Wednesday, February 29, 2012

From Lake of the Woods Elementary to Harmony, MN, in Five Days

Nancy and I like driving Minnesota highways and back roads, especially if our destinations are schools or other facilities that hosts our Farm Heritage Shows. In January, SPFFA (Sparsely Populated area chapters of Future Farmers of America) along with Collegiate FFA located at the University of Minnesota in Crookston arranged for us to visit four schools in Northern Minnesota.

Let me explain just a little about Sparsely Populated FFA Chapters. In farm country where farms had been several hundred acres but are now a thousand acres or more, there are fewer farmers and fewer farm kids. Consequently, although intense interest in FFA is still present for a few, the numbers of students interested in FFA has decreased dramatically. "Sparsely Populated" may refer somewhat to the entire region, but mostly the term describes the availability of candidates for FFA.

We were very excited about the opportunity to get our books and our program out to schools in farm country of Northwest Minnesota, and when we scheduled the visits for Tuesday, February 21 through Friday, February 24, we knew we had already booked a banquet for Preble Farmers Mutual Insurance at noon on Saturday, February 25, at Harmony, located near the Iowa border in Southeast, MN. When we left for the trek on Monday, February 20, 2012, we hoped Minnesota weather would be kind.

We arrived at Crookston just in time for supper at the home of our long-time friends, Lyle and Sue Westrom, where we would be staying three of the four nights during our trip. Lyle is an Agriculture professor at  the University of Minnesota, Crookston, and leads the CFFA (Collegiate Future Farmers of America) Chapters. He and his students and the SPFFA Chapters at the local high schools agreed to work together to sell my books as fund-raisers for their organizations and arrange for me to visit elementary schools in the area to boost interest in FFA.

Sue works for the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), but lucky for us, she had most of the day off and was able to demonstrate her abilities in the kitchen by cooking us a fine supper of roast beef and vegetables just the way we old-timers like it.

The four of us ate a splendid meal and then shared a short evening together.
Since their jobs require each of them to spend hours on the road traveling to meetings, this was the only evening the four of us spent together.

On Tuesday, Nancy and I arose at 5:00 AM so we could leave for our first show at Clearbrook-Gonvick Elementary in Clearbrook, MN, about a 1.5 hour drive away. Slippery roads and blowing snow slowed our travels, but we stayed on-schedule. No time for pictures, though, we were too busy worrying about a constant grinding coming from the right front wheel. I stopped to look twice, but with the snowing conditions and cold, we decided to just keep going.
We arrived at Bagley about 7:15 and as we turned north to make the last 15 miles of our journey, my brakes started to fade. We asked a man who was brushing the snow off his car if there was a garage in town. He directed us to Sorensen Motors, Inc., which we had passed about a mile back. With grinding becoming louder, steering becoming sloppy, and braking questionable we headed back the way we came, ready to put our faith in Sorensen Motors.

The truck handled poorly and I missed the turn by about 100 feet. Concerned how long my front wheel could hold out, I put my flashers on and backed up on the highway and limped into Sorensen's where a truck was plowing the lot. We parked our truck, and the driver, Bernett, came to talk to us. "The mechanics will be coming in about 10 minutes," he said. "We'll take care of it. Go in and have some coffee." Then he came in and brought me a cup. This lifted our spirits, but Nancy and I held little hope of making our destination in time for our first show
It was close to 7:30 AM when I called Jacob Melbey, the Dean of Students at Clearbrook-Gonvick Elementary to tell them our predicament. "So your at Bagley?' he responded. "I can come and get you right away."
In the meantime the mechanics had brought our truck into the shop and removed the wheel. "About another ten minutes of driving and the wheel would have fallen off," One of them said. "You were lucky to get here." Lucky, indeed, I thought.
The wheel bearing had gone out and some brake damage was done, but they were sure they could get the parts and have it ready by early afternoon. Things were starting to look pretty good as Mr. Melbey pulled in with the van and we loaded our equipment. It looked like we'd only be a few minutes late if we could set up quickly. Nancy and I relaxed and enjoyed a visit with Jacob Melbey as he took us to Clearbrook.
In tomorrow's piece, I'll describe our experience at the school.

Friday, February 17, 2012

All Saints Elementary at Lakeville

I was delighted to get a call from Mrs. Johnson, the librarian at All Saints Catholic School, requesting that I do a program for the fourth and fifth grade students. You see, Mrs. Johnson, like so many of the professionals I meet at the school, is totally engrossed in enjoying what she does, and the positive feeling permeates the entire building. When we visited the school last Monday, students that saw me once last December waved to me in the halls, Mrs Johnson took time to swap some stories with us, a couple of the fourth and fifth grade teachers stopped after the show to shake my hand and chat, and the principal, Mrs. Meskill, took time from her busy schedule to watch a show and swap some stories with me afterward. These are elements that make Nancy and I feel extraordinarily welcome and eager to do a good show.

And then, there are the students, who always seem eager to listen and learn.

Fifth grade students listening to my introduction to A Farm Country Picnic

Fourth grade students listening to the Prologue to Farm Country Tales

 My program for these older students included a short segment on how and why I do what I do and the difficulty I had getting published. This is a piece that I do not do for younger children, but I find that fourth and fifth grade students and on up are often interested in writing down their own thoughts and they like to hear about who might like to read them. Both sessions asked lots of good questions and related some good farm stories, too.

We'd like to thank all the teachers for allowing us class time for my storytelling, and we especially thank Mrs. Johnson and Principal Meskill for inviting us to All Saints. Also, a special thanks to Steve Lloyd, my neighbor who volunteers at the school, for bringing literature on my show to the school and encouraging them to invite me to visit.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson
These are Nancy's first pictures with our new IPhone.
She loves the phone but concedes she will need to work to get better at using it to take photos.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hooked on Books

I love being invited to the annual Hooked on Books because I know the event will be flooded with children, teachers, parents, and grandparents who are all interested in books. This year the event was held at Chanhassen High School on Saturday, February 11, from 9:00 AM to noon.

But books aren't the only thing that the morning had to offer. Throughout the hallways and in some rooms, local artists displayed their work. Visitors were free to wander about while they listened to musical numbers from Oliver, performed by the cast and musicians from the Chaska Valley Family Theatre's production of the musical.
In the commons area, a number of local authors offered their books for sale and were busy chatting with visitors. My publisher, Beaver's Pond Press had six of their authors at the event, including Nancy and me.

Nancy snaps a photo of me by the table provided to us by Beaver's Pond Press. 

Heather Kerber, Publishing Operations Manager at Beaver's Pond Press
Cousin Janet Olinger checks out my latest book, A Farm Country Picnic.

Displaying at other tables were Carver County Library, Barnes & Nobles, Dreamland Books, Inc., Community Education, and Usborne Books.

The event offers lots of activities and is always well attended. 
 I think everyone who attended appreciated the huge effort put in by Mary Erickson and Jen Rejsek in organizing this year's Hooked on Books event, and we all look forward to attending next year.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson