The Fish Dish: New Podcast Mixes Friends, Fun and Food

I’ve been busy at work lately, giving birth to a new podcast. If you want the latest “dish” about Great Lakes fish, you’ll want to listen to “The Fish Dish.” I host it with longtime coworker and friend Sharon Moen, Sea Grant’s Eat Wisconsin Fish Outreach Specialist. Besides introducing you to the people behind Wisconsin’s fishing and aquaculture industries, each episode includes a “Fish-o-licious” section where we cook a new fish recipe.

The first episode features Craig Hoopman, a sixth-generation commercial fisherman from Bayfield, Wisconsin. Hoopman shares his beginnings in the business, current challenges, plus his dreams for the future. Also, Sharon and I share our backgrounds in fishing and introduce listeners to the Eat Wisconsin Fish campaign. During the “Fish-o-licious” part of the show, we cook Greek-Style Lake Whitefish at Hoopman’s recommendation.

Tying it all together is ska music by Twin Ports band, Woodblind. Take a listen — let me know what you think!

Lawn Mower Races: Cutting-Edge Excitement

The grand marshal of the Thunder Valley Lawn Mower Races, Maine. Image credit: Mark Haskell, Courier-Gazette

Apologies for the bad pun in the title, but I wanted to let you know that you truly haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed this phenomenon. Lawn mower races happen all across America, from Idaho to Maine. I received my first taste in late summer when I meandered into Cotton, a small town in northern Minnesota.

Grown men (and in other places, women) clamber aboard riding lawn mowers that they have modified for racing. In Cotton, the circular racing track was an actual lawn situated behind what used to be the town’s high school but is now a community center.

The races are a cultural highlight of the season. Families gather to sit on the grass or on haybales to watch the festivities. Kids eat cotton candy. Some folks even back their jacked-up pickup trucks along the track. Sitting in folding lawn chairs in the cargo bed, they have a prime, elevated view.

Engines rev. The starting gun cracks, and they’re off! The machines tilt as they round the corners, wheels lifting off the ground. The drivers likewise tilt, leaning into the movement. Around and around they buzz, neck and neck. After a few turns around the track, one man’s mower putters out and he pulls into the center, defeated.

Cotton, MN, lawn mower racers lean into the turn.

According to the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association, this quirky form of racing began in the early 1970s – touted as a perfect way to use a machine that many people already have, and to let off steam. It became official when the makers of a fuel stabilizer came up with the idea of using a lawn mower race to promote their product on April Fools’ Day in 1992.

I had no idea this pastime had been around for so long! There’s even such a thing as lawn mower ice racing in winter.

With a wave of a checkered flag, the race ends. The crowd applauds. The winners strut over to claim their prizes and pose for the local newspaper photographer.

In Cotton, racers competed in two events, “modified” and “stock.” I felt culturally enriched for having watched these events. But it all seemed like such a waste. You see, the racing mowers don’t have their blades engaged. All that noise and hype, and in the end, the grass on the track is just as long as before. 🙂

The Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game – Marie’s Version

Greetings! I hope all my dear readers made it through Thanksgiving in a healthy and happy way. But if you are getting COVID-isolation crazy and want to let off some steam, I humbly suggest you try the Hallmark Christmas Movie Drinking Game. I heard about this from a coworker and it sounded too fun to pass up.

I got together with two people from my COVID bubble and we watched “Christmas at Grand Valley,” available for streaming from Amazon Prime. In this scintillating saga, which is cast in the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries series, Kelly returns to her Wyoming hometown (from Chicago) and becomes involved in an effort to save the town’s beloved lodge. In the process, she falls for a handsome widower sent to decide the fate of the lodge.

I’m not sure why this movie is considered a mystery. The only inkling of mystery comes in the form of, “WHEN ARE KELLY AND WIDOWER MAN EVER GOING TO KISS?”

Whenever certain things happen on screen, viewers must take a sip of their drink, or two sips, down the whole thing, or take a shot. I *think* (memory is fuzzy) I ended up drinking a whole bottle of wine between supper and the movie. It was great fun, plus I thought up some new rules, which are the ones posted in red.

Happy Holidays everyone!


Take one drink whenever:

  • A reference is made to a dead relative
  • The “Mayor” appears on screen
  • The main character’s name is related to Christmas (Holly, Nick, etc.)
  • Anytime someone disses fake Christmas trees
  • A newcomer partakes in an old family or town tradition
  • Hot chocolate, apple cider, or eggnog is on screen
  • A big city person is transplanted to a small town
  • Christmas caroling, a tree farm, or baking cookies appears
  • Mistletoe is on screen
  • A character makes a magic deal with Santa or an angel
  • Any time you hear “Jingle Bells”
  • The town is named something Christmas-y
  • A cisgendered character appears

Take two drinks whenever:

  • Characters experience a ‘near-miss’ kiss
  • An obvious product advertisement appears
  • A snowball fight or ice skating happens
  • An ugly sweater or tie appears
  • The characters are snowed in
  • A “Pride and Prejudice” reference is introduced (a character is named Darcy, a place named Pemberly)
  • Someone with slicked-back hair expresses their hate for Christmas

Finish your drink whenever:

  • The cynic is filled with the Christmas spirit
  • It snows on Christmas
  • Someone selects a Christmas tree
  • The main characters bake/cook something together, or Christmas-themed food is mentioned
  • Bad art appears or a literary reference is made
  • Dissonant architecture appears (for instance, a lighthouse in Wyoming)
  • Accordion music happens, especially if it’s playing Jingle Bells

Take a shot whenever:

  • The movie stars Candace Cameron-Bure, Lacey Chabert, or Andrew Walker appear
  • The main characters fall in love
  • The main characters kiss

The Year 2020 in a Cartoon

I was listening to a recent episode of National Public Radio’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” podcast when my heart leapt with joy. The guests were talking about the year 2020 and the grandiose ideas people had in the past about how we would be living today.

What got my heart going was when the host mentioned the “Sealab 2020” cartoon.

I had been thinking about that cartoon lately, with it being the year 2020 now.  Until listening to the podcast, I was beginning to wonder if anyone else but me remembered the short-lived series.

“Sealab 2020” only ran from September until December 1972, but it made a big impression on me – with my proclivities toward all things watery. The setting was an underwater lab. The dramas and intrigue of the 250 “oceanauts” featured heavily, as they faced challenges ranging from environmental disasters to attacks from giant squid.

As a nine-year-old, I envisioned myself as one of the oceanauts by the time 2020 came around. Alas, I am still landlocked, and I don’t think there are any large underwater labs in operation at this time.

My dream did not come to pass. But at least I work for Sea Grant, and that’s almost as good!

Walt Whitman Lives!


Patrick Scully as Walt Whitman

A literary figure came to life in downtown Duluth a few days ago. Walt Whitman made an appearance at the Zeitgeist Teatro Zuccone on September 12 in the form of a one-man show by Patrick Scully.

Whitman, of course, is known for his poetic work, “Leaves of Grass” (1855). The book received praise from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau but was also controversial for its overt sexuality.

In Scully’s show, “Leaves of Grass – Illuminated,” Scully embodies Whitman in his “multitudes,” exploring his inclusiveness and embrace of all humankind – things everyone needs reminders of, especially now.

The show premiered in New York City and Minneapolis. If you missed it in Duluth, you’ll have a chance to see it at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis on July 12-14, 2019, shortly after the 200th anniversary of Whitman’s birth.

Scully performs a couple different versions of his show. The one we saw was the full-meal deal, featuring videos of male dancers dressed in appropriate period garb (and also lack thereof). The videos played behind Scully, who stood at a podium near the audience.

20180916_175923Whitman has been a long-time favorite of mine, ever since I read a first-edition version of “Leaves of Grass” (pictured, copyright 1959) that I think my parents gave me off their bookshelf. It kept me company during a summer on Isle Royale National Park in the middle of Lake Superior. No libraries there! So I lugged a duffle bag full of books along with me when I worked as a waitress at the resort on the island during college.

Some of my favorite lines come from, “I Sing the Body Electric.” In looking through my old book, this one still strikes me:

I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful curious breathing laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them . . to touch any one . . . . to rest my arm ever so lightly around his or her neck for a moment . . . . what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight . . . . I swim in it as in a sea.

Like Whitman’s poetry, Scully’s show pleased my soul well.

Thanks go to Lake Superior Writers and the Minnesota State Arts Board for hosting and sponsoring the evening.

Jazz at the “O”


Patty Peterson sings during a jazz evening at the Carlton Room in the Oldenburg House. (Note their logo on the ceiling!)

If you like jazz in an intimate setting paired with great food, the Oldenburg House in Carlton, Minnesota, is for you. One weekend each month the homeowners turn their living room into a jazz club called the Carlton Room, pulling in talent from Chicago, the Twin Cities, and other far-flung places.

They don’t ignore local talent, either – including one guy who lives right in the house. Co-owner Glenn Swanson is a leading drummer in his own right, and he performs during the sessions.

When I attended earlier this month, brother/sister Ricky and Patty Peterson from Minneapolis were performing. Ricky is best known for his twenty-year association with saxophone legend David Sanborn and for having produced, written and played keyboards for Prince. Patty is an award winning vocalist, live jazz radio host, and inspirational speaker; she has received the coveted Minnesota Music Award seven times for best vocalist.

We sat at a round table with several other couples. The food was great. The music even better. There’s no better way to spend a snowy spring evening. Someday, I would like to go back during the summer to see the grounds of the house. Under all that snow lie fountains and gardens among the rocky outcroppings that are a signature of the small town of Carlton.

The house itself is on the National Register of Historic places. The owners have oodles of other things going on besides jazz. A blogger friend of mine, Ed Newman, has written many stories about the place. Check out this one for a good overview.

How Seeing a Bob Dylan Exhibit Made me Happy not to be Famous


Lyrics to the “Ballad of Donald White.” Dylan wrote them on the cover page in a library book of the people he was staying with in NY City. Needless to say, they did not return the library book. Dylan’s name is on the checkout form on the opposite page.

This weekend I had a chance to visit the Bob Dylan exhibit at Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum in Duluth. I went there for a talk about Dylan given by someone I know. Unbeknownst to me, the time of the talk was changed to an hour later, so I had a long stretch to look at the exhibit beforehand.

And I’m glad I did. I mean, how can I consider myself a true Duluthian if I don’t know at least a little about one of its most famous personages? I learned a lot of new things, and re-remembered some old. But mostly I came away with the sense that it would be creepy to be that famous.

Dylan was born in Duluth in 1941 in the same hospital I was. He lived here until he was five (so said my friend who gave the talk, but Wikipedia says he was six). His father contracted polio (get your vaccinations, people!), necessitating a move to be nearer to relatives in Hibbing, Minn. Dylan graduated from high school in Hibbing and then went to college at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He dropped out after a year and went to seek his fortune (and Woody Guthrie) in New York City.


A copy of Dylan’s 2016 Nobel Prize diploma for literature.

What both impressed and creeped me out was that the exhibit had things like a copy of Dylan’s birth announcement from the local newspaper, and photos of his early girlfriends, including a letter by his NYC girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, to her mother. In the letter, Suze is chewing out her mother, who obviously didn’t care for Dylan. The exhibit also featured a short note that Dylan wrote to the people he was staying with in NYC, letting them know where he was going and when he’d be back (1 a.m.). He told them not to wait up.

I just can’t imagine being the object of that must interest. I mean, a short note like the one he wrote in NYC would be thrown out by most people. And can you imagine seeing an exhibit under glass filled with photos of your early romantic interests?

But it was obvious that Dylan courted the fame. I mean, even before he was famous he was writing lyrics for friends as keepsakes, and signing his name to them. He went looking for the fame, and found it. Or maybe I am being too hard on him. Maybe he was just expressing and sharing his creativity, and look what happened as a result?

Anyway, I hope I never become that famous. (Although I hardly think there’s any danger of that.) Seeing the exhibit made me much happier to keep writing away in relative obscurity, thank you.

Shunned by the World’s Largest Rubber Duckie

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The World’s Largest Rubber Duck turns its back on me.

Duluth is hosting a Tall Ships Festival this weekend. A newcomer to the event is the “World’s Largest Rubber Duck.” I put that in quotes because equally large or larger rubber ducks exist in the world overseas. It’s just that the U.S. creator (who happens to be a Duluthian, too) of this particular duck trademarked the phrase.

Even so, I was intrigued to view this giant yellow floating bathtub toy – in part to see if it could nudge me out of my doldrums following my father’s death – but also just because it’s novel. Like others who have attended these festivals over the years, I’ve seen plenty of tall ships, but never a sci-fi movie-sized duck. Also, I needed to attend the festival for work, to deliver some keys to a co-worker who was on one of the tall ships (the Denis Sullivan).

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A crew member barks orders on the Denis Sullivan.

The duck was participating in the opening ceremony for the festival, called the Parade of Sail. For this spectacle, all of the ships sail into the Duluth-Superior Harbor through the ship canal and under Duluth’s iconic Aerial Lift Bridge.

I left in what I thought was enough time to catch the parade. But I didn’t anticipate the number of other people who also wanted to attend. I expected a lot of people, and planned my travel route to the festival via a back way, but there were not just a lot of people. There were HORDES.

After being turned away from one event parking lot because I didn’t pre-pay a parking ticket, I ended up waiting in line for 40-something minutes for another lot.

I knew I was going to miss the beginning of the parade, so enterprising me got out of line to bribe a local business to let me park in their lot. They weren’t open to my bribe (or perhaps it was not large enough!), so I got back in line, even father back.

DenisSullivanTallShips 003

The chart room, below decks in the Denis Sullivan.

As I was waiting, and gazing out my car window through a fence and a tangle of tansy weed, I saw the head of a large yellow duck gliding past in the nearby harbor. I was missing the duck!

Alas, failed bribery attempt already past, there was nothing more I could do to improve my situation. I could only hope the duck would still be around once I made my way to the event grounds.

By the time I got to the parking lot entrance, the attendants were only letting cars in once other cars came out. After another 15 minutes or so, I finally got to park my car in a swampy spot and hoof it to the harbor.

The duck apparently did not like that I was late, and would not show its face to me. It was far away by this time, across the harbor at its docking site — its back turned in disapproval at my lack of strategic event attendance planning skills. Sigh.


A crew member climbs the rigging on the Denis Sullivan as it sails under Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge. Image courtesy of Kathy Kline, Wisconsin Sea Grant.

But my spirits lifted when I ended up getting a free tour of the Denis Sullivan. I found my co-worker among the hordes and she let me aboard. The Sullivan’s home port is Milwaukee, and the ship is used for educational purposes. My co-worker had just completed a five-day sail with about a dozen Great Lakes teachers, instructing them on lake ecology and maritime history.

Enjoy the photos!


What the duck looked like to everyone else. Image courtesy of WDSE-TV.

Entering the Virtual World


My youngest son enters the virtual world under the tutelage of my oldest son (in background).

I spent the weekend in a virtual world. Well, okay, it was just a few hours this weekend, but it was a cool few hours. My oldest son, who is a computer science graduate student, used his tax refund money to buy an HTC Vive. He treated me and my youngest son to a demonstration of this virtual reality system at his house.

The easiest way to describe it is to say it’s like stepping inside a video game. You put on the virtual reality goggles and **bam** you’re in another place.

Now, I am a mom, so I think of safety-related messages like these: Be sure to only try virtual reality with people you trust. You can hear the people around you, but you can’t see them once you put the goggles on. Others in the room could easily trip you if they are the mischievous sort, and you’d never see it coming. Likewise, remove all pets from the area that could wander into your virtual space and make you fall flat on your face.

I tried several demos from a program called “The Lab.” I entered a cave, complete with dripping water and piles of snow. Using one of the hand controllers, I found I had the ability to blow up balloons, which quickly rose to the cave’s ceiling and popped. It might not sound that exciting, but when you’re surrounded by the world, and you see the balloons you create actually rise like real balloons, it’s pretty darn cool. Then I was off to a secret shop that felt like a wizard’s lair come to life.

When it was my youngest son’s turn, he started out at Vesper Peak, throwing sticks on a mountain top for his slinky robot dog companion. He also tried Longbow, which had him defending his fort with a bow and arrow against rabid gingerbread men-like raiders. He also got to try his hand at being a line cook in one of the job-related games.

I am a real-world nature-lover, so my knee-jerk reaction to virtual reality games is negative. But after trying it, I can see how it’s certainly better than watching television because it gets you up and moving. Also, I can see how it can be a powerful storytelling tool because it immerses you in the experience more fully than a flat screen ever could.

In short, the virtual world’s not so bad. It might even be useful.

Crawling out From Under my Musical Rock


A Band Called Truman. Photo by Tanja Heckert.

Is there something your community is known for that you aren’t tuned into? It could be a sports team, an industry (like craft breweries), or some other cultural/historical thing. For me, it’s the local music scene. And now I’m making up for lost time.

For years, I’ve been squished under the rock of my responsibilities so I haven’t been able to enjoy the local music scene. I also haven’t had friends or acquaintances who were into it, so I plodded along, deaf to all the musically talented people around me. And Duluth has a lot of them. Case in point: Gaelynn Lea, who just won National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concert Competition. Her unique style surpassed that of 6,000 other people and wowed the judges.

Sure, I knew about the symphony and high school bands – wider community kinds of music, but not so much individual local musicians. I realized I needed to rectify this. As a writer, I appreciate the creativity involved in songwriting and singing, and I feel it is my duty to become more familiar with the local music scene. Besides, I just like it!

I’ve had the good fortune to meet several local musicians/band members (including A Band Called Truman, Teague Alexy, Michael Monroe, Mary Bue, Georganne Hunter, and Jerree Small) and others I’ve managed to see play live or I’ve plucked them out of the “local music” CD section in the library. These include the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, Cloud Cult, Low, Charlie Parr, Bill and Kate Isles, Ryan Lane, Rachael Kilgour, Sara Thomsen, Woodblind, and Jamie Kallestad.

I don’t know what I would do without the library’s help in catching up on twenty-something years of missed local music. Thank god for libraries! I know I’m missing many local musicians in this list, but I’m only halfway through the alphabet in the library section. 🙂

The thing is, I didn’t even know what I was missing until a series of chance encounters, life changes, and opportunities arose. It’s been a fun ‘research project,’ and the experiences will no doubt find their way into my fiction writing.

Is there something in your life that you don’t even know is missing? Something available in your community that’s being wasted on you? Here’s hoping someday you have the ability to take advantage of this food for the soul.