Blog 1 Dinner

I would love to have dinner with John Prine.  He’s my favorite folk singer, he’s 73 years old, has survived cancer twice, and has never eaten a green vegetable.  I’ll have to specifically ask for a salad if I want one.

I would not ever have dinner with Michael Jackson.  I suspect he never ate much, and the only thing he would talk about would be all things Michael Jackson.  That would be fine for awhile, but by dessert, it would be time to talk about me.

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Phyllis Dalager: Still Playing on the Black Keys

Note:  I wrote this a few years ago along with my Comp I students.  It’s about time I published it!  Happy Mother’s Day 2016, Mom:)

It still amazes me. Mom would be in the kitchen and I’d need a break from my piano lessons, so I’d call out to her, “Hey mom! What’s this note?” Then I’d pick a key on the piano and play it.

“A Flat,“ she’d say.

She was always right. Impressive as this is, “perfect pitch” just scratches the surface of Phyllis Dalager’s musical talent. Though she was never a concert pianist, she has maintained her musical abilities at a high level and always found ways to share them with her community. She maximized the natural talent with which she was born through the sacrifices that her parents and others made for her and her sheer dedication to her instrument.

As I’ve noted, she has something musicians call “perfect pitch,” which means she can sing or recognize any note on the musical spectrum. For example, in her choir at Gustavus Adolphus, she gave the pitch for any a cappella piece the choir was singing, a job usually reserved for the pianist. She just hummed it. This is a talent that can’t be taught. Long before that, her parents recognized her natural musical talent when, at age three, she sat down at the piano and picked out hymns. What’s more, she played on the black keys (most beginners start out on the white keys). Mom had more natural musical talent than most people get after years of study, but the people around her recognized that this talent would need to be developed.

When she was seven years old, Grandma knew that Mom would benefit from lessons that they couldn’t afford. In 1941, very few families could afford any sort of extravagances, let alone the services of Mrs. Rustad, the best and most expensive piano teacher in town. To make up the difference, Grandma offered to clean house and iron for the Rustads, and soon, Mom’s talent took off. “I remember staring at a page in John Thompson’s pink Book for Girls when I first connected the notes on the page with what I was playing,” says Mom. “It was definitely an Aha! moment.” Much later in high school, another teacher, who knew that she couldn’t teach Mom any more, offered to pay for her first ten lessons at MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis, so every other Saturday, Mom would take a two hour bus trip to further her studies. Somehow Grandpa and Granma came up with the money to continue those lessons beyond the first ten.

All of this wouldn’t have mattered if Mom hadn’t worked hard. Her pilgrimages to Minneapolis are evidence of her dedication, and when she was in college, “I practiced about two and a half hours a day, though probably not on weekends. I did have a social life, you know,” she adds. As a senior, her hard work culminated a Beethoven piano concerto played with the Mankato-St. Peter Symphony. Many years later, I remember Mom sitting down at the piano for at least an hour every day, which is a practice she continues even now into her 70s. No one can say that Phyllis Dalager is not dedicated

I admire Mom’s musical ability, and what I admire most is how she humbly shares it. She shared it with her family. All five kids took lessons from her at some point (some with more success than others), and most of us continue to play some kind of music. She also shares with her community, too. Through the years, she’s been a piano teacher to hundreds, an elementary music teacher, a church choir director, and accompanist at countless community functions. My favorite story is of her playing for the Miss Thief River Falls pageant the night of having her wisdom teeth pulled. “I was completely out of it, and honestly, I don’t remember a thing” she says. Her community is a better place for all the music she’s shared. “It’s a gift I’ve been given, and I thank God for it,“ she says. It’s a natural gift, and one that she was able to make last a lifetime because of the sacrifices of others and her own dedication.

Dalager, Phyllis. Personal Interview. 25 September 2011.


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Chapter 2

Chapter 2


One hundred hours before the election, the Vice President and Jack were together.  They were in a large room packed with other people, but Jack and the Veep knew who mattered.

The ride over to Superior had been curiously unsettling for Jack.  His route was also the Vice President’s, and every three blocks, a black SUV or local police vehicle was parked along the side of Highway 53.  Where the road curved and Jack could see below the freeway overpass, he could see a black SUV under the overpass.  Bomb surveillance?  Why not.  These people take nothing for granted.

Jack pedaled up to the checkpoint in front of Superior Middle School, wondering if they’d route him to the parking lot with the other cars, but the police woman asked instead, “Are you going straight through?”

“With your permission,” he said.

“Go right ahead.”  She waved him through.  It occurred to him that the panniers saddled behind him might spark a little suspicion, but apparently not enough.

He was a little surprised to see a bike rack directly in front of the entrance, though the fact that there were no other bikes might have told him something.  Politicos streamed past as he locked up his bike, but then a dark suit stepped out the door.

“Sir,” he said, “you can’t chain to this ‘bike rack.’  The one you want is over there,” pointing to Jack’s right.

Sure enough.  This was obviously a portable gate of some kind, a piece of something that might be used to control crowds, with horizontal bars reminiscent of a bike rack, but now that he looked at it…  The agent had called it a “bike rack” for my benefit.  Secret Service sensitivity training is paying off.

“Of course, sir.  My apologies.”  The real rack, obvious now, held one other bike and was a reasonable, safe distance from the entrance.  Think, man.  If something doesn’t look right, it’s probably not right.

Inside, he saw what looked like an airport checkpoint, so he cleaned out his pockets while waiting in line.  Wallet.  Phone.  Carmex. Event ticket.  He laid them on the table and stepped through the sensor, immediately setting off the alarm.  Heads turned his way.

Damned belt buckle.  He should have remembered.

A local officer with some kind of menacing wand in his hand mumbled something he couldn’t hear, and so he stepped back.

“Whoa, whoa!  Step forward, sir,” said officer menaced.

Jack stepped closer.

“Put your hands out!” the officer barked.

“Ok  Ok.”

The wand was suddenly between his legs, up one leg and down the other, pausing, probing at the top, up one side of his torso to his armpit, around his head, back past his other armpit and back down his torso.

“Turn around.”

He turned without argument as the probe prodded and poked.

“OK, grab your stuff.”  He wasted no time, cramming it back into his pockets as he walked toward entrance to the event hall where the remains of a line lingered.  As he approached, the humming energy of the crowd spilled into the hallway.  The chant, muddled at first, soon crystalized into “Four more years!  Four more years!”  His unsettling welcome forgotten, he peered past heads into the packed hall.  No one seemed to be moving, and the crowd steadily packed in behind him.

Suddenly, a voice to his right said, “Jack?”

A vaguely familiar face was looking past him, and the man to his left said, “Sam!  Good to see you.”  The two men caught up, when Jack realized that Sam was a ferret-like volunteer from the Obama-Biden office that he’d met on a few occasions.  When the two men’s exchange had run its course, Jack offered a tentative, “Sam?”

Sam looked him over, trying to place him.

“Jack,” said Jack.  “I’ve phone banked a few times down at the office.”

“Oh, sure.  It’s been a long day.  You have no idea.”  Sam turned to the steadily growing line and shouted out, “Attention, everyone.  We’re going to get you in.  Please be patient,” and ducked into the hall.

“We better get in,” said a woman behind him.  “I left work early for this.”

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll get in,” said Jack, even though he was far from sure.

“I love Joe.  He can have my panties,” she moaned.

Jack looked away, hoping Sam would return.  Pretty soon, Sam shambled back out into the hallway.

“Attention everyone.  We’re going to get you in, but we’re going to have to go this way,“ he said, pointing down the hallway where some yellow caution tape closed off a hallway doglegging to the left.  “Follow me,” he conspired.   A herd of about forty people scurried after Sam and his campaign badge, Jack in the front.

As they approached the caution tape, a female agent who looked like she could both be on the cover of Vogue and break a man in half stopped Sam in his tracks.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“We’re going to take these people around the back,” said Sam.

“We want to see the Veep,” the woman behind Jack added.

“You don’t have clearance,” said the agent.  The crowd pressed closer.  Sam gave a sort of weasely puppy dog look.  “Ok.  Let me see what I can do.  Wait here.”

Meanwhile, the chanting from the event hall was gaining energy was growing more frenetic, and Jack suddenly started to feel anxious about not being in there.

“Well, hey, Jack!” he heard again.  He looked across the tape, and his eyes suddenly found Nick, the husband of one of Jack’s coworkers.

‘Nick?  What are you doing here?”

“This is where I work,“ said Nick.  “I’m a math teacher here.”

“Do you think you can get me in?  You’re on the good side of this tape,” said Jack.

“I doubt it.  Wait.  What are you…”

Without really giving it much thought, Jack ducked under the tape and was strolling over to where Nick had staked out some territory against the wall.

“Hey, you!” Jack heard someone shout.  “Don’t move.”

He turned toward the voice, reflexively putting his hands in his pockets.

“Put your hands where I can see them,” the female agent growled.  “Slowly.”

Jack carefully pulled his hands out and put them up in the air.  Next thing he knew, he was up against a locker with one hand pinned painfully behind his back, the number 237 right at his nose, the agent patting him down for a second time.  This is not really what I envisioned this morning.  His nose hurt where it had been smashed against locker 237.

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Thrown Under the Train (My NaNoWriMo Novel)

Chapter 1

Up ahead, he could see the railroad crossing arm was down.  Coasting downhill the last couple hundred yards, the red lights flashed and the warning bell rang its droning, “Din din din din din.”  The line of cars waiting was five deep, but he rolled past, pedaling half strokes until he braked to a stop and put a foot down.

The train wasn’t there yet.  He was expecting a long parade of coal cars from out west, heading toward the Great Lakes, which would have made for a long wait.  Instead, though, it was the Amtrak.  Silly, he thought.  Passenger and freight don’t run on the same lines.  Or do they?  He didn’t know, he realized, as he watched one engine and eight cars shuttle past.

It was moving east to west, and though he didn’t know much about Amtrak, it occurred to him that this train must have come from Chicago, and was heading across the rolling hills and lakes of Minnesota where he was touring to Seattle, across the plains of Montana and the Dakotas, through the mountains until it would finally reach the sea.  Until he saw this one, passenger trains had never really existed for him.

He could see shapes of people, most of them paying no attention to the bike and cars waiting on the road.  There was a dining car, he thought, because people weren’t sitting in the regular passenger pattern – facing each other in sets of two.  Some people looked like they were standing at a buffet table.  Finally there were a few more passenger cars.

The last car approached, and he was about to put his foot back in the pedal stirrup, when something in the window of the last car caught his attention.  It was a boy looking directly at him.

The boy had platinum blonde hair, black horned rimmed glasses, and appeared to be wearing a bow tie.  Next to the boy was a woman in cat-eye glasses, wore a sky blue dress, and had strikingly bold auburn hair with a scarf over it. The boy’s mouth moved into a half smile, and then his hand waved.  The man waved back, and just like that, the car was gone.  The “clack clack clack” of the train fading as the “din din din” stopped abruptly, the arm went up, and the cars restarted their engines and filed past.

The man stood there.  In a matter of moments, the sound and dust settled, and the late afternoon sun glinted on the rails to the west.  The man shook his head at the sudden stillness.  That was weird, he thought.  That boy and the woman weren’t dressed right, and stranger still, there was no way he should have seen them.  The man rode a bike because he couldn’t drive.  He was visually impaired, had suffered from a retinal detachment from birth, and as a basic rule, couldn’t see people behind windows at such a distance, and certainly couldn’t recognize facial features even if he could see the people,   There was no way he could have seen that boy and his mother in the kind of detail he did.  His mother?  Why did he assume that?  He shook his head again, slipped his feet into the stirrups, and slowly started pedaling forward.

As he bumped over the tracks it came to him.

Amtrak didn’t run here.  The woman was his mother.  The boy, well, that was him.


“Are you going to eat that?” Marisa asked him.


“Are you going to eat your chicken?”

“Oh.  Yeah.  Of course.”

Jack was normally kind of a fanatic about cleaning his plate, to the point where it was one thing that was driving Marisa crazy after twenty-six years together.  “Six good ones,” he’d joked once, “and twenty others.”  It was a worn, stock husband-wife joke that was old before it was even conceived.  Marisa rolled her eyes at this, and a hundred others like it.

Tonight, though, there was something bothering Jack, and his lackluster approach to supper was the smoking gun Marisa needed to start interrogating her normally unflustered husband.

“You don’t have to finish it,” she said.

“No, I’ll…” and then he got up and went to the window.

“Jack?”  He didn’t seem even to hear her.  “Jack, are you listening to me?”

“Hmm…  Oh, yeah.  Sorry.  You were saying?”

“That you were going to finish your supper.  Jack, you’re acting really strange.”

He looked at her; rather, he looked through her.  Then he shook his head as if trying to clear it.

“You’re right.  If I tell you something really…strange, will you still help me do the dishes after?”

“Of course.  Do you need to see a doctor?”

“No.  Err…maybe.”

They faced each other, the kitchen table between them.  The clock over the sink ticked.

“I saw something today, and it…well, it’s just something that I couldn’t possibly have seen.”

“OK…maybe tell me what you saw and this will make sense.”

“You’re going to haul me down to the clinic when I say it.”

“I might haul you down there if you don’t.  Now get on with it,” she smiled encouragingly.

“I saw…my mom.”

Marisa’s jaw dropped.  “What?  She’s here?  Why didn’t you tell me?  The sheets aren’t clean.  I need to vacuum!  We’ve got no food…”

“She’s not here.”


“I saw her forty years ago, and I was there.  I was five years old and we were on a passenger train.  We were on our way back from Madison from surgery with the eye specialist there.  I know can’t be, but I saw us – Mom and me – and we waved to each other.”

Marisa’s mouth wrinkled into a hesitant smile.  “I’m waiting for the joke part,” she said.

“I knew I shouldn’t have told you.  Let’s just forget it and do the dishes.”

“No joke part?”

“No, just overall weirdness.”

“Go back to the beginning.  Where did this happen?”

And so he told her.

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Min-ni-so-ta: Good Island

This post is long overdue, but this May/June, we were visited by Jendrik Leviticus and Eddie James from the Marshall Islands.  Jendrik is Maritha’s grandfather, and Eddie is her biological father, and they came for 16 days to attend her high school graduation (and all of the related activities – holy cow!).

Jendrik and his wife Mwesap raised Maritha until she came to live with us when she was 9 years old.  In that time, she has seen him once.  In 2007, we returned there for a visit

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One of these is true

I was shot at once.  I was standing on a river island in New Mexico, and I could hear the reports from some bushes on the bank, and then the bullets zipping past me.  I quickly hid.

I have a twin brother who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota.  He teaches High School English there, has three daughters also, and a dog named Pepper.


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An open letter to clandestine smokers on my trail

Sometimes I entertain fair-minded notions about poor smokers.  The unfortunate victims are being hemmed out from every side, persecuted like Salem witches.  On my campus, this has forced smokers to hide part-way down my trail, below prying eyes from the road, a regular Anne Frank hideaway.

I know this because, during the winter, they left big, round, yellow-stained tracks in the snow where they hopped from one cold foot to the other while they smoked.  I know this because I met one yesterday morning as I was arriving.  We chatted about the coming lawn-mowing season.  I know this because…

…they’re leaving their butts on my trail.  I guess they get thristy, too, poor things, because…

…they’re leaving beverage containers.

I know how hard life must be for you, dear smokers.  It must be terrible to see those “No Smoking” signs everywhere – 21st Century “Whites Only” signs.  I fully expect you to organize “Smoke-Ins” on public buses and in restaurants…where, of course, you’ll leave your butts on the floor and toss beverage cans in the corner.

My advice to you:  Get a Freakin’ Clue! Or at least a Freakin’ coffee can!  If you want any sympathy from me, stop leaving butts on my trail!

(Do I feel better?  Well, a little, but I’m pretty certain that butt-flipping smokers don’t read my blog.)


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Ray Bans they are not; Snarky I am not

Today was my annual eye doctor appointment with my retina specialist, Dr. Sarah Galchus, who is a mystery novelist as well as an opthamologist.  I’ve never asked her about it.  Maybe next year.  According to Amazon, there’s only one copy of Charleston Red left.  I think I’ll order it.

Anyway, the good news is that all is as it should be.  My vision is poor, but stable.  I can’t ask for more than that.  Thank you, Lord.  The best part is the glasses they give me afterward to protect my dilated pupils.  I think they’re made by Wham-Oh!  At least they roll up like those plastic sleds we used to cruise down the hills on.

Later, at the transit center waiting for my bus, I over heard one chain-smoking adolescent girl say to another, “I want glasses like THAT guy.”  It was just as my bus was arriving, otherwise I really wanted to hand them to her, just for the joy of seeing her face.  Such pleasures will have to wait.   I’m confident another opportunity for snark will present itself.

The other notable event of the experience happened as I was checking in.  Dalager, the way we pronounce it, is almost inevitably mis-heard as Gallagher the first time we say it to anyone.  Therefore, I usually say to receptionists and others who need to spell it, “Dalager with a D as in David.”  Sherry says “…with a D as in Dog.”  Anyway, today was more of the same.

“You name?”

“Steve Dalager, with a D as in David.”

Looking.  Looking.  Furrowed brow.

“You said Gallagher, right?”

“Yes, Gallagher, with a G as in Gavid,” I said…but I didn’t.  I chose not to be snarky.

Two missed opportunities in two hours time.  I’m not worried, though.  There will be more.


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Peat fire on Bone Lake by moonlight

I didn’t bring a camera.  Instead, I’ll try for a thousand words.

Last weekend, Scott Norr and I trekked north of Finland into the Superior National Forest – not quite into the BWCA.  Last fall, I upgraded my winter gear – new parka and -20 degree sleeping bag – and I still hadn’t used it yet.  The last weekend in Feb. had to be it, or I was going to have to sleep in my deep freeze with a frozen roast for a pillow.

Long story short, it was a great little trip into Bone Lake.  We skiied in about a mile on a snowmobile trail (no fresh snow machine tracks).  The lake is a pristine little finger stocked with several trout varieties.  We caught a few splake, but kept only one.  No matter.  The weather was georgeous, with the best part being the full moon.  I howled, but only once.  One can over do some things.

Our camp fire was next to the root clod of a fallen tree, which was our only mistake.  Sunday morning, Scott pointed out that the clod was smoking.  Jigging for splake, I was like, “Dude, I’m fishing.”  Later, however, it became apparant that this clod was really on fire.  The clod, a clump of roots about the size of a Volkswagen Super Beetle circa 1974 (blue), was billowing yellowish smoke from various ports.

My first guess would have been that such a clod was filled with dirt between the roots.  Some fire hazard, I thought.  Turns out that the mass is similar to peat.  Who knew that such a storied fuel source would be such a great fuel source?  We really didn’t want to read about the Bone Lake Fire in the next day’s (week’s)  Cook County News Herald, so we spent a couple of hours fighting the fire with the traditional axe and frying pan.

I really like fire, with explains why my Bone Lake story is mostly about the fire.  By the way, it was my task to get up out of my warm bag (that’s a bit of a stretcher) that moring and get the fire going.  Scott enjoyed watching me struggle to light matches with my frozen claws (Jack Londonesque) from his bag for quite awhile before he just couldn’t stand my ineptitude any longer.  30 seconds of his assistance, the thing was blazing.  You know what happened after that.

I must also mention that there was an old wolf kill 50 yards from out camp.  That makes pretty much any winter camping experience complete.

My word count is 433, which is worth about a 433 megapixel picture in this economy.


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At the gym

Here is where I reveal just how un-hip I really am.  Big surprise, but I went to the gym today for the first time.

I suppose “first” is a little extreme.  I used the “gym” when I was in college 20 years ago, but I don’t think I’ve been back since.

Back story.  I’m in Fort Worth for a conference (ITC eLearning – good conference), woke up at 4:00 a.m. and couldn’t sleep.  I watched some TV (bad idea – 1000 channels and nothing on), read a little (good idea – Alexander McCall Smith – engaging yet sleepy), but still couldn’t sleep, so 6;00 a.m. I decide, “I’m gonna work out.”

I’ve been nursing a knee injury (sledding accident Christmas ’09 – MCL), so I thought I’d be able to use the bicycle and have some quiet time with CNN.  Well, let me tell you, 6:00 a.m. Tuesday morning Omni Hotel Fort Worth, the place was hopping with sweaty people who really seem to know how to use the machines, all wearing ear buds.

I don’t do ear buds.  They creep me out.  My own personal ears are disgusting.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but I bet other people’s ears are disgusting, too.  Shoving something in there on a regular basis and then laying them around on my dresser or some end table.  Ugh!  My kids have them, and yes, they’re gross.  I handle them like dead rats if I have to handle them at all.  Gloves are handy.

Back in the gym.  What the heck.  I do my best to resemble confidence and experience, and check out the bicycle.  My neighbor is intently reading his business plan as he pedals.  Faced with the console, I push a few buttons and get the thing going.  I even get the personal TV going, but then I realize that – guess what?  I need ear buds.  No matter.  Who needs sound for the Dallas 6:00 a.m. morning show.  I think I learned more without it.  For example.  It’s snowing here.  Who knew?

Anyway, I set a 15 minute goal, and just as I reached it, I figured out how to increase the resistance.  I’d been on one the whole time.  I did five more minutes at ten.  I think my heart rate started to increase, though I’m not sure.

Next up:  stair machine.  I’ve never been on one, and it was a little intimidating.  Flanked on both sides by really fit women trudging up Mt. Everest to their ear bud soundtracks (what?  maybe The Bangles?), I got my balance finally, and did about five minutes.  I never did figure out how to control the resistance.   From there I could watch the room flatscreen with sound.  Still snowing.

No one was on the leg machines, so I had a moderately successful time alone doing leg curls both ways.  I was very pleased, on the second machine, to discover the yellow knob to control the seat position.  I wish I’d figured that out on the first.

Now that I’m armed with a little knowledge and experience, it would probably be smart to go back before another 20 years passes, but I doubt that’s going to happen.  I leave here today, and I have a thing about paying money to exercise.  All in all, I spent 30 minutes, experienced a little burn, and breathed with moderate rigor.

It’s not that I’m out of shape…OK, I actually am out of shape, but that’s another story…I just prefer to ride my real bike, walk on real streets, run on real streets (I avoided the tread mill – heeby jeebies), and ski on real skis.  I also like to hear the birds, the garbage truck, and the crunch of my shoes on gravel.

I feel better having disclosed that.


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