My Sons are Immortalized in Plastic

 

It seems the Mattel Company, makers of the Barbie and Ken dolls, have stolen my sons’ likenesses for their new “Fashonista” Ken Doll line. The “Comeback Camo” Ken Doll and the “Chill in Check” doll look EXACTLY like my boys.

I will not further exploit my sons by posting their actual images to my blog. You’ll just have to believe me that the resemblance is uncanny, even down to the clothing.

I was sort of creeped out when I saw the TV news story about the new doll line the other day. I mean, what are the chances that two out of 15 dolls could double for my offspring? A follow-up question is, what kind of mother am I to give birth to not one, but two cultural stereotypes?

I should be mad that Mattel has taken my sons’ likenesses without their consent. But it’s also rather flattering.

Either way, I know what my sons are getting for Christmas this year!

Elephant of Love

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Photo of African elephants by Gorgo, Wikimedia Commons

My youngest graduated high school this month. The milestone has triggered some reminiscing in me. He was the one they had to cut from my belly when he was born eighteen years ago. Before the doctors lifted him out of that airless world, the anesthesiologist said, “Now, you’ll feel like an elephant is sitting on your stomach.”

I was glad for the warning because that’s exactly what it felt like – a deep pressure that I never experienced before and hoped never to again.

Despite his rough start, we both recovered quickly. The nurses were charmed by his big blue eyes and dark hair. They also liked that he was loud. “He’s a good baby,” they said. “He’ll always let you know when he wants something.” They joked that it was hard to keep diapers on him because, “Your baby has no butt!”

My son’s roars and spunky nature garnered him the nickname of “Tigger,” after the bouncy stuffed animal from the Winnie the Pooh books. He met his big brother and seamlessly fit into our small family.

He took his first trip at four months when I had to go to New Orleans for a work meeting. He wasn’t one of those babies who cries on flights. Instead, he smiled at everyone and had all the stewardesses wrapped around his tiny pinky finger by the time we arrived. He got to ride the St. Charles Streetcar and stay at the Inter-Continental Hotel downtown. Pretty good for a little guy.

He was so cute that sometimes I actually welcomed going away to work because it helped me avoid “cuteness overload.” Just to test whether all his cuteness was in my head or not, when he was two, I entered him in a Cute Baby Contest held at a local mall. Turns out, the judges agreed with me. He won first place for his age group for Prettiest Eyes, and second place overall. He could have advanced to more contests, but he did not enjoy the experience, so I spared him. I had the proof I needed by then, anyway.

On the first day of kindergarten, he was so excited, he ran down the street to the school at the end of our block. Soon, he knew the names of everyone in his classroom, and even those of kids from other classes.

The only pause he gave us growing up was his accident-proneness. Once, he wore his Superman pajamas (complete with red cape) and tried to fly off the basement steps onto the concrete floor below. That did not go as he planned. (Concussion.) Another time he tripped in the kitchen and hit his forehead on the corner of a wooden bench. (Stitches required.) Then when we went to Mexico and were eating at a restaurant in the sand on the first night, he turned quickly and ran his face into one of the poles that supported the hammocks. (No stitches, just lots of crying.)

Weird accidents with other kids happened on the playground and in school. There were black eyes, bruised hands, sprained ankles, and innumerable scrapes. Oh, and I mustn’t forget his third-degree arm burns when a classmate mishandled a hot glue gun.

He kept us busy with swimming lessons, baseball games and soccer practices. His transition to high school seemed to go well at first but he had a hard second year. He became quiet, elusive, moody. He rallied in his third year when he was chosen for the varsity soccer team and was required to keep his grades up to play. He finished his senior year as one of three co-captains of the team.

Even though a torn knee ligament sidelined him for part of the season, he earned the title of “most dedicated” player. And when he returned to play, he completed the most beautiful head shot into the net that I have ever seen.

Now, he has a long-term lady friend, a job, and he’s poised on the cusp of a new life stage. We are having a graduation party for him this weekend, and I expect that sometimes during it a certain feeling will overtake me — a deep pressure in my gut that I hoped never to feel again.

But I will be glad to feel it, because this time, it’s the big-assed elephant of love.

Here’s to you, my son.

When is a Bridge a Bong?

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The Bong Bridge as seen from the water.

I was giving directions to an out-of-town acquaintance the other day when I told them they’d need to drive over the Bong Bridge. They looked at me, wide-eyed, and started snickering.

Yes, it’s true. In Duluth-Superior we have a bridge by the name of Bong. The Richard I. Bong Memorial Bridge, to be exact. It’s named after a World War II flying ace, but out-of-towners and the uninitiated don’t know that. The name always provokes some kind of reaction.

I was away at college when the bridge was being built and named in the early 1980s. Whenever I returned home and drove on the freeway down the hill into town, I would notice more bridge pillars in the harbor as it slowly came into being. I can’t recall if there was a lot of controversy about the name, but I assume there must have been some.

Although the name is a nice tribute to a local war hero, the people who thought up the name HAD to know it would get shortened to just “Bong Bridge” or just “Bong” in the local vernacular. After all, we have another bridge that spans the same body of water, which is named after John A. Blatnik. Everybody just calls it the “Blatnik.”

“Take the Blatnik to Superior,” we say. Now we can also say, “Take the Bong to Superior.” Most locals know that won’t get you into trouble with the law.

It’s just such a questionable name. I can’t believe it got through the transportation department’s approval process. But Richard Bong must have had a big fan club that overwhelmed common sense when it came to bridge names.

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A mural of Richard Bong and his wife Marge from the Bong Museum in Superior.

We even have a Bong Museum. But it doesn’t contain what you think it might. Not even one. I know. I checked.

The name does make the Bong Bridge easy to remember, I’ll say that for it. While it’s confusing having two bridges that start with a “B” in the area, differentiating between them is easy. The Blatnik is the bridge closest to Lake Superior and it’s named for a guy. Then there’s the other bridge farther inland that’s named for drug paraphernalia.

Maybe the name was a good idea, after all?

The Fox is Guarding the Henhouse in America

It was with great dismay that I read about the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator’s removal of nine members of from its scientific review board. The board in question (the Board of Scientific Counselors, or BOSC for short) is one of two that help the agency determine what issues need its attention and funding.

The dismissals hit close to home because I used to be on the BOSC. From 2010-2013 I served as a communications advisor to the EPA on this board.

I know, you’re looking at me and saying, “Really – you?” Yes me. I know I don’t seem like a high-powered research scientist because I am so fun, witty, and seemingly non-scientific. And besides, I get chased by turkeys and attacked by squirrels. But YES, I really was appointed to this influential federal committee not long ago.

The main point I tried to make to the EPA during my tenure was that they didn’t have public communications components to their programs, and that they needed them. I suspect this is one reason why more people aren’t even more upset about some of the changes President Trump has recently made or proposed for the agency. People don’t understand what the agency really does (other than fining corporations for pollution violations), so they don’t understand the significance of Trump’s actions.

Yesterday’s New York Times article says that administrator Pruitt plans on replacing the ousted members with people who represent industries that are regulated by the EPA. Pruitt spokesman, J. P. Freire said, “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community.”

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My favorite name tag mistake of all time came from one of my BOSC meetings. The name tag makers just assumed I was a Ph.D. because everyone else on the committee is a Ph.D. Alas, I am only a “master.”

This almost sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But think about it. These people will be in a position of power to change things. Maybe they don’t like all the regulations their corporations are subject to. Gee, maybe they could fix that.

Let’s say the EPA is like a bank — a bank made up of natural resources, if you will. Corporations use natural resources to make their products. The EPA is in charge of protecting the health of natural resources – rather like how a bank vault protects the money from bank robbers. Take the vault away, and what do you have? Free money for bank robbers!

Allowing corporations to control the agency that regulates natural resources is like allowing bank robbers on the board of trustees for your bank. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me. It’s the old “fox guarding the henhouse” deal.

Write your congressional representatives, please. Write letters to the editor. Bang on a drum. March in the streets. I’m going to.

Then I’m going to take all my money out of the bank and bury it in the back yard.

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.

Aruban Dreams (Part 1)

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Conchi Natural Pool, Aruba.

A friend and I meandered down much closer to the equator last week to the Dutch isle of Aruba. The trip was my New Year’s Resolution and a chance to indulge my isle-o-philia. All I can say is that if every resolution was this amazing to fulfill, more people would make good on them instead of pooping out three weeks into the New Year. Enough of resolutions to lose weight or exercise more. Bah! People should make pleasurable and dreamy resolutions instead. Remember that for next year.

Our first island adventure was the most perilous undertaking of our week-long trip. We decided to visit the island’s one national park (Arikok National Park) to explore a natural ocean pool and then some caves.

The pool was our first destination. It’s located on the coastline, formed by a ring of high rocks that keep out the waves. Periodically, a wave overtops the rocks and fills the pool with more water. It’s known for good snorkeling, and an upper pool flows into the main pool via a small waterfall. Most people travel there by reserving a Jeep or 4×4 ATV. My friend and I? We decided to walk.

I had read somewhere that it only took a half-hour to hike from the park entrance to the pool. My friend and I didn’t need no stinkin’ 4×4 to get us there. That’s what feet are for. Besides, we wanted to get a feel for what the island is really like.

Heh heh. What the island is like is a desert. Hot. With no shade from the equatorial sun. And there are rattlesnakes. But I am getting ahead of myself.

At the park visitor center the attendant told us it actually takes an hour-and-a-half to hike to the pool. (I figured out later that the info I had read started from a different location – the Shete Entrance.) Plus, we would be walking up a 600-foot mountain on the way there.

My friend and I looked at each other, a bit taken aback. But we are healthy 50-something-year-olds from Minnesota. Above average, and all that. We decided we could do it. We were wearing athletic shoes and sunscreen. Our water bottles were full. We were ready to roll.

Then he told us the pool was closed due to high waves.

My friend and I looked at each other again. This was a more serious setback. But we decided we had come this far, we might as well go see the pool. I encouraged my friend to still bring her swimsuit, just in case conditions were really better at the pool than the attendant thought.

Off among the cacti we went. Unlike what the park map shows, there is no separate hiking trail from the Jeep trail, so we had to make way for all the lazy people who opted for motors. Almost all of them stopped and asked us if we were okay, subtly gloating that they were riding and we were walking. We assured them we were fine. We smiled and waved them on their way.

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The “trail” to the pool.

Halfway up the mountain we met a family on their way down. The top of the mountain was as far as they got, and they decided that was enough. Especially after they saw the rattlesnakes (one was alive and rattling a warning four feet away from the family’s mom, the other was dead in the road).

I could feel my friend looking at me questioningly again, but I ignored her, determined not to let a few rattlesnakes deter us.

The view from the top of the mountain was great. It was easy to see how necessary the park is for preserving wild natural space on the 20-mile-long island – houses crowded everywhere but within the park’s borders.

The rest of the trail followed a sloping plateau and then made a steep drop to the ocean. Soon, we were able to see our destination, which made the rest of the hike easier — plus the fact that no rattlesnakes crossed our path.

As we neared the steps leading down to the pool, we could clearly see people swimming in it. Yes, waves were overtopping the protective rocks and washing into the pool, but it didn’t look like a life-threatening situation.

DSC03890My friend and I changed into our suits, thankful that we brought them and that we’d soon be going for a swim. We clambered over the rocks and slid down an algae-covered formation into the pool with half a dozen other people.

It was heaven, punctuated by anxious moments when a wave would wash into the pool. My friend got thrown around a bit by one wave, but I was luckier.

While we were swimming, my mind jumped ahead to the hike back out. I wasn’t looking forward to spending another hour-plus tromping through the desert. All my foot-powered bravado seemed to melt away into the sea. When one of our poolmates mentioned to us that he and his girlfriend had a Jeep with room for two more, I was the first to take him up on the offer.

My friend looked at me again, this time in thankful wonderment. I suspect she couldn’t believe that I changed my mind about the whole foot-powered thing. But heck, we were on vacation, not a forced death march.

So thank you, Bobbie and Samantha from New Jersey, for driving us back out to our car. Along the way, we saw another duo of women walking, and of course, we felt sorry for them. We joked that we should stop and ask them if they were okay.

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancake Distraction

20170304_102544Never mind that President Donald Trump just zeroed out the agency I work for in his proposed federal budget. (I work for the Sea Grant Program under NOAA.) I realized I haven’t shared a recipe lately. Here’s a wheat- and corn-free version of blueberry buttermilk pancakes. I’d much rather think about them than Donald Trump’s budget.

If I let The Donald freak me out too much, he wins. I won’t let him win. But I will tell my friends to write their congressional representatives, and I’m sure I’ll blog more about this situation later. (Oh lucky readers, you!) In the meantime, I’ll cook some luscious pancakes in the sunshine on a weekend morning.

20170304_102057This recipe makes a lot of pancakes – enough for 4-6 people. If you’re sensitive to wheat, make sure to use vanilla extract that contains no grain alcohol. I make mine by soaking several vanilla beans in a bottle of potato vodka for a few weeks. For the gluten-free flour mix, I use Bob’s Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free baking flour.

And if you’re sensitive to corn products, make sure the buttermilk you buy doesn’t have a lot of extra ingredients added to it (like “natural flavor,” which can be secret code for corn syrup). Also, don’t use table salt. It usually has cornstarch added to it to make it flow more smoothly. Use sea salt instead.

Enjoy!

Blueberry Buttermilk Pancakes

2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk
4 T canola oil
1 cup rice flour
1-1/4 cups gluten-free flour mix
2 T cane sugar
½ t cream of tartar
1 t baking soda
1 t sea salt
1 t vanilla
1+ cup blueberries

Whisk eggs. Add remaining ingredients (except blueberries) in the order listed and whisk until smooth. Stir in blueberries.

Pour batter onto hot griddle. Turn pancakes as soon as they are puffed and full of bubbles, but before the bubbles break. Bake other side until golden brown.

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This recipe makes A LOT of pancakes.