Friday, July 30, 2010

Goldfinch Estates

This was to be our second visit to Goldfinch Retirement in Fairmont, Minnesota, so Nancy and I were especially pleased to be invited. We had performed for the residents in August of 2009 and after the show many of them stopped to chat with us and share stories. They were a fun bunch and we expected more of the same on our second visit, February 18, 2010.
We set up in a larger room this time because Marilyn Oelke, the activities director for the Goldfinch facility, had invited some 5th and 6th graders. I especially like it when the audience is mixed with senior folks and elementary school kids. As soon as the kids arrive Marilyn begins the introduction.

It's always a pleasure to be introduced by Marilyn because she is always full of energy and ready to tell some stories about her experiences growing up on the farm.  Just a little sidebar here: Nancy and I first met Marilyn while I was signing books at Barnes & Noble at Mankato, and she had us laughing in no time with her story about when she tried to help her mom clean eggs to prepare them for sale in town. It seems Marilyn had seen the terrific results her mom got with laundry by adding a Bluing agent to the whites. Always aiming to please her folks, young Marilyn thought she would help her mom out by putting eggs into water and adding the Bluing agent. Marilyn thought it a reasonable analogy that if it worked for laundry, it would work for eggs.
To her horror the eggs turned blue! Of course, the produce in town would only accept blue eggs if they paid a lower price.

As I perform, I love to see the mix of old and young in the audience because I witness first-hand that regardless of the gap in years, people of all ages share interests and laugh at some of the same things.

As I explain how to teach a newborn calf how to drink out of a pail, both the young and old chuckle, though, perhaps, for different reasons.

As usual, after the show we sell some books and listen to some stories as we pack up to leave. Once again we are sad to leave the friendly people who have welcomed us into their home. We hope to return again soon.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Bridges

Photographs removed 11-25-12

So what is this farmer waiting for?  

 July 21, 2010, I knock on the door at The Bridges Child Care Center in Rosemount and wait. I'm not in a hurry. My first performance is set for 11 AM and it's only a little after 10.  After a minute or so a lady from next door tells me to just go in. "It's a day care," she says kindly. "People come and go all day. No one knocks because no one answers the door." She goes on to explain that the house next door where she works is part of the The Bridges Child Care Center too. "We care for infants and toddlers in this house and the older children in the house you're at.'" she adds.

When I enter I notice colorful decorations ranging from children's art projects  to professional posters detailing the worth of little children. I stop to read and view a wall hanging, enjoying the warm, homey atmosphere where little children spend many hours of their formative years.

The door to the closest room quickly opens and Maria comes out to introduce herself and ask about our set up.  "We usually do our programs in here because it is the largest room we have," she says. As I enter the room, the kids all greet me as "the farmer." I smile because I know that their enthusiasm means they will enjoy my show.  A couple children point excitedly to a big artwork on the wall.

Once I see the nearly life-size artwork of a farmer in bibbed overalls, I feel even more welcome. Nancy has me stand by the poster as she snaps a picture. Maria begins to clear off tables so we can set up.

We discuss what to bring in and decide to use the television instead of the projector and screen. The 47" television monitor won't wash out in the bright room and it will be plenty big for the small viewing area. Also, the projector takes up some close audience space.

The first performance is for children of ages 3,4, and 5.   The kids listen to the introduction and seem particularly interested when I show them why farmers wear high-top shoes.
I am once again enthralled by their attentive eyes and curious smiles as I have fun performing the tale of little Nancy and her kitty Dusty and their farm adventure.

Questions after the show range from comments about animals to chores the children do at home.

I gear the next show to the older children, who range from K-6. For this audience I include a ten-minute explanation of why I write what I write and how I got started. Questions from this group include more comments about chores and about animals.
Seated in the back are Mary Kay, who started the child care 37 years ago and her daughter Maria, who works with her at the facility. The personal and professional dedication these two women show in their work easily explains the great behavior and attitude of the kids. Once again, I see how lucky kids are when placed in a loving, structured child care facility.

Now for my favorite part: selling and autographing books for kids and adults.

Note: You can see the wonderful variety of decorations in the background.

After we load our equipment, Mary Kay takes time to chat with us for another 15 minutes. She tells about when she first made her decision to go into day care as a very young woman. The facility she is using today, her first child care facility, is the home her parents moved to when she was 10 years old.

Nancy and I listen intently to this example of someone working hard and long at something she enjoys. This, I think, is the essence of the American Dream.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Garden Gate Rhymes

Memories swing on the Garden Gate:
See the young mother working late?
See children learning, yearning to please?
“I’m sorry, Mom. I hoed out some peas!"

Note: See garden gate in lower right,
Behind the weeds but still in sight.

Now I ask, “What use is the rusty, old gate?”
“Should we toss it out?” My wife screams, “Wait!
Let’s make for it a better fate.”

I say, "To hang it in the garden makes no sense.
Can't have a garden gate without a garden fence?"

"Sure we can," Nanc  says to me.
And now that it's hung, I have to agree!
The gate stands proud for us to see
Near daisies and lilies and an apple tree.

And a practical use we also found 
Was to keep the hoe up off the ground.
It's the place Mom hung her hoe away
When she quit work at the end of the day.

In autumn we replace the hoe
With a not-too-scary scarecrow.

In winter's cold the garden gate
Provides a place to decorate.
In bright white snow of a winter scene,
we place a wreath of red and green.

Mom loved a garden, green and dense,
And in final years there was no fence.
At 75 years she worked that ground
And ate the harvest all year round.
The gate still hung on posts of old
That I "helped" Dad erect, I'm told.

Memory: Drilling into freshly cut white oak posts by hand with a rusty brace and a dull bit, Dad made slow progress, but by shear strength and determination, he bore two holes large enough to screw the hinges into. 

This closeup shows the hinge in a hole I drilled into a
treated post using an electric drill about 60 years after
Dad  had mounted the gate on the oak post.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hayes Community and Senior Center

We enter Hayes Community and Senior Center, Apple Valley, on April 20th and Susan Muelken, Recreation Supervisor, greets us with enthusiasm. I like the place immediately. It's new and it's big and I've been invited to speak after a monthly catered lunch. I figure if a lunch is catered in, people will come. Sort of a Field of Dreams in a community center kind of thing. Susan shows us the shortcut back to the parking lot so we can bring in our equipment.

I remark to Nancy as we trek out to the truck to get our equipment, "Not only is this place nice, but also it's handy."
She replies, "We've never had a shorter distance to haul our stuff."

As people go through the buffet line and start to take their seats, I try attempt to gain their interest by trying out the sound system and by showing a few of the pictures on the huge screen that comes down or retracts at the push of a button. The new sound system makes my voice sound deep and rich, like a radio announcer's, and I earn a few chuckles from the audience when I remark, "I don't know whose voice that is, but I like it."

To remind audience members what the country side was like in 1950, I include in the introduction a picture of Jaffy, a peddler who drove an old covered wagon pulled by one horse down the dirt roads that connected the farms in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's.

Jaffy was usually welcomed by the farmers because  he sharpened cutting utensils and sold specialty items like cloth or buttons. Buying from Jaffy might save the farm family a trip to a distant town where they normally didn't shop. Willing to trade his goods and services for eggs or other produce, Jaffy didn't require cash, which most farmers didn't have anyway.

Audience members remember peddlers as they nod their heads in agreement to my story, and they laugh out loud when I proclaim, "He had lots of items in that old wagon, but I'll bet you know what he didn't have--electric appliances! No mixers, blenders, juicers, can openers, hair dryers, or microwave ovens." Even when the farms did get electricity, many of these items were either not yet invented or were considered nonessential when they did become available.

 After I perform the Prologue and my story, County Road Picnic, I return to the picture of the farm I grew up on as I discuss why I write the kind of stories I write and how I got started writing and performing them (see my blog of 6-17-10 for a short explanation). 
After I finish, the kind audience gives me a warm applause followed by many questions. People stop to chat with Nancy and me and many buy books. Susan Muelken asks me to return after my next book comes out.
We thank everyone, say our "Goodbyes" and pack up to leave.

As we load the truck, Nancy remarks how well the show went. I respond by saying, "The big screen, the great sound system, and the wonderful audience made me feel like I was in Vegas!"
I hope we go back soon.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Visit to Berean Education Center

As Nancy and I drive into the parking lot on April, 26, 2010, at Berean Education Center in Burnsville, only a few miles from our house, I comment, "I'm always eager to teach and entertain little kids. These will be pre-schoolers from 4-5 years old. I may not always succeed, but I'll have fun trying."

Nancy just smiles and assures me I'll do OK, a reaction I was  probably fishing for anyway.

As we unload our equipment, parents drop off their kids and a teacher escorts a group of students to class across the campus. They look like they could be second or third graders.

Once inside we meet a few teachers and set up our equipment. As I run through the pictures to ensure the projector is set, one of the staff express that she thinks her group of 3-year-old children would enjoy the program.
I assure her they would and add, "Starting time is 10:00 AM. Bring them in."

The kids range from ages 3-5 and are an attentive bunch of students. I've noticed that kids in pre-school facilities eagerly listen and ask questions.

As I usually do for pre-schoolers, I've prepared a shortened, 20-minute version of my show, but it looks like these kids could easily go longer.

Before I read the story, I explain a bit about what it is like growing up on a farm, emphasizing that chores play an important role every day, 365 days a year. The kids listen intently as I say, "Everyone on the farm helps with chores before school and after school, even the young children."

Throughout the show, I feel privileged to be performing for these great kids at this fine education center, where the staff handles kids with professional manners and love. The kids are lucky to be here.

Staff members are friendly but busy so we have little time to chat after the show.

As we load the car, I say to Nancy, "What a great place to send kids. They seem so bright. Did you hear those questions? I hope I did OK with the answers."

"You did fine," She says.

Honestly, I didn't mean to fish for approval, but I'm always grateful for her support.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

Monday, July 19, 2010

David H. Jewell, 1974-2010

David H. Jewell, a fine young man who illustrated 5 of my books, passed away on Thursday, July 15, 2010.

David and I first met during the winter of 2003, and although the motivations for our subsequent meetings were professional, to say we only knew each other professionally doesn't really describe our relationship. We were friends. For over seven years, he and I shared our experiences of successes and setbacks through telephone calls and Emails, where he would downplay his episodes at the hospital to get his diabetes under control. A typical Email to me said, "I had a small setback because of a medical issue, but I'm back on track now." His was not an easy life, I often thought.

David was first diagnosed with diabetes when he was 14 and as he aged, the disease progressed to cause other problems, including  kidney damage. Although he recently assured me that his health was under control and he was eager to begin another project with me, his last trip to the hospital revealed that a lung was full of pneumonia. He passed away soon after that.

David had talent and imagination. I was lucky to find him just when I needed him. So how does an author meet an illustrator like David? Well, during the holiday season in 2002, Panera Bread Restaurants allowed local authors to display and sell their books in the small space near the entry. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet people, and even now, whenever I drive by or stop at a Panera Bread, I think how their actions demonstrated the company's bold support for local authors.

Of course, not all customers were interested in looking at my books, but others, especially those who had a connection to the farm, would visit with us for half an hour or more. On a good Saturday, we might sell 5 books. I think we hit double digit sales once or twice.

We met Roger and Carolyn Jewell at the Panera Bread in Woodbury in December of 2002. They were not farmers but had relatives who farmed, and when they found out I was looking for an illustrator, they quickly mentioned their son, David. David and I got in touch and planned a meeting at Panera Bread in Eagan.

At our first meeting, David immediately impressed me with his sample drawings and his polite manner.  He insisted on calling me "Mr. Fredrickson" during the entire meeting, a practice he continued for the next 3 years, while he illustrated pages for If I Were a Farmer, Adventure 2; If I Were a Farmer, Adventure 3; County Road Ball Game; and County Road First Day of School. During that time, the Eagan Panera Bread was our meeting place. David and I both liked the coffee.

I especially liked working with David because he would create sample characters according to my descriptions and show them to me for approval before he would proceed. After describing to him the characters of  Nancy and her kitty Dusty on our first meeting, he showed me three possible characterizations for them the next weekend. We agreed on a choice, and he began drawing the pages for If I Were a Farmer, Adventure 2, which eventually became If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure.

County Road Ball Game and County Road First Day of School each had over 10 characters. In both cases, I gave him descriptions and he drew samples before we proceeded.

David's polite and humble manner never curbed what I thought his most endearing trait, his almost child-like enthusiasm for his drawings. Whenever he showed me his new sketches, his face beamed with excitement as he hurriedly explained how the final drawings would be even better. In April of this year, he mailed pages of the final book he drew for me, and I mailed a check to him with a receipt for him to sign and return to me.

A few weeks ago, he ordered 3 copies of  If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure  along with award stickers. He was rightfully proud that the book had won a Reader Views Readers' Choice Award. I Emailed him back to say that my new book, If I Were a Farmer: Field Work, was due back from the printer in a week or so, and when it came in I would arrange a meeting and deliver copies of both titles to him at the same time. We were both eager for the meeting.

I picked  up If I Were a Farmer: Field Work at the warehouse last week and was planning to call him this week to set up a meeting at Panera Bread. As it turned out, his brother Chris called on Friday to inform me David had passed away.

In the last communications I had with him, he expressed how he felt he had his health and his career on the right track. In a June 15th Email to me, David said, "...and I want to thank you for the opportunity to illustrate for you. It has opened doors and allowed me to acquire the necessary equipment Thanks.." Then he added, "PS: I hope to illustrate for you again in the future."

I told him then and I repeat it now, "I am lucky to have found you, Dave. So Thank you."

I will remember David as a polite young man of courage and enthusiasm, beaming as he displayed his art to me. If I Were a Farmer: Tommy's Adventure, the fifth and final book David illustrated for me, will be published by Beaver's Pond Press, Inc. and dedicated to the Memory of David H. Jewell.

To read a short biography of David Jewell go to and click on the green tab "about us".

Friday, July 16, 2010

Creative Cover-up

Saying, "My wife quilts," is a bit like proclaiming Minnesotans fish or Baryshnikov dances, without saying anything about the passion for the activity. Nancy's passion for quilting probably rivals the passion of any person for pastimes or art.

The quilt rack in the picture on the left contains only 9 of her many quilts.
About 40 or more decorate our sofas, beds, walls and a couple other quilt racks. Several more are under construction, and I'm afraid to guess how many are in the mental planning stages.

I don't quilt, but I like being under them. Like many people my age, as a child I slept in an unheated upstairs bedroom. I'm not complaining! I loved the brisk air and the chance to snuggle under the big patchwork feather quilt, which was nothing fancy. I thought the quilt beautiful. Even as a kid I understood that quilt squares didn't have to adhere to the same color wheel as school clothes. Striking mismatches in color and pattern look great on a quilt!

Like many farm women, my mother, Helen (Cervenka) Fredrickson, quilted too, but she didn't always get to finish what she started. You know, farm work and meals came first during the day, and in the evening after milking she packed eggs, ironed clothes, baked, or did the family's sewing. She loved to work.

Nancy and I sit by the kitchen table, visiting with Dad and Mom. They are in their late sixties.
Nancy explains that she needs more quilt squares to begin to assemble the Relative Quilt.
"The idea is simple enough: I've mailed a square of cloth to each of the relatives and each person uses the cloth or some other piece of material to create a square. They mail it back to me and I put them together as a quilt. The trouble is that I need to get a few more back before I begin to lay out the quilt."

I'm thinking that people are busy and lots of them won't ever finish the squares, but I follow Dad's lead and say nothing. He knows there's a time to listen and also a  time to shut up and listen.

No one says anything for a short time. Then Mom says, "Would you like a quilt square that my mother made?"

I can tell this is a big deal to Nancy as she slowly exclaims, "You have a quilt square from your mother!"

"I have enough squares for a whole quilt," says Mom. "My mother gave them to me. She always said a mother should make a quilt for her daughter when she gets married. Since I was the youngest child, though, my mother was old when I got married and her fingers were no longer able to quilt. So she just gave me the squares. I was always going to put them together, but I never had time. Now I have time but my eyes are poor. So do you want one?"

Nancy hesitates. "What are you planning for the other squares?"

Mom says, "I don't know. Throw them away, maybe."

At this, Nancy and I look at each other in shock.

"Then I would gladly take them all, if you don't mind, " Nancy says.

At this, Mom smiles.

A few years later, after Mom and Dad's 50th Wedding Anniversary, Nancy gives the completed quilt to Mom.

After a few tears and many "thank yous" and a few hugs, Mom gives the quilt back to Nancy to keep.
The quilt hangs now on our library wall.

The dedication on the quilt reads as follows:

Helen Cervenka Fredrickson's Quilt

Squares Made By Mary Cervenka 1938

Quilted By Nancy Fredrickson 1988

This picture displays the design.

A quilt is craft, folk art, and fine art;
a quilt is culture, custom, and love;
a quilt is frivolous, practical, sentimental, and real;
a quilt is fun, serious, and can reach out across borders;
a quilt is color, pattern, and style;
a quilt is bright, soft, and wonderful.
A quilt is like its maker.

When we travel, Nancy always looks for a quilt store with fabrics that reflect the locale. I, too, have come to enjoy the quilt store hunt as part of our travel adventure..
By the way, many relatives completed quilt squares and the Relative Quilt turned out really great, but that's material for another blog, and, yes, that pun was intended.

Photographs  by Nancy A Fredrickson

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cards for Fun

My wife Nancy enjoys a several creative outlets, but one she has not had time to pursue lately is creating humorous or otherwise interesting blank greeting cards. With so much of our time devoted to writing and marketing my books, she has not produced any new greeting cards for years.

Hope you enjoy this tribute to a few of her past creations:

Catching me in mid-air was a harder shot than snapping a bluebird with a worm.

Not one of the cows would admit to starting the campfire.

Ever feel like plowing up the lawn?  These are a couple of my contributions.

Look! The corn has grown a foot!                  Dad always tried to make things fun.

             This was the  barn at my folks' farm.

        Dad raking hay about 1988
                                Long barn at Schoenecker
                                 farm near New Market, about 1928

 Flowers are always a favorite.

       This picture of finches feeding on daisies was an award-winner.

I'll leave you with a nice sunset.

 My intention is not to drum up sales (honestly), but if you are interested in purchasing cards, Email us at 
All Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson,
 except Always carry a full load, Long barn, and Never too young.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cool off with a ground blizzard

We arrive early on Sunday, February 14, 2010, to perform a one-hour show for the annual meeting of the Stevens County Historical Society at their new Museum in Morris, MN.  After we locate the new Stevens County Museum, we decide we have time for a little trip down memory lane to view the place where we farmed for 5 years during my first teaching job.  As we head northwest out of Morris, Nancy says, "The sun may be shining, but in the open spaces this wind creates a ground blizzard, and we may not be able to see the farm, let alone take a picture."
 We turn west off the highway onto a gravel road and I say, "I'm wishing we had just stayed in town where there is no blowing snow. People living in Morris will come to the meeting, but I'll bet this weather will keep people in their houses if they live in the country."

We approach the farm and for a moment our trip is worth the risk. The wind is quiet south of the tall wind break.
"Look at how the trees we planted have grown!" Nancy remarks.
"You could see over the tops of the tiny trees from the road to the house when we sold it in 1978," I add.

As we head west we take another parting shot at the farmstead where we once worked raising cattle, hogs and grain.

Then we turn south toward Alberta, the town where I taught high school English from 1973-1978. The ground blizzard is worse. "Let's not go the extra 12 miles round trip to Chokio," I suggest. "Let's just get back to Morris as soon as possible."

The wind blows only lightly in Alberta so we take a  picture of the old school, which is no longer used as a high school, and the town hall, where I directed several of the high school plays.

Since the high school drama organization was the exclusive occupant of the town hall, we were free to change the stage and seating to suit the play. I very much enjoyed directing and assisting with plays at the facility, and the kids, of course, were great.

We unload at the new museum, which has an elevator to the second floor. We set up our equipment to the wonderful odor of roast beef, potatoes, and carrots cooking in a crock pot. Randee Hokanson, the Museum's  Director and Exhibit Designer who organized the event, invites us to feast with them before the show. After inhaling those great cooking smells for half an hour, Nancy and I agree immediately.

The new addition to the museum blends perfectly with the old charm of the original museum while providing a beautiful modern space with all the appropriate conveniences. Before dinner, we explore the museum's exhibits that cover a wide range of tools and clothing used by the hard-working men and women of the prairie farm country.

The dinner is a sit-down affair with a nice table cloth, but the members, treat us  like a couple of their own and Nancy and I enjoy the food and conversation as we witness a good deal of good-natured kidding among the members.
I soon discover members include college professors from  the U of M in Morris, agriculture college graduates, and farmers and merchants from the area. I decide it is a pretty distinguished audience and vow to do my best to entertain them.
As you can see, though, they are a kindly audience, who treat me with great warmth despite the nasty cold outside.
As people finish eating the annual meeting begins, which lasts about half an hour. Then they introduce me.

I show pictures of the past during my introduction and prologue; I show illustrations from my books as I recite my stories; and I answer a few questions after the show.

The weather tries to hurry our departure, but we gladly stay to chat with people, sell a few books, and snap a few pictures of people who worked hard to organize the event.

After swapping stories about the present and past, we reluctantly pack up and prepare to leave. Everyone wishes us a safe trip home as we say goodbye.
As we drive east towards hilly country, the wind blows less snow. We enjoy a safe trip home. Round-trip distance: 383 miles.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson