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Wednesday, December 28, 2005. Christmas lights are still on around town. I'd just as soon see the season's celebration go from Lille Julaften to Epiphany, but folks around here generally turn lights on soon after Thanksgiving and don't keep decorations up and lit much past New Year's day. Lille Julaften is Little Christmas Eve, the day before Christmas Eve.

Ice fishing houses on Sauk Lake, Sauk Centre
Most folks put ice fishing houses on solid ice. December 28, 2005

Ice fishing has begun. There's a lone fishing house on Sauk Lake north of the old golf course, and a sort of winter village is growing east of the Highway 71 bridge. Water flows only under the middle part of the bridge, so there's a good-size lane of open water on the west side. Some optimist put a lone ice fishing house near the end of the open water.

Ice fishing house on Sauk Lake, Sauk Centre
Fishing house of an optimist, or a really good swimmer. 2005

First someone shoots a hole in our window, now this. I was shutting things down around the house one night Christmas weekend when I noticed an empty police car parked outside, shining its spotlight on a garage across the street.

Now I've heard that there was a drug-related arrest, with a shot fired, in this neighborhood. This is closer than the meth lab that police found near here in January of 2003. There wasn't anything in the local paper this week. Maybe next week.

I still like living here. It's not perfect, but this tract of small town America is about as good a place to live as any I've seen.

Christmas lights near the school in Sauk Centre
A few lights in the darkness, 2005

Nativity scene, Sauk Centre, Christmas 2005
Merry Christmas!

Christmas lights in Sauk Centre, more Christmas lights, and still more Christmas lights!
Another no-holds-barred holiday display. Christmas, 2005.

Sunday, December 25, 2005. It's been a busy weekend for local churches.

Our Lady of the Angels had an extra-long Christmas Eve service, which meant extra rehearsals for the choir. The last one was Saturday morning, when over a dozen kids were down in the sanctuary while the choir for the most part stayed safely in the choir loft.

The kids were practicing for a procession that evening. They stayed very focused on their rehearsal, aside from the occasional ad lib shaking of the jingle bells.

Our Lady of the Angels church, Sauk Centre, Christmas Eve 2005
Our Lady of the Angels church, Christmas eve morning, 2005.

Our Lady of the Angels' Christmas Eve service was more exciting than most. Right after the choir director told us that the last song would be "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," the Christmas tree fell over.

Over a dozen children on the near side of the altar, and probably a few other folks, said "eee!" when the tree fell neatly on the far side. Then we sang "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". Nobody was hurt, much, although the priest got clipped as the tree went past him, and the deacon was hit by the star.

I asked my oldest daughter what profound meaning we might find in the tree's fall. She answered, "we need a new tree stand."

Snowmen and Tweety Birds, Sauk Centre, Christmas 2005
Hark the Herald Tweeties Sing?! Christmas, 2005

Sauk Centre snowman, Christmas 2005Above-freezing temperatures earlier this week weren't enough to melt the snow, so we had a white, and slightly damp, Christmas. At least one family took advantage of the wet snow to make a snowman.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005. Frost covered branches, wires, and a few fences this morning. The air was still until about noon, so Sauk Centre had a picture-postcard morning today.

Morning walk east of Sauk Centre, Minnesota
About zero outside: just right for a Minnesota morning constitutional
east of Sauk Centre. December 21, 2005.

Christmas is coming soon, or bearing down on us, depending on your point of view. Folks who sing in choirs have more, and longer, practice sessions to deal with. Someone I know has had a party to go to or put on almost every day this week.

Frost on Ash Street near Our Lady of the Angels church
Frost on Ash Street. December 21, 2005.

I've heard that Thanksgiving is the big travel holiday of the year, but many households have kinfolk coming for Christmas, too. It's a season for renewing family ties, catching up on each other's experiences, and parking in the wrong place. Someone left a car with North Dakota plates on 9th near the high school. That's a snow route. Next morning, there was something extra on the windshield: not a ticket, but a reminder about Sauk Centre winter parking rules printed on brightly colored paper.

Frost on the Lake Wobegon Trail bridge over Main in Sauk Centre
Lake Wobegon Trail bridge's frosty touch-up. December 21, 2005.

There used to be a Nativity scene in Memorial Park on the Main Street of Melrose, about 10 miles down I-94. Melrose Boy Scouts owned the Nativity set. The park is safely secular now.

Three cities in Minnesota got sued by a Wisconsin outfit last year because they put Nativity displays on public property. Melrose isn't big enough or rich enough to afford a big legal department, and they can't afford that kind of trouble. So, no more Nativity on Main.

I found an article about this purging in the Melrose Beacon. City administrator, Brian Beeman, said that agents of the Wisconsin group "prey on smaller cities who don't have the resources for a lawsuit", and that he didn't enjoy being forced to remove religious symbols. If it were up to him, he said, he "would say put it there, leave it there, don't mess with it."

The good news is that the Melrose Boy Scouts were allowed to set the Nativity scene up at St. Mary's school in Melrose.

Sunday, December 18, 2005. Driving around Sauk Centre has been a treat this week. At night Christmas displays lit up the streets; by day fresh snow frosted downtown's garlands; and day or night, traffic polished the best-traveled intersections to a high gloss.

Out for a walk in Sauk Centre.
Out for a walk in Sauk Centre. December 17, 2005.

City sand trucks are going around, spinning sand onto the most exciting spots. That makes muddy-looking intersections, but being able to stop is nice.

Holiday lights glow under snow in Sauk Centre.
The tree's lights glow through snow. December 18, 2005.

Christmas is a week away. My family only has an energetic nine-year-old son and a teenage daughter living at home now, so it's relatively quiet most of the time. That changed this weekend when the other kids came to visit. The next day we went to a family get-together in St. Cloud. Judging from traffic on I-94, quite a few other people were doing the same thing.

I was back to grilling hamburgers at noon today. You'd think that temperatures around zero would cool my enthusiasm, but watching frozen hamburger turn into table-ready food and tasting the results is too much fun.

Grilling hamburgers at zero: it's cool!
Grilling in winter: cool! December 18, 2005.

Thursday, December 15, 2005. I thought I had a big week, dealing with my day job's new computer network. Then I read a how a bison rancher about a hundred miles up I-94, Harlan Manston, spent Monday through Thursday this week on a four-wheeler, chasing his herd of buffalo.

Holiday lights on the corner in Sauk Centre
No question about it. Christmas is coming. December 15, 2005.

The rancher, his son, and friends followed the herd of about 75 bison on pickups, all-terrain vehicles, and a snowmobile from Monday to Thursday. The problem was that this wasn't a lonely bison or two, anxious to get back to a herd. This was a herd of buffalo ranging from cows weighing between 850 and 900 pounds up to 5 bulls weighing a ton each. They weren't likely to go anywhere they didn't want to go.

After wandering around western Minnesota for several days, the buffalo herd apparently decided that a hay bale dragged by a tractor was more appealing than freedom.

All I had to deal with was a new set of hardware, a report program wouldn't talk to its printer any more, data that wasn't always where we expected it to be, and less-than-serene co-workers. Of course, they had to deal with me, too.

With all the cybernetic excitement, plus the usual tasks, I see that I didn't get yesterday's entry published. Here it is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005. Schools opened 2 hours late today, for good reason. Snow and wind wuthered around the house last night. This morning a coat of fresh snow sticking to branches had streets in town looking like an old Currier and Ives print.

With temperatures right around freezing, the biggest difference between streets in Sauk Centre and skating rinks was that rinks are more consistently slippery. Traction was better when I drove home from my day job, but by then the intersection near the interpretive center had a pool a couple inches deep. I'm glad I didn't have to drive anywhere tonight.

McDonalds is getting the ding in its corner fixed, and some re-roofing, too. The framework and plastic sheeting they've got around the brickwork is right at the end of their drive-up lane, which must make take-out traffic interesting.

Winter snow on a Sauk Centre morning
Beautiful scene, slick streets. December 15, 2005.

"Warm" means different things, depending on where you are. Last Sunday evening, the temperature was around 20 above. As my family and I arrived at Soo Bahk Do class, I saw a young man wearing a T-shirt and gum shorts come out of a door in the school. He sauntered across the parking lot to another door, over a hundred feet away. For a Minnesotan, the evening was warm.

Merry Christmas in Sauk Centre
Small yard, big display. December 14, 2005.

Christmas is about a week and a half away. Most households in town are getting ready, one way or another. My wife had me print some more Christmas letters Monday night. I actually finished them Tuesday morning.

Landing lights for Rudolph: holiday lights in Sauk Centre
Landing lights for Rudolph. December 13, 2005.

A householder on Ash Street was putting part of a nativity scene in place as I drove home this week. A little farther down the street, an already-exuberant display near my home had sprouted red and green flashing beacons. One of that yard's trees has a horizontal halo of lights now, too.

Christmas trees for sale in Sauk Centre
Snow-covered Christmas trees piled outside Marc'ette Floral & Gift and Main Street Coffee Company, across Main, look like a postcard scene. December 14, 2005.

Sunday, December 11, 2005. Two weeks left before Christmas. My wife threatened to stop feeding me if I didn't finish working with the Christmas letter she wrote, and get address labels printed, by Saturday night. I almost made the deadline.

Christmas and holiday displays are still going up, or being expanded. Up the street from our house, red and green flashing beacons were added to Rudolph's runway.

Other households are content with a few strings of lights, a star, and an evergreen lighted like a Christmas tree. My family and I were doing pretty well to get a Christmas tree up inside.

Christmas lights: a welcome-home beacon in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
Christmas lights: a welcome-home beacon on someone's garage. December 7, 2005.

Thursday dawned with fog. Frost left tree branches shining almost as bright as the sky. Frost flakes were coming off branches when I went to church at noon, and by 1:30 the streets were back to normal.

Frost on trees in Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
Frost at noon. December 8, 2005.

Jitters Java, the eatery with specialty coffee downtown, got its signs up Friday. There's a big oval on a pole near the corner of Main and 4th, and a smaller one over the door. Now when folks give directions to Jitters and say, "you can't miss it," they'll be right.

Jitters Java Cafe in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, has a new sign.
A new sign for Jitters Java.

A couple pieces of really bad news this week showed that this stretch of Small Town America is no haven from trouble.

Sauk Centre's high schoolers got an unpleasant surprise when they came to school Wednesday morning. Kamala Rae Fortune, a 17 year old student there, died about 9:00 Tuesday night when her car spun out on I-94, between Osakis and West Union. The Alexandria paper said that she had been traveling east and got broadsided by an eastbound truck. I understand that Kamala Rae's foster parents are the Suelflows.

Then yesterday Joseph and Marie Wielenbergs and one of their adult sons were shot in the couple's home, just east of here in Melrose township. At this point, it looks like the son shot his parents and then himself.

Still, I'd much rather live here than, say, Pittsburgh or Oakland. On average, this is a fine place to be.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005. The Sauk Herald reported that "more than 30" windows on homes, cars, and a school bus from Belgrade got shot out last Tuesday. The article says that two local kids, "between 14 and 18," are in trouble. With a price tag around $20,000, this is way beyond a 'boys will be boys' prank. I'm not looking forward to picking up the tab for this family's share of punctured windows.

Welcome Home Troops, Sauk Centre American Legion/VFW
Like the sign says: Welcome home, troops.
December 6, 2005.

There's good news too: "Welcome Home Troops" was on the American Legion/VFW building's sign this week. Five National Guard soldiers from around here left for training in September of 2004, and are coming back from a year in Iraq. I suspect that's why Main Street is lined with flags downtown.

Moose of the North: Christmas decorations in Sauk Centre
Micro Moose's northern cousin.
December 5, 2005.

Christmas decorations and early sunsets make driving home from work fun. I took a closer look at the north side Micro Moose and discovered that the northern moose is more of a cousin than a twin to the solitary guardian south of the lake. Micro Moose of the north seems to be a family moose, and swings his antlered head back and forth.

Holiday lights on a large scale in Sauk Centre
Wow. Wraparound holiday decorations. December 5, 2005.

The temperature went down to about zero and stayed there Monday. Finally! I appreciate a winter day with honestly frigid temperatures and snow glittering in pale sunlight. I suppose growing up in the Red River Valley of the North may have something to do with it.

Not everyone likes winter, though. A member of my family said, "the only reason that people don't go on one of those protest marches against winter is that it's too cold to."

Sunday, December 4, 2005. I've heard that many more people have reported a window with something a whole lot like a bullet hole in it. Apparently, those alternatively-moral kids were busy little shooters. I will be very interested to see how this develops.

Much more seriously, the McElveen family up in Little Falls lost a son. Anthony McElveen was one of 10 Marines killed by a roadside bomb in Fallujah this week. We've got quite a few people from around here either in Iraq or on their way. If I remember right, our Charlie Company is near the end of their training now.

On my way home from work Friday evening, I ran into a hayride: not literally, of course. A somewhat old-fashioned tractor was towing a wagon down residential streets between downtown and the Lake Wobegon Trail. Hay bales sat on the wagon, folks, including at least one family, sat on the hay bales, and the wagon's metal frame was festooned with tiny lights powered by a small generator. I don't remember hayrides being part of previous Christmas seasons here.

I think they were embarking from Marc'ette Floral & Gift, at 6th and Main. Outside the store, someone in a reindeer costume was waving to passing drivers. As I turned onto Main at the Marc'ette corner, this ersatz ruminant playfully rolled onto the hood of a car turning from Main onto 6th. That was a little distracting.

The Chinese restaurant downtown seems to be gone for good. Gaps in their newspaper-and-colored-paper window covering haven't changed since they put it up. That's too bad. It was nice, having a place in town that served something besides north-European food.

Inflatable snow globe, Sauk Centre.
Real commitment to holiday decor: an inflatable snow globe.
December 2, 2005.

On a happier note, we're nearing the peak of Christmas displays. I discovered that Micro Moose, that shining alternative to the usual wire-frame reindeer, has a twin on north Main. The northern moose is part of an impressive display of lights, in stark contrast to the one standing in near-solitary splendor with only garden gnomes for company.

Backyard Christmas lights, Sauk Centre.
There's something charming about old-fashioned back yard lights.
December 3, 2005.

Tony Melendez is giving a concert tonight at the High School tonight. It's a pretty big event in town. Sauk Centre's Soo Bahk Do class changed it's Sunday session time to avoid a conflict.

Tony Melendez, a guitarist and singer who got global attention when he played "Never Be the Same" for the Pope in 1987. What made him stand out, besides his musical skill and talent, was that he plays guitar with his feet. His mother was prescribed thalidomide, and so he was born without arms. This will be his last stop in the States before going to Mexico and points south. That's not a bad idea, this time of year.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005. Well over 20 windows were shot out in Sauk Centre last night, around 9:00. That doesn't count the high school and busses parked there for some activity, probably a basketball game.

It looks like the ones who did the shooting used a slingshot and/or a pellet gun. That probably explains why I haven't heard of anyone getting hurt.

Someone I know was impressed with the shooter's aim. The hole in her window lined up with her husband's head.

One of the houses lost a large part of an energy-efficient bay window assembly that had cost the owner upwards of $5,000. The thing had gas under pressure between panes, so there was quite a bang when it broke.

We don't take kindly to being shot at around here. At least one homeowner gave chase. Sauk Centre police and at least one car from the Stearns County Sheriff department caught the kids who apparently did this and sent them down to the detention facility in Willmar.

My wife called the police when she located a puncture in one of our windows. Someone from the police department was out taking pictures today, and we got a call from them tonight for some follow-up questions.

Aside from that, and the edge of a winter storm passing by, it's been pretty quiet so far this week.

The weather has had trouble making up its mind. Sunday's snow was washed away by overnight rains. Then Monday promised freezing rain, wind, and snow. Schools from the Alexandria District to West Central Area Schools didn't open, or closed early.

Here in Sauk Centre, I heard announcements on the radio that the schools would close at 1:00 and that they would close at 2:00. They actually sent kids home at 1:30, so the announcements were correct, on average.

I-94 was closed from Alexandria to Moorhead on Tuesday. Or maybe it was from Fergus Falls to Moorhead. I've heard it both ways. Power lines were down in Ottertail County, northwest of here, and elsewhere.

A holiday display of electric glee.
A holiday display of electric glee. November 28, 2005.

Some folks and businesses have upgraded their Christmas displays. A couple of yards are now graced with a sort of giant inflatable snow globe with a snowman inside. I saw something like it in a Fleet Farm catalog. Those things cost over a hundred dollars! That's real commitment to holiday decor.

Christmas lights in Sauk Centre.
Christmas lights in Sauk Centre. November 28, 2005.

Sunday, November 27, 2005. It's looking more like Christmas than Thanksgiving outside today. The haze and snow looks nice, but it took me roughly 20 minutes to walk 50 feet outside this morning, getting into church. It's amazing what a thin film of ice will do to a sidewalk.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. November 27, 2005.

Thanksgiving is the big travel day for this country; and this year I was one of the travelers. Traffic on westbound I-94 was down to one lane at one point Friday morning. Emergency crews had parked in the right lane and working on what had probably been two semi-trailers earlier in the day. Folks were driving a little closer to the speed limit for miles after passing that scene.

One semi-trailer on the I-94 shoulder ....
One semi-trailer on the I-94 shoulder, and enough parts visible in the
ditch to make most of another. November 25, 2005.

Christmas lights were on downtown and in yards as I drove home last night. A few people have displays that wrap around their houses to the back yard. There's one near where I live that looks like a front-yard display - from the other side of the block. I'm looking forward to seeing those Christmas colors for the next four weeks.

Thursday, November 24, 2005. Happy Thanksgiving Day!

A few days ago, at the local McDonalds, someone seems to have taken "drive in" the wrong way. There's a dent about a half-foot deep in the brick wall below the north window at the northwest corner. Happily for McDonalds, the window isn't broken.

"Happy Holiday" over Main.
"Happy Holiday" over Main. November 22, 2005.

Signs of the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year holiday cycle went up this week: Sauk Centre's safely non-committal "Happy Holiday" sign across Main Street and lighted garlands over downtown streets.

A little color, a little light, and it's magic over Main.
A little color, a little light, and it's magic over Main. November 23, 2005.

Meanwhile, folks are putting glow-in-the-dark Santas, wire-frame lighted reindeer, abstract Christmas tree sculptures, and the occasional Nativity scenes, in their yards.Some Thanksgiving Day travelers start early. It looked like every pump stall at the Holiday station by the Interstate had a vehicle in it this evening, but I might have missed one as I drove by. When I filled the family's mini-van tonight, gas was back down to $1.999.

Two of the 46 million or so turkeys raised in Minnesota got lucky this year. Thanks to good feathers and good attitude, Snowball and Blizzard made the final cut, went to the White House, and received a presidential pardon.

Minnesota turkeys don't often achieve fame that extends beyond the dinner table. When I heard they came from Melrose, just down the road, I did a little checking.

The lucky gobblers grew up on a turkey farm near Henning, up in Otter Tail County. The current chairman of the National Turkey Federation, Pete Rothfork of Grey Eagle, a little over 10 miles northeast of Sauk Centre, got the assignment to raise the birds. He farmed out the job of raising birds to James and Vicki Trites of Henning.

Melrose came into the picture on Friday, when Pete Rothfork brought Snowball and Blizzard to the Melrose Area Elementary School. News reports said that Melrose elementary students gave them a musical sendoff that involved a "turkey dance" and an opportunity to meet the regional celebrities.

The two fortunate fowl got new names when they got to Washington. The White House held an online poll to decide what their new names would be. Out of five pairs of finalist names, 27% of the 12,726 votes cast were for Marshmallow and Yam. Marshmallow: that's a sticky name. I would have voted for the second most popular pair, Wattle and Snood, but I didn't find out about the poll in time.

Wattle and Snood: now those names had character and distinction.

For 15 years, the National Thanksgiving Turkeys and their alternates have retired to the ominously-named Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia. Our Minnesota birds are bound for the other side of the country: Disneyland, in Anaheim, California. They'll be honorary Grand Marshals for Disneyland's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. Then, while Minnesotans deal with mosquitoes and blizzards, they'll live out their lives in "the happiest place on earth."

Personally, I'm happy to live in Minnesota. I lived on the West Coast for a while, and to someone who grew up in the Red River Valley, the climate there is boring.

Glow, Santa, glow!
Glow, Santa, glow! November 21, 2005.

Sunday, November 20, 2005. Thanksgiving is less than a week away. This family's two oldest daughters came home this weekend, so we had what I regard as a normal level of activity around the house.

Welcome home, SPC Jodi Marthaller.The Marthaller family is probably having even more fun. SPC Jodi Marthaller came home from Iraq yesterday, riding down Main Street in fire truck #3, with a police and fire escort. A small sign posted around town had invited people to come out, welcome her back, and 'wave flags if you have them.. A dozen or so people and an enthusiastic young spaniel did just that Saturday afternoon.

I saw one knot of folks in front of the public library, and another, with the spaniel, across the street by the First State Bank parking lot. The folks by the bank had a 'welcome home. sign and a flag mounted on a pickup, parked on Main, and someone had another sign hung on the Lake Woebegon Trail bridge.

The procession slowed and stopped for a minute or two by the group with the spaniel.

Even in weather like this, it's good to be home.
Even in weather like this, it's good to be home. November 19, 2005.

Visits to antique stores aren't part of my normal routine, which may explain why I didn't know about a publication that's been around since 1990. "The Old Times" is a 32-page monthly newspaper about antiques and collectibles, published in Sauk Centre.

I found out about the paper when I talked to someone I used to work with and found out that he's now the publisher. I picked up a copy at Main Street Coffee Company.

Sauk Centre's two specialty-coffee places are quite a contrast. Main Street Coffee Company & Antiques is an antiques-and-collectibles store with a coffee bar at the back, in a slightly-remodeled house. Jitters Java, a few blocks north on Main, looks like something I'd expect to see in an urban 1920s setting. The proprietor calls the look "metro retro" and offers meals as well as a wide assortment of coffee.

Most of this season's first snow is gone, but Sauk Lake's ice is still there. The dock at the west end of Sinclair Lewis Park has been pulled to its winter resting place, leaving a re-frozen spot at the public access.

Too late for boats, too early for ice fishing.
Too late for boats, too early for ice fishing. November 20, 2005.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005. Christmas starts early for some households, at least in terms of outdoor decoration. Wreaths or angels are up in some yards, and a house in the neighborhood has lighted stars in the windows, a plastic Santa on the chimney, and a flag near the back door. That Santa must be securely anchored: yesterday's wind didn't blow it off.

Christmas Santa and Flag
Early Christmas decorations. November 15, 2005.

The first snow of the season fell Tuesday morning, the wind picked up, and we got an interesting mix of precipitation for the rest of the day.

The first snow of the season fell Tuesday morning, the wind picked up, and we got an interesting mix of precipitation for the rest of the day.

First snow on the Lake Wobegon Trail bridge.
First snow on the Lake Wobegon Trail bridge. November 15, 2005.

I parked at the post office Tuesday afternoon. By then some snow had melted on the sidewalks and streets. I'm slower than usual on icy pavement, or pavement that might be icy. My one-slow-step-at-a-time approach to winter walking is frustratingly slow, but once in a while it allows me to see a pleasant side of humanity.

I had reached the curb and was ascending to the sidewalk when a man offered to take my mail into the post office. I had some business inside, so I declined and proceeded across the sidewalk and over to the steps.

By the time I reached the door, this helpful Minnesotan was coming out of the post office, and held the door open for me. Inside, a lady asked me if I needed a ride.

Band shell benches and the season's first snow.
Band shell benches and the season's first snow. November 15, 2005.

There must have been a sunset Tuesday, somewhere above the clouds, but down here the twilight just got dimmer. The wind and ice were bad enough for Christmas choir practice to be cancelled. I didn't mind staying inside and listening to wind wuther around the house.

No question about it: Winter is coming.
No question about it: Winter is coming. November 16, 2005.

Sunday, November 13, 2005. A few folks are already getting their outdoor Christmas decorations and lights up. One yard has an artificial tree or two set out, and someone near the high school had a line of colored lights on this week. They may have been testing their bulbs, since it hasn't been on since.

South of the band shell, "Micromoose" has reappeared, standing watch by the west wall of his house. "Micromoose" is my name for a wire-frame lighted sculpture shaped like a four-foot-tall moose. That non-reindeer/non-Santa is a welcome example of decorative diversity.

My wife tells me that Santa's throne is set up in the Viking Plaza shopping mall in Alexandria. The jolly old elf's appearance was scheduled Friday.

The banners on the Lake Wobegon Trail bridge are gone now, including the one wishing Charlie Company well. Yellow ribbons still line "The Original Main Street" and Sinclair Lewis Avenue, though. Those ribbons were joined by flags on Veteran's Day.

Veteran's Day on Main Street.
Veteran's Day on Main Street. November 11, 2005.

God be with you, Charlie Company.The flags were still up Saturday morning, when I went downtown to the bank and post office. A line of kids and adults had queued up at Main Street Theatre for the holiday season morning show. For some reason, quite a few folks were walking away from the theater right after 10:00.

I wasn't too surprised to see a few groups crossing Main between crosswalks. Some reminded me of the title character in the classic video game Frogger, as they waited for breaks in traffic before crossing one lane at a time. Others demonstrated a charming confidence in drivers. eyesight and reflexes as they ambled across.

This is more like it: real fall weather.
This is more like it: real fall weather. November 9, 2005.

The weather is finally acting autumnal. Yesterday's rain didn't get serious until I was coming in from grilling lunch. We had lightning off and on last night, and the wind knocked over pines in pots in front of Our Lady of the Angels church. When I grilled lunch, I noticed a yellow plastic bag rattling bravely in the wind, about fifteen feet up in a tree.

Another week come and gone. Sauk Centre sunset, November 10, 2005.
Another week come and gone. Sauk Centre sunset, November 10, 2005.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005. The holiday season is definitely here. Christmas catalogs started arriving last week. I learned that there are solar-powered wind chimes.

Gas is selling for $2.169 in town now: not exactly what I expected, after the a-little-over-$3 prices we had in early September. I got curious, and looked into the family van's gas log. Last year I paid between about $1.88 and $2.00 a gallon for gas in October and November, with an average a little over $1.90.

One of my nephews blew through a stop sign in his bike last week, got punted by a car, flew through the air, and threw a scare into the extended family. His close encounter with the front end of a car didn't leave much of an impression. He doesn't remember anything about the accident. I hope he remembers what it was like to have a briefly useless hand, and re-evaluates his attitude toward traffic signs.

Happily, my nephew's mother saw the accident and was able to reassure the driver that it wasn't his fault. I've got an idea of how that driver felt. Driving down Ash on Halloween evening, I saw a family crossing the street near, but not in, a crosswalk. I might not have seen them at all, if they hadn't been silhouetted against another vehicle's headlights. The whole family was wearing dark clothing.

School was out Monday and Tuesday, giving kids a four-day weekend. I have some kind of a bug, and slept through most of Tuesday. It must have been quite a bug. My son had two friends over yesterday. My wife and younger daughter tell me that the three boys, two around nine years old and a five-year-old, were "into everything." The noise only woke me up once. I suppose they stayed inside because of the wind advisory that day.

The fire at UAP last Friday made the Sauk Herald's front page. According to Tuesday's paper, employees had the fire out by the time the fire department got there, which left the firemen to find out what exactly what was smoldering inside, and decide how to deal with it.

The top news of the week was the capture of a murder suspect near Osakis on November 1. Chad Cottrell, suspected of three murders in rural Indiana, apparently drove off without paying for $40 worth of gas in Melrose. The Sauk Centre police chief joined the chase at the Sinclair Lewis ramp of I-94, and a state trooper ended it with a stop stick on back roads near Osakis. According to the Herald, Chris Swanson, who made the arrest, joined the Melrose police department in December.

Sunday, November 6, 2005. I've lived in or near agricultural areas for much of my life, and know that fire is something that you don't want near farm chemicals. That's why smoke coming from the UAP installation, south of Fleet Supply, got my attention Friday afternoon.

By the time I drove by Fleet Supply, next door, two Sauk Centre police cars, an ambulance, and assorted emergency vehicles had assembled east of the #5 building. A north breeze carried whitish smoke away from the building's roof and door. This was no fun for folks in the houses between there and the Interstate.

A couple of the guys working on the fire sprinted off and came back with forklifts around a quarter to three. I suppose something heavy in #5 had to be moved. I'm looking forward to the Tuesday paper, to learn more about what happened.

To the forklifts! Fire at UAP, Sauk Centre.
To the forklifts! Fire at UAP, Sauk Centre. November 4, 2005.

Aside from that, it's been a pretty routine week.

City crews were out, getting the storm drains ready for winter. Morning frost made a pale shadow on grass and roofs this morning, trailing areas still shaded by a rising sun. The willow in our back yard finally got around to turning color and shedding its leaves.

Wal-Mart was in the local news again. It looks like Sauk Centre and Wal-Mart will sign off on a development agreement in March. Providing there aren't any hitches.

It sounds like Sauk Centre did a good job with negotiations, even getting Wal-Mart to pay for at least most of the office, legal, and engineering costs we'll have spent on this discussion. I was impressed that Wal-Mart also agreed to pay for utilities upgrades.

Since the Wal-Mart entrance will probably be at 12th and Ash, I figured that deciding to put a traffic light there was a no-brainer. Especially since Wal-Mart had offered to pay for the thing if it was installed when the store was built. I'm surprised that the county engineer said that we "should wait and see what happens after Wal-Mart is built."

I hope that the local and county powers that be will let Wal-Mart pay for traffic lights at 12th and Ash, instead of waiting to see how often folks get hurt or killed in wrecks there.

A quiet day at the Interpretive Center Park.
A quiet day at the Interpretive Center Park. November 3, 2005.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005. The Sauk Centre Elementary School gym held a "Fabulous Fall Festival" for families Monday night. The River of Life Church arranged the festivities.

Last week, they had small but colorful signs up around town, promising "fun for the whole family" and:

"Huge Inflatable Games Including:

  • Bounce House w/ Boxing Gloves!
  • Bungee Run!
  • Noah's Ark Obstacle Course (new!)"

Near the bottom, in red, the signs declared, "Non-Violent Costumes Encouraged!"

My family and I enjoyed this get-together a year or so ago. This year I took my son trick-or-treating along our usual route. He's the only one of the kids young enough to go, or at least to be interested. We had company, mostly families with young kids, and a few clumps of teenagers. I've seen more people out, in past years. Maybe they were going to that "Fabulous Fall Festival".

Trick or treating. Halloween, 2005.

As we drove on Ash Street Halloween night, I saw Sauk Centre's water tower flashing colors like red, yellow, orange, and blue. Something this unusual is worth a side-trip, so I drove across town to take a look and take a few pictures.

I did a little asking around, and learned that Advanced Lighting Systems was testing its new LED lighting system (a Live LEDTM 100, they told me). They would have liked to cover all sides of the tower, but settled for lighting up the east-southeast side.

I hope they do this again next year. I understand that the glowing tower was clearly visible at least as far away as the airport. I wish I'd been able to see it from the Interstate. It should have made a dramatic introduction to this town for drivers clearing the hill east of Sauk Centre.

Strange lights over Sauk Centre. Halloween, 2005.
Strange lights over Sauk Centre. Halloween, 2005.

Tuesday, I drove around a few broken pumpkins on the way to All Saint's Day mass. Some kids in the front pew had dressed up as saints. We may see more of that next year.

The post office building's flag was a half-mast today, a mark of respect for Rosa Parks. Her funeral was today. The public library's flag stayed at the top of its mast: of course, the half-mast order was limited to federal installations.

At least one apartment at the old city hall building seems to be occupied. At least, the lights were on in a second floor window when I drove by after work recently.

Sunday, October 30, 2005. First it was boxelder bugs. Now ladybugs are moving in.

It's odd: those ladybugs work their way into a house, and then spend their time around windows, apparently trying to get out again. Yesterday, I counted about four dozen ladybugs, two flies, and a slow-moving boxelder bug on the window where I spend time with the kids on weekends. (I know those black-dotted orange beetles are "Asian lady beetles" and some folks call them Japanese beetles, but they're still ladybugs to me.)

It's that time of year. Last night we set clocks back an hour, once again enabling us to experience jet lag without leaving our homes.

Along with a lot of other folks, this household is getting ready for winter. We've already got curtains in place at the bottom of the stairs and in a doorway, to keep heat in the part of the house we spend the most time, and have plastic over most of the windows.

Fuel costs promise to be spectacular this winter, so we're very, very interested in energy efficiency.

Halloween is around the corner. If it's like previous years, we'll see families going up and down the street. Typically, a car or van will park, an adult and three or four kids will get out, walk up and down that block, and drive to their next stop. I'm looking forward to seeing what the trick-or-treaters come up with.

Thursday, October 27, 2005. Fall is winding down. Morning frost has covered the grass and many trees deposited the last of their leaves on lawns. On the other hand, some deciduous diehards are just now getting around to turning color.

I can remember burning piles of leaves in the fall, and the clouds of smoke that encouraged laws against that sort of thing. What I can't remember is when someone got the idea of printing funny faces on leaf bags.

hey're not quite Jack-'o-lanterns, so what are they? Leaf-'o-bags?
They're not quite Jack-'o-lanterns, so what are they? Leaf-'o-bags?
Bag-'o-leaves? Leaf-'o-lanterns?

Thanks to that idea, folks now can have giant leaf-filled jack-'o-lanterns in their yard. This year I noticed that some of the faces look like they're chewing leaves. Now if only someone could develop a leaf bag that you really could set loose to graze on a leaf-covered yard.

I ran into interesting Halloween statistics last weekend. According to the National Confectioners Association, 93% of kids in the USA go trick-or-treating, and 90% of parents admit that they sneak treats from their kids. Halloween trick-or-treat bags.

Finally, a harangue:

The Sauk Centre post office has an unlisted number now. I had a simple question to ask around the middle of October and found an 800 number at the phone book's "Post Office" listing. Since it was either drive to the post office or use the new number, I used the telephone.

It might have been faster to drive there and back.

Calling the new number, I started a conversation with an automated menu: one of the new kind that understands a few words. My first choice was whether to use English or Español. After five minutes or so of plodding through a not-too-badly-designed menu, I had my information.

The old way, I'd have been done at least 4 minutes earlier, and moved on to something more productive than conversing with a menu. This is progress?

Sunday, October 23, 2005. With Halloween a little over a week away, the Sauk Centre Jaycees. Monster Manor opened this weekend. It's a sort of annual spook-a-thon down at the fairgrounds. I've never been inside, but drive by on my way home from work. They had a hearse parked outside, so I'd guess they've got a lively show again this year.

Someone came up with a new wrinkle in Halloween lawn displays this year. Two statues of deer, standing one of the more thoroughly decorated yards in town, are wearing masks this season.

If Christmas has reindeer, would these be 'weendeer?
If Christmas has reindeer, would these be 'weendeer? October 21, 2005.

School was out for the last part of the week, for MEA weekend, which gave kids a few days of free time. One of my daughters had mid-term break at the same time and decided to spend the time here, so we've had a lot of family time at this house. That included time spent talking with me while I grilled lunch.

I've been noticing more drivers stopping for pedestrian in crosswalks on Main Street recently. That education campaign a year or so back seems to have had a good effect. We're not perfect, of course: this week I saw a boy trying use a crosswalk on Main. He had to wait for a break in traffic to walk his bike across the street.

I think it's the way the weather's been sliding back and forth between clear and damp, warm and cold: Several of my joints have been giving me fits. I shouldn't complain about the weather here: Hurricane Wilma has been chewing up places like Akumal, Cancun and Nuctunich in Mexico, and is heading for Florida.

The way Wilma is in the news, it's too bad that Bam-Bam, Fred, and Pebbles didn't make the list this year. I checked: Fred won't show up until 2009, and the rest of the Flintstones neighbors aren't on upcoming lists. Bam-Bam, Betty and Barney couldn't be on the same list, but why not keep the rest of the Flintstones neighbors together?

That's all for this week. Sauk Centre sunset.
That's all for this week. Sauk Centre sunset. October 23, 2005.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005. Christmas is third in line after Halloween and Thanksgiving, but a sign of the season is already here in choir practice. The choir at Our Lady of the Angels church starts practicing Advent songs next week. Since there aren't as many people in the parish as there would be in a city, the choir isn't crowded. This week I was the entire bass section.

A friendly harvest display by The Palmer House.
A friendly harvest display by The Palmer House. October 18, 2005.

It's not easy to go downtown and not run into someone who know you in a small town. While checking my box at the post office yesterday, someone doing the same thing turned to me and said, "congratulations on your article." He was talking about a very nice write-up about Brendan's Island in Sunday's St. Cloud Times. I appreciate what he said, but I didn't do much beyond sitting for a while and talking to Mackenzie Ryan, from the St. Cloud Times. (Thanks, by the way!)

The post office roofing project is finished in front. They've gone over the peak and are working on the flat roof in back now. It's trickier finding a parking place around the post office now, since there's often equipment sitting at the curb.

Jitters Java has a new sign by the door of Jitters Java announcing "We offer free Wireless Internet Service." They've had that service for a while. I go there when I want a seriously fast connection. The coffee there is what a Minnesotan would call "not bad." You can get a pretty good meal, there.

It's funny: for most of my life, coffee was either "coffee" or "decaf." Now, with two places I town serving specialty coffee from around the world, I've learned just how much ground coffee covers.

The other coffee place is Main Street Coffee Company. They've got coffee, baked goods and sweets at the back of an antiques and collectibles store.

A rake, a wheelbarrow, and a whole lot of leaves.
A rake, a wheelbarrow, and a whole lot of leaves. October 18, 2005.

Sunday, October 16, 2005. This was Sauk Centre's homecoming weekend. The school called their get-together in a bus barn Friday night a tailgate party. This "tailgate" party wasn't as loud as the one at Mainstreet Communications, but attracted quite a few people. Folks were still coming, singly and in groups of friends and family, around 7:00 when I dropped by.

There was good traffic control outside the bus barn: a good thing, with all those people and vehicles sharing the same parking lot under an October moon.

Sauk Centre homecoming at the bus barn. October 14, 2005.

On a more cultural note, The St. Cloud Area "Singing Saints" Barbershop Chorus, with the Sauk Centre High School Choirs, presented Dale Goenner and Thomas Mulder's Pirates of the Mississippi at the Sauk Centre High School Performing Arts Center yesterday.

On my way home from work Friday, I drove by the Chinese restaurant downtown. Sheets of newspaper were up in the windows, and the lights were out. I hope they're doing remodeling. It would be a shame to lose one of Sauk Centre's specialty eateries.

Trees in town are taking turns losing their leaves. This week we've got the full range from summer green to winter-ready.

Trees taking turns at turning color.
Trees taking turns at turning color. October 14, 2005.

Finally, the steps at St. Paul's Church, near downtown, are almost through. The orange mesh fencing is down, and the only sign of construction is a plastic tape across the steps.

A lot of work went into those steps.
A lot of work went into those steps: Take a look at work in progress, September 15 and 29. October 14, 2005.

Thursday, October 13, 2005. Halloween season is here. Orange lights festoon some windows, while pumpkins and piles of dried corncobs have sprouted in the more seasonally sensitive front yards. The Palmer House hotel put a harvest display topped by a jack-o'-lantern on their sidewalk, adding country colors to the brick-and-concrete scenery of downtown Sauk Centre.

A green alien, jack-o'-lanterns, and: a heart?!.
A green alien, jack-o'-lanterns, and: a heart?!. October 9, 2005.

Boxelder bugs are crawling inside these days. I try to appreciate the beauty of nature in all creatures, but these dirty-black, six-legged crawlers with crimson chevrons on their backs and pinpoint blood-red eyes that seem to glow present me with a challenge.

The Minnesota National Guard's Company C from the Sauk Centre area boarded busses and left town at 4:30 Tuesday morning, October 4. They weren't alone. Family, friends, and folks from the community were at the armory to see them off. This week's Sauk Centre Herald devoted the back page of the paper's main section to a local soldier and his family, and the National Guard send off.

Company C had an escort of Sauk Centre's firetrucks as their busses drove down Main Street. On their way out of town, they rode between yellow ribbons. I'm told that a spotlight highlighted a sign on the Lake Wobegon Trail bridge over Main Street that reads "God be with you, Charlie Company: We love you!" I couldn't have said it better myself.

God be with you Charlie Company: We love you!
It's like the sign says. October 11, 2005.

Sunday, October 9, 2005. Going into the post office Friday morning, I saw two men working on the roof over the entrance. A woman walking by exchanged a few words with them. I really like living in a place where people know each other.

Inside the post office, I met the new-for-now postmaster. His name's Tony, he's usually down the road in Cold Spring, and I understand that he's filling in here for a few months.

Farther downtown, a crew from a local renovation company was taking the façade off the old Snyder-Ben Franklin buildings. With that sort of faded tannish salmon-pink paneling gone, it's obvious that the double store covered the first floor of a couple of old buildings.

Stained glass windows that haven't seen the light of day in a long time are visible now.

Uncovering Sauk Centre's 21st century storefronts.
Uncovering Sauk Centre's 21st century storefronts. October 6, 2005.

Light poles downtown sport yellow ribbons, and will for quite a while now, I expect. Speaking for my family, our thoughts and prayers are with Company C.

Meth was in the news again this week. Just down the road, in Melrose, police seized $700,000 worth of methamphetamine and $112,000 worth of cocaine. An article on KSTP's website quoted Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner as saying central Minnesota's meth dealers used Melrose as a "depot" for. Police arrested fourteen people and are looking for a 15th. Who say small towns don't keep up with the times?

On a much happier note, my son and I saw Wallace and Gromit: the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and a short subject about commando penguins today. That was a well-spent Sunday afternoon. Hats off to Main Street Theater, for bringing this tale of a dog and his melon to town.

Wednesday, October 5, 2005. All right! We've had some normal Minnesota weather.

Yesterday was a warm, damp, dark day with rain, wind, lightning, and thunder. Especially rain. By the time I was driving home from work, most of Ash Street's southbound lane around south 7th was a pond, and the weather service was talking about flash flood watches.

Getting the wheel wells washed at Ash and south 7th.
Getting the wheel wells washed at Ash and south 7th. October 4, 2005.

I woke to a flashing clock this morning, a souvenir of a little power outage. Parts of the Twin Cities were under water, and a branch thicker than my wrist lay in the street near where I work.

Today was a beautiful fall day, with the sky turning from patches of sunlight to patches of cloud.

Just a day later and a couple of blocks south.
Just a day later and a couple of blocks south. October 5, 2005.

Tonight, the temperature is falling into the thirties, and we may have snow tomorrow.

One reason I like living here is that you don't have to move to be in a different climate. Stay put, and tropic heat, chilling cold, glaring sunlight, torrents of rain, and blankets of snow will wash over you.

Wal-Mart is still in the news. The Sauk Herald had a good write-up this week on Wal-Mart's proposed Supercenter here.

There are sensible concerns: Traffic from the twenty-something acres of the Wal-Mart complex, plus traffic from whatever gets built on the other forty-plus acres of land involved adds up to a lot of cars.

Last week, the St. Cloud Times said that the Sauk Centre Planning Commission decided an Environmental Assessment Worksheet wasn't needed. The Times called the worksheet three months worth of an "in-depth look at environmental concerns that could arise from developing land."

The article said a group calling themselves Sauk Centre Area Citizens for Smart Growth is concerned about pollution, and hired a lawyer. Someone may be spending part of the winter doing that worksheet after all.

Monday, October 3, 2005. The post office building has a crew working on its roof, and a less cluttered front. That untidy evergreen bush south of the steps was dug up and hauled away this week.

The front steps of St. Paul's Church go all the way to the ground, but it looks like there is still work to do. The orange mesh fencing is still up, and the crew's equipment is in place.

The War on Terror has gotten a lot more personal for folks around here. We had a deployment ceremony yesterday at the Sauk Centre High School Auditorium for Company C, 1st Battalion, 194th Armor, 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division.

Company C assembling before the deployment ceremony.
Company C assembling before the deployment ceremony. October 2, 2005.

KSTP says this is the biggest overseas deployment of the Minnesota National Guard since World War II. I've read that Crookston, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, Grand Rapids, Hutchinson and Thief River Falls are doing the same thing Sunday, with Bemidji and Moorhead recognizing their troops today.

Here at the Sauk Centre High School Auditorium, folks started coming by at least 1:30. During the ceremony, we had about a half-dozen officers and dignitaries on the stage, the 64 troops of Company C in the first few rows, and roughly 1,000 folks filling the auditorium. Latecomers lined up on the walkways on each side.

About a thousand folks showed up to see Company C off.
About a thousand folks showed up to see Company C off. October 2, 2005.

Even with a mayor, a state congressman, and a governor to make speeches, the ceremony only took an hour. Afterward, I saw folks taking pictures of each other with family members who are going overseas.

Thursday, September 29, 2005. After a dull gray weekend, we had two days of beautiful weather. Then I came down with something. At least the weather cooperated, providing some chilling winds and gray skies. That made staying inside a more attractive option. Now that I'm going back to work, sure enough: cheerful sunlight. At least it's suitably cool: in the 40s this morning.

The post office building was getting a new roof yesterday, and St. Paul's church has more front steps. The crew working on the church steps is building from the top down. It looks odd, seeing a masonry structure started at the top and being built down to ground level.

More steps in the right direction at St. Paul's church.
More steps in the right direction at St. Paul's church. September 26, 2005.

Trees around town aren't very organized when it comes to autumn colors. Some have already shed most of their leaves, most are still green, some are in full color, and one near where I live is green at the bottom, orange in the middle, and almost bare on top. I've given it the title "A tree for all seasons."

Sauk Centre has a few wayfarer's trees, and they've had their autumn displays out for a while now. Most folks call them mountain ash.

Wayfarer's tree or mountain ash, it's a fine sight.
Wayfarer's tree or mountain ash, it's a fine sight. September 23, 2005.

Sunday, September 25, 2005. Friday was a beautiful early-autumn day. A fresh breeze rushed under a clear sky as I sat inside, staring down a computer. Saturday dawned damp and gray, and stayed that way, as did today.Grilling this noon, I enjoyed hearing drops of drizzle sizzle when falling on the spatula and watching my breath when I wasn't keeping an eye on the burgers.

Friday, I passed the MainStreet Communications parking lot on my way home. They were wrapping up their "Tailgate Party." People were milling around the big open-sided tent while a high-yield sound system blasted out a Shania Twain song.

The new River of Life church building's frame is up, and a roof is taking shape. I'm glad to see that they chose to put the new church at an angle to the Getty Street assisted care place. This way there's a little drama to that big pole barn of a building.

Alexandria's Echo Press, Wednesday edition reported that supplies from Alexandria, Minnesota, had arrived in Alexandria, Louisiana. A Red Cross volunteer down there said that he was "astounded by the neat and orderly condition of the shipment," in an email.

I got curious about hurricanes, and looked up NOAA (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) records. They had a table that showed how many hurricanes had hit the U.S. mainland since 1850, and how powerful they were.

This isn't like the Good Old Days. At least 8 major hurricanes hit the United States each decade during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and only 5 in the 90s.

This isn't the Good Old Days, and I can't say that I'm disappointed.
Click on this graph for a larger image. September 25, 2005.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005. My joints and muscles were giving me fits today, which seemed odd, since where the sky wasn't clear, it sported decorative buttermilk-sky clouds. Then, later in the afternoon, I heard a tornado warning for Willmar, about 40 miles south of here. I'm creaking a little less, now that the storms have rumbled and flashed their way east.

There's an alpaca farm north of town now, and has been for a few years. The Sauk Herald calls the place Pine Ridge farm, and the owners call it Heartwood Farm Alpacas. One of the folks connected with the place was putting up little posters up in some stores, announcing their open house on the first two days of October. They've got a decent website, too:

I did a little checking, and found out that alpacas look like someone started with an undersized camel and tried to make it into a fuzzy deer.

It's nice to run into someone else who appreciates this area. The Heartwood Farm Alpacas. website talks about "the beautiful, fertile prairies in the heart of Minnesota … lush green trees; … and wildlife of all kinds. The serenity is breathtaking."

I see they also raise goats.

Sauk Centre's proposed Wal-Mart supercenter is in the news again, with another meeting at city hall. This time the Sauk Herald published more numbers.

It looks like the supercenter brings somewhere between 140 and 160 jobs with it. Working at Wal-Mart wouldn't be like being a corporate lawyer, supermodel, or NFL star, but a job's a job. The place would cover 145,000 square feet: about the size of two and a half football fields. That's a lot of store.

Sauk Centre's Public Utilities Superintendent said that the store would go through about 120,000 gallons of water per month, about the same as 24 homes. He pointed out that Sauk Centre adds about 30 homes each year, and has a water system that can handle another 1,500, so dealing with Wal-Mart won't be too hard. Besides, Wal-Mart's 24-7 operation will make it the town's biggest customer for electricity.

Gas prices in town are still going down. This week it was $2.519 a gallon. Using computer modeling, I made a startling discovery! At this rate, gasoline will be free around December 10 this year, and by March, 2006, gas stations will be paying people $2.00 a gallon to fill up. That's one prediction I'm not counting on.

Statistical analysis, or wishful thinking? You decide. September 21, 2005.

Sunday, September 18, 2005. After a string of picture-postcard perfect weekdays, Saturday slouched in under a sullen sky. Then it rained. I didn't grill that day until suppertime, when things had dried out.

The new River of Life church building is taking shape. More of the frame was up Friday afternoon. I understand the utility of pole-barn construction, and I'm not criticizing, but after several decades I'm still getting used to churches that look like big storage sheds with colored plastic windows.

I saw some Halloween decorations in a store late this week. With Thanksgiving, Halloween, and Christmas coming up, I suppose it won't be too long before we have a menagerie of cheerful black cats, turkeys, and reindeer grinning at us from store fronts. One year I even saw a pair of plaster frogs, dressed in pilgrim clothes.

Last night my son told me that the school had raised about $620 for Hurricane Katrina victims. Good for them. It's a drop in the bucket, but it sounds like a lot of drops are coming from all over the country. I've got some suggestions people who are looking for a way to help folks in the Gulf Coast area.

Thursday, September 15, 2005. Tuesday and Wednesday were "typical" September days, complete with blue skies, fresh air, fleecy clouds, and, on Tuesday, the city's Elgin street sweeper roaring by the window at my day job.

Today was another one of those clear, well-ventilated days that make it hard to stay inside. One of my co-workers decided that this afternoon was a good time to start a long weekend in northern Minnesota.

Wal-Mart was in the local news again this week, along with the Labor Day storm that turned some streets into wading pools. Which reminded me that the proposed Wal-Mart's published location includes a low spot that has been a tillable field some years, and approaches wetland status during others. I hope Wal-Mart's planners are thinking about that.

St. Paul's church on Sinclair Lewis Avenue is a step closer to being able to use their main entry. The stone landing just outside the door was in place and being leveled Wednesday morning.

One step closer to completion at St. Paul's.
One step closer to completion at St. Paul's. September 14, 2005.

A maple on Ash Street has finally been cut down. Each fall the east half changed color while the west was still green. I finally realized that the trunk was split, weakening the east side of the tree. Other trees are starting to show patches of autumn colors, I trust for less serious reasons.

The face of autumn.
The face of autumn. September 14, 2005.

Monday, September 12, 2005. This morning's thunderstorms have moved on, so I can post yesterday's entry. Lightening fried one modem during the Labor Day weekend's storms, and I didn't want to lose another. Also, I took a little time last night to write down some thoughts about September 11. Sunday, September 11, 2005. It's been a hot, damp weekend. I grilled lunch at suppertime today. Even without noontime sun to help, I worked up a good sweat, standing between the grill and great hot pillows of still air.

River of Life's new church is taking shape. Part of the frame was up on Friday.

River of Life's new church in Sauk Centre.
River of Life's new church in Sauk Centre. September 9, 2005.

St. Paul's front steps have most of the stonework back on the sides now. It looks like there's going to be a sturdy center support for the steps after the project's done.

Some trees are already changing color, and I think that birds are flocking more than they do in summer. Judging from the lush foliage, the trees could put on a good show this autumn.

My family gets the furnace checked out around this time of year. We had a shock when we were told that we should get a new furnace. That proved to be a false alarm, and we're dealing with another company now.

I think many people started taking better care of their heating systems after the '70s gave us a new appreciation of energy. Before then, I remember each heating season opening with at least one or two news report of someone whose furnace exploded. That doesn't seem to happen as often now, I suspect because folks are doing a better job with maintenance.

The price of gas in town plummeted to $2.799 a gallon last week, a relief from last week's $3.099. The relatively cheap gas was welcome: I went to a Soo Bahk Do clinic in St. Paul with Sauk Centre's group yesterday. It's good to live where a classical martial art is taught.

Thursday, September 8, 2005. School opened again on Tuesday, after their pre-Labor Day start. For the next nine months, a tide of school busses will ebb and flow from the school garages, while a sort of gymkhana runs down Ash Street each weekday afternoon.

The Holiday Super Stop near the Interstate has fresh asphalt, and pavement from the Interstate to township roads is getting repaired before winter sets in.

At the other end of town, a single-story building is going up on the west end of the residential development on Lake Shore Drive. Walls are up on the concrete slab, giving it a visible shape. Whatever it is, it doesn't look like a house. Besides, it's a little unusual for a house to have no basement in this area.

Like many people, I've been following what happened when hurricane Katrina turned 90,000 square miles near the Gulf Coast into a disaster area. That storm left a lot of folks with no place of their own to live, at least for a while. As of today, the Department of Homeland Security says that 253,177 people have been evacuated. It says that they're "safely housed in shelters in 17 states and the District of Columbia."

An Alexandria TV station had some hopeful news. They reported that Bird Island, a small town about 75 miles south of here, was getting ready to take in 80 folks who survived Katrina, but whose homes didn't. The Bird Island mayor says that for the next year they can stay at the old Spiritual Development Center next to St. Mary's Church in Bird Island, and that there's a former nursing home where 20 more could stay. So far, six churches in the Bird Island area will be seeing to it that the folks get fed.

Meanwhile, north of Sauk Centre, in Camp Ripley they're getting ready for maybe 3,000 folks who had to move from their homes at the other end of the Mississippi. The idea is to provide temporary housing and support in dormitories there.

I hope someone is letting all these new arrivals know what to expect. Many of them probably spent their lives in a place where a "cold" winter night would be, say, 45 degrees. Now they may be spending a winter in Minnesota, where National Guard arctic maneuvers were once cancelled due to inclement weather.

Sunday, September 4, 2005. So far, this has been a good Labor Day weekend. Flags went up downtown on Friday. That afternoon, around 5:00, there didn't seem to be quite as much traffic as usual on Main. Looks like gas prices, and a presidential plea to limit driving to necessary trips, are having an effect..

Friday morning before Labor Day.
Friday morning before Labor Day. It wasn't much busier at rush hour. September 2, 2005.

Saturday was noisy. Thunder started sometime in the morning. We got a downpour and small hail in the afternoon. I drove the van through a few curb-deep pools, watched a miniature rapids on 4th Street, and got soaked to the skin. When I got home, there were these hailstones in the front yard, like little pumpernickel loaves.

Crystal pumpernickel from the sky: half-inch-wide hail.
Crystal pumpernickel from the sky: half-inch-wide hail. September 3, 2005, 4:07 pm Central Time.

A few clouds were still clearing their throats while I grilled hamburgers and a hot dog for supper Saturday evening. There's nothing quite like standing in evening shade by a grill that hisses and sputters while it steams off the day's rain.

Today is bright, clear, and muggy. I'm staying inside as much as possible. Except for grilling, of course.

There was so much water in the air that I felt as if I'd sweat if I blinked too much: sort of like typical weather down by the Gulf, with an important difference. Here at our end of the Mississippi drainage system, the buildings are still where they were last month.

The mess down on the Gulf Coast will probably make a difference here: more than just lighter-than-usual Labor Day traffic and $2.999 gas. Whoops. That's $3.099 now.

1.6 million sacks of coffee beans, tons of java, are sitting in New Orleans warehouses. With the flooding, the jolt-juice beans probably getting cold-perked. I'm afraid there could be a lot of jittery fish in the Big Easy.

New Orleans after Katrina reminded me of the 1997 Red River Valley flood, when quite a bit of what wasn't under water in Grand Forks, North Dakota, caught fire.

New Orleans isn't like Grand Forks, of course. For one thing, folks in Grand Forks didn't think of shooting at the people who were trying to rescue them.

Now that the U.S. Military has landed in New Orleans, established order, fed the survivors, and started evacuating them, it's time to look at helping folks all along the Gulf Coast re-build. I've got some suggestions about that on another page.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005. Coborn's seems to have moved into most of its addition. They've got an impressive expanse of groceries now. There's even a rack of school supplies near the checkout, a reminder that school starts tomorrow: just in time for a Labor Day weekend school break.

This Labor Day I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend at home, and three straight days of grilling.

Wal-Mart is in the paper again. They've defined the acreage they plan to use, and are going through another round of discussion with City Hall. I still have trouble seeing how bringing more people into town to spend money is a bad thing.

I don't usually talk about what happens outside Sauk Centre, but what the president called "one of the worst natural disasters in our nation's history" deserves mention. When that Cuisinart® of a hurricane, Katrina, puréed the Gulf Coast, it left an incredible mess.

So far, the half-million people who lived in New Orleans have been ordered out, and probably won't be going back for at least a couple months. Folks from Biloxi, Gulfport, and smaller places aren't much better off. Tons of debris are giving insects and germs a rare opportunity, and a public health emergency was declared for the whole area.

My wife heard that one of our relatives, who lives down there, still doesn't know whether she has a house to go back to. That may be better than the certainty of one of the relative's friends. The friend asked a police officer what it was like where she lived. As my wife put it, "she said, 'I live at this address. and he said, 'you mean that's where you used to live.'"

I'm glad I live in Minnesota, where our weather worries generally involve blizzards, floods, droughts, thunderstorms, and the occasional tornado.

Lots of good people are helping refugees down there. I'd like to recommend Catholic Charities USA. They're already on the ground in Florida, through local units, and don't have the media resources of the American Red Cross to raise funds. As Catholic Charities puts it, their "niche in disaster relief is to provide long-term recovery work."

Because so many of this country's refineries are down there, news reports generally mention gas prices. As of this afternoon, here in Sauk Centre, gas is $2.999 a gallon.

Sunday, August 28, 2005. St. Paul's front steps replacement project is moving along. They've got a slab poured, and concrete block supports in place under where the steps will be.

We've had the usual sort of weather for late August around here. Thursday's air was too dry to swim through but too damp to breathe. Friday morning featured severe thunderstorms shooting past in the small hours, with the occasional power outage. Then late Friday and Saturday brought picture-postcard weather.

My family and I took our van and moved another daughter out of the house this weekend. That's two kids down, two to go. We got back to Sauk Centre rather late on Sunday, so I didn't get this journal entry published until Monday morning.

I filled the van's tank in Sauk Centre, at $2.579 a gallon on Friday, and again up in North Dakota the next day, at $2.649 a gallon. That's a lot, but adjusted for inflation it is still comparable to the 73-74 energy crisis prices: but without the purchase restrictions.

Driving up I-94, the family saw several small herds of bison in the fields. I think that adopting an animal that's native to this area, and it's memorable winters, as livestock is one of the smarter things that folks have done in agriculture during the last decade or so.

I got me a home, where the buffalo roam ....
I got me a home, where the buffalo roam,
And their fields are neatly fenced in.
It's good to be where there are lakes and clean air,
And the water and gas are piped in.
North of Sauk Centre, August, 2005.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005. Today was one of those beautiful late-summer days with perfect temperatures, perfect humidity, and a perfectly partly cloudy sky. I spent it inside, trying to get over some kind of bug. No need to feel sorry for me: I've been doing that myself.

Trucker's Inn Restaurant and Fuel Station, south of the Interstate, is getting a facelift. Most of the restaurant's new front is done. I'm told that when the peaked alcove is done it'll have curtains and other amenities. Right now, sheets of paneling leaning on the inside wall and the sound of electric drills overhead creates a very informal ambiance for patrons. Nobody seems to mind, though, although I have to think that they'll be glad when the project is done.

That's a new peak at Trucker's Inn, Sauk Centre.
That's a new peak at Trucker's Inn. August 23, 2005.

Inside Trucker's Inn, Sauk Centre
Tuesday afternoon. August 23, 2005.

I've been driving more often than usual lately, mostly on the Interstate. That's taken me past turkey barns, where this year's Thanksgiving dinners spend their days eating, looking out the windows, and whatever else that gobblers do.

Sunday, August 21, 2005. My family started harvesting our back yard a few days ago. Even a lawn like ours gets green after the recent rains.

Grilling this weekend was more fun than usual, which is saying something. Drier air helped. Standing outside was less of a wade-in-a-hot-tub experience than it was in the humid weather that's oozed past lately.

Gerard's restaurant and sports bar had its "Grand Opening" this weekend. A Pepsi banner across from the McDonalds announced the event.

There's a little over a week left until school starts in town, and other places too. The second of my daughters is getting ready to go to college. Happily, she and my wife are taking care of most of the preparations. When "number 2 daughter" moves out, we'll be half-empty-nesters.

Sauk Centre school sign
The sign says it all. August 21, 2005.

It's not unusual for traveling families to stop in at a strange church when they're away from home, but what happened a few weekends ago left an impression on me. Almost literally.

I was in the choir loft when a woman, a teenage girl who looked like she might have grown a foot recently, and a child came up. I haven't seen this family group before or since.

I was standing behind the small wooden pew they were sitting in when the teen stood up, pushing the pew over. In my direction. Someone near me kept it from landing on my feet. The assistance was welcome, although I think I could have slowed it with my cane. As my neighbor and I put the pew back in place, the young woman turned to her mother and declared "it's not my fault!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2005. The biggest Minnesota National Guard deployment since WWII is coming in about two months. Some of the 2,600 troops will come from around here, so more businesses and families in and around Sauk Centre will be getting used to doing without key people.

More cars than usual were at the pumps when I filled the van's tank again Monday. The station's proprietress told me they'd heard that the price had hit $2.649 a gallon in St. Cloud and they were filling up before the prices jumped here.

There doesn't seem to be a shortage of people wanting to live in the not-exactly-inexpensive housing developments at the lakeshore end of the old Minnesota correctional facility on the north side. A sign at the east end of "Lakeridge Community" shows only two lots left to sell. The "W. H. Cates Lakeridge Addition" sign, a little further inland, shows 10 lots for sale and one sold. There's some kind of construction going on at the other end of the developments, near the golf course.

Folks who work at Coborn's are moving displays and merchandise while the store is open. I don't envy them. It's quite a job, getting all that stuff moved while making it possible for people to shop. I understand that they're expecting to be done sometime in October.

Sunday, August 14, 2005. One of the things I like about living here is that there isn't much privacy. At any rate, not the sort of "privacy" that lets you go into a shop and count not being recognized.

Here's what I'm talking about: My wife took her car to a new garage this week. Actually, it's not new, but she hadn't taken a vehicle to that place before. The people there didn't ask what her name was and didn't have her fill out any forms. When one of the guys drove her home, he knew where we live, and asked her how her dad was.

It reminded me of what someone said about living in a small town, "if you can't remember what you did today, ask someone: they'll know."

The new Riverside Church building is still a pile of metal trusses and a foundation. Construction takes time, especially with a volunteer crew.

Our Lady of the Angels. priest, Father Statz, is back. Someone had put up a few signs and balloons, welcoming him back, in the alley on the way to the parish garage. He celebrated the Mass with Fr. Kleinschmidt this morning. Another big deal at church this morning was the 50th anniversary renewal of wedding vows by Bob & Marge Schmeising.

I put a picture showing Fr. Statz's return on the "A Walk on the Catholic Side" page.

It's been busy at home. Our 2nd daughter is weeks away from going to college. My wife wisely doesn't let me help very much with preparations. On the other hand, she does encourage my grilling. I was out again yesterday and today, enjoying this weekend's near-perfect weather.

Sauk Centre school sign: "growing season."
That's a nice double meaning. Summer, 2005.

Thursday, August 11, 2005. Filling my van's tank at North Star on west Sinclair Lewis Avenue yesterday was a heart-stopping $2.23 per gallon expense. More about gas and bucks later. The folks who run North Star recently re-arranged the retail area inside. Turning the display shelves and moving the counter made the room seem bigger. That, and the new cooler in back, are real improvements.

The possible Wal-Mart supercenter in Sauk Centre was worth two articles in the Sauk Herald this week. I don't remember this much of a fuss being raised when Coborn's came to town, or when they started their expansion, and Coborn's is another big company threatening local business.

St. Cloud missed setting a record Monday. The high was only 94, just short of 1949's record of 95.

Bridge work on westbound I-94 near the Meire Grove exit closed the right lane before noon on Monday. Gusts around 30 miles an hour had blown over traffic cones. A portable sign had fallen onto the left lane, just after the sign telling drivers to merge left.

I don't envy folks who drive high-profile vehicles in winds like that. I saw a semi-trailer shy as a gust hit it on the Interstate in that area.

Hail the size of softballs hit trees, windshields, windows, and the occasional birdbath near Underwood, up in Otter Tail County, Monday night, but nobody got hurt. The storm concentrated on wind after that, causing power outages from Long Prairie, north of here, up to Lake Superior.

I'm not sorry that Sauk Centre missed the excitement.

Back to that $2.23 price for a gallon of gas. I remember 1974, when gasoline hit an unheard-of 55¢ a gallon. These days, that would be about $2.18 a gallon, using Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers.

Even at today's price, this doesn't measure up to the Good Old Days of 1973-74, when drivers of cars with even numbered license plates could buy gas only on even numbered days of the month, and those with odd numbered ones could only buy on odd numbered days.

Sunday, August 7, 2005. The downtown traffic lights were flashing red both ways around noon on Thursday. A crew was cutting into Main Street and snaking cables through a utility hole. It looks like we may be getting traffic sensors. Not a bad idea: Traffic can back up over two blocks during rush hour.

MN DOT at work outside The Palmer House.
MN DOT at work outside The Palmer House. August 4, 2005.

St. Paul's Church front door is sealed, one of the steps is broken, and the masonry railings are missing. It looks like they're getting some major repair or maintenance done. One of my daughters tells me that it's about time. Those stairs were a bit tricky to navigate. I've been using the inside stairway for years when I go to St. Paul's.

"Watch that first step?".
"Watch that first step?". August 5, 2005.

The Main Street Coffee Company has a new sign now. I haven't been inside since it went up, but I'd guess that they still have those books and tables in the front.

Coffee and Antiques on Main, Sauk Centre.
Coffee and Antiques on Main. August 6, 2005.

An Arabian horse show was at the fairgrounds this weekend. I didn't see much of the horses, but spent a few hours each day at a lunch counter, helping with a fundraiser. This will help me and my family go to a Soo Bahk Do clinic in September.

Arabian Horse Show, Sauk Centre.
Arabian Horse Show. August 7, 2005.

We have a shot at breaking a weather record tomorrow. The record high in St. Cloud is 95, set in 1949, and that's Monday's forecast high.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005. Yesterday's soggy air was so hot that I worked up a sweat just blinking my eyes. I've been staying inside as much as possible.

River of Life Church plans to have its new church/day care finished late this year, according to the paper. The pile of steel trusses on their lot have been joined by a foundation now.

The Getty Street assisted care place and River of Life's steel church west of the Interpretive Center are changing the look of that part of town. Up to now it's been one end of an industrial area.

Here we go again. For the second time in two weeks around here, someone driving the wrong way on I-94 ran into someone who wasn't. This time someone got killed.

Sunday night, about 11:10, some dude in a Chevy with a boat in tow was tooling along I-94, heading east toward Alexandria. He was in the westbound lanes. About 2 miles east of the Brandon exit, a 52-year-old woman driving west in the westbound lanes didn't get out of his way. She's in serious condition. He's dead.

The Alexandria paper passed on some good advice from the State Patrol: "If a vehicle is traveling toward you in the wrong direction, slow down and drive to the side of the road."

Finally, someone in Moorhead paid a traffic fine in pennies. 12,000 of them. The Washington Times, "America's Newspaper", had a geographically challenged article about this on Tuesday. They reported that the man who pulled this stunt was upstaged at the Clay County District Court in Moorhead (so far, so good), by the "North Dakota judge who made him stay until they were counted."

I checked: Moorhead, the Clay County offices, and the rest of that Clay County, are still in Minnesota.

Monday, August 1, 2005. Thanks to an unusually full Sunday schedule, I didn't get yesterday's entry posted until now.

Sunday, July 31, 2005. The Stearns County Fairgrounds is down the street from where I live, so the last few days have been noisy. On top of a variety of street sounds, a helicopter ride thudding and slapping its way overhead Thursday through Sunday.

Families at the Stearns County Fair, Sauk Centre.
Families at the Fair on Friday. July 29, 2005.

Those wristbands for midway rides are a great idea. My wife and I took turns at the midway with our son. Other families had the same idea, and were taking advantage of a fresh south wind.

Juggler at the Stearns County Fair, Sauk Centre.
Was that The Lone Juggler? July 29, 2005.

I was back at the fair Saturday evening, sitting behind a Bingo machine at the Knights of Columbus Bingo booth. saying things like "B-9, B-9" and "O-71, O-71" for two hours may not sound like fun, but I enjoy seeing people go by. It seems to me that more of the teens have cell phones this year, and were walking along holding the gadgets to their ears.

By the time I drove by the fairgrounds Sunday evening, workers were taking down the midway rides and the last of the exhibitors were packing their displays. The remaining fairgoers were at the pickup and tractor pull.

Coborn's addition is open, sort of. They've opened the east addition and have started moving shelving into the new acreage. That's going to be a big grocery.

Finally, an updated about that "brutal" sex offender, Paul Knutson. He was caught. Unhappily, there are more where he came from. The Minnesota Department of Corrections. (DOC) Level 3 Sex Offender Locator is a pretty good resource. It levels the playing field between these "predatory offenders" and their potential victims: not a perfect solution but it's a start. The DOC also has a pretty good "Community Information" resource that includes an FAQ. I've added these to Brendan's Island's "State Sites" links.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005. The Stearns County Fair opened today. The Sauk Herald pointed to the 7:00 Buffington Rodeo as the start of the fair, but the midway opened at 4:00, and 4-H-ers got started with their entries around 2:00. We've got wonderful weather, a relief from last week.

The fair is usually a big family event. This year, one of my daughters is living in Moorhead, another is working, and a third couldn't care less about going. So, I'll be going Friday with my son.

Stearns County Fair entrance July 27, 2005
I think these are new signs at the fair entrance. July 27, 2005.

I read in the paper that there's a crisis in Sauk Centre. Sinclair Lewis Days is in peril because a fund-raising raffle hasn't raised enough money for two years running. People haven't been buying the tickets. I understand that they cost $50 each. I don't know about other folks, but for me that's a lot of money.

"It could be worse" is supposed to be a typical Minnnesotan phrase. I suppose that's what a couple of Osakis neighbors could say. Last Saturday afternoon, a pickup caught fire in a garage there. Osakis firefighters had the fire out in about four hours. The pickup is toast, but the garage can be rebuilt and the house it was attached to was only charred and smoked. The neighbors got some of their garden's tomatoes cooked early, but the rest are okay. "It could be worse."

More seriously, what Minneapolis police call a "brutal" sex offender is on the loose. Paul Knutson is a beneficiary of our judicial system's catch-and-release program. Two months ago he sold his house and apparently decided not to tell authorities where he was going. I've added a link to Minnesota Department of Corrections. Level 3 Sex Offender Locator to the "State Sites" links. (Knutson has quite an entry under "Released Offenders - Address Currently Unknown",)

Sunday, July 24, 2005. Rain with a percussion sound track drummed through town yesterday morning. About an inch came down, judging from what fell on Alexandria and St. Cloud. Our back yard still has khaki patches, but they're a little smaller now.

The storm put on a good show, turning day to twilight with nearly continuous thunder and cascades of rain. I haven't seen damage here, aside from a few twigs down here and there. That's a pleasant contrast with the foot-and-a-half-foot-wide tree blown over in Wait Park and power outages in the Twin Cities.

The Main Street Coffee Company usually has Open Mic Night Thursday evening. This week Palmer House hosted that event. The Main Street Coffee Company sign was replaced with a hand-lettered one, and some sort of work is being done on the signposts there. I've no idea why: not an unusual condition for me.

Driving downstairs Friday, I noticed that Sauk Centre now has left turn lanes on Main, by the downtown lights.

It's official: new markings define Sauk Centre's latest left turn lanes.

On a cultural note, the Prairie Players are presenting a "rip-roarin. musical comedy", "Destry Rides Again". That will be at the Long Prairie-Grey Eagle high school in August. (Someone at 320 732-2194 ext, 2204 knows more about this.)

Stearns County Fair is just a few days away. So far, the most visible signs are a cluster of portable stands parked near the south end of the midway, a banner on the Lake Wobegon Trail bridge, and the sign down at the southwest corner of the fairgrounds.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005. A little rain last night left Sauk Centre streets wet this morning. By afternoon, streets were dry, thermometers were rising toward 90, and many lawns retained their midsummer khaki color.

Over the weekend, I heard someone say that the corn is starting to curl up. According to the National River Service, rainfall for the last 30 days around here is between half and three-quarters normal. That's not quite drought conditions, but it's not ideal, either.

Let's see. I've talked about the lack of rain. Sinclair Lewis Days are over and Stearns County Fair doesn't start until next week. I've already mentioned the new glow-in-the-dark sign at the southwest corner of the fairgrounds. There's not much more to say.

So, I'll complain about jaywalkers.

Actually, relations between vehicles and pedestrians here are pretty good. I even see drivers stop for pedestrians in crosswalk more often than not.

Unhappily, some folks like to cross in the center of the block. I had a close encounter with one of them during Sinclair Lewis Days.

After making a right turn onto Main, I'd gone a half block past cars stopped for the lights when someone popped out from between two of those cars. She wasn't going very fast, and neither was I, so she didn't get entangled in my left headlight. I don't know if she looked startled. I was too busy making sure nobody else was imitating a demented gopher.

Sunday, July 17, 2005. Sinclair Lewis Days is over now.

I had to hunt for a parking space at the school Thursday evening. Folks going to the Miss Sauk Centre Pageant at the auditorium filled one end of the north lot. While they celebrated youth and beauty, I was learning how to adopt the motions of Soo Bahk Do to my fifty-something frame and its cane.

On Friday "No Parking" signs lined Saturday's parade route. And, for the second time this month, light poles sprouted flags downtown.

Crazy Days opened Saturday morning. Stores downtown, and a few more along Main, had sidewalk displays out. A few had signs up, inviting folks into their air conditioned interiors. I was on the sidewalks for a few minutes, baking my head in the sun and enjoying the event.

'Crazy Days' isn't so crazy, and it's just one day
"Crazy Days" isn't so crazy, and it's just one day. July 16, 2005.

Temperatures were down to the high 80s by 7:30, when the Sinclair Lewis Days parade started. This is the part of Sinclair Lewis Days I like best. I may not be the only one to feel this way. Folks had started setting up chairs and blankets along the route by about 9:00 in the morning.

Two of the more intriguing items lining the street near my home were one of those power chairs and a wheelchair. I can imagine someone walking out to sit in a power chair: but a wheelchair?

It took about an hour for the 60 or so units to go by. A color guard and quite a bit of the Fire Department led young women waving from convertibles and two on roller blades, Shriners on go-karts, a couple of guys in gorilla suits, the local Knights of Columbus and other groups, a rolling viking ship whose anachronistic cannon shot goodies at the crowd, farm implements, and the Rambling Riders on their horses.

This could be Paul Bunyan's grocery cart. July 16, 2005.

Today was quieter. Sinclair Lewis Days wrapped the week up with music, a raffle drawing, and fireworks down at Sinclair Lewis Park. I got home in time to enjoy the fireworks from there.

Sinclair Lewis Days fireworks, 2005
We don't see as much of the fireworks, a mile from the park,
but we don't dodge mosquitoes, either. July 17, 2005.

Best of all, I grilled for my family twice this weekend. There's nothing quite like standing over a burning grill with the temperature around 90, lifting the lid at intervals and peering through the smoke to see whether it's time to flip the burgers yet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005. Another elm in our neighborhood was cut up and hauled away today. It looks like this removal of trees affected by Dutch elm disease is going on all over town.

Taking out trees affects the way yards look and takes away some shade. It also takes away reminders of our experiences, sometime of them decades old. For example, two elms that had shaded the back yard of my wife's folks had to come down this summer. A big swing set that two generations of the family have played on was pulled down to get at the trees.

I'm not complaining. Change is part of this world: most of the Moorhead neighborhood I grew up in is a parking lot now.

Sinclair Lewis Days is off to a pretty good start. Temperatures are up in the range where I can feel heat oozing through my cap when I step outside. It rained cats and dogs yesterday, but I don't think there was anything planned outside then.

I haven't heard who won the Turtle Races at Jimmy's Pizza today.

Monday, July 11, 2005. I returned later than I expected last night, from driving my oldest daughter to her home. The good news was that I squeezed out a few more hours of visiting, the bad news was that I didn't get Sunday's entry posted until this morning.

It looks like the Sinclair Lewis Days week is going to have what some folks call good weather. Personally, anything over about 70 is edging toward 'hot..

Sunday, July 10, 2005. A waffle breakfast at the American Legion kicked off Sinclair Lewis Days today. I think that was a Belgian Waffle breakfast.

I've been distracted this week by a vacation visit from my oldest daughter, and a visit from a few of the kids. cousins. Judging from the number of cars parked near houses here and there, and the number of people I've seen gathered in front yards, we're not the only folks who use the 4th of July as an excuse for family get-togethers.

Now, some shameless self-promotion: Visiting kinfolk gave me the treat of grilling for seven twice this weekend. It would have been eight, but my youngest hasn't developed an appreciation for hamburgers or hot dogs yet.

I don't do anything fancy at the grill, which I think helps make a 'real. grilled taste. I've written more (a lot more) about grilling at Easy Griller.

I don't know if this is preparations for Sinclair Lewis Days, or just routine maintenance: Crosswalks are getting touched up, at least in the southeast part of town. The guys who were spraying on the paint set up a migrating slalom course of traffic cones to protect the wet paint.

Pfeffer's Country Market, on Sinclair Lewis Avenue downtown, is now Schaefer's Market. I don't think I mentioned this before. The grocery still has the green "Pfeffer's Market" canvas awning.

Down on the south side, construction at Coborn's is moving along. I don't know if that's why the westbound lane in front of the store was covered by grocery carts around supper time today. It doesn't look as if there's any place to put them inside now.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005. The Fireworks Liquidators tent by Westside Liquors is still up, but it looks like they're getting ready to pack up and leave. Independence Day has given way to preparations for next week's Sinclair Lewis Days.

Sauk Centre's high school band practiced marching down the street before noon today. The precise clatter of their percussion section is a lot more fun to see and hear, now that we don't have napping infants in the house.

Sauk Centre has more stumps and fewer elm trees now, now that the city forester has gone through another round of marking trees with Dutch elm disease. Many of the stumps have been ground up and hauled away already. Before that, the stumps collect a colorful assortment of tiny flags, certifying that there aren't cables, lines, or mains under them.

I hope that the people who remove Dutch-elm-infested trees know what they're doing. Not too long ago, I saw a truck on Main Street loaded with chopped-up pieces of trees spraying a cloud of deciduous confetti as it rolled northward.

It looks like there will be more fancy houses on the north side of town. There's a sign on the east side of the new lake front development, showing 10 new lots for sale in what's called "W. H. Cates Lakeridge Addition."

A new store, Stamp Paper Scissors, moved into the Oak Street Mall about a month ago. I understand that the scrapbook & card & craft store used to be in Osakis.

Over on Main ("The Original Main Street" on the signs), Jitters Java put a new banner up today. A few blocks further south is something completely different. Main Street Coffee Company's hand-lettered sign says that they're having Open Mic Night Thursdays in July.

Coffee in Sauk Cenre covers a lot of ground. July 6, 2005.

Those two places are quite a contrast: an eatery with a very nice assortment of coffee and a decor that the proprietor calls "metro retro," and a combination antiques & collectibles store and coffee shop in a slightly-remodeled house.

Monday, July 4, 2005. I celebrated Independence Day at home, grilling two meals outside and enjoying time with my family. Our neighbors were doing about the same thing while I grilled the evening meal, playing basketball on their driveway and what looked like catch in the back yard.

Some folks can't enjoy family get-togethers because they're busy defending our country. This is a good time for a word to everyone in the US armed forces, especially those from Sauk Centre and central Minnesota: Thanks!

Oops. I was having so much fun with my family, that I didn't get yesterday's entry posted. Better late than never, I suppose.

Sunday, July 3, 2005. Tomorrow is the 4th of July. Signs of Independence Day are hard to avoid: flags flying downtown, in some front yards, and on the occasional car; forbidden firecrackers popping in the night; and mosquitoes on the prowl. Tonight I heard bottle rockets flying somewhere in the neighborhood.

Independence Day flags, downtown Sauk Centre, 2005.
4th of July flags line Sinclair Lewis Avenue, downtown. July 1, 2005.

I know it's against the law to use fireworks that whiz or bang, but it's hard to work up righteous indignation about someone firing off bottle rockets, just like I did when I was a kid. On the other hand, the legal status of ladyfingers and firecrackers in Minnesota make this kind of joke possible: 'You know you're a Minnesotan if the only reason you go to Wisconsin is to get fireworks..

Sauk Centre doesn't have municipal fireworks on the 4th, but puts on a show during Sinclair Lewis Days. I suppose two major productions about two weeks apart would be a bit much for a town this size.

Some of my family enjoyed fireworks last night, though, after the races. Our house is in a position where we can usually see some of the race track show, and the Sinclair Lewis fireworks down at the lake. We don't see either of them very well, of course, but by staying inside we don't donate blood to bugs, either.

Some folks are spending this long weekend at a lake. I'm staying home, enjoying a visit from my oldest daughter, and looking forward to several days of grilling for six.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005. Even the "Going Out of Business" signs are gone from the Ben Franklin store windows downtown. It sounds like Dr. Freese is moving his Sauk Centre Eye Clinic in there.

We've had a little more than the usual excitement this week.

First, there was some sort of wreck on the Interstate yesterday afternoon. I was downtown when the first ambulance squealed down Main, heading south. I lost track of how many ambulances went by after the third one, about 3:50. By that time, at least one had returned, in a hurry, and quite a bit of Sauk Centre's fleet of emergency vehicles had left.

Around 5:00, an assortment emergency vehicles, wreckers, and flashing lights occupied I-94's westbound lanes and median about a hundred yards short of the off ramp. Traffic was backed up on 12th Street from the lights at Holiday to the Sauk River, probably Interstate traffic being treated to a scenic detour on County 186.

Traffic backed up to the Sauk River.
Maddening rush-hour delay, or unscheduled scenic detour? June 28, 2005.

Then, about the same time today, a line of thunderstorms missed Sauk Centre by a few miles. All we got was a little rain. Morrison County got a flash flood warning, and folks between Fergus Falls and Wadena were keeping their eyes on tornadoes.

That big cat attack at Best Buy Auto last Wednesday is still in the news. Now it seems that first a tiger attacked the boy, and then a lion bit him. Russell LaLa of Royalton (about 20 miles north of St. Cloud) is in serious condition now, with a spinal cord injury. He'll probably be paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a respirator for the rest of his life.

KSTP TV announced that trust funds have been set up. They said that donations can be mailed to:

Wells Fargo
Attn. Kim Becker, re: Russell Lala Fund
Sixth & Marquette
Mac N9305-1001
Minneapolis, MN 55479

Monday, June 27, 2005. It is just one week until the Fourth of July, and our weather is getting in the mood. Today has been hot and humid.

Fireworks for sale in Sauk Centre.Sunday, June 26, 2005. There won't be a public pyrotechnics display on the Fourth of July, but folks have been picking up fireworks at the tent on the south side, and in convenience stores. There's even a fireworks rack in Coborns.

The elm tree that was second base in our back yard is gone. By now we're familiar with what needs to be done when the city puts an orange ring around a tree.

Towns will look different without their elms. I remember several blocks of south 8th Street in Fargo lined with elms. Those trees formed a magnificent green hall. I don't think I want to go back there after Dutch elm disease passes through.

Sic transit gloriae oppidi. (Thus pass the glories of the town.) Dutch elm disease claims more of Sauk Centre's trees. June 25, 2005
Sic transit gloriae oppidi. Dutch elm disease claims more of
Sauk Centre's trees. June 25, 2005.

A new year at the fairgrounds, and a new sign.I noticed a new sign at the southwest corner of Stearns County Fairgrounds Friday. It's a great deal classier than the one that used to announce the Killer Hayseeds: and this one is high enough to see above traffic.

Big tropical cats have been in the news around here lately. The score, in terms of successful attacks, is cats 4, humans 1.

Thursday night a lion attacked a 10-year-old boy at the Best Buy Auto Warehouse south of Little Falls. Last year another woman got her hand cut up by one of the Best Buy cats.

Back in March, a tiger at an animal farm near Underwood took a swipe at a teenage girl who tried to pet it.

About a month after that, near Frontenac, a tiger attacked a woman who tried to clean its cage.

The boy is in critical condition. The teenager got a scratch that took 12 stitches to fix, and the woman was hospitalized with a gashed neck, a mangled leg, and miscellaneous cuts and bites.

On June 11, near Underwood, someone noticed a lion walking around outside. It was from the neighboring Archangel Wildlife Farm. The authorities tried to find a veterinarian with a tranquilizer gun that could handle the big cat, and tried to contact the owner of the lion. They couldn't find either. The authorities decided that several hundred pounds of perambulating lion was a public safety threat, and put the big cat down.

On a happier note, 5 new youngsters have been coming to this summer's Soo Bahk Do classes. I hope that they, and their parents, stay with the program. In the six months that I've been learning, I've been very impressed at how the dans, or instructors, have helped me discover ways to adapt techniques involving kicks to a guy with joints like mine. Since Soo Bahk Do is a classical martial art, not a sport, the focus is on individual development, not "winning."

Wednesday, June 22, 2005. The Fourth of July is less than two weeks away. Folks are stocking up on fireworks at that tent in the Westside Liquor parking lot, and at the fireworks displays in stores all over town. After decades of sparkler-free Independence Days, legal fireworks take some getting used to.

Monday's storm didn't do much beyond bringing twilight at midday here, and then a lot of rain. I've heard that Ottertail County got uprooted trees and power outages. I'll take the rain.

About a week ago I had noticed a temporary sign at the main street end of the alley between Palmer House and the dairy, pointing to something called "Sassy's." I had some free time yesterday, and followed the sign's arrow.

For years the place on Oak, north of Sinclair Lewis Avenue, was John's Place. Next it was Jackie's Uptown Cafe, then Oak Street Cafe, and now Sassy's. Oak Street Cafe closed before Easter. After extending a wall inside, putting up a stylish blue-and-gray decor, and adding a specialty coffee rack, Sassy's opened May 1. They've even got a wine list now.

Latest successor to John's Place: Sassy's. June 21, 2005.

Northstar, where Lake Wobegon Trail crosses Sinclair Lewis Avenue, has an addition to the building. It won't look different inside, but the new cooler back should help them chill.

The City Forester has been busy. More elm trees are infected, and have to go: including another one in our back yard. My kids aren't going to like this: That tree is second base for some of their games.

The paving crew is still at work, patching potholes. At 90 degrees in the shade, I don't envy their job.

The asphalt workout: dip, lift, pour, and feel the burn!

Sunday, June 19, 2005. It's Father's Day. I've had a good time, grilling hamburgers for lunch and spending the afternoon with my son while my wife and at-home daughters saw Batman Begins. After supper, most of us went to Soo Bahk Do. It just doesn't get much better than this.

The last few days. sun, heat, and blue skies made it obvious that it's summer. So did the roadwork. Ash Street has asphalt patches where potholes used to be. And on the west side of the golf course, a utilities project continues. I enjoy the distinctly unboring climate Minnesota enjoys, but it does make the season for outdoor work short.

More signs of summer came Friday. Clusters of homemade garage sale signs popped up like mushrooms Friday morning. By the time I came back with a camera, that afternoon, they had disappeared. A few minutes after 5:00 Friday afternoon, traffic was backing up about a block and a half behind the downtown lights on Main street. Boats and RVs showed that any of those folks were headed north, into lake country.

Back to a more personal note: This week I learned that I'll have a whole lot of opportunities to enjoy this summer. I have about a two-month vacation from my day job. The free time is nice, but my family and I could have used the income.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005. Finally, we've got a "typical" summer day: bright, sunny, and warm.

Patriotism is in season. Flags went up on downtown utility and light poles yesterday for Flag Day, and stayed up today. Down in the Westside Liquor parking lot, the "Fireworks Liquidators" tent is open for business.

Minnesota stopped protecting us from fireworks at least 2 years ago. We still aren't allowed to handle things like ladyfinger firecrackers, but I'm not disappointed. I suppose it's sentimental, but it's more like the 4th of July with sparklers and what I used to call snakes. Even though "If it whiz's or bangs... It is illegal", as Deputy Fire Marshall Dan Bernardy said back in 2003, I think we'll hear bottle rockets and other contraband again this year.

At the other end of the old Economart building, the Gerard's restaurant is open. The sports bar there has been open for some time now. I took a look at the menu: they've got everything from hamburgers to Steak Oscar and Marsala Chicken.

Wal-Mart was on the front page again this week. It looks like it may go in the bottom land where a sign has been advertising 62 acres of commercial land. The Sauk Herald said that 160 jobs might be involved: mostly part-time, but in a town of about 4,000 people, that's not a trivial number.

Patriotism is in season: Flag Day 2005, Sauk Centre.
Patriotism is in season: Flag Day 2005, Sauk Centre.

Sunday, June 12, 2005. I grilled lunch under blue sky today. Yesterday I got damp while grilling hamburgers, but I'm not complaining. I was inside when the rain got serious and started pouring down. Stearns County had severe weather Friday and Saturday, including a tornado south and east of here Saturday afternoon.

I was north of Fargo Thursday and Friday. They have water standing in some fields there, and I'm told that farmers are hoping for about two weeks of no rain.

Here in town, all this rain has made lawns lush. Even yards like the one my family plays in are green.

This family doesn't try to make our yard a beautiful outdoor display, but some folks enjoy creating front-yard vistas. One of my favorites is a small yard on the north side that looks like something out of a picture book, with a low white fence, flower-covered entry arch, and a little white table. I can't see myself spending the time it would take to make and maintain something like that, but I'm glad that some people do.

A beautifully designed front yard in Sauk Centre.
A wonderfully calm, cool, green spot in Sauk Centre.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005. Severe weather watches yesterday and today didn't bring much more than wind and rain to Sauk Centre.. I can't say that I'm disappointed. Lightning ignited a house near Alexandria yesterday morning, and I heard of 1-inch hail north of St. Cloud, near Sartell. Parts of the west side of the metro area lost power in a storm last night, and 50,000 people were still without electricity this afternoon.

The traveling asphalt crew hasn't gotten to Ash Street yet. Some of the potholes there are almost large enough to drop a tire into, but of course, we can't compete with large cities when it comes to wheel-eating holes in the street.

Sauk Centre has a new guitar teacher. One of my daughters gave her first lesson today. I could be prejudiced, but I think she did well.

The overgrown lakeshore at Sinclair Lewis Park is a Shoreline Habitat Restoration Project. It makes good sense to let that beach go to seed. Sauk Lake hasn't been good for swimming in decades, if ever. Besides, it reminds me of undeveloped lakeshores that I knew when I was growing up.

Sauk Lake's Shoreline Habitat Restoration Project at Sinclair Lewis Park.
These are no ordinary weeds! They're a Shoreline Habitat.

Sunday, June 5, 2005. A sign at the southwest corner of the Stearns County fairground announced this afternoon's "S. C. Fireman Demo Derby." Although my family and I live north of the fairground, I didn't hear them. I hope this week's rain didn't bog down the action.

We aren't keeping ahead of the yard when it comes to mowing: parts of our yard are almost ready to be baled.

Besides greening the grass, all this rain forced me under the eaves for my weekend grilling yesterday and today. I'd have grilled in the usual spot, but my wife insisted that I get out of the rain.

The local Soo Bahk Do group started working with a group of children, including my son, this evening. One of the "Dans," or instructors, had compared working with a group of pre-teens to "herding cats." Happily, we couldn't get into the building, so we had the class on grass and pavement. The clouds were clearing by then, enough so that the sun occasionally got in our eyes.

A year ago. I wouldn't have thought I would be barefoot on a lawn today as the sun set, practicing a martial art. But, these things happen. My wife had been interested in the art of the movements, liked the idea of getting exercise, and thought our girls should get some self-defense lessons. So about a year ago she and our daughters started learning Soo Bahk Do. When I saw black belts in wheelchairs at a tournament, and talked with one of the local Dans, I started getting interested myself.

I started learning Soo Bahk Do in December. It's very impressive, the way the folks here accept this fifty-something guy with a cane.

Wednesday, June 1, 2005. Between Memorial Day, graduation parties, family get-togethers and garage sales, this has been a busy week for quite a few folks in town. And this Friday, I expect there'll be a lineup of vehicles with boats in tow, as vacationers migrate to lake country for the weekend.

It looks like changes are coming to Sauk Centre this summer.

The Herald gave Subway a good write-up, announcing their grand re-opening June 7. My daughter works there, so I suppose I'm prejudiced, but it sounds like the remodeling went very well. According to the article, it looks like Tuscany inside now.

I also read that "the possibility of a Sauk Centre Wal-Mart Superstore looms," which isn't quite the verb I would have chosen. The owners of Winter's Main Street Drug and Mead's were interviewed by the paper. They're understandably concerned, since Wal-Marts of this size can include a grocery, pharmacy, photo center, gas pumps, or service garage: and compete with some local businesses.

On the other hand, I don't see so much of a problem with specialty shops like Cobblestone Court, Extras, Heartland Gallery, or the two florists. In fact, someone with one of the convenience stores is looking forward to the traffic a Wal-Mart would generate. And it's easy for me to be calm: I don't own a grocery or gas station.

A sign on the door of the old EconoMart says that the sports bar part "Gerard's Dining & Sports Bar" is open for business.

Another sign, this one at Coborn's, announced that Coborn's Liquor closed at the end of business Saturday, May 28th. Coborn's said they needed room for their grocery expansion.

Monday, May 30, 2005. Memorial Day. For me, a high point of the weekend was the fun of grilling four meals over a span of three days. That, and having time with my family.

Today was a beautiful day for garage sales, grilling, and playing outside. My son came inside this afternoon, drenched from a close encounter with a squirt gun.

One more thing. To all who serve and have served in the United States armed forces: thanks for making this sort of weekend, and the incredible freedom and opportunity we enjoy here, possible. I hope that folks remember, "freedom is never free."

Sunday, May 29, 2005. It's the day before Memorial Day. Flags have lined the downtown streets at least since Friday, and another wave of poppy people blossomed. This crop was from the American Legion. I think the first ones were with the VFW. The poppy person who poppied me at the post office had presented poppies for both groups.

There won't be a Memorial Day parade this year. The Sauk Herald said that the flag carriers are getting up in years, and there aren't younger volunteers. Maybe next year. There will be a service, starting at Greenwood Cemetery.

I've been getting out as little as possible this weekend, enjoying my family and this opportunity to grill meals for three days in a row. I launched Easy Griller yesterday, a few pages about grilling for people like me who don't want fixing a meal to get complicated.

Besides a nice meal, grilling gives me a good look at the back yard. We've got more of a yard than a lawn, and this week's rain has the grass just about ready for harvesting again. Mourning doves are back in our yard, nesting in one of the disheveled lilac bushes. Something was making a racket in a tree. My daughter spotted the source: a mourning dove, looking like a gob of feathers, wagging its head and squawking like a grackle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005. Sauk Centre now has an "Internet café." Last week Jitters Java got their wireless connection set up and ready for use. I went there today, partly to try out my laptop's wireless modem, and partly to have fun. The connection fast, so I got a little online research done, too. At Jitters, their Internet café is BYOL, or "bring your own laptop."

I hope this catches on. It's nice to be able to get a little online "work" done over a cup of coffee. I wouldn't try it with a meal, though: getting cheese sauce out of a keyboard could be a problem.

Someone told me that what the crops need right now is lots of sunlight and temperatures around 80. What we got this week is temperatures in the 60s and rain. Especially today.

I saw a heron winging over Main around south 6th. It may have been a great blue heron, but I'm not no bird expert. We've been seeing many more kinds of birds around here, than my wife remembers back when she grew up here.

There's more variety on the ground, too. I saw a flock of sheep keeping a llama company in a field near the Interstate on the way to Alexandria.

Sunday, May 22, 2005. A few youngsters were lined up at the Main Street Theatre door Thursday afternoon 2 hours before the first Star Wars III showing. At least, I assume they were waiting for that movie: one of them was wearing a toy light saber.

A toy light saber marks the one in blue as a Star Wars fan.
Over 2 hours before Star Wars III. May 19, 2005, 4:42 p.m. local time.

Garage sale signs popped up like late-blooming flowers along Main and Ash, the two main north-south streets. Not all sales are on those streets: many of the signs have arrows pointing the way to a back-street address.

Dinosaur models provided by students were on display at Sauk Centre school Friday afternoon. I took a break from my day job to see them.

I had to pass the 'ID tag required beyond this point. sign on my way to the school office for an ID tag. A set of parents, one in a work uniform, was right behind me. These were special stick-on labels, marked "VISITOR'S PASS SAUK CENTRE ELEMENTARY DINOSAUR DISPLAYS". Judging from the number of empty tag sheets, I'd say that at least a hundred visitors had already seen the display.

Paper dinosaur tracks led from the office, down a series of hallways, to the lobby of the school auditorium. My wife had told me that it would take at least a half-hour to see all the models. She was right.

Tables lined the lobby, with about three dinosaurs on each and the dino's student sitting behind the model. Four classes had been involved in this project, so about a dozen more tables lined the back cross-aisle in the auditorium.

Dinosaur exhibits by the dozen: Sauk Centre School auditorium lobby.
Dinosaurs by the dozen at Sauk Centre Elementary. May 20, 2005.

That's a lot of model dinosaurs. There was one made out of cloth, another of yarn. Some were imaginative cartoonish assemblies of plastic cups. One, whose creator may have been inspired by Calvin and Hobbs, had forks for forelimbs. Some were remarkably realistic, and one was an abstract sculpture of wire, in a landscape of metal trees.

Wood dinosaurs, cloth dinosaurs, abstract dinosaurs, realistic ones: all kinds on display.
Just about every style of dinosaur was on display. May 20, 2005.

I watched Star Wars III with a couple members of the family this afternoon. Someone said it best: talking about special effects, there's ordinary, cutting edge, and George Lucas, in that order.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005. "We have four seasons: fall, winter, spring, and road work" is an old joke. It's also the way things are here in Minnesota.

Traffic was detoured around the North 2nd and Main intersection yesterday. Some sort of utilities work was getting done there, I think. It may have been unplanned: a little stream, about two feet across, ran down the gutter on 2nd, and Monday there had been some odd plumbing laid out on the east side of Main between 1st and 3rd, with pipes going into the ground.

Today a crew was dodging traffic on Main at the downtown traffic lights, with more work getting done north of there. Patches of pavement about an inch deep and yards across dot the streets now.

Traffic lights at the south end of Main were flashing red, and someone from Sauk Centre Police was directing traffic. One set of traffic signals out doesn't sound like much, but for us that's half of the entire system.

The Ben Franklin store downtown has big "going out of business" signs in the windows, and another sign saying that they're selling the fixtures, too. That's going to be a lot of storefront to fill.

Bohlig Cleaners closed up months ago. The "For Sale" sign on the building has been up for a while now. Bohlig Cleaners has been an institution at 221 Main for as long as I've been around Sauk Centre, and longer. There's sidewalk work in progress in front of Bohlig, too, but that might be part of the town's general tear-up-the-pavement trend.

I've heard that Wal-Mart already has plans to buy three houses south of the county fairgrounds, to make room for a superstore here. Someone I know, who isn't too keen on Wal-Mart, hoped that they'll have a grocery there: because "Coborns. prices are too high."

The last Star Wars movie opens tomorrow at Main Street Theatre, giving their Dolby sound system a chance to show off.

Finally, the umbrella kids statue is back up in the fountain at Sinclair Lewis Park. For me, that's a sign that summer is here.

A statue of two kids under an umbrella: Summertime is back at Sinclair Lewis Park.
Summertime is back at Sinclair Lewis Park. May 17, 2005.

Sunday, May 15, 2005. The poppy people were out Friday, trading those permanent poppies for donations to the American Legion. I didn't get poppied this year: The spots where I stopped were poppyless, and my schedule was too full for me to seek out the poppy purveyors.

The last few days were the start of fishing season. I saw quite a few folks in boats while I drove by lakes on the Interstate.

This was one of the few weekends that I spent out of town. I hear that the wind and rain I drove through, around Alexandria and points northwest, reached Sauk Centre. My wife assures me that it wasn't a pleasant day in Sauk Centre. I had a better time, I think, taking one of my daughters on a birthday trip, and dropping another off to visit my oldest daughter.

That "fourth grade outing" on Friday seems to have been the Middle Sauk Water Festival. Sinclair Lewis Park was filled with kids and other people Friday afternoon. A police car was strategically parked just north of the bridge on Main, near the east end of the park. I suspect the idea was to catch or deter the folks who don't recognize that the speed limit on Highway 71 is 30 here in town.

"Lakeridge Community," up on the north side, is just about sold out. According to the sign on the east end of the road, all but Lot 6 are sold. At least one house seems to be occupied, and several more edifices are in various stages of completion. I haven't heard whether their "Oak Ridge" neighbor will be a low-security, high-tone hoosegow: one of the ideas floating around for using the old facility up there.

Thursday, May 12, 2005. All right! It's about 40, windy and raining this evening, which is pretty much what it's been like all day. The forecasts promise more to come. Agribusiness is important here, and it's been dry. Under the circumstances, I don't mind the March-like weather bringing April showers in May.

You may have noticed that I didn't get Wednesday's entry published in a timely fashion. I had what I'll call a "WO" event: Work that spilled over from my day job, and updating software on one of my computers, took way longer that I expected. (WO: Webmaster Oops: a term I believe I made up to describe this sort of thing.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005. The old city hall still has exposed insulation in spots, old red paint is still on the fire hall doors, and a work crew is busy inside, but it looks like the project is getting wrapped up. A hand-drawn sign in the east door says, "City Centre Apartments Now Open for Tours/Renting."

Jitters Java has most of its equipment in place for their wireless Internet service, but I understand that they're not quite ready yet.

I'm still hearing folks talk about the dry soil. The weather has promised rain since the weekend. But, aside from a fraction of an inch on Monday, all we've had are clouds and the occasional drizzle. Even Monday's rain came down in patches. Then today the skies cleared, temperatures dropped and the wind started gusting from the east at up to about 30 miles an hour.

Driving back from Osakis this evening, I saw someone working a field: seeding, I think.

More evidence that small towns aren't immune to today's troubles: Another local meth arrest showed up in this week's paper. This time it was on Fairview Drive, a child was in the apartment, and the police don't know who has custody of the child. Sad.

On a happier note, a highlighted biography on the local paper's front page used a mini-biography of a Sauk Centre junior to start an start a piece about Hispanic students in the Sauk Centre public school.

I like living in a town where an upbeat article like that shares the front page with an announcement about a fourth grade outing coming Friday.

Progress at the City Centre Apartments.
Progress at the City Centre Apartments. May 10, 2005.

Sunday, May 8, 2005. Mother's Day, and Ascension Sunday. Even with a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, and a sky that looks like it's ready to rain, families are filling driveways around town with visiting kin. Happy Mother's Day, all!

Friday was a beautiful, clear, warm day: the sort of weather that pulls all but the most dedicated, or supervised, away from work. Folks who talked about this weather also said that we need rain. They're right. The sandy soil we have around here doesn't retain water very well.

The River of Life Church bus isn't parked on the lot west of the Getty Street "assisted living community." In its place is a pile of steel trusses. Looks like those folks may be a step closer to getting a new church.

Wal Mart's deal with Alexandria fell through, I hear, and that means that Sauk Centre is likely to get the superstore. The next few months could be interesting. I understand that Sauk Centre city government kept Wal Mart away a few years ago, when the chain wanted to build here.

Pleasant Pines, a residential enclave south of the Interstate, is about half-occupied now. It's a nice place, and even has pine trees: lending verisimilitude to the name. I wouldn't live there myself. The place is an attractive case of suburbanitis, with the usual symptoms: manicured lawns; twisty streets ending in culs-de-sac; no sidewalks; isolated from the rest of town; and accessible only by car or truck. Living there would combine disadvantages of town and country life.

I'd rather live in a neighborhood where a family of plastic ducks decorate one yard, immaculately groomed flower boxes grace another, and someone's pickup is parked across the street. Come to think of it, I do live in a neighborhood like that.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005. Finally, we've had some pleasant days: clear skies, brisk winds, and all. Wind whipped up a few whitecaps on Sauk Lake Monday. Staying above freezing at night would have been nice, earlier in the week, but the mock-March weather seems to be over for now.

Trailers marked with the Coborn's logo have been parked across Ash Street from the store for a while now. I suppose supplies for the store's expansion are stored there.

The lot between Centre Auto and Val's Upholstery was dug up and leveled again recently. There's still no sign up to say what's going on.

Yesterday fire hydrants in the part of town where I work were opened to flush the water mains. I wonder if that procedure has something to do with the way our water has been tasting lately.

It feels like I'm running into more jaywalkers lately. Not literally, although I came close Tuesday. That's when a trio flattered me with their trust in my reflexes and brakes. Two teens and an adult went scooting across Main Street in mid-block downtown, leaving about 2 yards to spare between their heels and a southbound car. They kept going, merrily chatting across the northbound lane. If I hadn't slowed down, my van would have new hood ornaments. I don't like to fuss, but at least one of that triple threat was old enough to know better.

Sauk Centre utilities work, or a drive-through car wash? May 3, 2005.
Sauk Centre utilities work, or a drive-through car wash? May 3, 2005.

Sunday, May 1, 2005. May Day, and it's springtime in Minnesota! Yesterday when I was grilling lunch, a few flecks of white floated down. My daughter didn't believe it was snow until we caught a few flecks, and they melted. Snow flurries followed in the early afternoon.

A few bits of snow came down again while I grilled lunch today. Later in the afternoon I looked outside and saw that it was snowing sideways. That put me in mind of my childhood in the Red River Valley.

I haven't looked this up, but I think this is the closest thing to a 'normal. spring we've had in years. Usually spring is a discouraging matter of melting snow, pools of water and/or mud in inconvenient spots, followed by overly-warm weather.

This year, the snow melted in an orderly way, rain (and snow) showers came, grass turned green, trees grew leaves, birds returned and started singing, and high temperatures stayed in the 40s and 50s, for the most part.

Nothing's visible yet, but folks are getting the permits and making preparations for the two big summer events here: Sinclair Lewis Days and the Stearns County Fair.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005. A cold wind had birds walking yesterday. Fluffed-out robins huddled in the Sauk Centre golf course's grass as I drove by after work. One bird had enough sense to use the lee of a tree for shelter. Gray clouds ground their way across the sky, and a northwest wind gusting to about 30 miles an hour made the upper-40s temperature seem colder.

Over a dozen folks were on the course, too, most of them with wool caps pulled down over their ears. I was impressed with their dedication as, backs to the wind, they trudged from one hole to the next.

Snow fell like dandruff around noon today, melting as it touched my van's windshield. At about 3:00 the snow was back, first as pellets and then in gobs of fluff. By the time I left work, all that was left was a damp spot here and there. It's not really that cold: the high here was over 40. On the other hand, this time of year, it's not that warm, either.

The old city hall construction project looks more finished these days. Siding in those fifties-style oversize window openings gives it a more 'residential. look.

April showers in Minnesota: Sauk Centre snow at 3:20, April 27, 2005.
April showers in Minnesota: Sauk Centre snow at 3:20, April 27, 2005.

Sunday, April 24, 2005. This has been quite a week. The world's Catholics have a new Pope, Minnesota's 2005 state speech champion in prose is Sauk Centre's Rachel Lauer, and my son received his first Communion.

Sauk Centre is making the transition into summer. Most trees have at least a green haze of new leaves, the city's Elgin street sweeper has roared up and down the streets several times, and even my back yard's grass is green. Down on Main Street, folks have started using outdoor tables at this town's two specialty coffee shops: lack of wind, rain, or chill permitting.

This week's weather demonstrated, again, that the Minnesota climate is not boring. Monday's 80-plus temperature had me daydreaming of air conditioning as the sun shone in a brilliant blue sky.

That changed. Taking a break around noon on Friday, in the band shell's parking lot, I looked across a stern Sauk Lake. Bars of gray cloud flowed overhead. A north wind kicked up waves and kept most birds on the ground. Or water. An offshore duck occasionally disappeared in the trough of a wave. The temperature didn't get above fifty that day, and we dropped below freezing overnight.

Today, Sunday, we had the sort of blue skies with wisps of cloud that appear in post cards, and just enough wind to keep smoke out of my eyes as I grilled lunch.

I appreciate variety in weather, but this week has been carrying the concept a little far.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005. Yesterday morning, I noticed over a half-dozen placards on front doors in southeast Sauk Centre. Looking very official, with the words "Important Public Notice," printed in big red letters, clearly visible from the street, they're fair imitations of those notices you see on houses after they've been condemned, or been involved in drug enforcement activity.

Those red and white signs looked like a case of measles on Sauk Centre neighborhoods.

City Hall didn't know about them, and neither did Public Utilities, or PUC: which is what quite a few people here still call Water, Power, and Light. I did learn that two people in an unmarked vehicle had been slapping these things on doors all over town.

It turns out that some company is behind this. They want to put windows and vinyl siding on three houses in Sauk Centre.

Those Important Public Notice placards were gone by the time I came home from work.

I noticed signs of spring this week: garage sale ads in the papers and gulls in the air.

And, signs of the times: Two motels near the Interstate, the AmericInn and the Super 8, have "Free High Speed Internet" banners out for travelers to see. And, I've heard that Jitters Java is going to offer wireless Internet service starting this week.

A local publishing company crossed the digital divide recently. Vocational Biographies, my "day job," has published career information for schools and libraries since 1969. That information is now available in an online resource. This has been an exciting year.

Sunday, April 17, 2005. Most lawns in town are green. Three inches of rain at the start of the week, followed up by sprinkles Friday, will do that. Even yards sporting a more lived-in look, like my family's, sport brave blades of green rising into sight.

Spring's verdant grass, birdsongs, the demented ducks of Sauk Lake, and the rich organic browns of the back yard mulch pile, all put me in mind, for no particular reason, of coffee.

I'm rather proud of the fact that, although there's no Starbucks in Sauk Centre, we have not one but two coffee shops in town. Not cafes with sandwiches, pie, and your generic commercial coffee, but refectories with varieties of java, joe, nerve juice, and zoom from across the world.

Both dispensaries of this Norwegian food group provide a good selection of specialty coffees, and are on Main Street, but that's where the similarities end.

The Main Street Coffee Company and Antique shop is a house on Main Street, with a small parking lot in the back. They serve specialty coffee and bakery goods in the back. The front of the place is filled with bookshelves, tables, nick-knacks, doodads, and whatchamacallits that put me in mind of some of the relatives. homes I visited as a child.

Java Jitters, downtown, is a commercial building with windows on the corner of Main and 4th. They serve specialty coffee and meals in an eatery that reminds me of urban interiors around maybe the 1920s: dark red and green walls, black ceiling, hanging lights in an Art Nouveau-like style, and track lighting that backlights vapors rising from the Espresso machine.

The weather forecast promises (or threatens) a high around 80 tomorrow. It won't be long before fair-weather back yard cooks emerge from their winter's dormancy. I grilled the family's lunch again today, as I usually do on weekends.

My oldest daughter said that she misses my hamburger briquettes, when she called yesterday. I appreciate her humor, but the fact is that I've come a long way since I invented the dish I call Fireball Fryers.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005. Glenwood, west of here, got about 3 inches of rain from Sunday to Tuesday. Today we've got beautiful blue skies and a bright sun shining on green lawns.

What a place! Burning restrictions last week, flood watches this week. One thing is certain about living in Minnesota: the weather isn't boring. It looks like the weekend rains melted the last of Sauk Lake's ice. At least, I didn't see any on Monday.

The flag in front of the public library was at about 1/3 staff Monday, and Tuesday morning, but was back at the top of the mast Tuesday afternoon.

The Subway on south Main is open again. It's been remodeled, with a more understated wallpaper. The subways are the same, though. Subway sandwiches taste fine, but an hour later I can't tell that I've had a meal. It isn't the amount: they just seem to fade away faster than most foods.

Yesterday the Jose Cole Circus came to town. As usual, the Civic Arena hosted the show. I took the interested part of my family and had a good time at this annual event, from the clowns and jugglers to "the world's only dancing elephant: Anna-Louise." Even with another circus in town recently, the Arena had over half the seats packed.

Sunday, April 10, 2005. I see that this is the start of National Library Week (April 10-16). Oddly, the flag at the public library here is still at half-staff. Most flags that had been at half-staff all week went back up Saturday, following the Pope's funeral.

The local American Legion hosted a "Festival of Nations" today, with a view to getting donations for the food shelf. They had free food samples, games, music and "cultural information" planned. The groups represented were German, Hispanic, and East Indian. Why they didn't include the Irish, I don't know, though it was not so long ago that this town was one of Irishmen and Germans, with a parish for each.

Grass fires were in the news late this week. This warm, windy, dry weather helped start over 200 first statewide. So far, 26 counties have burning restrictions, including Todd, just north of us. Then yesterday and today we've been having "thunderstorms." I'm still not used to the idea of something without hail and shingle-shredding winds being a "storm."

I think the weekend rain encouraged trees in town. An old willow in our back yard has a haze of green around it, and I've seen leaf buds starting to open near Main. (I know that Highway 71 is labeled "The Original Main Street" on street signs where it goes through Sauk Centre, but it's "Main" to me, and I think that's what most folks here call it.)

Sauk Lake changed from having ice with patches of open water to having water with patches of ice this week. Nesting season is coming up, with the usual displays of duckish ditziness. On a street near the lake I encountered a duck strolling on the pavement, followed by a handful of demented drakes.

While ducks are at their annual routine of launching a new generation of ducks, business owners have been launching new enterprises.

Fiscal year 2004-2005 may be the year of the beauty parlor in downtown Sauk Centre. Jessica's Shear Paradise opened in July or August of 2004, downtown on the east side of Main. In January 2005, Studio 71 Salon opened its doors between an Aflac office and the laundry in the new office building at 2nd and Main. Now, sometime around the end of March, Posh Gallery opened on the west side of Main, downtown. They're in a little hole-in-the-wall storefront that's seen a hobby shop and a candy store come and go lately.

I must have really been busy lately: Posh Gallery has an eye-catching sign, I understand that they've been open 2 weeks, and I didn't notice until Friday.

A door or so away, Centre Floral has expanded into the storefront where Harbor Light was. The flower shop has a pleasantly vague sign on their front door, listing hours of operation: "Monday-Friday 9ish o 5ish Saturday 9ish to 4ish."

The rather cavernous Econo Mart building near the Interstate will have more than offices inside. A sign on the north side proclaims, "Gerard's Dining & Sports Bar Opening Summer 2005." According to the sign, that outfit will be able to handle events with up to 600 people.

And, it looks like another business is going to offer wireless Internet connections. Jitters Java, where the old COOP used to be downtown, plans to become a sort of Internet café in a week or so.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005. Most flags in town are at half-staff this week, in observance of John Paul II's death. A pair that I think are the largest in town, though, are still at the top of their masts, at either end of a business south of the Interstate.

Down on Sauk Lake this Monday, ducks were feeding in open water at Sinclair Lewis Park. It was a nice Minnesota spring day: temperatures in the 70s, and lake ice starting about seven yards out from shore. At least, I assume that's why the ducks were pointing their tails skyward. The city recently let weeds grow along the shore at the park. Excuse me, not weeds: natural plant growth. The idea is to keep ducks and people apart. We have concerts by the lake during summer, and folks don't like the natural fertilizer ducks deposit.

Speaking of ducks, It's that time of year: Today I had to avoid driving over an oblivious duck followed by several addled drakes. I'm surprised that we don't see pressed duck more often where Highway 71 goes by the lake, downtown.

The Subway eatery on Main Street is still closed. There's been a traffic jam of contractors. trucks in the front and rear parking lots during the day. I've heard that there's new management there, and a major remodeling in progress with plans to re-open this weekend.

Finally, lightning put on quite a light show last night. From roughly 8:00 11:00, we could watch the natural fireworks. I enjoyed the sheets of light bouncing across the sky, lightning flashes like quickly-patched cracks in the clouds, all with improvised percussion accompaniment.

I would have enjoyed it more, if the electrical storm hadn't kept me from getting work done. I haven't fried a modem or a motherboard yet, and don't intend to start now. Then a momentary power outage about 10:30 forced us to re-set most of the clocks. On a serous note, there was a bad storm down near Willmar.

Sunday, April 3, 2005. Let's see: the Pope died, someone set fire to an apartment building in Willmar, and we had to set our clocks an hour forward again. All in all, an eventful week.

Two people were briefly hospitalized for smoke inhalation as a result of that fire, and four floors of the apartment building had to be evacuated.

The family next door had a happier sort of fire in their driveway last night: a sort of evening cookout on their driveway. As twilight became night, they sat in lawn chairs around a grill. Flames shot a foot or two in the air as they grilled their food.

Some sort of work was being done at the Subway eatery on Main Street this Thursday. A large truck and a small trailer filled most of the parking lot.

After my day job on Friday, I drove out past the River's Edge and the highway department, and finally found out what that big green building outside town is, the one on the gravel road running south from the cemeteries. "Northwest Food Products Transportation" is the name on the rural mailbox outside this structure. A stylish metal walking bridge spans a drainage ditch in front. The building itself is big, with what appears to be office space on the north side, eight truck-size doors on each side, and a fleet of milk trucks and trailers out back. Now I see that there's another industrial-looking building going up near the overpass leading to the airport.

I had a break from work this weekend, grilling lunch Saturday and Sunday noon. I'm not a very sophisticated griller, but I have fun. And, those hamburgers taste good.

Finally, one of my daughters and I buried Barry the Bat in the back yard. It was a simple observance, befitting Barry's station in life.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005. Spring is definitely here. We've had highs in the sixties, there's about a yard of open water between ice and shore here at the south end of Sauk Lake, and today featured morning thunder showers.

I know that the Weather Service has taken to calling any rain with thunder a thunderstorm, but in my book "storm" doesn't apply to anything without high winds and hail.

Someone has cut doors and windows in the old EconoMart building. A banner on the west wall explains their purpose: "commercial office space for rent."

This has been a hectic week for me, and I've come down with a cold. That may serve as a partial explanation for what follows:

Eulogy for a Bat

Yesterday evening I learned that Barry the Bat had flittered to that big belfry in the sky. Barry is the name I gave to a bat which took up residence in our garage last fall. I'm not really sure whether it should be Barry or Belinda, but decided that Barry sounded better.

Even though I only met Barry once, as the bat was patrolling the garage, Barry made his (or her) presence felt throughout the winter.

Occasional shrill shrieks as Barry hung out near the door leading to the garage leant a certain ambiance to family evenings. My wife didn't quite appreciate the excitement that Barry's presence leant to entering the garage at night, but I admired the bat's talent for survival during the long, insect-less winter.

Alas! Just as gnats taking to the skies presaged the advent of bountiful banquets for Barry, the bat expired. It is a small comfort to me that Barry died outside, under the open sky, free from the artificial confines of the garage. Barry's body, neatly folded on the concrete walk outside the garage, was a testament that, though the bat died before insects emerged to provide sustenance, yet Barry died free!

Sunday, March 27, 2005. Easter Sunday! My family and I celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus today. We also hunted for Easter eggs. At least one egg was hidden in an old compost pile. One of my daughters said that was gross. She also took the egg. What with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and then Easter Vigil last night, this has been a busy weekend for many of the folks in Sauk Centre.

The recent snowfalls are nearly gone, so we didn't have a white Easter. I'm just as glad. Instead, signs of Spring, Minnesota style, are crawling out from their winter retreats. At our house, there's a hord of imitation ladybugs on the north window. Those Asian lady beetles and red-eyed boxelder bugs are indoor reminders that Spring is here.

Outside, squadrons of ducks are passing through, performing maneuvers in the sky over Sauk Centre, and on the lake and river. Ever since my oldest daughter pointed out how flying ducks resemble pop bottles with wings, when I see airborne ducks I see flying soda pop bottles.

Warm weather has been melting what's left of the snow cover in town. Water running from the remains of snow banks by the curbs, down gutters to storm drains, and some teenage boys playing Hacky Sack® on the sidewalk in front of a house, were more signs of Spring. I think today's wind would have had kite flyers out, but there are too many gusts.

Thursday of this week, I saw a Minnesota Meth Watch sticker on the door of a local business. The idea is to make it harder to buy the makings of meth in the quantities that a small lab would need. (There's more about this program at

Wednesday, March 23, 2005. Oh, great. Minnesota is in the news again. It looks like a Red Lake Middle School student killed nine people, and then killed himself. The first death was the student's grandfather and the grandfather's girlfriend, companion or wife: The woman has been identified all three ways in news accounts. The other people were killed at the school. Red Lake now has the highest body count in one academic mass murder since the shootings at Columbine in 1999. And, yes, it's only been eighteen months since the shootings at Cold Spring, down near St. Cloud, Minnesota.

I first heard about the Red Lake shootings at choir practice Monday night, when one of the altos asked us to pray for the people there.

The news has been full of what happened at Red Lake High School. What seems a little odd is how reporters seem to think that the presence of guns caused the killings. Around here, a generation or two back, kids routinely carried firearms to school so that they could get some hunting done on the way home. The kids knew that it wasn't right to shoot people, so we didn't have these intramural mass murders.

On the other hand, there was a little incident involving a woodpile, a skunk, and a little dynamite. School kids in this area, back when wood stoves heated schools, were worried because a skunk was skulking in the woodpile. Repeated attempts to get the feral stink bomb out were unsuccessful, so one of the kids went home to get dynamite.

With the possible exception of the skunk, nobody was hurt, but the woodpile had to be reconstructed, and one wall of the school was roughed up. The junior demolition team patched up the wall. That's what we call a logical consequence these days.

Sunday, March 20, 2005. St. Patrick's Day came and went. Aside from that treasure hunt, Sauk Centre doesn't make much of a fuss about the day. Interesting, considering that one of the two Catholic churches in town was known as "the Irish church," in contrast to "the German church" down on Sinclair Lewis Avenue.

The big pre-weekend storm missed Sauk Centre, blowing over southern Minnesota instead. Rochester beat its old record of 15.4 inches of snow in a day's fall with 16.9 inches. I've heard that some places got a total of 2 feet during the storm.

Around here, there's no snow on the fields except in sheltered spots, and in town there's no more than an inch or so at most, and quite a bit of grass showing.

I can't say that I'm disappointed to have missed the storm. What with one thing and another, I had to drive to the Twin Cities last weekend and North Dakota yesterday. In this case, "one thing" was my eldest daughter needing a ride home from an anime convention last week, and "another" was my son's birthday visit to grandpa combined with taxiing my oldest back to college.

This travelling gave me an opportunity to appreciate the implications of gasoline at over $2.00 a gallon, and brought me up to date with convenience store coffee. There's a new-to-me warning on one cup: "CAUTION: CONTENTS HOT …BUT DELICIOUS!" I think folks are starting to have fun with these mandated labels.

Coming home today at about 5:30 p.m., I drove past the armory on Sinclair Lewis Avenue. Local vehicles filled all the streetside parking spaces, and a small fleet of larger vehicles parked in nearby lots told that the circus was still in town.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005. The Chamber of Commerce "Finding of the Green" treasure hunt is about half over. Whoever unravels the arcane clues posted around town will win $100 in "Chamber Bucks." As usual, I've made a half-hearted attempt to solve the puzzle.

There's another mystery in town. The Walker Bros. Circus has free tickets for children 14 and under available at quite a few businesses, but no one seems to know what the price of admission for adults is.

Finally, I don't really need the weather reports to know that a storm may be coming. My joints have been aching all day. Those built-in barometers are getting more and more acute, now that I'm getting to the age where my eyebrows have started to unravel.

Sunday, March 13, 2005. We may have a white Easter here in central Minnesota. Snow, wind, and temperatures barely below freezing Friday afternoon buffed up streets and roads.

There's a circus coming to town in a week, and it's not the Jose Cole circus. A sign in Jitters Java advertised a Walker Bros. Circus show in the Armory next Sunday. Two of them, actually, one at 2:00 and one at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Now, a harangue. I heard there was an accident on the Interstate Friday afternoon: not surprising, considering the weather. Too many people can't or won't pay attention to driving conditions. Examples of this behavior almost ran into me as I was going home from work Friday. Driving south of the fairgrounds, my speedometer dropped to zero when I touched the brakes. I was still moving: Snow in the driving lane had become polished ice. I slowed down and drove in the parking lane, which had manageable traction, as a car and then an SUV shot past me, heading east. I reached the State Road turn by River's Edge when the SUV returned, bouncing into the Highway Department parking lot, zipping across the River's Edge lot, and heading north. Neither of those drivers could have stopped or turned to avoid something unexpected in their path.

Wednesday, March 9, 2005. Temperatures are back to normal this week. I'd much rather have solid ice and snow underfoot, than the sodden mess we get when winter melts.

Both lanes of Pine Street at Sinclair Lewis Avenue, next to the old city hall, were dug up Tuesday. A barricade was up at the Sinclair Lewis Avenue side, with a good-sized rampart of dirt on the south side. By this afternoon, the work was done, the hole filled in, and traffic back to normal.

The bug that's been going around this area just makes me sick, but I'm getting over it. At least, I hope so. A medical doctor had a better name for the malady than the one I came up with. He calls it the Creeping Crud.

Sunday, March 6, 2005. 50 degrees is ridiculously warm for this time of year, but that's what our front door thermometer said yesterday. Instead of ice and snow, I've been dealing with mud and runoff. If this keeps up, we'll run out of winter soon.

Today it was even warmer. I used summer timing when grilling lunch to make hamburger patties instead of burger briquettes.

Inside, boxelder bugs and "ladybugs" have started crawling up walls, tapping at windows and blundering into wash basins. As I'm writing this, I see several dozen crawling on the north window. My daughter reminded that the "ladybugs" were actually Japanese beetles: imitation ladybugs, and not very good imitations, at that. Those "ladybugs" got disturbed when we opened windows to let in fresh air. All these are signs of spring. That's appropriate, since the Spring Equinox is coming March 20. [Then, much later, I learned that the "Japanese beetles" were in fact Asian lady beetles - one of the rare instances when information from the young lady was not entirely correct.]

Flags were on half-staff most of this week. They were back up at the public library and post office on Friday, although the Armory's didn't go back to the top of the pole until Saturday. The flags were down, honoring three Minnesota National Guard soldiers killed last week, until after all three funerals.

Gasoline went above $2.00 a gallon on Friday. Someone gave me a 'heads up. an hour or so before the last station raised its prices, but my vehicle's tank was almost full.

Construction at the old city hall spilled onto Pine Street late this week. The northbound lane of Pine near Sinclair Lewis Avenue was blocked to traffic and covered with a plastic tarp, held down with wooden pallets.

I've read that the flu season wasn't as serious as expected this year. Even so, quite a few folks in town are down with something, or have been. The various combinations of headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, digestive troubles, coughs and sneezes don't seem to be the flu or colds. Considering the way I've felt while experiencing it, I think I'll call it Creeping Oogitis.

Wednesday, March 2, 2005. We've had some very nice winter days this week: highs around freezing, not too many clouds, and snow that's still bright white.

The Coborn's addition is almost completely enclosed now.

Fishing houses seem to be gone from Sauk Lake, but I saw several vehicles about a quarter mile northeast of the north bridge, at the end of an increasingly waterlogged trail on the lake's ice. I've heard that the end of February was the last day that ice houses were allowed on lakes around here this year.

Unhappily, I missed the Therese movie. It is no longer showing in the local theater. I understand that it's playing in Little Falls now.

St. Michael's Hospital new east entrances seem to be finished. The only obvious signs of construction work are a few patches of open dirt and two turquoise Porta-Potties between the north parking lot and the entrances.

Sunday, February 27, 2005. Two crows had a discussion in neighborhood trees while I grilled lunch today. Snow showers this week had covered the ground again, so between bright white snow and a lightly overcast sky, there was almost too much light.

The Minnesota Orchestra put on an all-Beethoven concert at the Sauk Centre school auditorium last Wednesday. I missed it, since that's when one of my daughters has a guitar lesson. I understand that the orchestra's next stop was Willmar.

The Therese movie was held over again at Main Street Theatre downtown. If it stays in town long enough, I'll be able to see it.

Things have been a little hectic for me lately. I realized that I needed a little down time on Friday, when a message came while I was sitting at someone else's desk. I took the phone, and couldn't figure out why I was having such a hard time hearing what the person said. My colleague pointed out that I was holding the phone backward, with the shoulder rest in my ear.

I see that this week's Wednesday and Friday entries hadn't been published. Here they are:

Friday, February 25, 2005. Frost on trees and clear sky this morning made my drive to work a trip through fairyland. It's been snowing off and on during the week, so snow on the yards was bright white. This sort of weather makes deep winter a favorite time of year for me.

Flags in town went to half-staff this week. The first one I noticed was the public library's on Wednesday afternoon. By Thursday, every flag I saw was down. Several communities in this part of Minnesota had very bad news from Iraq. The blast from a roadside bomb killed three Army National Guard soldiers in Baghdad while they were helping an injured comrade. They were with the 151st Field Artillery, based in Montevideo, Minnesota. They apparently were in the Marshall battery, since one news report identified the 151st as being from there.

Sergeant Jesse Lhotka, 24, from Alexandria, grew up in Appleton. Staff Sergeant David Day, 25, was from Morris (or maybe St. Louis Park, news reports said both), First Lieutenant Jason Timmerman, 24, from Tracy, grew up in Cottonwood. All three had been married last year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005. Monday was President's Day, so U.S. flags decorated downtown utility poles. The post office, banks, and schools were closed. I remember when Washington's and Lincoln's Birthdays were combined and assigned to the third Monday in February, back in 1971: a nice, standardized three-day weekend for Federal employees.

Livestock farms are an important part of Sauk Centre's economy. Driving along highways in this area, I enjoy seeing herds grazing in fields and groves. It's part of our rural atmosphere.

Tuesday, I was filling a coffee mug in a local convenience store as another customer stepped up to the checkout. When he left, patches of damp straw stayed behind. I immediately recognized the brownish-yellow color of straw that has spent time under livestock. The clerk assured me that a distinctive aroma was rising from the mat. This sort of experience makes me glad that my sense of smell doesn't work very well.

I've heard that the new assisted living center, Getty Street, will be opening in March. When construction there started, the sign in front gave October 2004 as the opening date. For a large project, that's pretty close to being on schedule.

Sunday, February 20, 2005. Being the least-ill member of the family on Thursday, I stopped in at the school to pick up my son's homework. A sign on the inside door declared in large letters, "You Must Have School Identification Beyond This Point." In a more helpful tone, smaller letters read, "For a Building I.D. pass, report to the office." The office is clearly marked, and over 30 feet beyond the point at which identification was required.

This sort of thing is nothing new. A cartoon drawn around the time of WWII showed two GIs looking at a bulletin board. The caption read something like this: "It ain't supposed to make sense, Joe. It's regulations."

The east wall of the addition east of Coborn's liquor store is up now. I've heard that Coborn's liquor store will be closed, with its floor space and the new addition devoted to a massive expansion of Coborn's grocery. I'm surprised. Apparently it actually is possible for there to be one too many liquor stores in a town.

Main Street Theatre held the Therese movie over for another week. I still haven't seen it, but heard good reports from those who did.

That "Winter Weather Advisory" issued by the National Weather Service dropped a whole two or three inches of snow on our back yard. On a more serious note, the new snow on top of ice formed during the recent warm spell should make walking and driving a real treat. I hear that the Twin Cities have declared a snow emergency. Sauk Centre had the snow plows out tonight, and got the major streets clear. The minor ones, too, at least where I drove.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005. The Ben Franklin storefront downtown is colorful and mildly confusing today. The left half still has Valentine's Day displays, but the right side is green with St. Patrick's Day promotions. From a distance, the red and green looks like something put up for Christmas.

Minnesota got in the news for a happy reason this week. Mayme and Clarence Vail celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary tomorrow, making them the longest-married couple in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese. They renewed their vows with Archbishop Harry Flynn in Hugo, on the northeast side of the Twin Cites, last Saturday. A national news network showed a small part of the ceremony, but KSTP news in the Twin Cities let us know why she laughed. Clarence is a kidder. When Archbishop Flynn asked him if he would continue to love Mayme, Clarence said, "I hope so."

So far, they have six children, 39 grand children, 98 great grand children, and 32 great great grand children.

Down the road south from Sauk Centre, Willmar has had a Spanish-language radio station since January 1. KMAD 1650 went on the air with Rev. Saul Sauceda's words, "Estamos en el aire." At one watt of broadcast power, few people outside Willmar will hear it. But now, folks in Willmar who understand Spanish but aren't fluent in English have someplace to listen for information about school closings and weather warnings. Aside from emergency use, KMAD mostly plays music. The non-commercial station is has its broadcast booth in the Mahanaim Asamblea de Dios Church in Willmar. The West Central Tribune Online reports that Rev. Saul Sauceda of that church organized the station as a first alert system for Willmar's Hispanic population.

Sunday, February 13, 2005. One of Sauk Centre's cultural and commercial events, yesterday's big Farm Toy Show, drew quite a crowd. Well over a hundred cars were parked in the school parking lot around noon.

The Coborn's liquor store addition is going up fast. Driving by Friday morning, I saw shifting moiré patterns as I looked through the roof trusses. I'm enjoying the show put on by that matrix of rods before walls cover it.

This was another warm week. Days with highs in the 50s don't feel right in February. It wasn't quite that warm today at noon, but I saw standing water nearby when I grilled lunch. We've lost quite a bit of our snow, and last week's dejected snowpeople have become little abstract sculptures. And then it started raining. This is ridiculous.

There's some sort of bug going around town, at least in my family's circle. The three children we have at home took turns being ill this week, and I wasn't feeling all that hot myself. Elsewhere in town, the nursing home is still limiting visitors to family members.

Great Scott! Tomorrow's Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 8, 2005. It's Ash Wednesday, and in common with quite a few other people in town, I spent the day with ashes on my forehead. It's a very early Lent this year, so the light snow we got this morning could happen again on Easter. Somehow "I'm Dreaming of a White Easter" doesn't have quite the ring of the old Christmas standard.

I heard that last Wednesday's power outage started with a fire on a power pole between here and West Union. The hour-long outage went at least as far east as Ward Spring and west to West Union. The paper says the fire was on the transmission line between Excel's Black Oak and Douglas County substations.

Trucks delivered construction materials to the east side of the Coborn's liquor store Monday. Today some of the roof supports are up, and a little of the wall framework.

Scaffolding and plastic wrap is off Getty Street assisted living facility's east wall. I've wondered how long it will be until the place actually opens.

Up on the north side, trucks from communications, data, and electrical contractors filled the drive on the east side of St. Michael's Hospital earlier this week. Last week's outage was a reminder of how dependent we are on electrical power. According to the paper, the hospital's backup generator worked, but the hospital's phone system battery backup gave out after a half hour.

Enough Minnesotans have the flu to make that bug 'widespread. in the state. I hope that's not what I'm coming down with: This would be a bad way to start going along with the crowd. The nursing home attached to St. Michael's is still restricting visitors, being what they call proactive in the face of the flu.

Sunday, February 6, 2005. First they take away our potholes, now they take our snowbanks! Friday morning, three MN DOT snow plows worked their way south through town, scraping snow from the side of The Original Main Street. A little later, I saw a MN DOT truck hauling snow out of town, to some unknown destination.

Snow on the ground and Valentine's Day displays in store windows was just about all we had to remind us that it was February this week.

It got up to 50 around here Friday, a temperature I call "hot" at this time of year. It wasn't close to being a record-breaker, though. We've had highs in the 60s and lows in the minus 20s during the first part of February. That's something I like about living in Minnesota: we don't have boring weather.

A handwritten sign in front of The Original Main Street Antiques announces that they have "hand designed cards." That brings up an interesting point: what designs cards that aren't "hand designed"?

On my way home from work Friday, I noticed a column of smoke west of town. The barn on a farmstead near the corner of 418th Street and 415th Avenue was on fire: nearly burned to the ground by the time I saw it. Happily, it was a controlled burn. Sometimes that's the safest and most efficient way to bring down a large structure.

Sauk Centre's PTA Family Fun Day will never get the attention that New Orleans. Mardi Gras does, but it was fun. I took the kids to Fun Day yesterday at the Elementary School. They had a good time. I had a good time watching them, and a Karaoke stand gave me something to do. My senior teenage daughter finally said that she'd let me sing there.

This is a community effort, with 89 businesses, classes, families, and organizations from Alco Discount Store and Allan's Garage to Webb Printing and West Central Sanitation contributing.

This Super Bowl Sunday had a Sauk Centre connection. One of the 100 service academy cadets singing the National Anthem at Super Bowl XXXIX graduated from Sauk Centre High School last year. Cadet Fourth Class Preston Gartner got a nice write up in the local paper this week.

A movie about Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower opened at Main Street Theatre Friday. The theater had a Saturday matinee in addition to the Sunday one. I was hoping to see it this weekend, but schedules and now a bug got in the way.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005. Sauk Centre had no power this afternoon, from roughly 1:10 to 2:10 or so. One of my daughters was downtown around that time. She reports that although the downtown traffic light was out, temporary stop signs in the Sinclair Lewis Avenue lanes (and sensible drivers) kept traffic moving smoothly.

I heard that the power outage happened when a vehicle went off the road around Long Prairie, north of here, and damaged a power pole. That was third or fourth hand information, though, and so may not be entirely accurate.

Quite a few people I know have come down with coughs, sneezing, or something else during the last few weeks. It seems to be affecting everyone. The nursing home has been restricting visitors to keep the flu from getting started there.

The "January thaw" continued during the first two days of February. Temperatures were above freezing for most of both days. I don't particularly like walking on water-covered ice. And, snowpeople built with the recent snows are starting to look depressed.

Potholes were fairly common on Highway 71 and major streets by Monday. Tuesday, a MN DOT crew were working their way north through town, filling in the potholes on Main.

That new commercial building on the corner of 2nd and Main is occupied.

About three weeks ago the Studio 71 Salon moved into the middle suite. They've got a rather upscale décor: rich browns and greens.

The south side of the building houses a new business: Soak Centre Laundry. Hand-written blue lettering in the window spells out "Soak Centre Laundry Now Open 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. Come in and see!" Lisa and Rick, up on Hickman Drive, opened the place January 28.

The north suite is home to a three-foot tall plush Aflac duck.

Sunday, January 30, 2005. Patches of freezing drizzle touched up our streets and roads early Friday morning. My wife and second daughter were out of town that day, so I drove my son to school. A big yellow sign on the entrance sidewalk said that school was two hours late.

Snow has been piling up on Sinclair Lewis Avenue in front of St. Paul's Church, covering over a yard of the parking lane. A car parked in front of the church Thursday had plenty of room between the passenger door and the snow, and so was about halfway onto the westbound traffic lane. With just a little more eastbound traffic, that could have been a bad situation.

The big news in town this week is that Sauk Centre is getting a new mayor. Paul Theisen said he was resigning at last week's council meeting, and steps down tomorrow. He's been mayor for just over 11 years. The local paper reported that his is the third resignation in 35 days at City Hall, following Economic Development Authority Director Traci Ryan and city planner Karin Tank.

Renovation work on the old City Hall continues. The most recent obvious change is a new set of windows in the south wall, up on the second floor.

The local Knights of Columbus took down their Christmas display on Main Street, leaving only few neatly-stacked bales of hay.

Blue Star Mothers have collection boxes set up in town. They're picking up materials to be sent to the troops. It looks like people are donating, from the level of stuff in the one I saw.

Driving from Moorhead to Sauk Centre Friday afternoon, my wife and daughter took three hours making what is usually about a two hour trip. On the way, they saw 15 cars in the ditch. After dark, they also saw a tow truck in one spot and a police car in another, suggesting that they passed a total of 17 off-the-road cars.

Finally, there's a special movie coming to town: Therese, about Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. It opens at Main Street Theatre on February 4. I understand that show times are 7 and 9 p.m., with a Sunday matinee at 1:30. I'm looking forward to seeing this.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005. Some folks got the week started by going into ditches on I-94. I saw one, unintentionally parked on the I-94 median by the Meire Grove exit. It was facing south: quite a trick on an east-west highway.

I think we had our January thaw Tuesday. It was still above freezing when I went home from work. Snow had been melting on the warmer surfaces, sometimes flowing to a colder spot, and re-freezing. It's more interesting when refrozen slush keeps its shape while getting almost as slick as sheet ice. There's nothing quite like Teflon-like tire tracks on a sloping driveway.

Part of a Nativity scene on Main Street, set up by the local Knights of Columbus, collapsed Tuesday. It looks like the board holding a roof of hay bales slipped or broke, spilling bales in the vicinity of the manger. By this morning, someone had been taking care of the situation.

A few big flakes of snow fell Wednesday morning, just enough to lightly coat yesterday's fresh ice. Skating to the door where I work was an opportunity to practice patience and balance.

Sunday, January 23, 2005. Friday morning's snowflakes got reinforcements, and at about 1:30 the Sauk Centre schools closed. When I drove home, about three-and-a-half hours later, at least one business had closed early. The sun had set by then, streetlights were on, and not many folks were on the streets. Good thing, too, since the fresh snow had my van acting more like a boat than something with wheels.

Filling my van's gas tank, I shared the pumps with a snowmobile and a pickup with another snowmobile in the back. West of the fairgrounds, someone on a snowmobile drove like a crazed mechanical gopher across open lots.

I heard that I-94 was closed Friday night after 8:00 because of zero visibility. Highway 10 from Moorhead to Detroit Lakes and Highway 210 from Fergus Falls to Breckenridge were closed, too.

Later that night, 40 mile per hour gusts shook doors and helped me enjoy being inside.

Main streets were cleared by Saturday morning and some folks had their snowblowers out, clearing sidewalks. Living here has this advantage: we have equipment on hand to deal with the occasional heavy snowfall.

My wife's priorities Saturday morning flattered me: She told the kids to clear the grill before having her car shoveled out. Thanks to their efforts, by Saturday noon I had no trouble grilling lunch. Sunday noon I was grilling again, enjoying winter sunlight on fresh snow, as the sound of sizzling burgers mingling with the whine of snowmobiles.

Our back yard has about 18 inches of snow, although I suspect that official numbers for this area would be closer to 9 inches. I did some checking around the area. Moorhead and St. Paul have 9 inches on the ground, and Babbit, east of Embarrass in the Arrowhead region, has 40 inches on the ground.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005. Four months ago today, Sauk Centre's own television channel: SCTV 19, "Your Mainstreet Channel," went on the air. Or, more accurately, on cable. It's a local origination channel run by Mainstreet Communications. So far, they've shown high school sports, city council and Stearns county commissioner meetings, and programs by Faith Baptist Church.

Embarrass, Minnesota, made the national news Monday with a low of 54 below zero. That's cold, even by northern Minnesota standards, but wasn't good enough to break Minnesota's record low of 60 below, set in 1996. Tower, about 10 miles north of Embarrass, has that honor.

Funny: Friday, with the temperature at 21 below zero, Sauk Centre schools were 2 hours late. Monday, at 22 below, they opened on schedule. I suppose wind made the difference: Monday morning's was 8 miles an hour; Friday's was 12 miles an hour.

Valentine's Day displays are up in downstairs storefronts. I think the next stop on the holiday merry-go-round will be St. Patrick's Day.

Freezing rain made driving interesting tonight. There's nothing quite like the thrill of driving down the Interstate while watching the transparent part of the windshield get smaller and smaller. What made it even more thrilling was that I heard my 18-year-old daughter tell me about the windshield after she drove back to Sauk Centre tonight.

Sunday, January 16, 2005. Flags went up on downtown light poles Friday, for Monday's Martin Luther King Day. It's nice to have color on the streets this time of year.

The assisted living center on the south side has a name: Getty Street. When it's finished, it should house about 46 people, according to a flier at the Interpretive Center/Chamber of Commerce.

It was about 8 below zero when I went to work Thursday morning. I had a pint of hot coffee in one of those covered plastic coffee mugs and a paper sack in one hand. When the coffee spilled, some drops landed on the sack. They froze before flowing more than a few inches. Now that's winter!

Sauk Centre schools were two hours late Friday, formally acknowledging the effect of cold on people and machines. It was about 20 below that morning. My eight-year-old was delighted about the change in schedule.

Saturday noon was warmer: about 5 below zero. I shoveled a half-foot of snow from around the grill and fixed lunch. Sunday noon was a little cooler, but the grill is in a sunny spot and in the lee of the house, so I was out grilling again. It surprises me that so many people only use their outdoor grills during spring, summer and fall, considering how good the results taste.

A little more seriously, I've seen more pairs of vehicles around town since this cold weather came: often with cables connecting their batteries and drivers conversing on the pavement.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005. Snow has been falling today, without much wind. By noon, snow had filled in recesses in tree bark and covered the tops of branches, making streets in town look like ultra-detailed pencil drawings. It's beautiful.

Since there's ice underneath, at least in spots, that snow is also a pretty good lubricant. I've been driving in 'winter mode. for a while now. I wish more people would.

Three of 5 Wakefields were killed Sunday when a couple of westbound Twin Cities suburbanites crossed the I-94 median south of St. Cloud and hit the St. Michael, ND, family's minivan. Thomas, 59, Michael, 8, and Nikki, 4, are dead. Mom is in very bad shape. I understand 12-year-old Lucas Wakefield has serious injuries. A State Patrol spokesman said that roads were slick in the area, and there were indications that the suburbanites were driving too fast for conditions. A member of the family asked that people pray for the family.

I-94 had to be closed for 2½ hours after the crash. That was the second time in two days that a fatal accident closed the Interstate. Last week, a truck driver rammed his rig into a bridge. The bridge survived, but he didn't.

As long as I'm on depressing subjects, folks in Fergus Falls, a town about two thirds of the way to Fargo, have to boil their water now. Water pressure ranged from low to no after a line on the west side of town broke. It took most of Tuesday to find the leak, and it isn't clear how long the boil order will be needed.

One more thing. If the weather forecasters are right, we'll be having colder weather than we've had in 8 years, starting tomorrow. A St. Cloud State University meteorologist was quoted as saying that, technically speaking, it would be "ridiculously cold."

We've had between 3 and 8 inches of snow around here today. Winds between 20 and 40 miles per hour should start blowing it around tonight, and by Friday morning the temperature will be down to 23 below. Driving will be interesting.

Having grown up in the Red River Valley, this will be the first time in quite a while that it really feels wintry. I guess I'm still getting used to living here in the south.

Sunday, January 9, 2005. I took part of the afternoon off from my day job a few times this week. Between student drivers and a swarm pouring onto Ash at 9th from the high school parking lot, driving was more exciting than usual. Unhappily, the student drivers. great caution did not cancel out excesses of some of the Ash Street swarm. One of this northbound school swarm, apparently dissatisfied with driving 25 miles per hour, passed two vehicles and very nearly locked radiators with a southbound car.

I think that, from now on, I'll try to avoid Ash between 9th and Sinclair Lewis Avenue from about 3:00 to 3:30 on school days.

Sidewalks still have large areas of ice from the recent freezing rain. Picking my way from door to van across the ice, I've had quite a few opportunities to practice both patience and balance lately. This is a situation in which it's particularly handy to be using a cane.

Like most places in town, my family is getting ready for a few months of winter routines. A family next door had a good idea this afternoon. Some of their kids were out in the front yard, throwing shovel-fulls today's snowfall in the air for their puppy to chase.

Main Street Antiques has items for sale on the second floor now: and has for a few months. I was in that charming coffee shop/antique store this weekend with my oldest daughter, enjoying the end of her visit home. Main Street Antiques has a few parking spaces behind the house it occupies, and a back entry with engaging paintings of coffee cups on the floor. Inside, the place resembles one or two houses I remember visiting as a child, full of books, pottery, books, knick-knacks, more books, and a generation's worth of accumulated stuff.

Jitters Java, near the edge of downtown, has a very different look: something in the neighborhood of 1920s urban, I'd say. I saw the chess/checkers table near the rear in use twice this week. One day it was a dad and his young son. The next, two young women played a game with the wooden chess pieces.

I think it's notable that although the Ding Dong Cafe is close to the sort of gathering spot Norman Rockwell pictured, a new place like Jitters Java is where there's a checkers (or chess) table in use.

Wednesday, January 5, 2005. It was about 7 below zero this morning in Sauk Centre, much warmer than Grand Fork's 35 below. I hear that Grand Forks set a record with a low of 39 below zero overnight.

We're in the post-holiday season now. Christmas decorations are gone from The Original Main Street and Sinclair Lewis Avenue. Judging from what's happening where I work, half-full snack trays languish where employees take their break while January calendars taunt passersby with reminders of warmer places. Lighted greenery and candy canes have not yet passed the commercial torch to Valentine decorations and candy boxes in downtown storefronts.

At my home, young relatives have returned to their own homes. The house is quiet now, with only the family's own 4 children around. I'm enjoying my eldest's visit home from college while it lasts.

Major streets have good traction now, thanks to sand and traffic. Packed snow on back streets covers most of the ice, but you can still find glazed pavement and sidewalks if you stay alert. If you don't stay alert, you'll probably find it anyway.

Flags at the post office, City Hall, and the schools are at half-staff, following the January 1 presidential proclamation honoring the memory of the victims of the tsunamis of December 26.

Closer to home, about 30 miles past Alexandria, a heavy vehicle, poor judgment, and lake ice claimed another victim. Something like this seems to happen every winter. A young man from Evansville drove his pickup onto Pelican Lake, presumably to go ice fishing. A State Patrol helicopter crew spotted a hole in the ice where a vehicle had fallen through an ice heave. Divers found his body near the pickup yesterday in roughly 8 feet of water.

Sunday, January 2, 2005. Driving to work through freezing rain on Thursday morning, I thought that the weather was likely to change by afternoon. I was right. By the time I left work, we had fog and freezing rain. I couldn't see more than a block.

By Friday, Sauk Centre had snow-free yards, reflecting sidewalks, and non-stick streets.

Saturday started out with a little sleet and sometimes a little snow. By afternoon the stuff coming out of the clouds was all snow. Then we had thundersnow: 4 or 5 flashes and rumbles in the later part of the afternoon, with the air full of snow.

Sunday was cold and clear with an inch or so of fresh snow on the ground. Grilling lunch was easier without Saturday's wind.

The new street between Oak Ridge and the lake on the north side of town is looking less like a country road and more like a residential street. Two new houses are under construction on Lake Ridge Drive, and it looks like some of this year's crop of houses are occupied now.

There's a new dead-end street on the north side, Heritage Lane, where someone's building "Heritage Hill Town Houses." Interestingly, although they're houses, and in town, each house stand alone, with no shared walls. A wonderfully non-committal sign outside one proclaims, "Model Home Shown Anytime When Open." To be fair, there is an open/closed sign underneath.

Saturday, January 1, 2005. I almost never mention anything so far from Sauk Centre, but Sunday's Tsunami will be an exception. So far there are over 120,000 known dead from Sumatra to Kenya, and about 5,000,000 survivors without homes or jobs. I'd like to highlight an organization that hasn't gotten as much press as, say, the Red Cross.

Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) (800 678 5659, is working with local relief organizations, bringing medical supplies to injured survivors.

Catholic Medical Mission Board has been around since 1928, providing health supplies and services. In 1989 they received the Damian-Dutton Award for work towards the eradication of leprosy. More recently, they've been helping people around the world to wipe out TB, LF (lymphatic filariasis), and HIV/AIDS.

Now they're helping people recover from the India Ocean tsunami. As usual, the best idea for us is to contribute money and let people on the ground decide what is needed most. CMMB asks that donations be sent to:

Catholic Medical Mission Board
10 West 17th St.
New York, NY 10011-5765
Call 212 242 7757 or 800 678 5659

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