Working on a special day

I was delighted when I visited Sawtooth Mountain Elementary this week to see the portraits of Dr. King on the wall. This one was made by my grandson Carter.

I was delighted when I visited Sawtooth Mountain Elementary this week to see the portraits of Dr. King on the wall. This one was made by my grandson Carter.

I’m chagrined that I didn’t write a column last week sharing thoughts about Civil Rights and the pivotal role of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. I’m embarrassed to say that I almost let the important day designated to honor Dr. King go by unnoticed.

Thankfully, it is now a national holiday so I was reminded by announcements of numerous commemorative events around the United States, as well as thoughtful (albeit after deadline) submissions to the Cook County News- Herald from our legislative representatives.

My co-workers remembered and we had a discussion over whether or not the News-Herald office should be open or not. The decision to work or not to work was left up to each individual staffer. I didn’t take the day off. Not because I don’t have the utmost respect for Dr. King, but because I actually think one of the best ways to honor Dr. King is by working.

The best and highest way to remember Dr. King is probably by spending the day in some sort of volunteer activity, doing something that builds community. In fact, that is what some of the original organizers of Martin Luther King Day wanted the commemoration to be—a day of service. The holiday was designated and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act, expanding the mission of the holiday as “a day of community service, interracial cooperation and youth anti-violence initiatives.”

Since then, every year meaningful tasks are undertaken to remember the work of Dr. King. All over the United States, there are youth expos and anti-bullying events. There are unity marches and symposiums on nonviolence. Volunteers offer hours of service, picking up trash on roadsides, helping repair homes for low income seniors, collecting donations for food shelves, giving blood, serving at soup kitchens and much more.

Our leaders set the example. President Clinton followed up the signing of the service act with the creation of AmeriCorps in 1994. President George W. Bush spent Martin Luther King holidays lending a hand in rebuilding efforts in Hurricane Katrina-torn New Orleans or visiting schools. This year President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama spent time with kids completing a literacy project at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington. In years past, they’ve served meals at homeless shelters.

All of these are great ways to remember the slain Civil Rights leader. Another way, I learned this week, is to go to school.

I had a nice visit with a local school board member about Martin Luther King Day. I asked if the school had gotten any feedback from people upset because the school does not follow the federal and state holiday policy. Yes, she said, they had heard a few complaints. But not as much in years past as the school has made an effort to let parents and the community know that while school is held, Dr. King’s memory is still honored.

When school is held on the third Monday of the month, the day federally designated as Martin Luther King Day, schools are required to incorporate the story of Dr. King. From kindergarten through high school, on that day or leading up to that day, during history lessons or social studies or English classes, the story of the Civil Rights struggle is woven into the curriculum.

Through age-appropriate lessons, students learn about segregation and desegregation; about voting rights and the Nobel Peace Prize; about bus boycotts and sit-ins and sadly, about the assassination of a great man. Students hear his words of wisdom, such as the famed I Have a Dream speech.

I’m glad the school honors the special holiday. I’m pleased that our school works to bring Dr. King’s legacy to life. And I’m glad that they reminded me to do the same.


Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Putting Christmas away

The gingerbread houses made by my grandkids are long gone, but there are still traces of the holiday around my house!

The gingerbread houses made by my grandkids are long gone, but there are still traces of the holiday around my house!

Once again I’m struggling with putting Christmas away. It seems as if every year something gets left behind when the Christmas decoration boxes get put away. One year it was an Advent calendar; another year my Santa and reindeer salt shaker. It’s always something.

I was aware of this as I put away decorations this year. I was proud of myself that I had started the search and store mission before New Year’s Eve. I boxed up my Christmas village from the bay window, my crèche and the Holy Family, and our tiny Christmas tree. I packed up my Christmas pins and earrings into their pretty red and gold boxes. I found all the gift bags, rolls of wrapping paper, ribbons and put them in the under-the-bed storage box until next year.

It always takes a while to get all my seasonal linens and clothing washed and put away. I have a nice collection of about a dozen Christmas hand towels and dish towels and a couple of table cloths. They end up in the laundry basket over the holiday.

Over the years I also acquired a great assortment of holiday attire, enough that I have an all new wardrobe for a few weeks in December. I have five nice Christmas tops, a couple of sweaters, a couple of festive sweatshirts and a couple of Christmas vests. I also have nine pair of holiday socks. It takes a long time and many loads of laundry before they are all paired up and put away.

So I thought I was doing quite well when I filled up the red-topped Rubbermaid tub that holds all these Christmas clothing items. I had thoroughly swept the entire house and hidden away all signs of the holiday. Operation Christmas over was accomplished.

But, as usual, I was wrong. It took me a few days to notice what was left out this year. It is really ridiculous that I missed it, since it is front and center in my kitchen. I noticed yesterday that my dishwasher was still adorned with the magnet Christmas tree with its cheery gum drop decorations and gingerbread people. Operation Christmas over—failed.

I haven’t taken the flat Christmas tree down yet. Maybe if I leave it in a place of honor on the dishwasher, I’ll fulfill my wish that Christmas could continue. I’m always a little sad when the holidays are over.

I’m not looking forward to the day that the Harbor Park Christmas tree in downtown Grand Marais comes down or when we take down the wreath outside the News-Herald office. Both looked exceptionally lovely today with a dusting of snow. I’m not ready for the stark gray skies and frigid cold weather without the twinkling of Christmas lights.

If my little magnet tree can make the magic last a little longer, it can stay. Operation Christmas continues!

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
Calvin Coolidge

Where are We in January 2015?

Although we thought the December 2014 WHERE ARE WE photo would be really easy, it was not. We only had a handful of guesses and only one correct guess. Only Sue Abrahamsen of Grand Marais knew that our December photo was taken of the Christmas wreath hanging outside the door of the Cook County News-Herald  office. Congratulations, Sue. Now we can take the wreath down!

Try your luck! Take a look at the January photo, which was taken by Kristi Silence of Grand Marais. If you think you know where Kristi was when she took the picture, give us your answer.

You don’t have to be the first to reply. 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!

Return answer by mail, e-mail or fax to: Cook County News-Herald, PO Box 757, Grand Marais MN 55604; email to; or fax to 218-387-9500

Answer to the January WHERE AREWhere are We? 2 WE? must be received by February 17, 2015.


Looking like a newspaper

logoThe Cook County News-Herald is a member of the Minnesota Newspaper Association (MNA). We receive many benefits from our affiliation with MNA—legal guidance, training opportunities and perhaps the most valuable, the opportunity to network with writers, publishers and editors from other newspapers.

We interact not only with folks from MNA, but from across the country through our involvement with the Better Newspaper Contest. Newspaper people from other states serve as judges in the Minnesota Better Newspaper Contest. In years past, our Minnesota papers have been evaluated by news folks from Maryland, Missouri and Iowa.

As a writer at an MNA newspaper, I recently had the privilege of being a judge in the Iowa Better Newspaper Contest. It was an interesting and rewarding experience. Rewarding because I was returning the favor for those newspaper folks that served as judges for the Minnesota Better Newspaper Contest. And delightfully rewarding when I received a $10 gift certificate for Barnes & Noble in the mail in return for my efforts.

It was not an easy task. None of the newspapers I received to review were immediately eliminated. My assignment was to select the top three newspapers in categories such as Breaking News, School Coverage and Editorial Page. I was able to complete the rating on-line, rating the papers from 1-10 with 10 being the best. There were no papers that received less than 8 in my opinion. I was able to narrow the 8 – 20 newspapers in each category to about five issues with a 10 rating.

From there it became a matter of style over substance. The editorial content was excellent, so I was forced to look at how well things were laid out. Were the page jumps broken appropriately? Were there “widows or orphans” in paragraphs and columns? Were the photographs appropriate? After an excruciating process I was able to select a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finisher.

As I evaluated the papers, it was interesting to see the different newspaper header styles, editorial policies, photo layouts and more. Many of the ideas were things I wouldn’t mind seeing in the Cook County News- Herald. Others however, made me think, “Why?”

One of the things that was consistent in the Iowa newspapers was busyness. Nearly every paper had multiple teasers on the headers of all sections with a couple of photos and text of all sizes and colors. There were sidebars with weather and calendar of event items.

To me it is distracting to have all that information crammed into a space with little white space. In discussion with my coworkers, it appears there is consensus on this. When we were talking about this in the office, I blamed the clutter on Sesame Street.

I remember watching my sister and younger friends watching the educational program as it rapidly flashed out “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…ten!” followed by the letter of the day, the word of the week and the color of the minute. Although I enjoyed the puppetry, I recall thinking that this frantic pace was distracting.

Now that frenetic pace has become standard for just about everything around us. We can’t just watch television, we have to have images advertising the next show popping up in the corner or a banner scrolling news across the bottom. We can’t just see ads in a newspaper or a sales flyer, ads are now on bathroom stall doors or painted on the floor of big box stores. It seems that we can’t concentrate on just one thing anymore and the front page of many newspapers seems to reflect that.

News-Herald writer Brian Larsen called it the USA Today syndrome and I have to agree. With the debut of the newspaper that attempts to cover the entire United States in its pages came the idea of snippets of news splashed across the front page.

I don’t care for it and the Iowa newspapers that ended up in my top three reflect that. Of the five fabulous papers that I had to narrow down to 1st, 2nd and 3rd, I selected the ones that had the most white space; the least cluttered pages. I had the opportunity to write comments, to give feedback on why I made my choices. On each of the top three, I complimented the writers and layout folks on allowing some breathing room for readers.

It makes me wonder if the Cook County News Herald will ever win an award in the Minnesota Better Newspaper Contest. We buck the trend of jamming photos or inserting text in every inch of the paper. We like the open space around our Howard Sivertson News-Herald bears. It not only gives our printer space to add an address for the papers being mailed, it gives a reader’s eyes a break.

The Cook County News-Herald is 123 years old. There is a grand tradition of being a newspaper, of looking like a newspaper. As an independently owned, local newspaper we don’t have to jump on the USA Today track.

We get notes from subscribers far and wide every day that tell us they love “our little paper.” Readers stop by the office to say they appreciate our coverage of local events and they enjoy the use of the Sivertson bears in our layout. That means more to us than any newspaper award.

Thanks readers!


Perfection is achieved, not when there
is nothing more to add, but when
there is nothing left to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Where are We in December?

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?

We had a great response to last month’s photo. We had only one incorrect guess of the Gitchi Gami Bike Trail bridge by Lutsen Resort. All the rest of the entrants knew we were at the stonebridge over Mile Creek Road in Grand Portage.

Drawn from all the correct entries was Stephanie Best of Grand Marais. Stephanie wins a one-year subscription to the News-Herald.

Try your luck! Take a look at the December photo. If you think you know where we were when we took the picture, send us your answer. You don’t have to be the first to reply. 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!

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.orgwreath
Questions? 218-387-9100

‘Tis the season to consider grammar

We all stay busy at the Cook County News-Herald office. If we aren’t covering a meeting or event, we are writing about it. If we aren’t writing an article, we are reading background information. If we aren’t reading background information, we’re making follow-up phone calls.

And if we aren’t writing something, we’re working on laying out the paper—finding the right photo, double-checking a date or tweaking a headline. If we’re not contributing to layout, we’re proofreading to make sure that layout and editorial coexist in the boxes and columns that make up the newspaper.

If we’re not proofing, we’re taking a turn at keeping the paper going—getting a subscription change of address from a snowbird or running a credit card for an advertising bill; explaining how to submit an obituary or birth announcement or calendar of event item.

We don’t have much time to sit and visit or to surf the Internet. However, there is one little time wasting habit that we all share. We are all Google Doodle fanatics at the Cook County News-Herald.

Don’t get me wrong. We don’t log onto the Google search engine page every morning to see if there is a Google Doodle to ogle. But in the course of the day at least one person in the office has the need to do some research online. And of course we use Google to look for that information.

And invariably, if we find a Google Doodle posted in the upper left corner of the search engine website, we share.

“Did you see Google today?” we ask one another as we click to see if the Google Doodle “does” anything.

Sometimes the Google Doodle is simply a clever little picture of a historic figure or event interwoven with the Google logo letters. But other times Google offers a little slide show or game like the Jules Verne doodle that lets you float around an ocean deep filled with narwhales, eels and seahorses or the Dr. Who doodle that offers access to different layers of space and time.

It is of course a total waste of time. It’s a needless pause from proofing or from wrestling with writing. But sometimes a person in a busy office needs a break.

And this week we managed to tie our Google Doodle obsession into something that somewhat pertains to the newspaper, grammar.

Unlike most of the Google Doodle offerings which celebrate obscure occasions like the invention of the Rubik’s Cube or St. George’s Day or little known historical figures, such as artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo or paleontologist Mary Anning, this week’s Google Doodles celebrate Christmas with a ‘Tis the Season series.

Each day this week the Google Doodle has featured a holiday scene such as a sleigh full of cheerful cartoon figures being pulled by a reindeer or a happy mustachioed skier.

As with all Google Doodles, clicking on the doodle launches a search about the subject. That leads to more time wasting as the search engine opens up with information on just who was St. Patrick or about the author of the classic children’s tale The Little Prince or some other vital information that we really don’t need to know.

grammar naziHowever, this week, the Google Doodle’s theme of ‘Tis the Season opened up search results considering the appropriate contraction of “It is the Season.”

We were shocked to see that there are some who believe the correct contraction is T’is. Proofer extraordinaire Bill Neil and I agreed that is entirely incorrect. That led to a broader discussion of other contractions and errors that we see every day.

So checking out the Google Doodle this week wasn’t a total waste of time. ‘Tis always the season to talk about grammar!


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke

Gingerbread and fairytale memories

Our 2014 gingerbread houses.

Our 2014 gingerbread houses.

For many years now my house has been the site of some Christmas craziness, the Gingerbread Sleepover. One night in December, my grandkids visit and we spend the afternoon and evening mixing frosting, sorting candies, constructing gingerbread houses and of course, decorating them.

I started this annual event when I had just one granddaughter, RaeAnne, who is now 11 years old. On a whim I picked up a little Wilton gingerbread house kit and invited then 3-year-old Rae over to decorate.

It was so much fun I decided to do it again with both of my little granddaughters, so little Genevieve joined us the next year. I bought a generic gingerbread house kit and it was a disaster. Pieces were broken and the frosting didn’t set properly. But we had fun. I have some adorable photos of the girls eating the house pieces that wouldn’t go together properly.

The tradition has continued and became a little crazier as Carter and AnnaBelle were born in the same year. Four gingerbread houses is a bit chaotic, but thankfully Wilton has a gingerbread house kit with five houses, which I purchased for several years. And with five houses in the kit, I got to create one myself.

Our last grandchild, Eloise, has joined the fun for three years now. Since she was so little she and I worked on her house together. In fact, the year before this one, she fell asleep on the couch and I ended up finishing the decorations on her house. I have an adorable picture of her dozing with “her” house sitting next to her.

This year all of them—even 4-year-old Eloise—were able to do most of the work and all of the decorating on their own. They are very imaginative. We’ve moved on from the Wilton kits and we now use graham crackers to make our own style of houses. I had Peeps gingerbread men, spearmint leaves, pretzel sticks, candy canes, red and green M&Ms, wafer cookies, Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal pieces, and more for decorating. Using the various treats, they made candy cane hats for the Peeps gingerbread men, fancy roofs and chimneys, mailboxes and more. Their creations are delightful decorations on my dining room table.

Because they are all old enough now to not really need that much help, I built my own gingerbread house too. Mine is very traditional looking, not as much fun as the grandkids’ masterpieces. But it was fun. It’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

In addition to creating a gingerbread village, I get them to help me put up some Christmas decorations. I have a Christmas village that goes in my living room bay window. They helped me unpack the houses and lay down the fluffy white snow. They helped me hang the fabric Advent calendar made by my aunt Florence. They shook our snow globes and found places to display them. And they set up my German crèche, putting baby Jesus in his place of honor.

As they unpacked—tossing wrapping everywhere in the excitement—there were a lot of explanations, “This is cool!’ and “Where did you get this?” and when they found a wood saw prop that I had saved from their last year’s Christmas program, “I remember this!”

After making our gingerbread houses and decorating, we snacked on gingerbread house décor candies and played games. By the time we realized it was bedtime, it was late so I said I would read only one story—a Christmas story. With five kids, an argument began over who would get to pick the story from my Christmas book collection. To head off the fight, I said I’d pick the story.

As I peered into the basket with Christmas books, I saw the perfect tale—The Great Christmas Adventure: A special story about you & Santa Claus. It is a book that my mom bought for my sons when they were probably 6 and 3 years old. It is one of those books that lets parents or grandparents enter the names of beloved children. I thought the grandkids would like a story written for their dads.

The little book starts with a polar bear mother reading a story about two little boys and their Christmas adventure. The two little boys—Benjamin and Gideon—lived in a wonderful place called Fort Ord, California with their dog, Pauncho. As I read and the grandkids figured out the fairytale was about their dads they listened with rapt attention. They were amazed that the book mentioned their dads—as little boys, of course— as they traveled to the North Pole with Santa and eventually ended up saving Christmas!

My mom probably forgot about the delightful little book. But it has been one of the best gifts ever, enjoyed by my sons and now by their kids. As we finished the book, Genevieve said, “Someone should do a book about all of us!”

Maybe I will someday. But for now, a column will have to do.

Merry Christmas everyone!


Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.

Gladys Tabor


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