The Lawn Ranger | March 11, 2021

Over the past week, my husband has said at least a dozen times, “I guess I’d better get the garden tractor tuned up.”  This has been both a commentary on the beautiful springtime weather and also a head’s up because lawn mowing is technically my job.  It’s technically my job because I continuously pronounce it to be so, even though Kyle ends up doing it at least half the time.

I decided that lawn mowing was my job when we moved out to the country, my father-in-law gifted us the garden tractor, and I, a BIG FAN of golf carts and bumper cars, wanted a reason to drive it.  This was notwithstanding the fact that I had never, ever, not once mowed a lawn.  I once pushed around one of those old-timey non-electric mowers, but it was at Bonanzaville (a history museum complex in West Fargo) and I’m pretty sure both the machine and I were on gravel.

Kyle’s a pretty easy-going guy who (wisely) never questions my intentions (or skill), and so when I announced I was going to mow the lawn that first time he just filled the tractor up with gas and wandered off to go putter around with the edger.  I called him back about five minutes later to show me how to turn the mower on (touch it on the arm and tell it it’s funny).

After a few attempts to get it started (turned out I had to step on a lever while turning the key) and a seat adjustment (also turned out I needed to be sitting when I pressed in the lever, and someone unnamed but was Kyle set the seat for his 6’3” self and not my 5’2” me-ness), the engine finally revved forth and I was off and riding.

As I pulled away, Kyle shouted, “It’s on a Three,” which didn’t mean anything to me so I gave him a thumbs-up.  He also shouted something else and made a motion like he was turning a different lever, but by that point I was across the yard and getting ready to put my mowing strategy into action.  Specifically, my Zamboni method.  I had watched more than enough hockey games – and hockey game intermissions – to know that all Zamboni drivers took the same route: circle the boards, make a stripe down the middle, and then ring the outer edge of the board line and the middle stripe until the ice is covered.

I had just started “circling the boards” when Kyle jogged up to me and motioned to another lever, which I pushed.  Here’s another fact: the tractor is just a vehicle until you put the actual mower blades down.  Who knew.  I went back to mowing in earnest.

I should probably note here that we live on six acres.  I don’t know how long it takes to mow a normal-sized yard (in the words of Lucille Bluth, “I mean it’s one banana, Michael.  What could it cost, $10?”), but it took me almost seven hours to complete ours.  Part of the issue was that I had to stop every fifteen feet and pick up a Nerf dart.  Also, it turns out the Zamboni method works great on ice, but terrible on a yard with all sorts of sections and twists and turns.  And finally, I had no idea where the mower blades were actually located underneath the tractor, and so I mowed and re-mowed the same grass several times.

Kyle continued to be very supportive of my efforts, bringing me iced tea and offering to spell me off and telling the neighbor kid to hush when he loudly pointed out that if I took any longer the grass would start to grow back.  When it was done, I took a picture of my groomed(?) lawn and sent it to my best friend, who was very impressed and suggested that I find a lawn service.

I did not find a lawn service.  Now, many years later, I’m a mowing expert.  I know that “It’s on a Three” is a blade depth setting, and if I go down to a Two, it will cut the grass two inches high.  I know enough to say things like, “Yeah, if I ever buy another mower it’s going to be a zero-turn.”  I know that you can just mow over Nerf bullets left in the yard and the kids are none the wiser.  Most importantly, I know the exact right path that gets the grass cut in a little over two hours.

A photo of me being a mowing expert is above.  I’m such an expert that I’m wearing flip-flips, which is ill-advised because grass blades get shot up onto your feet and the mower itself throws some pretty good heat.

There’s a lot of nice news to share this week – including a new definition of a “LOAN,” a black-footed ferret, and a bunch of North Dakotans competing on a national scale.  Read on.


Cavalier’s Lorna Ratchenski started the Love One Another Now program – also known as LOAN – in 2014 in order to provide K-12 students with much-needed clothing, school supplies, winter gear,s and even prom dresses…and the program has grown to such a degree that they now operate a free “store” filled with donations. (Grand Forks Herald)

McVay Elementary is taking their student pantry to the next level with seven totes of shoes, outdoor gear, and clothes donated by Wise Penny kids in need. (Williston Herald)

Grand Forks’ Sarah Hong is one of 24 violinists age 16-19 to play in the National Youth Orchestra in New York this summer. (Grand Forks Herald)

Four members of the Dickinson Police Department – one in communications and the other three officers – were honored with life saving awards after reviving a man who was not breathing. (Dickinson Press)

Mayville’s Walter Rindy is 104 years old, and is now one of only a few people to be honored as being a member of the American Legion for 75 consecutive years. (Fargo Forum)

A new podcast by Fargo’s Joe Williams features the stories of 30 Native artists on display at the Plains Art Museum. (Fargo Forum)

Evie and Kate Janousek, two sisters from Grand Forks, took the national trapshooting Handicap Championship and the Sub-junior Handicap Championship in Tucson, Arizona. (Grand Forks Herald)

The Magic City Blessing Bank – the only place in town where those in need can get personal care items – has already helped 2,300 people with 20,000 goods. (KX Net)

Sunrise Elementary in Bismarck created some beautiful messages to thank their first responder heroes. (KX Net)

The Maah Daah Hey Trail at Theodore Roosevelt National Park has been named Midwest Living’s Best Bike Trail in the Midwest. (KX Net)

Alexander’s Ben Novak was a part of the team that cloned the (no longer) extinct black-footed ferret. (McKenzie County Farmer)

Did you know that North Dakota has the best student-to-counselor ratio in the country? (Wahpeton Daily News)

Crosby’s Noah Knudson is living his best life thanks to a world-changing kidney donation from Pastor Zach Shipman. (Fargo Forum)

Bismarck’s Derrick Fehr lost his wedding ring 18 years ago, and had it returned last week thanks to a whole bunch of people in Hillsboro and Reynolds. (Hillsboro Banner)

I wish Glen Ullin’s Marie Pflugrad didn’t need to write a children’s book to help victims of sexual abuse, but I’m glad she did. (KX Net)

A group of South Heart sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are headed to nationals as a part of the Future City competition, in which students build a city on the moon. (Dickinson Press)

Congratulations to the Happy Hooligans, who have been named the Air Force Outstanding Unit for the 22nd time! (Devils Lake Journal)

(Like Amanda Silverman Kosior and/or North Dakota Nice?  Check out last week’s tale about puttering.)

Icelandic State Park | October 1, 2020

Come May, my husband and I found our normally jam-packed schedule substantially, uh, lightened – and so we decided to take the opportunity to introduce our two sons (and ourselves, in most cases) to some of North Dakota’s historic sites and state parks.  On one of those trips, we were barely out of town when it became apparent the boys were gearing up for some pretty turdy behavior, and so we abandoned ship on our destination and pulled into the nearest park to let them burn off steam.  That park happened to have a lake in it, my husband happened to have a new fishing license in his pocket and an old rod and reel in the trunk, and that stop just so happened to spark a deep love of fishing for our two babes.  From that point on, all of our travel plans have included fishing.  I should also note that very few of those excursions have included actual fish.

Last weekend, we packed up all our gear – rods, bait, tackle boxes, chairs, a complete change of clothes for a five-year-old with a knack for getting dirty just by existing in the universe, snacks, bottles of water, a bucket, and a magazine that I apparently felt needed to see North Dakota because I had brought it with everywhere and had yet open it – and headed to Icelandic State Park.

Icelandic State Park is located a few miles west of Cavalier, and so we stopped in town on the way to get ice cream see what was what.  Not only did we find chocolate drumsticks, but we also found the He-Mart & Co.  My husband was so excited about the potential of a whole mart filled with stuff for Him and his Related Company that he barely got the car into park before sprinting inside.  He emerged 10 minutes later with three teeny-tiny jighead hooks and advice from the shop owner: jig a bit of bait close to the dock and the fish would come biting.

Because we are terrible parents, we made our children actually hike around the Park first before any fishing would take place.  The trails in Icelandic State Park are honest-to-goodness autumnal fairylands, brilliantly designed in very short (less than a half-mile) segments that are perfect for people like me who like being outdoors, but don’t want to commit to the outdoors.  The best part of our absolutely perfect hike was that the floor of the trail was covered in three-to-four inches of red, yellow, and orange leaves that swished as you shuffle-stepped.  At one point, our nine-year-old stopped shuffle-stepping midway across a crunchy wooden bridge to say, “This place sounds great.”

Anyway, we finally shuffle-stepped our way to the fishing dock.  My husband and Nine got to work tying on and baiting the new hooks, while I gave our five-year-old my most-repeated, most-ignored lecture about not just flinging his line every which way because, while he had yet to catch a fish, he had hooked all of us at least a dozen times.

After a few errant flings by Five, Nine convinced him to follow the He-Mart instructions, and so they both dropped their lines in the water right off the dock, and gently bobbed them up and down.  I picked up my magazine and flipped open the cover.  And then both boys started shrieking, because Five had CAUGHT HIS FIRST FISH EVER, a little perch.  Maybe three minutes later, Nine got a perch…and then another, and another.

After 30 minutes of fishing, the bucket held a dozen perch and one catfish.  We took a million pictures, said goodbye to the fish, and released them back into Lake Renwick (the photo above is my husband and Nine bidding the fish adieu).  I never made it past Page One of my magazine.  It was another great day in beautiful North Dakota.

And speaking of beautiful North Dakota, this week’s news has a lifesaving mattress purchase, a 48-hour relief group, and a course-setting hole-in-one.  Read on.


Fargo’s Willy Kautzman has volunteered every day (except Sundays) for 18 years at the St. Francis Thrift Store. (Fargo Forum)

West Fargo’s Brianna Normand was on the phone with a customer when she realized the woman was having a stroke, and so she called paramedics and stayed on the line until she knew all was well. (KVRR)

I thought this story was going to be about a Farm Aid program, but it was actually just a group of 60 awesome neighbors who brought combines, grain carts, semis, and people together to help Lane Unhjem finish his harvest after suffering a heart attack. (Washington Post)

Killdeer high school senior Brendon Gibson is one of only a few delegates to the Congress of Future Medical Leaders – a position that can only be nominated by a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. (Dickinson Press)

Sixteen-year-old Claire Upton has the community of Fargo rallying around her as she navigates a possible Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome diagnosis. (KVVR)

“Nice Idea is a free entrepreneurship program for North Dakota middle and high school students where they learn to be creative and entrepreneurial, connect with mentors and actual problems that need solving, and showcase their ideas to win support to make those ideas a reality.” (Valley City Times-Record)

Grand Forks will soon have a community orchard with apples, pears, plums, grapes, raspberries, elderberries, asparagus, and more – and also garden tools available for use. (Grand Forks Herald)

Keene’s Mariah Thompson is selling Ethiopian-made handbags to raise enough money to build a home for eight orphans and a house mother. (KX Net)

For the past three years, volunteers in Hillsboro have taken a day to make the city pretty. (Hillsboro Banner)

The newly-formed Mandan Fire Relief group has made it their mission to make the first 48 hours a little easier for victims of fire. (KX Net)

More than 1,000 pounds of food was donated this year courtesy of Minot’s Hunger Free Garden. (KFYR TV)

Napoleon’s old Model A fire truck is now up and running thanks to Assistant Fire Chief Andy Hilzendeger. (Napoleon Homestead)

Fargo’s Dave Schultz got his fifth hole-in-one in the same spot as his first, both setting the course record and providing a nice moment to celebrate Dave’s father, who passed away two years ago. (Fargo Forum)

(Like the story above?  Check out last week’s tale of a very windy bike ride.)

Nice news of the week – February 27, 2020

Happy leap year week!  Speaking of upcoming events, here a few to help you meet your fellow North Dakotans:

  • Beer and Bacon Bash on February 29 from 1pm – 5pm in downtown Cavalier.  For $10, you get a beer mug, a map, and punch cards for door prizes and a poker run entry.
  • The 58th Annual Feast of Nations on March 7 starting at 5pm at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.  For $35 ($25 if you are a student), you get a five-course international meal, live music and cultural dancing, and a chance to win tickets to Folklorama.
  • The 21st Annual Fargo Film Festival from March 17-21 at the Fargo Theatre in Fargo.  There are dozens of shorts and panel discussions, as well as a number of juried categories for the movies.
  • The 42nd Annual Runnin O’ the Green on March 21 in Jamestown.  You need to be 21 years old and have a non-alcoholic drink or alcoholic drink at several bars and pubs in town.  Last year, 1,500 people participated.  Proceeds this year will support area cancer patients.
  • The 5th Annual Gumbo Cook Off in Williston.  Admission is $10 (and you must be over 21) and proceeds go to Bras for a Cause.
  • The 3rd Annual North Dakota Ice Hole Extravaganza/Indoor Cornhole Tournament on April 3 and 4 in Devils Lake.  The largest cornhole tournament in North Dakota has over $50,000 in prizes and a live band.

And speaking of gathering, the Story of the Week is all about in-person connections.  Read on for all of this week’s nice news.

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This is the dictionary definition of North Dakota Nice: a Bismarck woman found an ornament in a coat pocket, and so she called the local news station to return it to its owner.  And, of course, the station obliged. (KX Net)

Crosby’s Mariah Jenkins is wearing a special dress at prom this year. (KFYR TV)

Hunter’s mom is a classmate of mine and so I’ve been following his story closely since his accident.  This is such a great article – the first in a series of three – about an amazing guy with an amazing attitude. (Grand Forks Herald)

I have an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old, and we just spent a night talking about what you do if you get stuck outside and it’s freezing cold.  Thank goodness for Fargo’s Mark Sorum, who saved an elderly woman from freezing to death. (Fargo Forum)

You’ve read about West Fargo’s Sawyer Anderson before – she’s the girl who wrote “Water Works” to bring attention to the water crisis in Africa – and now Sawyer gave a copy of her book to a group of students in Fargo and, in exchange, they donated money for water wells in Africa. (KVRR)

Thanks to a dedicated science teacher, students in Flasher now have a Level 2 lab. (KFYR TV)

This is a great story about not letting criticism get in the way of your dreams: New Rockford’s Paula Winskye has just published her 21st novel. (New Rockford Transcript)

I had someone tell me the other day that they throw away pennies.  At Lincoln Elementary in Dickinson, kids brought in those “worthless” pennies to raise $7,329.80 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. (Dickinson Press)

Minot’s Domestic Violence Crisis Center and PATH Inc. held a chili cookoff for Giving Hearts Day, which is really a win-win for everyone involved. (Minot Daily News)

Bismarck’s Emma Beverly, who is now tumor-free, is off to Disney World thanks to Make-A-Wish North Dakota. (KFYR TV)

I don’t even know how to describe this story.  You’ll need to read it for yourself. (Grand Forks Herald)

New Rockford-Sheyenne School is one of only a few schools nationwide to receive a “Molly of Denali” grant for family learning. (New Rockford Transcript)

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  I’d struggle to be one of the spectators, let alone a participant. (Grand Forks Herald)

Oh.My.Gosh.  I think the snow fort is about to become the new backyard rink. (Grand Forks Herald)

There’s a new pageant for kids – a natural pageant, so none of the heavy makeup or hairdos – coming to North Dakota, and the winner goes to Palm Springs. (Sent via email)

Students in Williston were a part of the 2,500 volunteers that packed 500,000 meals for Feed My Starving Children. (Williston Herald)

Story of the Week: At a time when people choose texting over calling and Facebook over in-person get togethers, West Fargo’s Mark Berntson took 275 opportunities to meet with people face-ot-face. (Fargo Forum)