Budget Deadlock Haiku

So much has already been said about a possible Minnesota government shutdown tomorrow, I hesitate to add even a single word to the flood of opinion. The Commentary River is well over its banks and some good people may lose their homes while familiar words swirl around them.

Maybe we need to impose strict verbal austerity measures.

Use your talking points.
Three lines, five, seven and five.
No new syllables!

Gold Horses look down
No one can clean their stable.
Mountains of manure!

My closed state park is
Beautiful without me there
Or so I suppose.

Government is the
problem that cannot be solved
with just a hammer.

Here’s a compromise.
You can adopt my viewpoint
Any time you like.

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Best Vacation Ever

Thanks to the Sherrilee, Renee, and Beth-Ann, the guest bloggers who kept the conversation rolling while I was enjoying a long weekend in northern Minnesota.

It was a wonderful time to be away – even the mostly rainy day was delightful. And I learned about perspective! There is a proper way to record the events when you are catching impossibly tiny fish.

Pose like this ...

... not like this!

Summer, 2011 is turning out to be wonderfully green and lush. If you were lucky enough to not flattened by a tornado in North Minneapolis or submerged by a river in Minot, the weather has probably been pretty fair for you. Still, it is an upper Midwesterner’s obligation to complain bitterly about whatever prominent feature the climate is projecting. In this case, it’s the outrageous amount of rain and the far-too-cool temperatures, though the truth is that we are blessed to have enough moisture and something less than blistering heat.

For those who would like to experience a truly harsh environment, I suggest you book your passage as soon as it becomes possible to visit an asteroid.

This would be the vacation of a lifetime, if by vacation you mean a bleak and frightening experience that feels endless. NASA has sent a probe named Dawn to spend a year with Vesta, an asteroid that orbits our sun. Like some of those exotic vacation resorts you’ve chosen and then regretted, we don’t know very much about Vesta. Even the brochure is puzzling – this line-up of all the best known features makes Vesta’s amenities look like an assortment of blurry potatoes.

But they have sun there (or we wouldn’t be able to see it), so let’s go! I think I can see a pool in the third image from the top left, and is that the golf course in the fourth picture from the right, bottom row? I think it is, and it looks like there are no trees to get in the way of all the perfect, lo-gravity shots I plan to hit.

Fun!

Describe a vacation destination that was much different than you imagined.

Uncommon Knowledge

Today’s guest blog comes from Sherrilee.

As many of us on the Trail have discussed before, as we get older, it’s an interesting phenomenon that information that used to be part of our cultural lexicon has passed out of usage. As the mother of a teenager I am constantly reminded that the younger generation doesn’t have the same cultural knowledge that my generation has.

Lucretia

When I was a kid, Lucretia Borgia was well-known as famous poisoner. I didn’t know much more about her except that she had lived in the olden days and wore a big ring that opened up to deliver deadly poisons to her enemies. In fact, I remember a Charlie Chan movie, Castle in the Desert, in which the femme fatale was a descendant of Lucretia and had inherited the venomous ring (which, of course, was the murder weapon). I have since read up and learned that poor Lucretia Borgia was greatly maligned and probably didn’t do any of the dastardly things that used to be “common knowledge” about her, although her father and brother were certainly very poor role models for anything remotely resembling nice guys.

Although she was born out of wedlock, her father, Pope Alexander IV, didn’t hesitate to use her for his political gain. He married her off repeatedly to political allies beginning at a young age. Then when the political winds shifted, he and her older brother Cesare arranged various endings for those marriages (annullment and murder topping the list). Her final marriage survived her father’s ambitions (and life) and she lived the remainder of her life in Ferrara. She died from complications of childbirth in 1513.

She was just thirty-nine

In my job, I arrange a lot of functions in hotels throughout the world – welcome receptions, breakfasts, theme parties, meetings. About 10 years ago, I was working with the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and arranging the final night dinner for a small group. In discussing the evening, I asked where my event was scheduled and my contact replied “in the Borgia Room”. We finished our conversation but as I hung up the phone, I turned to one of my co-workers and laughed… “I’m not sure if I were one of my participants, I would want to have my final night dinner in the Borgia Room.”

The Borgia Room

My co-worker, who is not that much younger than I am, looked at me blankly. Not only did she not get my joke, but when I explained who Lucretia Borgia, it didn’t even ring a bell. I went on a small surveying trip around my department and with the exception of my boss, no one had heard of Lucretia Borgia. I was dumbfounded to realize that something I assumed was common knowledge was NOT.

My group’s dinner went off without a hitch and no one seemed concerned about eating a meal in the Borgia Room. But I have never forgotten it!

What things used to be common knowledge in your world, but aren’t anymore?

N.A.T.S.

Today’s guest post is from Renee Boomgaarden.

Our town has a wonderful vocal teacher. “Kathy” (not her real name) is a conservatory trained soprano who found true love with a local backhoe operator and successfully blended marriage and motherhood with the work of a vocal performance major. She teaches on occasion at the local college, performs with regional operas and civic choruses, and has a private vocal studio.

Kathy is really gifted at nurturing young voices and picking just the right material to challenge and inspire her students. This April, three of her oldest high school students (my daughter, daughter’s best friend, and another local girl) participated in a juried competition sponsored by the state chapter of NATS, the National Association of Teachers of Singing. The event was held at NDSU in Fargo while the Red River was cresting. Kathy is a member of NATS and participated as one of the nine judges. I drove the three girls to Fargo, along with best friend’s mother who also was the girls’ accompanist.

The singers were divided into competitive categories based on gender and year in school. Our girls were lumped in the one high school category. Most of the singers were college undergraduates, with a few singers in the graduate student and adult categories. There were separate categories for those singing Broadway musical numbers. Most of the participants sang opera arias and oratorio solos, with a few art songs thrown in. All singers started performing at 8:00 am.

It’s quite something to hear and see about 60 anxious singers preparing to compete that early in the morning. Practice rooms were at a premium. Most of the women wore rather daring and flamboyant cocktail dresses and very high heeled shoes. (By the end of the day, most of the women were walking around in bare feet). The men wore somber suits and ties. Once the 8:00 round was completed, the judges decided who would go on to the 10:30 round in which more singers would be eliminated, and so on through the 2:30 round, until the 4:00 final round in which the three best singers in each category would perform and be evaluated by all nine judges.

At 8:00, our girls were judged by two men who wrote furiously while the girls sang. They were finished by about 8:30 and they fell asleep in the van in the parking lot for two hours. Tension runs high at these events and those few minutes of singing wore the girls out. Best friend’s mom and I spent nap time listening to other singers and watching the weeping of those who were eliminated and the excitement of those who were sent on to the other rounds.

Our girls were the only high school students at the competition. Best friend has a phenomenal voice and she was the only one we expected to make it to any of the other rounds. Much to our surprise and delight, the judges decided that since there were only three high school students, all of our girls were automatically forwarded to the final round held in a lovely and intimate recital hall.

The Steinway grand took up most of the stage. The voices in the final round were truly beautiful and I don’t know how the judges decided between them. My daughter was the youngest singer in the competition. She is an alto, aka mezzo soprano at these events. Her voice is just developing strength and range. It was so interesting to hear how the voices matured as the singers got older, even among the college-age singers.

The last singer was a graduate student, a huge, barrel-chested man who closely resembled Pavarotti and looked like he was quite ill. He struggled to the stage, got himself in role, and and filled the room with an enormous, powerful baritone. He then struggled back to his seat and looked like he was going to collapse.

Daughter was awarded $10 for making it to the final round. The judges’ comments were all encouraging and kind. I am informed that she wants to do this again next year and she insists she has to have a new cocktail dress for the event. She feels she is too tall and her ankles too wobbly to wear high heels.

What have been your experiences being judged?

Steerage Song

Today’s guest post is by Beth-Ann.

Early this month, Dan Chouinard and Peter Rothstein premiered a musical docu-drama (Peter’s word) telling the story of immigrants who traveled through Ellis Island. Steerage Song is a powerful homage to what is lost and gained by immigrants.
Beautiful voices sang the words from Emma Lazarus’ poem inscribed at the Statue of Liberty

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And like John McCormack in this video the talented cast sang about the Beautiful Isle of Somewhere.

I was moved by this production for many reasons, but one of the big ones is that I am from an immigrant family. All of my great grandparents, my grandmother, and my son are immigrants. They came from Ireland, Russia, Germany, Austria , and Korea to this foreign land where they learned a new language, new jobs, and how to add their potatoes, kreplach, and kimchi to the melting pot that is America.

I am also a migrant. I was born in Japan on American soil and didn’t come “home” until I was 9 months old. Since that time I have lived in Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. I think this Land of 10,000 Lakes in My Isle of Somewhere.

We are all immigrants and some of us are migrants too.

What has been your family journey lit by the lamp at the golden door?

The Matchbox Tree

Today’s guest blog is by Sherrilee.

My dad didn’t go to law school until I was born so didn’t settle into his career until a little later in my life. One of the results of this was that we moved around a lot when I was a kid. This meant I was ALWAYS the new kid on the block and I struggled to find friends and fit in.

When I was five, we lived on West Cedar in Webster Groves, Missouri for about a year. It was a great old house on a tree-lined street and as a family, we went through quite a bit in that house. My younger sister had her open-heart surgery when we lived there. My mother survived scarlet fever in this house and I learned to ride a bike on the street in front.

But my favorite memory of living on that block was being befriended by the little boy who lived across the street. His parents had welcomed us to the neighborhood early on; his name was Bobby and he was a year older than I was. There weren’t any other kids on our block that summer (except my sister who was too sick to play outside with us) and this was back in the day when you made do in your neighborhood. You just didn’t get driven around by your parents for play dates back then.

Bobby had a huge collection (or so it seemed to me at the time) of matchbox cars, all different shapes and colors, that he kept in a big shoe box. He knew all the names of the different makes of cars and could tell you when he got each one. He could play with those cars for hours and he invited me to join in his adventures. He did have a little track for the cars in the house but the hands-down best place to play was around the base of the big tree in front of his house. You know the kind of tree I mean – one of those trees with the root systems jutting out of the ground and winding all around. It was the perfect setting for all our matchbox action. We drove the cars all around, up and down the various roots and even placed popsicle sticks across some of the roots to make carports and caves. We had quite a few different scenarios to play out, but it seems that many of our games were spy games, with one spy chasing another all around the tree, in and out of our little caves. It never seemed to bother Bobby that I was a girl and I don’t remember our folks worrying about how much time we spent playing with those cars that summer. My family moved away that fall, but that summer of the matchbox tree still remains as a sweet childhood memory for me.

What childhood game brings back good memories for you?

Locked in a Room

As the state’s budget showdown drags towards a shutdown on July 1st, settlement strategies come and go. The latest is the leader lockdown – Governor Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch will engage in some marathon sessions Friday and Saturday to try to shape an agreement.

According to a report by Tim Pugmire of MPR:

Zellers said they will lock themselves in a room and won’t leave until they have at least some consensus or a framework that they can then take back to their legislative members and the governor can be comfortable with.

“But the point being that without the three of us in a room talking about these bills in great detail and coming to agreement between the three of us, it’s going to be awfully difficult for all of us to come to agreement,” Zellers said.

This is necessary at the very least so all parties will be able to say “we really tried” while pointing fingers after July 1.

But one wonders how “in” they will be “locked”?

Perhaps they could follow the model of the Mars 500 mission. But the experience so far seems to bring this warning: Those who are locked in a room begin to get used to being locked in a room.

It has now been more than one year since six men were shut inside a space ship-like enclosure in a Moscow suburb, agreeing to mimic conditions on a trip to Mars and back. They have endured mock emergencies including a loss of power and a week without communications with the outside world. They have simulated a Mars landing and walkabout, and are now on their way “back”, with a planned arrival “home” in early November.

Matching Goggles Can Help Build Camaraderie

They have their routines, which they follow every day without fail (weekends included). One Marstronaut said his greatest regret is that he misses “the randomness of the world”. So far it seems the greatest threat to the well-being of these men is the dreaded fun-sucking monster, monotony.

One of the mission co-ordinators said “one thing that they’re using to break the monotony … is creativity. For Halloween they dressed themselves up with scientific equipment. For Christmas they came up with their own self-made nativity scene. And they also celebrated the Chinese New Year.”

Perhaps Minnesota’s combatants could resolve to stay in the Governor’s reception room until a settlement occurs, and if they’re still in there on the Fourth of July, they could break the monotony of their own immobility and form a bond by improvising an appropriate holiday celebration with the materials at hand.

Better make sure nobody has matches when they go in.

How do you handle a deadline?

Sun In Your Eyes

I see that one of the most e-mailed items on the New York Times website lately is a commentary that makes the argument that spending too much time in weak indoor light has caused more children than ever to be nearsighted. The article contends that something about the proper development of our eyes requires us to spend time in sunlight.

This alarming thought runs completely against the cautious parenting I did when my son was young. He was a fair skinned child, and I was vigilant about exposure. I may have even cast the sun as a master villain, along the lines of The Joker or Dr. Strangelove. Diabolical. Powerful. Merciless. The sun was something to be viewed suspiciously, and by “viewed”, I mean, never ever looked at directly.

Now parents will have to take a more nuanced approach. How are our kids supposed to feel about the sun? It’s complicated.
Perhaps this calls for a children’s poem.

Go play outside or you’re going to go blind.
The sunshine will help you to bloom.
Your lenses and retinas might misalign
if you do not come out of your room.

Our bodies are built to be active outside.
Doing running and swimming and games.
The sun is your friend. He’s your comfort and guide.
But please don’t look into his flames.

And sunblock your neck and the tip of each ear
and your shoulders and legs and your head
the tops of your feet. And please cover your rear.
Or the sun will re-color you red.

Go into the light but stay out of the glare
have fun but be safe while you play.
Get some sun. Cover up. Be carefree. Be aware.
And do everything just as I say.

What did your parents tell you never, ever to do?

Bridge for Sale

I know the real estate market is in miserable shape, but some deals are irresistible.

Wouldn’t you like to own this fabulously ornate and undeveloped chunk of terra incognita? The property itself has the same luxurious texture as the lumpy pillows that engulfed you when, as a five year old, you sat down on Aunt Helene’s mammoth brocade sofa, and almost disappeared.

This wonderful bargain is, in fact, NAMED Helene. How unique!

Don’t let the fact that Helene is a rather remote property prevent you from taking advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Moons of Saturn are numerous, it’s true. But they are not for everyone. Helene is frightfully cold and traditionalists shopping in the moon market sometimes disparage Helene for her clack of classic roundness. But this is a satellite with an unforgettable shape – clearly distinct from any run-of-the-mill sky disc. No one looking at a line up of charming orbiters would mistake Helene for a common moon!

And Helene is much more than a chiseled work of art – she occupies one of only five exclusive Lagrange points which can guarantee consistently excellent and unchanging views of both her sister moon Dione and the planet Saturn!

Yes, it is a rare individual who could afford to even attempt to buy a moon of Saturn. But times (for some) are so flush, the embarrassing build-up of money almost requires that a grand gesture be made in the form of just this kind of extravagant purchase – the kind that no one else would ever attempt!

C’mon, doesn’t it remind you of a heavy, musty smelling pillow from that favorite couch? What did you call it back then, when you were just a child? Rosebud?!

What useless thing do you own just for the sake of owning it?

Big Shew

Today is the anniversary of the debut of “The Ed Sullivan Show” on CBS TV, June 20, 1948. At the beginning, it was called “Talk of the Town”, though it wasn’t long before people began to refer to it by the name of it’s not-very-telegenic host, a mumbling newspaper man who appeared awkward on camera. Critics savaged him, but viewers liked Ed just fine. He may have been the first “reality” TV star.

The thing I liked about Ed’s show was its variety. He had acrobats and actors, dancers and directors, opera stars and puppets and rock bands too. There were lots of songs from Broadway. Rogers and Hammerstein were on the very first show!

But the act I’ll always remember is the plate spinner. Watching this guy do his thing is how I learned I could never be an anarchist. I get far too tense thinking about the possibility that the fragile world will come crashing down into a state of total ruin. Watching this act was almost unbearable for me as a 13 year old who liked things to be nice and orderly.

You may have to sit through an ad to see it, but that’s shew biz!

It occurs to me now that Ed Sullivan’s plate spinner was a preview of our multi-tasking modern workplace. Nobody is responsible for only one thing these days. Back in 1969, we thought he was insane, but Erich Brenn could be any school teacher or office manager in 2011.

What was your favorite act on the Ed Sullivan Show?