Category Archives: education

Strike!

The recent teachers’ strike in Minneapolis reminded me of another teachers’ strike in Luverne in 1975. I think Luverne teachers’ strike was the first one to happen after the law was changed to permit public employees to strike. I was a senior in High School, and my mother taught Grade 3. She was only a couple of years from having the serious flare-up of her Multiple Sclerosis that caused her to retire early.

I was a senior in High School, and I and my classmates were worried that the strike would prolong the school year. My mother bravely manned the picket line with her fellow teachers in some really cold December weather. It lasted a week until the school board came up with an offer that the teachers could accept. There were some hard feelings between the striking teachers and the very few who crossed the picket lines to sit in empty classrooms. Everyone seemed to get over it pretty quickly, though, and all the staff just went back to getting along with each other once school was back in session after Christmas vacation.

I was really proud of my mom on the picket line. She was a pretty rule abiding person, and it was fun to see a more militant side emerge. She was proud of herself for taking a stand.

Of which of your relatives are you the proudest? Have you ever gone on strike? How do you protest?

Alpha and Omega

Our daughter has two cats, and is entirely besotted by the younger one who she named Percy. He is a handsome tuxedo boy, He is very naughty, knocked over her television and busted it, and likes to make huge leaps into her garbage can because he likes the way the lid swings back and forth. He gets a lot of baths as a result, since he gets so dirty. He hides his toys in her bed.

The other day, daughter was expressing how much she loved this cat, and described him as her “Alpha and Omega”. I was surprised and gratified to hear her say that, only because it confirmed for me that dragging our children to church all those years was worth it. I guess she was listening and I didn’t even know it. I suppose I would rather she describe the Lord, and not her cat, in such terms, but it is a positive start.

What naughty animals have you loved in spite of themselves? Who has surprised you in a good way lately? What or who is your Alpha and Omega?

Dinosaurs to the Moon

I wasn’t on the trail much over the weekend; I was following a livestream on YouTube.  (I can’t even imagine what I would have thought if I had read that sentence 20 years ago!)

15 years ago, after reading a book by John Green (I think it was Looking for Alaska), I started following him and his brother, Hank, on their YouTube channel called VlogBrothers.  Hank is the brainchild behind SciShow, another fabulous channel and together the brother have created multiple other channels and platforms.  They manage and ship creations by a variety of artists, from their DFTBA (Don’t Forget to be Awesome) warehouse, among many other things.  Their following is called Nerdfighteria and I have to say that they were a big factor in my finally being able to own my nerdiness and feel that it was OK to admit to my smarts.  I say it calmly but it was actually a fairly big turning point in my life.

Both John and Hank are thoughtful, kind and generous – the year I started following their vlog, they decided to do a weekend event on YouTube to raise money for good works.  They invited people to send in videos to the channel to support charities; we would watch and vote on the videos and, if we could, send in money.  At the end of the weekend, they split up the money among the top voted groups.  And they did a livestream the entire weekend to encourage folks to watch the videos, vote and donate.  They called this Project for Awesome. 

And 15 years later, it is still awesome although a little more cohesive these days.  The first 24 hours of donations go to a couple of specific organizations that Nerdfighteria have supported for many years and then the second 24 hours of donations gets split up among the top groups whose video have been voted on.  Lots and lots of perks donated by various online creators.  The livestream is a little surreal… YouTubers setting up goals and challenges.  My favorite is Destin whose vlog “Smarter Every Day” I have watched for years.  Donations during his 2-hour stint get you a plastic dinosaur magnet with your name on it that gets sent to the moon on an electronic pulley system. Honestly I don’t even know how to describe it.  Suffice it to say it’s just hysterical and the donations just blast in during his time.

Anyway, I watched quite a bit of the livestream, including staying up too late both nights and then watching early in the morning.  As the project rolled toward its end, donations again ramped up as John and Hank finished up the livestream with a lot of thanks and champagne poppers and confetti.  About 15 minutes before the end, the counter clicked over the $3 million dollar mark.  I have to say I got a little verklempt.

The happiness that I get from being part of the nerdfighter community makes me think a lot about the Trail and my baboon companions there.  I am not a serious member of the group and I only know one other nerdfighter personally but as a group they follow their leaders… they are kind and thoughtful and generous as a whole, exactly like those I know on the Trail.  No nastiness, no name calling, no mud slinging.  Wish I could spread that feeling out to the whole world.

Tell me about some other nice, thoughtful, kind folks you know!

Chip off the Old Block

I’m a little verklempt.

I’ve always been a reader.  I have a photo of myself “reading” to my little sister when I was about three.  I knew all my books by heart, even when to turn the page; many folks thought I was reading well before I actually was.  For all of my school life, I was reading above my grade level.  When I was in fifth grade, I pulled “Hunchback of Notre Dame” off the school library shelf and the librarian told me it was “too old for me”.  Like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

I’m also a serial reader; there is a book on CD in the car, audiobook on my laptop and assorted books in the bedroom and the living room.   Right now I’m reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini (dragon book – thanks for the nudge MiG), Elementary She Read by Vicki Delaney (murder mystery), I am Thinking of You My Darling by Vincent McHugh (science fiction recommended by our Steve), Selected Poems by Amy Lowell (she was a fairly well-known poet in her day, writing at the turn of the 20th century) and finally The Peacocks of Baboquivari by Erma Fisk (memoir of a woman who lived alone for five months banding birds for The Nature Conservancy – I have NO clue where I got the idea about this one). 

But why am I verklempt, you ask?  Because I did not raise a reader.  Saying this out loud is a little like committing hari-kari.  I read to her constantly when she was young, she had a good library of books, she learned to read easily but to no avail; she has just never wanted to read.  Right after Christmas I was amazed to see her toting a book around the house. Some kind of inspirational/self-help/current events thing.  I teared up a little.  Then three weeks ago she came to me and asked if she could use my Amazon account to buy.. wait for it… books!  Now what you need to know is that asking to use my account is YA’s code for “will you buy it for me”.  “OF COURSE YOU CAN USE MY ACCOUNT” I yelled as I hugged her.  When the books showed up on Friday I was so excited — as I was taking the photo, you could have heard her eyes roll from a block away.  She did tell me that I could read the books as well if I wanted to.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her I had already read two of them.

Have you infected anybody with the reading bug?  What are you reading right now?

Don’t Take Limestone for Granite

Today’s post comes to us from Clyde.

And I wave my magic crane . . . and, poof, it is gone.

A few years ago I wrote a blog about this sculpture which sat on the MSU-M campus, including my ambivalence to it. It is carved in the same Kasota limestone from just north of Mankato which is used at Target Field. Someone, I think maybe Jacque, did some digging and told me it is called the Pillars. And objected to my critique. All is fair in art criticism. My picture then did not show it settled in as does the header photo. It looks better in that photo surrounded by the vegetation. I even like it in that photo.

I had not driven past it in years, out of my way for everywhere I was going. Then Sandy went into memory care. As a result, I drive by it twice a day. After a few trips with my brain overloaded with the transition in my life, I looked that way, hard not to really when waiting at the stop light at a major pedestrian crossing on campus, and saw it is all gone.

My son got taken up by the question and did some digging. The MSU-M website says it is still there and makes no other comment. I drove around campus, which has quite a few sculptures strewn around, but did not see it anywhere else.

So it is a mystery. I can imagine a few reasons it is gone, such as various departments upset about being upside down or absent. One statue inside the student union is a hot topic right now with students and others. (See below.)

Mankato itself has many sculptures in it these days. It has a sculpture walk through downtown with some of them permanent and some changed out periodically. My own favorite is near the sculpture walk but has a different purpose.

This is the memorial to those Sioux/Lacota people who were hanged here after the Lacota Uprising. (It used to be called the Sioux Uprising but its name has been changed. But one tribal group near here still call themselves Sioux.) Behind the buffalo is a scroll, not shown in my photo, listing the names of those executed. It is a touchy issue how to memorialize that event, an event once portrayed on such things as a beer platter. The site is now part industrial and part library. It is a tiny little park almost under an overpass and next to a busy railroad track. It was carved by a native artist. It was once vandalized with paint but was easily cleaned and remains untouched, surprisingly. I find it perfect for the space and the purpose.

In the student union is a very nice sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, a little larger than life-size in a busy student traffic area, which is the hot topic issue. I am sure I do not need to explain. Without making any comment on that topic, I suggest maybe all sculptures of real people should be shown with feet of clay.

History is about changing points of view, changing taste, changing truth. How have your truths changed and your taste in art changed?

Winter Farm

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Well I guess it’s winter this week. We had 4 inches of unexpected snow on Tuesday. maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention to the weather but I don’t think anybody expected that much snow. At least it was light and fluffy.

And then it was cold. I had one below zero Wednesday morning! I went down to open up the chickens and they were in no hurry and had no interest in coming out. One chicken, who always ends up in a different side of the pen, ran to the door, stopped and looked, pecked at some snow, and turned around and went back inside. Didn’t blame her a bit. Even the ducks weren’t too interested in leaving the water. I threw corn out to them at the pond. 

The deer have started to group up. I took this picture coming home one night. That’s just one group. Usually there’s about three groups this size. This is why I don’t like the deer. Too many of them.

Almost done with class. We had to write a paper about a park or an area and of course talk about the rocks, waters, and land uses etc. I wrote about our farm. Understanding the history of the glaciers coming through and the forces that have shaped the land and the types of rock underneath is really pretty interesting. I will have that submitted before you read this. And then a final in class on Monday and then that’s it. Then maybe I can start working on my basket of farm bookwork.

Or maybe not. My left shoulder has been giving me trouble for years. But not enough to really cause any issues. Until about two weeks ago. One night out of the blue I went to lift my arm and it hurt like all get out. Then it got better then one night again it hurt so bad I went to the ER, but of course by the time I got there didn’t hurt so bad. Had an MRI done on it and as of now, still awaiting results on that. But I foresee rotator cuff surgery coming up shortly. well, that will certainly make me reevaluate some things.

My good friend Paul, the one who occasionally comments on here, had rotator cuff surgery about a year ago. He had a terrific recovery so he can be my guide.

Tuesday night after the snow, Kelly rode in the tractor with me as we bladed the driveway, so she’s ready to tackle that on her own if necessary.

I think I can still design lights with one arm. I need the computer to program and record cues. Obviously someone else should be climbing ladders. Notice I said “should“. No, if it comes to that, I will behave. I can still program the light board with one arm.”

So we’ll see.

Ever received or sent a dear John /Jane letter? How did that go?

Pride of Workmanship

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I knew a young woman who was an indifferent student through high school, the kind of girl who gets lectured endlessly by school counselors who knew she could do better. Her early employment history after college was more of the same. She did what people told her to do, but not much more.

At some point she began working in the office of a company that tried to match temporary workers with jobs offered by companies who didn’t want the trouble of finding, compensating and training temp workers. Like so many companies, it was badly run. Upper management was clumsy, rewarding the wrong workers and failing to produce sound policies. And yet, like many badly run companies, this one did well enough to keep making a modest profit and thus could continue functioning as a business.

Then something strange happened. As that business grew, it assigned two young women, including my friend, to head up a new branch office. While neither of them had distinguished herself in earlier assignments, this was different. Both women had been paying attention to the shortcomings of their business and had thoughts about how they might do better. The two women threw themselves into an effort to run their office in an exemplary way. They did not expect their model to lift up the whole business, and in fact it did not. They didn’t expect their excellence to be identified and rewarded, and in fact it was not. And yet they experienced the rare joy of managing the only effective office in an organization that continued to limp along with shoddy practices.

Good things happen when people take pride in their work. We all have known workers who slacked off whenever possible, but we have also encountered workers who set a high personal standard for excellence. A persistent mystery in business management is exactly how some workers demand a high level of work from themselves. Studies show that the level of compensation is not the critical factor. What seems more important is pride, pride of workmanship.

When I edited a small magazine I worked with writers and photographers who were badly compensated. My magazine paid so little for articles that we couldn’t demand outstanding work from contributors. Some contributors, acknowledging that we paid poorly, sold us articles that were slick and poorly written. And yet some contributors gave us good articles in spite of our amateurish payment programs.

My own work became an example. I realized that I was the untrained editor of a very badly run publication. All of us on the magazine’s staff were ignorant about making magazines. Most of us tried to do our jobs well, but the business was a sort of clown show because had never been trained and now were badly led. 

And yet I came to understand that, with all its obvious faults, this was my magazine. Whether it was wretched or entertaining, I was the single person ultimately responsible for the quality of each issue. I began rewriting bad articles, trying to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Our readers never guessed how hard I had worked to salvage shoddy original copy. It didn’t matter to me whose name was on a story. What mattered was that each article should be as funny, interesting or educational as possible.  We continued to print pictures upside down, print captions riddled with misspellings and make all sorts of factual errors. But more and more, almost in spite of ourselves, we began putting out a magazine that people really liked. Our readers were on our side, hoping desperately that a magazine like ours would triumph over the amateurism, disorganization and lack of resources that continued to plague us.

Later, when I became a freelance writer/photographer, I discovered how easy it was to write articles that were marginally better than average for that field of journalism. That is, I could knock off a slick article in two hours that looked pretty good, even if it was pretentious and lacking merit. That could have encouraged me to be lazy, and yet the opposite happened. I came to value the fact it was my name on an article. I took that to be a promise that I would do the very best work I was capable of, in spite of how meager my reward might be. The longer I worked as a freelancer, the higher my standards became. It became increasingly important to put out articles I was proud of.

How did you acquire the standards you hold yourself to in your work? Have they evolved over time? Did anyone serve as a model for you of doing the job well? What gives you pride in your work?

Witness

Not nearly as any books get recorded on CD these days as are recorded to Audiobooks that can be downloaded.  So every now and then, even though I have quite an impressive waiting list at the library, I find myself without a CD in the car (I know, horrors, right?) l When this happens I just peruse the CD shelves at my local library.  This is how I found Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie.

I’ve said here before that I read all of Agatha Christie’s books when I was in high school.  I need to amend that; I read all of Agatha Christie’s novels in high school.  And of course high school was a long time ago so when I first watched the movie version of Witness, I didn’t realize that it wasn’t one of her novels.  It’s one of her short stories. 

As I often enjoy books more than the movies made from them, when I pulled the CD off the shelf I was wondering how this dynamic would play out.  I adore the Witness for the Prosecution movie made in 1957 with Charles Laughton, Elsa Lancaster, Trevor Howard and Marlene Dietrich.  Great acting, good story, nice denouement and fabulous courtroom scenes.

If I’d had my wits about me I would have made the leap that a short story would need fleshing out to make a full movie.  But  I don’t always have my wits about me, so I was surprised to find that the movie had taken “fleshed out” to new levels.  The Charles Laughton and Else Lancaster characters and all their action and dialog were complete embellishments as was about half of the courtroom scenes.  And the short story ending was a little more open-ended than the movie.

So I’m sure you’re all saying “VS will never watch this movie again.  She’s outraged that Hollywood would take such liberties with one of her favorite authors.”  It’s what I thought I would be saying about now.  But I’m not.  The movie does not mess with the actual story – it’s completely intact – the additional characters, dialog and scenes actually support the story.  Apparently Agatha Christie did not mind the additions and, of course, the movie was released to international acclaim.

The rest of the stories are fascinating, very unlike her novels.  No suspicious deaths, no big long list of suspects with motives and opportunities.  But great stories that capture the imagination.  I’m about half way through the CDs and am manufacturing reasons to get in the car right now, so I can keep listening. 

Have you ever had to give testimony in court? Or been on a jury?

Door Stoppage

Photo credit:  The Avocado

On Friday Steve suggested a book be used for a doorstop that Clyde needed.  My very first thought was Ulysses.  I was an English major at Carleton and there were two infamous lists.  One was the short list – about 100 titles that you’d better have read before your comprehensives at the end of your senior year.  Then there was the long list – this was about 500 titles – that the English department thought you should read if you wanted to be truly well-read.  I know, I know, incredibly  presumptuous.  I got copies of these lists in my sophomore year and kept them for years.  As you can imagine, Ulysses was on that list and while most of my brain knows there is no reason I have to read this, a little bit still thinks that I should wade through Joyce.

Three years ago when I started getting rid of excess stuff, I realized I had THREE copies of Ulysses.  Unfortunately for Clyde’s needs, I got rid of all of them, along with most of the guilt that I never could get through the first chapter, much less any farther.

But it made me think about what other books I could imagine consigned to doorstop-hood.   I pulled up my reading list to look for 1-star titles that I wouldn’t mind using to keep a door open.  I started keeping this list in 2007 but didn’t start assigning stars until 2013.  I actually don’t have too many two-star titles, and next to no one-star ratings (it’s a 1-5 rating).  Life is too short – if a book isn’t shaping up, it goes back to the library (or if I actually purchased it, on a pile to be donated to the library).

I do have a few one-stars, but they bring up a secondary problem… I don’t actually remember all of them.  So here’s a short list of my one-star doorstop recommendations:

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (not even a whiff of memory about this one)
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (I know that tim loved this one, but it didn’t have enough surrealism to support an unbelievable plot)
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. I kinda liked the first few and I do like the Hallmark movies made from the series, but this one stunk and the main character stepped over so many lines (moral AND legal) that I couldn’t believe it.
  • Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. You all know I love alternate-reality future stories but this one did NOT satisfy.  Several concurrent stories, which did not ever intersect, did not wrap up  in any meaninful way and one that jut didn’t make sense.  (And in looking at the reviews of the tv series, they pretty much didn’t use 95% of the book.)
  • And then my one and only negative star title… Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I only finished this because it was a book club title.    Unbelievable set-up, unlike-able characters, tragic outcome and ending that could not happen in anybody’s reality.  There are actually good reviews of this book, but I can only say that hallucinogenics must have been involved.

Any nominees for a door stop?

Farming In August

Today’s post comes from Ben.

Actually, hasn’t been much farming the last few weeks…

I’m back at “work” work now, and I lit another show, and we moved my mom to long term care.

Here’s a theater space I was working in and the genie lift that’s my best friend because it means no ladders!

And the view from up there.

With the lights.

And the lighting console in the loft.

And some of the finished product. The colored lights? That’s what I did.   

It’s a show called ‘Head Over Heels’, music of the GoGo’s (which apparently I only know two songs.

Mom is 95 and has just kinda lost her self confidence in the last few months. There’s been a few falls (nothing serious) and I think she kinda likes it when the firemen come to help pick her up. And I’m lucky I have siblings here and everyone is chipping in to pack and deal with things.
Moving to a long-term care apartment was her idea so that makes it a bit easier; we were over there more and more and balancing the cost of more Visiting Angels or Assisted Living or LTC, she decided this was the thing to do. I can’t say enough good things about VA; they’ve been great.

She was already in a Senior place so we’re lucky that she’s just moving into another section and not across town or anything.

There is a large metal bin down by the barn that holds corn which I use for the chickens and ducks. I opened the top lid one day to climb up and check how much was left inside, and then forgot about it and left the top open for two weeks and that’s when we got 3” of rain. Oh fer….

I spent an hour one morning taking an access cover off the bottom and digging out about 30 gallons of wet, stinky, moldy, rotten corn. I’ll try not to forget to close that again. Thank Goodness it’s almost empty. I’ll be ordering 100 bushels of cracked corn to refill in the next few weeks.

They say August is bean month. Beans have pods, but how big they’re going to get depends on the weather in August.

I was just reading about how corn develops and how the yields are determined by the weather. It takes roughly 90,000 average kernels to make a bushel (56 pounds for corn, remember?). The guys who are winning the yield contests can get that down to 65,000 kernels (bigger, heavier kernels). Final yield started with how many plants emerged back in April. The girth of the ear was determined at the 5-leaf stage; If the plant was happy and it had all the right nutrients and moisture, it can have 20 kernels around. 12-14 is average so any more than that means everything was going right at that point. Now the kernels are there and it depends on the weather as to how much they fill and what the test weight will ultimately be. If it gets stressed now, it won’t develop fully to the tip as the plant sacrifices them to fill the bottom. A lot had to happen already, but the weather this month can still make or break a crop. It’s pretty fascinating.

The ducks have moved outside and now it’s all muddy out there (I swear; everything is wet when you have ducks).

Here’s some ducks!

Any Questions?

Boil or microwave your sweetcorn? Who’s done mud wrestling?