Finding a Place in Duluth

This month I had a multitude of articles come out including my first blog post for Midwest Living and an article about talent recruitment in northeast Minnesota for Minnesota Business Magazine. The topics are wildly different but they both focus in one a special place in my heart – Duluth.

As a new mom, I am finding it difficult to get quality information on family friendly locations in the area. I find myself asking other moms, sticking to what I know, or occasionally winging it and hoping I don’t ruin too many people’s lives. That said, Jake goes down at 6:15 so dinner dates are a distant memory in my life. If you find yourself in the same boat as me, be sure to check out my piece on 10-family friendly spots to hang in Duluth.

As for my piece in Minnesota Business Magazine about talent recruitment in northeast Minnesota, I enjoyed writing this piece because I distinctly remember a time when I was an ambitious Duluthian who for a variety of reasons needed to leave television news. I had a solid resume and great education but my connections to the business community in Duluth were weak. At the time (2004), I genuinely believed the only place to find a job was via the Duluth News Tribune. I actually did end up finding my job this way – but it was in Ashland at Northland College. This of course, sparked a whole new life for me including meeting Steve and eventually ending up on the shores on Moon Lake (which is frankly awesome). But, there will always be a part of me that dreams of returning to the Twin Ports.

In the mid-2000s, I seized an opportunity to return to Duluth for work (even though I lived in Washburn, WI at the time). Up until 2011, I worked at the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. One of my tasks at the Foundation was working on an initiative to attract and retain young adults in Duluth. It was an interesting project and an interesting time to be a part of the solution. I had the opportunity to participate in Fuse – the young professional arm of the Chamber of Commerce; participate (and be honored one year) in the 20 Under 40 awards; lead initial efforts with the Young Leaders Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and work one a portal for young adults which included being a John S. and James L. Knight Community Information Fellow via a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Today, many of these efforts have evolved and/or changed. But, it is exciting to learn that it continues to be a focus in the area. It is cool to know that recent grads or those at a turning point in their career have tools like NORTHFORCE and TwinPortsConnex to help them transition without having to leave the state.

(But if you do have to leave the area, consider northern Wisconsin. It is pretty awesome as well. And, we still have an awesome home in Herbster for sale…)

That’s it from Moon Lake today. This weekend I’m heading to Cable to make my first succulent wreath. I hope to share that experience along with some photos from my garden soon.

Back of the Pack: Run for the Lakes Both Humbling and Inspirational

bethSaturday marked my 4th Half-Marathon. It was my first race post baby. Training revolved around teething, sleepless nights, never-ending illnesses, pregnancy gut and this lovely thing called a Polar Vortex. One week before the race, I was driving through a fresh foot of snow. Two days before the race, I was slipping and sliding along ice and slush covered roads in yet another Winter Storm Warning. Last but not least, my interpretation from the racecourse description was that this would be a relatively flat, scenic course. Instead, I was greeted with miles of rolling hills, an open-road course complete with exhaust fumes from cars whizzing by, scenic views of residential streets and overzealous 10k runners who shared the first 5-miles of the course after starting a mere 15-minutes after the half-marathon start time.

The race itself was pretty uneventful. After a few miles, I accepted the course was going to be endless hills and that as long as I kept putting one foot in front of the other, at some point it’d have to end. My legs adjusted accordingly. Somewhere along the way I found my rhythm. My first mile took 17.5 minutes. My last 3 I was pacing 13:30 and I could have pushed myself harder. As I rounded the last corner and crossed the finish line I saw my husband snapping photos. A college friend stood near by clapping. It felt good. I glanced at the clock to discover I finished above where I expected. But nowhere near what I wanted.

It wasn’t until later that day that I finally logged onto the website to get the down and dirty. I finished in second to last place. My time was 45 seconds faster than my last race but not a PR. By all accounts, I should have been happy with my performance. I mean, a fat girl jogging 13.1 miles is nothing to look down on.

But that’s the thing. I don’t want to be the fat girl in the back anymore. I want to be the large girl in the middle back. I don’t mind finishing at a below average time as long as I’m personally improving. Truth is, for this to happen I need to start looking at my entire body and not just logging miles every week to justify the frozen pizza my husband and I used to enjoy on weekends. I know this isn’t brain surgery. But I’ve discovered that knowing this and doing it are two different things.

I have also learned that if I share something in writing, I tend to show-up and play the game to speak. Run for the Lakes was my low point at a high weight. It was inspirational to cross that finish line but frustrating to know my time would have been substantially faster if I was carrying around less padding. While training was tough this go around, I trained hard and honest. I showed up on race day ready to run. I pushed myself. But, that’s only a portion of the equation.

Because proud mamas find ways to post pics of their kid, even when it has nothing to do with what they are writing about.
Because proud mamas find ways to post pics of their kid, even when it has nothing to do with what they are writing about.

So today I share with the few folks that read this blog my latest goal. It is about focusing on my entire body. It is somewhat about the scale but more about being conscious about the choices I make that affect my weight. I’m using a light version of Body for Life. I’m finishing up week 3 and have lost 8 pounds so far and am concentrating on rebuilding muscles in my core and upper body. I plan to focus on this for the next 10-weeks, while filling in my trainings with cardio and continued short runs. In July, I’ll start training for the Whistlestop this fall and a 10K in Auust in Herbster. My dream finish time is 2:44, or 39 minutes (3 minutes per mile) faster than my last race. At the minimum, I have to break 3-hours. No excuses. Just time to make this happen.

To keep myself honest, I may bore you with monthly check-ins on my progress. Wish me luck… share any tips you might have… resources… inspiration. I’ll take any and all of it.

In the meantime, the calendar has finally turned to May. This means my favorite greenhouse in the world is open – Hauser’s! I’m taking Jake there this weekend for his first gardening adventure. I need to replace the asparagus and several perennials that didn’t survive the hot summer sun and my bed rest last summer (AKA as no water for 2-3 weeks).

Hope to share more about this adventure and life in the Northwoods moving forward. As always, thanks for reading!

Duluth Rocks

It is no secret that I love living on Moon Lake. In fact, life in northwest Wisconsin is pretty amazing. But, prior to my life in Wisconsin, I spent about a decade working, living and playing in Duluth. Leaving Duluth was extremely tough. There is something enchanting about the city. Many say it is the big lake. As someone drawn to water, I can relate to that. But, it is more than the world’s largest freshwater lake that makes Duluth so unique. This past summer I had an opportunity to write an article for Minnesota Business Magazine exploring why folks do business in the city. It came out last week as a 10-page spread. The online version can be read here. 

The article gave me an opportunity to connect with some of the new entrepreneurs to Duluth, along with some old favorites I’ve interviewed in the past. New or old, these entrepreneurs share a passion for life outside of work that reminds me that life is about more than what you do on-the-clock. It is a refreshing and welcome message to hear from successful business owners.

The article also gave me an opportunity to interview Mayor Don Ness. My path has crossed with Mayor Ness since the early 2000s. I first interviewed him while working in news about his efforts to keep young people in Duluth through an initiative called Bridge Syndicate. Later, I played on a softball team that he occasionally played on as well called Bacchus Crew. (For those wondering what Bacchus means, think Greek Mythology and drinking). While my memory is a bit foggy, I am pretty confident we lost nearly every single game we played. But, it was a great networking opportunity that provided plenty of laughs. Even then, I admired Don’s drive (he was President of the City Council). Since then, I’ve enjoyed watching him from the sidelines making a positive impact in a place I still to this day love. Duluth is lucky to have him.

Bottom line, it take more than a big lake to make a city grand. At the end of the day, the people matter. And in Duluth’s case, there are some great entrepreneurs and leaders at the forefront paving the way for a bright future in Duluth. And that is something I was proud to write about. I hope you enjoy the article!

 

 

Just how big of a Saint is Saint Urho?

St. Urho's DayI was never much of a believer in Santa Claus. Logic told me a big man couldn’t fit down a chimney and in the case of our house, he’d burn to death. Plus, my sisters pointed out presents Santa would be bringing to us about a month before Christmas in our garage.

That said, I was much more naïve than most folks I know. I share my birthday with a very important day for Finlanders fondly known at St. Urho’s Day. The only problem, it is quite likely nobody in Finland knows about this rich and important piece of their history.

“Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen” the poem fondly goes. (“Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go to Hell, for those who don’t know Finnish.) Growing up in northern Minnesota, all of my friends seemed to know or at least nod my head when I said I was born on St. Urho’s Day. Never once did it seem odd to me that the holiday landed right before St. Patrick’s day and involved driving grasshoppers from Finland to prevent the grape harvest from being destroyed. I mean honestly, this makes complete sense, right?

Turns out, the entire holiday is a hoax. St. Urho’s day originated back in the 1950s and while there’s some discrepancy about where it originated, it definitely didn’t originate in Finland. What I do know is that when I hit college, folks looked at me a little more strangely when I proudly pronounced I was born on St. Urho’s Day. And, while working in a television newsroom, I was told to attempt tracking down the creator of the holiday for a spoof package we wanted to produce. After looking at my boss with a look of bewilderment, he said to me, “you know it isn’t real, right?” “Of course,” I replied, feeling my nose grow as I spoke.

Today, I accept that perhaps I don’t share my birthday with a national holiday in Finland. But, I take pride in knowing my special day will always involve the Miss Helmi crowning in Finland, Minnesota where local men showcase the best in women’s clothing. I’ve only been to the festival once, and that was to see an unusual parade full of purple and green (the official St. Urho’s Day Colors)… I guess it’d be best described as a mini Northwoods version of Mardi Gras, only rated G for grasshoppers. Plus, it feels good to one up the Irish and their snakes.

So, to my fellow Finlander friends, Happy St. Urho’s Day and Happy Birthday to me!

P.S For those wanting to take a snapshot of St. Urho, head to Menahga, Minnesota where a 12-foot statue of the infamous Saint sits…

Start Your Year at Blu!

blu
Blu Ice Bar at Grand Superior Lodge near Two Harbors, MN.

Winter has a way of getting on my nerves. Long. Cold. At times boring, especially since I don’t excel at winter adventures. Luckily, I’m not alone. And towns and businesses all over the place are trying to keep things interesting in hopes folks like me will suck it up, bundle up, venture out and spend money and maybe even have some fun along the way.

Blu at the Grand Superior Lodge in Two Harbors was the first of ice bars that are popping up all over the northland. I had the joy of visiting it back in 2011. Two thumbs up to fun staff, creative drinks (and old-time favorites for the hubby), gorgeous artwork carved within the ice, and of course, my favorite color–Blue! I must admit, once you drink a couple of shots and sit on an icy bench, there aren’t too many reasons to linger around. That said, it got me out and was a great excuse to stay on the North Shore for a night. Even on the coldest of days, Lake Superior is still a beauty to look at!

Ice bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Ice bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Bartenders works his magic at Blu Ice Bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.
Bartenders works his magic at Blu Ice Bar near Two Harbors, Minnesota.

Blu bar isn’t the only spot where you can get an icy cold beverage along the North Shore this winter. In Duluth, Little Angie’s is jumping on the ice bar bandwagon and upping the ante with a fire and ice theme. While I haven’t been in the bar, I’m a huge fan of their food so I imagine I’ll be having a drink or two there as well this winter.

Bucketlist and an unusual but special tree

This past fall I had the opportunity to check another item off of my bucket list. For years, I have wanted to visit the Witch Tree. The tree, which is also called Manidoo-giizhikens, or Little Cedar Tree, is located near the Canadian border.

The area where the tree sits was once open to visitors, allowing for what is potentially the most photographed tree along Minnesota’s North Shore. I first learned of the tree after seeing photos of it by Travis Novitsky.

There was something impressive and humbling about the twisted trunk embedded in an exposed rocky shoreline subjected to the gales of Lake Superior that intrigued me. After doing some homework, I learned that the tree was first written about back in 1731 by French explorer Sieur de la Verendryne. While not a history buff, this little snippet of the tree’s past made me want to photograph it even more.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects nature. Due to vandalism issues, the tree is now on tribal land and is off limits to visitors unless accompanied by a local Ojibwe band member. However, I discovered on a warm Friday morning this past fall, they are quite accommodating and willing to take you out there to photograph the tree and share the historical significance of this tree. For that I am thankful.

The trail is short and unmarked. Due to the rockiness of the area and the fact that it is sacred land, one cannot get up close to the tree from land. Thus, while I have checked one item off my bucket list, I’ve added another: seeing the Witch Tree from water.

The Hike

(I first wrote this a year ago while hiking near Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, MN. But, on this blustery fall day, I cannot help but share again.)

The anticipation was killing me. For months, I had patiently watched the calendar waiting for that brief moment in northern Minnesota where fall comes to life in a vivid, rainbow of colors. As the calendar ticked down to my day off, the gobs of storm clouds grew larger than life. Soon, warnings were out, communities in southern Minnesota were flooding, and the sky was black. For most, this would not be the ideal hiking conditions. Add to this, my husband’s stern warning that should I destroy my new Canon 5D by hauling it through the rain I was not getting a new one. Together, this should have been enough to hold me back. But, the stubborn Fin in me refused to back down. Mother Nature doesn’t wait for the skies to clear. Plus, a gray, rainy day means solitude, right?

The morning goes smoothly. A gorgeous drive along Heartbreak Ridge, accompanied with a perfectly brewed latte and Blueberry Scone from the Coho Café. And then, a quick glance at the map in the trailhead parking lot.

My hike starts out simple enough. Up and down, round the colored bend. Within minutes my underused hiking boots are covered in mud. I look up only to be blinded by needlelike mist piercing my face. Soon, the up and down just become up. Having glanced at the topography map prior to jumping on the trail to Bean and Bear Lake near Silver Bay, Minnesota, I knew what I was in store for. But, the lines always seem a lot less intimidating from the comforts of my car.

One hour, two hours, mist evolving into a steady rainfall, muddy trails transitioning into trails underwater… I’m starting to have second thoughts. Seriously Mother Nature, logic says as you climb higher, the drier the trail should be, right? Soon, the only break in the squishing of my boots is me cursing under my breath as the wind whistles by my face. Having chosen to do this hike solo, I have nobody to blame but myself. What am I thinking?

And, just as the gas in my tank was running out I have one of those moments. You know the ones I’m talking about. The ones where you are huffing and puffing, trying to catch your breath, and then you look up and for just a moment, the entire world stands still. Suddenly, everything is put in perspective. Suddenly, I realize how small I am in the grand scheme of things. And, looking out over the vast, untouched countryside, I can’t help but be in awe of how fortunate I am to experience this beauty—even if it is just for a moment. The moment isn’t perfect. The sky is far from blue and the fog removes the crisp color I had planned on seeing. But, in this haze everything in life seems clearer. One foot in front of the other, and eventually you reach your summit. Is it exactly what I had expected? Absolutely not. It is better. The hike down doesn’t seem nearly as bad.

I am 99.9999% sure I will not climb Mount Everest, hike the Poles, or save Polar Bears. It is unlikely my experience on this day will have any impact on anything other than my knees and my poor husband listening to my pathetic whining when the Ibuprofen wore off. But at this moment, nobody can take this beauty away from me.

Fall is an extremely busy time of year. The commitments are endless. But, we live in this place for a reason. Find time to take advantage of it. The past few years, I’ve stumbled across multiple reports about a decline in young people connecting with the outdoors. A Minnesota State Park survey shows the median age of users is on the rise faster than the median age of the state. The Department of Natural Resource conducted focus groups only to find that young people have their lives just too planned out to find time for visiting State Parks. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers are aging. And, some speculate that there is some correlation that this decline is loosely connected to the growing popularity and reliance on technology.

Today, I challenge you to prove “some” wrong and get outside. It doesn’t have to be a four-hour hike in the rain. It can be as simple as turning off your Blackberry, lacing up your tennis shoes and taking a stroll through the park. At the end of the day, life’s commitments will still be there, but perhaps you’ll be able to tackle the day-to-day with a clarity that can only be found in a hazy fall day where heaven and earth intersect in a grandiose view of what matters in life.