Posted in Star Tribune

Toy Inventor is on a fun run!

West Lakeland toy inventor is on a fun run

  • Article by: KELLY JO McCONNELL , For the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 8, 2012 – 5:29 PM

Tony Morley of West Lakeland Township has had a successful — and fun — career as a toy inventor.


Tony Morley at his home shop in West Lakeland Township. For Fisher-Price he has invented Block Builder (front left), and for Fat Brain he has invented Stacking Action Blocks (center) and Wobbling Tobbles.

Tony Morley didn’t intend to spend most of his adult life tinkering with toys, but that’s what he has done for about three decades.

“I didn’t go to college with intentions to be a toy inventor,” chuckled Morley, 61. “I don’t know many people who do. And if somebody had that as a career goal, I would try to talk them out of it.”

Morley’s run in the toy business is an impressive one. This spring at the American International Toy Fair in New York, manufacturers picked up a number of Morley’s toy ideas for review. He’s fresh off another success, “Wobbling Tobbles,” manufactured by Fat Brain Toys. It was a finalist for 2012 Toy of the Year in the Specialty Toy category by the Toy Industry Association.

“Tobbles is a satisfying toy concept that I invented recently,” Morley said, “It’s got some character about it that is attractive to young and old.”

The typical life span of a successful toy is about three years, explained Morley. Yet, he’s been fortunate to have one that is on its 12th year with Fisher Price. “Its called Stacking Action Blocks,” he said, “very simple, very low-tech.”

It took a few years for the resident of West Lakeland Township to find his niche.

After receiving an industrial design degree from Brigham Young University, Morley worked at several positions and traveled from place to place. It wasn’t until he started working at toy companies that he found his calling.

It started with Lakeside Games in Bloomington in 1980. Morley’s next gig was designing Star Wars-themed toys for Kenner Products, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Then he was on to designing games for Milton Bradley in Springfield, Mass., between 1984 and 1986.

He met his wife, Taia, a fellow game designer in Massachusetts, and they moved to Minneapolis so Morley could join two partners in an independent toy design company. After the partners went in different directions, Morley decided to strike out on his own, and kept the group’s original name, Red Racer Studio.

Today, Red Racer Studio takes contracts from Mattel, Fisher-Price and others. He and Taia also do package design for toy companies.

Morley enjoys the creative process and says he showed signs of tinkering even as a child growing up in California. He had little or no knowledge of physics or electricity or the scale of materials, but he says he spent a lot of time in the garage just building things.

“I once tried to make a rock polisher out of an old washing machine motor,” recalled Morley. “It was dramatic. I plugged it in and it essentially self-destructed in a very violent fashion.”

Do his four kids think his job is cool? “No. They don’t think it’s cool. They don’t know anything else. Their friends thinks it’s super-cool, though,” he said.

Even though most find Morley’s job a fun and carefree way to spend the working days, he stresses that the toy industry can be a tricky one, and is very unpredictable. But when one of his toys captures the attention it deserves, “It is a great feeling,” he said. “It is fun!”

Posted in Star Tribune

Auto Guru – Star Tribune

Auto guru retires from Century College

  • Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 5, 2012 – 3:44 PM

Century College auto instructor Tom Chall has retired after four decades of helping students become the people who help keep our cars running.


Tom Chall has been teaching at the auto shop at Century College since before they laid the concrete. When he began teaching, gas was 25 cents a gallon and a car was a glorified go-cart. “Today’s automobile has more technology than the first lunar landing to the moon! It’s just amazing,” Chall said.

Tom Chall was there when the automotive program began at Century College in White Bear Lake. He was the one who started it.

Now, 41 years and countless students-turned-mechanics later, he’s retiring. In his time at Century, Chall has seen some major changes, not only at the two-year college but in the automotive industry as a whole. He’s also been a keen observer of student behavior. With his wealth of experience, we asked him to take a look back on his tenure.

What was the price of gas when you started teaching? Twenty-five cents a gallon. I had a ’72 Vega, and when I would drive from Milwaukee, $3 would fill the tank. I could always fill the tank for under $4. The students think it’s unfathomable.

The biggest change in cars through the years? When I started, the car was like a big go-cart. It had seven more pistons than a go-cart, and seven more spark plugs. There was nothing electronic about it. Today’s automobile has more technology than the first lunar landing to the moon! It’s just amazing. … Every part of the vehicle is computer-controlled. It has changed so that the computer senses every function of the car. You could go into a slide, and it will start to correct it to take you out of the slide. The automobiles today are superior, cleaner and more efficient.

Common problems, then and now? Common problems are always the brakes, steering suspension, spark plugs. You don’t have to worry about a distributor cap — we don’t even have a distributor anymore. … Today, you get the “check engine” light that signals there’s a failure in one of the computer systems. You have to diagnose and know it, and be able to fix that in today’s cars. … The hardest thing to teach is diagnosing. Fixing is the easy part. … Only half of the students make it to the second year [of the program], and the reason is they have to score well in electrical. We can start out with 500 and end up with 75 students. Every one of my students said they never realized how complicated an automobile really was.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of? We [Century College] have the best program in the state. Our students are the proof of the pudding. When students head to a manufacturer’s training session they come back and say “wow, thanks for teaching me so well.” … My teaching colleagues are a big part of the success of the program. And they’re both former students, too!

Biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is trying to teach someone who doesn’t really want to learn. You just can’t do it. The good news is, the number of students who want to learn far outweigh the ones that don’t. It’s very satisfying to have a student who wants to work very hard, and does very well because they’re doing something they’re passionate about. If you’re passionate, you’ll be successful in life.

Philosophy on teaching? You have to know your subject matter inside and out. It’s the rubber-to-the-road reality; you just need to know your subject matter well, and share that passion. … You also have to have the ability to get complicated concepts across to people. I have 25 different ways to explain something. If you don’t get it across one way, try another way. I once had a student who would sit in the front row, and I could read his face like a sign. When he got it, his face lit up like a light bulb. You have to find a different approach until that light goes on.

Favorite memory? When students share with me that “you’ve been more of a dad to me than my dad.” That’s happened on a couple of occasions. We have some students in the program that have been down a tough road. That’s another part that’s rewarding … to see someone pull themselves up by their bootstraps, give them a trade so they can make money, and deal with the ex-con stereotype. Some turn their life around. As a teacher, you can be a big part of that.

Funniest memory? Around 10 or 15 years ago we had gotten in a fast car and I asked one of the security guards if he wanted to ride in “my new car.” College was over with, so we went out and did burnouts in the back parking lot. When we were in the car, the security officer’s phone rings, and it was one of the administrators saying there was this black Camaro doing burnouts in the back. The security guy said he was right on top of it, and put his hand out the window and waved at the administrator. It was extremely hilarious. He handed me the phone and I invited [the administrator] to come down, too. I’ll chuckle about that one for the restof my life.

Retiring after 40-plus years – now what? My wife, Pam, and I are blessed with a beautiful house on the lake, and we have three grown children. I do love to boat, and I have a brand-new pontoon. But if you have a gift, you have to give it away; you can’t just hoard it. I’m working on some outboards for some friends and neighbors. I also will do more church volunteer work. I’ve spent a whole lifetime at Century College. Right now, our automotive program is the best in the state. And I run into students everywhere now! If I’m in Florida getting off a plane, I run into a student. If I’m in Montana, I run into a student. Or boating at Cross Lake, I run into a student. It makes you feel proud.

Posted in Star Tribune

Forest Lake dancer living her dream

 Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELL , Special to the Star Tribune

  • Updated: May 4, 2012 – 6:09 PM

Kourtni Lind always wanted to dance on Broadway. Now, she’s in the cast of “Spiderman.”

Broadway is a long way from Washington County, but Forest Lake native Kourtni Lind always knew that’s where she’d end up.

Lind landed a key role in the rock musical “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark” in December and has been performing since on Broadway — her dream since she was 3 years old and dancing in her mother’s dance studio.

“I actually was not really good,” Lind said, recalling her early years dancing. “It wasn’t until I hit my growth spurt and figured out how my body worked that it all clicked. I realized it was what I was meant to do, and I’ve always loved it.”

Lind’s mother, Robin Lind, owner of Dance Tech Studio in Forest Lake, admitted she tried to steer her daughter toward sports and not the arts world.

“She hadn’t grown into her body yet, but she did do well in sports. She just wasn’t very flexible. … But she just loved to dance!”

Danielle Napoli, a lifelong friend who took dancing with Lind, remembered Lind’s lack of flexibility, but she also remembered a strong work ethic and a will to practice.

“Yes, she wasn’t the most flexible at that time,” said Napoli, “but look at her now. She’s Gumby woman. I never doubted that she could do it.

“When Kourtni makes up her mind to do it, she can pretty much accomplish anything.”

The entertainment business can be a challenging one. Lind said she really started to focus on dance as a career once she hit high school.

She had attended junior high and most of senior high in Forest Lake, but spent her senior year at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts. After graduating and moving to Los Angeles, Lind participated in the nationally broadcast reality show, “So you think you can dance?” and was booked on the “Wicked” tour. But she knew New York was the place she needed to be.

Lind toured with “Wicked” for 2010, but then made the decision to leave.

“I chose to leave so I could move to New York,” she recalled. “I left around the holidays and moved to New York on Dec. 28th of 2010.”

She cleared her calendar for auditions. When the “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark” audition came around, she was ready. It was a two-day process, involving dancing first, then returning to sing.

“I had a great feeling that I had gotten it,” Lind said. “The call from my agent came in around 10:30 in the morning, and it was such the stereotypical thing. … They put me on speaker phone and told me the news and we were all screaming and crying.”

The rock musical has become infamous in New York City due to problems with its budget and struggles with injuries and safety issues. But it seems to have hit its stride, recently having sellout shows and strong reviews.

About 80 percent of the cast has stuck with the production, and Lind, 22, is the youngest cast member.

“Everybody is from all over the place. It’s so cool that way,” said Lind, “We have people from Chicago, Michigan and Iowa. I think I’m the only Minnesotan, though.”

The work schedule is grueling — they do eight shows a week and have Mondays off.

Lind said the Broadway schedule makes it tough to come home for visits. “It was Minnesota State Fair time last year when I was last home,” she said. “I only get one day a week right now.

“I miss my family all the time,” she said, but “I need to be far away to be able to do what I love and make money. I’m very blessed to have that support system in my family.”

Kelly Jo McDonnell is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

Posted in Star Tribune

Lino Lakes save blue herons

Quick work helps Lino Lakes save blue herons

  • Article by: KELLY JO McDONNELLSpecial to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 17, 2012 – 11:00 PM

The revival of a colony that was declining a decade ago is a living legacy to Art Hawkins, who sounded the alarm.


The blue heron is Lino Lakes’ logo.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune s

In northeast Lino Lakes, there’s a piece of land that could be right out of “Jurassic Park.”

“Just north of 35W, look over to your right, and you can see an island and a lake,” said Marty Asleson, environmental coordinator for the city. “That’s where the blue herons are living. When they fly over, they look like a pterodactyl. Their species dates back to the dinosaur age. They’ve been around a long time.”

Not so long ago, however, the Peltier Island colony appeared to be going the way of the dinosaur.

In the early 2000s, Lino Lakes resident Art Hawkins, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, noticed that the blue herons were disbanding.

“Art was the one that rang the alarm on the colony,” said biologist Andy Von Duyke, “and the Peltier Lake Heron Task Force was organized; it was a coalition of stakeholders as well as DNR [the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources], Anoka County Parks, and the city of Lino Lakes and Centerville.”

Hawkins died in 2006, but his warning already was bearing fruit. The project received some funding, and with the help of DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, steps were being taken as early as 2004 to reverse the trend.

“I was a new graduate student at the time,” Von Duyke said. “That season I started studying the colony. In the previous season, there were 250 nests in this colony early in the season. We went and installed cameras. … That colony had a 100 percent failed [birth] rate that year. Based on my camera evidence, I had a pretty good idea what it was.”

Predation, mainly raccoons, seemed to be the main culprit, Von Duyke said.

Asleson also suspected boating activity in the shallow waters around the island and 35W road construction, as well as low-flying seaplanes, as possible factors.

Said Von Duyke: “I had an experimental design to test my hypothesis on the remaining couple hundred nests. But in 2005, there were only 25 active nests. [The number] dropped 90 percent in one year. So I immediately went into crisis mode. We had to keep this colony going.”

He and volunteers started by installing predator guards and monitoring the nests. Asleson said a no-wake zone around the island also was enforced.

Three blue heron chicks survived that year, and there’s been a steady increase since then, Von Duyke said. The following year, 50 chicks survived.

Observers estimate there are now more than 100 active blue heron nests on Peltier Lake. The coalition volunteers have confirmed great egrets nesting on the island, as well.

“It’s very exciting,” said Von Duyke. “A colony that’s on the brink in 2005 now seven years later is graduated into a big colony — not the huge one that it used to be, but bigger than the average colony in Minnesota.”

Von Duyke, a volunteer on the project now, said blue herons not only are magnificent creatures, but also are important to the ecology of the region.

Asleson agrees and notes that the bird is ingrained into the Lino Lakes culture:

“The Blue Heron is our city logo. It’s on our water tower. We have a Blue Heron Elementary, and it’s on our coffee cups. If you live in Lino Lakes, you know about the blue heron.”

Posted in Minnesota Parent

MN. Parent-April Issue

It’s my party :: Hayden and Harry

By Kelly Jo McDonnell

My son is a party-planner, and I have no one to blame but myself. I love a party… and a theme party? Even better. Best: my son is with me every step of the way during our party planning process. Hayden, now nine-years-old, chooses his “theme” each year. When he was really little, I chose for him, trying to match the theme to whatever my son was “into” at the time. At age five, it was bugs, so I booked Dr. Bruce the Bug Guy for a live bug demonstration complete with edible bugs and a strange looking bug cake (gift bags included rubber bugs and bug tattoos). By six and seven, he was in the Pokémon phase (I tracked down Pokémon-themed games including Pin the Tail on Pikachu). By eight, George Lucas had his hold and Star Wars ruled. Invitations stated, “Invited you are, on a Galactic adventure with Hayden,” and Yoda Sodas were a hit (lime sherbet with sprite). All the boys brought their own light sabers, and they proceeded to destroy the death star piñata, which was really just a painted soccer ball. The force was with them.

So that brings me to the ninth year. I assumed that perhaps the Star Wars theme might hold strong. Did I have it in me to plan a Transformers party? Or, heavens, a Bakugan or Ninjago party? I’m still trying to figure out how to pronounce Ninjago. But a few months before his ninth birthday, Hayden proclaimed that Harry Potter would have the theme honor. Let the planning begin!

I booked the party at Grand Slam, though the venue threw me off a little bit: a Harry Potter theme amidst laser tag and mini golf? I was out of my comfort zone, but I figured I would just bring all things Potter to our party room. While ordering a themed cake would have been easier (but expensive; my local bakery only offered one huge Harry Potter cake for the wee price of $100+), I decided to bake my own and add the characters myself (courtesy of Hayden’s LEGO Harry Potter collection).

The treats were even more fun. On the menu was Magic Color-changing drinks and Honeyduke’s Wizard’s treat mix. I found out how to do “color changing” on the ivillage site: basically you place two to three drops of food coloring at the bottom of each party cup and let it dry. Just before serving the drinks, fill each cup with ice to hide the food coloring. When you pour the drink over ice (helps if it’s a clear liquid), it magically turns into a color as the cup fills. I used a lot of different colors, so none of the boys knew what color they were going to get. For our Honeydukes treat mix, I used the standard Chex mix recipe (minus anything that might trigger a nut allergy), but added large gummy and novelty candies.

All of the party favors were on display on the Harry Potter table, decorated with wands, potion jars of “gillyweed” and “truth serum” (green chives for gilly and lemon water for the truth serum). We had some Harry Potter magic right smack in the middle of Grand Slam, and it went over well.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the look out for what birthday number 10 will bring. And who knows, perhaps this will lead to a future career for my son. I wonder what an entertainment director’s salary will be in the year 2024?

Posted in HerLife Magazine

A Rustic Vacation shouldn’t mean rustic wine!

HERLIFE | wine

A Rustic Vacation Shouldn’t Mean Rustic Wine

by kelly jo mcdonnell

My family’s annual trek in early summer is north. Until the road ends…literally. Voyageurs National Park, specifically Voyageire Lodge and Houseboats on Crane Lake, is the desti- nation. It’s located between Minnesota’s beautiful boundary water canoe area and Superior National Forest. And as one might guess, it’s a tad on the rustic side. There’s a sign right when you drive in that says “End of the Road.” I’ve learned from this subtle reminder–don’t wait until you’ve come to the end of your road to start purchasing your wine.

While the liquor stores are plentiful in the city, they are far and fewer between on the way up to Voyageurs National Park. The towns get tinier and while you see more bait shops on the side of the road, it’s tough to find a liquor store that’s going to have the selection one may be looking for.

“My advice on this,” said Elizabeth Schneider, certified Sommelier and writer of Wine for Normal People, “is before you leave civilization and head for your rustic paradise, buy the wine in a major city or bring it with you. Wine selection varies widely from state to state and place to place. Normally, when you head to a lake house or a more rustic, rural area, the wine selection caters to the LCD…lowest common denomina- tor. If you want good stuff, you’ve got to bring it with you or you’ll be drinking swill! These places usually have a great beer selection, but if you want to drink well, don’t leave it to chance…bring all the wine you’re going to drink with you.”

Our crew finds that pre-planning and pre-packing meals help make the wine selection much easier. Before we hook up the canoe, we verify which family “section” is in charge of cooking what night. The first evening could be a hearty chili and a Cabernet Sauvignon for those cold Voyageurs’ nights. Second night, if the fishing is cooperating, fresh fish

can be on the menu along with Pinot Noir. We buy the wine from our favorite liquor store in the cities before we head north.

The fishing usually cooperates in this area of the country. Voya- geurs National Park is a mosaic of land and water, a place of intercon- nected waterways. Every year our family catches walleye, northern pike and pan fish. And as Jim Janssen, owner of Voyagaire Lodge reminded us, “My family likes to pair our fish with a white wine; Pinot Grigio with walleye is perfect!” It’s well-known that fish is usually best with white wine. Some wines can overpower the delicate flavors to be found in the fish group, so try to aim for anything light and fresh that will let the flavor of the fish shine through. Schneider agrees that white is best, but pairing is always best done by the sauce, topping and preparations. “Spices, citrus, cream, butter, wine, oil, salsa–each will go with differ- ent things even on top of the same exact fish,” she explained. “For in- stance, halibut with lemon butter will be a hit with Sauvignon Blanc, but if you put mango salsa on the top, you may want a Chardonnay that has more tropical flavors as a complement. If you blacken the fish, a red like Merlot may be best.”

Summer vacations are about getting in touch with family, and in our case, nature as well. Keeping things simple is a good rule of thumb. Schneider shares some classic wine “tips” that are easy to remember when fish is on the menu:

26 HERLIFEMAGAZINE.COM“If you want good stuff, you’ve got to bring it with you or you’ll be drinking swill! These places usually have a great beer selection, but if you want to drink well, don’t leave it to chance…bring all the wine you’re going to drink with you.”

With simple grilled fish with lemon, a Sauvignon Blanc is ideal. The citrus flavors of the wine are complementary to the fish. For a cream- ier sauce, think about Sancerre, which is 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc, but is chalky, minerally, grassy and lemony. A lightly oaked Chardonnay is awesome with fish, but warning–too oaky and it kills the fish dish!

Fishing for something a bit different? How about cooking with fruit or doing a fruit salsa to go on the fish. Viognier is amazing with fish. It’s floral, fruity and still has some great acid to keep everything light.

When eating blackened fish–you can go with a red here, but be careful about the iron levels of the wine. The ones that have higher iron pair horribly with fish. Terra Rosa or red soil is a fish disaster! Pinot Noir or Merlot goes well with a white fish that’s blackened.

Fishing not cooperating? Italian wines define rustic, so if you’re doing some Italian-inspired pasta salads or simple salads with bread, look

no further than reds like Barbera from the Piedmont region or Chianti Classico. And don’t forget the Rosé, so sippable, so dry and refreshing. Go French on this and you won’t be sorry.

The old-fashioned bonfire grill is a staple of the Voyagaire experi- ence. (Although we do cheat and bring a fish fryer that sits out in the three-season porch.) And the fish that’s usually on the menu is walleye. For grilling out, it’s best to stick with old standbys: Zinfandel and Merlot. Schneider reminds to keep the Zin anywhere in California (the primary stomping grounds of Zin), but that Merlot from France; St-Emilion in Bordeaux is a favorite area. It’s great with charred flavor from the grill, as is Shiraz from Australia. “For the grill, hands down, Zinfandel from Mendocino County,” she exclaimed. “It’s fruity but not over-the-top and has a smoky, earthy character that I don’t find in other Zins.”

And let’s not forget the dessert of choice in our rustic pine setting–S’mores. While the young boys in our family love to pair it with milk, what else could the adults pair with it?

“S’mores are tough!” said Schneider. “The rule is that the wine has be to sweeter than food for a dessert pairing to sing. I’ve got to go with a ruby Port or a Zinfandel Port-type wine for that. Amazing with chocolate! If you want to get really crazy…and it’s not available every- where, Banyuls from the south of France is a red dessert wine made from Grenache and is INSANE with chocolate and wouldn’t overpower the other goodies in the mix, either.”

Roughing it has never tasted so good. Cheers to the end of this road! ␣