do better...

Last week, I submitted a Letter to the Editor for the first time. It was posted in the Caledonia Argus this week, but it wasn't posted in the online version, so I'm posting it here, too for anyone who wanted to see it but doesn't get a paper copy of the Argus. It was printed pretty much as I submitted, with a few small exceptions. 
  1. My subject line was: Extremely poor taste
  2. I addressed the author of the article - who is also the editor.
  3. I included a foot note and they did not.
A copy of what was printed is here and I pasted my original below. 

Subject: Extremely poor taste
Dear Ms. Bialkowski,

I'm writing to express that the front page article in the Caledonia Argus (http://hometownargus.com/2012/11/29/man-found-deceased-in-car/) regarding the death of Brandon Werner was, in my opinion, inappropriate. While I agree that the newspaper can use its platform to have an impact covering sensitive topics, such as suicide, there was no need to tie it to Brandon in such a public way. Your article demonstrates an utter lack of regard for his grieving family and friends both through its general nature and by stealing the words that his family intended for his obituary and remembrance, awkwardly placing them in the middle of your article–not to mention using only bits and pieces that tell an incomplete story.

Yes, I also saw your other post about the "bold leap" you made in choosing to report on it (http://hometownargus.com/2012/12/04/raising-awareness/). You are correct–suicide is a serious and sensitive issue. Helping people to see the warning signs, when possible, and providing ways to get help are both important and a service to the community. So by all means, report on this serious issue and raise awareness... but do it in a tactful way. Also, I suggest you learn the difference between a "bold leap" and a "completely insensitive article."  You had so many other options in how to raise awareness about this issue and you chose the one that hurts members of the community you serve.

Yes, Yes. I also saw Larry Werner's article (http://hometownargus.com/2012/12/04/folks-have-a-lot-to-say-about-suicide-2/). It's a good article that raises awareness of the issues. Perhaps you could have included the tips for prevention with his article and “raised awareness” in a more appropriate way. If you read it carefully, you'll notice that those speaking out about specific individuals who committed suicide are the members of the families impacted directly and who chose to speak publicly, not the reporters or newspaper editors. And, I'm not sure if you missed this part, too?
Don Heinzman, a columnist and editorial writer for ECM, has been working with our company for years on policies related to the way we cover the news. Don has spent more years in this business than I have, is a member of our editorial board and our company’s board of directors. He sent along the ECM policy on suicide coverage and said he thinks it’s the best way to handle this difficult subject.

The policy reads, in part: “Reporting of suicides requires greater sensitivity than deaths due to other unnatural causes such as drowning or murder. Suicides should be reported when involving prominent public areas or public figures.” (Caledonia Argus - Dec. 4, 2012)

I'm not sure what part of this situation was in a "prominent public area" (“vehicle parked in a field") or reporting on a "public figure." So, in addition to tactless and insensitive, it would appear that your article does not align with the policy set forth by ECM, your parent publishing company.

I may no longer live in the Caledonia community, but I care about it, my family that lives there, and Brandon's family. I can't speak for them, but I can speak for myself–and I'm really disappointed.

Brenda Kruse
Maple Grove, MN

p.s. One big difference between us is that I gave Brandon’s family an opportunity to see this before sending it. They approved. Feel free to print it.

CC sent via hard copy to:
ECM Publishing, Inc.
Corporate Office
4095 Coon Rapids Blvd.
Coon Rapids, MN 55433


Whoa - I'm kind of a whiner

It's Thanksgiving (tomorrow)! We have lots to be thankful for and this is the time of year to spend some time thinking about those things.

In the meantime, we're getting ready for one of the best parts... Thanksgiving dinner! A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to Mom about the menu, and it went something like this:  
My Stuffing -
the sweet one with the raisins.
Mom: I think I might just make one kind of stuffing this year.

Me: Which one?

Mom: I was thinking the sage one.

Me: OK. I'll bring the other one... you know, the sweet one with the raisins.

Mom: You don't think the sage one will be enough?

Me: I don't want that one. I'll just make the other one.

I don't whine a lot about food, but when it comes to Thanksgiving and my stuffing, it's not a question. But, I'm happy to make it myself. (I'll admit - and appreciate - that mom started tonight, though... I'll finish tomorrow.)

Thinking all of the Thanksgiving food crises were averted, this conversation happened last weekend:

Best buns ever. (sorry, Mom!)
Me: Are we having buns from the bakery? (This isn't really a question... what I mean is: We will have buns from the bakery.)

Mom: I forgot to order them...

Me: It's OK. Can't we just pick some up there?

Mom: Maybe. I can try to go there over lunch this week. Otherwise, I was thinking I can get some at the grocery store. They are almost as good?

Me: What? No they're not. Not even close!

Mom: Maybe I will just make some.

Me: No offense - because you're the best cook I know - but no one can beat the bakery buns. Can't Dad just go pick some up in the morning?

Mom: Sigh. 

On Tuesday morning, Mom called me at 7:45 a.m. - and I could tell she was laughing and mocking me a bit - to tell me she picked up buns from the bakery. Another crisis averted.

The buns and the stuffing are the two things I can't seem to compromise on for Thanksgiving dinner. I think I'd even be OK if there was pot roast instead of turkey. Or cheesy potatoes instead of mashed. And I don't care what kind of salad or vegetable. I'll even live without pumpkin pie. Just don't mess with my stuffing and buns!

So, on this Happy Thanksgiving, I'm very thankful for my Mom who puts up with me being a whiner about Thanksgiving dinner. And to be fortunate enough to be having such a lovely meal with family who love me. And because I have great friends who are there for me -- and are super fun to boot.

Happy Thanksgiving! I'd like to know - what Thanksgiving foods will you not do without? What are you thankful for this year?


mean people suck

Yes, it's been about 6 months since I've last posted on here... I've been busy (blah blah) and I guess I haven't felt motivated that I had something interesting or important to write about that couldn't be covered in 20 words or less, or via photo on facebook.

That being said, tonight I am incredibly inspired. And impressed. And upset. And those things together make me motivated to write.

I went to educator night for the performance Mean by the Youth Performance Company this evening. If you're my Facebook friend, or a longtime reader (which, most of you probably are because most of you are probably my friends and family), you've likely seen posts from me about this show before because this is now my third time seeing it in the past 3 years. And, if they do it again next year, I'll go again.

I have no doubt that many people are now aware that October is Bullying Prevention Month, given the recent press about Jennifer Livingston (who, by the way, I applaud). Well, Mean is about this very topic and focuses on the stories of three teenage students who are bullied because of different things - weight, religion, and sexual orientation. In addition to those main stories, there are snippets from other students who talk about being bullied because they are poor, disabled, dyslexic, or they wear glasses, or are a different race. Periodically throughout the show, the lights dim and news clips of actual stories of teens who were bullied and, in many cases, of teens who committed suicide as a result of bullying are played - and it's a hard reminder that this is real and not just a performance.

Before the show, the founder of YPC explained to us why they decided to do this show. She told us that she would come to the office and hear the teens talk about something their "friend" did or said to them that was just horrible. And she wondered why they considered these people "friends." The tipping point was when she heard a story of a boy who, when he was biking home from school, was stopped by his "friends" because of a dispute over a video game - they poured rubbing alcohol on him and started him on fire. (getting uncomfortable yet? good. I'd be worried if you weren't.) She said she saw the mother of this boy on the Today show, saying that she would spend every extra moment she had to work to try to prevent this from happening to someone else... and encouraged those who have a platform to get the word out to do the same. And guess what? YPC had a platform. She went into the office that morning and told the team they were going to do a show about bullying and it was going to be called Mean, because that's what people could be.

The show was written by an alum of YPC who interviewed teens about their experience - and the things now depicted in the show are based on actual stories. The music is moving and wonderful, and the teens performing and singing are so amazing and talented. Three years later, they are doing their third run of the show and I'm glad I've been to each one. I think it keeps getting better and better.

After the show, there was a time for discussion and, because it was educators night, it was a bit of a different situation than they are normally in - where teens may be talking to teens. But here, educators had a chance to talk to teens. The teens are from various schools around the metro area; one student said he went to school online; a couple were in college; and one was a home-schooled student from Wisconsin. A very diverse group from different backgrounds. The teens talked about their own experiences being bullied. One girl said she was locked in a bathroom for an hour or two and no other students helped her. She had to wait for a teacher or administrator to come in and find her because no one told or helped until then. Another talked about the importance of listening if a child or teen tells you that something is wrong, sharing her experience of going through junior high asking for help, but no one believing her. These stories are heartbreaking and real - but I'm so glad they were so open with us because I'm sure it wasn't easy.

They talked about how doing the show has impacted them. A few of the students are from a local school that had a cyberbullying issue recently and, in response, a group of students started a twitter account that complimented rather than criticized. (Pretty awesome.) Others talked about how the experience made them aware that even the little things we say can have huge impact without us realizing and the need to think about what we say is so important. And, what maybe stuck with me the most on this topic was something an educator in the audience shared. She said that her school brought a group of students to the show last year; on the bus on the way home a boy was bullying a girl on the bus and she was crying. The best friend of the bully stood up for her to his friend and said "Didn't you hear what they just told us?!" So clearly this show has an impact.

So why am I so upset? Yes, I'm upset that bullying happens. But that's not the biggest reason I'm upset at this very moment. During the discussion period, people were asking "how do we get the word out? and how do we get more people to hear this message?" YPC shared with us that they recently had a school reserve 600 tickets for students at the school to come to a daytime showing of the show. Then, they asked to see a copy of a previous performance. And then, YPC was informed that the school was pulling their reservation for 600 tickets because they felt the content was inappropriate for their students because they objected to the portrayal of a gay character.

This is why I'm upset. What does this teach the kids and the community? If you think that ignoring or not exposing kids or teens to a character who is gay is going to somehow magically shelter them from the issue... get real. The reality is that kids (and adults) are going to be exposed, at some point or another to diversity, whether that's through sexual orientation, race, religion, disability, or any other number things. And that exposure is not going make them "catch something" that will make them gay or feel the need to convert to another religion. By not accepting the reality and not teaching kids that - regardless of your beliefs - you need to be respectful, kind, and supportive, it is promoting division and separation.

It's completely unacceptable to pick and choose in which situations bullying is ignored or wrong because the answer is pretty straightforward: It's never OK. And that is what we should be teaching. If you could have seen the YPC staff and the youth performers as they talked about this situation, it was clear how incredibly hurt they were by being told that the content of their show was "inappropriate" when the intention is to inform, help to begin really difficult discussions on a sensitive subject (successfully), and to promote an end to bullying.

On top of that, YPC is a nonprofit organization that does amazing things in the community and provides a number of not only performance opportunities, but leadership and education opportunities. Once you have a chance to hear from the performers in person, the stories blow you away. And to cancel 600 tickets that had been committed (you do the math) is a pretty big hit to a nonprofit.

I guess my point is this: mean people suck. But the performance, Mean, is amazing. I ask you to please support YPC  by going to see the show sometime before October 14.

Stand Up! (and bring a friend)


things I learned in Colorado

If you read my last post closely, you know that I went to Colorado for a vacation with some girl friends this month to celebrate my friend KVOs 30th birthday. It. Was. Awesome.

We flew into Denver from our respective cities (Minneapolis and LA) on Thursday morning, rented a car, and drove about 2.5-3 hours to Nathrop, Co to Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort. On the way, we stopped at Dorothy's Homemade Tamales in Fairplay because it was featured on the Food Network's Best Think I Ever Ate show for their ... well, tamales.

Once we got to the resort, we checked in and then hit the pools. They had natural hot springs, man-made hot tub things with natural hot water, and heated pools. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. It. Was. Awesome. We drove "into town" to Buena Vista and had some great Asian food for dinner.

On Friday, we split up from one-another for a while. A couple of the girls got massages, another went for a run, and I grabbed breakfast and then took my camera out. I figured since I took a class last summer to learn what all the buttons on it mean, I should try to practice with it. Here's one of them:

We got back together around noon and sat by/in the pools some more, and then went for a hike into the mountains to see some "falls" - which, when we got up there, seemed to be water flowing down rocks in the hill... not giant falls. But, it was still cool and we got some great pictures there, too.

Friday night, we went to "into (the other) town" and had dinner at the Boathouse in Salida, Co. By this point, I think I can safely say we've eaten some pretty great food. We went back to the resorts, put our suits back on, and headed back to the hot tub/spring things to look at the stars for a while. I SOOO wish we could have gotten a picture of the stars. Amazing. We may or may not have had some wine, too.

Saturday, we took our time getting ready and I took the opportunity to enjoy our view from the patio on our room one last time.

We headed back to Denver to celebrate the last night of our vacation, which conveniently was on St. Patty's day. We took a different route back than we came on so we could see some more things. We drove through Breckenridge and went through the Johnson Tunnel.

I didn't have many pictures on my camera from our night in Denver, but we went to eat at a nice steakhouse and then went to a couple of bars, although I think we were still home by midnight or 12:30 a.m. We are party animals. But, we had fun - we'll leave it at that.

On Sunday, we walked around the 16th street mall that is similar to the Nicollet mall area in Minneapolis, if you're familiar. Then, we headed back toward the airport and stopped at the Denver Botanical Gardens for a bit.

Then, rental car return (in a dust storm), airport, and return flight home.

It was a great trip, and I learned some things, too. All of our experiences should be educational, right?
    1. Altitude is weird. We definitely noticed the difference in altitude. Denver is over 5,000 feet above sea level... it's called the mile-high city for a reason. The resort area was nearly 8,000 feet above sea level (if not more in places). For some point of reference, Minneapolis is around 700 or 800 feet. Los Angeles is around 300 feet. It's fine when just sitting or walking level, but going up big hills or steps caused me to be a bit winded... much more easily than normal, anyway. Speaking of which... 
    2. There is no such thing as too much water. Turns out it's true that altitude can affect levels of hydration, which I found out the hard way on our first day. I didn't drink much water and ended up with a really annoying headache later in the day... and when you add that to the lack of sleep from the night prior, the altitude (see above), and the dry air there, I was a little crabby for a while. But, we figured it out and stopped at the grocery store Thursday evening and bought four gallons of water for our room. By Saturday morning, we had finished 3.5 of them, I think, and that doesn't include the times we filled up at the water fountains by the pool/spa area. I can't speak for the girls, but the more water I drank, the better I felt.
    3. Taking time for yourself is a good thing. Not because we weren't getting along, but we all had a chance to do something we wanted to do without toting everyone else with us. I wouldn't have gotten to take some of the photos I got if we didn't separate for a bit because they wouldn't have thought my geekiness was fun. And they would have had a harder time going for runs or getting massages. But, we also did lots of fun stuff together that we all enjoyed a lot, like the mountain hike, eating great food, and sitting in hot springs.
    4. Waking up to the mountains rocks. I got used to sitting on the patio in the morning, reading my Nook, drinking a cup of coffee, and looking at the mountains, even though we were only there for two days. It was difficult to wake up to the townhouse across the street for the first day or two after we got back.
    5. I know a lot of country songs. At times, the only station available on the radio was country. I knew way more than I thought I would because I hardly listen to it on the radio here. They must have been playing some "oldies, but goodies" I guess. I think I would have won if there were a contest for knowing the most country song words in our car.
    6. Girlfriends are great. We all traveled well together (at least I think so... I hope they thought the same!) and we had a lot of fun. KVOs birthday trip was a success and we all got to do something we hadn't done before. 

    All in all, I recommend it. It was relaxing, beautiful, and full of laughs. It's not Vegas, but it's not supposed to be. It was exactly what we were hoping.

    For those of you not on Facebook, you can check out the pics on this Kodak Gallery album.


    no more cake! ok, maybe just a little piece...

    Last Saturday, my friend KVO joined the 30 club which, in my opinion, is pretty awesome. And, it's about time (she's a young'un in our group). For her birthday, I made her a cake, another friend brought lunch over to her house, and another brought the makings for punch (non-alcoholic - it was the middle of the day, people), and her adorable nephew provided the smiles and laughs. We had a pretty awesome spread!

    After lunch, we had the cake. Rewind 2 months or so... I told KVO that I found the recipe for Turtle Cake from Cafe Latte online. She loves this cake, so I told her that I would try making it for her for her birthday.

    Fast forward 2 months back to present time... KVO has not forgotten the promise to make this cake for her birthday and is sure to remind me. :)  So, I start getting thinking about this, the ingredients, and the logistics... and for someone who has planned things for a living, I did not do a great job with this.
    • Round pans. I have one, but forgot... so I bought one. This turns out to be fine because it's a three layer cake, so I need to make 3 anyway and this cuts down my baking time. Win. 
    • Cake carrier. I do not have one because I never make round tall cakes, so I don't need one. Until now. After asking a few friends, I find a kind soul to borrow one to me. (thanks, Katie!) Win. 
    • Dry ingredients. I have all of these things at home - flour, cocoa, sugar, chocolate chips, pecans, baking soda.  I even had some of the other ingredients - egg and caramel . Win.
    • Milk. The initial recipe I looked up called for whole milk in the frosting, so I go to the gas station to get a small one because who needs a half gallon of whole milk? Not this girl. The recipe on the Cafe Latte site that I ended up using does not specify whole milk, so clearly I forget and use 1%. Anyone need a pint of whole milk? Fail. 
    • Coffee. I wanted to start making the cakes on Thursday so I could frost on Friday and eat on Saturday. I wish I would have looked at the recipe closer and realized I needed hot coffee when I stopped at the gas station to get whole milk on Thursday after work (see above) because I got home and was ready to start. No coffee. No baking on Thursday. I stopped at the gas station Friday to get coffee on my way home from work, instead. Fail.
    • Buttermilk. My mom gave me a great tip that if you use a tablespoon of vinegar to 1 c. of milk and let it sit for about 10 minutes, it is a great substitute for buttermilk. Awesome! So, I didn't buy buttermilk. I joked with mom, "watch - now I won't have vinegar at home... haha!" You probably see where this is going. No white vinegar at home. We have apple, balsamic, red wine, and even blueberry pomegranate vinegar... but no white. Fail. I tried asking two different neighbors  (which was kind of embarrassing). They didn't have white vinegar, either. Double fail. Online, it said I could use cream of tartar instead... sweet! Except I didn't have that either. I went back to the store.  Triple fail (I think the kids would call this an "epic fail").
    But, once I actually got started, it wasn't so bad. The cake was pretty easy to make and I felt very Betty Crocker. The cake layers finished and I cooled them, per the directions. I made the frosting and started assembling the cake. Cake, frosting, caramel, pecans - rinse and repeat 2 more times. With the exception of forgetting caramel on the second layer and having to take the top off, things went smoothly. But jostling the top made it crack just a bit... but I don't think it had an impact on the taste. I was really happy with how it turned out, being my first attempt at a big layer cake thing.

    Here's how it turned out:

    The birthday girl & the cake.

    The cake and it's ooey, gooey, layers of awesome.
    It actually did taste like the cake at Cafe Latte, which, I suppose makes sense since it's their recipe. :) And, had I planned a little better up front, it would have gone a lot more smoothly. Case-in-point why I am a planner by nature, typically - I'm a mess when I don't.

    I had one piece of the cake at Keri's party and I don't think I can eat cake again for a few weeks. It was SO rich, but SO delicious. When I came home, after wraps, salads (pasta, spinach, and fruit), punch, and cake, I came home and took a food-coma nap on the couch for a while. And it was worth it.

    As an aside, happy birthday to my very good friend, KVO. She is smart, beautiful, funny, kind, thoughtful, responsible, trustworthy, and just plain wonderful. I think her 30s are going to bring all of the very good things she deserves in life. I'm fortunate to be her friend and look forward to celebrating with her (and the girls!) more in Colorado later this week. :)


    a different kind of edible arrangement?

    Today I was having kind of a long day... but, I got the most random and hilarious voicemail at the end of the day. Please note: this is the funniest voicemail of the day... I also received the funniest call (that I answered) today. I can tell you about that later.

    Anyway, back to the voicemail. It was 3:38 p.m. and I looked at my phone and saw I had a voicemail from an unknown number. When I listened, it went something like this:

    "Hi Brenda, this is [guy] from Hog Masters. Please call me back at [number] as soon as you can. I have your pigs here, and I need an address for where to deliver them. Thanks!"

    You may be having the same reactions that I did. First, "Hogmasters?" and then "my pigs?" I was as surprised as you are! I had a couple of colleagues listen to the message and we laughed. And joked that, maybe instead of someone sending me flowers or an edible arrangement, someone is sending me pigs! And that perhaps, instead of a bonus this year, I'm getting a truck of pigs. What a great surprise!

    And we laughed... and I needed it, so I was happy.

    But, it got better.

    I called guy back to let him down nicely that I was, unfortunately not the intended recipient of the pigs. Instead of the phone ringing, it played "Sweet Home Alabama" (good song) and when guy answered, it went something like this:

    Me: Hi, you called me earlier about a pig delivery... I think you may have the wrong number.

    Guy: Oh, yes! Sorry about that, I did have the wrong number.

    Me: Oh, good. When I got your message, I thought to myself: 'I don't think the townhome association allows me to have pigs." (laughs)

    Guy: (also laughs) Well, they aren't alive anymore - they've been butchered.

    Me: Oh... (gets a little uncomfortable)

    Guy: (remains cheery) Yeah, they are for a wedding and they gave me the wrong phone number. But thanks for calling me back!

    Me: No problem! Glad you found the right place for them!

    Guy: I did. Have a great weekend!
    So, turns out the pigs were a different kind of edible arrangement... and they were not for me. I'm OK with that.

    Have a great weekend!