Published by

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Rather than being "unheralded," you might call Nancy Edmonds Hanson "reforumed." The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead hired her at 17, “launching the shyest teenager in all of darkest North Dakota on nearly 50 years of writing adventures.” She covered news and features there and wrote columns for most of the next 10 years. Since then, she's written, edited, advised, marketed and taught all over the place. Her work has turned up in North Dakota Horizons and many other magazines over the years, along with bookstores, where her guide to freelance writing was a long-term best-seller (among the fraction of bookbuyers who want to write); the regional book publishing and distribution business; public television; countless anonymous advertising and public relations venues, and — for nearly 25 years — in the classrooms of Minnesota State University Moorhead's School of Communications and Journalism. She's also a bona fide Photoshop wizard, has a photographer husband and chef daughter and is crazy about cats.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Warming Up To Winter

We finally turned our furnace on last Friday. It wasn’t the 32-degree high that did it; it was the 40-mile-per-hour gusts the night before that convinced us to start burning wattage in a more significant way.

Thirty-two degrees? Ha! In March, that would warrant running outside without a coat. The fully acclimated Minnesotan laughs at such measly reports after surviving many a winter. But now, after a warmer-than-average summer and an October of unearthly sweat-inducing days, the story’s a bit different.

That little boost of artificial warmth did feel — I admit it — pretty good. I’m so ashamed.

For one whose veins run with Viking blood, flipping that switch so early hints at weakness. Not for us, the sheepish donning of jackets when a random breeze blows on a run-of-the-mill day in autumn. Not for us, the breaking out wooly knitted hats when we can still see bare pavement. Though the first nippy clues to the coming season may redden our cheeks, we thrust icy fingers into our pockets and soldier on.

The first whiff of impending winter is a tonic for the Minnesota or North Dakota soul. Weird, right? Transplants who grew up where water in the bird bath doesn’t even freeze in February may gasp in shock and awe at their first taste of what’s to come. Oddly, though we North Country natives may complain, we privately revel in it. We were bred for times like these.

That’s why neither Russ nor I had touched the thermostat since August, when we wrapped up our — shall we say “heated” — summer-long battle over air conditioning, pitting subarctic comfort against common sense. We hadn’t given it another thought until that cheeky little Canadian clipper rattled the roof and shivered the siding late last week.

I was the first to cry “uncle.” I’d begun to waver the night before, when the speed-limit-exceeding breeze rattled the windows and puffed the wooden blinds out almost parallel with the floor. The next morning, when my breath fogged the bathroom mirror, I knew that it was time. Without warning my stalwart Nordic husband of my intent, I crept into the bedroom, which faces north, and … closed the window.

Does this sound like an epic surrender? Maybe not to you, if your genes encode tender memories of the tropics. For Russ and me, though, it was radical. That window, selected for energy efficiency and insulating power, hadn’t been slammed since it was first installed. Oh, it might have been angled now and then to keep out summer rains blown horizontally by a passing tsunami. But closed? Never! Until now.

We were, after all, raised in the true Nordic tradition of bracing fresh air. Especially at night, it was an article of faith in the houses where both of us grew up that the best sleeping took place igloo-style, in between flannel sheets deep under an Everest of bedding. If you’d peeked at the bunkbed where I slept away my youth, all you’d have seen was a human caterpillar wrapped within a cocoon of quilts and itchy wool blankets and, perhaps, a nose rising like a periscope from the pillow.

My grandparents brought their mystical Scandinavian faith in the curative power of fresh air when they arrived from Norway. It seemed to serve their iron constitutions well, while also providing a convenient rationale for the drafty homes of their day. Deep breaths of frigid air are good for you! Fresh! Cleansing!

Their faith in Nature didn’t quite rule out the comfort of gathering around the red-hot oil burner steaming in the central room, as it struggled mightily to heat an entire house. But it did keep you from dawdling while hopping over polar-cold linoleum to choose school clothes from the uninsulated closet … the true, original meaning of teen “cool.”

Today, those memories are (literally) frozen in time. Central heating has stripped away the “brisk” from breakfast on these dark near-winter morns. Eddie Bauer and Cabela’s have armed us to beat back the fiercest weather wrapped in uniforms of manmade fibers and goose-made down. Our cars not only start the first time we turn the key; they wrap us in computer-monitored year-round comfort as we sit on our heated seats, peer through frost-free glass and listen to hot music beamed down by satellite.

And yet, the call of that Viking blood whispers in our ears. Here in the southern reaches of Moorhead, our thermostat rarely breaks the 65-degree mark. We wear slippers and sweatshirts around the house. Now that the wind has moderated, the windows are open again. Otherwise, sound sleep is merely a dream.

The wisdom of our forebears still calls to us today: “There’s no bad weather — only bad clothes.” We keep it cool around here. Even our supersoft, comfort-craving modern social habits reflect what they understood so well. You can always put on a sweater when you’re chilly. But if the opposite is true, people look at you funny if you decide to rip off your shirt.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Neighborhoods Show Their Age At Halloween

At other times of year, it’s not so apparent that our neighborhood is aging. Nothing moves on those short, frozen winter days but grumpy wool-wrapped critters of indeterminate age herding snowblowers. The grass groomers mostly seem to tend to their lawns early Sunday mornings, when I’m far too drowsy to care about whether whoever’s at the helm has wrinkles. Scouts and teen-age athletes still come ’round to pound on our door, peddling popcorn or pizzas or those ubiquitous blue coupon books.

But at Halloween, you can’t miss the truth: The whole neighborhood has gotten … mature? Seasoned? Face it — these days, we’re kind of old.

When Russ and I moved into this house 33 years ago, our enclave was a lively place. Bicycles lay strewn in driveways. Children shrieked and giggled. School buses poked along the street. Backyards were studded with swing sets, sandboxes and trampolines.

We were younger then. In those first years at our address, unbroken sunshine bathed the whole district, the trees mere broomsticks poking up through adolescent sod. While houses on those uber-desirable river lots across the street already had a few years on them, here on the dry side, ours were quite new. In fact, Russ and I watched most of the houses around us rise from the raw prairie. Our birdwatching was more or less limited then to distraught killdeer mothers frantically trying to protect their nests from the tractor-drawn mowers sent to scalp the empty acres a couple times a year.

Kids called most of these houses “home.” But as Hot Wheels on the sidewalk yielded to 10-speed bikes on the street, Nature had its inevitable way with the vicinity. Curbs became crowded with teenagers’ cars. Late at night, our bedsprings vibrated with the rhythmic bass blasted from their stadium-grade speakers.

Then came graduation parties in garages. Then came wedding invitations. Then the resident population thinned as offspring whom we’d watched grow up from our front window left home for college, eventually showing up only for occasional visits … with kids of their own.

It’s a long and subtle slide, like the farewell of autumn and the first hints of winter. We barely noticed from day to day … except at Halloween.

During our first years on this stretch of Rivershore Drive, we laid in a supply of candy fit to provision the Mongol hordes. Halloween was a major occasion! While Russ accompanied our daughter on her first rounds to gather trick ’n treat bounty — all the gooey gobs of glucose that nutrition mavens abhor — it was my job to man the barricades at home.

The little goblins numbered in the hundreds during our early years. Every chime of the doorbell meant another trip downstairs to the front door. At peak moments, I’d settle for the evening on the bottom step to save my knees and shoe leather.

That was in the 1980s. Even though the world still seemed a simpler and safer place, you could spot shadowy figures lingering at the end of the driveway … watchful parents dragooned into accompanying their young adventurers on the annual candy harvest. Sarah Ann Rairdon, the little girl who disappeared from Underwood, Minn., in 1985, was still in the news; Jacob Wetterling’s kidnapping dominated headlines of the day; the mystery of Jenna North still lay ahead. Moms and dads were on alert whenever their youngsters ventured out of arm’s reach. While we coached our kids to bravely walk up and ring the doorbell, we ourselves felt a kind of fear our own parents had never known.

But there really wasn’t much to fear here at Halloween. Rivershore Drive was lit like Times Square — curtained windows aglow, outdoor lights beaming, electric ghosts and jack o’lanterns and Snoopies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles standing guard on nearly every doorstep.

And the crowds! We’d watch station wagons unload small herds of hopeful treat crews at the corner. They came to the door by sixes and eights, holding out plastic pumpkins or shopping bags or pillowcases already half-full of the kind of harvest that’s kept dentists in demand until this very day. I’d peek at them from the peephole in the door, then throw it open with a cauldron of Tootsie Pops or Hershey Miniatures in my arms. Sure, their faces would fall for a moment — they were hoping for full-size Snickers. Then they’d rearrange them in a parent-coached smile and dutifully murmured their thanks. After all, the paltry payoff did contain chocolate.

Why not make their dreams come true, you ask? We don’t like Snickers. On the other hand, we do favor Tootsies and Hershey bites … not that, in those days, there were many left at evening’s end for the home crew to devour.

The last few years have told a different story. Last time, the street was mostly dark. The sidewalks were deserted. We’d stocked up on treats, but waited in vain. By 6:30 p.m., we were nibbling them ourselves and had turned out the lights on the garage. Nada. The neighborhood had outgrown Halloween.

Of course, it’s not only that we and our neighbors have surpassed our salad days. Here on our stretch, the census of houses has shrunk by half, with flood control erasing the more elaborate riverside homes where kids’ dreams of Snickers were likeliest to come true. Meanwhile, today’s costumed candy crusaders tend to head for the climate-controlled comfort of trick-or-treating in the malls. The only creatures knocking on our door these days are the offspring of friends escorted by a beaming dad or granddad. Their motives lean more toward exhibiting their dear little munchkins than gathering sugary treats that Mom wouldn’t approve anyway.

What goes around eventually comes back around again. While quite a few of our longtime neighbors have moved to more convenient quarters, we do hear happy children’s voices visiting Grandma and Grandpa in the season of open windows and screen doors. And there’s a harbinger of things to come. One nearby home has turned over into new hands. Two supercharged youngsters are having the time of their lives chasing each other around their yard. More to come?

As our neighborhood continues its generational drift — replacing our peers with spry and youthful households perhaps our allotment of witches and devils, superheroes and Sponge Bobs, may rise again. I doubt, though, that they’ll ever again rival the bumper crops of kids from the era when our area was new.

On the one hand, that means no prospect again next Tuesday of greeting giddy Disney princesses and Transformers on our venerable front step.

On the other … our supply of Tootsie Pops may last past Christmas.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Finding Peace in Unexpected Places

Sometimes it’s just too much. Mass shootings. Hurricanes. Nazis. Nukes. Juvenile name-calling by bullies in D.C. Eroding civil rights. Immigrant-bashing. Wildfires in wine country.

And then Tom Petty dies, and the petunias freeze.

It takes a strong stomach to keep up with the news these days. For the past — oh, 11 and a half months or so — I’ve been waking up to cheerful birdsong, cats curled up on the edge of the bed … and a vague feeling of doom.

Friends tell me they share that anxious buzz at random moments … when they catch sight of CNN, for example, or hear Limbaugh blare from the open windows of the next car at a stoplight, or feel the vibes of a news alert on the cellphones in their pockets. What now? What next? What the ….

Here’s something we all can agree on: This is no way to live. Since there’s little we can do in the short run to counter the chaos itself, I think we all concur that it’s time for radical action aimed at the near-subliminal heeby jeebies it sustains.

What’s near at hand? Here at the Hanson household, that’s the TV clicker. We’ve long resolved to break our lifelong habit of mainlining the news throughout our waking hours. After our daily dose of Charlie Rose, Nora O’Donnell and Gayle King, we’re tuning all broadcast dials to music — contemporary by day, classical by night. Not only does it soothe; it’s a breeze to fall asleep after dinner. As for Facebook and the like, the solution is easy. More cat videos! There’s nothing like a crazy kitten scared by a cucumber to ease the old blood pressure.

But given the escalating cacophony of bad news in recent days, even feline antics haven’t been nearly enough. Last weekend, it was time to unleash the ultimate diversion — megatons of sheer distraction guaranteed to drive all worries up into the cheap seats.

It was time … to clean the bathroom cupboards!

Every home, I suspect, has a cubby where even the bravest heart seldom dares to go. Maybe yours is the kitchen junk drawer or that one cobwebby corner of the garage where the Prince of Clutter reigns.

At our house, it’s the pair of overstuffed cupboards beside the bathtub. I can’t remember exactly when the River Styx began to puddle behind those innocent oak doors, but they’ve come to conceal an infernal flood of miscellany that defies organization and, even, reason. Wise occupants tiptoe past, loathe to grab the handle and disturb the overstuffed mystery that lies within … mostly because a load of it is bound to come tumbling out in your face.

That’s it! I could suppress my existential angst about the headlines with a herculean burst of elbow grease! And that’s how Saturday began.

Now, I was fairly fond of the mirrored medicine cabinet that hung in my parents’ powder room. Though ours was no model of neatness, it was self-limiting — four shallow shelves of a foot or so, just big enough for the toothpaste, Visine, Vicks VapoRub, Q-Tips and bottles of nail polish.

Ours is more generous. The built-in cabinets are nearly a yardstick tall by two feet deep. They accommodate many layers of future fossils — the kind of historic trove that in a thousand years could thrill archeologists like uncovering King Tut’s tomb. Cellphones from the dawn of time. Accessories that fit an electric shaver that must have been left behind when we moved to Moorhead 33 years ago. A colorful bouquet of free toothbrushes, along with enough dental floss for a dynasty on the Nile. Charging cords for electronic gadgets long departed from this mortal coil. My late aunt’s beloved green-eyed cat brooch, missing a good third of its paste jewels. A bottle of Baby Tylenol bought for the young ’un who turns 33 this Friday.

I can’t say exactly how long it’s been since I last excavated those cabinets, but I do seem to remember running Windows 95 at the time. Russ pulled two wastebaskets into the bathroom, a big one for routine discards and a smaller to gather pharmaceuticals for the police to incinerate downtown. I crawled up on the kitchen stool, the better to reach far corners, and dug in.

You can tell a lot about a family by what they stuff in the back of their cupboards. It’s a better test than Ancestry.com for pinpointing the darker side of the owners’ genes. Me, I’m Norwegian; I was bred not to waste a thing. And I can prove it, there among the score of bottles of hair care products, each containing a dwindling inch or so in its bottom, plus the half-dozen push-up deodorant containers blessed with barely a scum of Secret deep inside.

Three more categories confounded me. We have gradually collected a bottle of every obscure nostrum that’s been touted by Dr. Oz — a single bottle of each, rarely finished, some barely begun, all dismissed to languish unmourned.

When Russ or I develop a painful owie, our first instinct is to run to the store for Band-Aids and salve. The result is an enviable assortment of big bandages, little bandages, round bandages, finger-shaped bandages and a few classics with Barbies and My Little Ponies. Did I mention elastic bandages? Those, too, along with flexible cold packs for freezing, a cache of Neosporin and rubs to soothe sore backs. I even found an ancient bottle of mercurochrome, possibly inherited from a grandmother who’s been gone since 1975. (She’s probably the source of the dicier spices pushed to the back of the junk drawer, too, but let’s not go into that.)

All that pales, though, next to our comprehensive collection of over-the-counter cold remedies. The contents themselves aren’t unique — standard Alka-Seltzer Plus and Ny/Day/ZZquil, along with throat lozenges, zinc, echinacea and miscellaneous heavily advertised elixirs and panaceas. What’s more unusual is that there seem to be no more than three tablets or a half-teaspoon in any of the boxes or bottles. Apparently our sure-fire cure for the common cold and flu is a restorative trip to Walgreen’s. It appears that we favor starting fresh for every infection … then pushing the left-overs to the back when our noses no longer drip. If there were a secondary market for odds and ends of over-the-counter meds, we could live off the proceeds of our low-rent pharmacy.

Those cursed cupboards consumed my whole Saturday afternoon. At last, detritus filled both wastebaskets to the brim. My sense of accomplishment was gargantuan. Not only that. The messed-up world outside hadn’t sent a blip through my mental radar even once.

Of course, the bad news came back, seeping in between the cracks by the time I went to bed. Yet a hint of hard-won well-being lingered.

Last night, I woke up again with that familiar frizz of anxiety nudging the edges of sleep. I got up to go to the bathroom. No, not for the plumbing. Instead, I opened cupboard doors and bathed my soul in the calm, well-ordered shelfscapes that lay within.

I wouldn’t call it peace, exactly. But at 4 a.m., it seemed to come close enough.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Advertising Works … Sometimes Too Well

Yes, advertising works. Ads work if we love them. They work if we hate them. If we ignore them — but still are exposed to them often enough in the background — they’re still working exactly as intended … drilling their way into the back of our minds.

Don’t argue with me, please. A good share of my livelihood has been funded by those often-maligned but ubiquitous messages, which we who work in the media know keep the lights on and the fridge stocked with edibles. Ads make the wheels of commercial America go ’round. They govern our taste in toothpaste. They connect nonprofits with people who care. They keep us all in tune with what’s going on, not to mention how to make our teeth white as snow and our armpits acceptable in polite company. And without them, when would football fans ever get to go to the bathroom?

Regulators have long recognized advertising’s power, even if civilians tend to forget all about it. That’s not only why millions are dumped onto the airwaves as every election approaches. It also explains why political ads — not only broadcast, but in print, on billboards and in the mail — are firmly required to clarify who’s paying to indoctrinate us.

“I’m Glory Gesundheit, and I approve this message” — transparency and disclosure are what that familiar tag line is all about. It’s the reason broadcast spots, campaign postcards, newspaper ads and even yard signs carry that line of boilerplate in mouse type at the bottom edge: “Sponsored and paid for by the (Gesundheit committee and chairman).” They have to tell us — however cryptically — whose propaganda they’re hoping we’ll absorb.

The Federal Election Commission stands guard over national campaigns conducted through traditional media. States require disclosure, too — in Minnesota, the Campaign Finance Board; in North Dakota, the Century Code, as enforced by states attorneys. The FCC also gets into the act in open-air broadcast, mandating that all candidates for the same office pay the same rates for their airtime.

But here’s the problem. Campaign regulations have fallen a decade behind when it comes to how we really communicate in 2017. Traditional media that play by the familiar rules are fading fast. Today, most of us (seven in 10, according to the nonpartisan Pew Research Center) use Facebook and other social media. FEC regulations don’t apply online, much less our naïve confidence that we know who’s talking to us.

My college students — every last Millennial among them — cite Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and lately Snapchat as their main and, often, only sources of news and information. Even the majority of my well-ripened Baby Boom peers check our newsfeeds for more than pics of each other’s grandkids, hilarious pet antics and hotdish recipes. We, too, are mainlining views of what’s going on in the world.

So that deep, wide vein of golden attention was destined from the start to be irresistible to those who want to infiltrate our thinking — our understanding of how our country works, of what matters most, of who’s the villain and who’s the savior.

Trouble is, the laws that have served us in the past do not apply to the Internet. It’s the wild, wild West out there. It’s up to us to screen who’s shouting, or whispering, in our ears.

Prompted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook finally ’fessed up to something political observers suspected all along. It has admitted, so far, to collecting more than $100,000 of paid advertising from unfriendly foreign sources. In rubles, yet. Reversing his fervent yearlong denials, Facebook honcho Mark Zuckerberg not only now confirms that we were (and are still) bombarded with messages, viral posts and sponsored suggestions painstakingly aimed to shape our opinions and our votes.

It would be ridiculously naïve to think Zuck’s belated admission is more than the tip of the iceberg. What lurks below? Unless Mueller compels social media records to be opened, we can only guess. Clearly revealing who’s behind the paid onslaught is — as of now — absolutely optional.

Facebook and the like know us better than our own mothers. Since 2000, we’ve gladly embraced these all-powerful media to harvest every detail revealed by our online lives … while they were busy slaying the very media that we count on to disclose the truth. Their influence, say researchers at Pew, is remarkably consistent across all the categories that ad pros term “demographics” — young and old, urban and rural, high-school-educated and college grads, lower incomes and the folks with stratospheric bucks.

And more: We’ve made a devil’s bargain with these billion-dollar corporations. We’ve traded the nuts and bolts of how our minds work for free access to their bright, shiny toys. Thanks to the Internet, the dead-serious industry now called Big Data enables interest groups that pay to play to slice and dice us into chillingly specific chunks — not only by mundane demographics, but by what we think and who we hang out with. That’s earned Facebook and Google top spots among the most valuable corporations on the planet.

Fine, fine. That’s all cool … as long as it’s confined to Google AdWords shooting pitches at my personal screens for new mysteries, luscious knitting yarn and fashions for over-50 gals. It’s also OK with me that Facebook understands I’m a sucker for cat videos and ’60s rock music.

But it’s not OK — not at all — when social media profit from clandestine foreign players who seek to secretly pave a perfect propaganda path into my psyche.

Here’s the thing about traditional advertising: We all speak the language. We recognize that ads aren’t quite the same as gospel truth. A good shake of skeptical salt seasons us against the worst abuses. Even if ad messages do possess a potent power to seep into our souls while we barely notice — thanks to the magic of reach and frequency — we get it. They’re just ads. We understand that every persuasive little gem has been concocted, whittled and glossed up with the frank goal of selling us something.

But that immunizes us, a bit, when they’re on television, newspapers, radio, billboards. Online, not so much. Paid placements blur into the rest of what we’re reading and watching. Few bother to decode every message, and so the trolls’ sly news-like messages, unflagged, get repeated, reposted, retweeted by willing conspirators and gullible readers alike. Hot, juicy falsity becomes so ubiquitous that it fogs up what we understand as true.

Advertising in old media works. (Thank you very much!) When it comes to new media, we’re learning that it works even better. Until the Federal Election Commission and public pressure demand full disclosure of paid messages on social media and their sponsors — the same rules other media live by — beware that creepy feeling that you’re being watched. While online advertisers are free to secretly apply all the Internet can tell them about us, we’re only beginning to figure out the single fact we really know about them: When it comes to what’s going on, we’re mostly in the dark.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — After Disaster, Forget The Rummage … Cash Counts

First, the hurricane. Then comes the second disaster — the blizzard of well-meant rummage.

I know you have only the best intentions. Me, too. We want to help the Texans who lost everything they own to Hurricane Harvey. But please, please put down those garbage bags of used clothes, stuffed animals and odds and ends from your pantry. They are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

The images of grief, loss and suffering wring hearts at a time like this, and the urge to help somehow can be almost overwhelming. That generosity is guaranteed to make we ourselves feel better … but the wrong kinds of spontaneous giving — and there are lots of them — only make the crisis worse.

If you want to really make a difference, donate cash.

That’s the best advice from seasoned disaster professionals in our own back yard. They’re watching their colleagues with boots on the ground in Texas and Louisiana. They’ve been there themselves in years gone by. They know how the relief and recovery process must proceed. And from their own experience, this is the most sincere advice they can give us: Leave your stuff in your own closet. Down at Ground Zero, it’ll only get in the way.

When the sky is blue and the forecast sunny, the rest of us barely spare a notion for the battle-tested disaster relief experts on standby to head to the heart of the storm. Only after a heart-breaking onslaught like Harvey’s (or Irma’s imminent arrival) does that reality come into focus: There are people — smart, brave, hard-working people — whose whole livelihood is based on knowing what to do in the worst of times. Like these.

The disaster that dominates tonight’s news isn’t their first rodeo. That’s how they know that piles and piles of miscellaneous sweaters, shirts, jeans, shoes, pillows, jackets, teddy bears, T-shirts, underwear, swimsuits, ties, board games, pajamas, Christmas decorations and whatever else is lying around in the basement or stashed in bottom drawers will ultimately help no one at all … not even those we see on TV who’ve lost everything they hold precious to those polluted, reptile-infested floodwaters.

Instead, the onslaught of donated stuff just gets in the way. It becomes a disaster in its own right. It sops up costly storage space and precious volunteers’ time that could be far better invested in more urgent pursuits. Or it’s pretty much ignored until it becomes a hazard.

On Sunday, CBS News chronicled bales of pointless donations blocking emergency access on Honduras airstrips after a hurricane. Other piles still rotted on an Indonesian beach years after a tsunami until they were finally doused with gasoline and burned. The former director of the Center for International Disaster Information in Washington told a reporter, “Generally after a disaster, people with loving intentions donate things that cannot be used in a disaster response, and, in fact, may actually be harmful. And they have no idea that they’re doing it.”

Of course they mean well, as they gather clothes with some measure of useful life remaining, along with this and that around the house that they think that they can spare. But once those semis full of stuffed trash bags and bulging tote bins have arrived, they present a tremendous challenge to relief workers. They need to be warehoused, sorted, cleaned, organized and distributed, and — amidst far more urgent demands like shelter, meals, assessing losses and practical matters of survival — that seldom happens. Even when it does, it’s a burden that gums up the system … especially when a rather embarrassing share of those donations turn out to be dirty, useless, worn out or requiring repairs that’ll never be made.

One of the best things about Americans is our open hearts in times of trouble. We want to help. We want to feel that thrill of doing good. Sadly, filling a box with our cast-off belongings seems to satisfy that sincere urge far better than the colder, more corporate kind of contribution — sending a check or, likelier today, logging onto a website to click a few keys, kicking into a relief fund.

Yet that helps most. Random cans of tuna and beans from a thousand food drives are less immediately useful than money to order groceries in commercial quantities to prepare meals for crowds of displaced families … who, after all, have no kitchens to cook those individual boxes of Kraft Mac ’n’ Cheese for themselves.

Too, the corps of trained professionals who arrive with relief organizations need to be equipped, housed, fed and paid. Recovery isn’t measured in weeks or months. It takes years. Long past the point when the immediate crisis has been forgotten by the national news, recovery workers will still be helping victims navigate through public programs and insurance snags, finding the tools and resources to finally rebuild a semblance of normal life.

We’ve experienced that right here. After the Red River Valley floods of 1997 and 2009 and the Minot disaster of 2011, good-hearted people all over the country streamed a deluge of well-intended miscellany in our direction. Managing all that stuff was, frankly, a nightmare. Relief organizations seldom bring this up out of respect for those kind, generous donors’ feelings … but tons ended up in the hands of salvage companies, at best, or piled up in local landfills.

If you want to help, give money. It’s as simple as that. Reputable public charities and faith-based organizations are already on the ground, and they understand how to apply every dollar where it matters most at this very moment.

And if you don’t have ready cash? Here’s an idea. Instead of piling up your odds and ends to fill a semi headed to Texas or Louisiana, lay them out in your own garage and sell them to eager bargain-hunters here at home. (And, afterwards, dispose of the left-overs yourself.)

Then go ahead and write that personal check. The disaster-relief troops at Ground Zero won’t have to ship it, store it, sort it, size it, clean it, organize it and somehow transport it wherever it might eventually do some good. You’ll feel terrific, knowing the minute it’s deposited, your gift will start to make good things happen.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Flashbacks To The Floods

It seems wrong to think about ourselves when Houston is drowning … but how can we avoid the flashbacks?

While we agonize for Texans fighting for their lives, the news video is all too familiar in our own neck of the woods. Here in the Red River Valley, it brings back images we’d all rather forget — Fargo-Moorhead’s valiant fight against then-record waters in 1997; the devastation that followed a few days later in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks; and the all-time record crest in 2009 that nearly took us under.

Memory is a funny thing. Terrors that seem indelible do, somehow, fade and dull in the sunshine. The near-constant pounding and growl of crews building permanent dikes along the river has relieved bad dreams of days when the roaring Red threatened to erase our normal, everyday life for good.

Today, at the end of a dry, dry summer, we’d mostly forgotten those floods … until Hurricane Harvey. Our situation, though different in so many ways, was just as desperate as what we’re witnessing on the nightly news. This is what the weather can do. This is what our own weather has done, as recently as the days when today’s second- and third-graders were being born.

This is what it will do again.

But memory dims and becomes domesticated. Maybe that accounts for the ho-hum that’s come to surround the F-M Area Diversion for most of us in the communities it will protect. While critics strategize ways to torpedo the mammoth $2 billion plan to slide the torrent around the cities, we who live here have pretty much sat back while government leaders have done all the heavy lifting.

Perhaps we count on Moorhead’s and Fargo’s city-centric efforts to keep our front steps dry. Here in Moorhead, we’ve invested $105 million, along with the state of Minnesota, in an 11-mile system of earthen levees that stretches from north of the country club to 50th Avenue South. Two hundred forty-nine homes have been sacrificed to make way. We’ve built 12 new pump stations and 78 stormwater gates over the past eight years. If the city hustles to build clay dikes in front of the 80-some holdouts who punctuate that would-be impervious wall, we should be safe to a crest of 39.5 feet.

Fargo has been just as busy with its downtown floodwall and 20 miles of earthen dikes. Some 200 homes have been bought out there, moved or demolished, with many more still in limbo. South along the river’s twisting oxbows, the same kind of campaign has reduced formerly tiny Briarwood to open fields and is relocating Oxbow. Its goal, too, is to protect to FEMA’s 100-year flood level.

We like what we’re seeing these days. We aren’t required to buy flood insurance anymore (though some of us, prone to cross our fingers, still do). Those new floodwalls look good. On the south side, where we live, we barely remember the neighbors’ homes that lined the riverbank just seven years ago. We’ve come to rather like the open sweep of grassy dike across the street, where their kids so recently played with our own.

Secure, complacent — and saving a little money, to boot. What floods? Our cities have invested a fortune in thwarting the threat of once-in-100-years flooding … and most of us apparently figure we won’t be around long to have to worry about it again.

Except. Our climate is growing warmer, wetter and — yes — wilder. It’s a paradox that, despite the drought to the west, precipitation is trending upward. Horticulturists have bumped us up from growing zone 3 to 4. Storms are stormier. Though winter snows have been scant in recent years, the specter of 1996-1997 — 117 inches — will never fully melt from our imagination.

And now, Houston’s agony again demonstrates what “unprecedented” really means.

All the hundreds of millions already spent building our cities’ walls and dikes should indeed be adequate to protect us from Red River tantrums equal to those we’ve already witnessed. But what of the next?

That’s where the diversion — the megaproject most of us understand only dimly — comes in. It’s been chugging along since 2008, ironically begun a year before the worst flood in F-M history. The numbers are too big for the ordinary mind to really grasp. That goes double for the engineering. Weighing every conceivable alternative, local leaders agree the Corps of Engineers has chosen the only one that provides protection from the degree of disaster that we still can barely imagine. The unusual public-private partnership received formal federal approval a year ago, and the Corps at work on the first steps. Projected completion date: 2024.

If, that is, opponents don’t manage to sink the ship. Critics have attacked from every angle, raising often-valid points that have surely made the present project better. But the controversies have morphed into an impassioned quest that’s only gained momentum.

Everyone loves a good bout of David-vs.-Goliath, and the mission to sink the diversion has always been portrayed in just those terms. Some of the main players on the Goliath side surely have fed the furor — the word “arrogant” keeps coming up. Resentment squirts its bile in many directions: town vs. rural, wealthy vs. down-to-earth, small towns vs. the not-so-big cities that pass for a metropolis in these parts. But let’s examine the problem with how roles in this epic drama have been cast.

Take a closer look at what critics portray as the forces of evil. What I see right here around me in the middle of purported Goliath-land is something quite different than the looming, faceless, heartless force that’s been depicted. Instead of the monolithic villain that anti-diversion challengers feel they face, I see tens of thousands of people just like them. I see families living along this ruthless river who love their homes and need their livelihoods every bit as much as the valiant Davids upstream who are battling to protect their own.

This challenge belongs to all of us. None of us wins unless we press forward together toward a mutually acceptable solution. Watch the news from Houston. Listen to their stories. Feel their fear and desperation. Weigh the overwhelming odds against ever regaining “normal.”

And then let this one overwhelming truth consume you: What we’re seeing in Texas … that could all too easily be us.

Compromise, you guys! Persist in negotiation! Go for the mutual win. We’re all Davids here, and the real Goliath is the Red River itself. Give up a little to gain a lot. That’s where we’ll find our heroes.

It’s not a question of whether we’ll ever face the Red’s full fury again. It’s simply, “When?”

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Oh, Now I See

These old eyes — they’ve seen a lot. Back in my younger days — let’s call them my 20-20s — they took in more than enough, both good and bad, to make me the wise old woman I am today.

Make that the wise old “squinty” woman. While I can still claim to have some insight, I can’t seem to make things out. Simple things: The instructions on the back of the allergy pills. My favorite pie recipe, printed in pumpkin brown on a cream background on the Libby’s label. Information on where and how to order tickets for a concert. The restrictions on that fabulous Herberger’s coupon I just tucked into my purse.

I miss the days before glasses became my crutch. I know it’s perfectly normal to have to try a little harder to see what there is to see. But really, now — the price tag on a onesie for our granddaughter? A Class B dot somewhere on the Minnesota map? The sign on a trendy restroom door? As an ever-present reminder of the passage of time, my changing eyesight has worked like clockwork … but, all in all, I’d be happier with a calendar.

The eye doc says my experience has been pretty normal. Originally blessed with near-perfect distance vision, I’ve only needed a little help with close-ups as the decades rolled along. Remedial aid was easy, thanks to those little cute little half-glasses made famous by Roger McGuinn and Teddy Kennedy … or Granny Clampett. I could overlook them — actually, look right over them — when faced with a full-size vista. Life was good.

I’ll never forget the exam that changed my life. It proceeded normally enough. “Which is clearer, 1 … or 2? 1 … or 2? How about now — 1 … or 2?” As usual, I was trying mightily to perceive a difference, any difference, when the doctor finally sat back. “Hmm,” he hummed with a satisfied sigh. “And how old were you on your last birthday?”

“Forty,” I told him (resisting scolding him with a slap, “That’s not what you ask a lady”).

He grinned triumphantly. “Right on time!”

And thus was launched this half-life of hating my spectacles. Sure, I could read the classified ads again. I could figure out the lyrics on the little insert inside a CD case and the fine print on my car insurance contract. But who needs any of that?

True, I could resume doing counted cross-stitch on fabric finer that a gunny sack. But that didn’t matter much. I, who once could thread a needle on the first pass, now could no longer manage to stab the floss into its eye without a magnifier.

I hate wearing glasses. Have I mentioned that? The past 20 years of experience hasn’t left me one bit more inclined to love these simple aids so many take for granted.

I hate the shifty pursuit of the right spot in my progressive lenses. I hate the dust and fingerprints they collect, along with occasional cat licks. I hate the red marks where they gently pinch my nose. I hate the way they steam up on humid August days and fog over when I open the door in winter. I hate it when I push them up on top of my head, knowing they’ll slide off backward the next time I nod, and then I’ll drive right over them while backing out of my parking space. (To be clear, that only happened once. But still ….)

Early in my star-crossed adjustment to trifocal lenses, I hit on a better option. Instead of the challenge of figuring out where to peer at any given moment, I ordered three separate pairs — one for reading and knitting, another for working at the computer (where I spend the best part of the day) and a third for distance. That’s the one I need least, the one that invariably ends up atop my cranium … leading to the spectacle of one pair on my head, another on my nose and the third — well, that’s the one I’m still looking for.

It’s not a perfect system. Just ask my husband what happens when I bring the wrong pair to a restaurant and beseech him to whisper the menu in my ear.

Nevertheless, acceptance was inevitable. I’ve more or less mastered the art of juggling. I’ve also resigned myself to ordering replacements whenever the scratches and prolonged abuse finally make them only a little less transparent than those eclipse specs you wore Monday.

But I’ve been noticing lately that much of what I want to read is getting harder. After a few years of straining to make out the text and even ads in favorite magazines, the problem came into focus when I faced the new edition of my textbook. I found it nearly unreadable. Oh, good, another excuse for my students.

Stung by my anxious squint, I finally hied myself back to the eye clinic for a serious work-up. I fully expected dire news. My tired old eyes must be fading. Imagine my relief when the doctor said, “No change!”

But, then, why am I so persistently squinting whenever I settle down to read?

The culprit seems to be an epidemic of an entirely different type — specifically that: the type. While my venerable trifocal generation remains the biggest and most eager consumer of the good old printed word, the graphic artists who design magazines and books have been leaning more often toward smaller fonts — the kind we used to call “mouse type.”

Perhaps their motive is budgetary. As the fortunes of magazines and book publishers have wavered, they’re trying to fit all those words into a smaller, cheaper package.

Or maybe it’s just the whimsy of graphic fashion. Page designers — are they all in their 20-20s? — seem to have fallen deeply in love with creative tricks to prettify their content. Some seem to regard readability as a poor second to artistic expression. Why else would a sane person set the text of a story, say, in decorative leaf-green words against a sky-blue background, or lay yellow verbiage across a photo of a busy city street at sunset, or dare to dream the impossible dream: teensy white letters reversed out of a field of dead black? High-mileage eyes simply cannot decode them.

All these masterpieces undoubtedly look stunning on the designer’s monitor. But no matter how many ooh’s and aah’s they earn from their artistic peers, their ads and print pubs don’t accomplish a thing if their actual audience — we, their readers — can’t make them out.

The years have warped these eyeballs just a bit. Yet I can see a clearly perfect vision: Clean black letters on a plain white background, forming words so clear that I can read squintlessly, as effortless as in days of yore.

I long to be free again to concentrate on what I’ve read rather than how hard it can be to read it.  I dream of handsome pages without end, laid out for readability rather than leaps of artistic inspiration. What’s that you say? Why, you’re right! I just described the Kindle.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Paper, Pencils And Patience

Item: When top computer hackers got their hands on the voting hardware that dozens of states use to tabulate the vote, it took them just 90 minutes to infiltrate the brain of the first device. In the next few hours, they cracked every single one of the voting machines.

We’re not talking about nefarious cybercrime here — not sophisticated campaigns by Boris and Natasha. The occasion was DEF CON, a huge convention of happy computer hackers who gathered in Las Vegas for fun and games last weekend. One highlight was the first-ever Voting Village, where fun-seekers could apply their cracking habits to dozens of voting machines acquired by scouting eBay and government surplus auctions.

They met the challenge in 90 minutes. Piece of cake!

Some keyboard wizards broke into the machines via remote access. Others, the hands-on types, honed in on shocking physical vulnerabilities like open ports on the back of machines and stupid passwords like “abcde.” Voting Village volunteers gleefully uncovered previously unknown vulnerabilities in every single one of the machines in short order … then into hacked a few online voter registration databases for good measure.

In a chilling demonstration of what computer geniuses apparently do for giggles, these white-hat hackers (the good guys, who probe to make systems safe) gleefully dismantled the last notion that America’s voting systems are secure. They deftly demonstrated the same kind of arcane digital tricks that less kindly intruders apparently managed in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election.

At least 21 states’ records and systems were breached last year, according to federal investigators. Intruders with darker intentions presumably drew on unlimited financial backing and support, not to mention leisurely undetected hours in the dark. But at DEF CON, our own fun-seeking white hats did much the same thing openly, right out in the sunshine, spurred on by nothing more than the awe of their fellow hackers. And they breached the ramparts in mere minutes.

Really, how could we have been so innocent? Who among us trusted that high-tech would be the final answer … for anything? Yet computerized voting once seemed so clinical, so efficient, so secure, that we were lulled into taking their trustworthiness as a “given.” If dirty work fouled the system on which our democracy depends, surely it would bear the sticky fingerprints of sneaky individual voters gaming the rules.

Wrong. States like North Dakota have spent years cooking up new hurdles to bar the unworthy from voting — like the arcane voter ID law that a federal judge threw out before last year’s election. But while these anxious electoral purists have been trying to root out voters they deemed undesirable, one by one, the genuine threat lurks elsewhere. It turns out they were beating the bushes for suspicious trees, yet missing dark shadows in the forest.

True voter-perpetrated fraud is vanishingly rare. That what the men and women who oversee elections in every state tell us. But DEF CON’s hackers — just for fun — should have turned our confidence in computerized vote-counting on its head.

There is an answer, though — a messier, more intense and embarrassingly retro way to ensure that votes are counted … and can be reconfirmed by canvass and recount. Minnesota, North Dakota and 12 other states (mostly in New England and the Upper Midwest) have defied the siren’s call of turning tabulation over to machines. Instead of taking the easy way out — embracing the purported convenience of touchscreen, networked electronics — we plod along placing our time-tested trust in marking physical ballots by hand, then scanning them.

Then we safeguard them, ready to reconfirm and recount when close elections warrant. As every vote counts, so does physically counting every vote. Just ask Sen. Al Franken, whose victory was finally confirmed six months after the 2008 election. After an excruciating recount, his margin of victory over incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman was just 312 votes … out of 2.9 million cast.

Sure, the relatively cumbersome manner in which Minnesotans and North Dakotans count the votes slows down the media’s breathless horserace-style reporting. But slow and steady, it turns out, can do wonders for America’s peace of mind.

Paper. Pens. Patience. What can it hurt? Is it so unthinkable that, sometimes, civilians might even may fall asleep on Election Night with the leaderboard still in question? At most, it means one more night’s sound sleep. We have the next four years to lie awake and worry.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — ‘We Will Bury You’

It was 1956, and the world seemed simple. Our big, boxy Emerson TV, with its puny convex picture tube, streamed all kinds of benign pleasures into our little house on the prairie: “Make Room for Daddy,” “The Milton Berle Show,” “Hopalong Cassidy” and — the high point of that entire year for me — the moment when Captain Jim Rohn displayed my crayon drawing on his kids’ show on Channel 4.

My parents watched “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” every night. It was a sacred civic duty. That’s where we heard the words that would shadow my generation’s childhood: “We will bury you.”

I was 6. Russia — in those days, the U.S.S.R. — was the monster that mumbled beneath our beds in the darkest hours of night. Nikita Khrushchev’s ominous words peeled back the veneer that separated our safe and low-key world from the black-and-white TV newscasts our parents turned on at suppertime. Just think: One lumpy little man in Moscow on the other side of the planet could shake his fist and create reverberations we’d feel for the rest of our lives.

When the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party made that portentous vow to visiting Western ambassadors, many of them walked out in protest. The flamboyant Khrushchev’s famous pronouncement was, of course, far from the first shell lobbed in the verbal battles of the Cold War. But for me and my peers so long ago, it marked one of our earliest encounters with the face of terror (thanks to the miracle of television) … the ominous threat that, in modern terms, “went viral” … and delivered us all onto the field of lasting panic.

Far beyond the Red River, American leaders were quaking before the Red Menace. Joe McCarthy’s paranoid pursuit of Commies under every bed was finally on the ebb, but preparations were well on their way to preserve us from Armageddon.

Mine was the generation inoculated against Russian influence in the primary grades. We started every day of first grade with the Pledge of Allegiance, unaware that Congress had amended it just that year — 1954 — with the new addition of “under God.” The revision was said to set us apart from the “godless Communists,” as well as imply heaven’s approval of our capitalist system.

We gathered in the gym to watch civil defense movies that advised us on how to survive a nuclear attack by crouching beneath our desks with our arms over our heads. I can’t recall whether we practiced “duck and cover” together back in our classroom, but I know I tried it a time or two myself when I got to school early and no one was around to see. Like a fire drill, it seemed like a good idea.

We were especially aware of the threat of “atom bombs,” perhaps, because of defense measures here in North Dakota. Grand Forks Air Force Base opened for business when I was a first-grader, with Minot following in third. Signs along budding Interstate 94 constantly reminded us it was a “national defense highway,” initiated in part for quick evacuations during atomic attack. By the time my class graduated from high school, our peaceful prairie was punctuated with underground missile silos, and jets from Minot occasionally screamed overhead, scaring the gophers and the cattle.

My first transistor radio, like every one manufactured until 1963, had two tiny triangles embossed on the AM dial at 640 and 1240. That’s where, when the Russians attacked, you could tune in emergency information from the federal government via CONELRAD, the precursor to the Emergency Broadcast System.

In south-central North Dakota, where I went to high school, the ever-present Soviet threat led to some cultural challenges. By the time my family lived there in the 1960s, our neighbors — Germans from Russia, who’d endured 50 years of suspicion as we fought Germans in two world wars — were targeted for being “Rooshian.”

No one who knows North Dakota, though, could ever wonder about their loyalty. Anti-communist fervor was in full flower. The John Birch Society had impassioned loyalists, though it flew somewhat under the radar. I remember Birch propaganda on every desk in our eighth-grade classroom, delivered without explanation or discussion. It was mimeographed on pulpy pink paper and featured a photo of President Kennedy gleefully hugging Khrushchev — obviously doctored, even to an eighth-grader’s unsophisticated eyes. There were occasional glimpses, too, of Birch Society founder Robert Welch’s little blue book, the bible of the far-right tribe, in bib overall pockets or on the dashboards of Chevys parked behind the church.

The Farm Bureau’s Citizenship Academy at the Peace Garden was steeped in anti-communist training. Back-road signs and the sides of barns proclaimed “Impeach Earl Warren” and “Get U.S. out of U.N.”

“We will bury you” — not on our watch, buddy!

Fast forward 50 years … and Russians still lead every newscast. We’re still fighting the Russian menace. TV anchors still share dire news daily about the Russians — not troops, but terabytes of purloined digital data, nefarious business loans and shady dealing that slides under, around and through official U.S. sanctions. Democracy has been compromised, doubt cast on our votes. The oil-slicked fingerprints of Russian billionaires, bankers and mobsters seem to be turning up all over Washington, D.C.

The mind-boggling web of connections between the White House and Nikita’s smoother successor Putin defies the odds to a degree that’s next to mathematically impossible. Has Russia been playing the longest game in modern history?

Back in 1956, Nikita Khrushchev predicted this. Here’s the rest of that quote that gave little kids nightmares: “If you don’t like us, don’t accept our invitations, and don’t invite us to come to see you. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side.”

He elaborated a week later: “We will take America without firing a shot. We do not have to invade the U.S. We will destroy you from within.”

The Russians’ wiliest weapon is in play right now: Big bucks, not bullets. Yet lots of the same folks who feared them in their youth seem to be giving it a pass.

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Grilling Nothing Burgers

If you have an appetite for news, you know what’s on the menu this month: Nothing burgers.

They’re sizzling hot this summer. Cooked up in the realm of casual excuses, the nothing burger has been on the lips of Republican apologists ever since journalists began salivating over tantalizing whiffs of the meatiest political scandal since Richard “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon.

Hungry newshounds have been doggedly sniffing out the juicy evidence for more than a year now. They’re drooling over hints, and now much more, that the current occupants of the White House have a distinctly Russian flavor. As they turn up the heat, the evidence that started out rare is headed for well-done.

“Nothing burger” — that’s how the president’s defenders are dismissing growing evidence the Family Trump and their sycophants welcomed covert digital assistance from Russia to score their jaw-dropping victory. When Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was grilled about what Donald Trump Jr. had been cooking up with the Russians, he proclaimed it “a big nothing burger.”

Shades of “where’s the beef”! Not since Fritz Mondale’s run back in 1984 have we heard ground meat (or the absence thereof) served up so often in prime-time news. Back then, a classic Wendy’s TV commercial supplied what became the catchphrase of the campaign when a tiny female curmudgeon stared at an oversized but barren bun, demanding to know where the meaty part of her lunch had gone.

The phrase “nothing burger,” though — oddly girlish and coy — required some tracking down. Was it Valley Girl dialect from the 1980s? A remnant of stylish jabber from the TV comedy “Sex and the City”? It sounds familiar … but where did it come from?

Nothing burgers, it turns out, had lurked on the back burner for 65 years when Kellyanne and Reince and their troop of defenders served it up in its current context. Hollywood’s pioneering movie critic and gossip columnist Louella Parsons tossed it off in 1952, describing a minor performance in the sense of “much ado about nothing.” She was inspired, perhaps, by one of the hot trends of her day. California was falling in love with beef on a bun as the fabled McDonald brothers launched their burger chain with golden arches right in her backyard.

Helen Gurley Brown, though, deserves co-credit. You remember her, don’t you … the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, flagship voice of the female sexual revolution? Helen made the catchphrase her own. It first appeared in her book “Sex and the Single Girl,” a tome that shook the civilized world, just a little, back in the swingin’ Sixties. She tossed it in into her sassy magazine columns, too, along with the other term she coined, “mouseburger.” Both were handy to disparage all that was bland and unremarkable, be it too-innocuous accessories or a too-submissive outlook.

Like other terms that explode as sassy slang, then inch toward respectability, nothing burgers have crept into the English language’s chaotic, messy cupboard. They’ve even breached the ramparts of the sober, noble Oxford Dictionary with an official definition: “something that is or turns out to be insignificant or lacking in substance.”

Proper English or not, Reince may still rue the day he added nothing burgers to the menu, as grilling over the Russian scandal drags his team over the coals. But then again, they sound like just the thing when you’re going to have to eat your words.