You Know it’s Bad When the Scientists are Marching

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Marchers for Science in Duluth, Minn.

Last weekend I marched with about 1,200 other people along the shores of Lake Superior in support of science. This was a cause I could easily get behind since I work for a water science research organization (Please refer to my previous post, “Why Sea Grant is a Kick-Ass Program (And Not Just Because I Work There)”).

I walked with a few other Sea Granters and recognized many of the researchers our organization funds among the crowd. It was encouraging seeing so many people upholding the value that science brings to our society and supporting full federal funding for scientific programs.

20170422_082249The sign I made for the march said, “Without Science, Life Itself Would be Impossible!” Does that ring a bell with anyone? I wanted something unique, but maybe it was a bit too unique.

I meant it as a play on a terribly blatant propaganda campaign that Monsanto ran in the 1970s in support of the idea of manmade chemicals. Their slogan was, “Without Chemicals, Life Itself Would be Impossible.” It featured a cute Aryan-haired little boy and his doggie. Surely, Monsanto-produced chemicals are just as harmless as this adorable duo. (NOT!)

Monsanto chemicals adI figured only people alive in the 1970s might “get” my sign. I tested a few of my age-appropriate friends as we made our way to the march, but nobody spontaneously recalled the Monsanto campaign. After explaining it, a few remembered, but they did not immediately start applauding my brilliance. I suspect they just thought my sign was saying that medical science is important to human life. That’s okay. My friend had a sign that was as obvious as mine was obtuse. Hers said “Marching for Science.”

You know these events are all about the signs. If you have a boring sign or one that people can’t understand, you might as well stay home.

While sitting on a bench waiting for the march to start, I was mulling over the lameness of my sign when I noticed a TV news crew filming it from afar as it rested on the ground propped up against the bench legs. Maybe it was my sign’s pretty colors or maybe it was the pithy message – anyway, it lured the reporter and cameraman over to our small group. The reporter asked if she could interview us for a story. My friend, her mother, and I readily agreed.

Little did the news crew know, but they had stumbled into a nest of trained media relations professionals. We were able to espouse our key messages and put in a plug for Sea Grant. We ended up being the only ones interviewed for their story. (Which turned out pretty well, given that it was Fox News.)

What didn’t get into the story was my friend Sharon’s explanation about her year-long climate change art project, “Penguins with a Purpose.” She’s a ceramic artist and after the presidential election, decided to put her skills and frustration to use by making large clay penguins to draw attention to one of the issues the president is trying to silence, namely, climate change.

Her goal is to make 100 penguins by the end of the year, which she will sell and donate part of the proceeds to climate science and policy. Each penguin is unique and has a purpose.

She carried one of her heavy penguins for the whole march. We saw dozens of people we knew and had many side conversations along the way. Even though the march took energy, I completed it feeling energized by the crowd.

For now, hopeful noises are coming out of Washington D.C. that my Sea Grant colleagues and I will still have our jobs after next week. It’s sounding like Congress will pass a continuing resolution on the budget for the rest of the year instead of going with President Trump’s plan to fund his wall on the Mexican border with the entire Sea Grant budget (and those of other agencies).

This may just delay the wall-funding issue until the next budget cycle at the end of the year, but it’s comforting to think we’ll have our jobs for a few more months. Thank you to everyone who’s written their Congressperson. Every little bit helps.

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Standing strong for science in Duluth.

Scallop (or Shrimp) Linguine

 

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This recipe is modified from one I got off the interweb from the Rachael Ray Food Network. This version is wheat- and corn-free. Although if you really want wheat, you can just use regular linguine noodles.

½ pound linguine noodles (brown rice spaghetti noodles work well)
1 pound scallops or 12 oz shrimp
Sea salt and black pepper
1 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 T butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 t thyme
3/4 cup white cooking wine
3/4 cup clam juice or seafood stock
25 leaves fresh basil, shredded or torn
1-2 T parsley
1 T lemon juice

Boil pasta in large pot. If needed, thaw shrimp or scallops under cool running water for 3-4 minutes (but fresh is better!) Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 T olive oil and 2 T of the butter.

For scallops: When butter is melted, add scallops. Brown scallops 2 minutes on each side, then remove from pan and cover loosely with foil to keep warm.

For either: Add the garlic, green onion, thyme, salt and pepper to skillet. Reduce heat a little and saute 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add wine to the pan. Reduce it by cooking (boil) for one minute. Add the clam juice, basil, parsley, lemon juice and the remaining 1 T butter. Stir until the butter has melted.

For shrimp: Add the shrimp now. If raw shrimp, cook in sauce until done. If pre-cooked shrimp, cook less time until warm.

Add the linguine and cook for about a minute to combine and let the pasta soak up the sauce. Divide the pasta between two serving plates and if using scallops, top with the reserved scallops. Serve with shredded Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Superb!!!!

It’s Christmas on Easter!

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A book project I’ve been working on for about a year-and-a-half is complete! Copies of the book arrived this weekend, so I feel like it’s Christmas even though it’s really Easter.

The book is called “Going Coastal.” It’s an anthology of Lake Superior-inspired short stories written by nine local (northeastern MN and northern WI) authors, including myself. My story, “Water Witch,” is the first short story I’ve ever written, so I feel honored that it’s included.

All of the writers are members of Lake Superior Writers, a local nonprofit group that “supports the artistic development of writers and fosters a vibrant literary arts community.” Proceeds from book sales support this group.

The idea for the anthology started with a conversation I had with the manager of a bookstore in Duluth.  She asked me what I was working on and I told her “short stories.” She said, “You know what customers come in and ask me for? Short stories about Lake Superior. I have to tell them I don’t have any.”

**Bing** Lake Superior Writers has an annual contest. What if we made the contest theme this year about Lake Superior? And what if we were able to find a publisher for the stories? And what if the book could be sold in this bookstore? (And others, of course.)

I’m a board member of the group and brought the idea up at a meeting where we were discussing the contest. The other board members thought it was a great idea, too. And a project was born. After the contest was over and the judges had chosen the winning stories, I started contacting publishers about the project. Several were interested, but I ended up going with North Star Press, the publisher of my novels.

The name of the writing contest was “Going Coastal,” and the board thought that was also a good name for the anthology, and so did the publisher, so it stuck. Then came the need for a cover image. I’m on Facebook probably way more than is healthy for me, and I recalled seeing an image there by a local photographer who often gets into Lake Superior to take his photos. His stunning photo showed the iconic Split Rock Lighthouse seemingly swamped by a large Lake Superior wave. Perfect!

I worked with the authors to edit their stories, and then needed to decide how to organize them in the anthology. I offered the other board members the opportunity to help with this task (which was new to me) but they said I could have the “honor.”

Shoot – how was I ever going to decide? Well, a couple of the stories had Native American themes in them. Some were more mystical than others. A couple focused on ships. A couple others were about rocks. One was about a lighthouse. Another was about a family drama and had a super strong ending. Some stories were short, others were long.

I finally decided to organize them along themes, but I also kept story length in mind and tried to switch that up for variety. Figuring out the story order was as much an art as writing one of the stories itself, and was a fun exercise. I hope it worked.

If you like lighthouses, ships, beaches, ghosts, road trips, history, storms, agates, islands, family drama, and the mystical power of Lake Superior, you’ll enjoy this book.  It costs $12.95 and is available from North Star Press, but also Barnes and Noble and Amazon, which have it as an e-book, too. Take a read!

Anthology authors are Theresa Allison-Price of Superior; James Brakken of Cable; Evan Sasman of Ashland, Johnna Suihkonen of Lakeville; and Judy Budreau, Eric Chandler, Phil Fitzpatrick, Maxwell Reagan and me of Duluth.

We’re having a book launch sponsored by The Bookstore at Fitger’s on Sat., April 29 from 4-6 p.m. in the August Fitger Room on the third floor of Fitger’s Mall (600 E. Superior St., Duluth). There will be free appetizers from The Boat Club Restaurant and a cash bar. Each author (except for one who can’t make it) will read from their story.

Come on out and keep that Christmas spirit going through April!

Aruban Dreams (Part 5) – Island of Sensual Delights

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Elida and Corinne of Happy Buddha Yoga in Aruba.

In this last posting about our trip, I will give you a glimpse into the pampering that’s possible in Aruba, plus describe another experience that just would not happen at home.

I’ve never practiced yoga in a foreign country before, and my friend was game to try it. We signed up for a class at Happy Buddha Yoga near the high-rise resort district.  Despite the directions on the website, the studio was a bit hard to find because it’s in a residential area, and well . . . Aurba is sort of disorganized. But that’s part of its charm.

Through my friend’s stellar phone navigational skills, we eventually found it, and were met by owner Corinne Voermans, a gracious transplanted Netherlander. The spacious studio is attached to her home. She gave us mats and we took our places in the studio for class.

We signed up for the 75-minute Pure Yoga class, which is based on vinyasa flow. The class was great and I recognized many of the moves, but there were a few new ones, too. Our instructor, Elida, was flexible beyond any sense of practicality. If I wasn’t trying so hard to do the moves myself, it would have been fun just to watch her work.

Back in Minnesota, I take hot yoga classes. This Happy Buddha class felt like Minnesota hot yoga, even though there were no heaters, because the studio is not air conditioned. But that was all right with me! Just come prepared to sweat.

The next day, my friend and I signed up for a hot stone massage at Indulgence by the Sea Spa. Used to deep tissue massages, the experience was new for both of us. After mimosas and foot baths, we were ushered into our rooms. My masseur’s name was Victor, or as I like to think of him, Victor of the Magic Hands. OMG! I think I’m a little in love.

He started out with a neck/head massage. Then there was a blindfold. And then the rest gets a little hazy because it’s been a month since I had the experience. But what I do remember is extreme bliss and relaxation. At one point, Victor was working on my back and I thought he was using some kind of oil with cayenne pepper in it because it was so hot.

Silly me, that wasn’t the oil, it was the STONES. From advertising pictures of hot stone massages, you’d think the stones are just placed evenly down your back, but no, they are oiled up and rubbed ALL OVER YOUR BODY.

I rolled out of there feeling punch drunk. My friend also enjoyed her massage. We both vowed never to opt for a deep tissue massage again if a hot stone massage is available. Now, if I could just get Victor to move to Minnesota, I’d be set.

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George and Yvonne

The last experience – one that wouldn’t happen at home – was a brush with fame. One night we were feeling adventurous, so my friend and I partook of karaoke night at the resort. As you know, I am introverted, but get more than two glasses of wine into me, and you never know what will happen.

Well, karaoke happened. I sang a terrible rendition of “Big Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” My friend also signed up, but missed her chance because she was too far down the list for the amount of time left. Normally, she would be the one with the mic in hand, not me.

Anyway, the karaoke is not the point here. The point is that a lady noticed my awful singing and came over to our table afterwards and introduced herself. Her name was Yvonne Bergsma. She was from the Netherlands and was married to a popular singer from the 1970s – George McCrae – who had the hit “Rock Your Baby.” George wasn’t with her because he was on the road promoting a new CD. But it was fun to meet Yvonne and talk about our lives. She did not offer me a recording contract, however. 🙂

Thus, the sun set on our Aruba adventure. I wouldn’t mind going back some day. There is still more to see!

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Aruban Dreams (Part 4) – Up Close and Personal With Sea Life on De Palm Island Resort

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De Palm Island beach

Just off the coast of Aruba is a coral reef and sand island that’s been turned into a resort. Why would anyone ever want to leave paradise in Aruba for someplace else? Because this someplace has ziplining, all-inclusive drinks and food, fabulous snorkeling, banana boat rides, a water park, salsa lessons, and different underwater adventures like snuba, Sea Trek, and power snorkeling.

De Palm Island isn’t far off the coast – just a 10-minute boat ride. A bus picked us up at our resort, so my friend and I didn’t even need to worry about finding our way. After getting our tickets squared away on land and the short boat ride, we were there.

The first thing we did was the zipline. It isn’t one of those jungle treetop kind of ziplines, more like a straight shot zipline over the beach, but it was still fun. The most exciting part for me was wondering if the springs that were supposed to slow us down at the end of the line would actually work. I am alive to attest that they did indeed function properly.

Then we went snorkeling right off the steps of the snorkeling shack. I brought my own gear because I am a snorkeling snob, and my friend used the resort equipment (which worked just fine). She had never been snorkeling before and was a bit freaked out about the whole breathing underwater thing, but it didn’t take long for her to get the hang of it. And the fish were amazing. The island has great habitat for fish. All you need to do to find them is put your face in the water.

De Palm Island is known for its blue parrotfish, which we saw along with barracuda and a fish that looked similar to a cowfish. (Alas, if I had only finished my marine biology degree, I could tell you the name for sure.)

After hanging out on the beach for a while and socializing with people from a visiting cruise boat, it was time for our Sea Trek. This underwater adventure (available for an additional fee) involves having a seventy-pound helmet put over your head as you enter the water. The helmet quickly becomes lighter underwater and air is pumped into it from a hose above – kind of like a modern-day diving helmet. But the helmet is still heavy enough to allow you to walk on the bottom of the sea. And your hair won’t get wet. And you can wear your glasses.

After a short instruction period, we met the professional divers who would be helping us, and off we went into the water. I’m not sure how deep we ended up going – maybe about fifteen or twenty feet, but I would recommend renting one of the resort’s wet suits. It’s cold down there, even for hardy Minnesotans. We shivered the whole twenty minutes of the “dive.”

Along the route, the divers presented us with different forms of marine life to hold, like brittle stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. An underwater photographer/videographer recorded these explorations for posterity, and you can buy the photos/videos for an extra fee once you’re back up top. The diver also fed the fish to keep them swimming around for the photos, which made it look like we were in this huge school of fish.

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Sea urchin, anyone?

At one point, the divers had us all sitting in chairs at a table on the sea floor. One of my ears wouldn’t equalize and I thought I’d have to abort the dive, but the instructor just motioned for me to stand up. That took care of the pain and I was able to equalize and enjoy the rest of the experience.

The last thing they had us do was sit in an old Jeep and pretend like we were driving. Add some empty champagne bottles for props and you have the makings of underwater drunk driving photos.

The experience was unique and worth the price and the (minor) pain and chill. Still, we were glad to get out of the water and back into the warm sun.

Next up – the last entry about our trip: Aruba – Island of Sensual Delights . . .

Why Sea Grant is a Kick-Ass Program (And Not Just Because I Work There)

Wi Point Ladies 2016 003We interrupt all these dreams of Aruba to insert some harsh (but hopefully entertaining and educational) reality. You may recall from my recent pancake recipe posting that President Trump has zeroed out the National Sea Grant Program that I work for in his proposed budget for 2018.

If that weren’t worrisome enough, he just recently he proposed drastic cuts to Sea Grant and other environmental and health and human services programs in 2017 in order to find funds to build the wall between Mexico and the U.S. You remember his beloved wall, don’t you? The one that Mexico was supposed to pay for (and like it)?

If Congress grants his request, Sea Grant would be gone – maybe as soon as May or August of this year, and I will be out of a job.

Maybe you’re wondering what a “Sea Grant” is. Sea Grant is a kick-ass program that funnels federal money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to universities in 33 states across the U.S. The money goes to university researchers for water studies and to people like me who let taxpayers know about the research results through the media and through other local communications outlets.

Our staff and researchers also develop tools that people can use for things like growing fish, protecting their towns from a messed-up climate, keeping invasive animals and plants out of their local lake, fixing up polluted swimming beaches, making seafood safe to eat and water safe to drink.

UWI_SeaGrant_logo_cyanI work as a writer for the Sea Grant program in Wisconsin. Why is there an ocean program in Wisconsin, you ask? Because the Great Lakes are the freshwater equivalent of oceans (Sweetwater Seas). As water sources for millions of people and home to one of the world’s largest economies, it makes sense to pay attention to the Great Lakes and to put money into understanding them and protecting them.

Nationally, Sea Grant has been around for over fifty years. The federal dollars ($67.3 million) that come into the states are matched by the universities.

One reason it’s a kick-ass program is that in 2015 alone, the work done nationally with these dollars led to an 854% economic return on investment (Turned $67.3 million into $575 million in the communities in which we work). I bet none of President Trump’s business ventures have provided such a huge impact. Seems like a bad idea to cut such a successful program.

We’ve restored over 127,000 acres of degraded ecosystems. We trained almost 2,000 people how to keep seafood safe to eat. We offered about 900 classes to people living on coastlines on how to improve their community’s resilience to storms. We also supported training and funding for 2,000 students who are the next generation of water scientists.

In Wisconsin alone, our programs save lives. Our Sea Caves Watch program, which warns kayakers about wave conditions in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has prevented deaths. Since it went online about seven years ago, no deaths have happened. Before, there was about one death every year. Seven people might not seem like a lot – but every person counts!

Last year, a boater who saw our video about “ghost nets” (abandoned nets lost in the lake) and how to get out of them without capsizing, remembered what the video said when his boat got into a tangle. He credits Wisconsin Sea Grant for saving his life.

In Wisconsin, we also fund a program that helps children who are going through rough times by getting them into the water and taking pictures. The underwater photography program has changed the lives of many of them, and their photos are good enough to be in public displays and even a book. Read the children’s testimonials in the book. They will make you cry!

We find cures to fish diseases. We created over 5,000 jobs during the past two years. We helped almost 12,000 anglers or aquaculture people. We helped find out what was causing the steel pilings in the Duluth-Superior Harbor to corrode (and won a national award for it). Through our sister program, the Water Resources Institute, we are changing how the state warns people about the chemical strontium in their drinking water.

If I lose my job, I can’t take any more nice vacations and write about them for your benefit. I also will be so busy finding a job that I won’t be able to write my blog any more, or my fiction.

So, if you give a rip, please email your Congressperson right away. Tell them to reject the Administration’s proposal in the Fiscal Year 2017 Security Supplemental that would cut the National Sea Grant College Program by $30 million. Also, please ask them to reject the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 proposal to zero out and terminate the Sea Grant program (for all the reasons I’ve just mentioned).

I had an interesting discussion with someone at my church about President Trump. She said she was finding it very hard to love him in a spiritual sort of way. I told her that I don’t like what Trump stands for, but I do like that he’s making us fight for what’s important. It’s definitely not politics as usual.

The only weapons I have to fight this with are my words. I hope you will join your words with mine to preserve a program that makes much more sense for this country than a wall with Mexico. For more information, please see the Sea Grant Association’s website (FY 2017 and FY 2018 documents).

Thank you for your support. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.