Archive - Aug 2013


August 22nd

Bush Fellowship

 It has been a busy week. Although my Bush Fellowship funding ended last month, I was asked to present to the board of the Bush Foundation last night at a board dinner. As you can see, the board is made up of some accomplished people and the dinner conversation was very lively. 

At my table was Jennifer Alstad, who grew up in Granite Falls where my great-uncle Roy was once mayor, Wendy Nelson of Carlson Companies, as well as two present fellows listed on this page, most of whom I also met throughout the evening. These are lively people with big ideas. It is a delight to be in their presence. 

During the question and answer session, I hammered home a point with some insistence, not entirely realizing but sensing as I waded in that what I was saying was controversial. A few people looked shocked while others smiled, and this gentleman stood in the back nodding vigorously and giving me a thumbs up sign. So I dove in and said what I wanted to say even harder. My basic point was that people in the so-called philanthropic community care far too much about what others in the philanthropic community think of them. It was made in response to a board member who asked a fellow panelist how the foundation is viewed by others in the philanthropic community. I basically said, "You shouldn't give a rip. Do your work and let the chips fall." 

Of course reputation does matter, but it gets to be a joke when philanthropies hire consultants to run around and ask what people in similar organizations think of them, which happens constantly. The consultants come back and say everybody loves you, which insures that the next time the organization gets self-conscious about what others think of them, it will hire the same consultant. It gets to be a complete joke. 

By that time, I was firmly established as the jester in the room so I am sure some people thought I was being over the top just for laughs. Others, however, followed up and challenged me, in a friendly manner of course. But with firmness. 

What fun to have the back-and-forth! I came back to the hotel pretty wound up. Lance finally said, wow, you really must have had a good time at the dinner!


August 18th

Samantha's Smile

samn's smile.jpg

This flower bed was designed by nursery employee Samantha Brown. It turned out very well. However, it is best viewed from the top of ladder. That is where I went to take this picture. I decided I had better record the bed before the begonia lips swelled to the point where they overwhelmed the alyssum teeth.  

August 16th

More gardens pictures


My bedroom window in the old bunkhouse (which was attached to a trailer house) was three feet from the trunk of this spruce. This looks better. 

coleus house.jpg 

The flowers in this picture grow on the site of the old dump pit where I used to build skyscrapers with cardboard boxes and light them up. My house is in the background, across the swamp.


Every pond needs a willow, no matter how messy the tree becomes. I am looking forward to this one eventually drooping over much of the pond. Willow are messy but lovable. 


The astilbe candles generally stay upright. However, these are so heavy that they seem to be bending over in order to blend in with the hosta. 


August 15th

An electronic birthday

Yesterday was my 49th, and was celebrated by driving to Stillwater to do a reading at an art gallery in an old Victorian house here. It was fun. What was even more fun was that, due to Facebook, my college roomate from Bible college days saw I was reading only a few miles from his house and showed up with his partner. We went out to a Carribean restaurant on the St. Croix river that they partly own.

Lance takes pride in his ability to withstand the hottest food possible, so the waitress brought him some fiery chicken wings which have a sauce made from "ghost pepper," apparently the hottest ever. The restaurant and its hot sauces were featured on a national TV show. The clip is here.  

Lance was defeated. He couldn't take the heat this time. I tried just a tiny nibble. Wrong move. Lance warned me. It was awful. But the rest of the food, moderately flavored and BBQed, was spectacular. 

Another highlight of the day: I got 175 Facebook greetings! That is like getting 175 cards in the old days. Of course it takes all of three seconds to send the greeting and it is free, but still, I enjoyed hearing from so many people. 

Included in the greetings were a recorded version of Happy Birthday from Kae, who is with Joe in Michigan. Very sweet. 




August 13th


Gleeman has a good analysis of Oswaldo Arcia. I stick with my earlier contention stated during the first game he played in the major leagues that he is going to be a good one. I suspect that in 10 years, we'll look back at this rookie year as being the start of something great. He is going to be a very big player. I haven't felt that sure of a ballplayer's future since Johann Santana started pitching for the Twins in relief. Hicks? I am not sure. Arcia? Look out. 


What a beautiful month! And the sweet corn is ripening nicely. Should be able to have some fresh by tomorrow or the next day. I also ate one of the first tomatoes today. Very late for the first tomato, but it tasted so very good. 

With the Twins in a state of perpetual mediocrity, I cut off my cable TV subscription this week. That did not please DirecTV which put me in their computer as a delinquent and arranged for a parade of their "account representatives" to call several times this week at weird hours to win me back. Each time I said, no, I was serious, I do not want cable TV anymore. Finally, this morning, I said a whole lot more. I do hope that ends the harassment. Cable TV (or satellite) is losing to the internet, which allows you to watch your shows at your leisure. No wonder the cable companies are panicking.

Poor Lance. My tirade over the phone at DirecTV upset him. He was eating breakfast at the time. He always assumes it is somehow his fault, and it took a while to convince him I wasn't mad at him. 

That is the risk of all tirades. I remember telling off a customer once in the middle of the greenhouse. The act was pretty satisfying to me, as I was unquestionably in the right, but later I discovered that my 5-year-old behavior, as fun as it was, upset several employees, as they thought my yelling was somehow directed at them.

It is best not to go into a tirade. But yelling at telemarketers is somehow catharctic. 

I am on the edge anyway as I am in the later stages of editing my latest book, which now has a title I am happy with: A Treasury of Old Souls: Tending, Defending and Befriending the Elderly.

With the title in place, I have to go through the stories to make sure they are in line with the title. The title is courtesy of Carol, my editor. She is a genius. She edited the Chicken Soup series, so she knows what sells. But she also knows which of my writing is good and which isn't up to snuff. Once she explains it to me, I understand, and cutting the bad stuff out is painless. 

But we have a ways to go. 


August 12th



These Scotch pine trees, two left out of a row which one contained a dozen, are my favorite. Such character. 


Here is a close-up of the New Guinea impatiens planted around the base of the pine. They are about 30 inches high. The blooms on the New Guineas are especially luminescent. 


The late evening sun hit the marigold bed nicely. Kae designed and planted this bed. She likes bright colors, whereas Joe likes subdued hues. I am with Kae!

petunia tower.jpg

August 11th

Open House

open house picture.jpg 

The open house at the gardens has come and gone. It was a big day with a lot of people. We performed twice in the peat building, adding even more family members from last year. I am on the left, Joe is next, then his wife Kae; in the purple is Mom, then sister Tracie, and finally Dad on the string bass. 

Kae worked hard to learn "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young, which she sang in a duet with Joe. The toughest words were "Hollywood" and "Redwood." Ls and Rs are not in the Thai language. When it came time to sing "redwood," Kae said "rrrrrrrredwood" and looked at me with a big grin. She's not just a good sport, she's a spectacular sport. 

Dad picked up the string bass three years ago at age 73 and has become proficient, thanks in part to long hours of practice with an iPad. Tracie picked up the violin for the first time in 25 years last Thursday and brushed up enough to be on stage Saturday. Mom has a gift for harmonizing and sang "Only You" with Joe. 

So, for the first time since childhood we had our entire nuclear family on stage, plus Kae. Lance joined for a final number, but for next year, he is going to work up a couple of tunes. 

The weather couldn't have been more perfect. Many people came in the morning and stayed all day. Joe gave tours of the gardens, which are in top notch condition. 

People are still free to come and visit the gardens at any time of day, any day of the week, with the caveat that we aren't always going to be around. Sometimes just to get things done I have to drive through the yard without stopping and not look either way for I know there will be somebody there I know and if I stop, it will take me an hour longer to get to town. Now, if I were twenty years older I wouldn't care, but I am still in that stage of life where getting something done is important to my sense of worthiness. 

August 7th

Summer School response

Friend Kurt Reynolds, a teacher in Thief River Falls, responds to last week's column on the good old days when we kids were left to do what we wanted with our summers on the farm. Kurt writes a blog about teaching and education, and whatever else strikes his fancy (sort of like this blog). As you can sense from this response and Kurt's blog, he is passionately interested in improving the classroom experience for his students as well as exploring all of the philosophical questions which come up when one discusses educational reform. Here's Reynolds:

I really enjoyed your summer vacation column today.  And what a childhood you had!  How fortunate.  I am reading a book called World Class Learners by Yong Zhao. He looks at all the reform efforts designed to get us caught up with China or India or Finland with their high stakes test scores.  But what no one ever talks about - when it comes to China anyway––is that they never produce any real breakthroughs or entrepreneurs.  

 He argues that China cranks out plenty of world class professionals who are excellent at math and science but don't adapt or think critically very well.  To prove this, he examines how now China is trying to invoke more creativity lessons into their curriculum (I read once in a piece on the importance of creativity in education that a Chinese official commented - after touring a US school that was focused on the basics and high stakes testing - "This is ironic.  You are heading back to our old way of teaching while we are rushing to your old way of teaching.").  

 Zhao even references an article about what would have happened if Steve Jobs would have been born in China.  Very interesting.  Zhao talks about what America has done so well for the past 100 years is encourage creative thinking and exploration (just like you were doing on all of those summers when you were young when you were tinkering and exploring and ripping stuff apart).  But, unfortunately, that's being discouraged for kill and drill test prep curriculum (perhaps, that's one reason you've noted that home school kids are so much more intellectually eager and comfortable around adults than public school kids are).


Unfortunately, a lot of that exploration and creativity must come outside of school now.  But even that exploration is being intruded upon by parents who think their strapping five years olds are destined to play hockey for UND or the Gophers.  Or we're so obsessed with having our kids in 25 different activities that we micromanage their time (we have a friend who picks her daughter up from middle school with a lunch for her as she ushers her from school to gymnastics because she simply doesn't have time to eat)!  Where's the time to tinker and explore and create?


I'm scared that our obsession with test scores and our move toward keeping our kids hyper busy and competitive - the opposite of that is the summers of your youth (and mine was very similar to yours too) - will either squeeze out any real innovators or mavericks (in the book "The Millionaire Mindset," the author notes that the majority of deca-millionaires had GPAs between 2.75-2.9) or turn our kids into rule followers with rudimentary skills.


And me? I can't even figure out how to get all of the letters in a blog post the same size. 



Our Lawn Obsession

Two weeks ago, I wrote a column about how we should ease up on our expectation that our lawns be perfect swards of pure grass. Sure enough, here is an article which treats the subject at great, but very interesting, length, from both a scientific and historical perspective. When did we start mowing our lawns? When did we begin to demand that they be pure grass? How many acres of lawn are there in the USA? These and many other questions are answered in the article.