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:

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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.

 —

THE APPLE TREE

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?”

“Yes.”

“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)

Fun to Phone | January 19, 2022

You know what I miss?  Telephones.  No, not the little computers that we take into the bathroom instead of the TV Guide.  Obviously, I’m talking about these beauties:

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If you ask me, the last person to look cool with a cell phone was Zack Morris.  It’s so uncool, in fact, to talk on a cell phone that we have basically given up on it as a society.  On the other hand, there was (and is) something so satisfyingly tactile about holding a push-button – or, even better, rotary – phone, twirling the cord through your fingers while you discuss your favorite New Kid on the Block.

My romance with telephones goes back to my childhood.  My family and I once went to dinner at the Four Seasons in New York City, and my grandfather requested a phone be brought to the table so that we could call my other grandparents back in Grand Forks.  The waiter carried it out on a silver tray.  We said exactly three sentences to my grandparents, and it remains one of the most glamorous things that has ever happened to me in my life.

Back before social media and text messages, the only way to find out what was going on with someone was to speak to them.  So, at night, my mother would post up in the kitchen, feet on a dining chair, spinning her Rolodex back and forth while she called her friends to check on their lives.  Sundays were reserved for calls with my grandparents, and we had to wait in the living room for our turn to speak because it was a long-distance call and running off to go play meant wasting precious minutes.

(Speaking of minutes, in the late 80’s my dad got my mom a car phone for emergencies.  It was a little box connected to the passenger side of the front-seat console, and the push buttons were on the phone instead of below it – which was a novelty unto itself, nevermind the fact that it was a PHONE in the CAR.  Phone calls cost $1 a minute; which, in the 1980’s, apparently roughly translated to a million dollars today because my mother absolutely refused to use that phone under any circumstance.  Anyways, one night, my mom got a flat tire when we were out driving in the country, and she sat there for a good five-count working out if it was a true “emergency” before calling my dad.  Their conversation went like this:

Dad: Hello?

Mom: I have a flat tire we’re on Highway 2 about two miles out come get us.  Bye.)

For my 15th birthday, I was gifted a see-through corded phone that lit up when it rang and looked like this:

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CLEARLY, this was and still is the coolest piece of technology ever created.  Along with this phone, I was gifted my own phone number, which made the raddest phone even radder.  Back in the olden days (and maybe still now), parents could get their kids their own number as an off-shoot from their main phone line – so my awesome friends could call me directly on my awesome phone without it ringing to the whole house.  The downside, of course, was that if someone was talking on the main line, the party lines were also busy; but that was a problem that could be rectified (10% of the time) by shouting, “MOOOOOOOOOOOM, I’M WAITING FOR A CALLLLLLL.”

I spent hours upon hours lying on my side on my bed, the phone resting on my face (hands free!) talking to my best friend after spending the entire day with her.  My friends and I also used that phone to call BOYS, and also the radio station in order to request songs.  I can’t say we had any meaningful conversations with the any boys, but I do remember calling one of them so that we could both listen to the same requested song on the radio at our own respective houses.

(Speaking of party lines, Kyle grew up in a rural town of 200 people.  His family’s phone number was four digits; when his dad was a kit, it was only two.  His grandma and grandpa lived just outside of town and were on a party line with several other houses, and when the boys went to visit their grandparents they liked to pick up the phone and listen to whomever was on it.)

When I left for college, my first three purchases were a TV/VCR combo, a cordless phone, and a calling card.  I needed the calling card so that I could speak to my boyfriend back at home – which I did in five-minute increments so as to not use up the card too quickly.  Like my see-through phone and TV/VCR combo, calling cards were also rockin’ technology because they could be used in payphones, too – so no need to tote around a five-pound bag of change in your backpack.

I got a cell phone in my final year of college.  When I met Kyle a few years later, he would text me on my cell phone to let me know he was going to call, and then he’d ring my landline.  We kept the landline until my father-in-law traded in his bag phone (when his truck started on fire, he went back for that phone) for a cell phone, and then packed up the cordless in a box marked “Stuff we may need.”

Despite the fact that Kyle has always wanted a rotary wall phone, it turns out we haven’t needed that landline for over fifteen years.  Even if we still had it, the days of phone etiquette (“Hello?”  “Hello, this is Amanda Silverman.  Who is this?”) are over.  A few years ago, we took our kids to a hotel and asked our five-year-old to call down to the front desk.  He held the receiver about six inches away from his face for the entire conversation – because he had only ever seen us talk on speaker phone and didn’t realize he should have put the phone up to his year.

Today, we are so connected to one another that the excitement of a phone call is long gone, so much so that people – specifically, me – don’t even notice when the phone is ringing.  Someday we’ll be long beyond text messages and video chats and only communicate by ESP (and my family will still have to message Kyle to get me to answer).  Until then, I’ll still have my TV/VCR combo.

The picture at the top of the page is of me.

This week’s news has 16 Alaskan Huskies (driven by a teenager), an 11-year-old with a championship breast stroke, and Somebody Somewhere.  Read on.


Sending best – and warm – wishes to Cavalier’s Eva Robinson, who is training in Alaska in anticipation of the Junior Iditarod. (KXNet)

Hillsboro’s Treyvion Johnson is only 11 years old, and already winning national titles in swimming. (Hillsboro Banner)

Grand Forks’ Katie Edwards set up a Wish List for area teachers to request classroom items that they would normally pay for out of pocket or go without, and the community has started making them happen. (Grand Forks Herald)

In “this is really cute” news, Bismarck’s Susan Wefald and Nancy Willis are trying to find the community’s biggest trees. (KFYR TV)

And in North Dakota-adjacent news, East Grand Forks’ Paul Thureen is a writer for the HBO Max show “Somebody Somewhere” and everyone I know that has seen it says it’s a great example of real life in the Midwest. (PS, Kyle and I are going to watch it after we finish binging “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The Righteous Gemstones.”) (Yahoo! News)

Bismarck’s Laurie Kunz was surprised with a car(!) by her coworkers and a local dealership after her own vehicle broke down and she didn’t have the money for repairs. (KX Net)

Mandan’s Mary Stark Elementary is one of four schools in the country to receive a grant for heart-friendly equipment. (KX Net)

Camp Bubbe Zayde | August 12, 2021

My children are currently nursing a grandparent hangover after spending a week at my parents’ house at the second-annual “Camp Bubbe Zayde” (Bubbe and Zayde are the Yiddish words for Grandma and Grandpa, respectively).  As you might expect, Camp Bubbe Zayde was a happypalooza – fishing, baseball, Valley Fair, the zoo and the waterpark, and casual texts from my mother that read, “The kids wanted a snack, so we got them two ice cream bars a piece.  They must be growing!”  Of course, there was also teethbrushing and vegetable eating, but even following the rules – such as picking up toys and being kind to your brother – was turned into a game, with the prize being a trip to Dave & Busters.

My favorite part of Camp Bubbe Zayde (beyond the obvious seven days of free babysitting) is how much my parents have leaned into grandparenting wild animals.

I have a little sister, named Erica.  Erica and I have two sons each.  It’s universally poetic that Erica and I are the mothers of mud-caked boys because if I had to search for a phrase to describe our own childhood, it would be “sparkly, fluffy cupcake.”  Here is a list of some of our favorite youthful activities:  Choreographing dance, lip-syncing, and musical routines.  Hosting princess tea parties.  Playing barbies.  Holding neatly-organized lemonade and cookie stands.  Pretending we were mermaids swimming in a pool.  Pretending our bikes were horses and riding them sidesaddle.  Hanging a bucket from a string and pretending we were Laura Ingalls Wilder getting water from the well.  Watching Disney movies and listening to Broadway showtune records.  Lying in the sun and looking at the clouds.  Smelling flowers.  Gently picking flowers.  Softly wrapping flowers in a wet paper towel and gifting them to our mother.

Sure, we also did things like go to baseball games and Valley Fair, but the way Erica and I interacted in those places is vastly different than my own children today.  For example, my dad took me both deep-sea and river fishing, two events that live in my memory as fact – as in, “Fact: I went fishing.”  On the deep-sea trip I caught the biggest fish of the whole group; and as I (but really, my dad and the guide) were reeling it in and everyone was freaking out, I remember thinking with total disinterest, “Okay, now we can go back.”  My children, on the other hand, can describe in detail every one of the 100 billion sunfish they have caught over the past two years.

As another example, I would/will select only the slowest-moving amusement park rides (someone should invent a park where you just drive around in a golf cart wearing a princess costume and eating ice cream).  My oldest son, on the other hand, chooses his rides based on the amount of screaming he hears from other participants.  And, it turns out, Bubbe and Zayde are completely fine strapping in next to him and throwing their arms up in the air.

There’s a chance that my children are finally allowing my parents to show their true colors.  Sometime before the first Camp Bubbe Zayde, I watched my son hand my dad a frog from our backyard and my dad look at it with the interest of an archaeological artifact, and I realized that maaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe my parents’ idea of a good time is not actually watching one-hour fashion shows of new school clothes followed by multi-encore performances of the aforementioned dance/lip-sync/music routines.  Maaaaaaaaybe, instead of spending a day searching for fairies in the snow, they secretly would have preferred tickets to monster trucks and/or WWE.

There’s also a chance that they are just doing what grandparents do.  I can think of many, many, many instances where Erica was the long-last person at the dinner table, held hostage until she ate enough of whatever was served to remain sustained.  On the other hand, here is an exact text my mom sent me during Camp Bubbe Zayde about my six-year-old, who could write the book on picky eating:

“We set up Six with his own personal pizza.  He ladled on the sauce and spread the cheese nicely.  He asked for olives so we gave him olives to spread on top.  After baking, he proceeded to scrape the olives off and onto his plate.  After one bite, he said, ‘I don’t like the way this tastes.’  He slowly pushed it off the plate, so we gave him a peanut butter sandwich, which he promptly ate.”

Obviously, all of us parents know that the number one rule is to never make the peanut butter sandwich because it transfers power that you will never, ever get back.  Peanut Butter Politics, as Kyle calls it.  However, grandparents will readily make a meal of gummy bears and saltines if their sweet little loves request it.

It’s that same reason why my mother bought hockey skates so that she could hang out on the ice with my son, and why my parents spent last winter hanging out around a fire pit eating s’mores and drinking Busch Light instead of on the beach of Antigua with pina coladas – because they are Bubbe and Zayde, and that’s what they do.

So cheers to all the grandparents out there – especially the ones who may be out of their comfort zone when attending princess tea parties or fighting over who can get the muddiest.  (Also, double-cheers to my own grandparents, who were and are the BEST.)

The photo above is of my mother and son at Valley Fair, riding a ride that looks terrible to me.

This week’s news has a lapidarist, a LEGO builder, and a power lifter.  Read on.


A lapidarist is a person who turns rocks into art – and this is a great story on Kenmare’s Donald “Skip” Erickson, whose hobby is polishing rocks. (Minot Daily News)

Thanks to community donations, United Way of Cass-Clay packed 1,000 backpacks with school supplies, and used the remaining items to support area shelters. (KVRR)

The Cavalier Thrift Store donated its millionth dollar to the Cavalier Fire Department (as well as 32 other organizations on the same day). (Grand Forks Herald)

Once again, the Bismarck Public Library handed out 600 Lego kits to creative area kids. (KX Net)

Dickinson’s McKenzie Haven is on her way to the World Championships in powerlifting after powering through a premature birth, a functional neurological disorder, and hyper anxiety. (Dickinson Press)

I wrote a story about what it was like growing up on 5th Street in Grand Forks.  You can read it here. (Red Cent/North Dakota Nice)