Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

April 29, 2005

Seminar

We had a nice turnout for the seminar on fruits and vegetables last night at the nursery, despite the cool. In fact, I think turnout is higher when it is cool than when it is sunny and warm; nice weather makes people want to work outside.

Marv continued to paint out at the Swamp Castle. The he painted the arch around the big windows in the front a color called "muddy river," which more accurately might be called "cow manure green." It is a rich, dark green with quite a bit of gold thrown in. After Marv finished the first coat, it became apparent that the gold was going to pick up the pine real nice.

Joseph the cabinet maker came out to set the toekicks or the kitchen cabinets. I didn't know what a toekick was before this building process--the learning never ends. He looked around my house and decided that I have gone "rectalinear." I think that is accurate. I want aggressive perpendicular lines where I can have them. I don't want them softened by beveling or curlicues or round corners.

I am trying to figure out why the only one who seems to like the fireplace is me. It doesn't matter, since I have the only vote. But still--I wonder what I see that others don't, or visa versa. Somebody commented yesterday that "it might look better when it is finished." I think the picture below is destorted by the wide-angle lens a bit. It is more proportionate in real life.

I can always have Jeff and Dean take a chain saw to it--but I don't think so.

The wood flooring for upstairs came yesterday. I thought I got a pretty good deal on it--$3 per square foot--but then you write the check for what looks like a pile of kindling and you start to wonder.

I set aside ten minutes yesterday to pick out appliances. It was quite easy--the log home company has a contract with Sears, so you are supposed to get a good deal. They sent me a nice catalog and I picked ones that looked nice. Kenmore. I guess that is a good brand. The prices came right back on email--and somebody who should know informed me that it was in fact a pretty good deal. Much less than I had figured. So, we'll go with it. I don't think I will purchase the $750 extended warranty, though. Uff da. You can get quite a few service calls for $750.

THE TWINS won one of those annoying mid-week afternoon games yesterday. It took them extra innings. They swept the Royals three straight, which is what good teams should do. The Royals are in the dumps.


April 28, 2005

Fireplace



Here's the fireplace. The wood beams are in their final form, everything else has yet to be filled in. There will be some tile in the empty spaces.

So far, the comments have been: "Well, it's unique!" and "it's one of a kind, that's for sure!" and "does it somehow symbolize the cross, is that what you're getting at?"

Hee hee.


April 27, 2005

Flurries and wind

Quite a day--the quaking aspen are lime green, and today it was blowing sleet and snow. During one of the outbursts, I was standing in the middle of the living room of the Swamp Castle, and it struck me how all of the windows made me feel as if I was surrounded by nature, in the elements, yet protected. It is a feeling I like. I do not like living in a cave. The blowing snow and lime leaves were visible in all directions. The open water on the swamp shivered with waves.

I played the piano for quite a while out at the house. The acoustics as they are at present are going to require holding back--if I play as loud as I am accustomed to playing, it sounds overwhelming. The reverb in the house right now makes it sound like a concert hall. You can't really use the sustain pedal or it all turns to mush.

Marv painted more walls today. I do like the dark, rich colors. The name of the rich gold/tan upstairs is "deep cowslip," which can easily be altered to make it even more descriptive.

I worked a bit on tolerance and kindness today, but it was tested when somebody wanted us to replace a rose which died two years after it was purchased, as if it was our fault. We never guarantee over winter--it would be insane. And we certainly don't guarantee two years later. We guarantee a healthy plant at purchase time and for that summer--that is all we can do.

So, I felt the blood rushing to my face and had to express in no uncertain terms that we simply do not guarantee over winter--it is stated on our sales slip, in our catalog and on the wall.

Now, this person wasn't worth the trouble of raising my blood pressure. Yet, I could feel it go up. So, there's work to be done. Dealing kindly with customer situations is pretty much my biggest challenge in life. I haven't lost my temper in about five years, but it has been constant work. The calculation seems simple: Is the loss of this person's business worth the trouble of putting up with their crap? No, it isn't. But at the same time, the price of losing one's temper or even making a smart remark to put them in their place is so much higher. Responding in such a way never pays.

As a lesson in this--a lady was here today who came about five years ago to buy plants for an enormous perennial bed. We got off on the wrong foot back then, as she was more than a little abrasive, I thought. However, we made peace--and since then she has become one of my favorites--we tease back and forth and have a good time. Her garden is spectacular. Today she brought pictures of her gardens, and we had a good time going through them.


Snow

Now spring is acting more typical. This morning, snow flurries. I can't say that I am too upset. It will be a good time for some rest and catching up.

Cassio left on the bus yesterday for Minneapolis. He will fly out to San Francisco today where his particular group of Brazilian exchange workers will hold their final ceremonies. The final meeting is required by the program, for whatever reason--and it is a good chance for Cassio to see some of the country.

Danilo has had two full days of work now and is getting used to things. It will take a while for him to feel at home. It was particularly fun for me the other day when Cassio and Danilo were in the Morton Building shouting instructions to each other in Portuguese over the din of the skid steer motor.

It has been sort of a goal of mine to have exchange workers--but I hadn't ever gotten around to it until the issue was forced on me this spring. We did have Yves, a friend of my brother's from France, come over one spring. He was a delight. He had his Phd in psychology--but spent a few weeks in the greenhouse moving petunias to and fro and said he enjoyed that more than academics.

Part of the fun of running a business is seeing people get to know each other and become friends as a result of work. I rarely participate in outside-of-work social activities, but it is fun to hear about others who get together to go fishing, or for a meal in the off-season, or whatever.

This year, neighbor Gary has been added to the mix. He is starting a truck farm two miles east of the nursery, so he is interested in horticulture--but his varied background--law enforcement, teaching--makes the lunch table more interesting. He is also a gem with customers, which is so important.

My patience wears thin with customers way too quickly. I do not easily abide people who aren't verbally efficient and whose main goal in conversation seems to be to keep you imprisoned in their presence. Yesterday I just walked off when a woman kept asking the same question over and over and over--apparently hoping that at long last I would give her the answer she wanted in the first place.

Such people are the exception. Most customers are jewels. It is those 5% that I have to work on. I guess they are sent to me as a lesson or something like that.


April 26, 2005

Graduation

Tonight, I was the entertainment for a GED graduation in Detroit Lakes. I didn't suppose that a GED ceremony would have a lot of people, but when I arrived--just in time to see the harried organizer of the event on her cell phone to the nursery wondering where I was--there was an auditorium full of people. The high school jazz band played a march. There were fifty graduates.

It was what one might imagine a GED graduation to be. Lots of big, loud families in the audience--lots of crying babies. One of the women who won an award on the stage later went out in the crowd to quiet her baby. The big award of the night went to a 48 year old woman who is working to become a nurse. The teachers sited her as an inspiration.

As for me, I am far more inspired by GED grads than regular high school grads--and I told them that before my second song. I said as a business owner, a GED would perk up my ears far more than a regular diploma, if only because people who earn their GED have to go out of their way to get it done, whereas conventional diplomas sort of happen to people if they don't make too many waves and do the basics.

The main speaker was a bureaucrat from the Department of Education in St. Paul who had absolutely nothing to say and said it poorly. But it was good to have his blessing.

The ceremony was pleasantly quirky--beyond the fact that they hired a nurseryman to entertain them. They had a student perform on his guitar. He had dreadlocks down to his waste and is in a Christian rock band. I sort of dreaded his guitar solo, but it was very good--it started with a rendition of Pomp and Circumstance and went into an improvisation which was quite musical.

At the end, the secretary that these GED students had dealt with during their time in the program gave the benediction, which consisted of a blessing she had written sung accapella. She asked all the rest of us to hold up our hands in blessing on the graduates--something which I would have thought corny in any other situation, but with all the blue collar families, crying babies, and celebrating relatives in the audience, it seemed appropriate.

Then the head teacher presented the class and coaxed them to throw their flat hats in the air, which they did reluctantly--they didn't seem familiar with the ritual. I actually think it is dangerous to throw those things around, but nobody got hurt.

Afterwards, huge families gathered for pictures. There was cake and coffee, and I suspect I should have stayed, but....

JOHAN SANTANA was pitching, and I had to listen on the radio. What a beautiful evening to listen to baseball and drive home through lake country! The hills are turning green, the trees are fringed with yellow, green and dark maroon, depending upon the variety, and the sun was obscured enough by dust to be an orange ball.

And Santana pitched a whale of a ballgame. Kansas City isn't the greatest, but they are still major league hitters, and Santana held them to one scratched out run over eight innings. Joe Nathan blew away the Royals in the ninth for a save. A good win.

And a good end to a good day.


The ranch

The Bergeson family has benefited over the years from the fact that Dad's sister Lois, in a fit of rebellion, took a teaching job in Burns, OR in the mid-1950s, married a rancher, and raised a family there. We have benefitted because our entire family enjoys taking pilgrimages out to "the ranch."

The latest cousin to do so is Anne, who presents a photographic report on her weblog today.

The ranch and the drive from the ranch to Idaho, where Anne and her husband Bob now live, to my notion contain some of the finest scenery on earth. The ranch is at 4500 feet elevation. There are mountains just to the north, and in the distance to the south.

Anne reports on a branding. I was there for a branding in 1983. Like Anne's husband Bob, I did the vaccinating, despite my queasiness about all things medical. We branded 50 cattle that day. Branding isn't just branding--they also burn out the horns from the skull, vaccinate, and detesticularate the male livestock. A painful day for the hapless animals, and a festival on par with threshing for the adults.

Branding, unlike threshing, has not been reduced to a mechanical procedure by technology. It is still much the same as it ever was. A hot fire. Hot branding irons. Good food. Good fellowship. And for the cowboys, a chance to rope.

Anne shows a picture of Cousin Charlotte. She's a good roper, brander and rancher--and she's president of the local credit union. As such, she has more than once pulled up to a ranch and reposessed a herd of cattle, using both her financial competence and her roping ability at the same time.

Some of my most pleasant experiences have been out at the ranch in Burns, OR. Great memories.


April 25, 2005

Open till eight

Every year when we set the spring nursery hours, the question is--when do we start staying open late? If it is nice in late April, people will want to come in the evening, but if it is like it is today, we likely won't have anybody--and yet some poor tired soul is going to have to sit here until eight o'clock. If I lived right here, as I will soon, I could run out to the house and watch for customers from the crow's nest. As it is, I think I will just stay here, get some work done, and wait until about 7:15 before shutting things down and running home to sit in the recliner.

Marv painted some more on the Swamp Castle today--swampy colors. Actually, the color he painted today was named "Muddy River." It is a rich greenish yellow--another color you might mistake for chocolate if you didn't know better.

The fireplace has taken final form. Most people just say it is "different." Some have said, "well, it's unique!" Brother Joe pronounced it overbearing. Dot said it gave her the chills. So, it is at least provoking some thought, anyway. I absolutely love it. I will see if I can get out there and take a picture of it soon.

My speech-making schedule is going to lighten up a little bit this week--last week was a bit much. I gave seven presentations on the road and four at the nursery. I was fed seven free meals between Monday noon and Saturday evening. Driving and talking is tiring--not physically so much as mentally. It is fun, but you have to be on, and being on can wear me out.

I have been speaking to the same people over and over at some of these gatherings. It makes me wonder if we are getting any new PR out of the deal. Every new gathering might have some new people, I suppose, and it only takes one new customer to make the speech worthwhile. However, it is a lot of running around at a busy time of year.

The Twins' season stalled. Two rainouts and a loss this afternoon to the Tigers. As dismal as the weather.


Red Hats



For some reason, I ended up speaking to a convention of Red Hats in Brooks, MN this noon. They forbade me from making any serious point or trying to be educational. I don't know if I succeeded or not.


Burning the candle at both ends

At least that's what it has felt like the past few days! The early spring meant that things broke loose early at the nursery. Meanwhile, I still have a full slate of speaking engagements meant to promote the nursery--which seem superfluous once I return to the nursery to find the place inundated with customers. Plus, I had to move last week and I still haven't unpacked my necessary junk--so I am searching for things like clean clothes and dish cloths and the like. It has been surreal.

After giving three seminars at the nursery on Saturday, I traveled up to Black River Lutheran Church 10 miles west of St. Hilaire to speak to the Swedish Heritage Society. Black River Lutheran is one of those wonderful country Lutheran churches which has kept the sanctuary intact while adding some nice additions around it--it was really quite beautiful.

First we had a great meal of ham, baked potatoes and vegetable salads. Then we went upstairs and I played piano, sang and spoke. It really went well. These heritage gatherings always seem to have a good spirit about them. People are ready to laugh, ready to have fun, no constraints. Put the same group of people in the same room but with a different organization at the head and it could be dead.

So, the sun was setting out over the cemetery to the west and shades glowed yellow--it was a beautiful scene, and it was a privilege to speak to a bunch of Swedes.

Saturday at the nursery was crazy--people are eager to plant. They have lots of questions which they preface with "I have a question for you..." You never know what will follow. One lady announced that she had a question for me and then asked, "Have you suffered from depression?" That was out of the blue. I said yes, and it turned out she had a daughter who suffers from depression, and the lady wondered what could be done for her. I told her what I thought, but it required a shift in gears to be sure.

ON SUNDAY, another Brazilian exchange worker, Danilo, arrived. Although he will be staying with Aaron, one of our employees, last night he stayed at the apartment with Cassio and I. After we got back from supper, I went into my bedroom and shut the door to work on a column--and they started chattering in Portugeuse, something they don't feel free to do when I am present. It was wonderful to hear them going to town, not having to reach for words or struggle to be understood.