Thursday, February 22, 2018

It was snowing today.  This is not an unexpected event in Minnesota on a February day.  However, the swirling snow got me thinking not about driving or shoveling but that each of those snowflakes could represent the thoughts and feelings that are swirling around our country today in the wake of another mass shooting; the attack on high school students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine's Day, Seventeen lives were lost and many others were injured.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Unexpected Wonders of Holding a Garage Sale: Day Two

Thursday's sale started out slowly.  The sky was mournful and gray and the city road crew were doing their thing,  filling the street with trucks.  I learned that I had more in common with these men than you would have thought.  I basically know nothing about roadwork and so apparently do they.  Places on the road that were mostly smooth were skipped over including the curve just before our driveway.  They left a nice incipient pothole there that is very likely to get us when the road is covered with snow and ice.  The rest of the road was uneven and messy.  The teacher in me gave them a D-...better than nothing, but certainly not an outstanding effort.

Since the customers were not appearing, I had a chance to read my story (thus far) to Rod.
"You left out the important part," he said.
"Oh, really?  And what was that?"
"About all the work I did to help you set up the sale."
"How inconsiderate of me," I said, "Let me rectify that right now."

I guess that means going back to all his previous comments such as, "Do you really need that?"  "Every room is filled with your stuff" and the classic "I feel like I'm living with my mother."  Encouragement to purge is a gift he keeps giving.  Of course when he acceded to in the inevitability of the sale happening, he and Ryan carried up the tables to the garage.  I sweetened the pot by telling him that we would have to clean out the garage anyway and this would be a good time to do it and we could even go up to the garage attic and get rid of stuff.  Stuff, I assured him that would leave one way or another and never enter the house again.

I felt him getting into the spirit of the thing.  We rigged up a rope across the canoe supports to hang the dresses and jackets.  It gave him a chance to practice a new knot he'd learned and with the help of several bungee cords, we created a thing of "beauty" (if not a joy forever).

He even contributed some shirts to our clothesline.  (If only he'd try on the two dozen pants hanging in his closet since 1998 that just possibly might be too small).  Also, he didn't continue to complain about having the sale...I appreciate that he doesn't hold on to anger, when I don't "submit and obey".  That actually never made it into our marriage vows...the unwritten ones that did are more like "support and allow", which means when he takes off for North Dakota to hunt in a few weeks (pheasant feathers-0.25 a piece/ 5 for $1.00) I will stay home and fend off the plagues of locusts, blizzards and other natural disasters that might swoop down without a word of complaint.  He should be able to handle a garage full of odds and ends for another day or two.

Finally a car pulls into the driveway.  It is our friend Katie and her mother Candie, who had been to the dentist.  We cut them pieces of apple crisp and sit and visit, totally undisturbed by other shoppers.

Eventually a few more customers come by, including a woman in a Harley Davidson tank top and long blond hair tied back in a ponytail who called me "honey."  When she suggested that the white sign at the end of the road wasn't as visible as it should be, I decided right away to change it with the bright yellow sign at the end of the driveway.  Why would I disagree with a woman who owns a motorcycle and wears the same size shoes as me?  I know this because she bought the super cool orange strappy sandals that were way too high for me and the suede Borns with the evergreen shaped treads on the bottoms.  (A real bargain at $1 a pair)

The lack of customers allow me to bake 4 more apple pies, fix a casserole and sort through newspapers.  Robin and Lexi come home and as we are closing up, we find a baby garter snake on the driveway.

"Look at the cute worm, Grammy," Lexi says.  She keeps calling it a worm even though she knows it's a snake.  It does look like a worm; only about 6 inches long and thinner than a pencil.  Robin gets a bucket and pulls some grass.  We will have to figure out what this baby eats.  It's spending the night on the window seat, the bucket closed off with a wire mesh colander.
"Oh, by the way Mom," Robin says, "why do you have that wimpy yellow sign at the end of the road?"

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Unexpected Wonders of Holding a Garage Sale:  Day One

My husband Rod asked our son Ryan to help him convince me that it was a bad idea to have a garage sale.
"You've got no argument there," I thought.
"They are a lot of work for little money, " he said, "and we have lots of other things to do and little time to do them before you leave to see your sister.  Plus you are supposed to rest your knee."

He was right on all counts, but I'd already committed myself with ads and posts on Facebook. However,  as I drove down our pothole-infested road to set out the garage sale signs and found myself dodging a bobcat with a brush attachment on the front throwing dust up into the air and we discovered that the county planned  to lay asphalt today, I thought perhaps I should have taken his concerns more seriously.  Who is going to wend their way past heavy equipment belching smoke and tar to check through my old sweaters and socks and used kitchen tools?

Well, they did come despite the roadwork:  First, a gray-haired lady who drives children with challenges to their schools.  She bought the wicker cat bed and we talked about how to blend cats forced to live together. I learned that her son had come home under disappointing circumstances and brought his cat to join her two.  She gave me $12 and a story from her life.  I started feeling glad that I'd had the sale anyway.

Next a couple where the wife browsed and the husband noticeably stayed outside the garage, almost like a force field separated him from the merchandise and he threw his voice into the unknown to give her advice.  More cat conversation sparked by the cat tower (For Sale $10).  They had a cat named Puppy, and a story about  how the cat got it's name and how they got the cat.  Wow, more characters, more stories and $1.50 more in the cashbox.

Then two familiar faces--Steve and Eileen, friends and classmates from Milaca and Ham Lake neighbors on their way north to view the colors.  They had seen my Facebook posting and stopped by.  We talked politics and classmates and the upcoming reunion.  Steve left me his number to I could call him about the next reunion meeting.

The next customer also took me by surprise.  He got out of his pickup and heading in the direction of my garden instead of the garage.  He admired the size of my garden, told me about his market garden plot around the corner where he sells sweet corn and how his beets were as big as softballs this year.
We looked at the ground cherry plants and I gave him a sample (sweet and tart) and offered him some for seeds.  He looked at the fresh mounds of dirt that a gopher had just created as asked for a shovel.

The next thing I knew, he was scraping off the mounds looking for a good spot to set a gopher trap which I retrieved from the back of his pickup truck.  He didn't buy anything, but I collected my second male phone number of the day!  Hopefully the mound-making culprit will be caught and I can call Richard to collect the trap.  Maybe we'll talk about carrots and broccoli too.

The day proceeded like this...story after story.  There was a man and his adult son.  The son stayed in the car but the talkative father bought one of my apple pies, proclaiming that he was going to eat it all himself.  Five minutes later they are back again.  The son bought a second pie.
"Now you'll each have your own pie?" I asked.
"Going to give it to a friend down the road," the father said.
 I do hope the son at least got a bite.

I gave out samples of my fresh organic apple juice.  One man told me about his winter neighbor in Florida who also grew apples in Michigan and made juice from them.  His wife would accept the juice, but wouldn't drink it...she suspected worms.  Apparently the man was as unsavory as his juice.

A mother, father and young adult son stopped by.  The son's eagerness about everything--the book on dogs!  The apple juice!  let me know he was unique.  I complimented him on his t-shirt, the front had colorful puzzle pieces on it.
"Read the back," he said. The  extensive writing on the back explained about autism. "Because I have autism." he cheerfully confided.
"And you just carry on with your happy life, right?"
"Right!  Dad can we get some juice?  And an apple pie?  What, I get a free book too!  Thank you!"

I closed up for the night, went in to make more apple crisp and to anticipate what interesting stories my garage sale would bring me tomorrow.

Friday, March 10, 2017

After I took the Do You Live In a Bubble Quiz, I reflected on what I learned.  Here's my thoughts:
I'm a farm girl, I know about cows and pigs and pick-up trucks and small town values and I believe there are smart, creative, kind and wise people living everywhere; city, country and everywhere in-between--I know them; I love them. 
I also believe at this time in history when so much information and opportunity are at our fingertips (the kind of access that I dreamed of as an inquisitive child in a country school) that there are people who are being willfully ignorant about the dangers presented by our president and the forces at work to change American society to something darker, less safe, less warm, less caring, less inclusive. 
There is only so much that we can do about where we've come from. My mother was an immigrant, my father, the son of immigrants. Neither had a high school education. We didn't have an indoor toilet until I was 8. The America of the 1950's and '60's gave me an opportunity. I was white--that helped, I was a girl,--that put up roadblocks, but I had a chance. 
Without a good public education, I couldn't have gotten into college; without Social Security (my dad was 70 when I started college), a campus job and a scholarship, I couldn't have paid for it; without a working immigration system, I couldn't have traveled to Australia to teach and eventually make my way around the world, where I saw some Americans behaving badly, but found that most people I met in Asia and Europe liked and admired Americans. (that is changing--there is skepticism where once there was simple acceptance) 
Through the past decades Americans have struggled with their demons--racism, sexism, classism and we have made great strides to live up to the clarion call of the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 
Now, I fear, too many Americans, especially those in power, are finding that struggle with demons too taxing; too difficult. They want to put up walls (the infamous literal wall along the border and the figurative one between people of differing ideas) and they want to take away opportunities and restrict access to the American dream. 
They are fearful and the fearful lock doors and build fences, but the fire and the wind and the flood can still reach them. We are safer and we are happier when we recognize our common humanity and reach out our hands to one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

In a move that no human resources director anywhere would make, the Senate Republicans selected Betsy DeVos, a distinctly unqualified nominee, to be the new Secretary of Education. It took an historic vote requiring the vice president to cast the tie-breaking vote, the first time ever for a cabinet nomination.

Only two Republicans publicly recognized that DeVos was unfit for the job, despite a bipartisan flood of calls, emails and letters from constituents and an all-night effort by Democratic Senators to clarify their concerns. Every Senator in that chamber should be well aware of DeVos’s shortcomings from the hearings and from the concerns expressed by a broad swath of the American public, and yet they chose party over support for public education.

It is easy to feel frustrated and angry that so many voices were not heeded and evidence was ignored. A cherished American institution may just have been sold to the highest bidder.

Flush from a successful election, the Senators have 2, 4 or 6 years before facing reelection and constituent unhappiness does not affect them at this moment like it will in a year or 18 months. To a certain extent the public can be ignored; they are counting on our short attention spans and the likelihood of a multitude of other outrages to distract us from the relatively minor doings of the Department of Education.

What to do with the anger and frustration? Anger is useful only if it spurs you to action; so here are some actions you can take:

Political Action
Continue to write/call. You can find contact information here.

Thank the Senators who voted against and express displeasure with those who voted for her. Check which class they are in (Class I is up for reelection in 2019, etc.) Let them know you’ll put that date on your calendar. Even if you cannot vote as a nonresident of their state, you can contribute to their opponent and you can urge your friends and family who do live there to vote against them.

Become aware/involved in resistance movements.

Follow the work of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:

Local Action
Attend a local school board meeting, meet your school board members, express your hopes, your concerns and your support.

If you are a parent—get your kids to school every day, check their school work, read to them, get to know their teachers, expect the best from them.

Support and campaign for necessary referendums in your school district.

Contribute—financially if you can, to your local school, a public college or university or a student scholarship fund.

Contribute your time on a regular or occasional basis to volunteer in a classroom, tutor or mentor a child, help in the library, participate in fundraising efforts.

Thank the teachers and the staff for their efforts on behalf of kids.

Get to know the kids in your neighborhood, your community and your extended family. Encourage them in their education. 

Personal Action
Educate yourself about education policy and funding. Education is still primarily local, but funding and policy decisions happen at federal, state and school district levels.

Check out website of the Department of Education—, You can subscribe to receive email updates.

Check out the Minnesota Department of Education— or the education department in your state.

Get to know the history and current roles of teachers’ unions. This article would be a good place to start:

Find readable and astute books on the subject: Diane Ravitch; Reign of Error and The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Dona Goldstein, The Teacher Wars, will get you going.  Next steps?  Share titles with your book group or other readers and thinkers you know, in person or online.

Rupert Murdoch pronounced US education “a $500 billion sector…waiting desperately to be transformed.” Learn who the “reformers” are behind their benign names and how privatization will enrich them without improving educational outcomes.

Whatever you choose to do: Be civil, don’t call names, but be smart, be informed, be persistent and check your spelling! Be the change you wish to see in the world!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

That Day

We all have days that we view with trepidation; days that we hope won't come, but we know that someday they must.  When we are young it might be important tests, or moving away from home, or later, having to move back home; there are break-ups and shake-ups and days of sadness and loss.

Of course, most days are not like that.  Several weeks ago was a day that I had truly looked forward to.  A friend from high school days was going to be back in our old home town and many of the group would be able to join him for breakfast and a chance to catch up with each other.  A pall was cast over the gathering because one of our friends could not be there.  Two days before she'd been airlifted to the hospital with a blood clot on the brain.  She was still unconscious and the prognosis wasn't good.

In the days that followed, our old lunch table group kept in touch with each other through email and Facebook posts, sharing our concern and our memories.  Although death had touched all of us in someway through the years, all members of this group were still alive and being together had made the years fall away and images of school days were fresh.

Today that changed.  Carol Lindberg Braaten's time on earth has ended and there is an empty seat at the lunch table.  I wrote this poem several days ago in that state of sadness and impending loss.

That Day

Is he alone who has courage on his right hand and faith on his left hand?
Charles Lindbergh

That day is waiting, 
In the wings,
When the mathematics change—
When a given is taken away.

Perhaps they all wanted a nickname,
a moniker, a distinctive sobriquet,
Those changing, giddy adolescent girls
Who gathered at the lunch table
in that small town high school cafeteria.

She wore hers with a jaunty aspect.
Carol became Charlie,
Charlie Lindberg, 
The flying ace, 
The intrepid adventurer.

Who else would have a skunk named Artemis?
Who else could twirl the perfect DQ cone, 
Or make you laugh just to hear her giggle?
Her face was made for happiness.

But she was more grounded than aloft,
With love of home and church and family; chose to be
Carol again and never fly too far away from roots
Sunk deep in small town soil.

Giddiness fades and high school ends;
Promises of forever are made.
Ties of friendship stretch and fray, 
But do not break.

Busy with jobs and homes and children
Arthritis and gray hair can approach unheeded.
Where, you ask, did fifty years go?

I still dream of missing the bus and
Making the honor roll, and wondering,
Will there be a place for me at the lunch table?
The smell of fish sticks conjures memories.

There is much talk of Heaven
And of hope,
Of faith and coming glory
And God willing, that may be,
No lunch table girl has crossed yet;
Exit stage left.
Second act, perhaps.

That day came too soon.

Jean Doolittle

June, 2016
image: Minnesota Historical Society Photo

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Misinformation is Alive and Well

I haven't posted here in quite a while, but feel the urge!  I love learning new things and sharing information.  As much as I love the sharing, it's obvious at times there is too much sharing going on of misinformation--on blogs, Facebook posts, email forwards and right out of political candidates mouths!

I'm as likely as anyone else to have particular opinions and as reluctant as anyone to give up those opinions when presented with contrary statements.  However, I care about truth (in information, in advertising, in how I live my life) and so I am exploring the issue of misinformation and our surprising attachment to it when it fits in with our beliefs and our previous opinions, even in the face of contradictory evidence.

This phenomenon is readily apparent during this presidential campaign season.  It is easy enough to fact check candidates' statements and see the frequency of stretching the truth, waffling with the truth, or outright lying, but it seems we are willing to overlook, excuse or even accept the most bold-faced untruths from a candidate we support.
This issue is as old as time.  Back in the 16th century,  Francis Bacon, philosopher, statesman, scientist, author, jurist  (1561-1626) said:

The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate

– Francis Bacon
As a librarian who has assisted many patrons in finding information, it has been all too common for them to reject information that would challenge or refute their ideas and only look for information that would support their ideas, despite the authority or validity of the source.  Contradictory information was deemed inaccurate or false, even when it wasn't.

An excellent article about this cognitive bias can be found here The Backfire Effect on the website,  You Are Not So Smart.

The next question is?  With such a strong human propensity to hold onto our opinions; how can we trust that the truth about important issues (climate change, health care, etc.) can be seen, believed and addressed?  We can have different opinions, but we should at least be dealing with the same facts.