Thank you, Mrs. Larzelere

A belated thank-you to teachers

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In the shadow of downtown, as I walked toward an urban park, a Great Blue Heron flew past me. I stopped on the sidewalk overpass, mesmerized. Once again, I had seen a big gray bird, the talisman I’ve looked up to for most of my life.

I thank Mrs. Judy Larzelere for that. Every heron I see carries me back to junior high.

IMG_20170607_101249During a unit of regional New England writers, Mrs. Larzelere assigned our eighth grade American Studies class The Country of the Pointed Firs and Other Stories, by Sarah Orne Jewett. We read bigger names, including Thoreau, yet it’s Jewett’s modest characters that have stayed with me for decades. In “The White Heron,” a 10-page story, I met Sylvia, a shy girl who safeguards a heron’s nest, forgoing a bounty that would have benefited her poor family. Every heron reminds me of that lonely country child and the teacher who introduced us.

In this season of high school graduations, with Pomp and Circumstance wafting through the air, I figure it’s time to say a proper thank you to Mrs. Larzelere and the many the teachers whose lessons I carry.

Teachers teach and sometimes, students learn, yet neither teachers nor students can know which lessons will take hold, shaping lives. Sometimes, the lessons sink in long after the final grades are entered, the graduation robes returned.

It’s been forty-three years since I sat in Mrs. Larzelere’s Haverford Junior High class, reading regional New England writers, stories that seemed a world apart from my suburban Philadelphia life. Yet Mrs. Larzelere and Sylvia made me want to see the herons in this world. Continue reading “Thank you, Mrs. Larzelere”

Good government fantasies: Where have you gone, Jed Bartlet?

 

Sixty days into a turbulent presidency, I’ve found solace in re-runs.

The West Wing offers respite from chaos. Many nights, I shield myself from my phone— banishing Facebook and breaking news—then indulge in old odes to good government.

When the series premiered in 1999, after President Clinton’s ugly impeachment and acquittal, the show presented a reassuring portrait of White House staffers, who were passionate about politics and public service.

Some episodes help me sleep. Some make me gasp.

My mind replays an episode about secrets and truth, and what happens when a president misleads the public. Continue reading “Good government fantasies: Where have you gone, Jed Bartlet?”

Eat, pack, read. 9 ways to make a difference

Fifty-four days into this presidency, I’m finding doable ways to make a difference, while balancing paid work, the laundry, and moments of joy.

What can one person do to make a difference? Here’s nine attainable actions:

1. Eat!

Eat out tomorrow and support immigrants. Rising Restaurants  All day Wednesday, March 15, more than two dozen Twin Cities restaurants are donating a portion of their proceeds to the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, to help cover costs for the many immigrants facing deportation.

2. Write

Also tomorrow, the Ides of March, mail a postcard to the White House for the Ides of Trump. Send the president a pink slip, demand his taxes, etc.IMG_20170307_073159

I’m writing Governor Mark Dayton asking that he veto anti-protester bills. I’d love to get lots of people to deliver Protest Postcards on a Stick, mini-protest signs to Governor’s office. We need free speech and the civil dissent, right to speak out against wrongs our government is doing.

3. Call

This Friday, March 17, call Carver County Attorney’s office, 952-361-1400 to demand that charges be dropped against Louis Hunter. Louis is charged with two counts of felony riot for protesting the police killing of his cousin, Philando Castile last July. If convicted, Louis faces ten years in prison, the same sentence facing the cop who killed Philando.

4. Pack

Monday, March 20, Pack the Courtroom to support Louis Hunter. Noon press conference outside the Ramsey Country Courthouse; 1:30 hearing.

5. Meet

The ACLU launched a new Freedom Cities campaign, to disable Trump’s deportation machine, using People Power, that’s all of us who want to make a difference. The first step is Continue reading “Eat, pack, read. 9 ways to make a difference”

#WhyIMarch

I am marching in DC, standing up for women’s rights, and the rights of all Americans to live safely. Read my friend Joan Peterson’s essay about why she will be marching.

commongunsense

photo of BarbaraI will be going to Washington DC on a bus from Duluth, Minnesota. There are two full buses of women traveling by bus who will sleep and eat on the bus to make our voices heard. We could have filled a third bus but the company could not find enough buses for those interested. In addition to the two full buses ( about 106 riders) there is another bus sponsored by a different group and a large group who are flying to DC. 8 buses are traveling from the Twin Cities area as well. There are now 1800 buses registered to arrive at RFK stadium Saturday morning and at least 200,000 who will be in DC to make sure the incoming President @realDonaldTrump understands that we will not sit back and allow issues that affect women and children to be weakened and eliminated.

Why do we march?

Why are we…

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Four Ways to Prevent a Tainted Presidency

In five days, December 19th, the Electoral College is expected to elect Donald Trump president.

The Russians hacked our election. Putin shouldn’t decide who gets the White House. The Electoral College was created to safeguard the presidency from dangerous and unqualified candidates, including those who are  not independent from foreign powers. Newsweek Trump’s foreign business deals jeopardize US

Unless you are among the 538 electors who will cast a ballot on Monday, you may feel powerless to stop Trump’s tainted presidency. Think again.

Here are four things we can do, right now.

  1. CALL President Obama, Congress and governors to demand that electors get the information they need. Ask Obama to declassify the CIA report about Russian hacking so electors can get intelligence briefings. Over 50 Dem electors call for intelligence briefing  White House 202-456-1111; Sen. Franken 202-224-5641; Sen. Klobuchar 202-224-3244; Gov. Dayton 651-201-3400
  2. ASK our state and national Attorneys General  to postpone the Electoral College vote until there’s a complete investigation about Russia’s role in our election and Trump’s ties to Russia and other countries. U.S. Attorney General 202-514-2000, comment line is press 4; MN Attorney General 651-296-3353.
  3. SHOW Electors we are watching. Groups including  Hamilton Electors and Stop Trump + Defend Democracy are planning vigils and statehouse events nationwide for December 18 and 19.
  4. BELIEVE in democracy. Believe that we, the people, have the right and the responsibility to shape our country we want. From the Boston Tea Party to Black Lives Matter, Americans have shown amazing fortitude to stand up against intense powers, be they a British king or homegrown white supremacists. Already, more electors are standing up to protect our country against an unfit leader. More electors will vote against Trump

Whatever the outcome of the Electoral College, I will stand up for what our country should be. I’ll continue to listen, read and be informed; to make phone calls, write letters, stand up and speak out for what is right, and protest what is wrong. We, the people, have power. Now is the time to use it. Now.

“The Founding Fathers intended the Electoral College to stop an unfit man from becoming President. The Constitution they crafted gave us this tool. Conscience demands that we use it.”  — The Hamilton Electors

Can the Electoral College save America?

3 big reasons why electors should reject Trump

Today, class, let’s talk about the Electoral College– this election may not be a done deal.  At least ten Electoral College electors have said they’ll use their votes to prevent a Donald Trump presidency.

Here’s a few numbers you need to know about this bizarre and rancorous presidential election:

538 Electoral College electors will cast their votes on December 19th

270 Electoral votes are needed to become president

306: Trump’s expected electoral vote count, based on the Nov 8 election

232 : Clinton’s expected electoral vote count, based on the Nov 8 election (Clinton leads the popular vote by 2.6 million votes, but in this election, the popular vote doesn’t determine who becomes president.)

So, it looks like Trump’s got the numbers to win, right? Probably, but, here’s a few more numbers:

37 Republican electors would have to reject Trump for him to drop below the 270 needed votes.

1 Electoral College elector, Art Sisneros, resigned, saying Trump is “not biblically qualified to serve in the office of the Presidency.”

9 Electoral College electors have publicly said they’ll vote for a compromise candidate, although today, Gov. John Kasich said he doesn’t want electors to write in his name.

This week, Christopher Suprun, a Texas Republican elector, wrote a New York Times op-ed explaining why he won’t vote for Trump. Suprun notes that Electoral College electors need to determine if candidates are:

  1. Independent from foreign influence
  2. Not engaged in demagogy
  3. Qualified

Suprun and others, including eight Democratic electors who say they’ll vote for a compromise candidate, say Trump fails all three criteria. More about the big three reasons electors should not vote for Trump:

  1. FOREIGN INFLUENCE?

Trump himself mentioned what he called  “a little conflict of interest because I have a major, major building in Istanbul.”

Check out The Atlantic’s comprehensive list of Trump’s foreign conflicts.

  1. DEMOGOGUE?

The dictionary defines a demagogue “a leader who makes use of popular prejudices and false claims and promises in order to gain power”

Prejudices? Check. “Mexicans are rapists.”

False claims? Check. “Climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.”

False promises? Check. “I’m going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it.”

  1. QUALIFIED?

Trump’s foreign conflicts and blatant demagogy should disqualify him from leading our country. Add to that his thin-skinned temper which could trigger a war. More than four dozen Republican former national security and foreign policy officials signed a letter warning that Trump would be a “dangerous” president.  Check out Kathleen Parker’s op-ed today.

I’ll give the last words to the Hamilton Electors, a group of Democratic electors from Colorado and Washington state who are urging their fellow electors to use the power of the Electoral College as it was designed—as a safeguard against danger: “The Founding Fathers intended the Electoral College to stop an unfit man from becoming President. The Constitution they crafted gave us this tool. Conscience demands that we use it.”  

 

 

Fireside story time, the secrets of the trees

Winter’s here, time to curl up by the fire and listen to a guy who spent his life looking up at trees.

tree-book-coverRobert Penn’s quirky and personal book, The Man Who Made Things out of Trees, tells the story of one ash tree, felled and turned into arrows, bowls, spoons, tent pegs, canoe paddles, catapults, dominoes, axe handles, a desk, and paneling. This isn’t a quaint catalogue of wooden goods. It’s a crackerjack story of the world, as seen through one kind of tree.

Penn’s life-long love affair with trees animates his stories, which are chockful of deft details, such as:

  • “Ash is pinkish white and disturbingly like human skin when freshly sawn.”
  • Irish mythology includes ash in a trilogy of sacred trees believed to have healing powers. During the Potato Famine, before setting sail for America, emigrants whittled chips from an ash tree in County Cork as protection against drowning.
  • Ash was known as the ‘sportsmen’s wood,’ and used for everything from cricket stumps, hockey and lacrosse sticks, tennis racquets, croquet mallets, baseball bats, skis, snowshoe frames and gymnastic parallel bars.

Penn introduces readers to craftspeople, broadening his saga, like the rings of a tree. Starting from his home in South Wales, he visits various English woods and woodshops, an Austrian Alps toboggan maker, then onward to Ireland to see an epic hurling game and a $2500 bicycle frame made of ash, and eventually to a Pennsylvania sawmill that’s produced more than 100 million baseball bats.

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Tom Mareschall checks one of his handcrafted arrows

Each chapter frames a new woodworker, from the lumberjack who fells Penn’s ash to a fourth-generation wheelwright, making wooden wheel rims just as his mother, father, grandfather and great grandfather did, to an eccentric fletcher, the traditional term for an arrow maker. Arrows, Penn writes, were known as the Devil’s Finger. Reading his crackling chronicles of medieval longbowmen and archery battles, I can hear arrows zinging.

Along the way, Penn sprinkles little asides, seeds that may take root in a reader’s imagination, like the mention of shinrin-yoku, what Japanese people call forest-bathing, going for a walk in ancient woods

Penn’s engaging anecdotes got me thinking about trees I’ve loved. From a neighbor’s walnut tree that Uncle John transformed into a wall of rich dark paneling in my childhood bedroom, to a pretty fringed paper birch that caught my eye the first time I saw my house in Saint Paul. Copper birch borers killed that tree, just as emerald ash borers are decimating tens of millions of ashes, like the weakened specimens shedding branches and limbs on my block.

img_20161129_130442Soon, my street, Ashland Avenue, will be ash free. In time, all the ash trees may be history. Seeds of new trees will spring up, spreading canopies that some child will gaze up at in wonder, daydreaming about the secrets of nature and our world.

Robert Penn grew up playing under an ash tree that he remembers as “the gatekeeper to my dreams.” His book has spurred me to look at trees and see more.

Find out more about Rob Penn