Archive for May, 2013

The “C” Word

Doesn't everyone have a big bucket of sunscreen?

Doesn’t everyone have a big bucket of sunscreen?

Cancer.  There, I said it.  We’ve dealt with a lot of cancer in my house in the last couple of years.  Even longer, I guess.  My dad and his dad both dealt with very aggressive skin cancers.  My father in law suffered with a sinus/nasal cancer.  A couple of my brothers had bouts with melanoma; coincidentally—or not?—in the same place, same arm.  My husband and a friend of ours each had a couple melanoma surgeries this year.  And most recently we have a close case of prostate cancer.  Wow, that is a lot of cancer.

The prostate and sinus cancer aren’t really things you can control.  There may be some discussion of diets, supplements, or health tips that come up occasionally, but for the most part it is a more random selection of a host.  The melanoma, on the other hand, is a little more predictable.  But it can definitely throw you a loop.  The fact that it runs rampant in my Finnish/English family is not surprising.  We are blindingly fair-skinned, blue eyed, and red or blond haired.  My husband jokes that we’re so pale you can almost see our hearts beating through our chests; yes, that is the cross we bear.  Imagine our surprise when he, the dark hair, dark skinned, German, was diagnosed.  See, cancer can be a fickle beast.

So since it is the beginning of summer, I thought I’d give you some tips on sun safety and cancer prevention.

  • Seek shade whenever possible, especially during the hottest times of the day.
  • Apply sunscreen with 15 SPF or higher at least 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or after sweating or swimming.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim; baseball caps and most visors only cover minimal areas.
  • Cover up when possible.  Nowadays there are fabrics that help reflect harmful rays while keeping you cool.  These are great for boating or fishing.
  • Remember, the sun’s rays are reflected by sand, water, and pavement, and can go through light clothing, windshields, windows, and clouds.  Make sure to protect those babies!

According to the National Cancer Institute, there will be 76,690 new cases of melanoma this year and 9,480 deaths.  They may not all be preventable, but why wouldn’t you at least want to try?  Summer is a time for outdoor fun, and I hope it remains that way.  Just plan ahead and stay safe out there!



It’s An Honor To Be Nominated

Some members of the Duluth Area Manuscript Club

Some members of the Duluth Area Manuscript Club

Last night I had the privilege of attending the Northeast Minnesota Book Awards at the University of Minnesota Duluth.  Although I graduated there sixteen years ago, walking back into the student center felt a little like I’d never left.  It made me long for the time when personal computing was really just starting to get going, but people still had mostly face to face interaction and read actual paper books.  Sometimes I miss those simpler days.

I attended the event with some members of my writers’ group, the Duluth Area Manuscript Club.  I’m quite a bit younger than the other women, but I love the experience and stories that I get to hear from them.  One was a pioneer in shattering the glass ceiling in shipping and railroads during WW II.  Another broke tradition decades ago when she entered an inter-racial marriage with a famous jazz musician.  What I’m trying to say, is these women have lived!

Walking into the ballroom was a little intimidating at first.  There were so many regional authors, many published numerous times, and publishers participating in the book fair.  We found our way to our table and settled in.  I was the only one in our group that had “skin in the game”, as my husband would say.  A story I wrote was part of a book that was up for a non-fiction award.  It was so fun to walk around and meet all the writers, hear about their books, and some of their methods.  Kevin Kling gave a fabulous presentation and there was a ton of pie.  Yes, they had me at pie.

As I sat watching the awards ceremony, I wondered how many other states had regional events like this.  Were there other small groups like mine trying to pass down personal histories and leave legacies?  Do they still write out stories (sometimes by hand) and read them aloud?  Or is everyone in too much of a hurry to download the next big thing and just text and tweet soundbites of a conversation?  I hope we’re not alone.  I hope people learn from the living, participate in history, and communicate.  And although the book my story was in did not win an award, it really was an honor just to be nominated.


Cutting The Cord–Living Cable-Free

ROKU in HandWe disconnected our cable.  It was not a quick or easy decision, and I admit I was dragging my feet a little at the idea.  But after a ton of research on my husband’s part, and some pretty persuasive tutorials that he gave me, we did it; we cut the cord.  We replaced it with a desk top antenna (AKA rabbit ears) for local HD channels and bought a tiny box called Roku for streaming video channels. The Roku box and remote give us access to over 750 channels and hundreds of thousands of movies/programs, so there is always something on. I felt so hi-tech!

If you’re an old-schooler like me, you’re used to turning on the TV and looking around to see what’s on.   With the Roku box, you select the channels (and therefore the shows) that interest you.  Or if you’re looking for something particular, you can search all available channels for that movie, program, or even a certain actor, virtually having constant on-demand programming.  Holding that remote is like having the whole broadcast world in your hands.  It is really an adjustment to be so in control; and if you know me, you know I like that.

Other benefits of streaming:

  • Some channels are free, some have a small monthly charge (like Netflix or Hulu Plus) or per episode charge (like Amazon)
  • There are free movie channels—probably not the stuff right out of the theatre, but it’s free
  • International news channels as well as local and national
  • Numerous sports channels—many specializing in a particular sport
  • You can connect newer TVs to the computer or tablet and stream channels like YouTube
  • Roku is a one-time purchase of less than $100, not a monthly bill that is constantly rising

It hasn’t taken me long to adjust to cutting the cord.  We watched mostly sports and movies, so it really wasn’t that big of a deal.  It doesn’t hurt that we will save over a thousand dollars a year by eliminating our cable bill.  If you’re thinking of taking the plunge, I encourage you to evaluate your viewing habits.    If you watch a lot of local channels, the big three networks, you might not even notice the difference.  It’s a bold new viewing world out there, and it’s all at your fingertips.

Go Fish!

Go fish


For the first time in over sixty years the largest lakes in Minnesota will not be fishable for the opening day of the fishing season.  Yes, it’s true.  Even with our run of sunny and warm days the last couple weeks, the “candles” in the ice have not come through and broken open the ice.  So this week, as many anglers are contemplating annual pilgrimages “Up North”, they are also pondering what they will do up there.

When you stop and think about the economic impact of this opening fishing weekend on our state, it’s hard to find someone who will not be affected by a lack of open water.  The number of fishing licenses sold is down by over a hundred thousand compared to annual averages.  In economic terms:

  • Local businesses didn’t sell a license and the “extras” that would have gone with it
  • Sales of bait will go down dramatically
  • Restaurant and liquor sales will be down
  • Cabin rental/lodging will be down
  • “Fishing Widows” may cancel or change their annual traditions (craft sales, shopping, girls getaways)
  • All of those businesses will have a reduction in income, leading to a reduction in money available to spend in the state at other establishments…from barbers to restaurants to you name it.

So if you’re debating what you should do this weekend, here are a few things to remember:

  • It’s not just about the fish
  • Think about the traditions and the joy of spending time with your fishing party/family
  • If you were going to your lake home, there are probably still chores to be done
  • If you were going to a cabin/lodge, there’s still plenty to do there
  • There are a lot of smaller lakes and rivers that will be ready for fishing—mix it up and look for a new hot spot!

Most of all think of it this way, spring has finally sprung.  We’ve had a record-breaking long and snowy winter that has finally given up.  Get outside.  Get away.  And if you have the chance, go fish.

Just Be…Quietly!

Fritz, our Miniature Schnauzer

Fritz, our Miniature Schnauzer

I’ve noticed lately that I am spending more and more time in silence. Not complete silence (there may be the sound of tapping on a keyboard, a snoring Schnauzer, or footsteps) but free of added noise. I never used to be able to stand that; I felt like I needed the constant stimulation of sound, either TV or music, at all times. Maybe it’s my advancing age, but I’m getting in touch with my inner…me!

First thing in the morning I walk Fritz, our dog. In the past it rather irritated me and I found myself frustrated at his dilly dallying. Why does he need to sniff and then water every tree, shrub, or stick on the ground? I still don’t have an answer, other than, “Because he can”. But what has changed is my attitude about our ritual. What once was a source of exasperation has now become a time of inspiration. Some of my best ideas have come to me during these little journeys, not to mention termination of unfortunate bouts with writer’s block. I’m pretty certain that if I had been tuned into something streaming in my ear, my mind would not have had the chance to take in my surroundings and be free to wander. Yes, I’m right brained, it wanders…a lot! For this I am truly thankful.

In our electronic-heavy culture today, many people do not take that time to unplug and just quietly contemplate. In fact, if you saw someone sitting with no electronics on/in front of them, you may wonder if something was wrong with them! But would you imagine they were just taking the time to think? I have even gotten used to running without headphones most days. That time of solitude is for me to think; about something, about nothing, just to listen to the sound of my footsteps. It is the perfect mental balance to my physical action, the yin to the yang if you will.

Rollo May, an American existential psychologist, said, “In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone.” This is the person who has to talk all the time or keeps the TV/music on because they can’t stand quiet. Here are some ways to unplug and free your mind:
• Have a dedicated time every day for at least a few minutes of quiet.
• Vary your quiet time activities—sit, walk/run, even cooking or a hand craft that requires no deep concentration will work.
• Get the whole house involved. This is a great way to teach children independent thinking and problem solving. Make it clear that they don’t have to sleep during this time, just do something quietly with no TV, music, or computer involvement.
• If you still don’t really know what to do, sit in your most comfortable chair or lie in your bed. Close your eyes and listen to the sound of your breath for one minute. Your mind will wander!

It doesn’t matter if you have no desire to be “creative”. Giving your brain a chance to enjoy downtime leads to better thinking and decision-making. It will also improve your interactions with others. If you don’t believe me, just ask Fritz. Our walks are much less stressful now.