Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Highview Hills in Lakeville

"When I was a child and we put up loose hay on our farm, my job was to tramp the hay down on the wagon," Mary Olson explains casually to Nancy and me, as she starts to pull up her left sleeve to expose a long scare on the underside of her arm, near her elbow.
"This is where my dad accidentally put the hay fork."

She's grinning so we laugh too.
"Did they take you to a doctor?" I ask, expecting the answer to be negative.
"No," she says.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Tradition

Expressions on faces of children as they listen to a story.

Tierney with her new book, A Farm Country Christmas Eve.

If you look at the pictures, you will easily figure out why for eleven consecutive years I've made it a Christmas Tradition to perform my Christmas book for third graders at Big Woods Elementary, St. Michael, MN, and Otsego Elementary, Elk River, MN.  The response is a storyteller's dream.

This year we added Fieldstone Elementary, which is also at St. Michael. On Monday, December 20, we did two shows at Fieldstone in the morning and two shows at Otsego Elementary in the afternoon.
On Tuesday morning we did two shows at Big Woods Elementary School.

The weather may have been nasty, but everyone seemed to have fun. Check the pictures of kids on the following pages.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tracy Library, Tracy, MN

We had been scheduled to perform A Farm Country Christmas Eve at the Library in Tracy, Minnesota, on Monday, November 29, but since they were experiencing blizzard conditions in the prairie town and it was snowing like crazy at our place, I called to postpone the event.
Even I get an attack of good sense once in a while.

Jamie Verdeck, the librarian at Tracy, was kind enough to reschedule us for Saturday, December 18, 2010, at 1:00 PM.
The weather provided us a scenic, winter wonderland for our three-hour drive.                                      
A lone tree flourishes without competition in the center of prairie farmland. 

Everyone who lives there knows, you do not need new snow to create hazardous driving conditions. All that is needed is a brisk wind and loose snow on the ground, so as we drive toward Tracy, we are very conscious of the wind, and we hope that drifting will diminish for our trip home.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lakeville Senior Center, December

Since my stories in my books are based on my experiences of growing up on a farm five miles west of Lakeville, Minnesota, I feel a special kinship to audience members when I am performing at Lakeville Senior Center. My Heritage is their Heritage.
Before Thanksgiving this year we did my story A Farm Country Thanksgiving at the Lakeville Senior Center, and on Friday, December 17, 2010, we did a 45-minute show which included my story A Farm Country Christmas Eve.  Since some students from Kenwood Trail Elementary School were in the audience, Santa stopped by or a visit after the show.

Santa with children.

Santa with Nancy and me.

Santa with Linda Walter and me.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coming Home in the Snow storm

I have no photos for this one. Things were too tense.

On Saturday, December 11, we're at the Maplewood Mall trying to sell books when the word comes down that the Mall of America closed because of the snowstorm. A few minutes later at 2:40 PM, we hear that Maplewood Mall will close at 3:00 PM.

Nanc and I pack up faster than Minnesotans winning a free trip to Florida, but when we get to the parking lot we have to deal with the challenge of carrying our heavy tables and cartons of books through thigh-high drifts and then loading everything into our Explorer. Our two-wheeler becomes a burden to carry instead of something to carry our burden. More than once I utter, "I'm too old for this ------."

Escaping the parking lot is fraught with excitement. Four-wheel drive vehicles scramble in every direction to find an open exit. I follow a guy with a big white pickup. When we finally turn onto I-694, all we can do is line up behind others. I question the sanity of getting on the freeway, but I cannot readily think of an alternative.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


It's not too late! 
Dakota City's popular "Christmas in the Village" is open this Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM. Treat your entire family to a Christmas in a village from the early 1900s, except this one is lit up to enhance beauty, modern Christmas cheer, and , oh yes, safety. These photographs are from last weekend.
C'mon, you know you can't resist a walk through winter wonderland, especially when a warm wood-burning stove awaits you in the next building, just 20 yards away, or when you can ride on a trolley pulled by a team of beautiful horses.
Here's the train depot. You can open the door and walk in just by clicking below. Then you view more pictures and read more details.. It's like stepping into a perfect winter scene on a post card.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hector Historical Center, a Fundraiser

What's different when we do a show to kick off a fund-raiser?
Probably the only difference you would notice is that you won't see Nancy selling the books; instead, a member of the sponsoring organization is collecting the money, and the organization pays us about what a bookstore would pay us for the books they sell.
A relevant question here is, "Why would we do this?"

First, our goal is to tell the local story of rural America with accuracy and humor. We believe that preserving stories of the true heritage of the small farm is important and to do so we need to get the books out there.
Well, who better to sell "heritage" to people than people who are already focused on preserving heritage, like museums, historical centers, or people involved in creating the farm heritage of the future, like FFA, 4-H, or elementary students.
Like most of you, Nancy and I buy a number of items from students for fund-raisers: magazines, cookie dough, wreaths, wrapping paper, more magazines, and coupons. I'm not knocking any of these items for any reason at all, but I can say that none of these items represent the rural heritage like our books do.
Our books are collector items that are meant to be passed on from generation to generation. I don't think most other fund-raisers sell those kinds of products.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pinewood Elementary, Monticello, MN

Why do you suppose second graders are holding up two fingers?
No, it's not because they are in grade two.
Just as the other groups of students in k-2 below, these students hold up two fingers to copy what Nancy does in the story If I Were A Farmer: Nancy's Adventure when she teaches a newborn calf to drink out of a pail.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

BBE Elementary, Brooten, MN

Why are these students holding up two fingers?
Because they know that those are the two fingers used to teach a newborn calf to drink from a pail.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lakeville Senior Center

Wherever I perform my shows, I always tell audiences "My heritage is your heritage or the heritage of your parents, grandparents, or great grandparents."
Well, my statement was never more true for an audience than it was on Friday morning, November 19, 2010, when I had the distinct privilege of performing at Lakeville Senior Center, located in downtown Lakeville, which is only about 5 miles east of the farm where I grew up, the farm that is the reference for my two series of children's books written for adults.
A few minutes before my show is scheduled to begin, Linda Walter, Senior Center Coordinator, snaps a photo as I stop at some tables to visit with audience members while they eat pumpkin cake. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

St. John's Grandkids, Springfield, MN

"We used to all stand when we played,"she says as she grins. "Now we like to sit down."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Henry Ford Museum

The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, is not just Fords. It's a display of the metamorphosis of machines and utensils for the home, the fields, and the roads.  The displays and the gift shops are constantly being updated to include more of the history of mankind's fascination with machines and utensils.
Nancy sets the timer and then rushes in to get in on the picture at the entrance to the Henry Ford Museum. 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween, then and now

Halloween isn't just for kids anymore. Maybe it never was, but during the last couple decades, it seems that adults have really embraced the idea of having fun by getting into costume. Costume parties for adults seem to be the rule during Halloween, and even we older folks like to join the fun.
From left to right-Biker, FBI agent, Little Red Riding Hood, Captain Jean Luc Picard.
Frankenstein's Monster and his Bride hosted the party.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cobblestone Farms, Michigan

The Email invitation to perform my show at Hallow Harvest at Cobblestone Farms, a living history farm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had adventure written all over it, especially since it contained a message from board treasurer Audrey Barkel inviting Nancy and me to stay at her home in nearby Saline, where she lives with her husband Barry, a professor of Chemistry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She encouraged us to stay a couple extra days to visit some of the nearby attractions. We accepted and the results yielded material for several  stories: Hallow Harvest Day at Cobblestone Farm, staying with the Barkels, and a visit to the Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in nearby Dearborn, Michigan.
Cobblestone Farms consists of a grand cobblestone house and farmstead set among tall maples displaying rich colors. Since it is in a very populated area, visitors did not have to come far.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

To be 100.. Visit to Goldfinch Estates

Lydia will be 101 on February 8, 2011. 
She tells me my books are "...the real thing."

After performing my book, A Farm Country Halloween, at Goldfinch Estates, Fairmont, MN, I visit with some of the residents.
Lydia tells me that her specialty for the trick and treaters was her home made fudge.
We discuss putting up loose hay and pitching it on the wagon and several other farm memories. When she was little, her job when putting up hay was to tramp the hay on the wagon so it packed and made a better load.

She tells me she really liked my show and my books because "This is the real thing."
"Are you going to be around awhile?" she asks.
"Yes," I answer.
"I'll go back to my room and get some money. I want to buy your Halloween book," she explains.
She handles her walker with confidence and grace. She' returns in no time at all.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Pictures removed 11-25-12
Walking into a small school is like walking down main street of my home town of New Market, Minnesota,when the population was less than 250 people. Everyone greats each other with a smile and a nod. The stranger in town is greeted with a smile and a hint of skepticism until the townspeople know his purpose for visiting.

 Well, everyone knew my purpose when I walked into Hancock Elementary on Friday, October 8, 2010,  dressed in a bibbed overall. They knew I came prepared to perform If I Were a Farmer, Nancy's Adventure to K-1 and A Farm Country Thanksgiving  to grades 2-4 and grades 5-6. I did not feel like a stranger. I felt welcome because everyone seemed to be expecting me, and that's a great feeling.

Mrs. Christianson, who organized the visit, lets me set up in her room immediately and invites Nancy and me to watch as she conducts kindergarten class.  We are impressed with the enthusiastic participation of the students as they examine their Weekly Reader.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The making of Gettin' PLowed, 2012 Calendar

Nancy and I always feel lucky to be invited to this event. You see, all the other guys bring tractors with plows, and they are ready to spend the day plowing with antique tractors without cabs, exposing themselves to the wind and cold for hour after hour, which is, of course, exactly what we all did when we we helped our parents actually farm with the tractors.  Not to worry, though, because these are hardy fellows, many of whom are used to challenging the weather while they do all sorts of hunting, fishing, and farming.
In my case, however, I bring Nancy and her camera. I walk around with her as she spends part of the day taking great pictures. Then she carefully crops them and uses them to create a calendar she calls "Gettin' Plowed."
Nancy and I both love the atmosphere of the whole day, the crisp fall temperatures, the bright and varied colors of the leaves, the musty smell of the earth as the plow turns the soil over, and the jovial attitude projected by all the participants and their audience. It all mingles to create an experience that no one wants to miss.
This year we arrive at Cousin Dan and Deb Cervenka's place about 10:30 AM on Saturday, October 2, 2010, and the group is ready to assemble for a quick photo before heading out to the field.
From left to right, Scott Cervenka, Deb Cervenka, Dan Cervenka, Bob Hrabe, Ben Cervenka, Dick Mushitz, Dick Franek, Brian Cervenka, Emil Chlan, Gordon Fredrickson, Gertie Chlan, Nancy Fredrickson, Lori Cervenka.
Nancy and Lori are both taking pictures, and more photographers and observers will arrive as the day passes.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Big Day at MEMO Conference

At 5:00 A.M. on Friday, October 1, 2010, as I back the car out of the garage to begin the drive to the MEMO Conference at the Civic Center in St. Cloud, Nancy comments, "It sure is dark out there now, but I think it's going to be a great day." 

Although I'm hoping her optimism comes true, I say nothing, which is unusual for me, but my thoughts take me back to April when I received the Email invitation to attend the MEMO conference. When the email explained that MEMO meant Minnesota Educational Media Organization, I immediately emailed back a positive response. Why wouldn't I want to be at a convention attended by hundreds of media specialists from the great state of Minnesota? These are very busy professionals who manage the libraries and media centers of our schools and schedule events that bring in authors and other artists. I knew it was a lucky break for me.

As the car accelerates into the darkness, I have some doubts, but the journey is smooth and we arrive at the Civic Center parking lot before 7:00 A.M. and a coin operated gate requires only four quarters to let us park all day. "Unbelievable low rates," I say to Nancy. 
As we enter the Center we find that check in is less than 50 yards from our parking spot. "This never happens," Nancy says. 
"I hope we haven't used up all our luck," I add, always ready to spot the cloud behind the silver lining.

The MEMO staff are cheerful and efficient. Joan, the lady on the right, gives us our badges and tells us that we have our choice of author tables.

All the tables offer great views of the River.

It's early so we stroll over to the MEMO display of books and we are pleased to see that MEMO has all five of our books for sale at their table along with books from many other authors who are at the convention today.

We eat a tasty hot breakfast and stay for the keynote speaker, Buffy Hamilton, who discusses how to meet the many new challenges facing the media specialists today. As she compares the work to a balancing act, her words ring true and take me back to my days of teaching.

After her speech, it's time for the author spotlight, where each author has a few minutes of stage time to highlight what he or she has to offer at a school visit. Wanda Erickson, an enthusiastic media specialists from Upsala, introduces our session.

After the spotlight, media specialists stop to chat with authors and schedule them to visit schools.
A couple schedule us immediately and others plan to send an email after checking with teachers.
Nancy and I enjoy talking to these professionals because they are interesting, hard- working people, who dedicate every day to providing the best leadership they can for their school programs.
However, it's especially fun, when we meet people we know from the present and the past.
Cousins Nick and Joyce Cervenka give us a surprise visit, and I am especially happy when they ask me to autograph my newest book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving, for them.  After they leave, I remember that we should've taken a photo with them.

When a former student, Sandi (Kasper) Ferris, stops by and we both recognize each other immediately, we take out the the cameras without hesitation.

I notice her smile and personality are even more winning than they were when I was her high school English teacher. She is now a Media Specialist at St. Michael-Albertville Middle School.

Another former student, Nancy (Girard) Eull stops by to say hello. We both readily recognize each other.

Holly Thompson introduced herself as the daughter of Donny and Julie Speiker. Donny and I grew up in the same farm neighborhood, and although he was a few years younger than I, we shared some of the same farm experiences, like chores and threshing. It was great talking to Holly, who now works at the Osseo School District.

Seventeen authors are at the event, each with special talents to offer schools they visit. I feel really lucky to be part of a group of such diverse and wonderful authors.

Note that I am not the only author in costume.
Here I chat with David Geister and his wife Patricia Bauer, who are each authors on their own but take great joy in working as costumed interpreters at Ft. Snelling.

We stay for supper, which is at 6:00 P.M., and share a table with several fun people, including Tami Tagtow, a media specialist at Atwater. 

Tami agrees to take a parting photo of Nancy and me before we start on the trip home.

Our smiles are genuine because we had a great time at the conference. We sold books and met new friends, old friends, relatives, and neighbors. We met many wonderful media specialists, many of whom I am sure will become our friends. 
And the authors I met were wonderfully talented and unique. Nancy and I wish them all the very best.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Northfield Retirement Community

Pictures removed 11-25-12

In January of 2010, Sue Otterness from the Northfield Retirement Community contacted me to request a storytelling event.
We decided to perform A County Road Picnic, which is one of my old books that I will be re-writing and re-illustrating to publish with Beaver's Pond Press in 2011.

The retirement community is an impressive campus with a theater, gift shop, and chapel, among other amenities.

Chaplin Diane allowed us to perform in the chapel, which is why you see me without my cap on in the pictures from the show.

The audience was particularly alert to the humor in the show from the beginning.

They especially enjoyed the part in the story where the Watkins' man drives into the farmyard to tell the family that their cows are in the neighbor's corn field.

In this photo you can see a piece of the table on which Nancy has set up the books for browsing and for sale.

This was a particularly lively group and after the show many stayed to talk, ask questions, and share their stories.

Since I have a lot of relatives from the Northfield area, it's not surprising that several of the audience members wanted to know which Fredrickson was my Grandfather.

Delores Roberts enthusiastically introduced herself to us because she is a really good friend of my cousin, Janet Olinger.
Delores told me the story of how she volunteered to be a nurse immediately after the attack on Pearl harbor. We talked briefly that day, but I got her phone number and asked to call her. I wanted to hear her story in more detail.
About a month later I called and she generously shared her stories of the war with me.
Meeting and talking with people like Delores is a fascinating benefit of visiting Retirement Communities.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Are you one of these people who has to be doing something all the time?

I am.
Recently, I heard that being one of those kind of people isn't very healthy.
The argument goes something like this;

We need to take a short time each day "to be."
We are human "beings."
We are not human "doings."

I admit that I find the argument compelling and I readily agree.
However, now that they have convinced me, what do I do about it?
Can I really "undo" the kind of person I am? After all, it has taken me over six decades to deveolp as a "doer."
We may not be human "doings"  but we are not human "undoings" either.

I have tried.

But whenever I try to just sit and meditate or contemplate or re-juvinate, I find myself thinking, "As soon as I'm done with this,  I will Email ___ about ___."
Then I find myself making a mental list of things I need to do as soon as I am done spending time just "being."
Then I think of something really important and that's the end of the moment of reflection as I blurt out,  
"I gotta write this down!!"

The longer I'm around, the more I agree with the old saying, "It takes all kinds," or "We're not wired the same."

How's your meditating going?


Monday, September 20, 2010

Old People

First, I need to say that I consider myself to be an old person.

I think we need to quit avoiding calling people "old." Sure, it's OK to call old people seniors, but when I do shows for kids in the 12th grade, what do I call them?

We need to let the word "old" become a badge of achievement that it deserves to be. When you are old, you have a history to your life, but you still have a future too.

When you are really young, you have no history at all. Middle-aged people have a short history, but they usually deceive themselves into thinking that their history is still the present decade. I know I did.

I think we need to embrace our history and our age. We need to be able to say, "I'm old," with pride.

I do lots of shows for old people in retirement homes, nursing homes, and assisted living apartments; and they are the best audiences specifically because they are old and because they are proud of it.

As I speak of 1950 and show pictures of elm trees that lined the country side  and peddlers that traveled the narrow country roads, they nod their heads and grin. Sometimes, during my 45 minute program, I see an old man in the front row with his eyes closed, but I know he is listening because he is  grinning. I wonder what memories my stories are bringing back to him. If I am lucky, he will tell me after the show.

I see an old lady in a wheel chair who cannot hold her head upright, but she stares at me with her sidelong glance, giving me a wide, toothy smile. Her face is thin and fragile, but her genuine smile makes me feel like a really lucky guy.  

These people are old and I love them for it. When they talk to me after the show, they proudly state their ages:
"I'm 92 and grew up on a farm in ____."
"I'm 88 and I knew your relatives."
"I grew up on a small farm in Iowa and I was born in 1922."
"Our farm was about as far north as you can get and still be in Minnesota."
"We lived in North Dakota when I was real little."

You cannot hear these stories from the young.

These people are not ashamed of being old and they shouldn't be.
The question is, "Why are we so afraid of using the word, 'old'?"

If you know somebody who is old, encourage them to tell their stories.
I always say, "A story not told is lost forever."
And, yes, that 50-year-old parent or grandparent you know who thinks he or she isn't old is old enough to have an interesting history. Help them discover it by listening to their stories.

I'll say it again. A Story not told is lost forever.

Friday, September 17, 2010


A program on the radio a few months ago explained that my own brain may deceive me.
I was astonished.
Now I can't even trust my own brain.
I listened a little longer to discover that it's a survival thing. That's right. To help me with surviving, my brain will deceive me.

For instance, my brain may deceive me into remembering things in a way that makes me feel better.

OK, that explains why I sometimes remember that I won an argument with my wife, but what other pieces of my memory are "wrong." How else is my clever brain deceiving me for my own good?

Did my brain deceive me into thinking I could dance? Well, I had a lot of fun dancing, so I suppose that was OK.

Did my brain deceive me into thinking that a doughnut is really a healthy breakfast, especially if it's filled with custard?
 How can this deception be for my own good?  Maybe, the purpose of my brain deceiving me is just to make me feel good.

I know one time when I was about 19 and I wanted to learn how to swim, a friend of mine in the Army told me to hang on to the side of swimming pool and practice kicking to propel myself upward.
He said that after I have success using my feet to propel myself in the water, I should just go to the bottom of the pool and try to propel myself to the top with my hands and feet.
This sounded pretty easy to me so I tried it the next day at the big pool on the Army base.

It didn't take long and my brain was deceiving me into thinking that I was an ace at propelling myself in the water. That was a good feeling. I decided I was ready to try it from the bottom of the pool.

It didn't go well at all.

After a big MP friend of mine, who happened to be swimming there that afternoon, pulled me out, I asked him why he waited so long. "Couldn't you see I was drowning down there?"I sputtered.

"Actually," he said, "you really looked like you knew what you were doing. The way you were propelling yourself but not going anywhere--I thought it was a gag."

Apparently, my attempts at survival at the bottom of the pool had created a lasting, humorous image for him because he was still chuckling as I was spitting up water.

Somehow, I don't see how that bit of deception by my brain helped my survival. The short bit of "feeling good" about being able to propel myself could have put an end to me.

I must have this all wrong. Surely, my brain wouldn't try to kill me, but I'm thinking that I'll start being a little more skeptical about what my brain is telling me.

I can think of times I did things when I should've known better.
For example, did my brain deceive me into thinking it was OK to pick apples from the neighbor's tree when I was 10 years old because it was so far out in his pasture and the apples would just be wasted if someone didn't pick them?

Oh, oh, now this is starting to sound like the old excuse, "The Devil made me do it"?

And that, I can understand.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Does anyone out there remember the rock band, Huey Lewis and the News?

I don't know exactly how long ago this story happened, but it was in an era where people on the radio actually introduced the next song instead of pretending everyone was in some kind of club where the members all knew the names of all the performers. (Does that bother anyone else but me?)

Anyway, back to Huey Lewis and the News.
I've always liked music of all kinds, but I never much cared for the interruptions to the music on the radio: commercials, talking (except for introducing the next number) and the news. I especially hated the short one-liner news items on the top 40 type radio stations. I wanted music, music, music. I wanted to rock and roll.
If something came on my car radio that interrupted the music, my fingers reached for the push button switch faster than a speeding bullet. A commercial comes on, SWITCH. Talk about traffic or the weather, SWITCH.
I hear the disc jockey say, "...and here's Huey Lewis and the News,"SWITCH.

This went on for months or at least during the first 50 % of Mr. Lewis's career.

My misconception came to an abrupt end one day when my wife was in the car and the disc jockey began, "...and here's Huey Lewis and the..."SWITCH.

Nancy looked at me and calmly said, "I thought you liked his songs. I've seen you listening to his songs."

"It's news," I said, and after I switched back to the station to prove my point, I found myself listening to music that I remembered enjoying before.  But apparently, it had never been introduced.

OK. Anyone out there have the courage to fess up to some funny misconceptions?
Use the comment space below.
Or just tell your friends if you don't want to go public with it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

St. Clair Literacy Night

Picture removed 11-25-12

On  January 28, 2010, Nancy and I drove to St. Clair Public School to do a 6:30 PM performance at Literacy Night.
Shauna Hannaman, an astute member of the St. Clair Student-Teacher-Parent-Connection, had met me when I was signing books at the Mankato Barnes & Nobles last fall and had purchased a copy of If I Were A Farmer, Nancy's Adventure.

Early in January, I received an Email from her requesting that I read the book at Literacy Night.

I was thrilled at the idea of having an audience of adults and kids, but since she requested that I perform a book that was for the very young, I knew I would need to include something for the adults as well.
As you can see in the photo above, the show started with a good-sized audience of young students in a corner of the library.

The structure of the evening, however, allowed people to walk around and spend time wherever they desired. In an attempt to draw adults into my show, I included a segment where I explained the realistic elements in my book.

Soon more adults stopped to listen.

And I was delighted that they decided to stay for the program.

So that by the time the show was over, we had a good crowd.

And many of them sopped to tell their stories after the show and buy some books.

We had a good time at St. Clair, another fine Minnesota school, tended by good teachers, attended by great kids, and supported by interested parents.

Nancy and I hope to go back soon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Countryside 1950

The shows I've been doing for kids and adults for 10 years focus on activities and events with a small family farm in 1950. Since people in my audiences range in ages  from 1 to 100, the images they have of what the countryside was like in 1950 vary greatly.

Older folks have specific memories, but since elementary school kids and teens do not, I use some pictures at the beginning of my show to try to characterize the countryside during the 1940's and 1950's.
I cover just 6 categories:

1. HORSES--In 1950, most small farms in this area had at least one team of horses for several reasons:
 a) For one reason or another, they may not have owned a dependable tractor, and even if they were able to afford a good tractor, much of their equipment was set up for horses. To buy all new equipment or convert what you had to be pulled by a tractor took time and money.

b) The roads were so poor that they would easily drift shut in the winter and remain closed for days or weeks. To get to town farmers used a team of horses to pull a sleigh over the snow-covered high ground, not the roads. Also, the milk truck couldn't get to the farms to pick up the milk and the farmer had to use the horses and sleigh to get the milk to a main highway where the hauler could pick it up.
In the spring the roads were even worse and remained too muddy to use for weeks.

c) For some farmers, the horses had become like old friends and they were reluctant to part with them. The picture above is from 1954 when my parents decided to sell Bill and Daisy.  Dad and I posed for a picture before we loaded them on the truck. There were no pictures taken of events like my first day of school or any number of other occasions, but parting with Bill and Daisy warranted a photo.


a) Although some farm houses were quite nice, especially on larger farms where the land had been passed on to the next generation, farm houses on really small farms that had been left to deteriorate through the hard times of the 1920's and 1930's were not in good shape, and these were the only farms new farmers could afford to buy. 
The above picture is the house on my parents' farm when they moved into it in 1940. They fixed it up some in the 1940's but were not able to remodel until 1952. Indoor plumbing came in 1958, though the barn had running water in the mid-1940's.

b) Another thing about housing in the country is that there were no housing developments. The only buildings in the country were buildings connected with a farm. No one would think of living in the country unless they farmed.


a) Small farms did not usually have a lot of sheds for machinery or tools.
Granaries, hay barns and chicken coops often doubled as tool sheds. Many farms had no garage or shed for a tractor or car.

The above picture is my parents' farm about 1957. Note the house has been remodeled. When my folks moved onto the place in 1940, there was no barn, no silo, no milk house, no chicken coop, no granary and no well.
b) In 1950 there were no pole sheds, or at least very, very few. Note the milk truck box on the cow yard ground on the right side of the photo. I think Dad bought it for about $25 to house young stock.  The pole building boom started a few years later.

c) Sheds made from railroad cars were fairly popular because the well built cars were heavy and great for storing grain.  The picture of the one below was taken recently, but you can imagine when the roof was first erected over the two cars, the structure looked pretty nice.


Country stores like this one in St. Patrick dotted the countryside near lakes or crossroads. Note the feed mill nearby where farmers could bring their corn and oats to be ground and mixed.

Peddlers were often seen in the countryside.
The peddler's name in the picture below is Jaffe and he traveled the area in the 1930's, 1940's and 1950's.
Note the wagon had steel front wheels and rear rubber tires. I don't know much about what he had in the wagon, but I know he carried socks and other clothes and some kitchen utensils, but no electrical utensils because most weren't invented yet or just not used in a 1950 farm kitchen.  He also sharpened tools and scissors, etc. and would trade his stuff for eggs or chickens if the farmer had no cash.

When I show this picture to audiences at senior centers, many remember Jaffe.

Farmers did chores by hand. Few farmers had anything automatic. Most dairy farmers in this area milked by hand, too.

I'll just name a few more of the many other difference between 1950 and the present.
There were no shopping centers or chain stores, but small towns had general stores that carried groceries and clothing. Small towns had movie theaters, shoe stores, car dealers, tractor dealers, and ice cream shops.
There were no fast food "restaurants", but small towns had soda fountains, cafes, family-owned restaurants, and taverns that sold hamburgers.

Anything else you can thin of?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Trinity Care Center

Pictures removed 11-25-12

To know me is to know I love an audience, and as Nancy and I drive the short distance to Farmington to perform at Trinity Care Center, I speculate on the audience and the attendance.
"It's a big place and when we delivered the posters a couple weeks ago, it looked like a really nice place too."

"They'll probably have a big area so people in wheel chairs can park easily, " Nancy adds.

Susan, the activities director, said most of the audience members will be in the 80's and some in the 90's. I told her I would bring my small sound system so I could adjust volume as necessary. When we've done that at other senior care centers, they've really appreciated being able to hear the show clearly."

"And some of the seniors have stopped by after shows to tell us that they appreciate the sound system," Nancy says.

Nancy and I set up in the inside garden area where the units are constructed to look like cabins that open onto a spacious garden with a waterfall and plants.

As people come in I have a chance to talk to them and find out where they are from, and they thank us for coming (even before they've seen the show) and talk about their experiences growing up on a farm.

As I turn the page to begin the show, the audience numbers about 25.

The enthusiasm they've expressed before the show helps inspire me to do my best and throw in a few stories that make the program run 45 minutes long.

Their expressions are often limited by
oxygen tubes or by how much they can move in the wheel chair, but as I see them smile and nod their heads, I know they are enjoying the show.

I know the "golden years" may not appear to be so great sometimes, but we must never forget that the people living those years are golden, for they are precious to us.  

After I end the show they applaud warmly several times and stay around to tell me their stories.

Several people buy books and talk to Nancy and me as I sign them.

My job as a performer is to make people laugh, smile, cry, and, in general, respond with feeling, and whenever I feel an audience responding, I become more emotionally involved in my stories. Audience and performer build on the responses of each other.
At this performance of A Farm Country Christmas Eve, a story which holds many dear memories for me, the audience gave back every thing I gave them and more.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Renaissance Festival

This year is the 40th Anniversary of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. It's popularity never seems to wane, and why should it? Nowhere else will you find an array of truly high quality, unique arts and crafts nestled among so much absolutely irresistible foolish fun. I will not begin to list the variety of acts, food, or characters, although I tried once in one of my NBP (never been published) novels.

As always, Nancy and I arrive at the site near Shakopee before the gates open to catch a bit of the pre-show.

Nancy does a little shopping before we go in the main gate.

We meet friends and relatives who even admit to knowing us. L to R are Tyler, Alyssa, Twyla, and my nephew Bob.

Once inside the gates, we stop at a few shops on our way to catch the 10:30 show of our favorite act, Puke and Snot.


Then we buy a couple glasses of wine from our favorite wine vendor, Amanda, who wears a pair of horns on her head. Pretty cute, eh?

As usual, there is a big crowd at the Puke and Snot Show, but we walk to the front because usually some kind people will make room for  couple of old-timers.
We get a front row seat and a lady comes out to place the props and introduce the act.

 We have been coming to see Puke and Snot's show for nearly 40 years, and so have lots of other people. Between sword play and word play, their comic narrative includes exchanging colorful insults with each other and talking with audience members. Although it's billed as a family show, Sir Puke always comments that the parents will be fielding a lot of questions from the kids on the way home.

Nancy and I do not pretend to be personal friends with these guys, but after seeing their comedy for as many years as we have been married, they seem like old friends to us. We first saw the act in the early 1970's when the Renaissance Festival was located in Jonathan.

Sir Puke is Mark Sieve (white shirt) and Sir Snot is John Gamoke. Both men are accomplished stage actors.

This is John's third year in the act, taking over for Joe Kudla, Mark's partner in the act who died suddenly in August, 2008.
John had the courage to step in after only a few days of rehearsal,
and Mark had the determination to help make it work.

After the show, Nancy and I explain to Mark how much we enjoyed his book, Call Me Puke, A Life on the Dirt Circuit, a humorous, fast-paced memoir in which Mark tells the story of his rise in the entertainment world. Visit www.pukensnot.com for more information.

They were kind to take a moment to let us set up a photo.

Later, we stop to see an act called Tuey-Juggling and Ropewalking as he did his finale with fire.

We watch Diane, the lemonade lady, throw out her lemon on a string and reel in the kids.

She has this one hooked.

I get a wild idea I can hit someone with a tomato. My attempts cause a good deal of mirth among viewers.

This lad tries a couple times, but fails to make it to the top on the Jacob's Ladder. I know better than to try.
We visit more shops, eat steak on a stick (really good and only $5.75),
meet more people, and Nancy buys a hat.

Everybody is here to have fun and it's easy to begin conversing with complete strangers. We talked to Rita and Joe Iversen from Sioux City, Iowa, after they had their photos taken as heads on life-sized pickles.

But it's time for us to go, and we say goodbye to the Festival until next year.