Madeline Island Vacation

We took an abbreviated family vacation this year to Madeline Island and the larger Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The islands, featured in The Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich, are something I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Unfortunately, the only way to really see the islands is from the water. We finally had a chance to do that on this trip, which was truly a trip of islands.

We had some cell phone mishaps on the way that required a detour to Duluth, but we did get to stop at Pattison State Park in Wisconsin for a couple of worthy waterfalls.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This week I took a solo trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the badlands of North Dakota. I’ve been to the more famous badlands of South Dakota several times, but I’d never been to the ones in North Dakota. They have the similar look of bleak, eroded buttes, but there’s more green in North Dakota. It’s an awe-inspiring landscape that sneaks up on you after the flat dullness of the prairie.

Along the Southern Petrified Forest hike.
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Two Years of Local News

Two years ago I launched the hyper-local news site West St. Paul Reader. After a few years of getting involved in my local community, starting to write about it here, and then a good several months of writing about City Council, I decided to take it to the next level.

I remember a few months before I pulled the trigger, a friend asked if I’d consider spinning off a site focused on West St. Paul. “No way,” I scoffed.

And here I am. Not only did I launch that site, but it’s working. I was able to get it up and running thanks to the support of 68 people on Kickstarter. Today I’ve got 82 people giving monthly or annual support through Patreon.

That ongoing support really makes this endeavor possible. I spent a lot of time attending City Council meetings, writing stories, taking pictures, and more. I couldn’t do that if I weren’t getting paid. So those folks are making local news happen.

To celebrate, I commissioned a local artist to create an exclusive West St. Paul postcard. It’s available to my Patreon members.

"The Road Home" by Sarah Lew

It’s pretty incredible that I’ve been doing local news for two years and that I get to create cool stuff like that postcard.

Thanks to everyone who makes this possible.

West St. Paul’s Black Lives Matter Mural

So my city, West St. Paul, made the New York Times this past week over a Black Lives Matter mural that has to come down for violating city ordinance. Then another Black man was killed by police in Minnesota on Sunday, Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. Last night we had a metro-wide curfew.

It’s been a week. In the midst of a pandemic. After a summer of already doing this. During a trial where we were already reliving last summer.

I drafted a whole post about the mural controversy. It feels kind of pointless now.

But I’ll say a couple things…

I have rather ragey feelings about Black people killed by police.

I have rather mixed feelings about the mural.

Protest sign: "Matter" is the Minimum
My son and I attended a protest supporting Black Lives Matter at the Minnesota State Capitol in June 2020.
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Coronavirus: One Year

I’ve reflected on the ongoing pandemic a couple times, and now that we’ve passed the one-year mark, it seems an update is due. Cautiously optimistic is about how things feel.

We made it through the second wave and the rising death toll in the fall and winter. Now the vaccines are rolling out—truly a miracle how quickly that happened—but it’s a race between vaccine rollout and deadlier, more contagious variants. We’re seeing surges in places, lock downs in Europe again, and worrisome numbers that creep upward.

So there’s real reason for hope, but there’s also that continued anxiety that hasn’t left us for the past year.

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Statehood: Who’s Going to be the 51st State?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a new state. And it seems like we’re closer than ever as Congress debates D.C. statehood for the second time in a year. Puerto Rico has also come up a lot lately, and it all makes for some fascinating what ifs.

For my entire life, the U.S. has been 50 states. It’s a nice round number. Makes the flag with 50 stars nice and symmetrical. As a kid, I assumed that was it—no more states because 50 is a round number.

Of course 50 states is entirely arbitrary and we can add states whenever we feel like it.

And maybe now is that time.

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Mr. Quimper and the Evil Drums

I grew up in an fundamentalist Baptist church in the 1980s and 90s, that espoused—among other wacky things—that drums were evil. Yes, straight up devil-worshipping, possessed by demons evil. As goofy as that sounds, it was genuinely believed and strictly enforced—though maybe not widely known. I’m also convinced, decades later, that it was blatantly racist. 

It was stupid too, but I’ll get to that. 

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Ranked Choice Voting for Better Democracy

This week I wrote an opinion piece for Minnesota Reformer advocating for ranked choice voting. In short, ranked choice voting allows voters to pick a second choice and requires the winner to earn a majority of votes, not just more than anybody else.

It’s a way to empower voters, break the stranglehold of the two-party system, and ensure we’re not led by someone who only got 20% of the vote. The article breaks it all down, but imagine how much better the recent presidential primaries with upwards of a dozen candidates would have been if you could vote a list of preferences.

Is It Realistic?

I write about the piece for Minnesota, and the constant question is can it realistically pass? Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis Park, and now Minnetonka use ranked choice voting. So it’s tried, tested, and gaining popularity.

The challenge is would the Minnesota legislature consider it. Right now? No. It doesn’t help that the state has divided government and has trouble doing basic things. But the bigger issue is that even the Democrats don’t support it.

My legislative district had a town hall on Sunday, and all three DFL legislators (one senator and two reps) didn’t support it. One was against it, one was undecided, and the other went with reality—now is not the time for that fight.

And I get that. We’re in the middle of a pandemic and there are more pressing priorities. I’ve heard others argue that there are other voting reforms that are more important. But I’ll take all the voting reform and voter empowerment I can get.

Maybe now isn’t the time, but it is time to start building the case and making the argument.

For more on better politics, check out my book Better Politics, Please.

There Is Always Light

Every time we sing the national anthem we ask the question, “does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” amid the perilous fight and the bombs bursting in air.

These past two weeks, since violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capital, the answer has been in doubt. Not literally—Congress reconvened that same day and democracy carried on—but the spirit of the nation has been dazed as we suffered this terrible attack and reckoned with the deeper divide.

But today, Inauguration Day, as Lady Gaga belted out “The Star Spangled Banner” on the same Capital steps that two weeks ago held a swarming mob, it did the spirit of this nation well to see those broad stripes and bright stars so gallantly streaming.

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A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.