New Camera

OK, this is pretty dull, but I just brought home the new camera, a Sony Cybershot.  Karl at Best Buy was pretty convincing.  Here are a few samples.

Still life with macaroni.

Still life with macaroni

I like the way the carrots and broccli are menaced by the upside down and draining Ranch dressing.

New roof with ridge vent and other vents.

new roof

Do you think the chimney’s straight?  Or do we have a problem.  Love that flashing around the chimney.

Homecoming Queen and Father.


Definitely one for Facebook.

I guess it works!  Let’s hope I don’t have to use the $20 Best Buy service contract that I’ve already misplaced. 


Posted in General Musings | 3 Comments

The Graduate Speaks for Herself

My daughter, Kylie, graduated from high school over a month ago now. Since then, she’s already been to Europe and back, and right now is preparing to spend her first college semester atUniversidad de las Americas in Puebla, Mexico, departing two weeks from today. Needless, to say, I’m at a loss for words. For eighteen years, we’ve watched this person sprout, take root, grow, wither occasionally, and blossom often. We’re hardly done gardening, but this sure feels like some kind of monumental moment.

As I noted, I’m at a loss for words, and plan to grope for more soon, but for now, I’ll let her speak for herself. This is Kylie giving the sermon at Gloria Dei Lutheran church in Duluth, June 8, 2008. It’s about eight minutes.


Posted in General Musings | 3 Comments

I’m back, and with (stolen) tornado footage

Who knew my blogging hiatus would be noticed? Life got really wild in June and I got complacent living the unexamined life. Luckily, gentle bloggers Sarah and David have coaxed me back. I’ll begin with something simple.

I just returned from the Swenson family reunion in Willmar, Minnesota. I know you all want to hear about the relatives, but the most exhilarating thing about it was witnessing a tornado. I took pictures on my cellphone, but I’m just luddite enough that I haven’t figured out how to send them to myself. Lucky for you, gentle reader, there’s a ton of footage on YouTube already. I chose one here that’s both terrifying and brief.


There you have it. I wasn’t quite as close as this video, but my guess is it was about a mile south of our motel. A large crowd of Swensons were yacking in the motel lobby when a wet woman stormed into the lobby seeking shelter from the funnel cloud. I calmly announced that we should all seek shelter in the center hallway, at which point Swensons young and old grabbed their cameras and headed for the parking lot. A good time was had by all.

The ensuing damage tour revealed that damage was spectacular, but limited to things like trees, sheet metal roofs, and a few farm implements. The most interesting damage we saw was the roof of the turkey quonset. The turkeys, largely unscathed, remained looking up in wonder far into the evening.

Maia and Maritha were sufficient schooled in the terrible power of nature and the nature of our own fragile mortality. They also learned to remember their cameras for the next weather event.

I hope to be posting more regularly in the next two months, so I figure I’d wet your appetite. A preview of future entries looks like this:

  • A father examines the milestone of a first daughter’s high school graduation
  • Fishing on Lake of the Woods
  • John Kelly: Man or Myth?
  • Sasquach: Man or Myth?
  • Yeti: Man or Myth?
  • 50 years of my parents marriage celebrated
  • Does a newspaper contain news? And is it made of paper?
  • Some book reviews

That should keep you coming back.

P.S. I almost forgot. A young girl is reported to have been knocked unconscious during said twister, and upon awakening, claims to have traveled with her dog via twister to the Mall of America, where she purchased sweet shoes and learned that “There’s nothing like credit.” Her family and the hired men rejoice in her recovery.

Posted in General Musings, Personal History, Travel | 2 Comments

Hope for Pedestrians Everywhere!

My brother Karl sent me this interview with Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota about redesigning our cities, and therefore our cultures.

Check it out.

Posted in General Musings, Travel | 5 Comments

Live at the Blue Note

Last month The Larrys played at the Blue Note Cafe in Canal Park on a Wednesday night. We played again this past Wednesday. I think we’re going to try to play there once a month, probably the first or second Wednesday. Elusive we are…

Here’s a sampling.

  • All Along the Watchtower (Dylan)

All Along the Watchtower

  • Spoons (Dalager)


  • White Freightliner (Van Zandt)

White Freightliner

Catch us if you can.

Posted in General Musings, Music | 3 Comments

True and Notso

Alright, wise guys.  How well do you know me?  One of these is true, and the other is notso.

  • Since I’m visually impaired, the U.S. Military wouldn’t take me.  I was born in Canada, however, giving me dual citizenship, so after high school I was able to join the Royal Canadian Airforce and fulfill my dream of working on a ground crew.
  • Since I’m visually impaired, the state of Minnesota was reluctant to give me a driver’s license.  Growing up on a farm near St. Hilaire, Minnesota, however, I drove all the time.  I’m proud to say I only hit a building once.

Which is the truth?

Posted in Engl 1106, General Musings | 7 Comments

A Golden Retriever, a Walleye, and an Egg Salad Sandwich


Scott2Monday was opening fishing for the stretch of the St. Louis River between the Fond du Lac bridge and dam. The walleyes spawn there, and the DNR likes to protect them until May 19. If you’re a spawning walleye, this is a date that should be noted on your calendar.

Scott, my fishing compatriot and all around guru, likes to fish the “honey hole” from the bank, standing about thigh deep in the dam’s tailrace foam. Here he ties a swell snell knot sporting his late May chop.

We parked at the city park gate, closed for some reason, along with about a half dozen vehicles that had beaten us to it. Hiking up river, the best part was watching Beckett the Swede racing ahead and back, sticking his golden nose into everything. It’s been nearly six months since Pepper died, so I noticed I was coming down with a slight doggie fever. When I mentioned this to Scott, he said,

beckettIf you’ve had a golden, you’ll never have another dog, but if you haven’t, keep it that way. They’re the best natured animal on the planet, but they’re prone to every disease on the planet known to man, and some he don’t know. Some are even allergic to their own fur, and no one sheds like a golden.

I don’t know if that will deter me, but it will probably deter my wife.

The river was pretty busy with a flotilla of Lunds when we arrived, which surprised me, since I hadn’t told a soul about this trip or the secret date. Word apparently gets out. On the advice of my brother Nate, I started with a floating jig and minnow tethered to the bottom by a quarter ounce weight. poleThe idea behind this sort of river fishing is that it allows one to take a nap while resting ones rod on a nice Y branch. This turned out to be a very pleasant method, and as luck would have it, not a single fish disturbed my slumber. Scott, up stream from me and no napper, finally pulled in an 18″ walleye, and woke me to clue me in to where it was at. We started jigging the upper end of the honey hole and it wasn’t too long before I had my walleye. She was under the 16″ length restriction, so I let her swim away, but it was nice to meet her, even if I didn’t eat her.

After spending most of the morning and part of the afternoon in this fashion, we packed up, ate some egg salad sandwiches, chased Beckett into the van, and headed up to where the rest of the world was doing its normal business of pushing virtual paper and making widgets.

None of us missed that.


Posted in General Musings | 2 Comments

Lives on the Boundary

roseThe last book on my sabbatical reading list was Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary. Part memoir, part rhetorical theory, part public policy polemic, and always engaging, re-reading it was well worth my time. I’d forgotten that CCCC ’93 in San Diego, he’d autographed my copy. “Best Wishes. Mike Rose. CCCC ’93.” Bonus for me. (In truth, I have no memory of meeting him. It could be that he autographed a stack and I bought one. In that case, dubious bonus status.)

Regardless, it’s a great book about educating what Rose calls the educational underclass – those that end up in community college or community education programs to whom the mysteries of the ivory tower remain tantalizing, but out of reach. For the most part, these are the students we teach at Lake Superior College.

The first half of the book charts his own education growing up on Vermont Ave. in LA. I think Monopoly got Vermont about right, based on Rose’s portrait (probably worth not one cent more than the $100 asking price). It wasn’t the toughest part of LA, but it was definitely no easy place to grow up. By high school, he’d been labeled “Voc Ed” and was mired in lethargic disinterest until, almost by accident, one of his teachers lit an intellectual spark. His last two years of high school marked an awakening, guided by his English teacher Jack McFarland, which eventually led him to Loyola University, where he nearly flunked out but for the intervention of a couple other teachers there. Finally, he ends up in grad school at UCLA, where he finally becomes disinterested/disillusioned pursuing a PhD in favor of getting involved in literacy.

He joins something called The Teacher Corps in the late ’60s working with disadvantaged South LA elementary students, works for several years with Vietnam Vets in a rehabilitation program, directs a Tutor Center at UCLA, and continues to work with programs that, one way or another, help disadvantaged students gain access to higher education through literacy.

Here’s a smattering of Rosey (though not always rosy) insights:

  • Describing remedial literacy curriculum based on “subskills” and achievement tests, he writes, “There ended up being little room in such a curriculum – unless the inventive teacher created it – to explore the real stuff of literacy: conveying something meaningful, communicating information, creating narratives, shaping what we see and feel and believe into written language, listening to and reading stories, playing with the sounds of words.” (109)
  • On how we writing teachers interpret error, he writes, “As writers move further away from familiar ways of expressing themselves, the strains on their cognitive and linguistic resources increase, and the number of mechanical and grammatical errors they make shoots up. Before we shake our heads at these errors, we should also consider the possibility that many such linguistic bungles are signs of growth… Error takes place where education begins.” (188-9)
  • On how college teachers are trained, he writes, “People emerge from graduate study, then, as political scientists or astronomers or botanists – but not necessarily as educators…it is pretty unlikely that they have been encouraged to think about, say, the cognitive difficulties young people have as they learn how to conduct inquiry in physics or anthropology or linguistics…” (196)
  • Finally, “Through all my experiences with people struggling to learn, the one things that strikes me most is the ease with which we misperceive failed performance and the degree to which this misperception both reflects and reinforces the social order.” (205)

Rose ends by talking about what literacy – education and higher ed in general – could be, suggesting “that education is one culture embracing another.” (225) Anyone want a hug?

Seriously, what Rose reminds me ultimately is how human any teaching, but particularly the teaching of writing, is.

Posted in Books, Sabbatical | 1 Comment

Broken tooth is breaking my heart

marMaritha broke her front tooth yesterday. I wince thinking about it, but it wasn’t bloody or nearly as painful as I’d first imagined it. From what she says, she was following her friend through a school door and wasn’t paying attention. She thought Jenna was going to hold the door, but Jenna didn’t, and the glass door smacked her square in the teeth. The lips were unscathed, so my hunch is she was smiling or laughing – her normal carefree state. She was probably paying attention to someone behind her and turned just in time to catch the door with the tip of her left front tooth. Enamel on commercial grade glass. Oooh wee!

While this is certainly not good news, what really slapped me across the face is what happened later with the dentist, where the gaps in Maritha’s education and experience stood out more than her gap-toothed smile. With her eighteenth birthday coming in four months, Sherry and I are seeking continued guardianship, which I’ve had conflicting feelings about.

She and I went in to Dr. Mart together, and he started asking her questions about what happened.

“When did this happen?” he asked.

She gave a confused look, and looked to me for support. I supplied that it had happened a little after noon.

“Did you fall in gym class?”

“No,” she answered, “I got hit by a window.”

“Wasn’t it a door?” I added tentatively.

“No. A window,” she insisted, giving me that you moron, dad look. We agreed that it was a glass door, which is mostly window.

And so the interview continued.

What troubles me is how simultaneously simple and complicated the world is. Talking to the dentist, the doctor, the teacher, the mail carrier, the boy who wants to kiss you, the man who wants you to get in his car – at age seventeen, we hope our daughters can navigate these simple complexities.

Maritha started out with us at age nine. She’d attended school in the Marshall Islands only occasionally and she had a hearing impairment. She probably also suffers from some degree of FAS, though this can’t be completely confirmed without documentation of her gestation. She so wants to be eighteen, to have a driver’s license, a job, and to go shopping whenever she wants.

We’re hoping someday she can be there, but yesterday it hit me again how far she has to go.

Posted in General Musings | 2 Comments

Beethoven, a man, and a rose

or What my wife told me in the stairs

There’s nothing about listening to Beethoven that’s usual for Sherry. It’s not that she doesn’t enjoy it; she does, but the old deaf white guy doesn’t get much play in our house. He’s currently drowned out by Death Cab for Cutie, the Grease soundtrack, and olde tyme strains from The Guy’s All Star Shoe Band – eclectic pop/Americana that will change by next week. The symphony in general is something that doesn’t rise to the top of our priority lists in the din of trying to raise three teenage daughters and stay sane in 21st Century middle America.

However, Beethoven recently provided a rare moment for Sherry and me in the middle of our basement stairway as she told me, fresh from an encounter with wonder, about the man and the rose.

When Sherry’s friend Peg called and asked her to see the local symphony’s current concert, ending with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, she accepted because it was a chance for Moms’ Night Out, which she sorely needed. It had been another week of getting elder daughter through job issues, a research paper, a major college decision, and off to D.C. for five days; of laying down the law with middle daughter about homework and responsibility; of driving younger daughter to music lessons and youth group meetings; and of keeping her chin up in spite of her husband’s unhelpful irony.

Moms are also distracted by things like a looming kitchen apocalypse. This night, it was the culinary explosion that occurred when middle daughter and her two friends decided to make fettuccine alfredo and cheesy bread for supper in our kitchen. Half way through the actual meal (which was surprisingly good) she suddenly gasped, “Argh! I was supposed to pick up Peg for the symphony ten minutes ago!”

A quick change and hair check (no pasta – all clear), and she was out the door, picking up Peg, and skating into the concert hall with a few moments to spare.

Locating their seats, they found the end seat occupied by a well dressed, older gentleman. In the empty seat next to him lay a single rose.

They minced delicately past him.

“Excuse me,” said Peg.

“No problem,” said the man.

“Excuse me,” said Sherry.

“No problem at all.”

All the while, the presence of that rose loomed, mysterious and poignant. In the chatter before the conductor took the stage, they speculated.

“Blind date?” said Sherry.

“Internet date,” Peg finally announced.

Sherry agreed, and as the concert began, she stole glances at the man, hoping for his sake that his date would soon arrive. He sat quietly, but didn’t appear to be anxious. He wasn’t looking over his shoulder, anyway. Still, Sherry was feeling his pain. Her hope waned through a violin and viola concerto, and by intermission, the man was clearly stood up.

“What a bummer for him,” said Peg.

“I wonder if he’ll leave now,” Sherry whispered as they stood, stretching their legs and backs in preparation for the Beethoven.

He didn’t leave. When they returned from their intermission duties, they repeated the elegant “excuse me” dance. Then, through the opening strains of Symphony No. 7, he began to perk up. And by the second movement, he was openly enjoying himself.

When the last strains of the timpani disappeared and the applause settled, Sherry and Peg stood to put on their coats and began to edge their way to the aisle. The man, standing facing them, was holding the rose to his chest.

“She loved Beethoven,” he said to no one in particular, smiled to himself, and walked up the aisle.

Posted in General Musings, Personal History | 4 Comments