Monday, October 29, 2012


Yesterday was my birthday.
I sincerely thank everyone who sent me a card, an email message, or a Facebook message.
The messages help highlight the whole day.
It's good to feel popular, even if it is only for one small part of one short day each year.

Another highlight of the day was the birthday card from my wife, which I spotted on the kitchen table yesterday morning.  It was pretty funny so I scanned the cover of the card to share it with you below:
She had snapped a photo of me as I worked to saw off a broken limb on a beautiful maple.

The inside of the card indicates that even if I hide I will still get older. 
This is, of course, true.
 It's one of the cruel truths of the universe.
As you age even gravity becomes your enemy. 
The bounce in my step gets heavy and the skin on my face sags. Where did these jowls come from?

The physics law that states "a body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest" comes under question after age 65 or so. 
The law can be shortened and restated as "an old body in motion longs to be at rest."

I disagree with people who rave that age is "just a state of mind." 
Sure, attitude has a lot to do with it.
In fact, it may have a great deal to do with it, but denial of the physical state of things doesn't help.

So as I embrace getting older, I also embrace exercising regularly, eating lots of fruits & vegetables, eating good meat, taking good vitamins, eating healthy dairy products, and staying gluten free and sugar free. 

I like to make people of all ages smile when I do my Farm Heritage Program. Up to this point I've done nearly 500 shows for over 19,000 children and adults. For me it's important to keep my mind active by writing and performing my stories and by meeting new people who tell me new stories. 

I like performing for children, whose enthusiasm and questions always lift me up. 
And I like performing for adults of all ages because the experiences they share with me before and after the show make me laugh and grow wiser. 
At historical societies and assisted living facilities I meet and talk to active men and women who are in their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Some are even over 100 years old! They tell me stories of their lives on farms, in cities, or in small towns. Sure, I can't claim to remember it all in detail, but they are fascinating people.

I'm not working on any tricks to stay young, but I am working on ways to stay alive.
I think one key is to keep planning for the future, even though you need to have plans for the end, as well.
My plans for the future include continuing to write as long as I can. In my Farm Country Tales series, which is about a family on a small farm in 1950, I have over twenty titles planned, only four of which are completed at this point. I don't write to glorify the past or lament the loss of the so-called "good old days," but I write to preserve the heritage of the very small farm with short books that are entertaining and accurate. The twenty titles of the Carlson Family follow their farm activities from January through December, 1950.

I have several novels planned, too, but I intend to keep writing stories, and I'm hoping that seeking the details for the large number of stories I plan to write will keep me living and enjoying the world around me.

Even if my work can't keep me young, maybe it will serve to just "keep me"for a time. 
And if it "keeps me" with my dear wife beside me, for what more can I hope? 

May you all live long and prosper.

Please take the time to comment below, if you wish.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

All Hallows Eve at Farmamerica

West of Waseca a couple miles stands the interpretive center called Farmmerica where Nancy and I put up our Farm Heritage Photo Display and sold our books yesterday during their All Hallows Eve Event.

 The 120-acre site has an array of farm buildings, crops, and machinery to tell the story of past, present, and future agriculture, but on Saturday the focus was Halloween, as you can see in the photo below.
The event ran from noon till 4 PM, and by 12:30 PM the lobby was full of children and adults eager to carve pumpkins, be photographed, watch a magic show, or witness the making of balloon animals.
Volunteers Mackenzie and Jordan register people for free prizes 
and encourage them to pick up free activity sheets.
Children lined up to have JJ the clown make a special balloon animal for them.
David and Shanna Peoble, who own Country Reflections, a photography studio near Janesville,
kept busy taking photos of families posing in the fall setting.
Magic Zach Madel, a magician, performed at 1:30 and 3;00 PM.

 In the photo above, I sit and sketch while people browse the books and photos,
and, below, Nancy crochets when she tends the display.
As children and adults walked around the 120-acre site, they collected treats at the Country Church, the 1930s Barn, the Feedmill, and the Blacksmith Shop.

The pumpkin-carving tables after most pumpkin-carvers had left.

A fun time was had by all. Since Nancy and I were seated near the entry, we were treated to a parade of kids in costumes of all kinds, and we didn't have to hand out any treats, although we did give out a lot of free stickers that are from the covers of our books. Our most popular sticker on Saturday was the cover from my book A Farm Country Halloween, which tells a story of farm kids going 
Trick or Treating in 1950.

Thanks to Jim Gibson, Executive Director, for inviting us to be part of the event, and thanks to Crystal Paulson, Office Manager, for helping arrange our set-up and always providing a friendly greeting which makes us feel welcome.

Their next event is "Christmas on the Farm" which features Dad's Belgian Waffle Breakfast from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. on Sunday, November 25, 2012. Check the Farmamerica website for more information.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sibley County Historical Society and Museum

Sibley County Historical Museum is located off Minnesota Highway 19 on the west end of the town of Henderson. The building is a beautiful restored red brick with cream-colored trim and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
It is also the home of the Sibley County Historical Society, which invited me to do a Farm Heritage Program at the museum.

Unless the roads are icy, I always enjoy a drive down the curvy road that descends the wooded hillside and leads to a bridge over the Minnesota River and then into Henderson. Yesterday was a perfect day for the trek. We arrived at 6:00 PM to set up for my program, which was scheduled to begin at 7:00 PM.

 Above, member Judy Loewe introduces me to the group, and below, 
I begin my Farm Heritage Program, which includes my book, A Farm Country Picnic.

I spoke for about an hour to an audience that identified with all things related to the farm. Even members who were from non-farm backgrounds seemed to relate to farm stories. After all, who from the city doesn't remember visiting relatives on the farm?

The degree of audience engagement was displayed by the number of questions and the number of people who had stories to share after my presentation. They told dog stories, horse stories, accident stories, and a few Halloween stories. I think we all had a good time with it.

After my show, we were treated to a short video about a huge combine pulled by horses and mules in Reardan, Washington, in the early 1900s. The wheat was bagged by men on a platform who sewed the bags shut before sliding them onto a wagon. 

Nancy and I were both glad to see Harriet Traxler attending the show. Harriet is an author of several books about rural Sibley County, including Barns of Sibley County, which I highly recommend. 

Thanks to Judy Loewe for inviting me to do my Farm Heritage Program, and thanks to all the audience members for such a lively response.
I especially thank those who gave donations to us and purchased my books, which shows that they  recognize the importance of farm stories that can be passed on to future generations in an effort to preserve our Farm Heritage in an accurate yet entertaining way.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Monday, October 22, 2012

Memory of a Friend

Did you ever have a memory jolted to the forefront of your thoughts at the mention of a name?

Friday, as I talked to a visitor at the Harvest Moon Festival at Dakota Village in Farmington, she mentioned that her last name was "Sayers." She said she had been married to Jack, who had passed away.
 I quickly asked, "Did he have a brother named Jim and one named Jerry"?

Mrs. Sayers said, "Yes, but all the brothers are dead now. Jim died young and Jerry died a couple years ago."

My heart jumped to my throat for a second. I asked in disbelief, "What?'

She repeated her statement.

I said, "Jerry was one of my best friends in school. We go back to the fourth grade."

Mrs. Jack Sayers was friendly and willing to talk, and we chatted about a number of things before she had to move on.

Later, when customers had left, I sat down to reconstruct what I remembered of my early childhood friendship with Jerry Sayers.
When the country school closed, I was bused to Lakeville Public School to begin my first year as a fourth-grader. Lots of things were new: 
I had never seen a urinal before and when we had a lavatory break, I lagged behind to see how it was supposed to work. I still remember waiting in a long line to use the urinal and hearing the gush of water as each boy pulled the handle to flush after he'd finished.
I'd never heard of a milk break, but on the first day our teacher, Mrs. Thomas, selected me along with a couple other boys to go to the milk cooler in the big school to fetch the wire containers of bottled milk and carry them to the fourth-grade classroom. Although I was used to the smell of cows and manure from helping milk in my parents' dairy barn at home, the sour-milk stench in the walk-in cooler at school made me gag. 
And when I first tasted the bottled milk, I nearly puked. I was used to the taste of the milk from our cows on the farm where I lived. Mom had always put our raw milk in clean jars that smelled really good. 

Other new things for me included playing catch with a football for the first time, playing kickball, and playing basketball. I'd never even seen a football or basketball before this.
Also, I'd never seen so many kids that were my age!
Recesses were fun. At first, it was great!

But I soon learned the downside. 
Thirty-five to forty kids doing the same lesson in one room was not nearly as interesting as in the country school where we had just a few kids in each grade, one through six, and where I could listen to all the lessons of all the big kids. 
Also, the country school was small enough where we all played together, boys and girls. Kids in the town school seemed to be in "groups." I knew almost no one, but I seemed to make a few new friends fast.
One of these new friends was Jerry Sayers. Jerry was a smiley kid, who could never keep his shirt tucked in because of his height. He was always the tallest kid in class.

One day at lunch break Jerry approached me and said, "We can go downtown, you know." I really didn't know what "downtown" meant. I just nodded. He said, "Com-on, I'll buy you a nickel Coke at the drugstore.
And we walked downtown, a long quarter mile, to a narrow building with a green front. I had never seen a soda fountain, and as we entered, I stared at the slick stools, the shiny counter top, and the stack of glassware on my left. When I turned to look at the wall on my right, I tried not to stare at the glossy magazines on the rack less than three feet from my stool. I saw the pictures and turned away, embarrassed.

Jerry sat on a stool and I followed his lead. Then he ordered two nickel Cokes from Ed, the pharmacist and owner. Ed was an older fellow who didn't seem to smile a lot, but he seemed to genuinely like his customers, even though you had to look pretty hard to see any expression in his face. 
Ed expertly pumped a dark substance into a small, sparkling glass. Then he moved the glass to another spout to fill it with bubbly water. He repeated the task for a second Coke and then placed the Cokes with straws in front of us. I looked at Jerry. He knew this was my first. He grinned and gently sucked on the straw. I did the same. Sure, I had tasted Coke out of bottles, but this--this flavor and this bubbly texture--was heavenly!

Even though our paths in high school took some different directions, Jerry and I remained friends through all of our school years. In high school Jerry was in sports and involved in other school activities. I was not. But once a month or so he would stop me in the hall and say, "Com-on. Let's go get a nickel Coke."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fillmore County Historical Society

The fog on Saturday morning inhibited our view as we drove Highway 52 toward Fountain, Minnesota, the location of the Fillmore County Museum and home of the Fillmore County Historical Society where I was scheduled to do a Farm Heritage Program at 1:00 PM.

Not a morning for sight-seeing.

The museum, a former elementary school, is quite large, and Nancy and I were eager to view the displays.

When we entered, Debra J. Richardson, the FCHS Director, greeted us with a big smile and showed us around.
I began my Farm Heritage Program, which included my story, A Farm Country Halloween.

After my program, Nancy and I were invited to lunch with the group, and as we ate our fill, we visited with the members and swapped stories. The members all share a keen interest in history and their farm heritage. Several members were interested in letting us use their pictures and their stories in my books.

We headed home in the sunshine and enjoyed the beauty of the countryside as we drove north to Rochester on Highway 52 from the city of Fountain.
I never tire of viewing the farms and fields along the road.

After the two-hour drive home, Nancy and I went for a short walk and discovered some beauty in our own back yard.
I love the contrast of greens and browns and reds and yellows and orange.
Birches and burr oaks have been dumping leaves gradually for two weeks,
 giving me a chance to grind them up with the mower,
but it seems this maple decided to dump them while we were gone today.

Thanks to Debra Richardson for inviting us to Fillmore County Historical Society to speak at their meeting. Nancy and I enjoyed the food, the company, and the museum. I think we made some lasting contacts as sources for farm activity photographs and stories.
I especially thank all those members who purchased my books. Keep that farm heritage alive. Read them, and pass my books and your own stories on to the next generation.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Auburn Manor

Auburn Manor is an attractive assisted living facility in Chaska, Minnesota. Shortly after we arrived on Wednesday, we met Recreation Director Amy Meyers, an energetic lady who immediately hustled to arrange things in the chapel so we could set up our equipment to do our Farm heritage Program for the residents.

As she brought audience members into the chapel, I noticed her enthusiasm for her work and for all of life as she shared moments with other staff members and the residents. You can always tell when people really like what they do, and it showed on Amy.

The residents had a good time listening to the nostalgic details in my stories, 
and they told a few stories of their own after the show.

But our visit to Auburn Manor surprised us in several ways. Not only did staff and residents tell more stories and buy more books than expected, but we also met staff-member Colleen, who is the daughter-in-law of our friend Beverly Hermes. Beverly enthusiastically supports our efforts to preserve farm heritage, and has generously let us use her family photos which were taken as she grew up on a family farm.

Imagine Colleen's surprise when she turned to the dedication page of my latest book, What I Saw on the Farm, and saw the above photograph of Beverly and her sister Bonnie milking Marigold!
Colleen generously consented to have her photo taken with me as I autographed one of her purchases.

Nancy and I  thank Amy Meyers for inviting us to visit Auburn Manor to do my Farm Heritage Program, which included my book, A Farm Country Picnic. 
We also thank all the customers who purchased our books.
You see, for me to achieve my goal of having my books passed on from generation to generation for a hundred years or more, I need people to perform that critical first step of buying them.
Thanks again.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Chatfield Elementary School in Belle Plaine

I admit that Nancy and I were a bit tired at 8:30 AM when we arrived at Belle Plaine on Tuesday morning to do a Farm Heritage program. We had done an evening show the night before at Zumbrota Area Historical Society, making our night at home short.
However, our tiredness passed quickly when first-grade teacher Ms Adrian, who had arranged our visit, greeted us with a warm smile and indicated how excited she and the students were to have us at the school. And when we brought our equipment into the library, Ms Jasper also showed her enthusiasm when she eagerly arranged for us to set up in her library. When teachers welcome us and show their excitement, I know the students will be prepared to become a great audience, and it makes me try to do my very best.
The first group of first-graders listened intently as I begin my Halloween story.
The second group of first-graders watch as I explain that when I was a trick-or-treater,
 the roads we walked were very narrow and dark.
The projection in the picture above is from an actual photograph of the road we walked down in 1950.

Students and teachers in both groups were fun audiences and asked lots of good questions after the show.

Thanks to all the teachers for allowing me to use their valuable class time for my show. I hope they found my program educational and fun. Special thanks to Ms Adrian for arranging my visit and to Chatfield's Principal for taking time to say hello before the show and for attending the entire second program.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Zumbrota Area Historical Society

As we drove Highway 52 toward Zumbrota yesterday afternoon to do a 7:00 PM Farm Heritage Show, we enjoyed the colors of the leaves and the fields.

Most of the fields of corn and beans had been harvested, while others appeared as a patchwork of colors on a hillside where corn was either standing or harvested alongside a field striped with bright green alfalfa.
Nature is exciting, but it's always a treat to see a vintage man-made item. As this mobile toolbox passed us, Nancy tried to get a shot. I would've liked to see it up-close.
As we slowed down when we entered Zumbrota,
 Nancy took a quick photo of the town's famous covered bridge.

 Later that evening, after I had finished my hour-long Farm Heritage Program, we talked to a number of members of the Zumbrota Area Historical Society during a break for coffee and sweets. As I packed up the equipment and signed books, Board Member Paul Kalass told Nancy an interesting story that his father had told him about the bridge. 
During the days when the bridge was in constant use by horse-drawn vehicles, city employees would regularly haul snow on the bridge, ensuring ample snow pack for the sleighs to be pulled easily by horses. However, as motorized vehicles became more popular, city residents preferred to keep the road under the bridge dry, making it very difficult for horses to pull a sleigh over the bare road.

This is the kind of factual story one does not usually hear unless you talk to people who were either there or heard it directly from someone who was there. My point is simply this: as tourists, many of us drive hundreds and even thousands of miles to visit interesting places that are popular and nationally known. I do not suggest that anyone quit doing that, but I am suggesting that we pull our vehicle off the freeway and check out the many, many interesting museums and historical places in small towns throughout the United States and especially those in towns nearby.

 In the past several years Nancy and I have been guests at many museums and historical societies where I was honored to speak and where we were able to spend time viewing the museum's collection of antiques and visiting with members. The dedication of the members to preserving their heritage is striking. As volunteers they work hard to maintain buildings and programs for the public to enjoy. I urge you to stop by to attend their programs and view their collections. If you like what you see, give a small (or large) donation or volunteer to help. You will be glad you did.
But where should you start?
Well, try starting where I did...for a list of the museums where I've done my Farm Heritage Programs, click on my website in the upper right corner of the first page of this entry. Got to the event tab and click on "past events."
I think you'll enjoy visiting these places.

The entry of the Zumbrota Area Historical Society. 

The building is the city's beautifully restored fire hall.

Nancy's Farm Heritage Photo Display.
Secretary of ZAHS Karen Brooks introduces me.
Audience member seemed to relate to every piece of farm heritage I threw at them.
It made for a fun evening.
 Lots of farm tools were on display, but this one brought back a memory of how Dad drilled through oak with a hand brace and bit. This hand drill press would've been a real boon to him.

Thanks to all the members of the ZAHS for making Nancy and me feel welcome. We enjoyed our visit with you all.
Special thanks to Karen Brooks for arranging our visit and to all the members who visited with us and purchased books. We hope you enjoy them and pass them on to future generations.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bloomington Historical Society

When Nancy and and I drove up to the Bloomington Old Town Hall History Museum on Saturday to do a program that included my Halloween story, A Farm Country Halloween, we knew the outside activities planned for kids would have to be moved inside. The weather was overcast and sprinkling, though nothing like the really good rain that we needed.
The Old Town Hall, which is the home of the Bloomington Historical Society, is a striking building, with its bright white siding and red trim. Since we forgot to take a photo of it on Saturday when it was raining, we went back Sunday when the sun was shining to snap a picture.

The annual Fall Festival is an event that celebrates the agricultural heritage of Bloomington. At one time there were over 300 farms in what is now Bloomington, and now there are none. The Fall Festival is a way for the Bloomington Historical Society to commemorate the agricultural heritage of the area. The event was scheduled from noon to 4:00 PM on Saturday, and when we arrived at 12:30, kids were busy painting small pumpkins, rolling candles from beeswax, and having their faces painted. All activities were inside the building, which was full of great historical displays. Outdoor activities were held later in the afternoon when the rain ceased.
Painting pumpkins was a popular activity.

I chatted with Mary Vavrosky, above,
 and later she supervised as children and adults rolled beeswax into candles, below.

After she interviewed and briefly videotaped me,  Gina Szafraniec, a writer from an online magazine called The Bloomington Crow, treated us to a terrific smile as she posed by Nancy's Farm Heritage Display. Go to the website to see her video and story.

With all the activities going on, the area was pretty cozy, but the audience was fun and had several questions afterwards. I was really pleased that my former neighbor, Betty (Speiker) Cavenaugh, from the farm neighbor hood where I grew up, attended the show. She is wearing an orange sweatshirt and is seated with her family in the back row. Betty's presence at the program forced me to tell the truth in my fictional story because I actually used to go trick or treating with Betty and her brothers and sisters back in the 1950s.

Several youngsters volunteered to help me demonstrate how a character from my story used a pulley in a trick to scare his young neighbors.
Nancy snapped a photo of a few members of the Bloomington Historical Society as they watched my program. Vonda Kelly, standing on the left, arranged my visit to speak at the museum.Members asked questions after the show, and I was privileged that Larry Granger, (second from right) who is very active in local history, spent time with me telling stories and advising me on possible future writing projects. Seriously, the wisdom among this back row humbles me.

I was again both humbled and gratified when the young lady, pictured above with her two daughters, had me autograph a book for her family. She explained to my wife that the small farm she grew up on in Ukraine was like the one I described in my stories. Farm buildings and equipment were old and barely adequate. She bought the book as a way to connect her two children, who were born in the U.S.,  to the experiences she and her mother had in their homeland. Her mother was at the museum and even though she spoke very little English, she expressed a liking for my books because of the memories they inspired. 
Closing shot of the Old Bloomington Town Hall, located at the intersection of Penn Avenue South and West Old Shakopee Road. I recommend you take your family and visit soon. See the website for scheduled events.

Thanks to everyone at the Bloomington Historical Society for inviting me to do my Farm Heritage Program and my book, A Farm Country Trick or Treat. Thanks to Vonda Kelly for arranging my visit and special thanks to the customers who bought my books. Please read them often and pass them on to future generations.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mowing the Wildflower Patch

Nancy and I both love wildflowers. What's not to like? All we have to do is plant them and then admire their beauty. We don't weed, fertilize, or water. They seem to flourish on lack of attention. But one bit of maintenance we do is mow them in the fall. After the flowers have gone to seed and we've picked all the seeds we want, I bring out the mower and tractor.

When the leaves on the grove of white oaks grab the scene with colors, that's when you'll see me in the nearby wildflower patch with my tractor and mower.
The tractor is a 1957 Ford 960. 
The mower has 3 rotary blades and is made for mowing grass, not brush. 
I keep the gauge wheels off the ground several inches so that the grass and flowers are cut really high.

After I finish mowing, Nancy and I go for a walk among the trees in the windbreak.

In a small clearing in the woods, a young oak shows its colors. 

We visit the same big leaf that we discovered last spring and are happy that it survived the summer. 
The small tree grew over 6 inches during the year.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson