A Lake Superior Sailing Experience, Part One: Chocolate Milk and Biting Flies

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I recently meandered out onto Lake Superior on my first extended sailboat trip across it with some friends. We left Duluth, Minnesota, and headed to Wisconsin’s Apostle Island National Lakeshore, and then traversed the western arm of the lake to Grand Marais Harbor in Minnesota.

Since I am writing this, you know I survived the three-day trip. If fact, I would like to think I thrived, despite turning green with seasickness once (I avoided hurling, though!) and having to wear all my winter gear, plus hand warmers, on the 4th of July.

I learned a lot about sailing, but still have more to know. And I got a firsthand look at conditions on the lake, which is useful for my job, since we fund research projects on Lake Superior.

Two things struck me and my sailing companions. The first was the color of the water. Almost all the way to the Apostles it was the hue of chocolate milk. The large extent and persistence of the coloring was unusual. There were also floating logs to watch out for.

According to a news story I read upon returning home, the condition is due to a series of recent heavy rains that have sent thousands of tons of silt into the lake. Chequamegon Bay, on the other side of the Apostles, is also experiencing heavy sedimentation.

Usually, the chocolate milk dissipates within a few days, but this round of it is lasting longer than usual because we kept having downpours every few days. Most of the sediment comes from the Nemadji River and its red clay banks, along with the St. Louis River.

We also had more than double the amount of usual rainfall for the month of June. Anglers and charter captains are having to travel farther than usual out into the lake to find clear water for fishing.

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Stable flies covering jeans during a beach walk. Good thing they can’t bite through denim!

The second notable thing were the flies. Known locally by the name of “ankle-biters” or sand flies, stable flies look like a common housefly but they are meaner because they bite – usually a person’s ankles. I can attest that there are roughly a gazillion of them out on the lake and its shores this summer.

The only thing that saved us from certain insanity on a shore trip to Outer Island was the fact that we were wearing jeans, which they couldn’t bite through.

The flies congregated in seething clusters from our knees down, rarely venturing farther up our legs. Thank goodness they had no interest in our bare arms or we would have had to run screaming back to our dinghy!

According to a story on National Public Radio, researchers have figured out how and why the flies and other biting insects like mosquitos do this. They think these biting bugs target feet and ankles because we are less likely to notice (and therefore kill) them. They hone in on their target by smell, and apparently, the sweat and skin on our ankles smells different from that of the rest of our body.

Besides wearing jeans, we found it helpful to elevate our feet off the ground while we were on the boat. They didn’t seem to be able to find our ankles if they were level with the rest of our legs. Conditions on the boat never got bad enough that we needed to apply repellant, but we were glad we had some along, just in case.

Although the water wasn’t its typical crystal-clear blue, and we had many insect stowaways aboard our sailboat, Lake Superior was still magical. I greatly enjoyed spending time on it, and hope to do so again someday.

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A bear got to this beach before we did.

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Dinghy Infinity

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Lake Superior, Outer Island, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

A Visit to the Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae

DSC04716Last week, I meandered over to Two Rivers, Wisconsin, birthplace to the ice cream sundae. We arrived at the Historic Washington House Museum and Ice Cream Parlor at noon, just in time to have ice cream for lunch!

The Washington House is not the original place where the first sundae was served in 1881, but the original bar is in the building, which also features artifacts from that time, up to more modern times. A more modern parlor in a separate room offers the creamy confection to hungry travelers today.

DSC04718We were met by a little girl who seemed to be related to the parlor manager. As she stood next to the counter, hugging her fluffy teddy bear, she gave us recommendations for the best flavors, extolling the virtues of each.

DSC04720She tried to talk me into strawberry ice cream, but once I saw they had coconut, I begged her permission to have that instead. She graciously granted my request, so my lunch consisted of Coconut Joy ice cream (with coconut flakes, chocolate chunks and almonds), topped with hot fudge sauce.

OMG, so good! Sated, we then toured the rest of the building, which houses different historic collections of clothing, clowns, typewriters, etc. A film crew from Chicago was interviewing a man who was dressed in a soda jerk uniform behind the original bar as we left. I took his photo between takes, and he gave me a wave and a big smile. One of the historical volunteer ladies told me that several television stations had been to the parlor recently to do stories. I guess it’s that time of year.

DSC04724Although some other towns make rival claims for the origin of the sundae, the place in Two Rivers is the only one recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Read here  and here for more info.

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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.

It also goes against one of the governing principles in the city’s comprehensive land use planning document. Principle #5 on Strengthening Neighborhoods says:

The present city is an historical amalgam of villages and other independent units of government, contributing to the present condition of Duluth being strongly defined by its neighborhoods. This condition should be reinforced through land use, transportation and public service delivery patterns which strengthen neighborhood identity. New institutional expansions, major public infrastructure or large commercial or industrial uses should not divide historic neighborhood patterns.

Allowing a commercial development right in the middle of our neighborhood is no way to strengthen it.

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

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.)