Living in a War Zone

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Image from a different neighborhood zoning war that occurred in Kentucky, Image courtesy of WPSD-TV.

My neighborhood is in a war. We are not fighting with each other. Instead, we’re fighting against a more elusive and dangerous foe: the specter of commercial development.

We all received letters in the mail from the city planning department, which described a proposal to rezone our neighborhood from a Traditional Residential one to a Mixed Use Neighborhood. This could open up our streets to stores and businesses.

When I bought my house nineteen years ago, one of the major selling points was the “quiet neighborhood” where it was located. Even though it was near a shopping center, on the other side a massive city park offered a bit of wilderness, not to mention periodic backyard visits by deer, bear, and moose.

Friends and acquaintances who heard about my new home congratulated me. “It’s the nicest street,” they said. And it proved true. The street was full of long-term residents who cared about their community and their neighbors. We helped each other during snowstorms, floods, and ice storms.

Even 19 years later with new residents, the helpfulness is still there. My neighbors are invested in their homes and in making the neighborhood a good place to live.

But already, commercial development is encroaching. Two banks and an insurance agency take up one end of the street, which fronts a busy main artery and the shopping center. Basically, the planning agency proposes to extend that business district farther down my street and one block over, rezoning areas where people’s homes currently sit. The rezoning would impact 8 or 9 homes. My home is outside the area by the width of one home.

Our property taxes have increased due to a new apartment and business complex built a block away. I would not be surprised if someone wants to build something similar on my street.

Last week, the planning department held a public meeting about the rezoning proposal. There are three spots they want to rezone. Nobody protested the other two, which are located along already busy streets. All of the discussion focused on the plan for my neighborhood.

Residents, especially the ones in the homes inside the rezoning area, were concerned and angry. Some have already been approached by a developer, who also had the cajones to be at the meeting and to speak in favor of the rezoning. (You should have seen the nasty looks he got! My neighbors might be nice, but not when their way of life is threatened.)

At the meeting, one of my neighbors said that it makes no sense to rezone an established neighborhood to a Mixed Use Neighborhood and invite more development right into the middle of it. I agree with her.

My home was built almost 100 years ago by Swan Gustaf Anderson when he was 72 years old. His $450 mortgage was held by the Supreme Lodge of the Sons of Norway. I am the eighth owner of the house. I’ve been investing a lot in upkeep and remodeling of my home, but if rezoning occurs and a retail or apartment development goes in, I would be a fool to continue making that investment in a property that may one day have a view of dumpsters or a parking lot instead of big trees and homes.

This rezoning idea goes against provisions for Mixed Use Neighborhood development in Chapter 50 of the City of Duluth Legislative Code. One of the purposes of establishing a Mixed Use Neighborhood District is to, “Encourage mixed use redevelopment, conversion and reuse of aging and underutilized areas, and increase the efficient use of commercial land in the city.”

Our neighborhood is not “underutilized.” It is home to families who have lived there many years. Our homes may be aging, but they are all in good shape because we have invested in them. I would also argue that it is not an efficient use of commercial land in the city to displace people from an established neighborhood.

Fighting a zoning war is not how I wanted to spend my summer, but it’s necessary, I guess. Here we go!

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Romancing Las Vegas

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I just returned from four action-packed days in Las Vegas. I travelled with my new manfriend, Russ, so it was a chance for us to get to know each other better. We chose activities with an eye toward the romantic. Here’s a quick rundown.

The Nature

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Red Rock Canyon

What could be more romantic than the color red? Lucky for us, the Red Rock Canyon was just a short drive outside of Vegas. It offers plenty of trails for hiking, but if you don’t have time for that, you can drive on the one-way, thirteen-mile road through the reserve to see the spectacular scenery.

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Pictographs at Red Rock Canyon

We hiked two trails and saw lizards, cacti, colorful rocks, kangaroo rat dens, soaring vultures, and even some ancient Native American pictographs.

Tip: Hike in the morning, before it gets hot! During our stay, it was in the upper 90s every day with sun. Bring plenty of water.

Sharks may not be romantic, but they could make your loved one hold onto you for dear life. We visited the Shark Reef Aquarium in the Mandalay Bay Casino. Plenty of rays, sharks, and jellies.

Entertainment

Get up close and personal with your fantasy partners at Madame Toussand’s Wax Museum in the Venetian Casino. Russ and I temporarily ditched one another in favor of Brittany Spears, Celine Dione, Bradley Cooper, and George Clooney. Sigh.

20180531_115559The High Roller Observation Wheel will take you and your date to new heights on a slow spin five-hundred feet above the city. The wheel is so huge, it takes a half-hour for one rotation. Day or night, it’s a great way to get your bearings in a city with so many landmarks. Likewise is the Eiffel Tower Replica at the Paris Casino. Take an elevator ride to the top for a spectacular view.

Any of the Cirque du Soliel performances are romantic since they are French, after all. I would recommend the watery one called “O.”20180530_212209

 

Celine Dione has recovered from her ear surgery and is back giving concerts at the Colosseum. Somehow, we scored big on our seats. We were supposed to be in the second balcony, but got upgraded to seats on the main floor, only twenty-five rows away from her! How romantic to listen to “My Heart Will Go On” from that vantage point.

Tip: If all our nights hadn’t already been booked with shows, we would have tried a gondola ride outside the Venetian Casino. Don’t make our mistake!

Best Romantic Food

Vegas offers every type of food imaginable. But the most romantic we found was at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. It is French, no?

If you reserve your table for two at 4:30 p.m., they will automatically seat you at the front window where you can watch the fountain show across the street at the Bellagio Casino. As with the Celine Dione concert, somehow, we mysteriously scored big on our seating. We were shown to the corner table at the front of the restaurant with a 180-degree view.

20180601_162112The food and wine is pricey, but oh so worth it! I had the lemon sorrel soup appetizer and veal medallions with morel mushrooms and fiddlehead ferns. So good! Russ had the roasted beet salad and bison with an asparagus add-on. For dessert, we romantically shared a Grand Marnier soufflé. Words fail me.

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Grand Marnier souffle

“Going Coastal” Wins Honors

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The “Going Coastal” anthology sporting its snazzy Northeastern MN Book Awards seal.

An anthology of Lake Superior short stories that contains one of my tales was awarded an honorable mention in the fiction category of the Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards competition. “Going Coastal” contains stories written by nine writers who live around the lake in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Here’s what the awards committee had to say about the book:

The stories in Going Coastal are all deeply personal, and reflect the lake as a source of beginnings and endings-a source of inspiration, loss, and renewal. The anthology contains a variety of very different stories, touching us in many ways, and connecting us to the power of Lake Superior.

The award was established to recognize books that substantially represent northeastern Minnesota in the areas of history, culture, heritage, or lifestyle. For a list of other winning books for 2018, check here.

To learn how this book project happened, read this previous blog post.

Writers’ Bumps: An Endangered Condition?

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Photo by Jak of the Mast Cells & Collagen Behaving Badly blog.

The picture above of the middle finger is not me flipping you off. It’s not even my finger. I found it on this blog. I am featuring it here because it shows a writer’s bump, which is something I, and many other writers have.

These bumps are formed from the pressure of a pen or pencil pushing against the middle finger when a person is writing. If you’re right-handed, it will form on your right hand. If you’re left-handed, it will form on your left.

I once asked a manicurist if she could ever tell what profession a person has from looking at their hands. She had never considered it. Then I told her about how to spot a writer from their bump. I’m sure she was edified forever by this information and it changed how she approached her job.

I realized the other day that my writer’s bump is much smaller than it used to be, presumably because I hardly ever use a pen anymore, opting instead for a computer keyboard. This caused me some dismay since I rather like my writer’s bump and the distinction it gives my profession.

Then, I realized in horror that most young people probably don’t have a writer’s bump. They might not even know what one is since they all use phone and computer keyboards.

Truly, writers’ bumps are endangered. We just can’t stand by and let them disappear. They have been with society for hundreds of years. Somebody should do something about this. We need a public information campaign to “Save the Writers’ Bumps!”

Where is the outrage? Why are we complacent with the disappearance of this badge of honor earned by hours of slaving over paper with a writing utensil?

Cast aside your computer keyboards and your phones my friends. Start a movement!

(Smirk. I think not. I actually love the convenience and speed of typing.)

How a Print Writer With a Lisp Turns to Radio

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Tools of the trade for the Twin Ports Newspaper of the Air.

On a recent Sunday morning, I faced a test of my skills when I led a radio broadcast for the Twin Ports Newspaper of the Air (TPNA) for the first time. This is a service of the Lighthouse Center for Vision Loss in Duluth. I am one of about seventy volunteers who read local newspapers every morning for two hours over a closed-circuit radio system for people who can’t read the newspaper themselves. Some are blind and some have had strokes and can no longer hold a newspaper.

Now, if you know me, you realize that getting up early on a weekend morning is definitely not in my character. But I enjoy reading the Sunday paper. I was looking for an organization to volunteer for, and because I have a background in audio work, this just seemed sort of fun.

Once a month, I haul myself out of bed at 6 a.m. and head down to the Lighthouse Center. We have two copies of the newspaper and read in teams of two, switching off every other story. The leader opens the broadcast, keeps track of time, reads public service announcements and the weather forecast, and has final say on which stories get read.  All the other person needs to do is read their assigned stories. It’s much easier not to be the leader!

We don’t have time to read everything in the paper, so we concentrate on news listeners can’t hear elsewhere – the local stories. Other broadcasts focus on national stories, so we don’t need to read those. The obituaries are a big draw, so we are required to read them at the top of the hour. Some people tune in just for those.

It’s tricky because the broadcast is live. If you mess up something, you need to muddle through the best you can. If you have a coughing fit, you need to run out of the room and cough outside, with your partner taking over instead. If you need to pee, you have to hold it until it’s your partner’s turn to read a longer story so that you have enough time to go.

20180318_080050None of these things have happened to me yet, although I did lose track of a story once. With all the story page jumps in the newspaper, it can be confusing to know which page to find it on. Thankfully, my partner noticed my confusion and handed me his copy of the article.

Besides having to overcome my natural weekend laziness, another reason this volunteer job is a challenge is because of the speech impediment I had as a child. In elementary school, while my classmates were out playing during recess, I was sitting in a room with four or five other children, practicing my “s”es.

I wasn’t aware I had a lisp until I got singled out for Speech Class. In fact, when I first heard about the class from my teacher, I thought it involved learning how to stand up in front of people and give speeches. I imagined that might be sort of fun.

It wasn’t until I started going to the class that I understood it involved the drudgery of practicing how to speak correctly. Once a week, we would sit around a table, concentrating on how our tongue moved in our mouths. I needed to learn to redirect the tip of my tongue to the roof of my mouth when speaking, instead of thrusting it forward against the back of my front teeth.

We practiced tongue-twisters and were drilled on certain sounds over and over again until we got it right. I don’t recall how many weeks I was in Speech Class, but I must have made progress because I was able to rejoin my classmates full-time.

My foray into audio began years later in graduate school, when I decided that learning how to do a radio show would be a more interesting capstone project than writing yet another article.

Some nice ladies at KUMD Radio (Thanks Christine Dean! Thanks Lisa Johnson!) were willing to show me how to record and work with the files, and I produced a pre-recorded series called Listening to the Lake, which had public health and environmental themes.

I found my “radio voice,” and this led to a later series called Superior Science News on KUWS Radio, which was produced by Dani Kaeding. Lo and behold, nobody complained about my “s”es.

Along the way, I got to see these radio professionals at work, and always marveled at their ability to simultaneously load CDs, remember to announce the time, and find the day’s weather forecast to read.

Now here I was, groggy on a Sunday morning, put to the test to see if I measured up to my radio lady role models.

I’m happy to report that everything came off without a hitch. They, and my speech teacher, would have been proud.

Creativity, Motherhood and Rats: How They All Go Together

Mom rat and baby

Image by Howcast.com.

I was asked to give a short talk today on creativity and motherhood for a local organization. Here’s the result:

When I became pregnant with my first child 26 years ago, I started to panic. It wasn’t that I was afraid something would be wrong with my baby or that I was afraid of the labor process — although these are justified fears and I did think about those things.

The real issue was, I was afraid that the idea I had for a novel would be subsumed by the demands of a newborn. Having a child would strike a death-knell for my creative dreams. My story would never see the light of day. I had floundered around with writing it, and had come to the realization that I needed help. This fear was foremost in my mind when I signed up for a novel-writing correspondence course offered by Writer’s Digest Magazine soon after I found I was pregnant.

I had heard all the cultural messages that tell women that being creative and having children are incompatible, and I believed them.

The novel-writing course provided me with structure that saw me through the rest of my pregnancy and motivated me to keep working on the story once I had my baby boy. The instructor’s encouragement also helped.

Even so, it took me a long time to finally finish my novel and to get it published — as long as it takes to grow a child into adulthood.

The thing that held me back wasn’t motherhood, it was waiting for the right moment to feel creative – the moment when I wasn’t busy, stressed, or emotional. I was too much at the whim of my outside life. I hadn’t learned yet how to control my inner life and allow room for the creativity to flow no matter what was happening “outside.”

A recent article in The Atlantic Monthly magazine backs up the premise that having children does not harm creativity. In fact, it can change the biology of the mother in ways that can allow for even greater creativity.

Kelly Lambert, a professor of behavioral neuroscience at the University of Richmond, studies the maternal brains of rats. Yes, on Mother’s Day, I am going to talk to you about rats, and their brains, no less. Lambert found that when rats become mothers, their brains, which are closer in structure to a human’s than even those of mice or dogs, start reprogramming themselves.

Their sensory and motor systems sharpen. Their circuitry becomes more efficient. Maternal rats are more direct and lethal hunters, catching their prey four times faster than non-mom rats.

Even after having their babies, the changes persist. Lambert found that the mother rats experience less memory decline in old age and have quicker navigation skills than non-mothers, outsmarting them in mazes.

Although neuroscientists do not yet understand what direct impact pregnancy and childbirth have on the human maternal brain and creativity, I am here to testify that, yes, it is possible to be a mother and be creative, too. And I’m sure plenty of other women can testify to this. It’s just that sometimes when you’re a parent, you have to find more creative ways to allow for that creativity.

If you have a partner, have them take care of the kids for a while so that you can go on a writing retreat. Don’t allow your creativity to take a back seat to the other demands of life. Try different things until you find something that works for you.

I learned how to make this inner creative space while I wrote my second novel. Even though I had a second child by this time, after reading a story about right-brain, left-brain thinking and how to make both sides of your brain work together to foster creativity, I learned how to put myself in that elusive creative mind zone, instead of waiting for the zone to come to me. Thanks to this, it only took me two years to write and publish the second one.

You don’t need to be superhuman to have children and to be creative. Mothers have been doing it forever. As the magazine article said, creativity takes time and periods of reflection, and a willingness to let go of ideas that don’t work and move on to better ones.

Learning to look at the world through the eyes of your children, be they yours biologically or children of your heart, is not a bad way to make your own thinking more flexible.

Vegan Shoes, Who Knew?

Vegan shoes

Did you know there’s such a thing as vegan shoes? I didn’t either, until I bought these, and the veganism came as an unexpected side benefit. They feature “microbuck vegan leather uppers,” whatever those are.

Does this mean I can eat them if I get hungry?