More than just Survival

The second week of January is alway pretty quiet in this part of the country. Everyone is solidly back in the daily grind after the holiday season.Version 3

The bulk and the brunt of winter are still ahead, which can be a daunting thought.  A small percentage of  Minnesotans actually enjoy going outdoors in the bitter January air. We all like to brag about being hearty souls, but honestly, most of us merely survive the winter — relatively few embrace it.                                 .
If you venture out in single-digit “high” temps, you might see a runner on Minnehaha Parkway, a cross-country skier on Hiawatha Golf Course, and increasingly over the past few years, grown, intelligent-looking men and women riding bicycles with big fat tires on the snow and ice.

 

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These guys are riding ON the creek.

Seemingly every time I shovel the front sidewalk, the ever-chipper neighbor walking her dog with its little boots comes by and says something about what a nice day it is. Not to be argumentative, I find my self mumbling a semi-agreement. It works for a moment, long enough anyway to remember the bigger picture, that life really is pretty darn good right now.  One day, I even found myself thinking (for a split second), “I’m thankful I can still shovel snow”.

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One of us is better at the embracing- thing than the other.

Being retired brings other, more predictable, moments of gratefulness.  We had a mild snow storm earlier this week and a voice on the radio said the usual, “There have been hundreds of accidents on Twin Cities roads already this morning. If you don’t have to go anywhere today, stay home”.  I did, and I liked it a lot.

I’ve managed to keep my photo-a-day resolution going for two weeks.  According to a survey by a site called StatisticBrain.com, 68.4% of those who make a new year’s resolution keep it going for the first two weeks.  I thought that percentage would be lower, but I’ll take it.  I’m already ahead of 31.6% of the resolution-makers!

With my back still stinging from that self-pat, here is one photo from each day of week two. You’ll that see I did manage to get my butt outside a few times. And OK. . . .yes, it was a good thing.

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(1/8/17) We dropped in to see my friend Graydon Royce do his a radio show / podcast called “The New Frontier Lutheran Radio Hour” (More about this in the coming days.)

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(1/9/17) Svea

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(1/10/17) Karen doing all the work, as usual. (Hey, SOMEBODY has to take the picture.)

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(1/11/17) Catching some rays at Minnehaha Creek

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(1/12/17) 4:40 PM – Stained glass (made by Karen) holds onto the last sunlight of the day.

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(1/13/17) Walking on water . . . a stroll across Lake Nokomis at sundown.

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(1/14/17) The rocks in Minnehaha Creek somehow remember their summer colors.

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A gift from Pastor Patrick

I haven’t written a blog post in nearly four years. I have reasons and excuses for the that, but the only audience that cares about them is me, so I’ll spare you. Today is the only day I can do anything about.

Over the past few months, I’d been thinking about trying to write again.  I considered starting a new blog or maybe changing the name of it. Then yesterday,  (New Years Eve) while scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook feed, a post by a man I’ve only met a few times, Pastor Patrick Cabello Hansel of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis caught my eye.  What I know of Patrick is that he is a humble, gentle, generous guy, with a deep spirit and a fire in his heart to make the world a better place. He’s an author,  a community leader, a social justice and human rights activist, an artist and promoter of the arts, and the co-pastor (along with his wife, Luisa) of a vibrant, multicultural, multilingual, urban congregation.

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Pastor Patrick Cabello Hansel – St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Minneapolis

But last night, it was his quiet, elegant poem that grabbed me, and reminded me why, about seven years ago, I named my blog “Trying to Pay Attention”.

I haven’t made many New Year’s resolutions in the past, but Patrick’s poem feels like a (big) nudge for me to restart something that I used to enjoy — and the timing of it makes it impossible for me to ignore.  I’m not going to make the mistake of setting arbitrary goals for posting things that I will undoubtedly either stress about or give up on, but I am going to give this blog thing another shot.

So here’s Pastor Patrick’s poem. In it, this line repeats, “I try to pay attention”.  I take it as a reminder for me to start trying harder — to pay attention to myself and to the world around me.

Thank you for this gift, Patrick.  Many of us are entering 2017 with feelings of dismay, apprehension and trepidation. Let’s hope the new year will be a happy one. We all know it’s going to be a memorable one. Let’s all light a candle each day . . . and try to pay attention.

My last poem written in 2016 (unless something pops into my head before midnight!)

– Pastor Patrick Cabello Hansel

On winter mornings
I light a candle
I carry my tea
To the old chair
I sit
I breathe
I try to pay attention
Sometimes I fall asleep
Sometimes the light flickers
And something raw and ugly
Arises from my soul
I try to pay attention
And hear its voice
I sit
I wonder
I breathe the loneliness
And glory we were born into
I await the rising
The first day
The last day
The day that is to come

The Easter Beagle strikes!

I hadn’t really paid much attention to Easter for a long time, until last year, when a cute basket from Lars and Evelyn Ramgren showed up on my doorstep. It had potatoes and and onion in it (which I gobbled up immediately) and it was very colorful and nice. I was glad to see that the tradition now included good, healthy food, because all we ever got when I was a kid was candy.

But today a very mysterious thing happened. I got a text message on my phone saying that the “Easter Beagle” had struck. Wow. I had no idea what that meant. I thought and thought about it, but couldn’t figure it out. So I cranked up my computing machine and goggled it up on one of the internets. Apparently there was a documentary film called “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” made a while back. I hadn’t seen the film, so I asked Peet (Emily and Kyle’s dog) who is an expert on canine flix. He said, “WOOF!” and went straight to the front window. He knew what was going on.

Peet eyes the Easter Beagle booty.

Imagine my delight at finding a basket full of not only root vegetables (which this year included radishes and a carrot in addition to the traditional potato and onion), but a Santa Claus Pez dispenser, some Halloween SourBats AND Valentine conversation hearts!

Last year, the Ramgren kids were very nice to me. They apparently took a year off this year, but a very thoughtful and generous beagle picked up the Easter torch and brightened the day of a lonely old man and his (daughter’s) dog.

Wait a minute . . . . I wonder if the basket is really for Peet? hmmmm . . . .

February golf in Minnesota – not all of our domes have collapsed, and we’re grateful for that

Winter golf in Minnesota is a bit of a challenge. But there are a few options:

1. Watch golf on TV. (most popular)

2. Go outdoors and try to actually play a version of the game of golf.

The Chilly Open, Wayzata, Minnesota

An example of this is the “The Chilly Open”, which takes place today in Wayzata, Minnesota on Lake Minnetonka. Unfortunately, all their tee times are sold out, so if you didn’t plan ahead, you can only go out and be part of the gallery. The event looks like it could be fun — at least the eating and drinking afterward.

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3. Head to one of Minnesota’s luxurious golf domes. This is what I do occasionally with friends Roger and Bob.

This is what I call a winter get-away

Go through the airlock revolving door and you are instantly transported to another world — one where nothing is natural, nothing real. It’s a place you can — you must — let your imagination run wild. It can be Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, or the crappy muni in your town. It can be anything you want it to be if you just close your eyes and swing away.

Is it a balcony seat at Radio City Music Hall? The Hollywood Bowl, perhaps? No, it's the 100 yards your ball gets to fly before hitting the plastic tarp and falling to the floor.

But don’t think it’s all about whacking drivers or hitting fat iron shot off mats that fly just as well as crisply hit ones. There are places to hone the short game, too. The putting and chipping areas are easily as good as many mini-golf courses – without the pesky windmill, dinosaur or pirate getting in the way.

This guy understands that putting on astroturf is better than nothing. Or he thinks that's true anyway. The jury is out on that one.

So a good time was had by all on Friday afternoon. Did we improve our swings? Probably not. Did we get sore backs? Yes. Did we do anything that vaguely resembled golf? That’s unclear.

But we Minnesotans are a grateful people, and it was worth a few bucks to get out — then get in — and hang out, use our imaginations and think about real grass and warm sunshine. And just like real golf, sometimes it’s not about the golf.

So those those are pretty much all of the Minnesota winter golf options.

4. Actually, there is an option #4, which is the one Roger is choosing. Get on an airplane on Tuesday and fly to Palm Springs.

Good for Roger and his airplane. I couldn’t be happier for him.

Roger is practicing with the idea that he will actually be playing golf soon. Whoa -- It's hard for me to wrap my head around that one, but do what you must, Roger.

Memories of Red Carroll

Red Carroll died on Saturday at a hospital in Beckley, West Virginia at the age of 92. He was recovering from surgery on a broken hip from a fall a few weeks ago. I first heard the news from Joe Hotkewicz, a good friend of Red’s who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. The fact that neither Joe nor I have ever lived in Coalwood is significant, because it tells you a little bit about what kind of person Red was.

Ernest “Red” Carroll was one of the first people I met in Coalwood, West Virginia in October of 2005. I was there as part of a group of teachers from Minneapolis on an unusual and (for me) life-changing professional development experience called “Coalwood to the Cape”, organized by Brad and Julie Blue.

We had come to Coalwood for the annual October Sky Festival to visit the home town of Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys, made famous by Homer’s book and the movie October Sky. Father of rocket boy Jimmie “O’Dell” Carroll, Red was the last surviving rocket boy dad. Julie Blue knew Red well from her several previous visits to Coalwood and she made sure we got to spend lots of time with him.

Brad and Julie with Red during our tour of Coalwood, October, 2005 (photo by Steve Date)

Red led us on a narrated tour of the town, the rocket launch site (dubbed “Cape Coalwood”), a working coal mine, and he was part of a panel discussion in the town of War. He also invited us to his house. There, he showed us some of the “treasures” he’d collected while hauling trash in Coalwood, plus his vegetable garden, his bee hives and his beloved dahlias that lined the fence around his yard.

Julie and Red in his backyard. His shed (left) was a museum of old machines and gadgets he had collected. Some of his dahlias are visible in the background. (photo by Steve Date)

Red was in his late 80s in 2005 and while he moved slowly and took frequent short breaks, he still had plenty of energy to show us the town he loved so much. He was born in Coalwood and had live there all his life. He worked at the “tipple” for the coal mine for 16 years. The tipple is where the coal is loaded into trains or trucks after it comes out of the mine. Red’s job was “picking bone”, in other words, sorting the coal and discarding other types of rock that come out of the coal cars. He told me that he loved that job – “Couldn’t wait to go to work every day”, he said.

When the tipple closed in 1954, Red needed to find another job. He applied for the position of garbage collector. He was thankful to get the job and did it well for the next 33 years. Red was one of the instrumental adults that helped Homer, O’Dell and the other rocket boys get the materials they needed to build their rockets.

Red Carroll giving kids pony and wagon rides, 1956 (photo by David C. Ridenour)

The Red Carroll I knew was a quiet man – kind, generous and gentle. He was above all, a man of faith. To say he was deeply religious understates it. His faith in God was stronger than anyone I’ve ever met and God was just barely under the surface in every conversation. Peggy Blevins always says that Red had “DSL to the Lord”.

By some accounts he had a little harder edge in his younger years. He was a strict, but loving father to O’Dell and his brothers and sister. O’Dell says that one of the things his dad wouldn’t allow him to do while growing up was go to movies. How ironic that years later, Red not only liked the movie October Sky, but embraced it with all his heart and encouraged everyone he met to see it.

After Homer’s book and then the movie came out in 1999, tourists started coming to see the town that was now known as “Home of the Rocket Boys”. Red would usually be around somewhere and stop to talk with visitors. He told them about the history of the town and showed them the sites they had come to see. When a few people in town decided to have a yearly festival honoring the Rocket Boys, Red quickly became an important part of the festivities.

Red opened every October Sky Festival with an emotional prayer and then spent the rest of the day roaming around town, greeting visitors and catching up with old friends.

Here’s a little video I did from the 2009 October Sky Festival, featuring Red Riding the fire truck into town with the Rocket Boys and then saying a prayer to open the day’s festivities.

Red kicks off the 2006 October Sky Festival by delivering the invocation as only he could. (photo by David Goad)

Red had two sets of children. The older generation — with Virginia, his first wife — including Jimmie (O’Dell), grew up in a very different time in Coalwood. There isn’t much left (in Coalwood or anywhere) of the life and times that Homer Hickam wrote about in his memoir. Red was very proud of Jimmie (O’Dell) and the rocket boys. Sadly, Red lost another of his sons, Donnie, a few years ago.

Red in his backyard with Caleb and Ivy, October, 2007 (photo by Steve Date)

Long before Larry King ever got the idea, Red had two sons at an advanced age with his second wife, Ivy. Josh is now in his twenties and Caleb is a Junior in high school. Red always talked about hoping to live long enough to see them grow up. It was one of the things that kept him going.

During the 5 years that Brad and Julie brought Minneapolis teachers to Coalwood, Red’s tours and a stop at his house became a regular and special part of the group’s activities. Each year he moved a little slower, he needed a little more nap time, and his voice became a little weaker, but he always gave us all the energy he had. He was a good friend to us and a great ambassador for Coalwood.

Red welcomes the 2007 Minneapolis GEMS/GISE teachers group to his house. (photo by Steve Date)

I’m not going to pretend I knew Red well. I was just one of the thousands of people who came through town, met him and will never forget him. I have to thank Julie and Brad Blue for introducing me to Red and to Coalwood. They had a lot of affection for Red and he for them. Brad told me yesterday, “Homer introduced us to Red. And Homer wrote The Coalwood Way. Red LIVED the Coalwood Way.”

My favorite picture of Julie and Red together.

I also want to thank David Goad, for helping me get to know Red better and going to Red’s house with me to interview him for my film (the first interview I ever did) and coming along when I did other shooting with Red. Red and David liked each other a lot and David’s presence, approval, and his helping me interview Red was very important to me.

Red and David Goad at City Hall in War, WV, August, 2006 (photo by Steve Date)

The last time I talked with Red was a couple of days before the 2009 October Sky Festival. I had just arrived in town and was talking to someone in front of the Clubhouse. Red was cruising around in his car as he often did. He pulled up next to me and rolled down the window. “Hey Buddy, when you gonna stop up at the house and see me?” I know he called everyone “Buddy”, but I always liked it.

I stopped over there a little later and we had a nice talk. I had just gotten DVDs of my movie printed and it was one of the great moments of my life to be able to give some copies to him. Red was one of the main reasons I made the film. He was the first interview I wanted to do when I began shooting in 2006 and he was the cornerstone of the project.

He seemed tired and frail that day. He would occasionally drift off and lose his train of thought. He told me he thought it would be his last October Sky Festival and the condition he was in gave me no reason to doubt it.

However, it wasn’t his last festival. He hung on for another 15 months and was able to greet all the visitors to his town one last time about 3 months ago.

If we are equal parts mind, body and spirit, then Red did it right. He took care of himself and lived a long, good life. His body and mind gradually deteriorated at a ripe old age, but his spirit continued to the end. To me, that’s the way it should be. He loved life, but I’ve never met anyone so prepared to leave this world as Red was. And now his spirit continues through the memories of all of us who knew him.

Rest in peace, Red.

Do you have any memories of Red that you’d like to share? Leave comments below. Thank you.

Congrats to Norman Vladimir from a sentimental old sap

I watched the Kennedy Center Honors last night for (I think) the first time in my life. It’s the kind of show I haven’t tended to pay much attention to over the years.

Norman Vladimir - a photo from his website, where you can hear some of his songs http://normanvladimir.com/

But my daughter Emily’s good friend Norman Vladimir was singing with the Bill T. Jones / Arnie Zane Dance Company and I wanted to see him.

Emily has known Norman since her first year of college, when he was Norman Vladimir Smith, from a small town in Tennessee. I last saw Norman a little over a year ago at Emily’s wedding. He’s a great guy, currently making his way in the music scene in New York.

Norman and Maya dancing at Emily & Kyle's wedding.


This appearance in front of President and Mrs. Obama, Oprah, Paul McCartney, Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, a crowd containing seemingly every celebrity in the U.S. — plus a national TV audience — is a big break for Norman. Judging by his Facebook comments about the evening, he’s ecstatic about the experience and I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a wonderful singer and a great friend to Emily. I’ve only met him a few times over the years, but he’s the kind of guy whose laugh and smile brighten every room he’s in. He seems like an old friend the first time you meet him. I was thrilled and proud to see him as part of this big event.


But my reaction to Norman’s appearance was not the “sentimental sap” part — that was straight up admiration.

What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed the rest of the show. Seeing people like Merle Haggard and Paul McCartney — aging entertainment giants for my generation — genuinely moved by the tributes, is what got to me. I’m not a big Broadway musical kind of guy, but even I got a little verklempt when Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury and Carol Channing sang together to a trembling, glassy-eyed Jerry Herman in the balcony.

There were many such emotional moments — cutaways to Bill T. Jones channeling each movement of his dancers, Merle Haggard’s lips barely perceptively singing along with his own songs – eyes occasionally looking upward, Oprah reaching behind her head for Steadman’s hands during Jennifer Hudson’s performance from “The Color Purple”. Whatever you think of Oprah, this moment was genuine and sweet, and she deserves the honor.

But there was more to it than just watching these stars react to the accolades. I loved the way the honorees represented a variety of genres and the way they all genuinely seemed appreciative of and happy for each other. The audience also seemed to “get it”. We saw white country music fans (let’s admit it – not the usual African American ballet crowd) transfixed by the Bill T. Jones dancers, black people (let’s admit it – not the usual country music crowd) joyfully clapping along with Vince Gill and Brad Paisley doing “Working Man Blues”, Oprah knowing and singing the words to Haggard’s “Silver Wings” — and the big finale with Mavis Staples walking on stage to pick up McCartney’s “Let it Be” from James Taylor and sing the hell out it while Sir Paul teared up, probably thinking about his mother, who inspired the song.

Maybe it was seeing Norman have a brief moment as a part of all of this that got me in the right mood. Maybe it was seeing some of the aging icons of my life reacting to this kind of a tribute in such a genuine, emotional way — humbly watching, not being full of themselves — and being thankful. Maybe it was the realization that the old stars in the balcony were once young, struggling artists like Norman and many of the other performers on stage — and that the torch was being passed. Whatever the reason, I found myself enjoying the show very much.

Go ahead — call me a cornball.

Norman and Maya ham it up at Emily and Kyle's wedding (photo by Kyle Cedermark)

Way to go Norman! I’m proud to know you. Thank you for being such a good friend for Emily and Kyle.


This dream you’re living has come about because of the talent you have, the passion you’ve found, and most importantly, all the hard work you’ve put into it. My hat is off to you. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for you.

Emily, Kyle & Norman

Cosmoline is my first attempt at recording a live performance

I’ve been thinking about trying my hand at a live music recording for a while now, ever since I saw my friend John Kurtis Dehn’s band Cosmoline last June. (see June 8 post). I finally got around to catching them again on Friday night at the Wild Tymes Bar and Grill in St. Paul. My friend Becky was on a second camera and we got one song were we both had enough decent shots to piece together a video.

I’d like to try again some time. It’s not great, but I learned a lot and had fun doing it. One thing I learned it that this sort of video is harder to do than it looks.

So here’s “Coal Black Love” by Cosmoline from their album “Give Me Back My Pride”.