First Grade With Dr. Franklin

Guest blog by Donna

Our school office regularly sends newsletters home to inform families about upcoming events, fundraisers, procedures, and other relevant items. A couple of years ago my colleagues and I were strongly invited to contribute to the newsletter by writing a few notes about the goings on in our classrooms. My turn fell on the week of my birthday, which made it very special … so special, that I submitted two descriptions.

Here’s the piece they rejected:

First graders in room 102 are learning about weather tools that can measure temperature, wind and rain. On Tuesday we taped crepe paper streamers to craft sticks and predicted which condition our tool would measure. Next we took our tools outside and observed what happened when we stood and held them above our heads. Then we tried walking, skipping and running with them. Back in our room we discussed our observations and concluded we had made the perfect tool for measuring how loudly we can scream and shout.

Next week we will take our inquiry a step further and design another weather tool. Scattered thunderstorms are forecasted so we will measure the intensity of lightning. Please send a wire coat hanger and pair of pliers with your child by Monday. Please include a pair of rubber-soled shoes for your child to keep in his locker, since we won’t know until we hear thunder that it is time to take our weather tools outside. Please sign and return the parental release form that you will find today in your child’s folder. And finally, a great big THANK YOU for helping your child explore the exciting world of weather!

“When is the use of satire inappropriate?”

Puggi Lives!

A Guest Blog from Renee Boomgaarden

Recently we discussed our feeling about news stories, and I noted that there was very little in the news that I could tolerate, with the exception, I now must confess, of stories about animal rescue. I don’t mean shows about animal welfare officers rescuing pets from abuse and neglect-those shows just make me angry and upset. I mean stories about helping animals out of predicaments of their own making. You know the kind-goats stranded on bridges or with their heads stuck in fencing, bears who wander into town, get treed and tranquilized, and fall sleepily into the waiting nets of patient rescuers who transport them back to the woods, ducklings retrieved from storm sewers as their mother quacks anxiously nearby.

I think my favorite stories are those told friends and family. The story about the dog who decided it would be a good idea to roll vigorously back and forth over a decomposing porcupine (both smelly and painful) stands out, as does the tale of the poor, bored, Lakeland Terrier who spent hours independently chasing a ball back and forth over a paved parking lot until it had worn the pads off its paws.

My dad and my best friend tell the most memorable rescue stories. My friend grew up on a farm, and one day after checking the cattle she came upon a Great Grey Owl sitting on the ground under a telephone pole. She was able to walk quite close to it and saw that one pupil was quite dilated. It looked kind of stunned and she surmised it had had a head injury. She somehow managed to get it into a tall box in the back of her car and drove three hours to get it to a raptor center at the University of Minnesota. She never heard what happened to it after that.

My father loves dogs and has had his share of trauma with them over the years. He still speaks with sorrow over a favorite dog he had as a boy-a Rat Terrier named Diamond-who went down a badger hole and never came back up. It still bothers him. His all-time favorite dog, however, was Puggi the Pug, a dog he had after he retired. One day in early Spring, Dad and Puggi went to the city park in Luverne, right along the Rock River, to see if the ice had broken up. The river was still frozen over, but barely, and before he could stop her, Puggi ran out on the ice to get to some birds on the other bank.
A portion of the ice gave way and she went through and was pulled under the remaining ice by the strong Spring current. She was gone. Dad said he walked down stream about 100 feet and just stared, thinking to himself that he had lost his dog for good. His eye was caught by an old ice fishing hole in the middle of the river, and to his joy, up popped Puggi. She couldn’t scramble out of the hole on her own, so Dad laid out flat and advanced across the ice on his stomach. He grabbed Puggi and slithered back to shore. He figured she saw light coming through the hole as the current took her down stream and she swam toward it. He took her home and put her in a hot shower to warm her up. My mother was appalled at the risk he took, I don’t think he thought twice about going out on that ice.

What are your tales of animal foolishness?

A Tale of Two Festivals

Guest Blog by Barbara in Robbinsdale

Well, OK, we’re going to the Renaissance Festival. I haven’t been for about 10 years, since it’s crowded and hot and sticky and dirty and smelly… But Mario (my step-son) and the girls – Janaina, 4, and Elia, 7 – were here visiting, so we’ll go, on one of the last 90° days in August.

Ready to Take Wing (Photo courtesy of Mario Ackerberg)

Surprise #1 – I’d forgotten how much fun it is to go to a festival with little kids: everything’s fresh and new! Once the girls see people in costume, they put on their fairy wings as we head to the flower garland booth staffed by the girls’ aunt Lyra, and Voilά! they have garlands. Two other cousins arrive and they get to do a few rides, including The Ponies and (with Mario) The Elephant.

Surprise #2 – We usually don’t stop to watch any of the various performers, but we get hooked by Tuey the Tightrope Walker/Juggler, who it turns out is also a pretty funny guy. Everyone gives rapt attention for a blessed half hour of sitting on benches.

Surprise #3 – I’ll bet the most memorable, though, will be the booth called Vegetable Justice. As is happens, Mario’s brother Jesse has the job of being pelted with tomatoes, while hurling insults at The Pelter. The little kids even get a turn throwing at Uncle Jesse, with insults coming back along the lines of “I’ll bet you still wet the bed!” Perhaps the wildest time is had by Mario and Jesse, when it’s Mario’s turn to nail his older brother again and again, deflecting insults probably best left unnamed. (Imagine if you had this opportunity with your own sibling.)

# No surprise – The food is still fair food, but if you look long and hard you can find some very good Spinach Pie.

A few weeks later, Husband and I head out for a Saturday at the Rock Bend Folk Festival in St. Peter, on the recommendation of Krista in Waterville. Not only is the weather infinitely better, a sunny day in the 70s. There’s also less ground to cover, as it’s contained in Minnesota Square Park, and has a cozy, small town vibe. We arrive before 2:00, have already missed a couple of groups. While Husband settles in on the blanket near the Pavilion (main) Stage, I go to the smaller Joyce’s North Grove Stage and look up Krista, who seems like a long lost friend; we’ll be able to talk more later.

The Flathead Cats (photo courtesy of Joel Jackson)

Surprise #1 – What a line-up at the Pavilion Stage! Abalone Dots, four young women from Stockholm, Sweden singing and playing their brand of “softgrass”. April Vetch, who performs virtuoso step-dancing and fiddling (sometimes simultaneously), is a joy to watch. Willie Murphy in the evening as we were leaving…

City Mouse (photo courtesy of Rock Bend Folk Festival)

Surprise #2 – …and City Mouse and Friends: “Good Time Music! Their folk-rock blues” had me mesmerized with a vibrant array of musical styles – what a range this band has! – so that I almost missed this tidbit during the introductions: …” Dave Pengra on bass, and his brother Mike Pengra on drums…” I sit up and stare at the drummer – could that be OUR Mike Pengra? I sneak in closer to where I can get a good look and… yep, that IS our Mike! It explains all kinds of hints from Krista when blogging about Rock Bend… You may like to know City Mouse was inducted into the Minnesota Rock and Country Hall of Fame in 2007.

Surprise #3 – Krista had been holding out on us! (She has since come clean.) Not only does she help make this festival happen; she also plays in an acoustic folk trio called Flathead Cats on the North Stage! She has a beautiful voice, and she plays guitar, a mean mandolin, recorder(s) or flute on some of the Celtic numbers, tambourine… Love their music, a thoroughly eclectic mix.

# No surprise: – The food is still fair food, but the Pulled Pork Sandwich is out of this world.

What’s your favorite kind of Festival? Do you have a Festival tale to tell?

Second Hand Rose

A Guest Blog by Anna

Halloween in Minnesota is a dicey affair costume-wise. As a kid you need to be sure
that whatever you decide to wear will be recognizable either under a parka or over a snowsuit. It should also be something that will work on the odd Indian Summer evening in the 60s. As a result, there are a lot of ghosts and witches as the size and voluminous qualities of either costume lend themselves well to layering.

I think it was an act of desperation bred in part by lack of time on my mother’s part, but one year I went as “Second Hand Rose.” Sewing something for me was not an option, nor was Mom a fan of cheap store-bought costumes (the masks were horrid), and we certainly didn’t have a lot of money to throw at the problem. So Mom whipped open the closets and decided that one of her large, colorful dresses lent itself nicely to “Second Hand Rose” as a concept piece (and would fit neatly over a parka if need be). Two things that she had not thought of: the average kid growing up in the 70s doesn’t know “Second Hand Rose” from Attila the Hun. Also, explaining a costume at every trick-or-treat door gets old (apparently a lot of adults in the 70s didn’t know “Second Hand Rose” either, so it was good I had been schooled in the singing of my theme song).

Shortly after that adventure I quit trick or treating, at least until college. I went out sophomore year with some pals. We set the whole thing up with a short skit involving a safari and searching for the elusive Suburbanis Shopperus (“take pictures, these are rare”). Once again, having to explain at every door what we were up to got old (but it still got us candy, a few photo ops, and one offer of beer).

As an adult, Halloween parties were hosted by theater and Renaissance Festival friends. Not the sort of affairs where you can dress as a pirate or a gypsy. At these events I was variously: Elvis (with a friend as Priscilla), an Lutheran Church Basement Lady in search of a hot dish, and a pregnant alien carrying James T. Kirk’s love child. One year I “took myself to prom” in a fabulous pink tulle dress, teased and bee hived my hair to a fare-the-well to match the dress, and perched a bird on top of the whole works (friends who had arrived as a haz-mat team were kind enough to drape me in caution tape). With each of these I found if you have to explain it, it should be short and sweet, but best to have something that explains itself (see above: lessons learned as “Second Hand Rose”).

Now at Halloween I’m on the other side of the door, handing out candy to the neighbor kids. Daughter usually goes out with Daddy (in an easily recognizable costume). Barney the Basset Hound hopes that it isn’t a year he is required to wear fairy wings. And we all hope for warm evenings with nary a chance of frost.

What is your most memorable Halloween costume?

Fear of Flying

A Guest Blog by Jacque

In my young adult years I worked in a library twice, once in college “keypunching” the stacks during the first computerization of the collections, then later, at the front desk of the Public Library in Grand Rapids, MN. There in that presumably intellectual, quiet, sedate literary setting, I found a noisy, messy, colorful human parade.

It was not at all what I expected.

One day while I was at my front desk post, a quiet man who frequented the library shot through the entry door carrying a bag, making a beeline for me. He abruptly stopped, spun around to face me, then reported to me that he had just returned from a trip to Martinique where he owned an estate. He handed me the bag saying, “These figs are from my estate. They are for you. Next time I go there, you must accompany me.” He turned and fled out the front door. I was stunned. I looked at the bag of figs. The bag was from the local green grocer who was offering figs on a special. The library book he returned was a book about Martinique. Although he was at the library often, he never spoke to me again, silently presenting his books at the checkout station, then moving on.

Another patron routinely checked out grocery bags full of paperback romances—Harlequins, bodice rippers, tattered and torn books. She always returned them on time, then took another bagful with her out the door. However, the patron was so shy she could hardly look at me. When she did look at me she frequently had a bruise on her cheek or her arm, or a black eye. Not a romantic life at all I feared.

Most afternoons at the library between 2:30 and 3:30 p.m. local businessmen would come in and sit in the lounge area near the front desk where the newspapers were located. They would read and chat with each other. It was a party atmosphere.

One afternoon at that time when the area was full of these patrons, a ditsy blonde approached the front desk. “I’m going on a vacation to England,” she announced to me loudly and proudly. “But I am afraid of flying. I need the book Fear of Flying by Erica Jong!” hitting the J heavily.

“Excuse me?” I said, surprised. “Fear of flying?”

“Yes! I’m going to England on an airplane. But I get so nervous, so I want to read that book to get over it.”

I cleared my throat, uncomfortably viewing the room full of businessmen and lowering my voice. “Well, ma’am, actually, you might not want that book. That is an erotic book. It’s not really about air travel.”

“Oh, yes it is!” she insisted. “ I read about this in a magazine.”

“Um, no, Ma’am, it is an erotic book.”

“Erractic?” she said loudly. “Well, of course I’m erratic!. That’s why I’m scared on an airplane! Now, where can I find that book?”

The businessmen were looking at us. She had certainly garnered their attention. Several were chortling.

“Ma’am,” I said in a whisper. “Not erratic. EROTIC. It’s a SEXY book.”

“Well, I want that book.” She demanded.

I gave up, my face reddening, then directed her to that section of the stacks. She brought the book back and checked it out. I thought it might cure her anxiety – surely the subject matter of the book and the shock of the content would distract her from her fear of air travel. But I’m sure that this book was not what she thought it was. She had a significant misconception about the Fear of Flying. I just wish I could have watched her read the first few chapters.

Have you encountered anything that turned out to be very different than what you thought it was? A book? A job?

When in Rome …

Today is my birthday and as a special treat to myself (and you), all this week I’m proud to present a string of Trail Baboon Guest Bloggers! A group so congenial and talented should (and will) regularly share the space here at the top of the entry. If you’d like to have your name put on the list for future guest blog opportunities, drop me a line at

Guest Blog by Steve from Saint Paul

In the 1960s my parents had the extraordinary luck of purchasing an inexpensive shoreline property in a posh area of Lake Minnetonka. Their bargain little cottage looked silly, stuck as it was between two haughty estates. The property on the north was particularly grand. That compound included a mansion, guest house, servants’ dormitory, two utility sheds and a five-car garage.

The guest home, which sat just north of my parents’ fence, was occupied each summer by four fun-loving folks I will call the “Hopkins family.” Their one great accomplishment in life was to choose their ancestors well. They were distant heirs of a robber baron who had accumulated a fortune back before this country had an income tax. The Hopkins family inherited more money than they could have spent in a lifetime of serious dissipation. That wasn’t going to happen, as they weren’t serious about anything, even dissipation.

As a young college student just being introduced to great art and important ideas, I wanted to look down my nose at the Hopkins family. But I couldn’t. While they had the intellectual heft of fruit bats, somehow they made being superficial look great. They were as innocent and irresistible as a basket full of puppies.

When I was home from college on summer break, I could hardly take my eyes off our neighbors. The two barefoot teenaged girls wore swimsuits every day, and the older girl was as pretty as a model. And yet what fascinated me was the spectacle of four people who could make a fulltime job of goofing around.

Ernest Hemmingway is supposed to have said, “The rich are not like you or me. They have more money.” I concluded that the very rich are also different because they might be a little drunker than you or me. My mother once told Mrs. Hopkins that she was getting creaky with age and finding it harder to get going in the morning. “That’s no problem, sweetie,” said Mrs. Hopkins with her deep, smoker’s voice. “I just have a cigarette and two bloody Marys and I’m good to go.”

I was watching the next-door gang one night when their party became more boisterous than usual. The four of them got into a shoving match at the end of their dock. After sneaking behind their father, the girls bounced him into the lake in his street clothes. All four, including the soggy victim, howled with glee at this. A few nights later, they did the very same thing.

One day the Hopkins family invited me over for supper. I was delighted to accept. This would be my first contact with extremely wealthy folks, and I meant to study them like a young anthropologist. Having just read Fitzgerald’s classic novel, I thought of myself as Nick Carraway observing the decadent glitterati of the The Great Gatsby.

It was a pleasant late summer evening. The cooks from “the big house” prepared a tasty meal that we ate in a screened porch overlooking the lake. As usual, everyone was in bubbly high spirits.

Just before dusk we were horsing around at the end of the dock when I suddenly got a clear, blinding vision of what was required. This was the moment when I was supposed to throw Mr. Hopkins in the lake. That was what these people did. That was obviously what they expected me, their honored guest, to do. I’m not an aggressive guy, and yet I didn’t want to let this family down after they had been so nice to me.

I scooped up Mr. Hopkins, which was easy because he was a little guy. After spinning in a circle like a shot putter I pitched him high and far out over the lake. I hadn’t known I could do that, and I was impressed with myself. He really flew.

Mr. Hopkins was still high in the air, his arms and legs windmilling, when I realized how badly I had screwed up. My first clue was the look of terror on his face. It occurred to me (too late, too late!) that Mr. Hopkins didn’t usually go in the drink wearing alligator shoes, prescription glasses, a cashmere sweater and that massive gold Rolex. A silent pall fell over the party as Mr. Hopkins came up spitting lake water and began dog-paddling for shore. Back on the dock, the anxious way he examined his sodden wallet and money clip was my clue that he probably left them in the house on those evenings when he anticipated that the girls would push him in the lake. My unprovoked attack had surprised him almost as much as it shocked me.

These folks had rules for their games, I concluded ruefully, rules that I in my colossal ignorance had violated.

I was never invited back to finish my anthropological studies.

Have you ever tried too hard to fit in? Have you done something silly because you wanted to please people you didn’t know well?

Habitable Planet

Dear Dr. Babooner,

My girlfriend is very excited about the fresh discovery of a possibly habitable planet just 20 light years from Earth. This weeks’ articles about Gliese 581g have her making big plans for our eventual transfer there so we can raise the first human children on a new world.
I love my girlfriend for her imagination and her big-picture way of thinking, but I don’t think she’s considering the effect that moving to a new planet might have on our relationship.

20 light years is close in astrophysical terms, but still rather far away. How will we get there and still be young enough to enjoy the adventure?

The planet has one side that always faces its sun (and another side that never does). I assume we would live on the daylight side, but how could our romance continue if there’s no nighttime?

Gliese 581g orbits its sun every 38 days, so years will go by much more quickly. Will she still love me when I’m 264?

Gliese (the name of the star) is pronounced GLEE-za. This will constantly remind me of the TV show Glee!, which I despise. Plus, they say the planet might be habitable because it is situated in an orbit that is “not too hot” and “not too cold”. They call this “The Goldilocks Zone”. Between Glee and Goldilocks, I’m afraid this world would be far too precious to support life.

I love my girlfriend but how can I get her to choose Me over Gliese 581g?


I told Earthbound that it is not necessary to force this choice, since the first transport to Gliese 581g probably will not leave for another 100 years or so. But it does raise the question – why is she so motivated to get away? Perhaps this hunger for interplanetary travel is her way of saying she’s restless in the relationship, or maybe she has already moved on emotionally and is fantasizing about getting together with private space tourism pioneer Richard Branson. My advice – play along with this crazy ambition up to (but not beyond) the point of putting a down payment on your passage to Gliese 581g. She might just lose interest in the trip, if she hasn’t already lost interest in you.

But that’s just one person’s opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

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