arts Council members, people who work for the Walker Art Center, The Guthrie Theatre, The HennepinTheatre Trust,The Reif Center in Grand Rapids, the MacRostie Art Center of Grand Rapids, the Lakes Area Music Festival, the Long Prairie Chamber of Commerce We were just one of well over 25 groups that visited all the state legislators that day.

Here’s our full group with Representative Sandy Layman

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parkville real one.jpg

My hometown … the field in this poem is at the arrow .. .the houses in the town are mostly gone now, moved out by the mining on the Mesabi Iron Range … but imagine all these town blocks filled with houses and families who have boys who want to play ball.  This is for them.

(dedicated to my boyhood friends who were there . . . )

Boys gather automatically

At Berquist’s field

No signal or notice

The game is on

They call their own strikes and foul balls

(No umps, no sir, never ever)

Disagreements work out one way or another


Jimmy, fast on the bases

Gary pitching, so smooth, so clean

John behind the plate with his classy Finnish catcher’s glove

Ole Olson batting so tall, hitting so hard

Charlie and identical twins Rob and Ron

Cover the outfield

Ready to catch ‘em all.


Ernine and his brother Etsie

the greatest nicknames in town)

Pull up on their bikes, shouting encouragements

as they lower their kickstands

Pull their gloves off the bike handles

No question, they know what to do next

One heads to the infield, straight to shortstop

One to the team at bat

Joining Jeff, Steve and Roy

On a bench by the third base line

Awaiting a turn to bat.


Just a year or two older,

Kim and Tom and John Lee

Lend their age-wise experience

In hitting, catching and pitching.


Early spring brings snow shoveled baselines

The summer sun hangs up in the sky longer and later

The fall skies get cooler and darker quicker

The game continues anyway

Until the ball is only a sound as it is pitched or hit


All comers welcome

Side by side, turn by turn

Just for

The fun

The pleasure

The joy.





By Candace Simar
267 pages
Published by North Star Press

My taste in reading favors people; real people. I’m not much for murder mysteries or romances. Give me ordinary folks who live ordinary lives but yet have their own stories to tell.

You can’t get much more ordinary than a community of farmers in a nondescript Minnesota township. Yet, that’s what Candace Simar gives us in this novel. Her ordinary people become folks we all know from our own lives; the blabbermouth gossip lady, the simple village idiot, the old maid to be, the mothers and fathers who have hopes for their kids, the kids who might dash those hopes . . . and let us not forget the community built around the businesses in those townships, from the farm supply dealers, across the street to the merchants, and down the road to the ramshackle Lutheran church which serves as the social and spiritual center for the people in this book.

Candace Simar’s writing style is warm and neighborly. Taking from her pool of wonderful words, she gives us descriptions that finds us saying to ourselves, “Hey, I know someone just like that!” There’s Tia the spinster to be, who could just as well be your own cousin Barbie. There’s Harvey, the struggling farmer who never gives up, even though his son Eddie is a simpleton – just like the guy down the road from your house. You’ve all met someone like Tillie – she’s the one who knows everything about everyone in the town and for sure will you can bet she will tell you everything about everyone in the town, often in one breath.

Your mind sees and feels each character – their clothing, their posture, their ethics . . . and you have felt their emotional disappointments, their victories, their hopes and dreams. You know what it’s like to not be properly dressed for certain social occasions. You know what it’s like to observe an awkward moment at a public gathering – or even have been the center of one of those awkward moments. All of this is here, made clear by the hand of Candace Simar in SHELTERBELTS.

The novel takes place at the very end of World War II. The boys that have left the farms to serve Uncle Sam haven’t quite returned yet; well okay, one does. Those in the township go through their lives, doing mundane chores, observing the weather and all conditions that concern farming, planning on money coming in from crops and egg sales. The radio is a big source of news. A few farms have been innovative enough to allow their houses to be wired for electricity, who some find uppity, while others become jealous.

But at the top of it all, the theme of community commands the reader’s attention. The mechanics of the social interplay become a stage of action for Simar’s writing – and she generates hearfelt actions out of that mechanical world. Through her characters, she reminds us that the community is out there, so full of support and hurt, all at the same time . . . and not letting us forget that our own community, flawed as it may be, is still so very near and dear to us.

There is a list of emotions that appear here – elation, disappointment, jealousy, spiritual glory, the joys of simple life – Simar paints all of them with a clarity and realism that draws deeply upon our own wells of emotion.

I just wish the book didn’t end so quickly – I wanted to know more about the characters and where they were headed. I wanted to read more about the improvement in their lives as the effects of World War II faded. Perhaps there will be a SHELTERBELTS II.

There are several books about community that I read over and over again, year after year – Steinbeck’s EAST OF EDEN, Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Hassler’s GRAND OPENING, come to mind. I’m adding Simar’s SHELTERBELTS to that list.

*I have had the pleasure of meeting Candace Simar, a writer living in central Minnesota. Other books she has written include ABERCROMBIE TRAIL, BLOOMING PRAIRIE and FARM GIRLS. I must also add that she is a fine SCRABBLE player, having bested me more often than not in the online version of that game of words.

Week 11 – Minnesota has a 2 Billion Dollar Surplus. Now what?



Here is what seems to be a recovering economy, the state of Minnesota will be sporting a healthy 1.9 billion dollar surplus.  That is good news – at least in the fact that not so long ago, Minnesota was in a pretty large deficit.  First, some history.


Back in 1999, the state returned a tax surplus of 1.2 billion dollars ( in a form of a check sent to families in the state.  According to this article, that check ranged from $203 to as much as $2000.

In the first decade of this century, Minnesota faced deficits of 1.9 billion in 2003 and 1.2 billion in 2005.  (

Steps were taken in these years to address that deficit, including raising revenue, cutting costs, and using reserves.

And now in 2015, Minnesota is looking at a 1.9 billion surplus.  Do we copy the Ventura years and return this money in a check to families?  The state Republican Party is airing ads that support this idea.  It has been done before, it could be done again.  I wonder how much this costs to do … back in 1999, the state spent a great deal of money (I wish I knew how much) on sending out a letter saying that a check was coming, and then sending out the money in a separate mailing.  Then there’s the cost of printing all the checks and determining how much each family should receive.  It’s a pretty labor intensive act as well, taking a good many work hours to accomplish the task.  I repeat, it could be done.

But now, here’s a thought.

When we had those nearly equally deficits, the call was that we cannot leave these deficits to our grandchildren.  That comment was heard often also at the national level, as our federal government faces its own deficit.   I agree – it is horrible to think that we’ll leave such a deficit to our kids and their kids.

Leaving such a thing to our kids.  How nasty.  How ugly.  How burdensome for them.

I submit that there is an equally nasty thing out there that we cannot afford to leave to our kids and their kids, and that is our crumbling infrastructure.

Remember the 1950s, how the generation before us created and built our interstate system?  Hasn’t that been a blessing to us?  Wouldn’t it be nice to do the same for our kids coming after us?

The surplus in Minnesota should be applied to repairing our infrastructure as much as we can.  I am no expert in the costs, but 2 billion dollars could go a long way in repairing or replacing our bridges, roads, water and sewer systems.  Let us not forget, too, our public buildings like city offices, schools, libraries, fire stations and police stations.

Should all of this surplus go to restoring our infrastructure?  IN all practicality, that probably wouldn’t happen.  There are other concerns about restoring programs that got cut back in those deficit years.  Yet, I would like to see a majority of this surplus go to the infrastructure.  All that is in the hands of the state legislature.


So here’s the deal.  If it was important enough to consider our kids when we had a deficit, we should also consider them as regards our infrastructure.   Let’s address the surplus in the same way we addressed those deficits – address it with our kids in mind.

Napowrimo 27 – Poem out of a common phrase

Today’s task: Google a common phrase, check out some of the resulting sites and see kind of poem comes out.  The phrase I chose ends my poem.


Our Land:

Rolling Farms

Pine and birch forests

Granite quarries and iron mines

White tail deer

Pesky gnat

Grey and little red squirrel


Our Sky:

Soaring Sun

Throaty thunder

Windblown blizzard

Cooper’s Hawk

Robin red breast

Ruffed Grouse


Our Water:

Cold or frozen

Natural blue

Swampland shallow, chilly deep

Walleye pike

Wary loon

Flashy panfish


We Minnesotans share a cliché

But it is OUR cliché

Five short words:


Land of Sky Blue Waters