Category Archives: Harry’s Diary

Nuts to Crack

I may take my computer with me to Nevada and Arizona in a couple hours. If I do I may manage to keep posting about a quick visit to Las Vegas (two nights) and Bullhead Arizona (5 nights). Sans my school board obligations we are getting a little fancy free. My brother in law is setting up shop in Arizona for a couple months and we decided a visit to 50 degree temps might make for a nice change of scene. Ironically, in another week we’ll be flying back to Arizona, Tuscon this time, to attend a memorial service to my Dad’s last remaining sibling, my Aunt Mary. Then before February is out we will visit my father in law in Florida and take our Grandchildren for their winter break to soak up some sun and maybe get a peek at Universal Studio’s Harry Potter compound.

The challenge will be to keep up some daily writing on that book. Yesterday I only managed half a page. I got to his enlistment and couldn’t recall the many day by day moves he made. However, I had put them all in a chronology a year ago. I just printed it out and will follow it to continue my rough draft while traveling…..if I can find time. I also hope to keep up my daily French lessons. Fingers crossed that will be another trip later in the year.

One of the remarkable things about some people’s retirement is that it hardly frees up any time. Busy people keep busy. In my case I’m only freed up to spend more time on other preoccupations. I dished out chicken noodle soup yesterday at the Soup Kitchen and the night before attended the Reader’s “Best of” Award ceremony at the Depot. Now that I’ve rejoined it as a columnist I even was called up to say hello during a break in the award presentations. I was handed the latest Reader with all the winners that night but only just now began paging through it to my column. That’s the one the Reader titled “Poor Reading a Tough Nut to Crack.” As I continued paging through the tabloid I found the same title again this time over Forrest Johnson’s column. Oops. Forrest was writing about the National Union of Friendly Americans. I’m not a member.

I’ve got a week to come up with a new column for the Reader. Maybe I’ll find it at the Hoover Dam…..if the Government hasn’t shut it down. Those pesky Republicans can’t wait to deport all those English speaking children back to their parent’s home countries after we spent billions of dollars educating them to be useful Americans. Now that’s poor thinking.

Five more pages!!!

Oh, there will be a mountain of fact checking and editing ahead of me but, By God, I’ve just cranked out five more pages of my Grandfather’s story. I have no idea if I can keep this up daily like my cell phone French lessons but I’m crossing my fingers that I can. I obviously have deeply embedded this story into my head. Now I just have to shape it like one of my snow sculptures into a respectable package…..providing I can get to the end of the story.

I still have more writing in me but I’m going to head downstairs and offer to keep reading that book on World War 1’s last soldiers to Claudia. I’ve got that, another hour of French and a party celebrating the Duluth Reader ahead of me. I like keeping busy.

What to scribble?

The Reader did publish my column. I began it by writing a bit about the Reader’s publisher Bob Boone. I wondered if that might lead to its being scotched but no, Bob is a big boy and could manage the tiny bit of scrutiny I directed his way. Although to be honest, calling Bob “distracted” was hardly the worst thing you could say about a fellow. I plan on attending his annual soiree at the Duluth Depot tonight for the first time. All of us “columnists” are invited. I’ll see if he gives me a hard stare.

Actually, I wrote the column in hopes that it would give both Bob and his readers my excuse for not becoming a very dedicated reporter of Duluth’s politics. My druthers, as any of my blog’s readers can tell for themselves, is to heap abuse on the big shots in the national scene. I have to live with the locals and that can be uncomfortable. Golly, one of the locals I’ve nitpicked turns out to have become part of my extended family. We are suddenly both great uncles to a little fellow that is new to the world. Yet our relationship is not the closest. I heard that after the recent election he told someone he was so tickled with the results that he could “do naked cartwheels down Superior Street.” How can you hold a grudge against anyone with such a whimsical a sense of vindication – especially a family member?

Besides writing, or at least writing well, with all its fact checking is time consuming. The post I never bothered proof reading a couple days ago, despite a promise to do so, took 45 minutes to compose. It would have taken another 45 to edit it to my satisfaction. I’ve got several more such posts in mind for today but composing them and doing them justice would take several hours. I only have so much writing in me and as I’ve repeated ad nauseam I’d like to write a book more than daily posts. In fact, yesterday I sat down for several hours and cranked out three pages of that book about my Grandfather. That was just the rough draft part. If I did this every day for the next five months I’d have 450 pages to edit. That would take just as long but I’d like to have a book ready before the centennial anniversary of the battle in September that resulted in my Grandfather’s being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

So, I will do a disservice to a subsequent post about the School District and then see if I can crank out another three pages for that book – concerning my Grandfather’s attendance to a Missouri academy/college in Parkville Missouri. Today he’s one of the schools most illustrious graduates. Ah, but thats for the book not the blog.

“Serve the People”

I’ve cranked up the heat in my cold attic office to do some writing. Its a bit of a luxury but my eight loyal readers are worth it.

I began by tinkering with a proposed next column for the Duluth Reader. I didn’t send it in last week on the theory that I probably didn’t have it in me to write one every week. In the old days I was an every other week contributor. We’ll see if it sees the light of day.

My excuse for not being quite so productive was supposed to be my book writing. That has yet to come to pass so my current excuse is the same as it was during the holidays – family. My grandsons were here yesterday and we took them to see Paddington 2 in the morning and I took them roller skating in the afternoon. The movie was great and yet another in a long line of wonderful family movies in recent years. As for the skating (which seemed warmer than an outing in the Chalet at Chester Bowl) I managed an hour of it without a single spill. The last time I was on roller-skates was about twenty-five years ago. Not bad for being 67.

I was about to go down and practice my French but noticed that my son had sent me a text message. I went all last year without getting one from him so I had to check it out. I got a good laugh out of it.

Here’s the back story:

Last summer as Claudia and I traveled through China I went shopping at some tourist traps and bought him a Tshirt for Christmas. They are called “Obamao” shirts in China and five years ago were banned by the government. I only just discovered that googling for a picture of it for the blog. Obviously the ban didn’t last.

There have been many iterations of this shirt but the one above looks like the one I bought. I had no idea what it said but gambled that whatever it said would not offend my son or America or Obama. My son’s line of scientific work puts him in contact with countless Chinese speakers. Well here’s what he wrote me:

“I just got the shirt translated. It says ‘serve the people, Chairman Mao.’ My Chinese friend then told me it’s a running joke that Obama is a communist.”

I wrote back:

“Very funny. With Trump in office that seems like a good option.”


Sunday began with Church. We picked up S. at his group home and drove him to Glen Avon Prez. He is in his eighties He’s tiny, autistic, barely communicative and his head juts out ninety degrees forwards from his shoulders. When we first began attending Glen Avon S. drove his mother to church. Today, at least in the temperate months, he still drives a bicycle around town. Until recently he traveled all over town. Claudia and I are part of a group of four families that alternate taking him to church on different Sunday’s of the month.

During our service I raised my hand to have my Aunt Mary, My Dad’s little sister, remembered for prayers. I was told a few days ago that she had been placed in hospice with only days remaining.

Aunt Mary was my Dad’s little sister. She was about 14 when my parent’s married but she always loomed large in my memory. When I went to the basement of my grandmother’s home I would always see the life-sized poster of her that was created when she ran for “May Queen” at my Dad’s college. By the time she was a Queen candidate my Dad was in Washburn’s law school on the GI Bill. He did his best to help his little sister win the competition by placing the poster in the Law School Building and coaxing his fellow future attorneys to vote in an election these older students rarely bothered with. My Aunt won.

When I came along Mary called me “Treensie.” This was long before I grew to six-foot-two. Once I was married Aunt Mary began calling me every December to wish me “Happy Birthday.” “Is this Treensie,” she would ask and I always replied in the deepest basso profundo voice I could muster, “This is Treensie.”

I got her last such call a few weeks. She was uncharacteristically late. She was calling from the hospital and wanted to make amends for her tardiness. It was a brief conversation. She was about to have a huge tumor removed and mostly wanted to keep the tradition of the phone call alive. A short time later I learned of the operation and called her back only to discover that she couldn’t handle a long call. Other family members let me know of her deteriorating condition. So on Sunday I, an unrepentant agnostic, asked my fellow church members to keep my Aunt Mary’s family in their prayers just as I had done the previous December when my Uncle Frank, the middle child, was in the same situation.

After church we had lunch and we brought our grandchildren back to our house. They would stay overnight because they had the next day, MLK Jr. Day, off of school. Their Mother would teach. A little later that afternoon Claudia and I picked up S. again for a second special worship service. It was at the Peace Church and was for handicapped folks like S. These services are put by CHUM (Central Hillside United Ministry) the consortium of 40 Duluth area churches that also sustains the homeless shelter.

Claudia and I had been asked to offer up our theatrical talents to portray Simeon and Anna who met the baby Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem to welcome him to the Jewish world. Glen Avon was responsible for the service while a French River church cooked the dinner that followed.

The Vikings playoff game began while we were at Peace Church and was two thirds over by the time we arrived home. On our trip home the game changed from a comfortable lead for the Vikes to the beginning of a Saint’s turnaround. We got home in time to watch the remarkable twists and heart thumping turns until the final ten second miracle. Like the rest of Minnesota our screams pierced the night.

I checked my phone shortly afterward and discovered a family member had made a couple of calls to me while I had my phone muted during the Church service. The payers for my Aunt Mary’s family would be needed more than ever. She died shortly before the Vikings had taken the field.

Who’s Whoville?

This cartoon by Mike McKee of the Atlanta Constitution was in today’s DNT. It should not have surprised me that the Grinch has been used repeatedly for political cartoons which I discovered when typing “Cagle Cartoons” (where McKee’s work can be found) along with “Whoville” and Googling it.

McKee draws a Grinch-like Donkey disgustedly holding a newspaper with the headline “GOP Passes Tax Reform.” The cartoon has a bit of pseudo-Seussian doggerel:

The Dems hated tax cuts!
The whole tax cut reason!
Now please don’t ask why.
It bordered on treason!

I looked at some of McKee’s other work and a cursory view showed no preponderance of anti Democratic hits but I must say I disliked the word “treason” as McKee applied to the GOP tax law. The word might just as easily be used against the GOP and the billionaires who deny the nation sufficient financial support.

I much prefer the anti-Trump tone of my snow sculpture’s message. I also think it is far more in keeping with Dr. Seuss’s view of the world.

PS. I’m unlikely to do much blogging today. A snow-day has left me with grandchildren to entertain and Grandma Claudia decreed that tech had to end at 9:00. I’m five minutes over that. Yesterday I spent hours learning French and skipped blogging all together. I’m still evaluating how and where to spend my writing energy for the rest of this year. The Reader, a book, the blog…..I just have to work harder on returning to a more normal sleep pattern as too little sleep will defeat the purpose of writing to stave off dementia. Last night I was awake in bed for 4 and a half hours. I’ve got to keep the world’s troubles out of my head at night unless they are in my dreams.

Here’s some of my own verse:

Way down in Atlanda
The toon man McKee
Scrawled at backstab at Dems
and the Land of the Free

Dear Readers,I have to remind myself I’m running a marathon…

… not a sprint.

Last night, I watched the pilot of a series that has gotten some good press – The Marveleous Mrs. Maisel. (When I mention watching something my loyal readers, all eight of them, should presume I watched something with my better half) Maisel won a Golden Globe the other night. It was pleasant enough but I’ll have to watch at least one more to see whether I can spare the time to watch any more than this.

The heroine who is contemplating a career in stand up comedy asks Lenny Bruce, famed for his coarse candor (He had a routine about peeing in the sink) if he loved being a comedian. Maisel had just bailed the Bruce in this series out of jail. This Bruce went on to describe how horrible the comedian’s life was in grim detail. But do you like being a comedian Maisel wanted to know. The answer some of it mimed seemed to be that the audience reaction was more than worth it. Of course Bruce famously died of a heroin overdose so I wasn’t convinced. Maisel apparently was…..for the sake of the screen writers who came up with the rest of the first year’s episodes following the pilot.

I too would like an audience. I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood A. Making sure I knew everything despite the impossibility of this task and B. Teaching myself how to write so that it reflects what I’m thinking C. In hopes that something inside my head will lead other people as the best writers and thinkers have led me.

I check my stats (daily readership) with considerable regularity. I test my audience. For one thing I post posts before I’ve proof read them. Readers who come across them after my initial posting will likely see lots of mistakes. Those who find it a few hours after my initial post will likely find far fewer of them. As I told a recent critic I write the way I snow sculpt on my front yard. I let viewers/readers see the process of putting something together. I do have some qualms about critics printing out unfinished posts and beating me up about them but that hasn’t stopped me from continuing this practice.

This morning I have about a dozen things I’ve gleaned from the news that I want to bundle together to write about. Its already 10AM and I’ve decided to swim laps for the first time in a month. Claudia suggested that because she’s meeting with her book club. I also have other things to do like continue the sifting through years of accumulated papers to make room for the new clutter I intend to create writing some books. And writing some books is also about an audience. So was my return to the Duluth Reader. It has a potential of close to 20,000 eyes substantially more than the 250 I get on my slowest days. Of course the web puts me in contact or potential contact with billions of eyes. But, of course, that’s purely theoretical.

So far my most visited intellectual achievements have been viewed by millions of people a handful of times. Those are the occasional snow sculptures that catch the public’s mood. Ah, but I’d like a few of my words to reach that kind of audience.

I’ll mention two of the myriad of things that caught my attention today. The first of these was a story from the Washington Examiner about how great things are going with our New President. It was sent to me without comment by a former fan turned off by the insults I hurl back at Donald Trump. I suspected that the Examiner was one of the new breed of far right newspapers and did some checking on it. I already knew the Washington Times was (It’s owned by the Moonies)

Indeed the “Examiner” is owned by an arch conservative and one of my fellow Kansans, Philip Anschutz Unlike me Anschutz is a billionaire. He, like his fellow Kansas Billionaire Charles Koch, contributed a billion dollars to conservative Republican politicians in recent years. However, the Wikipedia article just linked to suggests to me that he is mostly an old style conservative worried about the future of America. With a billion dollars of mad money he certainly has influence beyond my loyal eight readers.

I too am worried about the world and its heating up and overpopulation. This story about bats dropping dead out of Australian skies is representative of many I’ve read even though it pales compared to stories about the bleaching of corals, the deoxygenation of the Oceans the 3,700 drownings believed to have occurred in the Mediterranean last year from fleeing refugees. Perhaps that’s because I remember the flying foxes of Sydney Australia’s Botanic Gardens from my visit. (I took some pictures of them but just realized I have no quick way to find what I did with them – including a month’s worth of travel – one more thing for me to organize)

But before I let another five or six paragraphs creep into this post I’ll force a conclusion. I figure I have twenty years of senicence in me. If I don’t work on the marathon but just work for those nightly laughs like Lenny I’ll squander my influence. If the best of my posts are any indication I have some worthwhile books in me. They take a lot longer to unfurl than quick postings on the Internet. So does learning a new language. I’ve been working on French for three weeks now. I’d like to speak serviceable French before the year is out to some Parisian waiters where I intend to do a little mangeing. There’s more but I’m going swimming first. Then it will be language training, then organizing…….I’m sure there will be a post or two in coming days. They might even be worth reading.

I’ll proof read this a little later. By the way……I figured out that toodle-loo comes from a french term for goodbye – “A tout a l’heure” Gotta keep working on keeping my brain plastic – especially if I expect to keep writing into my nineties. This is a marathon.

Not Eudora Redux

I’ve been talking to Bob Boone off and on since after I took a photograph of a dead Palestinian …… Wait a minute. This would make a pretty good column. Sorry. You will have to wait to see if the Reader will print if first. If not. I’ll publish it here.

Visibility … and oh yeah, Happy New Year

The countdown to the end of my term of office is in progress. In the meantime I’ve enjoyed being with family and holidaying, so much so that no critical posts occurred to me. However, I’m hardly out of the blogging business. Instead I’ll take a crack at augmenting my pontification by offering up a column for the Duluth Reader. They get more eyes than my blog and I’m all about eyes…….not the “ayes” of my school board voting days but eyes nonetheless. No previews until the Reader comes out on Thursday. I’ve got till 6:30 PM to write it and forward it to the publisher.

And I’m trying to get myself organized for some book writing too. It should be a great year. No SOD for me and Donald Trump and the Republicans have ensured that I’ll be enjoying a big tax break at the expense of “of the people, by the people and for the people.” Or as the our new resident of the Whoville White House, which he calls a “dump,” might say: “E Pluribus ef U.”

FAKE NEWS ALERT. Fake President says the Dump story was fake news.

A final board dust up

Annie Harala did jump on me at the last and final School Board meeting together. Loren Martell describes the action in his Reader column.

I’m at the water-rolling-off-the duck’s-back stage of my public life and took no particular offense although some seemed intended. After the meeting Annie’s husband, at perhaps his first school board meeting, wished me well and I told him he might very well find himself at the next swearing in of Congressman Richard Nolan. Annie is Nolan’s newly appointed campaign manager. It seemed a good way to leave the Board room …… along with my second name tag, which I seem to have mislaid.

Oh no. I found it…….in the bag that my going away gift (that I’m using as a candy dish) was in.

Joyeux Noël

This Christmas Season has had a subtext of World Wars about it for Claudia and me. I just finished reading the fabulous “Last Hope Island” out loud to Claudia and am half way through “Last of the Doughboys.”

We have both been working on French lessons on the app Duolingo . Given six or seven months of serious study perhaps we will be able to navigate through the two war’s French battlefields as something other than clueless “ugly Americans.” On Friday we watched two recent movies on the subject which had been getting good reviews. First, at Zinema, we watched “Darkest Hour” about the month of transition between the Chamberlain Prime ministership and Winston Churchill’s elevation. Its been dinged for historical inaccuracy but it was a pretty gripping film for me. I made a point of looking up the criticisms so as to winnow out some of the unhelpful theatricality. Watching it meant that I was more determined than ever to see Dunkirk and we watched it through live streaming. I’m sorry to say I found the latter movie quiet and disappointing. It was filmed with thousands when nearly half a million were involved and it delivered no sense of scale that honored its importance.

I’ll say this about Churchill and it relates to my earlier post on Character. Churchill was an outcast in his political party. Hell, he kept switching back and forth between political parties which made him suspect everywhere. To say that quality appeals to me is an understatement. Loyalty to party over principal holds no appeal to me. I’m drawn to folks like Winston and Abraham who also threaded his way to a new political landscape by blending political loyalty to a cause greater than party.

What Churchill stood for in his Conservative party that had been determined to stay out of war was the recognition that Hitler was such a great threat to Britain and the World that all the talk of peace was by far a greater danger. Dunkirk, however disappointing the recent movie, gave his early leadership a much needed boost and, perhaps saved us all from a grim authoritarian future.

(I feel much the same way about Donald Trump who has made ignorance rather than Arianism his chief goal with global environmental collapse one of his many likely future achievements)

Claudia and I added one more war movie to our watched list on Christmas Eve. It was the 2006 movie, Joyeux Noël, about the 1914 outbreak of Christmas in the trenches of the four-month old World War 1. (When my grandsons are older I’d like them to watch it.0 Its based on real events and the conclusion is damning. The very same sorts of folks who today are reaching back to a past they felt they could control had to deal severely with the men who accidentally allowed the Christmas spirit to overtake them in the trenches. In the true spirit of “let no good deed go unpunished” the soldiers who crossed no man’s land for a moment of ill considered humanity were sent off to become sausage on the Eastern Front, and Verdun in order to wipe the memory of human decency from the battlefront. That kind of contamination just couldn’t be tolerated. All over the world today there seems to be a rebirth of a similar intolerance today. You have no farther to look than at our own White House.

A cold shoulder for the Grinch

A small disappointment. Contrary to any thoughts that I’m all that humble about my snow sculpting I enjoy the attention the sculptures get. My current sculpture is pretty modest in size but the weather was perfect for me to gather up the modest snow in my back yard and sculpt it into the Grinch. It wasn’t quite melty enough so I had to cook it one lovely day that reached 33 degrees.

The process was described in this old DNT story:

The solution is to make his own wet snow. One way is to fill a tub with snow and let it sit in his house. About 7 years ago, he discovered a method he calls “cooking snow.” With this method, he pours water on a pile of snow and then covers this pile with other snow. The insulating properties of snow cause the whole pile take on a wet consistency that is good for creating details.

My Grinch is pretty good as is his trusty reindeer “Max” the dog. But what makes it is the inspiration of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan applied to Whoville. However, I couldn’t tempt the Trib’s photographers to come over and take a picture and KBJR which did mention it didn’t show a picture of it. Even my Facebook post only got 33 views. Pffft! Last year my Jabba was mentioned somewhere and picked up by Reddit picking up about 600 comments.

Jabba may have had one advantage over the Grinch. It was non political and some of the commentors spent by a harsh Presidential election enthused about that quality. That can’t very well be said about this one. At least no one took down my sign and the frigid weather we will be getting will preserve the Grinch nicely. Everyone returning to Duluth this Holiday Season will get a chance to take the Grinch in in his full glory.

My gift horse

A couple of days ago someone anonymously left a very nice gift and a suggestion at my door for a public art project. I took it that it came from a fan of my politics and my blog. It ended with the all caps request/plea “DON’T GIVE UP!! NEVER GIVE UP!!” Taped to the conclusion was a tiny pressed four leaf clover.

I very much intend to honor that plea. It was not really necessary but I appreciated the encouragement. I’ve planned to live to be a hundred since elementary school and in my college years I locked on politics and governance as my mission. I’ve been running for public office since 1976, 41 years ago. As a candidate I’m getting close to my sell-by date but I’m not sure being a candidates is my forte – witness my recent electoral defeat. Still, I think I’ve got more than vapors to run on. When I turned sixty, seven years ago, I presumed I still had another twenty years of sentient life left in me to do something useful. Despite the lapsing of seven years I am still keeping that twenty year horizon in view. Maybe when I turn 90 it will have shrunk to ten years.

Actually, its writing more than sculpture that I think will prove to be my métier. My eight loyal blog readers know all too well my yen to write a book. I yammer about it all the time. There’s a little alliteration in that. Or is that consonance? Its been a long time since my poetry unit in pre-college English.

The Public Art project my anonymous friend suggested to me was one about our tribalism. It sketched out for me two monolithic Easter Island like heads and suggested decorating them with different scarves to depict their mutual antithesis. In the gift bag were two huge, gorgeous pieces of fabric for me (or some sewing adept) to craft into scarves with the suggestion of intertwining them perhaps to hint that the tribes weren’t really all that different.

Well, I am too protective of my fingers to operate a sewing machine and I’m pretty resistant to other people’s artistic suggestions. Besides, a short time later an idea popped in my head that I subsequently put on my front yard that pretty takes sides with one tribe over the other.

Its often said we should not look gift horses in the mouth and I wouldn’t subject this gift to that kind of inquisition. I haven’t figured out what to do with the bolts of cloth but there were two other gift items I plan to use. One was a tea towel with “this is my protest dish towel” emblazoned across it. The protesters on it were doves which are famous for their moderation. I liked it. I’ve always considered myself something of oxymoron, in my case a “militant moderate.” I could be a petulant dove.

The other gift was a very loud pair of orange socks with the image of a fellow fighting a lion. Its legend said: “Thou hast balls.”

Why, yes, in fact. I think I do.

Oh, and if anyone would like to have some very beautiful fabric send me an email at:

My cat Moloch likes it too.

Squeezing some blood (thoughts on education) out of a turnip.

I began deleting old email messages on my District website a few moments ago. One gives me a link to clear out all of my district information on Google without disrupting non District info I had on a separate Google account previously. Having finished my holiday decorating…..including a second “fake” Christmas Tree in the basement with grandchildren produced gingerbread cookies I think its time to wrap up my District connections including turning in that tardy campaign finance form my Board policy book and my District ID’s and parking passes. I just discovered another eight inches worth of old Board books I’d put on some shelving to toss out so I’m really freeing up space. I have three or four bins of paperwork to look through some day and clean out as well.

I left my eight loyal readers hanging a couple days ago with assurances that there were subjects school district I intended to address related to All Day Kindergarten and more thoughts on Charter Schools. Promises, Promises. I’ll turn them into bullet points: Continue reading

Mom’s tree topper

In the fuzzy foreground you can see one of my Mother’s paper mache, Christmas, tree toppers. Just after my college years she started making very popular Christmas tree ornaments for the little boutique, Harpies Bazaar, she was a part owner of in Mankato. My parents are in a picture on the wall behind the little Christmas scene I just put up in my attic office. Its a little artificial tree full of and surrounded by my Mother’s ornaments, the ones that don’t fit downstairs. Some of my earliest memories of Mom were of her teaching my fourth grade classmates how to make paper mache puppets. The teacher’s husband even made a small puppet theater and I remember getting laughs from my classmates by adlibbing for the puppets while I was behind its curtain.

I bought the faux tree when Mom was in dementia care and decorated it each year until her death. She died just before Christmas 2015 and I got to her room in time to begin singing a family Christmas favorite,”Good King Wenceslas.” She breathed her last breath before the first stanza was finished.

Sorry, gotta go. I have a funeral to attend. Its for one of the fellows at my church who always loved to give razz about my snow sculptures before they were completed.

Minnesota School Boards in Concert

I just snapped this picture of all my monthly school board books (meeting agendas and accompanying documents) from 2014 through 2017. As you can see I ran out of room in my file cabinet after two years and piled the last two year’s worth on top of my file cabinet. I had twice as many, eight years worth, after I retired from the Board in 2004.

When I retired then I tore out all the minutes of each meeting and tossed the rest. Two file drawers were freed up. This time I’ll only get one empty drawer but that space is badly needed as I begin to focus on researching and writing some books. Besides, if I wanted to look through these old books they are located (for the time being) in the Business office. That could change. Our Administration is hellbent to go paperless and digitize all of the District’s docs. There is a move to give all Board members “Chrome books,” an electronic tablet, starting after the new school board is seated to put an end to paper. I won’t miss the new regime. I’m a happy forest eater.

Although I don’t often go back through old board books I did this morning because I’m not leaving the Board a happy camper. I attended a state School Board meeting on Saturday to decide what issues the MSBA (Minn School Board Assn) will lobby the legislature for. The meetings are the “Delegate Assembly” and I was one of the duly elected delegates from District 27 composed of a dozen districts near Duluth. My seatmate on the Board, Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, was also elected.

The MSBA Legislative Assembly began seventy years ago to decide on a platform to push in the legislature. I attended them regularly for the first eight years I was on the School Board. Resolutions are traditionally brought to to the Assembly by individual school boards but occasionally they are brought by board members with an axe to grind without their Board’s support. Such was the case three years ago when Art Johnston and I introduced a resolution to kill the state law that lets a school board expel a board member the majority doesn’t like. We didn’t win that argument.

For most of the last twenty years our School Board (other than me) have paid scant attention to the Delegate Assembly. So, you can imagine my surprise to find that four of the 16 proposals considered by the Delegate Assembly came from the Duluth School Board. Of these four the MSBA leadership opposed three of them including one that seemed intent on causing a civil war between Independent School District’s and Minnesota’s 150 or so Charter Schools.


Rosie Loeffler-Kemp was hot for this resolution but it died for lack of a second. Rosie did speak up at the microphone for one of the Duluth resolutions which asked that the fee to file for the school board be raised from 2 dollars to $20. To my delight, several school board members argued eloquently that such a change seemed anti-democratic after Rosie argued that the proposal would keep riffraff from filing for public office and thus making school board elections unpleasant. Rosie likes to keep things simple. Its been rumored that she attended a recent elementary school PTA meeting and explained that in the future she expected our School Board meetings would only last an hour from now on. (no more three and four hour meetings). The rumor further suggested that Rosie was confident that the School Board would begin being more supportive of the school administration. This should be a comfort to our Superintendent who could barely contain his excitement the day following the School Board election.

The new allure of Books and Bombs

A few minutes ago I grabbed my gym bag and got ready to head to a pool to swim laps. Swimming a thousand yards seemed vastlp preferable to continuing to pick up my office and sort through the detritus of my recent campaign. Trouble was I forgot that I had taken my second car in to put on snow tires. Claudia was with her book club so I disconsolately tromped back up to my office and turned on Pandora to listen to the Arron Copland station I created to write blog posts. I’ve been putting off my eight loyal readers for almost a week now satisfied to leave the most recent post where it was rather than cover it up with a string of less important additions.

Its only about 1200 words but they were very personal to me and I was very pleased with what I’d written. On the other hand I often second guess myself after such posts, even those I go over carefully edit. With some trepidation I just reread it and other than finding the word “sexed” instead of “sex” in the next to last paragraph I found it every bit as satisfying as I remember feeling about it upon first posting it.

I have often pulled my punches for the past four years of being a school board member. I know that this statement will shock a few people that I’ve written about but I have. Pulling punches is a habit. Abe Lincoln would write hot letters to his critics but then put them in his hat to think on and usually discarding them a short while later. The act of writing a response settled him down although he had as long a memory as any other person. He put up with his Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P Chase for a couple years because he had not practical option to dump the man who was helping figure out the complicated financing of the Civil War. But when the opportunity to dump Chase turned up he did so without a second thought…….except that he also gave Chase, who desperately wanted to be President, a royal send off making appointing him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Not a bad second act for the politically duplicitous Chase who nevertheless shared many of Lincoln’s political views.

Just before his assassination Lincoln was talking about traveling abroad for the first time in his life with Mary Todd Lincoln. He was ready for a second act himself which, however, would not be over for another four years of his second term. That never came to pass. His second act was as Martyr to the cause and civic saint.

My second act is about to start in a month’s time and I’m already slipping into it comfortably. I started growing a beard, still seedy at this early point, at my youngest grandson’s request. Maybe no one will recognize me. I have stopped hoarding unread Duluth News Tribunes and will end a 22 year habit of clipping out every article about the Duluth Schools. I’m even tossing my school board meeting books. Twelve three quarter inch books for each month for four years will empty out a file cabinet drawer.

I’ve resumed reading. I just finished listening to a book my daughter raved about by Trevor Noah, “Born a Crime.” Actually I listened to it as an audible book while I put together my first jigsaw puzzle of our Holiday Season. Actually its not done yet. I have about 200 of the 1,000 pieces left to insert. Its a hellish puzzle we stated a year ago and which I kept intact to finish this season out of sheer stubbornness. I’ve got another five puzzles after it to keep working on after I finish it. This is how it looked when I started but by now almost all of R2D2 has been completed:

Noah’s book is a marvel and a far cry from Alan Patton’s Cry the Beloved Country which may be the last full book I’ve read about South Africa and that was almost fifty years ago.

I’ve complained a couple of times about how the campaign was so all consuming that it put an end to my book reading for a couple months. Actually I’ve read a fair number of books in 2017 many about China. (I just added Trevor’s book to the list and Lynne Olson’s as well even though I still have another 74 pages to finish.)

I’ve got a couple of Pulitzer Histories that are half way done which I’d like to add to the list. Meacham’s book on Andrew Jackson and Tuchman’s on Vinegar Joe Stillwell and a book about the financiers behind the recorporatizing of American Politics, Jane Mayer’s Dark Money. They will have to wait however as I’ve finally finished a chapter in Back Over There by a World War I enthusiast Richard Rubin. Remember, I’m hot to write a book myself next year about my war hero grandfather. He’s already made it into the blog with over 40 posts.

As part of my research I’m keen to travel to France and walk the battle grounds of the Meuse-Argonne. That’s what Rubin’s book is about. It was a helluva war and this tidbit from Rubin puts it into perspective. Experts say that the unexploded bombs and shells of the Great War still lying in the old battlefields exceeds all of the bombs and shells expended in the Second World War. Farmers don’t much mind collectors going through their lands, after asking permission first, because they can spray paint the old bombs that turn up in the wake of a tractor, orange.

I don’t have much interest in blowing my leg off collecting old buttons and cartridges but I’d like to get a gander at the land my Grandfather spent almost all of 1918 defending. I’d rather begin preparing for that more than I would tonight’s meeting about our use of Compensatory Education funds to keep parents in eastern schools happy.