Where are we in April?


Where are We? April 2014Cook County News-Herald staff, like our readers, loves 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?

We thought our March WHERE ARE WE? photo was really easy. The picture was of the rail/hitching post at the Gunflint Horse Park, and now Dog Park, in Grand Marais.

It wasn’’t easy though— — we had no correct guesses! Better luck this month!

Take a look at the April photo. If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer. Mail it to: Cook County News-Herald, PO Box 757, Grand Marais MN 55604.  Fax it to:(218) 387-9500. Or email it to: starnews@boreal.org!

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 April WHERE ARE WE? must be received by May 12, 2014.

Focus on the cross*

It is not very often that Unorganized Territory takes a religious tone. It is not often that I feel driven to talk about my faith. I am kind of a quiet Christian.

I don’t feel that I have the knowledge or expertise to offer a homily. I leave that to the “professionals”— the wonderful cadre of ministerium members who offer insight and inspiration to News-Herald readers each week in our Spiritual Reflections.

It has been a pleasure getting to know the shepherds of our community churches as they take their turn at the “church column.” Every month we see a new face on the column and hear a new voice. Every month I’m inspired by the different interpretations offered of that old, old story.

So I am content to read the spiritual reflections and write about other things, such as politics—local or national, family—kids or grandkids, wildlife—deer or rabbits or some other topic. I tend to keep my thoughts about God to myself.

But occasionally I question whether I should be a quiet Christian or if I should use this bully pulpit to share the peace and strength I gain from prayer and faith in God. I thought about weighing in with my opinion on God and heaven and the afterlife during the spate of atheist versus Christian letters last year, but I didn’t.

However, taking part in the Community Good Friday Cross Walk last week brought the question to mind again.

The Cross Walk is a wonderful tradition. I love that friends and neighbors from nearly all of our North Shore churches take part. It’s amazing that participants come from a variety of faiths, ages, and circumstances to walk together from church to church, offering prayers for each congregation. I am so thankful that on this one day, our community sets aside its political and religious differences and walks together as one.

Unfortunately, I don’t participate in the Cross Walk as a quiet Christian, walking thoughtfully, meditating on the meaning of following the cross.

No, I’m dashing ahead to get a picture of the cross bearer coming down the hill. I’m scrambling onto retaining walls or landscape rocks to get a better angle for a photo. I’m standing off to the side snapping pictures during the prayers. So I’m perhaps not paying as much attention to the sacred words as I should.

But somehow God used the event to get through to me anyway. As I balance atop a pile of rocks to get the best angle, I struggle with finding the focal point for the picture. I want to capture the essence of the event. I hold the shutter halfway down in preparation of taking the perfect photo. I slowly scan the crowd looking for the front of the procession. As I press the shutter, I think to myself, “Focus on the cross.”

Focus on the cross…

Community members take turns leading the procession, carrying the heavy cross through the streets of Grand Marais.

Community members take turns leading the procession, carrying the heavy cross through the streets of Grand Marais.

I think of the first Good Friday, of Jesus, beaten and bloody, carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. What would my role be, if I were there at that first Good Friday?

Would I be there as a member of the press? Recording the torment of the innocent man judged guilty by the mob? Documenting the action on papyrus for the weekly news?

Would I be a member of the mob, swept up in the madness that released Barabas and called for the crucifixion of an innocent man?

Would I feel empathy for Christ’s struggle? Would I help carry the cross? Would I offer a sip of water? Would I follow the carpenter, the teacher, the Prince of Peace?

I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to make that decision. But I can make the decision that I will speak up and let people know that I am a follower of Christ. I won’t do it every week. I’ll leave the spiritual reflections to the professionals.

But I will try to focus on the cross.

+   +   +   +   +   +   +

This is my commandment, that ye
love one another.

Jesus, John 15:12

 * This column was first published in the Cook County News-Herald on April 30, 2011.

Calm in an emergency

I have covered my share of catastrophes—real and pretend—in my 14 years of working for our community newspaper. I’ve learned a lot about fire behavior, prevention and safety. So you wouldn’t think I would be freaked out when a fickle electrical device started smoldering recently.

You would think, with a number of volunteer firefighters in the family—sons, brother, brother-in-law and cousins—some of their calmness about fire would rub off. I’ve watched these dear relatives fight fires numerous times, cringing as they entered smoky buildings or climbed ladders to cut holes in roofs of burning buildings.

Watching local firefighters battling fire is scary enough for me. This June 2013 fire at Devil Track Lake had firefighters from six departments, as well as some U.S. Forest Service personnel on scene.

Watching local firefighters battling fire is scary enough for me. This June 2013 fire at Devil Track Lake had firefighters from six departments, as well as some U.S. Forest Service personnel on scene.

Just last week, April 5, readers saw an article I wrote after watching our fledging volunteer firefighters undergoing fire training, knocking down vehicle fires at the Grand Marais Fire Hall. They were the essence of calm as they muscled hoses around and shot water on live fires.

I’ve also watched our local firefighters giving fire safety presentations in elementary classrooms. It’s fun to watch the kids checking out all the fire gear and absorbing the safety message. I’ve listened enough times that I know exactly what I should do if I somehow encounter a fire—or worse, catch fire. I know that you shouldn’t run around screaming. I’ve heard those excited students shout, “ Stop, drop and roll!” I know that one of the main things to do in case of fire is to remain calm.

I’ve also attended the Cook County Emergency Services Conference nearly every year in its 25-year history. I’ve learned a lot there, not just about fire. The interesting conference covers a wide variety of emergency training. Everything from rope rescue to wilderness orienteering, from water rescue to airbag safety, from vehicle extraction to accident scene triage, from landing zone safety and arson investigations, from radio communications to caring for injured pets, from handling hazardous materials to recognizing meth labs and much, much more has been covered at the conference over the years. Sitting in the emergency services conference, I have come to understand that the key to just about any emergency is being prepared and remaining calm.

Knowing and doing though is a different matter. Fortunately—and unfortunately—I was in the immediate vicinity during my near calamity.

Fortunately because the smoldering didn’t lead to flames.

Unfortunately because the gadget that was sputtering and spitting rancid-smelling black smoke was my hair straightener! I was in the midst of smoothing the kinks out of the right side of my hair— always a somewhat dangerous situation even with a hot iron that is working perfectly—when I heard a strange crackling sound in my ear. As I moved the straightening iron away from my head, I was shocked to see black smoke rolling out and sparks flying.

For a moment I just held it in my hand, perplexed. Then, I realized it was likely going to burst into flame. I dropped it onto the counter and said something impolite. And, not very calmly, I reached over and pulled the electrical cord from the wall extension.

It stopped smoking and sputtering almost instantly, but the stench was horrendous.

Shaking, I let it sit on the counter and cool down for a while. I didn’t want to throw it out right away and start a real fire. It was scary enough having nearly caught my hair on fire.

I shudder to think what could have happened. I frequently turn on the straightener and let it heat up while I do household tasks. What if it had burst into flames, caught the hand towel on fire, and spread to the medicine cabinets and then the curtain and…?

Scary thoughts and a good reminder not to leave electrical devices unattended. I thought of saving this story for the Unorganized Territory that would be published near the National Fire Protection Association’s Fire Prevention Week, but that is not until next October. By then, I would have forgotten the frightening experience. So I thought I’d share the reminder now.

It is timely anyway, because it made me think a bit about the well trained emergency responders who would come if my house caught fire or if I had been burned by the errant hot iron.

I’m looking forward to this year’s Emergency Management Conference, which will be held April 25-26, where a lot of these folks will gather. It will give me a chance to say “thanks” to all of our hardworking emergency responders.

And it will give me a chance to learn more about staying calm—or at least trying to stay calm!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

It’s what you learn after
you know it all that counts.

Coach John Wooden

April brings oobleck

Regular readers know that I like winter. I enjoy watching snow falling on the trees and shrubs along my driveway, turning it into a Currier and Ives scene. I like snowshoeing and snowmobiling and watching my grandchildren ski. I admire the frost pictures on my windows and the lovely way snow glistens like glitter in the bright sun.

I like how refreshing it is to step outside on a cold day. And I love how good it feels to come back inside to warm up. I’m proud that I know how to layer appropriately so I don’t get cold when the Polar Vortex passes through.

We seemed to have more than our share of bitterly cold days this year. Although this winter reminds me a lot of winters when I was growing up here on the North Shore. Now, I’m not going to share some sad tale of having to walk to school in a blizzard…up hill, both ways… but I do remember waiting for the school bus on brutally cold days. I remember our elementary school principal, Mr. James, chasing us out of the school entryway into the cold because we were too noisy.

No, winter wasn’t always fun. But it seemed like we always had enough snow to build snowmen and snow forts and to go sledding. I keep telling people this is a good old-fashioned winter.

Maybe that is why I keep thinking about the games we played and the way we passed time in the winter when I was a kid. The giant snowbanks remind me of many games of “King of the Hill.” The open expanse of our septic drain field tempts me to go make a snow angel like we used to do long ago. Of course many recess hours were spent throwing snowballs at one another, even though it was prohibited.

I also remember a really silly game, one that could only happen in our snowy clime. Some childhood friends and I used to pretend we had somehow been transported to a giant’s world. We were trapped in a giant bowl of ice cream— bright, white, vanilla ice cream! We had to make a hiding place so the giant didn’t find us.

I’ve always liked looking at snow that way, trying to see more than just semi-permanent ground cover. The clumps piled up by the snow plow? Like fluffy white clouds in the sky, if you look at them imaginatively you can see polar bears or dragons.

And then there is the oobleck snow. The most recent snowstorm that passed through brought a downfall of heavy, sticky, snowflakes, reminding me of one of my favorite children’s books, Bartholomew and the Oobleck.    

If April snow was green, it would be exactly like oobleck!

If April snow was green, it would be exactly like oobleck!


The Dr. Seuss story may not be familiar to everyone as it isn’t written in Theodor Geisel’s usual poetic meter. No, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, like its preceding story the 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, isn’t written in Dr. Seuss’s usual poetic style. Instead it is simple prose telling the story of King Derwin of Didd who was tired of rain, sun, fog and snow. The king called on his royal magicians to make something new fall from the sky. What falls is oobleck— sticky green globs that wreak havoc on the kingdom.

In the story, young page boy Bartholomew Huggins comes to the rescue by getting King Derwin to say the magic words—not the words the magicians said to create the oobleck, “Shuffle, Duffle, Muzzle Muff”—but simply “I’m sorry.”

Once Bartholomew convinces King Derwin to say the magic words, the sun comes out and the oobleck melts away. It’s a nice story, ending with the King declaring a holiday to celebrate the four things that should come from the sky—rain, sun, fog and snow.

So although heavy, clumpy, sticky snowflakes are white instead of green, they make me think of the Kingdom of Didd getting gooped up with oobleck.

Oobleck-like snow makes me think of the gentle wisdom of Dr. Seuss via Bartholomew Cubbins. Don’t be arrogant. Say you’re sorry when you’ve made a mistake. And appreciate what you have— even if it’s another five inches of snow.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

The people who are successful are those
who are grateful for everything they have.
Alan Cohen

Seeds of Change

It always bothers me when I look through old issues of the Cook County News-Herald and find articles or photos about women’s activities. Even as recently as the 1970s, hard-working women—workers at the school or hospital or grocery store, members of chamber of commerce or the hospital auxiliary or some other important community organization— are not identified by name. In story after story, photo caption after photo caption, smiling ladies are identified as Mrs. Joe Somebody.

Notice the names of these hard-working women in this Jan. 31, 1963 News-Herald caption. We've come a long way!

Notice the names of these hard-working members of the North Shore Hospital Auxiliary in this Jan. 31, 1963 Cook County News-Herald caption. Thankfully, we’ve come a long way!

Some of these women I recognize and I can say, “Oh that’s Nancy or Barbara.” Others remain unknown.

The women’s movement changed that and I am so very glad. It may seem like a trivial thing, but to me it means a lot. I love my husband dearly and I chose to take his last name when we got married. But I don’t think a woman should have to give up her entire identity when she says, “I do.”

Thanks to the women’s movement, we don’t have to. In fact, we don’t even have to give up our last name. If we wish, we can keep both our old name and new name.

Thanks to the women’s movement, history now records what women do as themselves, not as somebody’s wife.

We owe that change to many brave women who fought for equal rights and I think it’s nice that the month of March is Women’s History Month.

Women’s History Month was introduced by a school district in California in 1978. I’m guessing a Mrs. Joe Somebody, seeking her own identity, started it.

I greatly enjoy the events that take place during Women’s History Month and the stories told about the role women have played in our nation and in their own destiny.

Women like the equal rights pioneers found right here in Minnesota, the Willmar 8.

I had moved away from Minnesota when this group of women bank employees went on strike for equal pay in April 1977. I don’t remember hearing about their struggle.

But I am moved by it now, by the idea of the eight women employees picketing the Citizens’ National Bank in Willmar wearing snowmobile suits in the minus 70 degree wind chill.

For years the women had accepted the fact that the bank paid men more than women. They trained new male employees who then received promotions they were not eligible for. But when the bank hired a young, inexperienced, man to a position and paid him $700 a month—much more than the $400 per month most of the women earned after years of service—the strike began.

They filed a gender-discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

In June 1978, the commission ruled that there was reasonable cause to believe that there had been gender discrimination at the bank. The bank’s board of directors agreed to negotiate but the discussions went nowhere.

In March 1979, the strike ended altogether when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the women had gone on strike for economic reasons, not labor practices. That meant the women would get no back pay and no guarantee that they would get their jobs back.

After two grueling years, with the strike causing stress within marriages and between friends, it seemed to be a loss and the women moved on to other jobs. But it was not really defeat. The struggle that began in the bitter winter planted a seed of hope for other women. Today, the Willmar 8 are saluted for the role they played in bringing the idea of equal work for equal pay to light. They deserve to be remembered during Women’s History Month in March and through the year. These pioneering women, known by their full names—not Mrs. Joe Somebody—made a huge difference for all of us.

~ ~ ~

Even a purely moral act that has
no hope of any immediate and
visible political effect can gradually
and indirectly, over time, gain in
political significance.
Vaclav Havel

The M&M family

At the recent Mush for a Cure event, my 10-year-old granddaughter RaeAnne noticed that many participants had the pink Mush for a Cure logo emblazoned on their T-shirt or sweatshirt. She asked why and I had the opportunity to explain a little about marketing to her.

“It’s because they want us to advertise for them,” I said. I proudly support the Mush for a Cure fundraiser with my brown hooded sweatshirt with its pink dog sled team logo. It’s one of my favorite Cook County events and an amazing fundraiser for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. So I don’t mind advertising for it.

But I admitted to RaeAnne that we go a little overboard in this country, plastering logos on everything from T-shirts and socks to coffee mugs and license plates. To which my clever granddaughter replied, “Like our M&M plates?”

I had to laugh. She was exactly right. Our family is obsessed with M&Ms. We are walking advertisements for M&M, with all kinds of M&M merchandise in our houses.

Well, mostly my house. And it all started with the plates.

It started as a way to keep peace in the household when all of the grandchildren came to visit. Of course we have child-sized dishes at our house. What respectable grandparent doesn’t? But the problem was we had three pretty pink dishes in Hello Kitty or Disney Princess themes and one Sesame Street plate. And five grandchildren.

There were frequent arguments over who got to eat off the Hello Kitty plate and who got the princess plate or the Big Bird plate. And someone was left out entirely and had to eat off a plain old adult plate.

Cups were even more concerning, as two of the grandkids have milk allergies. Again, I had some Hello Kitty cups and a dinosaur cup. Once the cups were filled with milk-free milk and chocolate syrup—how did we know which cup should go to which child? It was a bit of a hassle keeping it all straight.

Being the good grandmother I am, I decided we had to get some new plates and cups for the kids. So I started looking at dishes while out shopping. I thought about buying each grandchild her or his own themed set, but cute little kids’ dish sets can be very expensive. I refused to pay as much for a little plastic plate as I would for a four-piece set of Corel.

Then, in one of those serendipitous moments that happen all too infrequently, I found the perfect set. Amazingly, it was a set of exactly five plates. I don’t know who in the world would want only five plates. Normally dish sets come in even numbers of six or eight place settings. But five plates were perfect for this grandmother.

The plates were also bright and cheerful. Each plate was the color of one of the candies in an M&M package and had an imprint of a smiling M&M character.

I was delighted to also find a set of kids’ cups in the same colors and characters.

After designating an M&M color for each grandchild—yellow for RaeAnne, green for Genevieve, blue for Carter, orange for AnnaBelle, and red for Eloise—we had no more arguments or confusion over whose strawberry Quik was whose.

The parents of my grandchildren thought it was silly at first. The grandkids and I remember what color goes to whom. But there were many meals dished up with questions, “What color is Eloise?” and “Who gets the yellow cup?”

But after a bit of use, everyone got on board with the M&M system. It really does make dinnertime go more smoothly.

Some of the grandkids enjoying waffles on their special M&M plates.

Some of the grandkids enjoying waffles on their special M&M character plates. I like using the misfit Sesame Street plate!

When family members made trips to Las Vegas recently, the M&M craze made the decision of what sort of souvenir to bring home easy as well. They had to make a stop at the M&M store on the strip. If you ever get to Las Vegas, you have to check it out. It has every sort of M&M accessory imaginable. There are giant stuffed M&Ms and tiny M&M charms. There are clothes of all sizes and styles decorated with the quirky M&M characters. And of course there are M&Ms of every color you could ever wish for.

So of course, our travelers brought home M&M souvenirs. We all recently received M&M pens and little plush M&Ms that clip to a backpack.

We are all a little goofy over M&Ms. The grandkids think it is hilarious that “their” characters are on TV. We all gasped with mock horror when RaeAnne’s yellow M&M was threatened by a mobster in the M&M Super Bowl commercial. We all laughed at the thought of her being chopped up and served on top of a bowl of ice cream.

Of course M&M is always looking at new ways to promote itself— remember the 1995 “Vote for your favorite color” ad campaign?—so recently they introduced a new character, a dark brown M&M. For some reason, the grandkids decided that I needed to join them and be this M&M character. The new M&M is a girl and wears glasses and she seems smart, so I don’t mind.

I guess I should have a talk with the grandkids about M&M’s marketing. We apparently are the target demographic for those commercials. I want them to be smart shoppers who know better than to get lured in by clever ads. I want them to enjoy M&Ms candies if they like the taste and not just because M&M says they should with a silly ad campaign. I think they are smart enough to understand.

We’ve already had a few discussions of how we are not like our M&M characters. We are all smarter than a piece of candy that melts in your mouth, not in your hand!

Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.

Mark Twain

The importance of sunshine

I’ve written about the weather a few times in recent weeks. I was beginning to sound like a broken record, so last week I changed the subject and talked about government transparency and the need for legal notices to be published in the newspaper. I’m continuing that theme in Unorganized Territory this week, despite the fact that the title may make readers think otherwise.

The Sunshine Week I’m talking about is not our ever-so-slowly arriving spring weather. Yes, I’ve been enjoying the last few days of sunny skies and relatively warm weather, but I’m talking about a different kind of sunshine. This column is about the role of newspapers in shining a light on government activities to ensure that public officials are not operating in the shadows.

I’m proud to join thousands of other members of the news media, civic groups and nonprofits; library and school officials; and others interested in protecting the public’s right to know in celebrating Sunshine Week on March 16-22.

Sunshine Week was initiated in 2002 by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. What better place to start a sunshine campaign than in the Sunshine State, right? But the Florida association began the campaign not in celebration of its non-winter weather, but to fight what it felt was an attack on open government by the Florida state legislature. The Florida legislature tried to create numerous exemptions to existing open government laws. Because of the increased publicity that resulted from the Florida newspaper association’s campaign, most of those measures failed. Sunshine Week was born.

Several states followed Florida’s lead and in 2003 the American Society of News Editors launched the first national Sunshine Week. It was decided that this non-partisan, non-profit initiative would be celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison’s birthday on March 16.

All across the country there are events in recognition of Sunshine Week. In Washington, D. C., the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled Government and Freedom of Information: Reinvigorating the Freedom of Information Act for the Digital Age on March 11. They hosted discussion by a panel of experts—from the Department of Justice, from OpentheGovernment.org, from the University of Arizona School of Journalism and others.

Also in Washington, D.C., the Newseum, the national newspaper museum, hosted National Freedom of Information Day on March 14, with panel discussions and speakers on topics such as Media Leaks Past and Present.

In Illinois, the Chicago Headline Club hosted the second annual Freedom of Information (FOIA) Fest on March 14, offering a full day of workshops on how to work through the documents to file a FOIA request.

There are numerous other events, in Columbia, Missouri, in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, Indiana. I would love to attend any one of these events.

Since I can’t get away to participate I’m doing my small part to promote Sunshine Week by talking about it in Unorganized Territory. I want to assure the public that all of us at the Cook County News- Herald will continue to serve as watch dogs working to see that the public has access to government records and information, that all meetings of government bodies are fully noticed and open to the public, and that new technology is not used to skirt open meeting laws.

It isn’t always easy. Many times obstacles to providing public data are not intentional. A government employee may ask “Why do you want that information?” out of concern for a coworker or client’s privacy. However, there is very little government data that is truly private and that hesitancy to provide the information could be a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

A government office may upgrade its computer system to a format that is no longer compatible with that of a newspaper— or the average citizen. Intentional or not, that raises a red flag for journalists.

Sometimes government officials intentionally create obstacles. Regularly scheduled meetings are rescheduled, there are no written agendas, or information distributed to government boards is not made available to the public. Meeting minutes are not distributed. Board or committee members arrive at a meeting already well versed in the issue at hand, ready to make a decision—as if there has been discussion before the meeting. All of these are signs that the public is not being fully informed about government activities.

Thanks to the Society of Professional Journalists and its "Your Right To Know" campaign for this cartoon highlighting the importance of open government.

Thanks to the Society of Professional Journalists and its “Your Right To Know” campaign for this cartoon highlighting the importance of open government.

I hope readers stop and think about the importance of open government and freedom of information. And I hope people realize that it is not only the job of the media to ensure that our government officials follow the rules. Sunshine Week organizers explain that the purpose of the week and its events is to “enlighten and empower people to play an active role in government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.”

Government officials need to commit to sharing information, even that which might be discomforting, with the public. Government employees need to be responsive to requests for information in a timely manner. And the public needs to get involved, attending meetings and asking questions of our government representatives. Everyone needs to work together to fulfill the Sunshine Week motto: Open government is good government.


The advancement and diffusion of knowledge is the only guardian of true liberty.

James Madison


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