My first Photo-A-Day blunder of the year

Week 7 of 2017 was a great week to be outdoors in Minnesota. The weather was crazy-warm for this time of year, and I did get out and shoot photos every day (honest!). But when I went through my week of photos this weekend, my shots from Wednesday were missing!  I mistakenly erased a memory card before uploading all the pictures.  I kicked myself for a couple of minutes and then decided to get on with my life.

However, I am still going to post 7 photos – two of them from Thursday’s visit from the grandkids. So, everything is fine, and any illusions of perfection in my posting a shot from each day have been dropped.

(I really did shoot some photos on Wednesday, though — I swear.)

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(2/12/17)  Neva scores!!! We went to see good friend Neva Kueffer (celebrating with her stick in the air) play a game in her women’s league at the Augsburg College arena. She decided to give us a thrill by flipping one past a very tough goalkeeper. Female hockey has become a big thing in this part of the country, and these women are really good.

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(2/13/17) One of our neighbors a couple of blocks away has created a whimsical contraption in their front yard.  Covered by a cute canopy and surrounded by a colorful fence, this assemblage of little houses  has doors and windows that open and close, and lights that shine — all courtesy of solar panels (and some wind assistance).  It’s an amazing, beautiful little piece of yard art, carefully designed and constructed.  I’m mesmerized every time I walk by it.  One day I’ll knock on the door and ask to meet the person who dreamed this up.

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(2/14/17) Now this is what a principal’s office should look like — no intimidating big desk, just a little round table in the center and about six comfortable chairs arranged in a circle.  That set up tells a lot about my old friend Hernan Moncada’s management style. We taught together at Windom School in Minneapolis about 10 years ago (when he was just a kid).  Señor Moncada texted recently and invited me to stop in and have coffee at his school — Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion Elementary in Eden Prairie, MN. This smart, funny, energetic, young man runs a school with a population of 800 students! I’m proud to call him my friend. I hope the staff and families know how lucky they are.

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(2/16/17) We have a recurring role-playing game at our house that was started by Otto’s sister.  It’s called “Missed our flight and have to sleep at the airport”.   I kid you not.  I don’t think she’s ever had to do that in her 4.7 years of air travel, but Otto also loves to play it  — even when his sister is not around to make the public address announcements.

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(2/16/17)  She’s got style.  Miss Svea arrived wearing an elegant black dress (open in the back), grabbed the earmuffs from the wall hook, and made a bee-line to the front hall closet to find someone’s gloves. Earrings and pearls next time?

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(2/17/17) If you don’t understand the craziness of this picture, you’ve never spent a winter in Minnesota. Today’s high temp was 63, shattering the previous record of 55.  The average high for today is 29 degrees. We have virtually no snow on the ground . . . we’re biking . . . in shorts . . . in Minneapolis . . . on February 17.  

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(2/18/17)  One of the Twin Cities’ best kept secrets is the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, just east of the behemoth shopping center modestly named “The Mall of America” and just below the bluffs from a bunch of office buildings and a Hilton Hotel.  This refuge is part of a 70-mile stretch of land and river that is under the protection of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. You can leave the Big Mall or the MSP International Airport and in 5 minutes be walking in a huge, protected natural setting.  They have a great visitors center and hiking trails down to the water level. I’ve been here several times before with students, but a lot of Twin Cities residents aren’t even aware that it’s here and worth exploring.

 

 

 

Happy (first) Mothers Day to a wonderful daughter

Last year on this day, little Svea was preparing for her exit into the world. Emily was beautifully round and ready. The rest of us were excited and so happy about was ahead.
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Svea made quite an entrance on the evening of June 2. She’s brightened the world for everyone who has met her, just as her mom did 3 decades ago.
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Emily has become the world’s best mom — before, during and after Svea was born. (Kyle, you’re the best dad, but this isn’t your day) She has followed in the footsteps of her own mom and has done everything the right way, the smart way and the loving way. I won’t say I’m amazed, because I knew she would be like this, but I’m thrilled and honored that she’s my daughter.

Happy first Mom’s day, Emily. I love you.
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Severed roots: Visiting a past I never had

I made my first visit to the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota this summer.

It was about time, since I’m an enrolled member there.

Why I’d never been there before is a long story. I’ll write more about it in a future post, but let’s just say that the way that American Indian culture fizzled and pretty much died in my family through my grandparents’ and my mother’s generations is not unique. The more I’m around other people of Native American heritage, the more I realize that everybody’s doing a certain amount of learning — some were exposed to more of the culture as a child and some are more like me. American society did it’s best to squash out native people and their culture — both literally and figuratively — and it’s actually pretty amazing how much has survived.

I’ve been wanting to go up to White Earth for a long time. About four years ago, I started thinking about making a documentary film about “my reservation”. But I didn’t want to just go there and start shooting video before I had an idea of what I was trying to do, so I kept putting it off.

This summer, MinnPost, the online news site where I do freelance video and writing, provided me a great opportunity (nudge, perhaps?) to finally go. I’m part of a project called Rural Minnesota: A Generation at the Crossroads. MinnPost received a grant from the Bremer Foundation to profile young people in small towns and rural areas of Minnesota. We’ve been doing groups of reports around themes, and the summer cluster of reports was about Native American youth.

I spent two days at the White Earth Pow Wow in June and ended up with four videos, featuring nine young people. They ran last week in MinnPost along with another piece I did about a Dakota man in southern Minnesota. Here’s a link to all of those videos.

(all photos by Steve Date)

I’ve been to few pow wows over the years, but always only for an hour or two. Hanging out for a couple of days, walking around, talking to people, feeling the drum beat and the rhythm of the days gave me a whole new appreciation for it. I started to feel a little more like I was in the middle of it, a little less like an outsider looking in.

I find it difficult to shoot both video and still photos at the same event. When you’re doing one, you feel like you should be doing the other. Since this was mainly a video assignment, I didn’t take as many stills as I would have liked. But I’ve put some in a Flickr set. You can view those photos here.



A reservation is a complex place. There are many story lines and some of them are not easy to understand or to tell. It took me 58 years to get there, but now I want to do a film about this place more than ever.

Stay tuned.

Pizza Night at A to Z Farm: Wisconsin’s worst-kept secret

Hungry for pizza? How does this sound — hop in the car, drive 80 miles, wait in line for 20 minutes to order your $24 – $27 pizza, wait two and a half more hours outdoors for your number to be called. Then sit on the ground (a few feet from some cows and goats) and eat it.

Not interested? Too bad for you, because you’re missing a great dining experience.

A to Z Produce and Bakery is a 4-mile drive up out of the valley from Stockholm, Wisconsin, near Lake Pepin. (see previous post)

Emily and Kyle have been regular visitors to the “pizza farm” and have been trying to get us down there for a year. We finally made it last night.

When the weather is nice, you have to park pretty far away. (all photos by Steve Date)

A to Z offers pizza night only once a week — Tuesday evenings from March to November. Their deal is that they sell pizzas — fantastic pizzas made with things that are grown within a few hundred yards of where you’re standing — but nothing else. If you want a beverage, a napkin, fork, a snack while you wait, or anything else, you have to bring it to the farm with you — and you have to take all the wrappers and containers with you when you leave (including the pizza box you just bought). There are no trash cans. Oh, and you’ll also need to bring a blanket or a chair to sit on.

Check the chalkboard menu when you arrive to see what kinds of pizza are offered this week, place your order, and then wander around the farm or sit back and relax for a while.

This shaded area gets the most crowded.


Picturesque out-buildings remind you this is a working farm the rest of the week.

This is not a place to go if you’re in a hurry. If you can’t wait a couple of hours to eat, then bring some snacks. Your kids will love it here. They get to run around and explore the farm while you sip your favorite beverage and catch up with friends and family.




As a city boy, I don’t get to spend much time on farms, and it was nice to soak in the sights, sounds, and yes, even the smells. To sit for a few hours on a blanket with people you like in such a beautiful place is a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.


As for the pizza? I can’t imagine how it could be any better. Fresh vegetables that taste like you just picked them yourself and crust that is the most tender I’ve ever tasted make the wait and the price worth every minute and every penny.

Thanks, Emily and Kyle, for being persistent in your invitations.

I can’t wait to go again.

Off my butt, on my bike, and out in the country

One of my long-time goals has been to get around the state of Minnesota more and see smaller towns and rural areas. I haven’t done very well with that that until recently.

Two things have helped to get me in my car and on my bike to travel around more.
1. My daughter Emily moved to Rochester a year ago after being away for quite a few years.
2. MinnPost included me in a grant from the Bremer Foundation to do reporting about young people in rural Minnesota.

Last week I was able to use both of those justifications to go to the southern part of the state. Mrs. D and I met Emily at her house and then we drove about 30 miles farther to Fountain, which is one of the trailheads for the Root River bike trail.

The trail begins in open fields

The trail starts on the edge of town and goes through some rolling farmland before descending into the Root River Valley.

Even though the sun was shining, the trail was very wet after a hard rain during the night. We immediately had brown water spots all over our backs.

Mrs. D and Emily

The scenery is beautiful — green and lush. Because it was a weekday, there wasn’t a lot of other bike traffic.


After winding 11 miles through the forested valley, we emerged in Lanesboro, a small town that looks like a small town should.

Everybody seems to love Lanesboro and it appears from time to time on “best towns” lists. Recently it was featured on Yahoo Travel’s “Prettiest Towns”.

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The trail was closed for bridge repair a couple of miles later, so we turned around a little earlier than planned and headed back.

After stopping to do a little window-shopping on the way back through Lanesboro, we had still managed a nice 26 miles by the time we returned to Fountain.

The total length of the trail is 42 miles from Fountain to Houston. Go here for more info and a great map. Plus there’s an 18-mile spur trail called the Harmony-Preston trail that heads southward from about half-way between Fountain and Lanesboro. I think next time I’ll start in Lanesboro and do a 62-mile round-trip to Houston and back.

It’s a great ride, no matter what part of the trail you’re on.

After we returned to Rochester and had lunch, I took off for Owatonna to shoot some video for MinnPost. It was a great day and I might never have done it without my two new reasons for getting off my butt and on the road.

Strange encounter on the golf course

Yesterday I played golf with daughter Emily. All was going well (except for the golf) until we were walking to the tee of the final hole and my cell phone rang. It was a mysterious male voice asking where we were.

Against my better judgement, I told the voice our location — on the 9th tee waiting for group of elderly women playing just ahead of us. The voice said, “OK — I have a visual on you just behind the Cotton Tops”. Moments later, two well dressed, but shadowy figures were walking toward us.

As they got closer, they paused for a moment and appeared to be holding hands.

I had a queasy feeling about what was going down. Who were these guys — FBI agents? An Evangelical conversion squad? The IRS? Door-to-door shoulder bag salesmen?

They gave me the creeps and I wanted to run, but Emily was my daughter after all, and I felt I needed to protect her.

So I backed up slowly instead of breaking into a full gallop.

Then they got close enough for me to see their faces.

They identified themselves as resident psychiatrists from the nearby clinic, apparently part of some sort of outreach program designed to identify potential “clients”.

Emily was greatly relieved and played the final hole masterfully.


But their explanation didn’t put my mind at ease one bit. In fact, the whole experience traumatized me. I had nightmares all through the night and now I can’t get those smirky smiles or that voice on the phone out of my head.

And I may never be able to play golf again.

National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna: We finally met.

I had an appointment to do a video shoot for MinnPost last week in Owatonna, Minnesota, about an hour’s drive south of Minneapolis. My daughter Emily drove over from Rochester to have lunch with me and help me with the video. We had a little extra time after we ate, so we stopped downtown to see the beautiful bank designed by prairie school architect Louis Sullivan (with an amazing decorative scheme by George Grant Elmslie).

National Farmers' Bank (now Wells Fargo) in Owatonna, Minnesota (all photos by Steve Date)

Elmslie, along with William Gray Purcell and George Feick, designed the house we used to own (see previous post) and I became more and more interested in prairie school architecture during the years we lived there. The National Farmers’ Bank in Owatonna has long been on my bucket list of architectural sites, but for some reason I’ve never gotten around to stopping in.

(Serendipity note: I started writing this a few days ago. Then I went out of town for a couple of days and awoke yesterday morning to see a photo of the interior of the bank in a Minneapolis StarTribune feature story about Adam Young of Owatonna and his music group called Owl City.)

I’ve had a range of experiences with visiting and photographic historic sites, and those still open for business are not always very welcoming to gawkers and photographers. But as soon as Emily and I entered the grand lobby and started looking around, a bank worker hopped up from her office cubicle, gave us a friendly greeting, and suggested we climb up on the little balcony behind the clock for good photos. She was right. The view was magnificent.

The lobby stuns.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s website says this about Sullivan and the bank, “One of the first American architects to break free from the influence of classical revival styles, Louis Sullivan completed a series of eight banks in small Midwest towns during the last years of his career. The National Farmers’ Bank of Owatonna is arguably the best. Sullivan, known for a “form follows function” philosophy . . . designed the bank to resemble a jeweled strongbox, giving depositors a sense of security.”

Exterior detail by George Grant Elmslie

It is indeed a “jeweled strongbox” — a surprisingly beautiful presence in a small, midwestern town such as this. One can only imagine the impact it must have had on area farmers and town residents when it was built 103 years ago. It’s been well cared for and stands as one of the best surviving example of prairie school architecture anywhere.

I wonder how often the people who work in the bank and do business there regularly take a minute to stop to look around and appreciate it. I hope they do it every day.

What a great place to work, huh?


One of the huge stained glass windows comes alive when viewed from inside.


A visual feast wherever you look


Clock above the teller windows

We could only visit for a few minutes and then had to be on our way. Since National Farmers Bank folded many years ago, the building is now a Well Fargo branch. Before we left, Emily took some time to do a little banking. What a great historic monument — a century-old art masterpiece that still does the business for which it was built.

Function and form walk hand in hand here. Louis Sullivan and George Grant Elmslie would be happy with the way their ideas have endured and continue to have an emotional impact.

It was a thrill to experience this place. Next time I’ll visit when I have a little more time.

(to see more photos — and larger versions of these — go to my Flickr set here)

Emily (center) does a little banking