J.B.’s Expectations

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee

Living with other people’s expectations stinks.

My dad was a terrible student. He was brilliant but never could buckle down to teachers’ expectations. He ended up flunking a few grades, but then skipping grades in between; he just barely made it through law school, graduating in the bottom quarter of his class. He was always disappointed that he hadn’t achieved higher grades or a better standing

And as often happens, his expectations for himself fell directly onto his children and manifested themselves in what my middle sister and I always called the “What Next Syndrome”. Every achievement was met with “That’s nice, what next?” What grade will you get next semester, what level class will you take next, what goal are you setting for yourself next? It made it seem as if no achievement was ever good enough in itself – only as a stepping stone to whatever was “next”. My sister got out from under this weight by blowing off school, blowing off grades and blowing off my dad whenever he got blustery. I went the other direction, excelling at school and working hard on all my next steps.

By the time I began to look at colleges, my dad’s expectations were starting to wear me down. He came home with a big fat reference book of all the colleges and universities that listed all their SAT and Achievement Test scores; he announced that I could only go to a place that had really high scores as their norm.   JBExpectationsVennAs a lover of Minnesota and Wisconsin, I promptly announced that I would only go to a school in one of those two states. If you love Venn diagrams, you can guess that the intersection of our two announcements wasn’t too large!

We both got our way. I ended up at Carleton; it was in his book and it was in Minnesota. Of course, as these things usually go, it wasn’t a fairy-tale ending. I didn’t like it all that much and ended up dropping out, not getting my degree until I was 39! I’ve always wondered if I had gone to a different school (read “with more social life than just studying”), I would have been happier and stuck with it. I guess I’ll never know. I do know that I’ve worked really hard over the years to not settle MY expectations about school and grades onto my child. And it’s been hard.

When have expectations tripped you up?

Hidden History

Today’s guest post is by Cynthia in Mahtowa, and was inspired  by Reneeinnd’s July 12th blog “Overlooked Overlook” and Happy Valley Steve’s comment about “not noticing history.”

At our little long-time book club we recently read Prudence by David Treuer. The story takes place midst WWII somewhere in northwest or north central Minnesota with characters from Chicago who own a resort on a lake near an Indian reservation and a German POW camp.


A German POW camp? In Minnesota?

None of the group had heard of such a thing. Did Treuer make it up? As it turns out, a Google search confirmed that there were indeed German POW camps in Minnesota – at least 15 of them.

Many other states also had them. Some 400,000 POWs were brought to the US to farm, work in factories, log or do whatever wasn’t getting done with American men fighting in the war. Most of the Germans were prisoners from North Africa, sent to the US by the British who no longer had room to house the number of prisoners they were capturing.

Two relatively recent MPR stories documented the camps: In March Tracy Mumford interviewed David Treuer about his novel. He grew up on the Leech Lake Reservation near Bemidji and had heard stories of a nearby camp. One of the stories told was of two prisoners trying to escape south via the Mississippi River in a row boat .

A second MPR story reported that in October, 2002 some of the former POWs and their families came from Germany to camps “to remember, learn and reconcile.”

Why had I never before heard of the camps in any of my (Minnesota or American) history classes?

Along this same line of “overlooked history,” our club also read The Assassination of Chief Hole-in-the-Day by David’s brother Anton.


Bagone-giizhig, known in English as Hole-in-the-Day the Younger, was a charismatic and influential chief who played a key role in relations between the Ojibwe and the U.S. government in Minnesota. Yet he won as many enemies as friends due to his actions during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and his claim to be the leader of all Ojibwe. In 1868, Bagone-giizhig was assassinated by a group of other Ojibwe from Leech Lake. For many years the real reason for this killing remained a mystery.“

I have lived most of my life near the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation. I have had Ojibwe classmates and friends. We had Minnesota history in sixth grade.

Were we taught about this famous chief and I just don’t remember? Or, was it never included in our textbooks?

Other history I learned as an older adult are the hangings of the Sioux warriors in Mankato and the black men in Duluth. Not to mention the Dakota Conflict itself.

What history has been overlooked in your education that you wish you had known earlier?

Adrift in the Driftless

Today’s guest post comes from Clyde in Mankato.

When Sandy and I moved from the North Shore, we were glad to have a new area to explore. We had run out of places to go, sights to see, roads to drive in the Arrowhead.

We quickly latched onto the southeast corner of the state, the Driftless Country. The drive along the Mississippi is wonderful, but the back roads provide more adventure: drives across the ridges or through the valleys or from ridge to valley to ridge to valley. Winding roads, abandoned churches, thriving churches, abandoned farms, thriving farms, hole-in-the-wall villages, along the Root River by bike or car, Lanesboro, and and the other villages.  Lanesboro



Along the Mississippi two favorites are the village of Old Frontenac and a delightful little cafe, sometimes tea room, in Lake City called the Chickadee Cafe.Bunnell House

I will share with you two quiet gems which you can tour.

The historic Bunnell House, operated by the Winona County Historic Society, which I see now has performances. It sits in Homer, near Winona along the highway 61, The Great River Road.

Pickwick Mill

The Pickwick Mill, which sits in a small village on a winding drive up a valley from highway 61. It is near Winona but is operated by a private non-profit. When we were last there, it was still a low-priced, do-it-yourself tour, which made it peaceful to wander through the several dusty floors of the building and along its bubbling river and still mill pond. The tiny elderly volunteer on duty that day was pure charm. It was near closing time, but she told us to take our time. Her husband kept calling and asking when she would be home. She kept telling him to be patient. We felt pressured to leave. She told us with a smile, “He’s a useless old lump who needs to learn to take care of himself.”

The mill takes its name from The Pickwick Papers, just as a whim.

Are you a wanderer through space and time or are you driven by an itinerary?

The Family Vegetable

Today’s guest post comes from Jacque.  

Some families have distinguished, ancient crests with lots of regal history; other families have members who have accomplished great things which allows their relatives to bask in the glory of all that star-dust; and some families, like mine, have a very real and symbolic vegetable. It is a vegetable worthy of a family crest.

My maternal grandparents, bearing the last name of Hess, lived on a farm near Pipestone, MN where they raised eight children during the Great Depression. Grandma and Grandpa grew most of their own food to feed their large family. The vegetable garden was immense, even after the children left to start their own families and gardens. Each spring they planted a row of carrots and a row of kohlrabi for each of the eight children. The child was to seed the row, thin the seedlings, weed it, then harvest it, meaning he or she could eat the carrots and kohlrabi any time he or she wanted.

These eight children produced 39 grandchildren (I am number 20), Grandma and Grandpa continued the tradition of planting many rows of carrots and kohlrabi for the grandchildren. The grandchildren trained each other to love this veggie. During a summer visit to the farm when I was about 8 years old, my cousin Jean Marie,*** who was age 7 and who lived right there on the home farm, taught me about the joys of kohlrabi. She led me to the kitchen to swipe one of Grandma’s many salt shakers, then we sneaked out to the garden.

“Don’t let Grandma see us,” Jean Marie instructed as she yanked 2 kohlrabi out of the dirt, stripped the leaves from it and broke off the root. “Grandma will be mad if we leave the salt shaker out here. And we are NOT supposed to eat these!”

I took this seriously.  I did not want to be in trouble with Grandma.

Then Jean Marie headed for the row of peonies which were large enough to hide both of us. There she demonstrated how to peel the thing with her teeth, salt it, and eat it like an apple. It was a delicious secret treat, crisp, delicate and salty. I wanted another. I crawled behind the peonies to the nearest kohlrabi row where I imitated Jean Marie’s techniques of pulling, leaf-stripping and peeling.

Years later I told Grandma about this. She knew. Of course she knew. She knew all of us did this. That was why she planted them—to get us to eat vegetables. She knew they were sweeter if we thought they were stolen.Family Crest 1

When family reunions roll around, a cousin or two arrive with a bowl of home grown kohlrabi harvested the morning of the reunion, a half dozen paring knives for peeling, and salt shakers.   We snack on sliced, salted kohlrabi all day.

If I was to create a family crest it would include the family slogan, “One Mell of a Hess” and include a regal kohlrabi. Like so.

***Names have been changed to protect the family members who have not agreed to have their names included!

What would you include on your family crest?

Eating Eiffel

Today’s guest post comes from Verily Sherrilee.

We talk about food a lot here on the Trail.  We even have a list of our favorite recipes.  And when we get together, food is usually an important part of the experience.  The spread at Blevins Book Club is always amazing and even when we sat on the sidewalk waiting for the Tom Keith memorial, we had a terrific array of goodies (popcorn, chocolates, cookies, fruit).   But one of my most memorable restaurant experiences was not of the informal kind.


On a trip to Paris with a client, we visited the Eiffel Tower.  As we walked around the first level, our guide mentioned the Jules Verne Restaurant, which is even higher up, on the second level.  Although we already had plans for dinner, the client was entranced by the thought of eating at the Eiffel Tower.  Our guide made a few calls, pulled a few strings and voila! – we had reservations for the evening.

I am not all that good with heights.  I’m usually OK when I’m enclosed so places like the Gateway Arch or the Washington Monument are do-able.  However when I’m NOT enclosed, I don’t like it at all.  So while I wasn’t crazy about eating dinner 125 meters (410 feet) above the earth, I figured I would probably be fine.  Unfortunately what I didn’t know until we arrived is that the Jules Verne is windows from floor to ceiling.  And our guide had managed to not only get us in that night but had swung a table right by those windows.  My stomach took off for parts unknown almost immediately and I chose the chair farthest from the window as possible.


As the waiter came around to pour the red wine, I leaned a little bit back to let him reach the glass in front of me.  That was when I learned that the chairs had a little “give”.  As I pushed back, the chair pushed back as well, giving me the sensation that I was falling backwards.  Since I was already so worried about the windows and the height, I screeched and jerked forward, knocking the arm of the waiter.  Red wine went everywhere – the tablecloth, the napkins, the plates – it even extinguished the little candle in front of me.  I managed to stay wine- free but my shriek had gotten everyone’s attention in the entire restaurant.   It was one of those classic moments when you truly understand what it means to want the earth to open up and swallow you.

Luckily the Jules Verne is quite small, so I didn’t embarrass myself in front of too many people.  The dinner was out of this world and I managed to get through the rest of the evening without incident.  But I’ll always remember my dinner at the Jules Verne as the “night of the red wine disaster”.

Have you had a dining disaster?

The Gripper

Today’s guest post comes from Ben.

I was at the Farm Service Agency doing some paperwork and while waiting was talking with another farmer. (He was wearing a ‘Dekalb’ seed cap while I was wearing a ‘Meyer Seeds’ cap. Neighbor Tom was wearing a ‘John Deere’ cap.)

As Dekalb left we shook hands and as the shake finished, I distinctly felt my fingers slipping away from his. And I felt rather chagrined about that; like I let down the farmer brotherhood and he’ll be saying ‘He was a nice guy but he didn’t have a very good handshake...

I’ve noticed before that I release my grip before the other party does.

I need to work on that.

Now I’m not talking about the smoozy, glad-handing kind of shake—I know that guy and I don’t want to be him. I just mean a good firm run of the mill handshake.

Google gives me a nice article from Esquire magazine on how a man with a good handshake can do any thing he wants.

It also gave me ‘Alastair Galpin, the 2nd biggest Guinness World Record breaker of the decade 2000-2009 with 85 records broken. (Ashrita Furman, the top record holder has broken 551 Guinness records.) Alastair and Don Purdon set a new record for longest hand-shake at 33 hours and 3 minutes.


Archaeological ruins show handshaking was practiced as far back as the 5th century BC. It’s possible the handshake originated as a gesture of peace to show that the hands held no weapons.

But there are many different ways of shaking hands or offering a greeting depending on the region or local custom.

Not to mention the possibility of spreading germs which has promoted the organization of Stophandshaking.com and various alternate methods of greeting such as the fist bump, bow, nod or ‘peace symbol’ among others.

There is that one handshake with a finger slipped inside to tickle the others palm while shaking hands. But I save that one for testing the mettle of college students in the shop.

I still believe in a good firm handshake and I’ll save the ‘fist bump’ for more casual greetings.

I just need to learn to hold it a beat longer.

When have you been glad-handed?



Today’s guest post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.

I have loved secret passageways and other hidden places since I was a very little girl. The first house I remember had a bedroom closet that my mom fixed up as a play house. I remember a hanging light bulb and unfinished attic-y floorboards covered by an old rug; I could touch the rafters of the sloping ceiling… my first hidden place. The other upstairs closet was long and narrow, and I liked how it connected to my folks’ bedroom right next door… my first secret passage.

As I grew older there were more hidden places: the house my grandpa built with its “secret staircase” to the attic, cleverly tucked into a bedroom closet; a friend’s house where the bookcase in the main room <i>was the door to the up-stairway</i>! Heaven. Closets under stairways, pull-down attic staircases, “forts” under pine trees, pedestrian tunnels under busy streets… I’ve always been drawn to these.

So imagine my delight when, on a walking tour in Lyon, France in early May, we came upon the Traboules (originally from the Latin ‘transambulare’ , meaning to cross, pass through).

In the 15th and 16th centuries during the height of Vieux (Old) Lyon’s silk trading with Italy, city planning was not at its best. Most streets ran parallel to the river, making it pretty difficult to get from one street to the next without taking a long detour. Merchants and Italian architects created, between the courtyards of the buildings, a network of passages – usually hidden by doors that were used as the outer entrance to the apartment buildings. They were then used by both the hard-working and the indolent.

Mailboxes in traboule
Mailboxes in traboule

Many of these passages still exist, and some of the available entrances are now marked with a plaque (as between the two doors in the photo); others look very ordinary. Often there is a set of mailboxes in the courtyard behind these doors.   These were used by the French Resistance during WWII – perfect locations in which to exchange messages.

What is (or was) your favorite hiding place?


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