Tag Archives | worthington

“The Life Express” – A poem from my Great Great Great Grandfather

I haven’t written on the blog much this spring/summer.  Since our Thailand trip, I’ve been busy working on very large writing project which, on top of other life changes, has stolen all of my writing bandwidth.

Recently, our family came across photocopies of my great great great grandfather’s journal.  I’ve written about H.J Ludlow before in my post on how he grafted the Okabena Apple tree.  I certainly never met HJ, but everyone always spoke of him with great reverence.  My favorite line from a memorial to him in the local paper:

“Horce J. Ludlow was a dreamer, a philosopher and a sage.  But he was, at the same time, a tireless worker, with whom to dream, philosophize and ponder upon the eternal verities was simultaneously to conceive ways and means to put dream into action and practical realities.”

HJ Ludlow was famous and cherished in the region.  He was a pioneer, a forward-looking agriculturalist, and, notably for this post, a poet.  I’ve heard he would write and often recite poetry.  With this post, I plan to start an occasional series on my blog.  As I read through HJ’s journal, I will republish is poetry or  “sage” wisdom I come across.


Here we go, the first entry in his journal…


“The Life Express”


It an interesting journey

You should care sometime to take

A journey that would be worthwhile

And you you would care to make

Just board the rapid Life Express

Get on at Babyhood

And travel over hill and dale

And through Achievement Wood


The road through Childhood swiftly runs

The station next is Youth

Beyond that step is Middle Age

Deep in the Vale of Truth

Old age is reached on schedule time

It takes away one’s breath

To speed so swiftly towards the end–

The terminus is death


The thack grows rougher towards the end

Tis then that you gaze back

And count the milestones gray that mark

The fast receding track

At last the grim conductor calls–

No need for calling twice

Far, as, we, go. Step lively, please.

Change cars for Paradise


–HJ Ludlow, January 1, 1922



Book Release Events in Minnesota Next Week

Lisa and I are heading back to Minnesota and South Dakota this week for events related to the release of Go and Do: Daring to Change the World One Story at a Time.


On Monday morning, I will be speaking in chapel at Bethel University in St. Paul (my alma mater).  In the afternoon, I am speaking at a program at Bethel geared toward philosophy majors on the top of “Justice, Law, and Philosophy.”

On Tuesday, we are hosting a book release event at the Historic Dayton House in Worthington, MN, from 7-9 p.m.  Anyone is welcome.

If you are in Minnesota, it would be great to see you!


Llama escape! A Day Like No Other.

“Whoa!” I duck under a clothes line running flat out.  Left or right, I think with a dog kennel right in front of me.  The llama goes right, I flank left.  With top speeds of 45 miles per hour, I cannot keep up with this beast.  But, now, I’ve got it cornered in a backyard fence.  It knows it trapped.  The beast turns toward me and lunges, sprinting just to my right, around the fence and between a house and garage.  People on the street are watching this spectacle.  The police are now patrolling the neighborhood to look for the beast too.  I watch the llama cross into a nearby field.  Within seconds, its halfway across the field.  I’m exhausted.

How did I end up in a high speed llama chase through a residential neighborhood?  Good question.  Let me back up.


Llamas plotting their escape.

In yesterday’s post, I told you about how Lisa’s parents spontaneously bought a llama herd with our earnest encouragement.   These lovable, docile animals seemed to take nicely to their new home and pasture.  That is, until these escape artists uncover a weakness in security.

The day after the llamas arrived, Lisa received a call from her mom in the evening: Two llamas had escaped!  The dog had chased them into the pasture fence and the impact knocked open a back gate.  It was after dark, so the llamas could not be spotted.  The llama farmer was called, who assured Barb that the llamas would not go far from the herd.  In all likelihood, they would return soon.

The next morning we returned to Worthington.  Lisa went out with her mom to round up the llamas.  Around 10:30 a.m., I decided to head out after some work at the office.  I figured they would be done with the roundup and the llamas would be back in the pens–or at least close to that.

As I drive out of town and turn onto the highway about a mile from Lisa’s, I see the most bizarre thing: A giant llama is running full-speed up the ditch on the other side of the road.  Uh… That’s not good, I think to myself.  I turn the car around to watch the llama cross a busy highway and back.  Lisa’s cousin is chasing it in another truck.  I follow the llama and help corner it into a residential neighborhood and away from the highway.  I jump out of my car and the foot chase begins.


Over, the next 30 minutes, the run through the neighborhood ensues with the llama running off into a field.  Everyone has now lost sight of it.  On my long walk back to the car, Lisa pulls up then joins me in the truck.  We start driving the direction the llama was last spotted.

“It was headed east,” I explained.  “Yes, but they turn and go the other way quite often,” Lisa tells me from her morning chasing llamas.

We take a gravel road in the general direction it was heading.  It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.  They can travel miles in any direction in a matter of minutes.  We drive a mile south and a mile or so east.  No sign of the llama.

“Well, we might as well turn around,” Lisa said.  “Yeah… Let’s just get to the top of this hill and look.”  We drove to a rise in the road.  And, what do you know, there’s the llama running down the gravel.  We laughed at our luck.

For the next hour, we drive behind or alongside the llama, trying to corner it into a fence or find a way to make it stop.  The llama won’t give up.  It just keeps running.  When we stop, it stops, but too far out of our reach.

We took to foot, driving close and trying to chase it down–no luck.

Next, Lisa got in the back of the truck with a rope to try to lasso the llama.  I pulled up alongside the llama.   Every time we made an attempt at throwing the rope, the llama would turn into the ditch.


My favorite photo from the chase: Lisa attempting to lasso a sprinting llama from a moving truck.

About seven miles from the farm, we could tell the llama was starting to tire.  It was stopping frequently and slowing down.  It stayed on the roads and avoided the soft fields  where it was difficult to run.

Lisa and I switched duties and I took to running after it with the lasso.  The llama was slowing.  Our rope was short and every throw would get obliterated by the strong wind.  I hit the neck several times.

Finally, a mile later, the llama stopped.  It knew it no longer had the will or stamina to out run us.  But it was angry.  Really angry.  It wouldn’t go down without a fight.  So there, in the middle of nowhere between empty fields in Minnesota, the llama and I had it out.

“we don’t have to do this any longer!!” I screamed.  “Brahhhhhh!!!!” the llama roared.  “Ahhh!!!” I screamed back.  The llama looked out into the field and gave a distress call–as if looking for its herd.  I threw the rope.  It hit the llama, but didn’t lasso the next.  The llama screamed again and took a fighting stance.  Throw two: another miss.  The llama spit at me several time–it was a very very mad llama.  Throw three: Around the neck!  The llama fought and screamed, and I pulled.  I spit and got me square in the forehead.  I yanked the leash.  Reluctantly, it gave in.


I tried to pull it to walk–the llama resisted, continuing to spit.  Lisa came with the llama halter.  “Grab it around its neck and put the halter on it,” Lisa tells me.  Umm… okay, so I just simply grab this furious llamas around the next?  We wrestle for awhile–the llama hates that I’ve got an arm around.  Then I have to force this halter over its angry, spitting mouth.  The llama does everything it can to resist–this is now a duel to the death.

After five minutes, I finally succeed.  The llama has been wrangled.  And, its suddenly quite docile again.  It follows me rather easily.

Lisa heads to a nearby farm to see if we can wait there with our llama until the trailer can arrive.


So here I am, walking down a long dirt road, pulling a llama that we tried to lasso from a truck, then had a fight to the death, then wrangled into submission.  I never would have ever expected a day like this or a situation quite so bizzare–no doubt I’ll remember it forever.  And, all I can think is: That. Was. AWESOME!

And the second llama?  Word came in that it was 1/2 a mile away in a swampy marsh at the end of a tractor salvage yard (a place where tractors go to die and be parted out).  We searched the yard and these old tractor salvage guys pointed the llama out.



Can you spot the llama??  Hint: Its dark-brown head is under the two tallest trees on this side of the pond.

We walked through the muddy swamp and reeds until the llama spotted us.  Another chase ensued as the llama took off and into another field.  And, with that, we all gave up.  The vet was called and a tranquilizer gun was brought in front a nearby town.  As of 30 minutes ago today, it took 4 tranquilizer darts to subdue the beast.  The llama is now in captivity.


We Bought a (Llama) Zoo: A Story of Spontaneity and Imagination

A few months ago, Lisa and I went to We Bought a Zoo. We loved the movie. In the film, a family suffers a tragic loss and spontaneously buys a deteriorating zoo. The antics of running a zoo bring the family together. The movie tugged at me because, in addition to my dream of an Apple Orchard, I would have some land filled with a variety of unordinary animals–my own wild kingdom of sorts. Buffalo (American Bison) are my favorite due to my South Dakota roots. I’d also have a few caribou, maybe an emu or two, and some llamas. I’ve always loved Llamas. There was a llama farm near where I grew up and, when I was little, every time we would drive by, I’d yell: “Llamas in pajamas!” (The pajamas are their shaggy, multi-colored coats.) My affection for llamas grew out of several trips to Peru, particularly as we crossed paths often hiking on the Inca Trail.


When we arrived home to Lisa’s farm for Easter, the mood was a bit solemn. Barb, Lisa’s mom, had a horse named Jack who was very old and ill. He had to be put down that night–and he was a favorite horse. After the incident, Barb announced that she was finished with animals. This was a sad announcement because a yard full of animals is an institution at Lisa’s farm in Worthington, Minnesota. Barb is known for taking animals that need a good home–they take in retired horses and have had everything else from donkeys to peacocks. At dinner that night, I immediately suggested Barb should get llamas. Barb, of course, reiterated that she was done with animals.

The next day, I called the same local llama farm that we drove past regularly when I was young. It was a bit of a strange call: “So, my mother-in-law just lost her favorite horse and we think she should get a llama to fill its place.” “Oh, okay…” said the voice on the other hand. “Can we come out and see your llamas?” I replied. “Sure, she said, anytime is good, just call.” “We’ll be there saturday morning at 11 a.m.,” I said.

When we got back to the house that night, I announced to everyone that we had an appointment at the llama farm in the morning. Everyone laughed. Then I said was serious and they looked surprised. Barb said she wasn’t going to get a llama, but she would go and look at them. Glenn was excited to see them. Lisa couldn’t believe I actually called.

The next morning, I woke up bright and early for llama day. As soon as I got upstairs, Chris (Lisa’s sister’s boyfriend) broke the news that Barb said she wouldn’t get a llama and didn’t even want to go see the llamas. By 11 a.m. she had changed her mind–but we were “only going to look.”
We all piled into the truck and drove 2 miles down the road to the llama farm. There were llamas everywhere. Hundreds of them–and alpacas. Little did I know, this seems to be one of the larger llama farms in the U.S. They sell llamas all across the country and have their own multi-page llama catalog and make llama accessories, such as halters.


First, we saw the alpacas–common in Argentina–they stand about 4-feet tall and are rather adorable. The llamas stand 5-6 feet tall and just look funny–long necks, bulging eyes, shaggy coats, and pointy ears. The llama farmer yelled, “Come here!!” and all the llamas got up across the pasture and started running to us at the fence. I think Barb was sold at at the sight of hundreds of llamas running toward her. The llama farmer described how llamas keep the grass mowed and keep away predators–coyotes, foxes, raccoons–and even rabbits. Between grass mowing and coyote defense, Glenn was ready to bring some home. “Maybe we will get one,” she finally admitted. “But I want to think about it.”

When we went back to the house, Barb looked us: “Maybe we should get the horse trailer and go pick up three of them.” Everyone was excited. We all sat around as she called the llama farmers back and to tell them we would be over to pick up three llamas. A minute into the phone call, Barb suddenly said, “Seven?!? …If we buy three, they will throw in four more… Um, I’m going to have to talk to Glenn about this.” Lisa starts yelling: “Mom, just start with three!” Renae is laughing hysterically. Chris appeared to be in disbelief of what was happening. I, of course, began cajoling her to take the seven. Glenn said, “They’re free? Just take them all.”

Two hours later, the llama truck pulled into the Kremer’s farm and seven llamas poured out the back.


My favorite image was Barb with five lead ropes being pulled by her herd from the llama trailer into the pasture. I laughed until I cried. She had, indeed, bought a zoo. The sad loss of the horse was quickly surpassed by joy. It’s amazing how a little spontaneity and imagination can turn things around in an instant. As Lisa said that night: “That was one of the best day’s ever on the farm.” As Chris remarked: “I’ve never had a day like this.” It’s just like We Bought a Zoo.



But, don’t worry, the llama fun doesn’t stop there. More fun was on the way the next day… to be continued..



Failing Well: My Biggest Failures of the Year and What I Learned

What did you fail at this year?  Have you failed well?  Maybe going into 2012, you’ll want to fail more.

Around Bedford Industries, my grandfather is known for asking what failed.  One colleague fondly recalls a time before grandparents left for their yearly 8-month Florida hiatus, that my grandfather told him that when he returned, he didn’t want to hear about the successes, but all the things that didn’t work.  The inquiry seemed unorthodox.

ludlow markets ribbon

My grandfather with a now-defunct product line, but a product line that we learned so much from and eventually led us to some of our most exciting markets.

It’s December 30—the end of the year—and I’m cleaning up unfinished business.  I just canceled an old blog account.  The account represents a series of failed projects.  Some from this year and year’s past.  Instead of reflecting on this year’s successes, I’m reflecting on this year’s failures and, more importantly (in the spirit of my grandfather’s inquisition) what I learned from those failures.

Here’s how I failed this year and what I learned from it… Continue Reading →


The Motor is So 2010: Why You Should Try Sailing

Okabena Sailboats

Sailboats on Lake Okabena about a century ago.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve rarely spotted a sailboat on our lake.  I have photos of “glory days “ on the lake, dotted with white triangular sails.  Those days seem to have come and gone.

There’s something deep and soulful about commanding a vessel powered solely by nature.  You may be at the helm, but nature is truly in control.  The strongest winds show you the ferocity of life.  There is no motor to kill.  The gusts and gales can drive you to edge of terror and what it means to be human.  Sailing is the essence of human transport.  The boat isn’t a vessel, it’s an instrument.  The wind is your rhythm and meter.  You’re making classical music.  And, above all, you feel like you’re really doing something.


The modern “E Scow” in action on Labor Day.

Little more than a century ago, sailing was the only mode of global transportation.  If you didn’t sail or the winds didn’t blow, you didn’t go.  I frequently read biographies of adventurers and recently started the journal of Captain James Cook who charted much of the Pacific.  At the end of one of his multiyear journeys at sea, as the ship was ready to sail for home, Cook announced to his men that he had decided to extend their voyage another two years despite the harsh environment and solitude of the sea.  The crew let out an enormous cheer that they could sail onward.  There was something captivating about sailing.

Some of my earliest lake memories were near a sailboat.  As a child, I remember watching with envy as my family members piloted the sailboats at our dock and, in their greatest moments, tipped the sailboats over for FUN.


I watch on with envy: My grandfather pilots the original C Scow as my mother climbs onto a sideboard for ballast (circa 1986).

Eventually, the sailboats gave way to motorized craft.  For seasons at a time, the sailboats never entered the water until, sadly, the crown jewel of our small fleet—a wooden 20’ “C Scow”—finally rotted as it waited in a horse pasture.

Recently, sailing has made a renaissance at our home.  Harkening back to my childhood memories, I searched high and low for a new 20’ foot C Scow—the modern version of our old wooden boat.  A scow is a fast, flat boat made for racing.   Unlike our old wooden one, the new ones are made of fiberglass and aluminum for a quick, responsive ride.  We found a relatively new boat, dirt-cheap.


The E Scow on Labor Day Weekend.

Today, the motorboat and jet ski mostly sit on their stands.  There are always crowds at the dock lined up to take out the sailboats.  In high winds, we take fast little boats called Lasers.  My father and I just drag raced each other around the lake all day yesterday.  In lighter winds, it’s scows, like our 28’ foot Megles E Scow.  With a crew of 5, sailing is a party.

I can see why sailing has lost its popularity.  It takes some work—you have to rig the boat—and some understanding—you have to learn a few things about wind direction and technique.  We’ve made watersports too easy today.  Just gas up the jetski and go.  Anyone can drive it; no instruction necessary.  We love easy—especially my generation.  It’s why we’d rather read the Sparknotes summary of a book or put the cheat codes into a video game to skip to the end.

Lisa and Jay Flipping the Laser

Lisa and Jay accidently tipping over the Laser.  Guess we still have to learn.

But, easy is a fling.  It’s a hollow, fleeting indulgence, and varnish wears off quickly.  It’s the long-term, lifetime-to-master that is fulfilling.  Sailing is a long-term relationship.

I wish for a sailing renaissance.  I’d love to once again see a lake full of sailboats.  At our dock, it’s happened.  The sail is the new norm, and the motor is so 2010.


Ever Dream of Your Own Apple Orchard? I Do.

Our family heirloom is an apple.  No, not a carefully curated first generation iPod, but an actual, grown-on-a-tree apple.  The kind you eat and it supposedly keeps the doctor away.


As the story goes, my great-great-great grandfather, H.J. Ludlow, a horticulturalist, grafted this special, hearty apple.  It grew on the shores of Lake Okabena in Worthington, Minnesota, and took the name “The Okabena Apple.” Continue Reading →


Praying for Your Enemies

A year-and-a-half ago, I went into the Myanmar (Burma) Embassy in Washington, D.C., to meet with the acting ambassador.  It wasn’t clear what I was going to accomplish–if anything–but I knew the enemy of the persecuted Karen people had a facility on American soil.  I got an appointment and we met.  It was a wonderful meeting with the ambassador–more than I could have expected.  I left not accomplishing anything, but building a friendship.  We kept in touch and in my follow up email to him, I told him that I would be praying for him and his country.  We said he appreciated my prayers (which was surprising from a diplomat of a deeply Buddhist country).  And I did pray for him.

We’ll get back to this momentarily.

The last two days, I’ve been in Minnesota and helped host Dave and Karen Eubank and their family.  Dave and Karen founded the Free Burma Ranges to bring relief and love to the people of Burma.  My home church, First Baptist Church in Worthington, MN, is now home to at least 100 Karen families–many of which were assisted by Free Burma Rangers or admired the organization.  I couldn’t forgo the opportunity to have the Eubanks speak to the church and Karen congregation. Continue Reading →


Stunning Minnesota at Night: A Photo Essay

The Lake at Night

I had to share these photos that I took late last night.  Yesterday evening, around 9 a.m. there were hundreds of fireflies dancing in the park acrsoss the street.  I have never seen anything like it.  I tried to photograph them, but struggled to get the right shot.   About 1 a.m., I was climbing into bed and decided I wanted one last chance at capturing the fireflies with a long exposure.  I threw some clothes on and walked across the street.  Unfortunately, the fireflies had mostly gone to sleep already too.  Rather than give up, I decided I’d go and give the lake a shot.  It did not disappoint.

The photo above was taken at 1 a.m., believe it or not.  It was a bright moon and I used a long exposure.  The yellow streaks are firefly trails–the from the few fireflies still up.  And, if you look closely, you can see the stars in the deep blue high in the photograph.  This was taken on Lake Okabena in Worthington, Minnesota.


This is the park across the street where the fireflies were dancing.  I took this photo around 9 p.m. and it was the only photo I could get.  Unfortunately, this photo doesn’t do the fireflies justice.  They were everywhere.  The yellow streaks are the firefly trails.  I count six fireflies in the single photo.  I’m going to try for a better photo again tonight.

The Dock at Night

Finally, here is our dock on Lake Okabena at night.  This photo is quintessential Minnesota.


How I’ve Spent My Fourth of Julys

I’ve spent the 4th of July in some strange places.  Four years ago, I was scuba diving on Kho Phi Phi, a tropical island off the coast of Thailand.  It didn’t feel much like Independence Day.  Two years ago, I celebrated at the home of the Ugandan ambassador.  While there was a lot of patriotic fanfare, it felt somewhat misplaced in East Africa.  While I remember the event, I don’t remember very much else about that day.  Five years ago, I spent the 4th in California.  It was an odd 4th of July.  I went to the beach (along with every other person in California), spent an hour trying to drive back home due to heavy traffic (which normally takes 20 minutes), then sat in a parking lot at Pepperdine and watched Robert De Niro’s private fireworks display.

Fourth of July Beach Scene

While these 4ths have been exotic and varied, they were mostly anticlimactic.  They sort of came and went.  In Thailand, I recall sitting in this beachside restaurant and thinking, “Oh yeah, it is the 4th.”

This Fourth of July was different.  I was home and spent the day on the lake in Worthington.  In the evening, the sun was setting over the lake, it was warm and humid like summer should be, and people were everywhere.  Kids were lighting fireworks and families were grilling.  I thought, “This is perfect.”  It looked like the quintessential Fourth of July.

There are certain celebrations that needed to be coupled with experience.  For instance, I struggle to imagine a Christmas without a Christmas Eve service or a Thanksgiving without family and turkey.  I could keep going.

Life is about experience.  And, when experience doesn’t match up, we feel cut short.  Theme parks and restaurants figured this out a long time ago.  Disney is all simulated experience—the Indiana Jones ride feels like you’re going into a jungle cave.  Even when I go into Starbucks for coffee, I’m given the experience of dark, earthy coffee shop where I can sit and read.  If I walked into Starbucks and it looked like a McDonald’s, I’d walk out.

I’m happy to say that this year, the Fourth of July was the right experience.  Having tried it other places, I know right where I want to be again next year.


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