Author Interview on “Minnesota Reads”

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Lisa Johnson, multitasking radio goddess.

I had the good fortune to be in the radio studio last week with Lisa Johnson, host of KUMD’s Minnesota Reads show. We talked about the “Going Coastal” anthology project and Lake Superior Writers, the local writing group that produced it.

I had to leave home for the interview during the time of morning I’m usually just sitting down to eat breakfast. And here Lisa is, multitasking between radio songs, flipping switches, keeping records of what played, and then calming down enough between all that to sound incredibly composed on the air.

I don’t know how she does it! Plus, she reads a lot of books every month for her show about Minnesota authors. Here’s a link to my seven-minute interview. Enjoy.

Fun with Apostrophes

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As a writer, I care about the written word. I care about proper grammar. While I have been known to dangle a preposition at the end of my sentences, I usually try to do what’s proper, especially in my writing for hire.

I had an instance this week where I wanted to confirm the name of a bay in the Duluth-Superior Harbor. Someone who works for an agency in another state asked me to review a web site about this bay, which is the subject of a federal cleanup project because it’s contaminated. My office coworker is also helping with the project by providing engineering advice.

The title of the web page was first thing I noticed. It was called “Howards Bay,” which just screams out for a possessive apostrophe, doesn’t it? (Howard’s Bay.) Unless, of course, the bay was named after someone with the last name of Howards vs. the first name of Howard.

I’ve run across instances before where proper grammar for place names flies out the window because some mapmaker hundreds of years ago labelled places incorrectly on local maps. As such, writers like myself are required to grit our teeth and perpetuate the mistake because what’s on the map has become the actual factual name for those places. One example is the St. Marys River, which empties out of Lake Superior and into Lake Huron. It makes me cringe every time I write it, but there’s no possessive apostrophe in that name due to a mapmaker’s error.

Hoping against hope that wasn’t the case for Howards Bay, I investigated. I looked on the internet. I found that newspaper stories about the bay gave Howards an apostrophe. I found that many government documents (but not all) did not. I asked friends if they knew which form was correct, and received helpful suggestions about where else to check. I looked it up on the U.S. Board of Geographic Names website. It had “no data available” about this name.

Along the way, I discovered that that state of Wisconsin (where Howards Bay is located) has a state Geographic Names Council. Who better to ask? So I sent them an email. While I was awaiting their reply, I learned more about the organization. They seem mainly formed to approve new names for lakes and other geographic features.

They have a list of rules for new names. Among them is one that says, “newly acquired proper names for geographic features shall not be designated with ” ‘s ” or “s”, indicating possession, following the name. For example: Mott Lake, rather than Mott’s Lake or Motts Lake.”

Geez, I wish they would have had that rule in place when Howards Bay was being named!

The next day, I received the geographic names councilperson’s reply to my apostrophe question. Here’s what he said: All of our records that I have been able to find have no apostrophe for Howards Bay. I’ve attached a state sediment sampling document as evidence. I cannot give a more definite answer to the “official” name but I would say that the consistency in our records would point to this being the correct spelling.

In the meantime, with my dogged grammatical passion, I had asked the state cleanup project manager for Howards Bay the same question. He said: The apostrophe question has come up before.  I have not been able to determine which version is correct and occasionally catch myself using both. For consistency, the project team chose to perpetuate the mistake and go with the original name shown on maps, i.e. “Howards.”

Aaargh! Why are we at the grammatical mercy of ancient map makers? I say that modern writers should rise up and free themselves from this typographical tyranny! Add the apostrophe “s” and may the mapmakers be dammed!

Who’s with me?

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**Update** August 9, 2017

A friend of mine asked a research librarian with the Superior Public Library the origin of the name of Howards Bay (also called Howards Pocket). She said it’s named for John D. Howard who held an interest in a sawmill on Connors Point. He died in 1891.

So there really should be an apostrophe because it is Howard’s Bay. Darn those mapmakers! And there should be an apostrophe in Connors Point, too, but I’m not even going to go there. 🙂

Enough with “Farm-Raised” Ingredients, Already!

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By Thegreenj (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

You all know how I love critiquing television commercials. I just saw another one that reminds me of the 2015 ad for Lay’s “farm-raised” potato chips. This commercial was for Beneful grain-free dog food, which employs advertising professionals who are trying to sell us on the merits of all that “farm-raised” chicken in their dog food. The phrase is mentioned at least three times during the ad.

I ask you, WHAT OTHER KIND OF CHICKEN IS THERE? When’s the last time you heard of a flock of wild chickens captured and used for dog food? Never, I warrant.

While I have nothing against farms, and I am happy that chicken is the number one ingredient in Beneful’s dog food, the fact that it is “farm-raised” only makes me laugh.

Crossing Death’s Door on Lake Michigan

On the Robert Noble ferry to Washington Island.

My coworkers and I crossed Death’s Door not one, but two times last week. And we lived to tell about it!

Death’s Door is a treacherous crossing of water off the tip of the Door Peninsula on Lake Michigan. Many a ship and many a life have been lost to its currents and weather. Our goal was to visit Washington Island, a six-mile-by-five-mile piece of land about a half-hour ferry ride from the mainland. We were on a field trip to check out some Sea Grant projects in the area and to interview a commercial fisherman to learn more about his trade.

While waiting for the ferry, we checked out a historical shipwreck sign our agency produced. After a gray and rainy crossing, we landed on the island and drove to our lunch destination, the KK Fiske Restaurant, where we heard you can eat fresh lawyers. No, we are not cannibals; lawyers are one of the nicknames for burbot, a cod-like fish caught in local waters.

A stuffed lawyer.

Appetites at the ready, we were disappointed to find they had no luck catching lawyers that day, so we’d have to make do with whitefish. That was pretty tasty, in any event.

We only had a couple of hours to spend on the island before we needed to head back to the mainland to interview the fisherman. Besides eating, we spent it driving to a state natural area on the end of the island, called Little Lake. There is indeed a lake there, along with a museum that features artifacts from people who used to live in the area.

Little Lake State Natural Area, Washington Island.

After a coffee stop and an unsuccessful search for the island’s lavender farm, we were back on the ferry. Once we landed, breathing a metaphorical sigh of relief that we survived the crossings, we headed toward Bailey’s Harbor.

We found Bailey’s Harbor Fish Company off the beaten path, where we interviewed Tate Stuth, one of the new generation of commercial fishermen in the area. He explained how this fourth-generation family business works, and shared some of the frustrations and unique aspects of their operation. I wrote a story based on the interview and you can read it here: http://uwiscseagrant.tumblr.com/post/163793658967/were-working-for-the-guy-standing-next-to-us. I left the interview thinking that the industry is in good hands.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip for me was roaming around the fish yard after the interview was over. It held old net buoys and floats, rusty trucks, dry docked boats, nets drying on racks. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

The Joys of “Going Coastal”

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Six of nine “Going Coastal” authors. From L to R, Evan Sasman, Maxwell Reagan, James Brakken, Judy Budreau, Marie Zhuikov, Eric Chandler. Image by Ryan Swanson.

I’ve been working a lot lately to promote a new anthology of Lake Superior short stories, called “Going Coastal.” I’m finding that promoting a book written by a bunch of other authors versus a book written just by myself is a lot more fun. Having others to share in the workload of doing readings and events is well, way less solitary, and I enjoy helping to promote their writing careers.

We just had an event at a new local bookstore this week. A superb description of it can be found in “Ennyman’s Territory,” a local arts and culture blog written by Ed Newman. His story also includes a link to a recent review of the book.

And if you are ever in the Duluth area, stop by our newest independent book store, Zenith Books. If you love to read, you’ll feel right at home there.

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Zenith Book Store owners Angel and Bob Dobrow with a copy of “Going Coastal.”

Iams Dog Food Alert!

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Don’t these two bags of dog food look the same? They are not! The one on the left (which has chicken as the first ingredient) is masquerading as the lamb meal formula on the right.

As you may recall, my canine companion is Buddy, a large goldendoodle. One of the reasons we decided on this breed was because I had just discovered that my youngest son was allergic to cats. To try and ensure he didn’t become allergic to dogs, too, we wanted to get a doodle because they are “hypoallergenic,” meaning that people are less likely to be allergic to them because they don’t shed hair like other dogs.

It’s been great having a dog that doesn’t shed. I don’t mind the once-every-two-month trip to the groomers to get his hair cut if it means that I don’t have to continuously vacuum up his hair in my house.

Irony of irony, our hypoallergenic dog seemed to be developing allergies. In consultation with his vet, I changed his food from one based on chicken to one based on lamb. The food I chose was Iams Lamb Meal and Rice Formula. It still had some chicken in it, but that ingredient was farther down the list than his previous food.

Changing his food seemed to help, as did putting him on a daily dose of Zyrtec, but he was still having low-key allergy issues (itchy eyes, irritated skin, etc.), so this year, I went ahead and had Buddy tested. The vet couldn’t determine food allergies with the test, but she could determine environmental allergies.

Turns out Buddy is allergic to dust mites. So are my son and I. My house is pretty much dust-mite-proofed already, but I did go ahead and get Buddy a dust-mite-free bed and special blankets to put over the furniture where he likes to sit. But they didn’t seem to make any difference in his symptoms.

The next step to determine what food ingredients he’s allergic to would be to start buying some special dog food for several months that costs $90 per bag and then introduce different food ingredients later on to see what his reaction is. That seemed more trouble than it was worth for his minor allergy issues. So I stuck with the Iams lamb dog food.

Last week I bought a new bag because I was getting low. When I ended up opening it at home later, I noticed that although the label was the same color and had the same breed of dog on it, it now said “With grass-fed lamb” instead of “lamb meal & rice formula.”

Hmmm. I looked at the ingredient list on the side and was miffed to find that chicken was the first ingredient and that lamb was now #5.  Sneaky! Iams is trying to pass off this new formula to unsuspecting people who usually buy the “lamb-as-first-ingredient” formula.

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The Budster.

After some thought, I decided to try my dog on it anyway. I’m not sure that chicken is the culprit for his allergies. It’s just a suspicion, and this would be one way to check.

Sure enough, his allergy symptoms got worse. He started sneezing more, biting at his skin, and rubbing his eyes. As soon as I figured this out, I went to the store in search of a different brand of food. I discovered that Purina One has a Lamb & Rice Formula, which has lamb as the first ingredient and “poultry byproduct meal” as the fifth ingredient.

I gradually switched my dog over to it, and now his symptoms have subsided.

Curious to see if anyone else had noticed this “bait-and-switch” tactic of the Iams Company, I searched the Interweb. I didn’t find any complaints about that. But I was shocked by the number of complaints from people who blame Iams food for killing their dogs! Creepy. It made me glad I switched brands.

I also did a search on Purina One to see if there were any dog-killing complaints. There were a lot fewer.

In any event, Iams dog food users beware! They have sneakily switched the ingredients in their lamb and rice formula food and are trying to pass it off as the same thing. I can only assume this change was due to profit margins. I’m sure chicken is cheaper than lamb.

If your dog has food allergies like mine, this switch could be bad news.

Sexual Harassment, Wilderness-Style

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A couple of my crewmates clowning around during a break on a bluff above Mountain Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Back in the early 1980s, my first summer job in college was as a volunteer for a U.S. Forest Service trail crew in northern Minnesota. This was the first year the Superior National Forest ran a volunteer program, and I looked forward to spending time in the woods after living in a big city where trees grew out of cement. Our task was to clear several long-neglected hiking trails along the Canadian Border in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

The experience not only taught me how to use a crosscut saw, but also an effective and rather devious method to counter sexual harassment. (No saws involved, however!) You see, I was the only female crew member. One woman and four men tromping around and living in the wilderness together, 24-9 (twenty-four hours per day for nine-day shifts). You do the math. Between each shift, we had five days to recover.

Because the boundary waters is a federally designated Wilderness, we were not allowed to accomplish our task via any motorized or mechanical means. This meant we carried in all our gear by hiking or canoe. This gear consisted of hand tools such as axes, saws, nippers, and shovels, plus our own food and camping equipment. We tented on lakes near the trail and fixed up the campsites along the way, too – digging new latrine holes and smoothing out the dirt tent pads.

Volunteering had seemed like such a good idea at the time. But after about four days, I started asking, What have I gotten myself into? We hiked for miles each day. It was June and the blackflies, mosquitoes, and ticks were out in full force. I could easily slap twenty mosquitos into my jeans with one swipe. We used government-issue bug dope that could take the varnish off of furniture – slathering it on at least five times per day. I’d also never cut through a tree before, and learning new sawing and chopping skills was challenging.

Portaging a canoe was new, too. The crew decided a good initiation for me was to carry our heavy aluminum canoe (this was before the era of Kevlar) up the 120+ steps on Stairway Portage between Rose and Duncan lakes. I made it, although my legs were shaking quite badly once I reached the end of the portage.

I tried not to let all the challenges discourage me. After all, I was in the outdoors that I loved. I was reading John Muir and Sigurd Olson’s books and was buoyed by their idyllic descriptions of nature. I wanted to help the wilderness.

I wrote this in my journal:

Save this space
for that lone bird
blending with the sky
and hill-green water.
Save it
for that flight.

I did not complain, and in fact, volunteered for extra work like hiking back to camp to collect a forgotten canteen, or going on a reconnaissance hike with our crew leader to assess the next day’s trail work. It looked overwhelming. The trail hadn’t been maintained in years, and massive piles of fallen trees blocked our path. In some instances, it was going to be easier just to reroute the trail instead of trying to cut through the deadfall.

Randy*, our crew leader, was a 225-lb. fair-haired Swede who was at the mercy of his vices of drinking and smoking cigars. Another notable crew member was Peter*, a divorced 29-year-old who worked odd jobs in Minneapolis – everything from dish washing to acting in television commercials. Handsome, but mercurial and insecure, he seemed mature at times, but at others, like he had a chip on his shoulder. His perpetual five-o’clock-shadow gave him the look of a stereotypical prison convict. He was also always sharpening his knife, which gave me the willies.

Our evenings were spent around the campfire. Collectively, the guys had brought enough liquor to fill a whole backpack, which came out at that time. Their conversations, which centered around whisky, wilderness, women, and hopping trains, were punctuated by swearing. “Sh*t” and “motherf**ker” were their favorites. They called the tourists that we came across “peasants,” as if they were the wilderness-poor who could only stay in the boundary waters for a short time, while we were truly rich because we got to stay here for most of the summer. I tended to agree with them on that point.

Because I was a woman, I slept in my own tent. The guys slept two or three together in the other tents. Near the end of our second trip, several of the guys started making comments at night when we were all in our sleeping bags. They’d yell over, half-joking, half-not, “Hey Marie!  What does it feel like to have a c**t? Hey Marie, come over here, I have something I need your help with.” You get the drift.

I had never encountered anything like this before. I can’t remember if I acknowledged their taunts or not. And where was crew leader Randy during all this? I don’t know. Probably asleep, or feigning sleep. By the second or third night, I was finding their comments tiresome.

The next day, after the hard labor of constructing erosion control bars on a steep portage, the guys went skinny dipping while I was in my tent reading.

After a while, they mentioned getting cold and that they were thinking of coming out of the water. Instantly inspired, I made my move. I came out of my tent and sat on a rock not far from the lake, enjoying the view and all that nature had to offer.

With me sitting there in all my femininity, the guys did not have the courage to walk naked out of the water. So I sat, not talking, for a good long time. After their teeth started to chatter, I stayed a few minutes more, then nonchalantly ducked back into my tent.

You know what? The vulgar comments stopped, and I didn’t even need to complain to any authority figures. I only needed to muster a little spunk and show them what it felt like to be vulnerable (and very cold and shriveled) because of their gender.

The gender thing wasn’t all bad, however. One evening before the harassment started, Peter volunteered to heat up water over the fire and help me wash my hair while the other guys were gone fishing. He rinsed the suds out onto the ground instead of into the lake, which was our drinking water. His fingers massaging the luxurious warm water through my hair felt divine.

We had a nice talk around the fire afterwards, during which he asked me out to a play in the nearest small town. I don’t recall my exact answer, but it was probably something non-committal, given that I had a boyfriend of sorts back at college. And then there was all that knife-sharpening he liked to do….

I found out later from the other crew members that Peter had in fact just gotten out of the state prison, so it was probably a good thing that the hair washing didn’t woo me.

The harassment didn’t stop me from eventually working for the Forest Service. I volunteered again as a photojournalist on another ranger district in the same forest during my first summer after college. That eventually led to my hire as the forest public affairs specialist.

During the five years I was a Forest Service employee, I never got harassed by another employee. But that could be because I had a reputation. 🙂

*Names have been changed.

Clearwater Lake

The view from one of our campsites on Clearwater Lake.