Saturday, November 30, 2019

Online Writers and Twitter Users: Do You Pay Attention To Your Analytics?


As the saying goes, "Life is for learning." They also say "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

That second statement is bunk. If you embrace the concept of lifelong learning, you'll continuously be looking for new tricks to learn. It becomes your nature.

I've been paying attention to my blogger stats since I started blogging in 2007. Before that I noted my website stats. Having had a career in advertising, I was continuously paying attention to statistics pertaining to lead generation, conversion rates, and the cost of acquiring a new customer.

Maybe that was all fun to me because I like numbers and was always good at math while growing up. Or maybe it was fun because I grew up being a bit competitive and I liked winning. This evolved to what I hope is a healthier motivation to achieve for achievement sake and not to beat anyone.  I don't feel a need to be the best, only to be better than I was.

ALL THIS TO SAY that I learned something new today. 

I've been on Twitter since 2008 when I learned that large numbers of journalists used Twitter for a variety of reasons, including finding breaking news. It's a great way to stay in tune with what is happening on the national and global scenes. And to catch a sense of where others are at on issues, etc. But it's also a great way to share your own stories, articles, ideas and interests. Especially if you're a writer.

What I discovered today is that just as I have access to extensive stats pertaining to my blog (including where my readers are from, what kinds of devices they access the blog from, etc.) there is also a "back room" on Twitter for every Twitter user's analytics. I never knew this.

So, what did I see when I peeked behind the curtain?

Napping on the couch my son's dog Noodles also sleeping.
The Top Interest among my followers is Dogs. 
How interesting because I seldom write about dogs, though there are clues from time to time that I am a dog person.

The Top Language is English.
No surprise there.

Top Lifestyle Type is Online Buyers.
This is strange on one level. I'm still a big advocate for Buy Local, but I get it, I suppose. Maybe.

When it comes to Consumer Behavior, my followers tend to buy Premium Brands. Hmmm.

Mobile Footprint.
Verizon. There was a tie in this category with AT&T. I myself use Verizon as my mobile carrier, though I can't imagine this having a bearing on my Twitter stats.

Then Twitter does a break-out on the Interests into a more detailed set of graphs, and this becomes surprising because I write so much about writing and art that you would think those interests would dominate. Instead, the list of interests most shared with followers is as follows:
Dogs. Weather. Music festivals & concerts. Technology, Education News and general info, Government, Commentary, Tech News, Politics.

At this point I realize that although I Tweet what I blog about each day, I also re-Tweet stories and hit the "Like" button a lot. This means that I've been telegraphing my other interests even when I do not write about them on my blog.

Very interesting.

At the top of your analytics page you can see how many times you've Tweeted in the past 28 days, how many impressions were made, how many profile visits occurred (up 64% this month), how many mentions, and how many followers you now have compared to a month ago.

If you want to go deeper, you may. My TOP TWEET this month, based on Impressions was a Tweet about my interview with Medium writer/ publisher Nicole Akers. 
You can also find your Top Mention and Top Follower, as well as Top Media Tweet for each and every month going back as far as you want to go. My Top Media Tweet for November was about my interview with author Paul Thomas Chamberlin, author of The Cold War's Killing Fields.

* * * *

Well, it's time to break off here and start my day. Twitter has been an interesting experience and is my favorite social media platform besides blogging. It's easy, and has an international reach that is significant. Facebook feels more like a necessary evil. It's useful for staying in touch with your local tribe, and friends at a distance, but it's become a clutterer space where the platform seems keep pushing things at you and you have to swat them aside all the time.

In recent years Quora and Medium became platforms I enjoyed more. Each seems to be a home for writers. Anyone who is writing I consider to be part of my extended family. Are you a writer? Write on!

* * * *
This blog post was stimulated by an article at Social Media Today titled How to Get More Twitter Followers (Without Spending a Dime)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Five Minutes with Author Storyteller Matthew Donnellon

Illustration by Matthew Donnellon
I came across one of Matthew Donnellon's stories on Medium at some point earlier this year, and it had all the elements of a good story. You have to keep going because you want to know what will happen next. Last week I came across his story "The Curious Case of Emma Lee." It was so efficient in pulling me in and carrying me along. Like a flume ride at the amusement park, you just let it take you, knowing that at the end it will give you a rush and a memorable splash.

I liked his self description on Medium that reads, "Matthew Donnellon is a writer, artist, and sit down comedian. He is the author of The Curious Case of Emma Lee and Other Stories." Sit down comedian made me smile. I did stand-up for six months or so a number of years ago. (There may have been some in the audience who would have preferred that I sit down.)

It's my pleasure to introduce you to Matthew Donnellon.

EN: When did you first take an interest in writing fiction?

Matthew Donnellon: I wanted to become a writer multiple times in my life. The first time I remember thinking, “This is cool. I want to make up stories like this,” was when I was 8 years old. I had just been given the book Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and I fell in love with the story, and this was the moment I became a fervent reader.

The second time happened when I was 18. I didn’t go to college write away and I was meandering and wondering what to do. I was reading something and it my dad that suggested that I should try writing since I read so much. That was the first time I ever considered it.

Then, in college, I was taking an Art History class. I had the professor multiple times and knew her pretty well. One day after handing back exams she came up to me and asked what I was studying. At the time, I was actually getting ready to apply to nursing school. She told me then that I should be a writer and that was really the first I truly considering trying to make that my job.

Illustration bt Matthew Donnellon
EN: What do you most enjoy about creating stories?

MD: I have a wildly overactive imagination, and for me making up worlds and characters is my favorite part. I like when I make up a character that I know so well that they feel like real people to me.

EN: Who have been the writers that most inspire you?

MD: Neil Gaiman is my biggest inspiration. I love his work and I love the way he uses language. In fact, more than a few of my stories are just me trying a Gaiman impersonation.

If I ended up with half the career he has I would die a happy man.

EN: Where are you from and how has that influenced your work?

MD: I am from Michigan. I was born and grew up outside of Detroit, but like many people here I spent summers in northern Michigan. Now, I split time between the two.

It influences me quite a bit I think. A lot of my stories take place in Michigan and the Midwest. And, a lot of my stories take place in the woods and farms and rural places because I have a lot of experience there.

In addition, I use a lot of plain language, which I think speaks to my midwestern roots.

EN: Some of the stories I've read of yours seemed to fall into the category of magical realism. Is that how you would characterize your style or genre?

King & Crown Logo
MD: Recently, I have written a lot of stories that would be considered magical realism. I started as a straight science fiction writer. Then, I did an experiment where I tried to write a new horror story everyday, so I also consider myself a horror writer. But, horror dovetails nicely into magical realism.

Having said that, my newest project, a series of stories collectively called King and Crown, is pretty much straight fantasy because that’s my favorite genre to read, and I wanted to try it.

EN: What do you do for a living? Is writing an avocation or a something more?

MD: I write for a living. It’s the only job I’ve ever had. Luckily, I was able to string enough projects together to keep me afloat after school. I started as a ghostwriter, and now my creative work is becoming more and more by main job, with some freelancing to supplement.

EN: How long have you been writing stories and when did you begin to take it more seriously?

MD: I really tried writing seriously around 18 or 19, so ten years as I’m 29 now. I must have started half a hundred books when I was younger. I became an English major in college and still kept trying to write. But, I only wrote two short stories the whole time I was in school. I mostly only wrote papers and I focused on academic writing, as at the time I was considering grad school or law school.

When I graduated, I wanted to try writing as a job. One, because I liked writing and, two, I wanted to be able to be flexible where I lived. So I quickly had to write seriously and put together a body of work to get clients.

I started writing fiction seriously about three years ago. I was hired by a website and I was told to create content and they didn’t really care as long as it got views. So, I started posting short stories, and they started doing well.

EN: Where can people see more of your work?

MD: Most of my work in a publication on Medium called the Inkwell. I’m the editor and sole writer.

My little brother also runs the Facebook page for my King and Crown story series.

I also have a collection of short stories on Amazon.

EN: Thanks for sharing. To anyone here who follows writers on Medium, I recommend following Matthew and checking out The Inkwell.

* * * *
Related Links
My review of Neil Gaiman's Art Matters and Other Insights for Writers
Unremembered Histories: Six Stories with a Supernatural Twist
(My own collection of stories in the Magical Realism genre.)

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Give Thanks. Black Friday Isn't Til Tomorrow

Originally published in November 2009
With new links and new conclusion.

Last year a Minneapolis friend of mine went to his first Black Friday a.m. shopping experience. It was not planned, but both he and his wife were lying awake at four in the morning and wondering....

"Sounds like you're awake, too," she said.

"Yes I am. Wish I felt more tired."

"Well, since we're both awake, why don't we go shopping?"

And just like that, Bob was standing in front of a store with doors which were about to be opened in two minutes. A mob was pressed tight against the glass all eager and waiting. But what he noticed behind him was a small cluster of women in a huddle, planning their own strategy, a flying wedge. Yes, the old football pattern, only the aim was not a touchdown, just a smashing entrance. He'd never seen anything like it.

Sure enough, as the doors opened these young women made a brutal plunge into the mob, jarring, shoving, crashing and crushing. At least they weren't carrying guns.

For what it's worth, if you're really into finding Black Friday deals, and you're not thrilled about putting your life at risk to get them, there are an increasing number of places online where you can choose to shop from the luxury of your armchair, if you have a laptop and wireless Internet, or from your home office.

Personally, I don't get it. I suppose it gives journalists and bloggers something to write about.

The front page of today's paper lists the "best deals" of tomorrow including a $999 46" Samsung LCD HDTV and $197 HP Laptop with Celeron processor at Best Buy and $7 fleece jackets at Wal-Mart. Hey look, it's a $39 Polaroid V130 Camcorder at Target!

If you do decide to venture forth, perhaps Teddy Roosevelt's wisdom applies here... "Talk softly, and carry a big stick."

* * * *
Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash
2019 Addendum
An alternative to Black Friday shopping is to consider Saturday's emphasis on Buying Local. Here's my blog post from last weekend noting a few for those doing Christmas shopping. Local is always good any time of year though.


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Thrill of a Great Ride: Browning's How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

Photo by Gene Devine on Unsplash
The past week or so I've been doing a lot of reflection on Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," easily one of the great songs of the Sixties and from his own remarkable catalog. It begins with those classic lines, "There must be some kind of way out of here," said the joker to the thief "There's too much confusion. I can't get no relief."

Those words alone serve perk you up, to dial you in to something intense and immense about to happen. But that's another blog post altogether.

While collecting my thoughts on how to approach Dylan's now classic song, I began mulling over the very last part where he sings, "Two riders were approaching, and the wind begins to howl."

How is it that we always think of horses? He never says horses. Yet I doubt that anyone has ever pictured camels, or donkeys, two other means of transport in the wilderness Middle East. Or men being pulled by chariots.

In fact, he never says wilderness, yet it has always seemed to be a wilderness setting, and an ancient one. There are some students of Dylan's lyrics who suggest the imagery here is based on Isaiah 21 from the Old Testament. Interestingly, the word "watchtower" only appears twice in the Bible. Both times it is in Isaiah 21. (Only once in the New International Version, fwiw.)

What's more, Isaiah writes, “Go, post a lookout and have him report what he sees. When he sees chariots with teams of horses, riders on donkeys or riders on camels, let him be alert, fully alert.”

Two riders were approaching, Dylan states. What picture did you have in your mind?

* * * *

Robert Browning (Public domain.)
When I think of riders I think of horses. And when I think of riders on horses my mind goes to the galloping cadence in Robert Browning's poem "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix."

When my kids were young I liked to sometimes read poems to them that would instill in them an appreciation for poetic verse. The aim was to show that poetry and the language arts can be fun, engaging and entertaining. It's always been my hope to one day give a reading called "An Hour of Poetry for Those Who Are Not Into Poetry." It would be a selection of readings designed to show that poetry really can be fun.

One of the poems that I'd read during that hour would be this one.

I love the rhythm that Browning carries throughout to create the effect of galloping. He does this by using two unstressed syllable followed by one stressed, which (professionals have names for everything) is called an anapest. The first line is stressed on sprang, stir, Jor and he. The second on gal, gal, gal three.

It's an absolute blast reading this aloud, not to mention the wonderful flow of images that Browning weaves into the story, a story of achievement that is an achievement itself.

It's my understanding that there is no real incident described here, no "good news" of a victory won or enemy conquered. But one can be sure that moments like this have occurred throughout history, at least before the telegraph, and later social media.

Here's the poem. Enjoy it. Read it aloud. Share it.

How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix

I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he;
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
"Good speed!" cried the watch, as the gate-bolts undrew;
"Speed!" echoed the wall to us galloping through;
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup, and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the cheek-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom, a great yellow star came out to see;
At Düffeld, 'twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime,
So Joris broke silence with "Yet there is time!"’

At Aerschot, up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past,
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray.

And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye's black intelligence, ever that glance
O'er its white edge at me, his own master, askance!
And the thick heavy spume-flakes which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, "Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her,
We'll remember at Aix," for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees,
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

So we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh,
'Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And "Gallop," gasped Joris, "for Aix is in sight!"

"How they'll greet us!"--and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.

Then I cast loose my buffcoat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer;
Clapped my hands, laughed and sang, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.

And all I remember is, friends flocking round
As I sat with his head twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.

* * * *
Now wasn't that a great ride? Not just what Roland did, but what Browning did, carrying readers along, leaving us almost breathless at the end.

And speaking of great rides, hasn't Bob Dylan's career been a great ride? Indeed! Yes, to the very end.

Related Links
About Robert Browning (Courtesy the Poetry Foundation)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Love Sonnet to Robert
A Little More About Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Incentives Matter

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A Visit with Local TV Producer Keith Hopkins About His Upcoming Film Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House

In early 2018 our local TV station created a five week series called "A Night at the Armory" featuring several local musicians in this historic building where young Bob Dylan caught a look--a spark--from Buddy Holly just days before "the music died."

The concept for this show was ignited by a spark in the mind of producer Keith Hopkins as he drove past the historic site. The idea became a reality and the show produced a number of very special moments.

In 2019 the producer/filmmaker has been pursuing another passion, this time related to ghost stories. Over the past year he's been interviewing Northlanders about local paranormal occurrences for an upcoming feature film. Some of these spooky locations include the Duluth Depot, Greyhound Bus Museum, William A Irvin, and Ely Steakhouse are just a few of the locations appearing in the movie. The film blends documentary with narrative storytelling, and challenges the audience to determine which stories are true, which are fictions.

The film is titled Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House, and what follows is an interview with its creator Keith Hopkins.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in film and television media? How long have you been involved with local television production?

Keith Hopkins: I've been working in TV and film production since 2005, and in Duluth since 2014. I initially wanted to be an illustrator. I grew up loving comic books (and still do). But reality set in when my drawing skills were obviously lackluster. So I began to think about where else I could apply my passion. I realized that what interested me about comics wasn't the illustrations necessarily, but the sequential storytelling, which you also see in film editing. Although movie making had always seemed like something unattainable, I decided to look into it and really fell in love.

EN: What prompted you to do a film about ghosts?

KH: My dad was an expert teller of ghost stories around the campfire. He and others would swear that some were true, and some were obviously made up. But the search for a REAL ghost story always excited me, and my dad is definitely where I got that interest. I don't tell a great verbal story, and sometimes my movie pitches come out as incoherent babble. But I do think I have a certain talent in the editing room to create a creepy ghost story. I'm always trying to mimic my dad's sense of pacing to create tension, even though I'm working in a different medium.

EN: Once you pay attention, Duluth does have quite a few “ghost stories.” Without giving away too much, what is Gravedigger Dave’s Halfway House about?

KH: Gravedigger Dave's Halfway House is about the ghost stories of St. Louis County. Between the Duluth Depot, William A Irvin, Ely Steakhouse, Greyhound Bus Museum, and plenty more, the area is rich with history of things that go bump in the night. But part of the fun of listening to a series of ghost stories is trying to figure out which are fact and which are fiction. So there is a mixture in this film. Some are shot in a documentary style but are not true. Others are shot in a narrative style and are absolutely true. The audience will need to pick up on the little clues that are dropped throughout the movie

EN: What were your biggest challenges with this project?

KH: The biggest challenge was finding the right plot for the film. I had been making paranormal short films for several years and wanting to put them in an anthology before I settled on the 'fact or fiction' angle. But once I committed to that plot device things really accelerated. This movie is being made with a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, and my pitch in the application was to make a movie that blended entertainment with regional folk lore. However, crafting that pitch was far from easy. I wrote many other outlines for paranormal feature films that I never showed to anyone because I knew they weren't quite right. And to write a 100 page outline for a film just to throw it in the garbage can be a difficult thing. But it was important to me that I make the right movie, not just any movie.

EN: What is the length and where will it be shown? I assume the DuSu Film Festival next spring… Will it be online?

KH: The movie is roughly an hour and fifteen minutes long. I'm going to hold a premiere at Zinema in Duluth on March 1st 2020, and then I will definitely be submitting to Duluth Superior Film Festival for a June 2020 screening.

EN: How many people were on your production team?

KH: About 50 people helped in the production of this film.

EN: Thanks for sharing. We'll be looking forward to Spring.

* * * *

Related Links
Duluth Armory Becomes Stage for CW Duluth Television Program
Trailer for Gravedigger Dave's Halfway House
If you're into paranormal and supernatural, you will enjoy my small volume of short stories titled Unremembered Histories: Six Stories with a Supernatural Twist.  It's a ilttle expensive online ($12 at Amazon) but if you want a copy and you see me locally, it's $5. Money back if you do not enjoy it.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Three RIPOFF Stories Involving Mechanics

Photo by Tory Bishop on Unsplash
In our modern age, trust is a super-big important word. When I place my money in the bank I trust that when I want it back I will get it back again. When I have a mechanic fix my car, I trust that he has done the work he's charging me for, and that the work was needed as he advised.

One of the primary reasons online businesses like Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Shopify have been successful is because they took great pains to create systems of trust, that if one is ripped off the consumer has a recourse.

Hence, it can fairly be said that Capitalism--the free exchange of goods and service for capital (money)--is built on trust.  Which is why it's so disturbing to read or hear stories about people whose lack of knowledge is taken advantage of and they are ripped off.

Here are THREE RIPOFF STORIES that were not in the news. Two involved my own experience and one involved a friend.

My Sears Experience
Sometime in the mid-'70s, while I was still living in Jersey, I needed to have a muffler replacement on my car. I called Sears to get a quote and they said it would cost $70 and take an hour. I scheduled an appointment and brought it in.

Everything went smooth until the man handed me the paperwork to sign after the job was complete. I looked down, read the amount and said, "I was told seventy dollars."

The guy called a manager, who apologized and said, "No problem." Whereupon he presented me with paperwork indicating the amount I was quoted.

When the credit card bill came several weeks later, it was shocking to see the $170 charged to the card, shocking both for me AND MY DAD, because it was his credit card. (I am a Jr. and he loaned it to me.) My dad told me to go back and fix it, which I actually did. And they did.

Upon reflection, I came away with the impression that the Sears rep tried to take advantage of me because of my youth. As a result, I never did business with Sears till near two decades later. And that experience almost turned out worse than the first.

My Son as a Mark
When my son was a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, his van began to drip a red fluid wherever he parked. Eventually he brought it to a mechanic because he had to deal with it. When the mechanic told him it would cost eleven hundred dollars, Micah called me to ask my advice.

I knew from an experience with my first car that a leak can occur in front of the transmission which is fairly easy to fix. In my case (1970 or so) it cost six dollars. I asked his permission to let me talk with the mechanic. I made the call.

When I got through to the fellow who made the estimate, I told him who I was and that I worked for AMSOIL, a respected name in the automotive aftermarket. After a brief discussion he replaced the estimate with what ultimately became the final bill: $110.

A Woman's Story
The smell of gasoline was getting worse, and there was an oil leak as well. Nancy became concerned enough to bring her [brand name redacted] to the [brand name redacted] dealership, They looked at it and said it would cost $4500 dollars. A friend intervened and said she should get a second opinion. "Why don't you take it to this other place over there?"

The dealership told her it was exceedingly dangerous to even drive it, but she took it anyways, to a mechanic who had worked on her car once before. When all was said and done, the good guys fixed it. All good as new. The final bill: $700.

* * * *
What a sad place we have devolved to. On sinking passenger ships the call would go out, "Women and children first!" They were first because of their pre-eminence. Youth has its future ahead of it. It would be a tragedy to rob them of it. Women deserve consideration and respect.

In these three stories, "women and children" seems to mean, "opportunity to make a few extra bucks." It's shameful to see such unscrupulous behavior, to take advantage of people who may be less likely to know they're being robbed.

Don't get run over. Find a mechanic you trust.
It brings to mind this anecdote from when I first returned from Mexico in 1982 and was job hunting.

I can't recall if I was responding to a want ad or a sign, but I went to apply for a job at a tire shop. After filling out an application we talked a bit and he liked me. He said he would hire me, except he had one concern. He saw that I had been a missionary for a year, and he didn't think I would be a good hire. "You can't make money in this business if you're honest," he said.

That seems to say a lot about the tire business in 1980. Or at least this one. Hopefully things are better than they used to be.

One of the most important people in any of our lives is a mechanic you can trust. I'm grateful for having had a good run in that department. How about you?

* * * *
If you live in the Dallas area, my brother-in-law Harrold Andresen is top notch. His business is called Mechanical Excellence.
If you're here in the Northland, I bring our vehicles to Melanson's on Highway 2. Straight shooters and they know what they're doing. When I was working in Superior I've gone to a few folks but most regularly DJ Auto.
I get no kickbacks for these endorsements.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Local Arts Scene: Holiday Arts and Crafts Season Is Here

I'm fairly certain that you won't have to look too hard to find ways to Buy Local for the Holidays this year. There are events and opportunities on both sides of the bridge here in the Twin Ports, as well as in your own home town as well. Even though next Saturday is promoted as the Buy Local event of the year, you really don't have to wait till then to Think Local.

Benefits of buying local are many. You can actually meet the artisan, and build a relationship with a human being and not just a website. Yes, those A.I. "Assistants" seem to be getting pretty human these days, but there's nothing like a genuine smile with twinkling eyes. Neuroscience says the latter even provides a little dopamine rush.

When you buy local there's also a tax benefit. That is, these are folks who pay taxes locally and help support our community. Who knows where the money goes when you buy online?

Yesterday we visited the Duluth Farmer's Market at 14th Avenue East and Third Street. It was filled with crafters, cheese makers, potters, wreath-makers and all assortment of other creative expressions that would make a home cheerier or a Christmas stocking more delightful.

From there we crossed the bridge to Art on the Planet in Superior. Located on Tower Avenue within a half block of Belknap (park in the rear) it's got all kinds of cool things from wall art to goose quill pens, to Joe Carlson's 4-Leaf Clover pendants, to Kris Nelson Chair Art, and lots more.

I personally like to buy cards and keep them in a drawer where I can shuffle through to find just the right feeling to accompany a check I am sending someone or a birthday greeting. BUY LOCAL. Do as I do... And as I say.

If you do decide to get out and shop around next weekend, there will be the Outdoor Holiday Market on the corner of Hammond and Broadway, kitty-corner from the Red Mug there. Heike McDonald's spices, scarves, novelty items, and scenic gourds are just one booth to stop at. They will no doubt have a bonfire and other booths with friendly people. No robots. (Not yet, anyways.) If the cold is a bit much, grab a coffee at The Red Mug.

There will no doubt be bunches of places to find things in Duluth. Check out Karin Kraemer's Duluth Pottery, then grab another coffee across the street at the Folk School. Need a bite to eat? Tom Hansen has several places on that block now. What's your pleasure? And don't forget to check out the murals that have been added to the Lincoln Park "Craft District" these past couple years.

Now this is cool. A hollow gourd with a cresh inside, lit from within.
You can find these at the Holiday Market next weekend in Superior.
Look for Heike McDonald and say "Hi."
* * * *
Tree Table by Rachelle Kirk @ Art on the Planet
* * * *
Locally made.
* * * *
Hand-painted by Beverly Merritt
* * * *
And these boughs smell so fresh. All natural. No fake scents here.
* * * *
At the Farmer's Market yesterday.
* * * *
Art on the Planet is pairing up with Wine Beginnings for a fun little giveaway leading up to Small Business Saturday! So, when you stop in to get your Small Business Saturday "Passport" stamped for the Superior Chamber of Commerce/Superior Business Improvement District prize drawings on Saturday November 30th, you can enter for a chance to win another fun basket filled with art, wine, and money saving coupons! Winner will be announced at the end of business Saturday, November 30th. 

Homestead by Britt Nicholas. (L) Art on the Planet
All day on Small Business Saturday, shoppers can enjoy free hot chocolate from Rachel's Rustic Decor, participate in her Make and Take Mini Shelf-sitter Sign Workshop for only $8.00 (walk-in's welcome!), browse beautiful and unique offerings from the 140+ artists and artisans represented at Art on the Planet, and take advantage of the special pricing on all Rachelle Kirk art at 25% off as well as deep discounts on Rebecca Couch paintings offered until 12-31-19!
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Lucky 4-Leaf Clovers @ Art on the Planet
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at 816 Tower Avenue, just down the street. They pack and ship 
via USPS, Fedex and UPS. Whatever's your pleasure.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Numbers To Munch On: Average Number of Deaths Per Day in the U.S.

Photo by Cristian Grecu on Unsplash

Average # of deaths per day in US:

Abortion: 2,408
Heart disease: 1,773
Cancer: 1,641
Medical error: 685
Accidents: 401
Stroke: 401
Alzheimer's: 332
Diabetes: 228
Flu: 150
Suicide: 128
Opioids: 115
Drunk driving: 29
Underage drinking: 11
Unintentional Drowning: 10
Teen texting-and-driving: 8
All Rifles: 1

National Center for Health Statistics

Medical Error (The third-leading cause of death in US)


Drunk Driving

Underage Drinking

Unintentional Drowning

Teen Texting while Driving
(Leading cause of death for teen drivers.)

Friday, November 22, 2019

Flashback Friday: JFK Assassinated 56 Years Ago Today and a Few Miscellaneous Loose Ends

"A generation which ignores history has no past — and no future." 
--Robert A. Heinlein

This past couple weeks I've been reading Don't Know Much About History and earlier this week read about the Sixties, which was a remarkably disruptive decade. There were two main fronts that dominated the era, civil rights and Vietnam. Vietnam, however, was a subset of a bigger issue that weighed on the nation's leaders. That bigger issue was the fear of aggressive global communism.

So the decade began with an attempted coup in Cuba and the fiasco known as the Bay of Pigs invasion. For the purposes of this brief post, I will call the Watergate break-in in 1972 the completion of the cycle, even though that incident took a couple years to unravel during which time the Vietnam excursion would come to a much needed close.

Here are some interesting and strange facts that jumped out at me as I read this section of DKMAH.

1. E. Howard Hunt was one of the "plumbers" (along with G. Gordon Liddy and others) who had been tasked by President Nixon with the assignment of stopping security leaks after the Pentago Papers were published by the NY Times. Along with Liddy and others, he was implicated in the Watergate scandal. Four of these others were Anti-Castro Cubans, two were from the Committee To Re-Elect the President (CREEP).

2. Hunt was also part of the team that worked on the disastrous and misguided Bay of Pigs invasion (1961). Hence his connection with the Cubans later at Watergate.

3. Howard Hunt's wife died in a plane crash later in 1972 with $10,000 in one hundred dollar bills that she was conveying to someone in Chicago as hush money.

4. One of JFKs misstresses was Judy Exner, who was also intimately involved with Chicago mob bosses Sam Giancana and Sam Roselli.

Don Michael Corleone
5. Sam Giancana was murdered just before he was to testify at a Church Committee hearing. The Church Committee was a Senate committee created to investigate abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). A primary motive for this exploration of shady dealings included all of Nixon's paranoid manipulations and scandalous activities. Numerous members of the Nixon team did time behind bars.

6.  John Roselli was a Chicago mobster who helped control Las Vegas mob activities and Hollywood. Roselli's decomposing body was found on August 9, 1976, inside a 55-gallon steel fuel drum floating in Dumfoundling Bay near Miami, Florida.

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A friend asked if I were watching the impeachment hearings this week. I said no. I didn't watch the Clinton impeachment hearings either. (He was the second president impeached. Andrew Jackson was the first. Nixon was not impeached. He resigned.)

The House of Representatives has initiated impeachment hearings 62 times since the first Constitutional Convention. The impeachable offenses for Federal officers are "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." The House has impeached 19 Federal officers, two of them presidents: Andrew Jackson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted by the Senate.

In about 30 years we'll read about all the scandals that took place in the 90s through the present and our grandchildren won't believe it.

Hope this hasn't been too dour. I am still trying to process what I went through in my youth.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

John and Anel Ryan Sold Everything and Hit the Road: An Introduction to the Creators of the Barefoot Diary

John and Anel Ryan's Big Adventure
In 2017, John and Anel Ryan sold everything they owned to travel the world as house sitters. Barefoot Diary chronicles how they did it, things they got right, things they screwed up, and the ongoing adventures that occur daily along the journey. Photos are by John. Words are by Anel.

So begins The Barefoot Diary, a very different variation of Kerouac's On the Road or Che Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries. John and Anel (pronounced "uh"-Nell) decided to hit the road after John--an engineer, marketer and entrepreneur--got laid off. They took an early retirement and headed South.

I met Anel via Medium where she self-describes as "Writer, cartoonist, comedienne, blogger and Wonder Woman with a doo rag. In addition to the which she shares with John, she also has two other sites: and

Upon exploring her writing and other creative expressions, I felt a kindred spirit of sorts and wanted to share what they were doing. Part of the attraction for me was seeing that they had lived in Puerto Rico as well as Mexico, two countries I likewise called home for a year each.

Maybe you've been "offered" an early retirement (or were pushed) and hadn't realized there are more options out there than you previously recognized. The world has some pretty vast horizons. Here's Anel's story.

EN: You've certainly been following an atypical life path at this point. Please share how you got here and what you and John have been doing. At some point I hope to circle back and take a deeper dive, but this is a great place to begin.

Anel Ryan: In 2008, my husband John and I started a web development /marketing company called Results 2 Profit, LLC, which had a "sub" company called Connect 2 Clubs. We did websites and marketing for clubs and non-profits all over the United States and Canada. Car clubs, garden clubs, sailing clubs, etc. John had been a medical engineer and a new company lured him back to the medical research field with an offer that we couldn't refuse in 2014. It left me stuck with the company, but hey, he was helping to cure cancer!

He traveled quite a bit. His company paid for me to accompany him wherever he was when it was an extended project. All I needed was a good Internet connection and it was business as usual for me. So this period of our lives got us used to being on the road and the travel bug bit us.

Then three things happened.

John's company downsized and he was the new guy, so he got laid off. I was completely burned out from running the web company all by myself, and the 2016 election happened. (I refuse to talk politics, but we figured the U.S. was in for some "confusing" times, and we didn't want to be in the middle of it.)

So, we sold the company, took early retirement and decided to move to a tropical climate... somewhere.

We thought, at first, that we would manage or buy into a boutique hotel or bed and breakfast. We traveled to and were offered jobs with three of them. But we decided that we were finally FREE from our work details, and didn't want to be tied to one place. So that's when we found out about house sitting. It's a sweet deal because home owners get free reliable care for their homes and pets while they are away, and house sitters get to travel the world, have a place to stay rent-free, and experience places and cultures in a way that traveling as tourists doesn't allow.

And, I wanted to write our story. You were in the marketing business, you know what I'm talking about. I had, for years made other people and companies "shine" with my words and graphics. And, John is a photographer who never really had the opportunity, or time, to really delve into what he wanted to do with his photography art, so it was our turn. In 2017, we sold out...our home, cars, business, and everything we owned to be nomads. We have our retirement, and some savings, but other than that, we have no safety net. And you know what? It's very liberating. We started our blog, Barefoot Diary, with John taking the photos and me writing the stories.

Our very first house sit was on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. John is originally from New Orleans, and as we were looking at places, he said we absolutely shouldn't be in the hurricane belt during hurricane season. I'm from Dallas, Texas. I thought hurricanes were just tornadoes that came from the ocean. I didn't know.

Colors of the day.
Between us, we took the house sit on Vieques thinking, "....what are the odds...what's the worst that could happen...." Well, the odds were not in our favor, and the worst did happen in the form of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. We had no running water, power, cell, Internet, etc. for over 2 months until we left to do our next house sit.

You've done mission work in PR, so you know what amazing people live there. We loaded food (when it finally arrived), helped clear properties, and basically did what we could to help. It was almost a year before the people of Vieques got electricity back. They are amazing. So that's why we returned for 2 house sits this past September until last week. When you go through something like a hurricane, you are bound to the people who experienced it with you in a very, very special way.

Why did the toucan cross the road? (Photo: Costa Rica)
We had just started our blog, Barefoot Diary, when the hurricanes hit. The stories of what we went through with the disasters helped to bring attention to our efforts. Our goal, with our blog, is to prove that the world is not a scary place. There are phenomenal, safe places with amazing people doing incredible things all over the world. We don't talk politics or religion, but we do get a little "apey" with things like keeping the oceans clean and preserving endangered wildlife.

We feel that many people, especially in the United States, have a phobia about new places, races and countries and thus never venture far beyond their own back yard. Some can't afford to travel. Some have physical problems or family commitments that prevent them from venturing out. But most are just plain scared. So we write and snap pictures to show them what's out there. We haven't been out of the Americas yet, but it's on the agenda for 2021.

We would never have been able to afford to experience the world in this special way, without house sitting. We like to stay in a place at least 2 months to really get to know the place and the people.

Ed, last week we were in a shack in the Vieques jungle that had never been finished out after the hurricanes. This week we are in a mansion in Cancun. Our lives are never dull. And we love it.

And... I'm a cartoonist...sorta.

I'm a 64 year old walking/running/water aerobics enthusiast, getting ready to launch my cartoon Wimpy Girl on Medium. The message she promotes is that no matter what your age or athletic ability happens to be, if you just show up and do SOMETHING to improve yourself, you are a super hero. We'll see what happens....eek!

I also wrote a series of stories 20+ years ago called BlabberTales about growing up in the 60s. A few were published in magazines, but I retained the rights. I'm just now starting to illustrate them. I'm hoping to make them into a comic book, graphic story series. They are "Picture Stories for Grownup Kids"

Actually I really don't know what I'm doing with either Wimpy Girl or BlabberTales, but I'm just tossing them out there, like spaghetti on the refrigerator. Maybe someday they will stick.

Related Links
Throwback Thursday: Cuernavaca

All photos courtesy John & Anel. See more of John's work at the Barefoot Diary.

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