A year ago I retired from the University of North Dakota. Evidently someone must have noticed I was gone. This Spring I received an email indicating I had been labeled emeritus and given a gift. I was asked to report to the Office of the President to pick up my gift. So I did.

Emeritus is derived from the greek – merit and tokus. Merit implies the need for a celebration and well tokus you can look up for yourself. Evidently emeritus suggests that there is now cause for a celebration as we can see that you are leaving (sometimes and don’t let the door hit your backside on the way out).

The present? This one had me stumped.



I was given a ream of stationary and a stack of envelopes. I think this was the decision of the President’s secretarial staff.Presidents do not involve themselves with such decisions. There is a possibility UND hired a consultant, but I still think the secretaries had the final say. I can kind of imagine the conversation.

Secretary 1 – Grabe is coming over to collect his emeritus gift. What can we give him?

Secretary 2 – The traditional gift is a watch or a rocking chair. The legislature has been watching our budget so extravagant gifts like watches are a thing of the past. The boss has grown quite attached to that rocking chair so I do not want to explain to him we gave it to a faculty member.

Secretary 1 – We must have something around here that will do. Look in the back room and see what you can find.

Secretary 2 -There was a coffee cup with an inappropriate logo, but the cup had stains I could not remove.  How about this – I found some stationary and envelopes.

Secretary 1 – Shall we throw in some stamps?

Secretary 2 – I may have a couple in my purse.


What do I do when I am puzzled by some event in my life? I take a picture and write a blog post.


OK – it probably did not go down exactly as I have described. My name does appear at the top of each sheet of stationary.

Probably an afternoon’s work for a work study student.

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The one with the sauce rack

Have you seen that television commercial in which the guy decides he cannot spend his orange money on the awesome grill with the sauce rack because he must save for his awesome retirement. Well, when retirement comes Cindy decides there is no longer a reason to wait.


Evidently, it is time to spend the orange money. I wonder if I could spend some on a couple of big kids to help me move this thing to the deck.

For those who do not understand the “orange money” reference, view a couple of the ads on Youtube.

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Don’t put your nose in where it does not belong

So I was spreading lime on the grass. As I moved around the perimeter of the yard, I was startled by snakes. These things will get your attention.



It gets weirder. The snakes were amorously engaged and one of the snakes evidently makes a poor decision and tries to force its head through the wire net that borders our yard.  I decided to give the snakes some privacy after I took a couple of pictures.


Before we went out for dinner this evening, Cindy wanted to see where I had found the snakes. One snake remained with his/her head stuck in the mesh. Evidently snakes do not have a reverse and the poor animal kept trying to forge ahead. His/her partner turned out only to be interested in a short term relationship and was gone. We could not get the snake out by trying to push it backward or by picking up the wire and shaking. The wire would have to be cut. This was not an easy task. The snake hissed when touched and twisted around. A safe approach – hedge clippers – could not cut the wire immediately around the neck. This would require a delicate touch. The solution turned out to be a wire cutter I located in Cindy’s hobby tool kit. This small tool required a close encounter of the snake kind so I used a shovel to hold the head down and was able to snip the wire. Away it slithered.

There is probably a lesson here, but I will leave it to you to figure out just what that might be.


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Danbury Cares

These days we spend a lot of time at our lake place near Danbury, WI. This is a pretty remote area. I must drive nearly 13 miles to visit a coffee shop. I prefer a shop within walking distance.

Danbury may not actually be a town. I am not certain of the official meaning of unincorporated. There is a great grocery/liquor store and a nice gas station/restaurant/outdoor sporting goods store. And, we have a post office. I had a passport picture taken there. The service was discontinued. I may have been the only patron. There is also a casino. The casino has a $2 breakfast which I enjoy. I do not enjoy gambling – it seems very boring.

There are several vacant buildings in Danbury. Lately, the building (we decided it was an abandoned bank) has been occupied by a donut shop. Some retirees from Little Canada (this is a real community) decided they were restless and they opened the donut shop. They are doing this as a charity to support various causes in Danbury. The donuts are great – a dozen for $5. The proprietors make no income from their work. Every Friday – Sunday they prepare the treats and man the store. With the exception of supplies, everything goes to charity.




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Finally – A Winner

I have this game I play. It is a simple game, but deceptively challenging. I frequently make the drive from Danbury, WI to Webster, WI to have coffee at my favorite north woods shop. I have been doing this for three years and have made this trip possibly a hundred times. Here is the game – I try to make it from Danbury to Webster without being passed.

To appreciate this challenge you need to consider some of the factors that are involved. These two towns are about 7 miles apart. This is not a heavily populated area and many times I see only 3-4 cars moving in either direction. This is a two lane highway with one passing passing lane about half way for maybe half a mile – slow traffic please move to the right.

What makes the game so exciting is that I never win. Today, victory was finally mine – another life milestone achieved. I thought I was going to make it a couple of weeks ago, but then a car entered from a side road. I did not see the car coming so I could not slow down and allow it to enter before I passed the entry point (this is allowed in the game) and I was passed just a couple of miles short of the goal.

You might suggest I invest in a faster vehicle. I suppose. I like to drive a truck up here so I kind of fit in. However, my Ford Ranger is likely the wimpiest truck in the county and something with more horsepower might improve my odds.

My disadvantage in this game is that by my rules I must drive the speed limit. I can accelerate as forcefully as I want, but I am not allowed to exceed 55. There is something about this combination of factors that makes it so exciting. In theory, I should never lose, but I never win. I keep trying because I find the challenge so exciting.

According to my scholar friends who study games, these experiences can teach us much. If I accept this position, I must now attempt to surmise just what I am learning. Losing when you do the right thing cannot be the lesson. I am thinking I have learned that “the journey is its own reward”. You do not have to win to enjoy the ride.

Think about that. One more life lesson from your friend – the curmudgeon.

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Big City Ways

We have actually lived in the Twin Cities for only a few weeks. However, we have had some unique first experiences.

A couple of days ago someone spray painted graffiti on our garage. This was a first for us.


This seems like pretty amateurish work. If someone wants to generate one of those really cool murals I would be pleased. This seems more like it is Spring break for middle schoolers and they could find nothing else to do.

The new experiences continued. We went to the local hardware store to see what we should do to fix the mess. We expected we would have to paint over the the painted area and were worried about getting the paint to match. Repainting the entire garage seemed like a lot of work.

It turns out that they sell graffiti remover. Who knew?



While I am grateful that a small hardware store carried this product, knowing that a small hardware store had the product and the clerk knew just where to find it is also somewhat of a concern.

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Why does this thing make me self conscious

We can’t resist cool technology. If we can think of nothing else, we explain our purchases by claiming we must investigate the educational potential of what we now own.

Here is the newest gadget. This is the Echo from Amazon. I know it looks like an insulated coffee cup (Note to self – be careful in the early morning), but it is a device connected to the Internet that listens to your questions and attempts to provide answers.

Last night I was having trouble getting the device to work. I had trouble remembering how to address the device. It insists on being called Alexa and I kept calling it Alexi. I have never been that good with names and Alexa seemed to take this personally.

Then I had difficulty getting a complete question out without stumbling over my words. Normally, I can speak clearly and intelligently, but talking to a coffee cup messed me up. If I slurred words, it (perhaps I should say she) would not respond. If I stumbled on a word, she would not respond. Trying to enunciate clearly seemed to make it worse. Once I become self conscious, I have to give it a rest. I let Cindy do the talking and all was well. I have noticed a strange type of technology phobia that degrades my speech. This is a known issue. I hate talking on the telephone and I walk into fast food establishments rather than having to speak into the box when driving through.

Alexa and I are getting along better this morning.

“Alexa, tell me a joke”

What is black and white and read all over?

A newspaper

“Alexa, will it snow today?”

It might snow in Platteville today. There is a 58% chance. You can expect about .8 inches.

[not exactly sure where Platteville is, but it must be close to here. The prediction sounds about right]

“Alexa, what is the time of the Kansas basketball game.”

Kansas jayhawks will play later today at 4 against the Wichita shockers.

“Alexa, play Somewhere over the rainbow by Iz”

Here is a sample of somewhere over the rainbow by Katharine McPhee


[I can’t pronounce Israel Kamakawiwoole]

“Alexa, play Somewhere over the rainbow by Judy Garland”

“Alexa, do you like me?”



All I need to know

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Curmudgeon’s cut and paste inspirational quote page

I have this love/hate thing with Twitter. I check Twitter nearly as often as I check my email, but I constantly lament the inane content I find there. I am pleased we have moved past the point of explaining what we have for breakfast, but I have other issues. I think I am presently most annoyed by those who offer numerous inspirational quotes.

My wife is a fan of inspirational quotes. While I could overlook this as a minor fault, she somehow feels she must read them aloud to me. I do what I can to discourage this practice but see persists. She seems to feel I would be a happier or a more productive person if I was more inspired. I tell her that inspiration is not my problem.

I have decided to make the best of this situation. There seems to be no way to block quotes. Since I can think of no technical solution, I will try to “turn lemons into lemonade”.

My plan is to try to make money on inspirational quotes. I will spend a little time collecting these quotes, accumulate the quotes on a web page which I will surround with Google ads, and wait for the money to roll in. I had this idea yesterday and I have already generated quite a few “gems”. I have two suggested applications –  1) visit my page and read the quotes to become inspired – make certain you click the associated ad as a thank-you before you leave and 2) copy and paste one of these quotes if you feel the need to add to the clutter on Twitter. Please add the hashtag – #dontblamethecurmudgeon.

In summary, to quote Mr. Gump – stupid is as stupid does.


Arrogance is the camouflage of insecurity. – Tim Fargo

Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

“Be true to your work, your word, and your friend.” — Henry David Thoreau

Don’t exercise your freedom of speech until you have exercised your freedom of thought. – Tim Fargo

“Don’t wish it were easier, wish you were better.

Fair isn’t everybody getting the same thing… fair is getting what each kid needs to be successful.

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” — John Wooden

Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing whether or not to say it.

“No” doesn’t always mean “never.” Sometimes it just means “not yet.”

“One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory.” – Rita Mae Brown

“Only dead fish go with the flow.” — Sarah Palin

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. – Thomas A. Edison

“Pain nourishes courage. You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you.” – Mary Tyler Moore

Surround yourself with the people who make you better, and you will have better outcomes.

Technology will not replace teachers, but teachers who use technology will replace those who do not.

“The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

“You have to teach students HOW to think but not dictate WHAT they think.”


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I could have been fined, jailed, or both.


I could have been fined, jailed, or both.

I got off with a “stern” warning. I must admit that the 40ish officer and his twenty-something partner using their best professional demeanor required that I exercise great care in not giggling. Something about their glorified golf cart and young age tested my mental toughness. Besides, I could have been fined, jailed, or both.

So, I was walking on the beach down to the pier. I had taken my camera this time with the intent of taking a picture of the pier with the waves breaking in the background. I could not find the angle that satisfied my photographer’s eye. I thought I would head up to the parking lot where the tourists left their cars and then I saw the dunes. Perhaps I could locate an overlook and come up with an image captured through the sea oats.

I walked along the parking lot searching for a path. I saw two women walking ahead of me through the dunes and headed in their direction. I found the “path” they were using. It lead out toward the highway so I gave up on taking a picture.

As I was heading down the highway – walking facing traffic – I sensed this vehicle pull up behind me. Since I was walking against traffic the vehicle kind of surprised me. This is when I met the sand dunes police guys. The driver gets out and said something that I thought meant I should sit in the golf cart. It turned out he wanted me to place my camera on the seat. The image of me sitting in the front seat of the cart while being questioned does seem kind of unlikely.

I was interrogated by the old guy. He wanted to know precisely where I had exited the dunes. I did not actually know, but my explanation of somewhere between here and the driveway was not precise enough. I finally admitted I did not know for sure. He went through a thorough description of the legality of walking through the dunes and explained that I had ignored the numerous signs warning against such activity. I did not see a sign, but this was evidently not sufficient. The dunes are very fragile and there is this rat or mouse the protectors of which prevent high rises from being built so I obviously could not walk there. I admit this was the one comment to which I could not resist offering a comeback. I told the officer that I had not stepped on any rats.

The officer asked me where I was from. I have no idea why I claimed Iowa. This is technically true if the question is where were you born. I am not certain if I was rattled or confused from talking with all of the other old folks who live down here about my history.

The officer asked for my identification and I thought I would soon be fined, jailed or both. Of course, my North Dakota license should have alerted the officer to possible conflicts in my story but he did not notice. Evidently, being from the midwest allowed me a break. I should have known better, but didn’t. He took a picture of my license with this phone. Now, I am in some kind of database as an evil doer.

I was released with a strong warning. One last time I was asked to explain why I decided to walk through the dunes. This time I mentioned I was just following the two women who could still be seen attempting to make their getaway up the road in front of us. The officers let me go and headed out in pursuit of the ladies.

I do know not to walk through the dunes. I did not learn this from the signs and it was the reason I did not deviate from the path to walk toward the crest of the dunes overlooking the beach to get a picture. Still, it was an interesting experience and I appreciate the work of the guys who stopped me.


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Finally, a positive way to understand Twitter chats

When a husband asks his wife “how was your day”, the question and the response are usually trivial. What is important is the unstated message that “I care about you”. Perhaps this is the way it is with Twitter chats. (not my insight – a comment I adapted from Mediactive)

Followers of my social commentary likely know that I am not a fan of Twitter chats (often described as edchats when involving groups of educators). An edchat typically lasts an hour and consists of group Twitter responses to a series of questions. The questions are often available ahead of time. I have attempted to participate in some and I have observed other Twitter chats and have formed my opinions based on these experiences. I find nearly all tweets are trivial – platitudes or socialization – nothing informative or original (e.g., links to resources I had not encountered). I blame a) the limited expressive potential of Twitter (140 characters) and b) my guess that few participants familiarize themselves with the questions before participating – in other words nearly all involved are shooting from the hip. Perhaps Twitter chats need to be flipped (another ed innovation). I suggest that 15 individuals spending one hour each represent a great deal of commitment that would be better spent if each read a book.

I really wish some grad student would investigate this phenomena. One could interview participants and create a coding system for the interaction (much like analyses of classroom discussions). It would be an important contribution if it generated conclusions that would lead to helpful suggestions.

When in a cynical mood, I also question the motives of some participants who seem to promote themselves through this communication model. In particular those who believe their expertise should demand a price should they be invited to share their wisdom face to face. This message contains an interesting internal contradiction if you consider it in depth.

My reading of Mediactive has caused me to mellow a bit. The Edchat probably does serve a social function among those who value educational applications of technology. I wish it would be represented for this contribution.

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