Welcome!

Thursday, September 6th, 2012

Welcome to my blog. Writing is both my vocation (technical writer in the medical device industry) and my avocation. I will be posting nonfiction and fiction stories on this website, and some poetry, too. I’m glad you found your way here, and I hope you’ll find words that enlighten, encourage and entertain you. Make yourself comfortable, enjoy the read, and thanks for visiting!

Barb

Camping Weekend 2016: Ranger Polo!

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016

ranger-polo-turf-shredding

Our 2016 Danson camping weekend coincided with the 11th anniversary of Grandma’s death. How fitting to gather at Mary’s Landing, seeing she inspired this annual get together. We’ve obviously aged since last year – Edna turned 100 and my youngest first cousin turned 30 – and we’ve had some tragedies. My first cousin Becky passed away in March at the age of 36, and several others have dealt with significant health issues, including cancer. As if we needed to be reminded, we had many good reasons to gather and be grateful for family.

Chemo treatments be damned, Russ and Sue hosted us all once again. Everyone cheered with zeal on Saturday when Sue was crowned as our Queen for a Day (a tradition started last year). In addition to novelty gifts, which included a picture of her hunky husband on a tractor (who needs Photoshop when you can cut and paste), Andrea gave her a beautiful hand-stitched “What Cancer Can’t Do!” quilt. This wasn’t the only quilt Andrea made to honor family members. As part of a nation-wide effort to provide quilts for military veterans, she also presented homemade military-themed quilts to my dad, Russ and Terry.

Saturday afternoon games included a poker run and a mingle-style cornhole (aka bean bag toss) tournament. Our featured Polaris Ranger ATV event this year was Ranger Polo, a game we made up thanks to the idea from Joe. If you’re looking for fun Ranger games, see below for more details. Believe me, this one led to some serious turf shredding that sent spectators diving for cover.

As usual, a favorite part of the camping weekend was two nights around a blissful campfire catching up with each other. And to cap off all these great memories, we’ve since received wonderful news that Sue’s latest test results showed no signs of active cancer. Hooray! Long live the queen!

…Continue Reading

Family Camping Weekend — Our Queen for a Day

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Edna in WagonWe had another enjoyable family camping weekend this fall. As usual, the bonfires were cozy and the food was delicious. And, of course, it’s always great to catch up with family. Activities included a hay wagon ride, a nature scavenger hunt and a rousing Ranger relay race that included super soakers and water balloons, both of which were not always aimed at the intended inanimate targets. A highlight of the weekend was the crowning of Aunt Edna as Queen for a Day.

Edna is my 99-year-old great aunt, my grandma Mary’s older sister. She has a strong “gotta keep moving” attitude, and she is flexible enough to bend over and touch the floor flat-handed, something I can only dream of doing. Edna basically raised Grandma Danson (their mother died at a young age), and the crowning was a light-hearted way to thank her for what she did.

After a brief speech, Russ, who has always affectionately referred to Edna as “Egghead,” placed upon her head a homemade wooden tiara sporting three brightly colored plastic eggs. Next, he adorned her with a full-length fur coat that was passed on from Sue’s ancestors who wore it to keep warm while riding behind a team of horses. Russ said he knew Edna didn’t like new things, and thankfully the coat didn’t smell as old as it looked. After handing Edna a bouquet of flowers tied to an antique egg beater and a basket of wilted carrots and beets, he opened the garage door to reveal a tattered red carpet and steps that led to her chariot – an old horse wagon with a sturdy rocking chair in the middle. Edna bounded up the stairs and took her seat on the throne, laughing as hard as the rest of us.

It’s going to be hard to top this memorable ceremony. If she was Queen for a Day at 99, what’s in store for next year, when she’ll be 100? The pressure is on. But no need to fret about it now. As Edna always says, “One day at a time.”

Edna Queen for the Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polaris Slingshot – It’s Like a Puppy (or a kitten)

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

Polaris SlingshotThe first time I saw the Polaris Slingshot on the local news last fall, I was smitten with its crazy Batmobile looks and the sheer joy its test riders were experiencing. This spring I took one out for a test drive, and when I started writing poetry about it (see below), I had a feeling one would be sitting in my garage sooner rather than later.

After reviewing one of the owner’s forums (www.slingshotforums.com), I was nervous about all the reported maintenance issues. Common sense lost out, and my wild side went for it. I picked up my base model over Memorial weekend. As of today, I’ve put on 1,500 miles.

The best way I can describe this first-year model Slingshot is that it’s like a puppy (or a kitten). If it wasn’t so darn cute and fun, I’d be ready to strangle it. I’m a low maintenance person, and I like low maintenance toys. My 1998 Kawasaki 1500 Vulcan Classic has been as reliable as they come. The Slingshot has already been in the shop twice (three out of the first nine weeks I’ve owned it), and it’s waiting for backordered parts and needs to go back in again to have the rear bearings and rear axle replaced (this is a big topic on the owner’s forum).

It’s incredibly fun to drive and certainly gets a lot of attention with its radical styling and because there are so few on the road. How long I keep it remains to be seen. I’m hoping Polaris can get some of these initial design/quality kinks worked out and get a better grip on inventory management (two weeks waiting for a common GM clutch part?!).

Here’s the poem that had me in a knot about buying a Slingshot: …Continue Reading

2015 Honda CR-V Vibration Complaint: A Deal Breaker

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

2015 Honda CR-VWhen you trade vehicles every two to four years, you’re bound to get a dud. I’ve definitely liked some cars better than others, but my biggest disappointment occurred this year with vehicle #13 (triskaidekaphobia, anyone?). It was a brand new 2015 Honda CR-V, highly touted as the “Motor Trend SUV of the year.” So much for the accolades; I traded it before it was halfway to its first oil change. My reputation as a frequent trader has hit a whole new level.

Shortly after I bought the CR-V last October, I noticed a strong vibration while sitting at stoplights. It was annoying, but as colder weather moved in, the vibration disappeared and remained absent throughout our long Minnesota winter. As I drove home from work one of the first spring-like days in March, the vibration returned with a vengeance. Why would it go away all winter? Apparently the cooler temps and certain accessories, like seat warmers, help keep the idle speed above the 600 RPM “rattle your insides” vibration zone. Mind you, this is a vibration you might expect in a 20-year-old Yugo, but certainly not in a new vehicle with a sticker price higher than what my parents paid for their first home in the early ‘70s. …Continue Reading

Vivien Thomas: Pioneer of Blue Baby Surgery

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

Vivien_Thomas

Vivien Thomas was described as “the most untalked-about, unappreciated, unknown giant in the African American community” by one of his colleagues, Dr. Levi Watkins, an African American surgeon who performed the first human implant of an automatic defibrillator. Though he never attended medical school, Thomas still managed to make an enormous contribution to surgical sciences. Banished to the back halls of the hospital during the height of segregation, his accomplishments were overshadowed by the great Drs. Blalock and Taussig. But make no mistake – this unsung hero was also one of the greats in medicine.

Thomas was born in 1910 and graduated with honors from Pearl High School in Nashville. He began work as a carpenter, his father’s apprentice, but he was saving for medical school. Soon carpentry jobs dried up, and his college savings disappeared when banks failed during the 1929 stock market crash. Through a friend, he found work as a research assistant in Dr. Alfred Blalock’s lab at Vanderbilt University Medical School. Blalock quickly recognized his assistant’s extraordinary talent in the lab, but he didn’t pay much attention to management details, like payroll. When Thomas learned he was classified as a janitor – the only job available to blacks – he demanded and received a raise. After all, he was only making $12/week and was putting in 16-hour days to develop cutting edge surgical techniques.

In 1941 Blalock was offered Chief of Surgery at Johns Hopkins, and he insisted that Thomas move to Maryland to be on his team. They made a dynamic duo; Thomas put in painstaking hours of tedious research, and Blalock contributed breakthrough ideas and had the clout and courage to practice Thomas’ techniques in human patients. After they revolutionized treatment for traumatic shock, Blalock looked for the next surgical innovation. The idea came from Dr. Helen Taussig. …Continue Reading

Stand Up For Health

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Varidesk WorkFor the past two years my mission has been to aim for better health and invest in things that will help me overcome chronic muscle tension and its associated tendonitis, bursitis, and general aches and pain-itis. My latest investment was a VARIDESK Pro Plus ($350 plus $50 shipping). I sit way too much, both at the computer and in my rocker recliner, and I’m confident this product will help me get my butt out of the chair.

At work, about 30 of my co-workers use these stand-up desk units, and so far all but one like them. This is a nice system – it comes fully assembled, is sturdy and is super easy to transition between sitting and standing. One tip to make that transition seamless is to use a wireless keyboard and mouse. Another essential component is to use a good anti-fatigue mat. At work I use the one from VARIDESK, and at home I use the Imprint CumulusPRO

An article in the Washington Post shared comments from supporters and opponents of the stand-up revolution. Opponents referred to the downfalls of standing all day. But I don’t think the point is to stand all day. VARIDESK has a free timekeeper app to remind users when to switch between sitting and standing; in the app, the maximum setting for stand time is one hour.

The news is filled with reports about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and how sitting is the new smoking when it comes to ill health effects. If this desk can help me stand at least 1-2 extra hours each day, if not more, I’ll consider it a wise investment in my health. After two weeks of use, it’s already generating good returns.

 

Family Camping Weekend: Fun with Four-Wheelers

Sunday, September 14th, 2014

Obstacle courseWe recently had another enjoyable Danson camping weekend at Mary’s Landing. Big thanks to Russ and Sue for their generosity in hosting this annual get together. The weekend was filled with family, friends, food and fun.

In addition to the usual bonfire on Friday and Saturday night, Russ took us out for moonlight hayrides. The fuse blew when he started the tractor on Friday, so that ride was entirely lit by the nearly-full Harvest Moon. On Saturday he used a different tractor, and we needed the lights when we headed into the sugar bush. Shafts of moonlight lit up a few spots of the forest floor, but in most places it was pitch black. We won’t mention any names, but Annie “The Jumper” got pretty spooked; Dale must have been holding her tight, because she was still on the wagon when we got back to the bonfire. …Continue Reading

Ol’ Burl & The Trumpet Call

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

IMAG0275Mornings are a glorious time in the Elm Creek Park Reserve. I started my walk the other day with a brief visit to one of the coolest trees I’ve ever met. What first caught my eye were the two huge burls that give it a feminine appearance (you know what I mean). In my attempt to get more attuned with nature, I walked off the paved trail to touch the tree and get better acquainted.

Apparently I had first viewed the back of the tree. What a sight to behold when I walked around to the front – this tree has a face! And it’s a wise old face at that (see photo below). The nose and eyes remind me of an elephant, or maybe a wizard. From this angle, the burls look more like hair. I haven’t learned how to talk to trees yet (a lot of people do – Google it and you’ll find a video and even a Wiki-How with photos), but I did hear this tree say, “I’ve lived through a lot of hard times, my friend.”

After a brief visit with ol’ Burl, I headed down the path and was treated to a rousing chorus of birds, frogs, geese and who knows how many other creatures. Pure joyful praises. No matter how pessimistic a person feels, no matter how low her spirits have sunk, these sounds of sheer excitement at the beginning of a new day of life can’t help but uplift.

Grateful for the concert, I observed a few birds along the way as I climbed a small hill. That’s when I heard a strange noise in the distance. It sounded like the muffled school teacher’s voice in Charlie Brown episodes. Now this freaked me out. I wasn’t sure what tune of nature I was tuning into. Was I getting a message from the Universe? Did the deer take up karaoke? As I crested the hill, the sound became clearer. It was voices singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Really? In the middle of a park reserve at dawn’s early light? The only thing I could figure was there must have been a race event getting an early start at the picnic pavilion off in the distance. Either that or the wild animals have a hilarious sense of humor. Well, pretty sure it was humans, and I have to say the animal chorus was much more “on Key” (does that qualify as a pun? you know … Francis Scott Key).

My final thrill for this walk: I saw the breath of a trumpeter swan when it let out a trumpet blast into the cool air. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. Another heavenly morning in the park reserve.

 

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Trumpeter Swans Cropped

 

 

Robin Baker Blueberry Hills Trails Systems

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Robin BakerIn December my uncle Robin Baker received a special honor from the Itasca County Trails Task Force (ICTTF) and the Deer River City Council. They approved a motion to add his name to all of the city’s ski, horseback, ATV and snowmobile trails, which will now be known as the “Robin Baker Blueberry Hills Trails Systems.”

“Robin has been a driving force in the success of trail sports in our area and has been especially influential in the lives of the youth in the Deer River area and beyond,” said a letter from Steve Feyma, ICTTF Chair, as reported in the Western Itasca Review. The task force said “the ski trails were his baby,” and boy were they right about that. It all started more than 25 years ago when Robin coached the ski team and it was the coach’s job to help take care of the trails. He went above and beyond the call of duty, dedicating countless volunteer hours over the past quarter century to develop, improve and maintain those trails.

I’m not sure why I never got out to Blueberry Hills before this, but I saw Robin’s devotion to the ski trails first-hand in 2012. Just before the Fourth of July that year, a devastating storm ripped through the area. My father went with Robin to help clear the trails, and my sister and I joined them one day. I’ve included some photos at the bottom of this post, and here’s a Haiku to describe what we saw: …Continue Reading

How to Have a Fun Family Reunion

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

Danson Camping Weekend at Mary’s Landing

My grandma, Mary Danson, was a courageous woman to raise a flock of eleven children. And what a fine flock she raised. Before Grandma passed away on September 10, 2005, she said she hoped her large family would keep getting together. To honor her wish, my uncle Russ and his wife, Sue, have hosted an annual family camping weekend at “Mary’s Landing” on their farm in Rush City.

Russ and Sue invite the entire family to make themselves at home on their farm, and they always come up with activities to make the weekend enjoyable for young and old alike. These camping weekends are a tradition that many of us look forward to. In fact, this year, Mary’s Landing filled up with RVs by Thursday night, and the camping weekend didn’t even officially begin until Friday evening. …Continue Reading

Eagan Community Theater – Bravo!

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

My friend Jo and I have a lovely tradition each summer: we journey to the southeast corner of the metro to attend Eagan Community Theater, presented at Eagan High School. And since Andiamo’s restaurant opened a couple years ago, we enjoy a wonderful Italian pre-show dinner a few miles from the school.

Nearly every year – and we’ve been doing this for ten years now – we are blown away by the quality of the plays. Amateur actors and a large group of volunteers professionally handle costumes, set design, production, lighting, orchestra, box office and all the other supporting roles. It’s always fun to see the range of ages on stage, from grandparents to single-digit youngsters, all of whom pour their heart into every stage move and note.

The play this year is “Peter Pan,” and I fondly remember the last time Eagan Community Theater performed this play seven years ago. It was so good it could have easily been presented at the Orpheum, Ordway or Guthrie. …Continue Reading

Lake Harriet Dog Whisperer

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Citizen Kanine Curtis JohnsonI’m intrigued by people who have special insight into animal behavior: horse whisperer Buck Brannaman, livestock consultant Temple Grandin, cat listener Jackson Galaxy and dog whisperer Cesar Millan. A few weeks ago I discovered Minneapolis’ own dog whisperer on a walking path around Lake Harriet.

It was a sight to behold as this man approached with his entourage; he was surrounded by a dozen dogs of various breeds, sizes and colors. What was even more impressive was how well the dogs behaved when they stopped for a poop pick-up. The man set down two handfuls of leashes, turned his back on the pack, and walked about twenty feet to a trash can. He never looked back, never showed a single sign of anxiety that the dogs would make a break for it. The only dog that wasn’t sitting perfectly still was rolling on its back in what looked like a state of nirvana. …Continue Reading

The Strawberries are Coming!

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

With the cool, wet spring we’ve had, it’s hard to believe June is already half over. In another week or two the strawberries will ripen, and I can’t wait to pick a flat or two at Bauer Berry Farm in Champlin.

As with most locally grown food, you could probably find cheaper prices at Costco or other big box stores. But something feels right about paying a little more money and spending a little more time to pick my strawberries right out of Bauer’s fields. They are definitely better quality than the jumbo, flavorless berries that look better than they taste. That’s just one of many reasons, though.

…Continue Reading

Brooke the Sun Goddess

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Cemeteries are filled with interesting stories. Some of them are triumphant, many are tragic. My sister and I stumbled upon the latter the other day when we wandered through St. Fridolin Cemetery. We were almost to the end of our meander when we spotted the grave of Brooke Elizabeth Thompson. She was born in 1980 and died at age 22. A plastic container stood next to her grave. It had a notebook inside, tucked within a resealable plastic bag. The note on the container invited visitors to leave a message. “Open it up,” I said to Kris. “Let’s see what’s inside.” …Continue Reading

The Beat Goes On

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

A few years ago I read a Star Tribune story about Pam Taschuk, a Lino Lakes woman who was killed by her husband. I didn’t know Pam, but her story inspired me to write this poem, and Brooke Thompson’s story (see blog entry “Brooke The Sun Goddess“) inspired me to post it.

 

…Continue Reading

Maple Syruping at the Danson Farm

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

Jar of Maple SyrupWe have been experiencing a winter that never ends. It’s mid-April and today is snowy, icy and just plain gross. Yesterday was half-way decent in comparison. Sick of hibernating, I thought it would be fun to head north to Uncle Russ and Aunt Sue’s farm in Rush City to partake in maple syruping activities. Maple sap runs best when overnight temperatures are below freezing and the daytime highs are in the 30s to mid-40s. We finally had that combo Friday (4/12); contrast that to last year when we hit 80° in March and the temperatures were so warm the sap season was skunked.

I called Saturday morning and Sue said the sap started running Friday; it apparently ran well, yielding 130 gallons. They were cooking down that batch – it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup – and were planning to collect more sap later in the afternoon. When I arrived around 1:00 pm, my great uncle Bobby was hand-carving a custom tap insertion tool while he babysat the boiling sap. During the 7-hour cooking time, someone always has to be present to feed the fire and make sure there’s enough sap in the evaporator basin so the liquid doesn’t scorch.    …Continue Reading

Apple Wizard of Gideon Bay

Saturday, March 16th, 2013

We take it for granted that people can grow tasty apples in Minnesota, but that hasn’t always been the case. Early settlers missed this fruit so much that some of them used to soak potatoes in vinegar to try and replicate the taste. After 15 years of toil and thousands upon thousands of failures, a Lake Minnetonka settler named Peter M. Gideon finally came up with an edible Minnesota apple. He named it Wealthy to honor his wife (that was her first name) and to symbolize all the hardships they had been through. Gideon had a reputation as an eccentric man with a colorful personality.

If you’d like to read the entire story about this historical figure for whom Gideon Bay on Lake Minnetonka is named, click on the link below. Enjoy!

The Apple Wizard of Gideon Bay. Tonka Times, Sept 2010.

Published version of the story posted with permission of the publisher of Tonka Times magazine. To view the current issue of Tonka Times, visit http://www.tonkatimes.com/

 

My Claim to Fame

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

My name may not be displayed on the cover (yet), but it is mentioned in the “Acknowledgements” section of a book that debuted at number one on the New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list. Get your geek on, because the heart of my claim to fame story is a medical tidbit about the ever-fascinating human heart.

The book that bears my name was authored by Jodi Picoult. In March 2006 I attended one of her Minneapolis readings, and she told the audience that her 2008 release featured a character who had a heart transplant. During my two-minute chat with Jodi while she signed The Tenth Circle, I told her I had recently discovered the really cool answer to a heart transplant question that had haunted me for many years. She asked me to email her the story, which I promptly did, and now I’ll share it with you. …Continue Reading

A Little History on Big Island

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Big Island, Lake MinnetonkaWhen I started writing for Tonka Times magazine in 2010, one of my first stories was about the history of Big Island on Lake Minnetonka. This island has undergone many transitions over the past century, ranging from a Dakota Indian maple syrup site to a bustling amusement park hosting up to 15,000 daily visitors. Today, the western portion of the island is divided amongst numerous property owners, and the eastern 56 acres comprise a passive recreation park managed by the City of Orono. If you’d like to learn more about Big Island’s colorful history, including tales from the Scheftel family and their mother, Marge, who became known as The Queen of Big Island, click the link below to read the story. Enjoy!

Wetutonka: A Little History on Big Island. Tonka Times, July 2010.

Published version of the story posted with permission of the publisher of Tonka Times magazine. To view the current issue of Tonka Times, visit http://www.tonkatimes.com/

 

China’s Terracotta Warriors

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Terracotta Chariot Replica. Photo by Kris Danson.I’m starting to wonder if I’ve been living under a rock. Until my sister asked me the other day if I wanted to go to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) for their special exhibit, I don’t ever recall hearing about China’s Terracotta Warriors. These statues were discovered in 1974 by farmers who were digging a well in Shaanxi province. We went to the MIA exhibit on Friday, and it was fascinating to learn about this massive collection of 8,000 life-sized terracotta warrior statues, the creation of which was commissioned by China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. He ascended to the throne at the age of 13, and from that moment, he began to plan for his burial and a means to protect himself in the afterlife. The terracotta warriors, chariots and more than 600 life-sized horses were buried near Emperor Qin’s mausoleum when he died in 210 B.C. The photo shown here, taken by my sister, Kris Danson, is a replica.

It’s mind-boggling to think of the logistics and technological savvy it took to create this impressive artistic collection. It’s just as fascinating to think that we can cast our eyes upon (but not touch, photograph or even sketch!) these beautifully detailed earthen treasures that are more than 2,000 years old. …Continue Reading