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Dear Mom,

Today marks a pivotal moment in our relationship. Eighteen years ago, my life changed forever when I held your hand for the very last time. At just 18, I had no idea what would come next. Up until that moment, I had been busy planning my senior prom, anticipating high school graduation, fighting with my loser boyfriend and dreaming about my first day of college—all with your help.

Suddenly it all seemed so insignificant. Nothing really mattered without you by my side. Looking back, I’m still unsure of how I navigated through life those first few months without you. Each time faced with a decision, I sought your advice only to be met with unanswered prayers. But somehow, despite making poor choices at best, I seemed to keep bouncing back. I kept stumbling around, constantly moving forward.

Along the way, I longed for your confidence. Nothing ever seemed to phase you in life mom. I’ll never forget when my best friend dropped her pants in front of you. Most mothers would have been aghast. You didn’t miss a beat. “Show me something I haven’t seen,” you laughed.

I miss those moments. For months now, I’ve been dreading this day. It marks a time when I’ve lived longer without you. As the years go by, my memories of us start to fade. I find myself thumbing through pages of high school journals and photo albums trying to fill in the blanks time has erased.  As I look at the pivotal milestones I’ve passed over, I’m finding myself more familiar without your presence. A new normal I guess.

I wish you were here today to see my new normal. On paper, it is pretty amazing. I’ve checked a lot of things off the list that we used to talk about growing up. I graduated from college. I followed our dream of becoming a published writer, mom. Sure, I haven’t penned the next great American novel but I’m writing and sharing my stories with people. Despite numerous heartbreaks and kissing some serious frogs, I found an amazing man who loves me for me. I’m a new mom and you’re a grandma. I have a job I love. Awesome friends. I still find time to hike in the woods, read books and garden. I didn’t inherit your talent for canning cucumbers but I can make a mean flat jack just like you.

If you scratch a little deeper, you’d find I face battles similar to you mom. I hate my weight. I refuse to settle. I live life on my terms, even if people look down at it. Complacency scares me. I help others, even if it means hurting myself. I am stubborn. At times downright mean. But that meanness is often a defense mechanism to survive. Like you mom, I’m a survivor.

Eighteen years ago my life changed forever as I watched you take your last breath. For an instant, I thought time would stop. But it kept moving. And with it, so did I. You gave me no choice but to move on without you by my side. For years I was angry. Disappointed you weren’t here to share my life and answer my questions. Angry that alcoholism broke our family until at some point I had to learn to forgive.

This past year has been a game changer partly because as a new mom I’ve discovered something. You may not be here physically, but I cannot deny you are a part of me. You’re stubborn spirit and endless desire to plow ahead even with the cards stacked against you, now defines me.

In a few weeks I’m supposed to lace up my shoes and run a half-marathon. It will be my fourth race. As always, I’m nowhere near ready. It’d be easy for me to quit. But I’m a stubborn Fin who refuses to give up. I keep training in hopes that I’ll be ready come race day. Even if it means I come in dead last. I owe that to you mom. This race is just one of countless examples of you pushing to be better—to try harder—to continue to show up and play the game on my terms, not because that’s what people expect but because it is what I want to do for me.

I still miss you mom. I still wish more than anything you were here by my side. I wish I could have one more day with you, one more conversation, even share just one more moment with you. I wish that every single day. But I have also found comfort in that every milestone, failure or achievement I experience it is a piece of you shining through and reminding me of where I came from and what really matters in life. And for that, I’ll always love you.

Your baby girl

The calendar says April 4 but if I look out my window, I have the joys of seeing a fresh foot of snow. As someone who is training for a half-marathon, this is extremely annoying. Muster up a conversation with anyone in the tri-county or possibly tri-state area, and the conversation will likely turn to this unseasonably miserable winter. As a life long northlander, I get winter. I get miserable weather but honestly, enough is enough. On a side note, this winter will go down in the history books for more than just the longest winter ever. Around here it’ll always be remembered as the year the Sea Caves went viral. The social media, marketing, story teller in me couldn’t help but attempt to explore why this happened in this month’s Business North.

Of course, I didn’t draw any incredible conclusion. But, it was a fun, powerful lesson and reminder about the fact that television news isn’t dead, social media matters, people love selfies of themselves in front of cool things (which will cause others to long for said selfie), and there’s nothing like a Hail Mary Polar Vortex on your side to boost tourism in the northwoods. Here’s a link to the article.

If you stumble across any other recaps about the Sea Caves or want to share a post about your experience at the caves, send them my way. I’d love to share them here. In the meantime, here were a few of my favorites. Some make this list for incredible writing. Some make this list for great photos. And some make this list for over-the-top reporting that makes it sound like the Sea Caves are either a new thing or that hiking on Lake Superior (in the winter) is something incredibly unusual. I’ll let you be the judge…

The Surreal Apostle Islands May Only Be Visitable For Another Few Weeks: Huffington Post

Almost Otherworldly: The Sea Caves of Lake Superior, On Ice: NPR

Lake Superior Freezes, Revealing Ice Caves Blocked for Five Years: Esquire

Winter Gives Access to Dramatic Ice Caves Along Lake Superior: Pioneer Press

Our Morning at the Ice Caves: The Cookery Maven

Sea Caves Shrowded In Ice Open to Explorers: NBC News (local affiliate reporter)

Lake Sueprior’s Ice Caves Offer Glimpse of Nature’s Fleeting Beauty: CBS Evening News

Rare Frozen Path on Lake Superior Opens Dazzling Ice Caves to Hikers: LA Times

Guest Shots: The Sea Caves of Cornucopia: frankjhutton.blogspot.com

Exploring the Frozen Caves of Lake Superior: The Baltimore Sun

The Beautiful Ice Caves of Northern Wisconsin: Stonehouse Photo Blog

Extreme Weather Exposes Rare Ice Caves in US: Aljazeera

 

 

I haven’t had much time to post articles in a while, in part because I’ve been writing up a storm offline. The past few months I’ve focused my writing on a variety of impact stories–many of which center around economics. It is always interesting to question a business or nonprofit to understand why they do what they do, and learn about their regional impact. In the February/March issue of Positively Superior, I did a feature on Catholic Charities. In the upcoming issue, I looked at how Mac Sport and Marine seized an opportunity to provide power sports to NW Wisconsin and NE Minnesota during the recession. Access to these articles can be found here. Meantime, on the Duluth side, features about Great Harvest Bread and Johnson, Killen and Seiler are in the current issue of the Duluthian with pieces about the Northland Foundation and Ace Hardware in east Duluth coming soon. These business and non-profit features are a great reminder of people contributing to society in a variety of interesting ways.

Meantime, In the past couple months I’ve wrote a couple of impact stories for Business North. They’ve revolved around the economic impact the arts has on northwest Wisconsin, how Northland College contributes to Chequamegon Bay and how a family owned business in Iron River is making waves in the logging industry. I’ll post my Northland College piece today and hopefully some of the others soon.

An article I just completed that I’m pretty excited about is a feature for Minnesota Business Magazine that’ll run early summer about efforts in northeast Minnesota to attract and retain talent – both young and old – and how these tactics play a huge role in economic development. They’ve just added me to their line-up of contributing writers, which includes a brief bio page on their website. I’ll be sure to share that one, once it is in print.

Meantime, a few weeks back I was notified of a publication I occasionally contributed to was folding. Duluth Superior Magazine was a great publication to write to. I still have their inaugural issue from 6-years ago where I penned a fashion piece of all things. It was also because of them that I won my first statewide award in the magazine industry. I am sad to see them fold because they were a great addition to Twin Ports media. I wish everyone on staff nothing but the best.

As I mentioned, I hope to post more content soon but in the meantime, here’s a link to a piece about my old stomping grounds Northland College. I was their director of communications for 2-years and to this day, I can honestly say I’ve never worked for a place quite as unique and environmental as this environmental liberal arts college in Ashland. Enjoy!

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When Northland College’s founding fathers established the college in 1906 as an offspring of North Wisconsin Academy, it is unlikely they anticipated how vital the College would become to the region’s economy.

Today, the Ashland Wisconsin environmental liberal arts college is home to 600 students from 32 states and 5 countries including Canada, Ghana, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Korea and Sweden.

But, what does this mean to the Chequamegon Bay region? The Fiscal and Economic Research Center of UW-Whitewater recently completed an economic impact analysis of Northland College. The goal of the study was to determine the economic impact Northland College has on the local economy.

Northland College President Michael Miller says these types of studies are typical in higher education. “It is not unusual for a college to conduct this kind of study every five to 10 years. The advantage of it is it helps the community understand the value we bring to the area.”

The study found that Northland College supported 421 jobs in the region with 236 of them being direct jobs at the College. While this number may not seem substantial, given Northland’s rural location, this accounts for 1% of all employment in the area. The total income for these 421 jobs tops $12 million.

In terms of overall impact, when you factor in spending both for the college and student spending, Northland’s overall impact approaches $33 million.

Miller says these numbers are not surprising. “They always come out bigger than you imagine but we weren’t surprised by how much we contribute to the local economy.”

Ashland Chamber Director Mary McPhetridge says Ashland is vital to the region’s economy, not just in economic impact but also in cultural and environmental.

“Ashland is fortunate to have a quality leader in sustainability and liberal arts, thanks to Northland College. We have always had a culture of sustainability simply by the diverse business sectors that can be found with the city limits. Having a quality four-year private college in the mix is essential to maintain our successful sustainable heritage.”

McPhedtridge goes on to say the more the College makes the community aware of this impact, the better.

“Since President Miller took this position, he has had a focus on creating relationships within the business and social community of Ashland and the Chequamegon Bay and increasing awareness of the College throughout the entire region which is beneficial to both the College and our community.”

Miller says these conversations and connections are key. In fact, Miller says given the unique nature of Northland College, these numbers might not paint the whole picture. “We are doing what others aren’t,” he says. “Given the uniqueness of our situation, this study might underestimate our total impact.”

For example, Northland College has made a strong commitment to purchasing local foods. According to Regional Sustainability Coordinator Nathan Engstrom, the college purchased $77.827 in local food within 100 miles and an additional $14,843 within 250 miles. This number jumped substantially during the current school year with totals at $111,368 within 100 miles and an additional $,6,798 within 250 miles. This is about 42% of their total food purchase.

Miller says this commitment to local food is important to the overall mission of the College. “We’ve set a goal of increasing the local business we use, whether it is in construction and support services or as part of our commitment to using food from local growers.”

Looking ahead, Miller hopes to build on this initial study by looking at some of the direct and indirect benefits of utilizing local foods. He also wants to follow-up with graduates of Northland College to better understand where they live and their impact to this region.

Institutional Research Specialist Petra Hofstedt estimates that of the 1,606 graduates since 2002, 319 of them live within the Chequamegon Bay region. This accounts for 20% of the graduates and is tracked by tracking graduates permanent address. Later this year, Miller plans to expand this data by gathering supplemental information about their success in terms of employment.

Ultimately, this information will provide a baseline metric for the College to build on. In the meantime, the study triggered a community wide conversation. In March, the data was presented at a well-attended public forum at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

“Anytime you can bring students, faculty, staff and the community together, we’re achieving our goal of immersing ourselves within the community.”

Token Selfie at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves

Token Selfie at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves

I turned 36 today. As of this moment, I’ve been an adult longer than a kid. I officially feel old. I thought this might kick in when I turned 30 but that was a breeze compared to today. Perhaps it is because I’m a new mom. Perhaps it is because I have now fully accepted I cannot start my day without a cup of coffee and that just seems like such an old person issue. Or, perhaps it is because I keep nursing a multitude of aches and pains resulting from a combination of training for my next half-marathon and just everyday life. Either way, I feel old.

To celebrate 36, I opted for solitude. These past few years I’ve really come to terms that despite being a freelance writer and public relations guru by day, I am in fact the world’s largest introvert. I love interacting with people. I love connecting the dots between friends and colleagues. But there is nothing more I love than disconnecting from everyone and everything and just being lost in my thoughts. Better yet, stick me with those thoughts alone in the wilderness with a camera.

I’m not sure if you had heard but the Apostle Islands Sea Caves opened up for the first time in 5-years. (Yes I’m joking). I’ve walked these hidden gems in the past. My first time was while living in Duluth. I ventured over the bridge to the unknown “south shore”.  This magical place felt like it was days away versus 45 minutes from Duluth. I was instantly in love, not just with the caves but also the hidden gems along the way. It was Lake Superior in all her glory but without the people.  That frosty mid-week morning I was the only one wandering through these majestic, ice adorned caves.

At the time, I never thought I’d end up living in Wisconsin. What little I knew about my future. Several years later I ventured out to the caves again, this time with Steve. We were dating at the time and despite claiming he was the great outdoorsman, he had never bothered to visit the caves. It was a day filled with laughter, endless picture taking and another affirmation that I had found the man I wanted to live with forever.

And today, I returned to the Sea Caves again. I know I’m a bit late to the game but my goal was to enjoy the caves alone. As each day passed that they were open, the numbers of visitors grew exponentially. I couldn’t seem to find a moment to escape my day-to-day responsibilities to beat the morning, afternoon, and weekend crowds that were coming from all around the world to see this wonder.

When the notice came out that the caves were closing, I realized time had run out. It was now or never. I woke at 6 am to arrive at the Sea Cave parking lot around 7. As day’s first light broke, I made my way down to Lake Superior to discover I wasn’t alone. But, alone enough given 125,000 folks have visited the caves in a mere two months.

At midnight the caves close. My birthday passes. All things considered, it was an uneventful birthday. But, it follows an eventful year of buying new land, becoming a mom, growing my freelance and returning to the streets to prepare for my fourth Half-Marathon. I’ve learned lots and discovered I really know nothing. I’ve made new friends, found new hobbies and grown as a person. I look forward to all 36 has to offer and sharing it with those around me, while embracing my quiet moments alone.  In the meantime, one final look at today’s hike.

Keepin’ It Real

meatball

This past weekend I escaped the great North Woods of Wisconsin to head south for a weekend of wine drinking, shopping and girl time. As the weekend loomed closer, I couldn’t wait to enjoy a dinner with two hands, 8-hours of consecutive sleep and an opportunity to shop. What I didn’t expect was to come home bursting with gratitude and carrying a dried up meatball that is currently sitting in my fridge.

The introvert in me is quick to embrace the few moments of solitude I get—especially now as a new mom. Add to this, I live a state away from many of my long-time girlfriends or gal pals I’ve reconnected with over the past few years. This personality and geographic conundrum, added with the general hustle and bustle of everyday life creates the perfect storm to let friendships fade away.

In fact, in many cases it’d be easier to let this happen. It’d be easy to blame life’s milestones and daily complications as an excuse to quit caring. To say, my life is complicated enough without adding the group dynamics of a gaggle of girls whose interests and opinions may or may not match mine. But, man I’m glad I don’t.

Real friendships are about more than likes on a Facebook page. To me, it is about peeling back the layers and connecting on a variety of levels. Maybe it is a shared life experience—past or present—career, or acquaintance. Maybe it is an intense debate about a matter we are passionate about where we agree to disagree. Maybe it is a hobby—a shared joy of reading, writing or a trashy television show. Whatever the case, these complicated connections matter and enhance my life.

friendshipfoundationSometimes I forget that. I forget that while I enjoy being by myself, my greatest moments are those I share with others.  This weekend was no exception. In a mere 36-hours, I laughed until my gut hurt over red wine and Mojitos. I learned about sex drives, surgical enhancements and celebrated another expanding family.  I discussed religious differences, the meaning of marriage, the guilt of parenting and the complexities that come with both in real-day life. I relived birthing battles, near-death experiences, pivotal weight loss journeys and the on-going complications that follow. I stayed up way too late and never got my 8-hours of sleep. I broke a bed. I drank good coffee. I watched an Ikea meatball resurface in unexpected places, including my mitten. I was identified as a musher. And most importantly, I did it all unfiltered.

There is nothing better in life than surrounding yourself with folks where everything goes. Where you can drop your guard, remove your make-up and polish and just be yourself. Better yet, do all of this and leave feeling good about it. I shouldn’t have had to drive down south to have this a-ha moment but I’m sure glad I did. You ladies know who you are and thank you for keeping it real.

Courtesy: National Park Service Photo

Courtesy: National Park Service Photo

This photo ran on the front page of the Ashland Daily Press today. To be frank, I’m a bit stunned. The National Park Services estimates that 6,000 people visited the mainland Sea Caves on Saturday alone. In big cities, this number might seem insignificant. But you have to remember that I live in a county with no stoplights and a TOTAL population of 15,000. In other words, this is insane.

The onslaught of people is being attributed to a media frenzy of coverage. I imagine given the never ending Polar Vortex story, outlets were looking for a new angle or something else to say other than, “man it is cold.” The end result, thousands flocking to my neck of the woods for something that most locals have seen dozens of times in the past 20-years. In other words, the Sea Caves have been around for centuries, folks but I’m happy that thousands of people now know about them thanks to social media and a boom in media coverage.

So, welcome to Bayfield County. It is a fabulous place to live. I hope you leave just a bit jealous. And, if you are planning to be one of the thousands expected to hit the Sea Caves in the next few weeks, let me offer a few suggestions. On President’s Day weekend, consider experiencing Lake Superior via Book Across the Bay. It is an entirely different way to see Lake Superior and all of her glory. Last year, a piece I wrote ran in the Pioneer Press about the race. Folks who are more into watching the action versus participating may want to head to Drummond, Wisconsin for a fabulous daytime experience of Bar Stool Racing. The 15th Annual Bar Stool Races get underway at noon. I had the chance to attend several years ago and here’s a bit more about the races if you are interested. In terms of dining, there are quite a few options in the Bayfield area. But, a little closer to my neck of the woods is the Delta Diner. This hidden hot spot in the middle-of-nowhere is pretty awesome and definitely worth a visit. On your way home, feel free to give some love to my favorite Iron River hotspot – White Winter Winery. A couple other places worth checking out if you end up near Iron River – Deep Lake Lodge, Hyde’s or The Spot if you are in the mood for a Supper Club Atmosphere. Those craving pizza will love Pizza Parlor or Round Up North in Brule.

I offered some tips in my last post about the Sea Caves but the only thing I can say now it be prepared for people. Plan to put on extra miles due to parking constraints. Empty your bladder or recognize you may be standing in line with limited access to restrooms. But, that’s the reality of visiting a true hidden gem that’s been around for centuries and will be here long after we’re gone. As someone who hasn’t tackled the crowds to visit this year, but has enjoyed the Sea Caves in solitude in the past, they are spectacular. Mother Nature has a way of putting on a show that can’t be manufactured, replicated or replaced. Perhaps that is what makes this majestic ice show so magnificent. While each person’s experience on this adventure is different, I hope you enjoy the show!

The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009--the last time they were open to the public.

The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009–the last time they were open to the public.

seacaves1 seacaves3 seacaves2The Apostle Islands Mainland Sea Caves are now open! If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. While lots of folks visit the Apostle Islands Sea Caves during the summer, winter is tricky because you never quite know if they are going to open. In fact, the last time they were safe to visit by foot was 2009. I highly urge you, before heading out, to be sure it is safe. The easiest way to do this is by calling the National Park Service at (715) 779-3397 Ext. 3. I’d call the morning of because conditions can change on Lake Superior in a heartbeat. And, while the Sea Caves are amazing, safety first folks.

This is the first time the caves have been since 2009. I imagine this weekend will be packed with locals and tourists alike. I’ve managed to make the trek a few times and this is what I’ve learned. Early morning/dawn is the best time to head out. In addition to beating some of the day crowds (and there can be lots of them/as in van loads), the way the sun shines on the caves creates some great photo options. It also has a bit more of a rustic feel to it. By mid-day, the single lane trail to the caves feels like an ice highway and getting a snapshot or enjoying any solitude among the caves is pretty much nada. Plus, parking is limited and you may find yourself parking down the street versus next to the beach in the small parking lot.

The hike is flat. You are hiking along the shores of Lake Superior and on Lake Superior. It is about 2-miles round trip. But, it is an easy 2-miles in terms of having interesting things to check out for a portion of that hike. Be sure to bundle up as the wind off the lake can be brutal. That said, the windier it has been prior to your visit, the cooler the ice formations will be hanging off the caves. Many times, you can actually see the curved ice that formed as the wind literally froze the run off coming off the caves. If you find yourself making the trek up to hike within the Sea Caves, only to learn conditions have changed and it is unsafe to visit the caves, consider taking the hike that runs along the shore on top of the sea caves. While views are limited, it is a great winter hike.

Afterwards, consider sharing some of your love with some of the smaller South Shore restaurants. They struggle a bit and frankly, it is the nice thing to do since you are taking over their normally quiet beach. A few of my favorites – enjoy super crunchy taters and hot burgers at Woody’s in Herbster. The hearty Fish Chowder at Village Inn in Cornucopia will warm you up after your morning hike. Or, if you aren’t staying for lunch, grab some smoked fish from Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia or Everett’s Fisheries at Johnson’s gas station in Port Wing.

To get there: Meyers Beach is located 5-miles east of Cornucopia, just off Highway 13. Look for the brown park service sign on Highway 13 directing you to Meyers Beach. This is a recreational fee area of the National Park Service so be sure to pay the couple bucks before enjoying one of the great wonders of Wisconsin.

For additional information about your hike, visit this National Park Service website page.

 

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