The Apple Tree | March 9, 2022

Last week, the New York Post put up a graphic that identified North Dakota as “the best state at solving Wordle.”  I’m not sure my participation is helping those numbers, but I absolutely love Wordle because I love WORDS.  I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh man you are so deep I hope they have a Nobel Prize for deepness because you would win it” – but listen, some people like sports and other people like collecting decorative spoons and I like words.  

I like the look of words; such as how “murmur” is flat and unassuming but is filled with lines that roll up and down.  I like the sound of words; “truth,” for example, is spoken in a short staccato at the front of your mouth, while “lies” slides slowly from the back.  I like how words can be broken apart and pieced back together to make new words, such as how “icicle” and “dream” make up “dreamsicle” and all of those things are different but can be married into the same family and therefore related. 

(That feeling you’re experiencing right now is what happens when your entire body does a massive eyeroll.)

Words need to be used, so I take them out for a spin through writing exercises.  There are roughly an infinite number of ways to do a writing exercise, but my preference is to pick out a single word and see what story it wants to tell.  So, I play Wordle because it’s supplying me with an endless stream of possible words for writin’.  Here’s a poor example of Wordle performance, but good example of finding some great words:


I feel like I could spend two weeks on those five words alone.  “’I’ll write myself a note so I don’t forget,’ she said; both of them knowing full well she wouldn’t.”  “The pride paused momentarily behind the blue line.  With a tap of the goalie stick, they emerged; moving as one on a hunt for the net.”  (Meh, that one is pretty terrible.)  I mean, BRINE alone is worth the day.  “He packed the cooler tight with his personal brine of Coors Light, beef jerky, and clementines, and loaded up the fishing boat for a long, slow pickling in the summer sun.”

Anyways, I recently used the word APPLE and thought I’d share the story with you.  Please don’t tell me if you think it sucks.



Try as he might to convince everyone otherwise, Ronald Moen sure did love his apple trees.  In fact, he loved them so much that Jerry figured he’d better mention it, just so there wasn’t any trouble.

“Oh, yeah, they’re real delicious,” Jerry said, using his watering can to gesture to the Moen’s front steps – which, because it was now August, was decorated in an acre’s worth of handpainted wooden sunflowers.  “Ron and Melba keep a basket of them on the porch for anyone who wants some.  They’ll give you a whole bagful if you ask…you know, so…”  The egg salad sandwich he had for lunch flipped in Jerry’s stomach at the thought of being unneighborly to these nice young folks.  “You don’t need to worry about those trees.  If a branch or the cherries are bothering you, you tell Ron and he’ll take care of it, to be sure,” he nodded.  “You don’t need to worry about those trees.”

Mark – who had the same baby face of all the other Tollefsrud boys; Jerry’d have to rib Bob Tollefsrud a bit about it the next time they were at the VFW – grinned.  “As soon as I saw those apple trees, I knew we were going to buy the house.  I had apple trees in my backyard growing up, too.”

“Oh, yeah?”  Same look of mischief, too; whole family of scamps.  Jerry wiped a leather-tanned hand over his forehead.  “Well, like I said, Ron and Melba keep a basket on the porch, so…”

It was at that moment that the Moen’s garage door opened and Ron came lumbering out.

“’Lo!” he bellowed, sucking in his Santa Claus belly so he could slide a small axe into the waistband of his toolbelt.  “Ronald Moen, how you be.”

They exchanged the usual introductions – who knew whose cousins, how it sure was a hot time to move but winter was right around the corner so no complaining allowed, if Mark’s kids and Ron’s grandkids were excited about school, that sort of thing – and then Mark said,

“I was telling Jerry here how much I like your apple trees.  I’m going to go get one of my own this afternoon.”

“You’re gonna need more than one so they can fertilize each other,” Ron boomed.  Across the street, Jerry’s old, nearly-deaf dog lifted his head because Ron’s voice could awaken the dead.  “My mother-in-law gave us them two as a housewarming gift.  Gave us saplings because she loves finding work for me to do.  Yep, they are a lot of work.  A lot a-dang work.”

“I don’t –” Mark started.

“They get real buggy, you know.  Plus, we didn’t have a fence when we were first married and the deer were always after ‘em.  A lot of work.  You hunt, don’t ya?”


“Me, too.  I had to miss the goose opener a while back because them apples were dropping like a rainstorm.  We donated thirty pounds to the food bank that weekend.  It was in the paper.”

“I think my aunt said something about that.”

“Who’s your aunt, Glennie?  Yeah, she makes a pretty good apple pie.  Melba does, too.  She said she brought one over to your wife last night.”  He rubbed his belly.  “That’s why I keep those dang trees, so she can make apple pie.  Lotta work.  You should get yourself a couple of maples instead.  Real easy, and they have that nice bright color.  That’s a maple right there.  Couldn’t get one in the back, though, because I didn’t want to shade them apple trees too much.”

“Maples are nice,” Mark said.  “I’ll see what my wife wants to do after I get that apple planted.”

“Two trees,” Ronald said, and Jerry’s dog barked.  “You need two to produce fruit.”

“Yours are close enough,” Mark kept on grinning.

Jerry’s egg salad sandwich turned over again.

“My what now?” Ron said, after a pause.

“Your apple trees,” Mark said.  “I don’t need two trees, because yours will fertilize mine.  They need to be closer than fifty feet, and the one is right on the edge of the fence.”

Ronald put one hand on his belly, and the other on the head of the axe.  “Well, they need to bloom at the same time.”  His voice no longer rumbling over the sunny sidewalks.

“Oh, that’s no big deal,” Mark said.  “The Garden Center has some young apple trees that’ll fit the bill.”

“The Garden Center,” Ron murmured.

“Yessir.  I’d love to have you guys over for a beer later this week.  Maybe you can give me some pointers on how to take care of it.”

“Will do,” Jerry said.  Ronald rubbed his belly.

“Speaking of the Garden Center, I’d better get after it,” Mark said.  “Great to meet you guys.  We’re really happy to be here.”

Jerry nodded and Ron nodded and Mark nodded and Jerry’s dog went back to sleep.

Ronald didn’t see Mark plant the apple tree, but Jerry did.  Jerry saw everything from the rocking bench on his front porch.  He watched Mark return with the young apple tree, the top wrapped loosely in the striped bag of the Garden Center.  He watched Ron help Melba into their own vehicle, his voice echoing across the block about his desire to surprise her with a supper out.  They returned during the few minutes Jerry’s wife convinced him to spend inside eating his own supper.

Ron was out in the garage when Jerry returned to the porch.  Jerry waved a beer in his direction, and Ronald crossed the street and settled himself onto the top step.

“New neighbors,” Jerry said.

Ron took a drink.  “S’pose we need them so we don’t have to keep looking at each other’s old mugs.”

“Funny thing about the apple tree.”

Ron snorted.  “Lotta work.”

They sat together for a long while, until the only lights in the neighborhood belonged to the street and the two of them.

“Well,” Ron said, hitting his knee, “’Bout that time.”

Jerry went inside but he didn’t go upstairs.  Instead, he stood by the window.  Across the street, Ron closed the garage door.

Jerry’s dog sensed movement first, and Jerry squinted, trying to make sense of the dark.  Finally, Ronald’s belly took a shape of its own.  It stretched and shifted until it became a man lugging a large package wrapped in striped plastic over to the Tollefsrud’s front steps.  Ron set the tree – a second tree, identical to the one Mark had planted earlier that evening – by the door, and adjusted the ribbon Melba had tied to the front.  Next to the tree he set a grocery bag filled with apples.

Jerry nodded, and headed off to bed.

The photo above was taken at an apple orchard somewhere in Minnesota (it was two years ago and my memory stinks).  This week’s news has a boatful of water samples and a lead dog.  Read on.

One of the lovely readers of North Dakota Nice was a member of the organizing group who put together “Voices for Ukraine” – an event in Grand Forks where community members were able to talk about their experiences and connections in Ukraine. (KNOX Radio)

Grand Forks’ Madison Eklund is taking a four-month sabbatical from her job as a postal worker in order to embark on a solo – she is one of less than 10 people to take this trip, and the first to do it alone – 1,600-mile canoe trip from St. Paul to the York Factory in Canada…and she’ll be collecting water samples along the way for the state of North Dakota. (Grand Forks Herald)

This article is a brief look at the North Dakotans who were deemed worthy of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” – including a man who bagged a fox with a treasure trove of money, and the World Champion Miniature Writer. (Fargo Forum)

North Dakota’s mobile food pantry is on the move, heading to Center, Hazen, and Beulah next week. (KX Net)

Congratulations to Cavalier’s Eva Robinson, who took 14th place in the Jr. Iditarod sled dog race – and to her lead dog, Frost, for receiving the Blue Harness Award! (Grand Forks Herald)

Friends | August 5, 2021

I recently read an unattributed Internet fact that the percentage of men with at least six close friends has fallen by half since 1990; and that men today are five times more likely to state that they don’t have a single close friend compared to similarly-aged men thirty years ago.  As the mother of two boys, I’ve been noodling on this (quite possibly completely made up*) information and I have a theory about it.

Our six-year-old is very friendly.  He’s so friendly that when we go someplace we tell him, “Go make a friend,” and he will scurry off and return a few minutes later with a couple little ducklings in tow.  He did the same at his big brother’s baseball tournament last weekend, hopping over to the playground and coming back with a rosy-cheeked pal.

“This is Lila,” he said.  “She’s only five, but we’re still best friends.”

As we all know, in childhood, age is the number-one determining factor of friendship.  One kid could be a mermaid and the other made of gelatin, but if they were both born in 2015?  Friends Forever.

Also, as we all know, age as a friendship guardrail becomes completely inconsequential at some point in young adulthood.  When my parents first moved to the Cities, my mother called me up and excitedly said, “You and Kyle need to come down this weekend and meet our new neighbors.  You’re going to love them.”

“Oh, neat,”  I said.  “What are we going to love?”

“WELL,” my mother said, knowingly.  “The husband is twenty-seven, and YOU are twenty-seven.”

We actually never met their neighbors (the twenty-seven-year-old husband played for the Vikings and got traded a short time later) but I’m guessing we would have been friends – not because we were the same age, which was silly, but because unless someone is a total jerkface, there’s really no good reason NOT to be friends with someone.

Grown-ups are flush in friendship opportunities.  We have work friends, in which Human Resources sorts through all of the people in the world and finds those with the most compatible personalities – like eHarmony for pals.  We meet friends on airplanes.  We meet them online.  We meet them through our similarly-aged children, and at social gatherings, and by going up to them and saying, “Hello, I’m Amanda” (or by using your own name, if you want).  We have family friends, and childhood friends, and neighborly friends – because, like Mr. Rogers said, “The connections we make in the course of a life – maybe that’s what heaven is.”

So, to go back to the fact that men no longer have close friends…my theory is that everyone now has SO MANY friends that no one stops to say, “These people [gestures wildly] are my friends, and that person [points] is my close friend.”

I have a very best friend in the world.  Her name is Raemi.  I met Raemi when we were paired up as roommates for our freshman year of college.  If I had met Raemi when we were in junior or high or high school, we would have identified the closeness of our friendship with the purchasing of jewelry – specifically, two necklace charms in the shape of half of a heart that when put together formed a whole.  Since we met as semi-adults, though, we bypassed the jewelry and just gradually evolved from roommates to friends to very best friends in the world without ever stating it as fact.  Even now, after twenty-three years, I bet I have only called Raemi my best friend a few dozen times (not including the 50 million mentions in this paragraph).

As far as I know, like Raemi and me, most non-teenagers do not swap friendship jewelry (although I feel like there would be a market for two pinky rings that form a human skull or a screaming eagle).  So, unless we are going to collectively decide to adopt best friend jewelry across all of humanity, if two people want to be close friends, they just need to be that.  It’s like the episode of The Office in which Michael Scott decides to declare bankruptcy and so he shouts, “I DECLARE BANKRUPTCY.”  Just stand up and say out loud (or think quietly), “That person is my close friend,” and cultivate that friendship as such.

Anyways, let me know your thoughts on this, and if you have a theory of your own.  And if you decide to stand up and declare someone your close friend, shoot me an email in a few months and tell me how it’s going.

If you are reading this on Thursday, August 5, then today is Kyle’s and my 15th anniversary.  The picture above is from our wedding day.  It has absolutely nothing to do with this story, but I look really good in it.

This week’s news has a young author, and active grandma, and a new/old coach.  Read on.

Fourteen-year-old Lindsey Undlin of Lansford is working on the second book in her series after publishing the first, Ruby Authur. (Minot Daily News)

Students at Watford City High School will donate 1,200 hours of time to community service. (McKenzie County Farmer)

Beulah’s Sue Lawson is North Dakota’s first CrossFit woman-athlete (and also grandma) to compete in the No-Bull CrossFit Games. (KX Net)

North Dakota’s “Operation Thank You” gathered up 2,000 hygiene products to give to local veterans. (Minot Daily News)

Former UND Women’s Coach Brian Idalski is the new head coach of the 2022 Chinese Olympic Team. (Grand Forks Herald)

*I Googled it and the found the source, which may or may not be a real organization**:

**I had to take a survey course in college, and the most impactful thing I learned is to never trust a survey.

Cold Play | January 21, 2021

When it comes to winter weather, my general opinion is that North Dakotans fall into one of two camps.  The first is for those who absolutely love the outdoors regardless of the temperatures.  They have ski racks on their cars and snowshoes in their heart, and you can find them happily hanging out around a campfire or chillin’ in on their deck in hot tub whether the thermometer reads 45 above or 45 below.

The second is for people like me who go inside sometime around November 1st and emerge when the trees begin to bud.  My boss didn’t wear a coat (he kept it in his vehicle) for about ten years because he figured that he went from his heated house to his heated garage to our heated office to the heated restaurant below our heated office and then back to his heated home again, and that was good enough.  Like my boss, it’s not that I don’t love a good sparkle of hoarfrost or a sundog on a frosty morning; I just like it from behind a pane of glass.

I wasn’t always this way.  Back in the days of my youth, when my skin was thicker and my nose hair didn’t freeze, my sister and I would waltz out the door every morning in our snowpants and Choppers and have a grand (c)old time.

Our house backed onto Central Park, which was popular among the neighborhood children for having 1) a metal playground that would burn your butt in the summers and stick to your uncovered body parts in the winters; 2) direct access to the Red River, which you were never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever allowed to go near and you always secretly did; 3) an outdoor hockey rink which also provided dogs a private place to poop in the warm months, and 4) a flood dike.

The dike was by far the most important part of the park because Grand Forks isn’t exactly known for its hilly terrain, and so the dike was our own private mountain.  Back then we were all blissfully unaware of the upcoming Flood of ’97, and so to us kids, the dike existed solely as the means to create a sweet bike ramp or a really rad sledding path.

The best place to sled on the dike was the area we sophisticatedly deemed “Suicide Hill” – a five-foot space between the trees at the edge of the park.  The dike builders had used the space to dump their extra dirt, inadvertently (or deliberately) creating a slightly taller mound on top of the normal mound.  Either God or one of the neighborhood dads would ice down Suicide Hill after the first snowfall, and if you took a running jump on your sled you could zoom all the way to the River.

My sister and I sledded down Suicide Hill roughly 1,000 times.  We sledded down the regular dike about 100,000,000,000,000 times.  I don’t have a dramatic, or even interesting, story about Suicide Hill or sledding in general.  I’m telling you about it because it’s undeniable proof that I went outside in winter.

Let’s fast-forward to now.  I am the mother of two boys, ages nine and five.  I have taken my sons sledding exactly twice.  The rest of the time I have sat nicely inside and waved to them through the window.  I have spent so much time not going outside that Kyle has never even bothered to invite me to our son’s annual outdoor Park Board hockey game…even when my parents specifically drove up from the Cities to attend.

This year, however, our winter weather has been absolutely glorious; I’m not sure it’s dropped below zero yet.  I’ve spent more time outdoors this year than I have cumulatively throughout my entire adulthood: hiking at Turtle River, sitting by the fire by our outdoor rink, wandering around the countryside.  The other day I parked at the back of Target just so I could have a longer walk to the door.  In January.  In North Dakota.

And so when our son’s annual outdoor Park Board hockey game came up, I decided to go.  I don’t have a dramatic, or even interesting, story about the outdoor Park Board hockey game.  I stood on the boards and talked to the other moms and watched one kid play hockey while his brother ran around with the other younger siblings.  It was so nice that I will probably (maybe) reconsider my personal ban on outdoor activities next winter when the weather inevitably goes back to normal.  The photo above is our little goalie during the game.

Speaking of nice things, this week’s news is about a TikTok sensation, a beautiful bridge, and a bookmobile.  Read on.

Williston nine-year-old Karter Rice has gone viral for making smart food choices on a budget. (KX Net)

There are two nice things happening here: the Burleigh County Senior Center has found a creative way to hand out their 150 weekly meals, and they are doing it with the help of a local business. (KFYR TV)

One of Valley City’s eight historic bridges is in the running to be a “Best Bridge Tour” bridge. (Valley City Times Record)

Watford City high schooler Levi Sanford has raised $6,000 to purchase books for the school library. (McKenzie County Farmer)

A Grand Forks mother of four boys has received a new home, courtesy of Habitat for Humanity. (Grand Forks Herald)

Congratulations to Jamestown’s Clara Seckerson, Miss Preteen North Dakota International, and Beulah’s Megan Koehler, Miss North Dakota International! (News Dakota) (BHG News)

Did you know that North Dakota ranks third in the nation for bookmobiles per capita? (Minot Daily News)

(Like Amanda Silverman Kosior and/or North Dakota Nice?  Check out last week’s tale about a trip to Bar Harbor or this other story about our outdoor rink. I also secretly like to write North Dakota/rural crime fiction on the side, and worked up the nerve to have a flash/short piece published, which you can read here.)