Drinking like a True Detective

A person can waste a lot of time on the Internet, especially on Facebook. But it is also an easy and fun way to stay in touch with friends and relatives. I love seeing what my grandkids or nieces and nephews are doing—you can literally see kids growing up online.

I really like being able to stay in touch with my sister in Missouri; my friends in Wisconsin, Illinois, Alaska and Florida; my cousins on the Iron Range and former co-workers across the country. The distance doesn’t seem so far when we touch bases with notes and photos—and jokes.

I really like the little inspirational quotes and silly thoughts that get posted and shared. It tickles me when my cousin on the Iron Range shares the same joke as my friend in Florida. It is amazing how fast things can travel on the Internet!

That happened this week with a silly coffee-themed post. The post included a simple black and white line sketch of a coffee cup and the declaration, “I can’t stop drinking the coffee… If I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing and the walking and the words-putting-into-sentence doing.”

Me, drinking from my Big Hug Mug. Priceless!

Me, drinking from my Big Hug Mug. Priceless!

It made me laugh out loud—LOL— for the folks that like using the Internet abbreviations for everything. And it helped me make the decision about my topic for Unorganized Territory this week.

I was waffling over writing about coffee cups again—my theme in the last two columns. I didn’t set out to write a trio of essays about coffee mugs, but somehow the topic keeps coming to mind. I think this will be the last column on coffee cups, but I can’t promise—longtime readers may remember a string of columns about pink flip-flops a few years ago.

This week I’m looking at my “Big Hug Mug” cup again. During the week I’ve used several other cups—my cute Tazmanian Devil mug, my souvenir Tower of London cup, and the pretty “Grandma” mug with the names of all five grandkids, a present from my dear sister-in-law.

I have not used my Big Hug Mug lately. Thanks to the Internet, I’m a bit nervous about using—and breaking it. When I wrote the first column I searched the Internet for information about the Big Hug Mug. I know how and when I got mine, but I wanted to confirm my memory. Was it an FTD Floral campaign? Was it popular in the 1980s? Yes and yes.

However, I was amazed to learn that the Big Hug Mug is in great demand, thanks to an earlier appearance in a Matthew McConaughey HBO movie True Detective. I have never watched True Detective, but according to the Internet, a Big Hug Mug sits on the table where McConaughey’s character Rustin “Rust” Cohle writes up his reports. Also according to the Internet, unlike Otis in Chicago Fire, McConaughey’s character is never seen actually drinking from the mug.

But that does not stop fans of the movie from wanting their own Big Hug Mugs. They are available on Ebay at premium prices—google it yourself and you can see the promotion, “Drink coffee like a True Detective.”

There is one on Ebay, described as “Excellent, Near-Flawless Condition. No Chips, Scratches or Stains. Vivid Color” with bids currently reaching $83. According to blogger Hugh Merwin on GrubStreet.com, who also wrote a column about the Big Hug Mug, a mug recently sold for $97.

That is far more than what my friends paid for my original Big Hug Mug with the flowers and teddy bear that came with it. And it creates a little temptation for me. Should I sell my Big Hug Mug? If demand is high and quantity is low, the asking price for the funky orange mug will only increase. Should I put it away in another cupboard where it is safe from breakage?

I didn’t consider selling my Big Hug Mug for long. The going rate is not worth the time and effort to take a photo, post it to Ebay, oversee the bidding, and then package and mail it to a buyer. But more important than not having time to be an Internet vendor is the sentimental value of the cup.

It was sent to me at a time when I was feeling sick and sad. It brightened my day then and every time I pull it out of the cupboard it makes me feel good again. Knowing that it is worth $80 or so adds to the enjoyment. It’s crazy that someone will spend that much for a coffee cup, so it makes me laugh.

But truly, knowing that someone cares is what makes the Big Hug Mug precious. That is something money can’t buy.


Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde

A cup of caring

My big hug mug.

My big hug mug.

I have an odd assortment of coffee cups in my kitchen cupboard. I have giant mugs given to me by friends with quote and quips, such a “Too much of a good thing is… Wonderful.” I have pretty souvenir mugs from Grand Marais, Grand Portage and all over Cook County. I have one of local potter Joan Farnam’s amazing rattle mugs. I have cups from all over the United States and several from Europe—an Eiffel Tower mug from Paris and a set of little mulled wine (Gluhwein) cups from the Bad Wimpfen Christmas Market in Germany.

I don’t have a favorite—I rotate which mug I use for my morning coffee because I like them all. Amongst all the favorites are two peach colored mugs emblazoned with rounded red letters reading “Big Hug Mug.” The mugs have great sentimental value for me. Both held a bouquet that was sent to me when I was suffering some medical problems. One from a cousin and then, a few years later when I faced another issue, from friends at work. Both made me smile when I received them.

I still smile when I reach into the cupboard and find one of those cups front and center. I think of the people who cared enough to send me a big hug via a bouquet of flowers when I was going through difficult times.

I hadn’t really thought much about where the “Big Hug Mug” came from and whether it was a massproduced item. Over the years I’ve never seen any others. But recently I was watching TV with my husband Chuck and there was my “Big Hug Mug”!

We were watching Chicago Fire, one of our favorite programs, and there, at the table that the firefighters sit around to eat and debate various firehouse issues, was the distinctive orange mug. It has actually been in a number of episodes. The first time I saw it, the mug was just sitting on the table amongst other mugs. But on a subsequent show, one of the firefighters—Otis played by Yuri Sardarov— is drinking from the “Big Hug Mug.”

I don’t know why it tickled me so much, but it did. It was one of those “It’s a small world” moments. It was as if I have a connection with those Chicago firefighters.

It doesn’t seem entirely impossible. Chicago Fire is one of those programs that is following the current trend of having “crossover” episodes. From Chicago Fire came a spinoff TV show, Chicago PD. Firefighters and cops move back and forth between the two shows, working on cases together and of course, to keep the show interesting dating!

In recent weeks there was an expanded crossover— Chicago Fire firefighters stumbled on a sex ring and after calling in the Chicago PD cops, they contacted a special crime victims unit from another state for help. That brought in characters from New York, from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

I know, it’s a bit of a stretch that these characters from a fire hall and a police station in a big city like Chicago get to know one another, let alone detectives from New York. But I like it. It seems like real life to me. Real people have “It’s a small world” occurrences all the time.

It’s like going to Duluth for a doctor appointment or shopping and seeing people from Cook County there. It’s like our North Shore snowbirds who run into one another at the grocery store in Arizona and Florida.

And seeing one of my favorite mugs on one of my favorite TV programs is just another of those “small world” incidents. A very silly one. But once again, the “Big Hug Mug” brought a smile.


For today and its blessings, I owe the world an attitude of gratitude.

Clarence E. Hodges

Skol for the stadium roof

VikingsSince it is nearly Thanksgiving, one of the biggest football-game-watching days of the year, I’m going to write about how grateful I am that the Minnesota Vikings stadium currently under construction has a roof.

I know, I just raised the ire of half of the Cook County News-Herald readership. I know there are many people who don’t think the State of Minnesota should be paying a portion of the $975 million price tag, taxing us all to pay for it.

I don’t necessarily disagree, especially in light of news that was announced as I sat down to write this week’s Unorganized Territory. Yet another Viking player—linebacker Erin Henderson—has been arrested. Henderson has not yet been charged, but the case is under investigation by the Eden Prairie Police Department. It appears he may be charged with driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance.

Yes, he is innocent until proven guilty, but looking at the Vikings’ recent history, it doesn’t look good for Henderson or the team.

Perhaps they don’t deserve a new stadium. Certainly not one built in part by our tax dollars. But that is not the point of this week’s column. I’m not going to debate the Vikings’ playing ability or talk about their horrible moral standards. Although it is hard not to since according to the New York Times Upshot feature which analyzes the arrest records of NFL players, the Minnesota Vikings have had the most players arrested since 2000. A total of 44 Viking players have been arrested for crimes ranging from drug possession, driving under the influence, reckless driving and domestic violence.

Definitely not something to shout Skol over.

However, it is a moot point. The stadium is being built and one hopes that it will be used by players that can be decent role models for Minnesota’s young people.

But watching football with my husband Chuck over the weekend, I realized I am grateful that Viking management chose reason over false pride. We live in Minnesota. We need roofs over our heads and heaters keeping us from freezing. It’s not a sign of strength to be able to endure frigid cold for no reason; it’s a sign of stupidity.

Watching our Wisconsin rivals shivering in the stands, bundled in so many layers they can barely move, cheering on their beloved Green Bay Packers, makes me laugh. The announcers encourage football fans to come to Green Bay to watch a game. There is no experience like it, they say, speaking fondly of the Packers’ glory days. The announcers wax poetic about the proud tradition of Bart Starr and Coach Vince Lombardi and Packers founder and long-time head coach, Earl “Curly” Lambeau.

I find it very hard to believe that if Coach Lambeau had had the money to build a roof over that original stadium back in 1955, he wouldn’t have done it. I think Bart Starr and the other Packers who played in the historic “Ice Bowl” would have just as happily played in a heated arena.

Other teams stubbornly hold onto the tradition of open air stadiums—the New England Patriots, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. Watching the Packers playing last weekend and seeing the Buffalo Bills clearing snow from their stadium for their next game makes me grateful that Minnesota has a little more sense.

Ideally, the new Viking stadium would have a retractable roof like the ones that are home to the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts. But that would drive up the building costs even more and up our taxes further. No, I think the Minnesota Vikings franchise made a good choice in its stadium design.

Its choice of players? The jury is still out on that.

The secret is to work less as
individuals and more as a
team. As a coach, I play not
my eleven best, but my best

Knute Rockne

Time to prove it

Okay the election is over and it is time for our politicians to walk the talk. It’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is. It’s time to stop spouting platitudes like these and actually get something done.

If any local government officials want to take this message to heart, that is great, but I’m thinking primarily about our federal representatives.

Congressman Rick Nolan at Devil Track Landing when he visited in August 2014.

Congressman Rick Nolan at Devil Track Landing when he visited in August 2014.

I’ve been waiting for the campaigning to be over to see what our newly reelected Congressman Rick Nolan does with the resolution he introduced in the waning days of the last session of the House of Representatives. His Restore Democracy resolution was a key piece of his campaign message. While touring the state to gather votes, he said time and again that Congress has become a very “undemocratic institution.”

I heard him talking about the unproductivity of the current Congress when he visited Cook County in August. I think he was sincere in his frustration with the way the system currently works. At that time he said most congressional representatives spend hours every week in call centers, fundraising for the next campaign.

Nolan said things in Washington, D.C. had changed drastically from when he served as Minnesota representative 30 years ago. He said in his early days as a legislator there was a spirit of bipartisan cooperation—and things got done.

Nolan said in those days bills were read thoroughly and discussed and debated in committees, with 7 – 8,000 hearings and subcommittees each year. In that August meeting in Cook County, Nolan said the 113th Congress had only 500 committee meetings. He said what that means is that all the members of Congress don’t get a chance to share their concerns or offer suggestions. He said bills are brought to the House floor to be voted on without having been read by more than a handful of representatives.

He summed up the discussion at the August luncheon with a statement he repeated over and over as he worked his way across the district campaigning, “We’ve got to change the way we do politics in this country if we want a Congress that works and a government that isn’t broken.”

Nolan’s Restore Democracy resolution is a start. The resolution has four tenets: 1.) The House and Senate will work five days a week, on the same schedule; 2.) Every bill brought to the House floor will have an ‘open rule’ allowing for amendments and full debate; 3.) No bill or resolution can be brought to the House floor without first being heard in committee, with amendments permitted and voted on before the bill is passed, and 4.) The House can consider no conference committee report unless the committee has met at least three times with all members present and resolved all differences by vote. The conference report must be available to all members at least 72 hours before the vote.

The resolution introduces common sense ideas that should be in place. The problem is that it is only a resolution, not a bill. Hopefully Nolan is serious and he pushes ahead with the Restore Democracy Act. Hopefully he finds likeminded representatives who will co-sponsor the bill and move it through committee and to the Senate.

Taking a look www.Congress.Gov is disheartening. The website lists hundreds of bills that are in limbo.

Important pieces of legislation that would benefit American citizens such as HR 2692 Saving America’s Pollinators Act of 2013, which would restrict the use of neonicotinoid insecticides and evaluate the health of America’s bees or HR 2485 Helping Homeless Veterans Act of 2013, which would fund the Department of Veterans Affairs counseling and veteran reintegration programs.

There are bills that could save tax dollars such as HR 2643 Stay in Place, Cut the Waste Act of 2013, which would require federal agencies to reduce travel expenses by the use of video conferencing.

And there are bills that would directly benefit families, such as HR 1527 Student Loan Interest Deduction Act of 2013, which would increase the tax deduction for interest paid on education loans or HR 769 Child Tax Credit Permanency Act of 2013 which would make permanent the child tax credit and would require an annual inflation adjustment.

There are many, many, more. All important. All waiting for our legislators to move forward. It’s time for Congressman Nolan and his colleagues—on both sides of the aisle—to fulfill those campaign promises.

Can any of you seriously say
the Bill of Rights could get
through Congress today?
It wouldn’t even get out of

F. Lee Bailey

Where are We in November?


Do you know where the News-Herald was when this photo was taken? Give it a guess!

Do you know where the News-Herald was when this photo was taken? Give it a guess!

Cook County News-Herald staffers love to get out and about the county. So we decided, while we are traveling the highway and bushwhacking through the forest, to take pictures to see if our readers can guess WHERE ARE WE?

Last month’s photo was apparently too tough. We had no correct entries. The picture was of a new bridge over Swamp Creek in Hovland—on the Hovland Woods ATV trail. Try your luck! Take a look at the November photo. If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer.

The location will be announced next month and a winner will be drawn from all the correct answers. Whoever is drawn will win a free one-year subscription to the Cook County News-Herald (a $30 value). Good luck!

Answer to the November WHERE ARE WE? must be received by December 15, 2014.

Send your entry to:
Cook County News-Herald
PO Box 757
Grand Marais MN 55604

Drop it by our office at: 15 First Avenue West
Fax: 218-387-9500
email: starnews@boreal.org
Questions? 218-387-9100

The power of one vote

I had a lot of fun on Election Night 2014 on air with Jay Andersen and Roger Linehan on WTIP Community Radio. I don’t know how I ended up being part of the WTIP election news team, but I have enjoyed taking part for a few years now.

I hope listeners did too. We know at least one person was tuned in—Sherrie Lindskog who brought us some delicious bread pudding with a vanilla cream sauce. Thanks, Sherrie!

I think we do make a good team. Jay and Roger are much more in tune with the regional and national races and the ballot measures across the United States. They are more hard news—I’m there to lighten the mood a bit.

I fill in the slow spots with information on our local electoral process. I turn to Cook County Auditor Braidy Powers for that information. Braidy is our “go-to” guy for many things, but especially inquiries on elections or financial questions.

So he was happy to provide replies to my questions about precinct numbers and voter registration. I asked how many election judges are there and who are they? Braidy gave me a complete list so I could give a shout out to them on the radio. Of course they were hard at work counting ballots, so they likely didn’t hear me. But I do appreciate their efforts.

Braidy was able to answer the question of whether election judges are paid—yes they are, $10 an hour and mileage.

Asked what the county saves by conducting mail ballots, Braidy had historical data on the last election before mail balloting began in 1994. That election process cost the county $49,175. The next election, with mail ballots in 1996, cost $38,702—a savings of $10,473. However, answer man Braidy said that does not factor in the cost of setting up polling places to be in accordance with today’s handicap accessible guidelines and the installation of new vote-counting technology.

Good information. I also try to lighten the election evening reporting with some “color”— historical voting trivia or silly quotes from politicians or about politicians.

One of the best historical tidbits I found while researching elections this year was a Cook County referendum item in 1933. An article in the September 14, 1933 issue of the Cook County News-Herald reported that the voters of Cook County went to the polls that Tuesday to indicate their choice on the return of the old fashioned saloon. The article went on to list how each township voted—“wet or dry.”

Interestingly, the now defunct township of Mineral Center was tied with 13 votes for “wet” and 13 votes for “dry.” None of the townships voted in favor of staying “dry” and Colvill, it was noted had 16 votes for “wet” and 0 for “dry.”

The measure to bring back the saloon passed in the county, by a vote of 42 to 145.

Some very silly election trivia. But no sillier than the quote I found attributed to Abraham Lincoln. I have been unable to authenticate when and where Lincoln spoke the words, so I’m stressing that it is attributed to him. But it’s a great quote on elections, no matter who said it:

“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Vote-Here-DirectionalThis has never been truer than in this election. At press time the county is awaiting the outcome of a tie election. One more vote for one of the east end candidates—Kristin DeArruda Wharton or Frank Moe—and that Commissioner District election would be over. Although a recount would have still been possible, it is now undoubtedly going to happen. And the candidates must suffer for a few more days of wondering if they’ve won or not.

The west end of the county as well—only five votes separate the two candidates, Bruce Martinson and Commissioner-elect Ginny Storlie. If six more people had cast their vote would there be a different outcome?

We need to remember this when the next election rolls around. It’s easy to think your vote doesn’t count in state and national elections where it is one of many among thousands. But it does. One vote by one vote, the tally is counted.

And as you can see in the microcosm of America that is Cook County, one vote truly does count.

There’s no trick to being a
humorist when you have the whole
government working for you.
Will Rogers

Scary stuff to think about

By the time readers pick up this issue of the Cook County News-Herald, Halloween will be over. All of the little princesses and pirates, cuddly critters and creepy creatures, and ghosts and goblins will be done with parties and treat gathering. The silly spooky stuff is done and it’s time to get back to reality.

And unfortunately, reality for today’s kids can be a bit scary, with the threat of terrorists and strange diseases and children gone missing. I don’t remember having so much to worry about when I was a kid.

We talk about this a lot, the people that I grew up with. With them, I recall leaving the house early in the morning and wandering far from home. I grew up on the west end of County Road 7—the “old highway”—and I remember heading to a cousin’s or friend’s house a half mile away or more and playing there for hours. We rode our bikes all over the back roads never worrying about “stranger danger.”

We didn’t worry much about getting sick with some strange respiratory influenza or an exotic illness carried from a Third World Country. I’m fortunately not old enough to really have had to worry about polio or measles. I grew up in a relatively healthy time for American children.

Back then 9/11 was just a date in mid-September. The last time the United States had been attacked was in 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was something we read about in history books. It wasn’t something that grownups talked about in sorrowful voices.

I do remember worrying about nuclear war, which seems odd I know, given my somewhat idyllic childhood. But as I’ve mentioned before in Unorganized Territory, it was because of those scary yellow and black FALL-OUT SHELTER signs at the school and courthouse—and the educational component that went with them.

I remember sitting in school hearing the reassurance that even if Russia attacked us with atomic weapons, it would not destroy the planet. It wouldn’t blow the earth apart or kill us all with radioactivity.

Civil_Defense_Fallout_Shelter_SignNo, only those in the immediate vicinity—in the area that could see the giant mushroom cloud explosion—would suffer the horrific consequences. And supposedly, our Civil Defense instructor Mr. Knowlton told us, we would be okay if we made it to one of those Fall-Out Shelters.

I remember clearly the instructions in case we couldn’t get to a shelter. Shield yourself in any way you can—in a basement or just a ditch. To keep from getting tossed about or hit by flying objects, lie flat on the ground or press up against the wall. Hide your face in the crook of your arm, we were advised, to protect ourselves from flash burns.

Of course there were a number of suggestions for how to cope with the after effects of nuclear war and how we would survive in the bomb shelter—the scary, narrow, cinderblock hallway in the high school with solid wood doors to keep us “safe.”

I shudder to think about it— locked in that tight space with the entire student body, not knowing if my family had made it to the only other Fall-Out Shelter I knew of at the courthouse. Not knowing how long we would have to stay there or what awaited us when we emerged.

Scary stuff for a kid, but it was easily put out of mind—unless I had to hang out in that creepy hallway for some reason.

But nowadays, kids are constantly being reminded of the possible dangers around them. We don’t dare let them walk or bike to a friend’s house alone without checking in the minute they arrive. Every year we remember 9/11—as we should—but it’s scary for kids to think that could happen again. They are bombarded with images of illnesses spreading across the United States such as Enterovirus—or now, Ebola.

And children have their fears reinforced—as I did—by disaster drills at schools. At school board meetings, Superintendent Beth Schwarz—doing her due diligence—informs the school about safety drills. Instead of just fire drills, schools are now required to act out a host of other scenarios. At a meeting last year, Superintendent Schwarz informed the school board that School District 166 had completed nine fire drills, one relocation drill to Bethlehem Lutheran Church, a tornado drill and five lock-down drills.

The lock-down drill is perhaps the most frightening event, practicing for a dangerous intruder on the school campus.

Schwarz recently reported on another lock-down drill, explaining that classroom doors are equipped with devices that can be set to allow easy access most of the time, but can allow for complete lockdown of classroom doors instantly in the event of an emergency. During the last drill conducted, Schwarz said it took just 47 seconds to lock down the entire school.

Hearing that brought flashbacks of my elementary—and middle school—bomb shelter fears.

I know practice for these disasters is necessary. It’s good to be prepared for the very worst possible circumstances. I just hope that today’s kids have less vivid imaginations or thicker skin. I hope they don’t spend precious playtime worrying about disaster scenarios and how to respond. I certainly hope they don’t stay awake thinking about it.

And most of all, I wish that none of us had to worry about these things.

Even a minor event in the life
of a child is an event of that child’s
world and thus a world event.
Gaston Bachelard


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