The Family Secret

As a former weatherization auditor and for the past year and a half, as a home energy advisor, I have met with many colorful personalities. I take people at face value and give them the benefit of the doubt . . . assuming that what they are telling me is true. With that said, there have been times when my trusting ways have been put to the test. Let me share one client story to demonstrate the point.
Leif, (I won’t use his real name) was a blue eyed, red cheeked, silver haired Swede who lived in an 1880 vintage farmhouse. The homestead was situated on a high hill amidst a burl-oak woods and could have served in a late night, scary movie. I met with the old man to do a home energy advisor assessment, and informed him that I would need to have access to all of the rooms, the attic, and the basement. He said that it would be alright, except for one room. I asked, “What’s the problem with that one room?” He cleared his throat, stood up and made a fine shot into the brass spittoon on the far side of the kitchen, which sang out as pretty as any Chinese gong. Then he said, “You see, we have kind of a family secret, and it is in that room.”
I asked, “Can you explain that a little more – my program rules require that I examine every room.”
“Well, I won’t say that you can’t go into that room, but we keep the door locked. It’s been locked for fifty years.” He pointed with a knurled index finger to the far side of the parlor. “Do you see the big bolt on the door?”
“I see it.”
“Have you ever heard the tales from the old country about the troll that lived under the bridge?”
“I guess that I have – you know – Grimm’s Fairy Tales and such.”
“Well, when my great grand-dad came over from Sweden, he brought along a souvenir from the family farm by Lake Sylvan, and it’s locked in that room.”
“Ah, come on now. Are you saying you have a troll incarcerated in that room?”
“Listen, young fella, you just go and hold your ear against that locked door!”
I did so, and heard a kind of knawing sound, “Something’s chewing on something in that room.”
“Sure enough. Great grand-dad said they have real sharp teeth. Go and look through the key hole.”
I did so, but could see nothing but the late afternoon shadows playing across the big, brass bed. I said to the old man, “I don’t see a thing.”
“Great Grand-Pa said that most often they’re invisible, except by the light of a full moon.”
“So what would happen if I went into the room, to investigate?”
“Well then, if you’re brave enough or foolish enough, go and see for yourself. Have a care, though, the troll may take a shine to you and decide to come and reside at your house.”
I took a breath, threw open the bolt, opened the squeaky, hinge-bound door, and entered therein. I cautiously surveyed the scene, then said, “I don’t see a thing!”
The old man shook his head, rang the gong, and replied, “You will, by the light of the next full moon!”
I admit that I wasted no time in finishing my home assessment tasks, and then I left Leif, his house and his family secret, taking one last glance back in the rear view mirror as I drove down the hill on the winding driveway. Leif was peering out of the partially opened kitchen door. He displayed a most peculiar expression. It was much more than a smile, like maybe he had just accomplished some great feat requiring exceptional skill. And upon sober reflection, maybe he had. One thing for sure – he appeared to me to have captured the essence of complete satisfaction.
Energy tip for August
Use curtains and blinds on your windows. In the summer, close them on hot days. In the winter, open them on sunny days and take advantage of the free heat gain. Remember to use portable fans and the furnace fan before you turn on your air conditioner. Open the windows on cool summer nights and close them early in the morning to keep the cool air working for you.
Tri-CAP August 2016 Blog
By: Stephen Bjorklund

A Face in the Attic

When you think of Tri-County Action Program, what image comes to mind – a community based group of people who act as a conduit for state and federal helps programs for low or moderate income families? This in part is true, but we are also here to be a resource to all of the people in our community. In reality, we are often neighbors helping neighbors – people sharing resources and exchanging ideas. There is a two-way street when we work with people – they bless us with good ideas and great stories as we in turn work our programs on behalf of their family. Let me share one of my favorite client stories, one of about a dozen tales that I will never forget.
I once visited a farmhouse by a creek-fed duck slough, with a long, winding drive flanked by overhanging trees. I passed a weather-worn farmhouse with all the windows gone, looking like the rock of ages stationed a-top a knoll. Then the drive meandered downhill to the “new” house, built in 1920. The elderly lady of the house was a born story-teller, and I settled in for a most enjoyable afternoon visit. Here’s the yarn that she spun: “When I was but a girl, our great Aunt lived with us up at the old house. She was an independent soul and way ahead of her time. As a young woman she had traveled the world over as a Red-Cross nurse. Family legend held that she had amassed a small fortune in precious gemstones, gifts from ardent admirers from her travels in Africa and the Middle East. You see, she was a rare beauty in her younger years. The story goes that she had a hand carved chest of gopher wood that held her treasure and that it was hidden away somewhere in the attic.
“One stormy, dark night, I asked Aunt Louisa about her treasure. At first she laughed and laughed, but then she became quite serious and said, ‘If I were you, I would never enter that attic. There may be those that guard the secrets of the night!’
“Well, Auntie finally died at the age of 102; our family built the new house and the old house was abandoned, but not forgotten. Time passed – I grew older and inherited the family farm. One day I decided to face my childhood fears. I ascended the hill and pulled the boards off the old front door. With a ladder in one hand and a flashlight in the other, I began my fated rendezvous with the second floor attic. I cannot say how fast my heart was beating as I pushed open the lid to the scuttle hole. I could hear rustling sounds above me, wings fluttering and the high-pitched squeaks of unknown creatures. I shined the light straight above me, catching the unmistakable blur of air-born bats. I waited till none could be seen, steeled my resolve and climbed two rungs higher to peer into the blackness. I swung the flashlight around in an arc, suddenly stopping as the beam of light fell upon IT, right there in front of me, staring at me! I dropped the flashlight, but could still see the pale white face looming out of the darkness. I scrambled down the ladder, regained the flashlight and my courage, and once again climbed . . . step by step. Trembling, I focused the light on the dreadful image. It was the death mask of an Egyptian Queen – one of those precious gifts imparted to my lovely Aunt Louisa. I heard other rustlings in that attic – from creatures much larger than a bat, and I quickly closed the lid – and it remains closed to this day! I never again pursued any desire to look for Auntie’s treasure – some things are just meant to be left to family legend.”

And with that, my client ended her tale. If you would like to hear more client stories in future Tri-CAP blogs, let me know.
PS. Stories are shared by permission only.
Energy tips for June:
If you have more than one fridge or chest freezer, turn them off! Each fridge can cost up to $165 per year in electricity; each chest freezer can cost $126 per year to run. If you have an old fridge or freezer – replace them. A new fridge saves $96 per year; a new freezer saves $66 per year. Many of the local electrical providers have appliance programs to replace an old refrigerator or chest freezer for free to income qualified clients – and they will recycle your old unit.
June 2016 Blog by Stephen Bjorklund, Home Energy Advisor

So Be It

Some say what we believe shapes our destiny. I have always been fascinated by diverse cultures from around the world and how they develop strategies for successful living. There is one school of thought that holds that all events in life are dictated by fate (Karma or pre-destination). In this scenario, no matter what we do or don’t do has no bearing, as the outcome already has a foregone conclusion. Others believe that life is merely a series of random events, with no linkage, no cause and effect. Still others say that our actions, good or bad, directly affect our destiny. What we sow, we will reap. And finally, huge numbers of people from around the world hold that our life is molded according to our relationship with the creator.

Big deal, so what, do any of these life philosophies really matter? Aren’t there diverse paths to truth, multiple avenues of enlightenment? How can these lofty ideas be relevant to your life, how can you apply any of these cultural precepts to the outcomes for your family?
If you are one that believes in fate, then you are just along for the ride. Just relax, take life as it comes. The best that you can do is to react to what happens.
If you hold that there is no rhyme or reason to life’s events, you become the leaf floating on a fall pond, subject to whatever wind is blowing.
If your creator guides your actions, then at the very least, you may embrace the notion of hope for a better future.
All of these life constructs are tested by the reality that bad things happen to good people. One thing for sure, adversity in life can add resolve to your character. By overcoming tough situations, you can hone and develop your coping skills.
So what’s the practical application of any of these diverse points of view? Whatever you settle on, it is important to know what you believe, and why. Take some time, think it over, and then examine the matter to see if your present reality lines up with what you believe. Your world-view will affect every aspect of your life – your relationships; your finances; your involvement in the community; the nature of your home and how much of a sanctuary you make of it for you and your family. Even your health and longevity may be impacted by your world view.
I won’t tell you what I believe – but I will say this: whatever is happening in your life, make the best choices that you can, avail yourself of ALL of the resources available to you in your community, never be satisfied with less than your best effort and never settle for less than the best possibility for your family.
Energy saving tips for May: Install low-flow shower heads (they use one third the water); turn down the water heater to 120 degrees; take short showers; fix leaky water faucets quickly; install low-flow aerators on your faucets; water your lawn early in the morning or late in the evening (uses far less water than during the heat of the day). And don’t forget to call Tri-CAP, a golden community asset.
May 2016 Blog By: Steve Bjorklund

And It Begins

There is something extraordinary about April – the big things of life seem to coalesce into a magical swirl. They manifest as the returning birds and waterfowl – who set busily about their task of singing into existence the greening of trees and the arrival of wild flowers. Winter has had its day and its cold furies and frozen ponds are obliged to give sway. It’s a time to start anew. Spring becomes a kind of redemption, a re-birth for both the natural world and for us. It comes with new hope and a promise. It’s a brand new story waiting to be written, waiting for you to write. The wisdom of the ages holds that man perishes without a dream, and what better time than April to make a new plan?
What would you see change for you and your family? Take a notebook and write down your dreams and desires. Gather your personal information and analyze your income and expenses. Write down a monthly budget and take the effort to track your spending for a few months, to see if you need to make adjustments. Check out the Tri-CAP monthly blog, it is full of helpful tips on reducing expenses and increasing income. Check out all of the programs for families at Tri-CAP, and see how we can help you reach your goal or your dream.
Energy tips for April: Now that we are embarking on warmer weather, remember to use fans before you turn on the air conditioning. Turn down your water heater to 115 – 120 degrees. Get in the habit of doing a walk-through in your home in the morning and evening, and turn off all unused appliances. Get a clean and tune on your furnace and air conditioner. (Using your furnace fan in the summer is a smart move to keep cool and save energy). Do these few things and save hundreds of dollars per year on your utility bills.
Remember that it’s your life, your family, and your dream. Start fresh and dream big. With a little planning and maybe a little help, you can make it happen! We at Tri-CAP are waiting for you to call.
April 2016 Blog by: Stephen Bjorklund

Are you ready to think spring?

Are you ready to think spring? Can you imagine the green just waiting below those last piles of snow? The seed catalogs are arriving in the mail, and for those of us with cabin fever, we relish the possibilities. What follows is for those of us with a small space, like a balcony or a deck – which we could turn into a vegetable garden. My brother-in-law, Brad Wedge, put this story together for you – to give you a vision of spring.
With the limited space of a balcony and wanting to grow vegetables think about choosing vegetables that are: best picked at prime ripeness (tomatoes), vegetables that are best used fresh (tomatoes); plants that are normally more expensive (tomatoes); nutritious for you (beans); that you can pick all summer long (pole beans); and vegetables that can grow in your location. East exposure offers only morning sun and shades the plants all afternoon, south exposure will have sun all day, and west exposure, the hardest location because they receive the sun only during the hottest time of the day. I would avoid vegetables that are root crops (potatoes, carrots, beets), they tend to like cool soil, which is really hard to achieve in above ground pots. Root crops also tend to be very inexpensive to buy.
My choice in order of vegetables: 1. Tomatoes (choose the indeterminate varieties so you can stake them vertically); 2. Herbs – they are best fresh and are easy to grow in pots; 3. Pole Beans – a vine with lots of nutrition and continuous picking throughout the summer; 4. Sugar Snap peas – choose the vine type, they are great fresh and very nutritious; 5. Lettuce – especially varieties that you can pick repeatedly; 6. Cucumbers – because they add so much to a salad, are best fresh, and can be used lots of ways; 7. Peppers – they are nutritious, and great used many ways. If you want to try fruits, the only one I would recommend is the day-neutral strawberries. They would have to be grown as an annual, but growing in vertical tubes they can produce heavily from mid-July to frost.
Your most critical choice is your soil mix. Choose a top quality mixture with good drainage, good water holding ability, holds the plant upright, is sterile, and light weight (to get it to the balcony). A good quality soil may cost more, but will produce so much more. Many articles will tell you to add large particles (stones, Styrofoam) at the bottom of the pot for drainage, but science has proven that this actually impedes drainage. It is always best to have the same soil mix from top to bottom, and the deeper the pot the better the drainage.
Consistent and sufficient watering is needed for success. It is hard to keep a constant supply of moisture for the plant and not fill all the air in the soil with water (which eliminates the oxygen that the roots need to live). A good soil mix that drains well will make all the difference (soil from the garden is very poor at drainage in a pot). Make sure to remove any trays under the pot (unless you have an air break between the pot and the tray) that will prevent full drainage. For best results consider using a drip irrigation system. Automatic control valves that run on batteries and small irrigation hose are very inexpensive and easy to install. You can set up a water tank, and fill it as needed and let the irrigation system do the daily work.
There are many containers to grow the vegetables in. To gain more space try window boxes (overhang inside or outside the balcony, or even straddle the railing), hanging pots or hanging rectangular boxes, vertical tubes, trellises, rain gutters etc. Just make sure that they all have sufficient drainage holes. Use all the space available including the area over the door and the walls. If your balcony has no overhead, build a framework so you can use this area for growing too (which can even provide shade for the balcony).
Energy tip for March: Don’t forget your pioneer heritage – grow what you can and can what you grow, and don’t forget the pickles! Being veggie self-reliant cuts down on trips to the grocery store and is healthy for your family. A fully stocked fridge costs less to run, so fill it up with your home-grown produce!
Text by Brad Wedge, Nurseryman
Introduction and energy tip, Stephen Bjorklund

Snuggle Up To Winter

Ah, February – in the epicenter of long-john, throw blankets and the hot-chili season! I like winter. Most of my contemporaries have fled to Arizona, Florida or Texas, but I’m one of those die-hards that embraces winter. My wife does the cross-country ski routine and I try to keep up to her pace with my snow-shoes. We both agree that some of the most arresting scenery in Minnesota is to be found in the midst of winter – the stark and formal relief of the dark tree-trunks and finger-like branches against the pure white snow and sultry gray skies – tinged at times with purple, lavender and rose. The black-capped chickadees, snow buntings and nut hatches make for reliable companions every single day of the cold season.
For those of us that stick it out here on the snowy slopes, by choice or of necessity, we must acquire coping skills. The reality for many is that there just isn’t enough in the family budget to keep the heat up to 70 degrees. Many, many people set their furnace thermostat way down low, just warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing, and they stay warm by dressing in extra layers, using blankets, or closing off the second floor or other less used rooms – keeping the heat only flowing where the people are. If this is You, you’re not alone – this is how many cope. The struggle to stay warm every day can take all of the joy out of the season.
If you are one who employs these strategies, consider calling Tri-CAP and getting signed up for energy assistance. This also makes you eligible for a home assessment to see if home weatherization, or our other energy saving programs, are right for you. Give us a try and maybe next year, coping with a good old Minnesota winter may be a great deal less challenging. Don’t let winter get the best of you – recapture what a wondrous season it can be.
Energy tip for this month: Change your furnace filter monthly (makes your furnace run smoother with less start-ups and stops) and pull your refrigerator out a few feet and brush clean the coils. Both these tips will save you energy dollars and extend the life of your furnace and refrigerator.
February 2016 Blog by Stephen Bjorklund

Rule Number Five

In construction we have a saying – don’t forget rule number five! This rule follows rule number one (Do the best job possible); and rule number two (Always keep your word). Skip rule number three and number four and go directly to rule number five – Get the Cash! For many of us getting enough cash to pay all of the bills is an elusive target – some months we just fall short no matter what we do. When we started the Tri-CAP blog last year, there was a promise to do a story on making extra income – and here it is.
Increase Income

A) Look for a part-time job.
B) Go back to school, take a targeted course to improve your job skills and improve your opportunity to be hired.
C) Create a new or updated resume and cover letter.
D) Talk to the Work Force Center nearest you; check in with temporary work agencies to help locate part-time work.
E) Volunteer at local organizations, this helps you network and meet people, remember that companies like to hire busy, motivated people. You can’t meet people if you stay home and don’t engage.
F) Get the word out to family, friends and church that you are looking for work – network!
G) Consider baby sitting or day care; consider renting a room in your home for extra income.
H) Turn your hobbies into income and start a small business.
I) Use your car or truck and be a driver for hire.
J) If you like to garden, expand your operation and sell your veggies at your road-side or at farmer’s markets.
K) If you are really good at something, teach a how-to class and charge admission.
L) Check out all of the opportunities to make money on the internet – you could buy and sell on the internet (example: Craig’s List) and make some good income. (Go to Google and type in “extra income”). This will introduce you to a multitude of possibilities, many of which can be done from home on your own computer. (Or go to the nearest work force center or local library for computer/internet access).
M) Check out all of the programs with Community Action and other non-profit community organizations.
N) Go through your home/garage inventory, and have a yard sale or garage sale. Most people have hundreds of dollars of goods they are not using – turn them into cash! Do it once a year – it can be fun and profitable. It’s also a good time to sell your arts and crafts, woodworking items, antiques or paintings, handmade quilts, or canned items such as pickles and jars of jelly.
O) Advertise with flyers for services that you can provide, such as handy-man services; yard work and mowing; snow plowing or hand shoveling of driveways or walk-ways. You could also charge to help people grocery shop (many people have a hard time getting out for groceries). Get their list and get their groceries – help others as you help yourself.
P) Charge for house sitting or checking on people’s seasonal homes while they are away.
Q) Sell your services for house cleaning. (Great business opportunity in this field).
We at Tri-CAP wish you the best year ever in 2016, and we hope you can master RULE NUMBER FIVE!
Energy tip for January: Find the air leaks in your home and do your best to seal them with caulking or insulation. How? Take a small container of water and wet your finger. Hold hand by and around windows, doors and electrical outlets, and around any other suspicious place, and you will feel the cold air coming in. If around an outlet, buy the cheap kits at any hardware store to place behind your outlet cover; caulk around windows; put new weather-strip and door sweeps on exterior doors. Check your rim joist in the basement, and if leaking cold air, insulate with spray foam or fiberglass insulation. Check around your attic scuttle hole, and make sure it is insulated and sealed. (Attic scuttle holes are notorious for costing you heating dollars, as all the heat in your house rises to the top). Remember this, if you can’t find a way to make more income, work to protect the income you have by sealing the air leaks in your home.
January 2016 Blog by Stephen Bjorklund


I’ve heard it said that each of us has three personas: who we think we are; who others think we are; and who we really are. Occasionally, it’s fun to do a self-assessment to see if our self-image corresponds with reality. Many of us spend too much time and energy worrying about what other people think of us when this is often an exercise in self-doubt and insecurity. Sometimes we may even cope by putting on a good show by buying what we can’t afford to bolster our public image. This behavior is not productive.
I think the key is that we each need a goal or a dream. There has to be something in this life that captures our complete attention. We each need to find our passion in this life, something we are driven to do, whether other people appreciate our efforts or not. My advice to you, don’t ever quit on yourself or your dream!
Part of our personal experience is that all of us have responsibilities such as work, house payments, energy bills, and most importantly people who depend on us. Sometimes our goals, dreams, and passion need to be temporarily set aside for a time to take care of family business. Thus is it for all of us, but I say again, never give up on your dream. Keep it alive inside of you and come back to it when you are able.
The cares of this life can hold us down, hold us back, and keep us from progressing. If you are in a hard place, face it. Take stock of your situation. Make some plans. Make some changes. Purpose within yourself to take charge of your life. Stop spending money impulsively. Start saving money, even a small amount adds up over time. Pay your savings account first. Shop for sales and only buy things you really need. Save your receipts. Be smart about keeping a set of books and establishing a family budget. Don’t buy expensive clothes and cars to buy the appreciation of others. (It doesn’t work that way in the end). Consider getting a part-time job to get on top of your bills. If you ever want to fulfill your destiny, the one you were created for, take care of your family business first. This will eventually free up the time you need to pursue that dream or passion.
If Tri-CAP can help you in the process, we would be honored to do so. We have a multitude of programs to help you achieve self-sufficiency so that you can walk the path you need to walk. Think it over and give us a call.
Energy tip for this month: If you plug your truck or car in this winter, invest in a timer that will only draw electricity for a half-hour before you start your vehicle. They are not expensive and readily available at local hardware or automotive stores and will save you big bucks.
By: Stephen Bjorklund

“Navigating through life”

My Grandpa, Dad and Uncle were from the old school when it came to their kids – “train up a child in the right ways and they will not depart from it”. They were all about setting a true course in life, Dad and Uncle Dick were Navy Captains in WWII. This core value played out in our family, with the children going to work with their Dad at an early age. In my case, when I wasn’t in school from the age of eight, I loved going to work with my Dad, Uncle, and Grandpa. They taught me how to build a house from the ground up, with my own hands and at the end of the work week, there was never any doubt about what we did, the structure was right there before our eyes.
Many years later, a good friend and fellow building contractor once asked me, “What’s your idea of heaven?” I told him “A field filled with cap loads of fresh lumber as far as the eye can see, and the boss of the place saying, ‘Go and build!’” Much in our lives is not so easy to see because our efforts are not as apparent.
A construction injury compelled me to explore other careers, as I had to cease doing “hands-on” construction. So I have been, off and on for four years, working with Community Action. I have traded fields of lumber for communities of families, and it’s been a good change. A family is a lot like a house, both have a foundation and a structure, and inside its safe and secure with a place to grow and to train up our children. My job at community action is to help strengthen families. Everyone here at Tri-CAP, in one capacity or another, is about that same task – to strengthen families. So what do we do? We try to find out about your dream, your ambition, and through our different programs we help you reach that dream by overcoming the road blocks in your life.
Charting a course through life and navigating through the challenges that we all face can be a daunting proposition. Every family, every head of the household, every individual needs to chart their course through life. If you don’t have a map (goal) and a compass (to find your place on the map) and a rudder (to steer your course) you will be lost and adrift, subject to whatever wind is blowing. Without establishing a budget and accounting for your income and expenses, you will never be in charge of your finances or your direction in life. If you can’t pay your bills, or don’t have enough set aside each month for fuel, electricity and the other necessities, consider two things: 1) decide to make some changes and call Tri-CAP for financial counseling and our other programs. 2) Take charge of your destiny and set up a budget. Do these things and by next year, you will start to be in command of your direction in life.
Energy tip for this month: Know and understand your energy bills and energy consumption, and take positive steps to decrease your energy usage and expenses. Set up a budget and chart a new course.
By: Stephen Bjorklund

How’s your tepee?

I’ve been a homebuilder and an outdoorsman for most of my life, and over the years have become convinced that the First Americans, the mighty plains tribes, were some of the most gifted home designers of all times. The Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne came up with the Tepee, a structure made from buffalo hides stretched over a scaffold of poles. They could set up or take down these structures quickly, and transport them on a travois rack behind their ponies. The tepee was warm in the winter and cool in the summer and kept out the worst storms that the plains could muster in any season. The structural design allowed for nearly perfect ventilation by simply opening or closing the door flap or the larger central roof flaps. This detail allowed for a central fire pit to act as the stove for cooking, and for warming the inhabitants during the winter months. They used the “stack effect” to safely exhaust the fire smoke.
We have lost the simplicity of the tepee in our structures, but the physics of our home systems has not changed all that much. Our modern structures are so complex that we were obliged to devise a new branch of science, naming it “Building Science”. In other words, with our new homes we attempt to do what the Native Americans did so well 200 years ago, make our homes warm, dry, efficient and safe.
It boils down to a few basics: Is your home sealed against the wind rain and snow? Do you have enough power to light up your home and run your gadgets? Can you afford to pay for your heat in the winter and keep your lights burning throughout the year?
When things got tough, the Sioux and Cheyenne could pack up their tepees and move to greener pastures or better hunting grounds. It’s not that easy for most of us – we have to stand our ground and make the best of the home that we have. So how’s your tepee doing? If you have problems with your structure, or you are struggling to pay your heating and electrical bills, call Tri-CAP and find out about our available programs. We are here to serve you, we want your home to be safe, warm and affordable.
This month’s energy tips: Close the blinds and draperies on cold winter nights, open them up on sunny winter days and let Mother Nature help to keep your energy bills in check. Plant pine trees to the North and West of your house (they keep their needles and block out winter winds); and Oaks and Maples to the South and East. (Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the cold season, allowing more warm sunshine into your house, and these same trees shade your home in the summer). The plains Indians utilized the natural order of things to their best advantage, and so can you. There’s one more thing that you can do – give Tri-CAP a call and find out how we may be able to help.

By: Stephen Bjorklund