Unorganized Territory

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Life in unorganized territory
Updated: 3 hours 18 min ago

Slow down and smile

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 10:44pm

I’m getting ready to head out of town for a few days. Chuck and I will be traveling south to visit relatives in Indiana. I’m looking forward to seeing our family, but I’m not looking forward to the hot weather in the Hoosier State. I don’t know what I was thinking, planning a trip down south at the peak of the summer season.

But it’s been awhile since we’ve seen everyone and we managed to carve out some time, so we’re going. Of course we are going to run into miles and miles of road construction.

I know roadwork is inevitable. It’s something we have to live with if we want to have roads that are navigable.

Be prepared to stop in the Lutsen area as roadwork is under way!

It’s just that I am one of those people who get nervous driving through a construction zone. I need those white stripes painted on the road to let me know where my lane is. All the bright orange and neon reflective cones are intimidating. The signs that tell you how fast to go are never obvious and the bump signs never seem to be in the right place.   

My dad worked for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) for most of my growing-up years, so you would think I wouldn’t be bothered by road construction. Because dad worked at MnDOT hot mix plants he frequently came home smelling like tar. So I love the smell of pavement being laid. It reminds me of my dad coming home with his sturdy metal lunchbox and a few Oreo cookies left over for us kids.

But I never acquired a fondness for the bright safety orange gear. It seems to be worse than ever now with the new high-tech reflective signs.

My true dislike of road construction though is because of my never-ending quest to get organized. I struggle with getting places on time. I frequently overestimate my ability to finish a task. So I end up hurrying from appointment to appointment.

That’s what happened last week as I headed to Lutsen for an interview. As I left the 40-mph zone by Cascade River, I spotted the dreaded sign: Road Construction Ahead. Another sign followed it: Prepare to Stop.

My first reaction was, “Oh-no! I’m not prepared for delays!”

I should have been. We’ve had articles in the News-Herald about the roadwork being done on Highway 61 and all over Cook County. But every spring when the road bans go off and the roadwork begins, I get caught a time or two in the line of cars, late for an appointment.

I do better after it happens once. Next time I head down the shore—or out east now, as they will soon be filling in rumble strips—I will plan at least an extra half hour. I’ll be prepared to sit in traffic for a bit. I’ll be ready to carefully weave through the bright orange barrels at the direction of the flagmen and women.

And I won’t be so stressed that I can’t smile at those flaggers.

Those intrepid folks have one of the toughest jobs on the planet. I’ve worked retail where I’ve stood at a cash register and I know how hard it is to stand on your feet all day. But my retail job was cushy compared to what the construction flaggers deal with.

My cashier job was inside where it was warm (or cool) and dry. It was in a relatively clean area—no dust from nearby heavy equipment in the air. I had the opportunity to chat with customers throughout the day instead of listening to dump trucks and bulldozers and rock crushers. And I never had to worry about being run over by someone waiting in my line.

So I always try to make eye contact with the people waving me on through the dreaded construction zone. If I can get their attention, I smile and wave.

It’s not their fault orange cones give me the heebie-jeebies. It’s certainly not their fault that I may have failed to plan for construction. Sometimes they are concentrating too hard on keeping order in the coming and going of cars and they don’t respond. But once in awhile I get a big grin in return.

Try it next time you’re stuck in road construction. Take a breath, slow down, and smile.

     *     *     *     *      *     *   

The shortest distance between two points is under construction.

Leo Aikman

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The column that almost wasn’t

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 8:48pm

Regular readers know that I am constantly striving to become more organized. This week has had more than its share of challenges and I was reminded that I live in Unorganized Territory.

It’s been awhile since I explained how my column came to be titled Unorganized Territory. Longtime readers know the reason and probably even people who have just met me can tell I’m an unorganized person. But there is a reason beyond my disorganized state.

I grew up in Grand Marais and lived almost my whole life on County Road 7 in Grand Marais. I left Cook County when I married my sweetheart Chuck, who was serving in the Army. We moved away to Tacoma, Washington and spent the next 22 years making our home where the Army posted us.

After living in Tacoma, Washington; Mannheim, Germany; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Monterey, California; Stuttgart, Germany; and Woodbridge, Virginia, we returned home to Grand Marais in 1995. I am blessed to now live just behind my parents’ house on County Road 7.

I received a delightful surprise when I opened my first Cook County property tax bill. Not that I was delighted to have to pay taxes, but I was tickled to see that my home is in the unorganized territory. And actually, all of my growing up years had been spent in unorganized territory.

I laughed when I realized that I now have a possible excuse for my frantic and frazzled existence—I’ve spent most of my life in unorganized territory. No wonder I can’t remember appointments or find my cell phone!

As I said, this week has been particularly busy and my little cell phone calendar is working overtime to keep me on track. Election interviews with commissioner candidates on top of regular summer activities have us all running. So, we had a very late night at the office on deadline and I was just too tired to write my column.

I left the office vowing that I would get up bright and early to write Unorganized Territory. I don’t like waiting until the very last minute, but I had a few ideas in my head about what to write about, so it would be no problem, I thought to myself.

I had forgotten that two of our grandchildren, RaeAnne and Carter, were staying at my house. When I got up, I fixed some coffee and had a leisurely breakfast with them. As we talked about their plans for the day, I asked if they wanted to accompany me to the radio station to listen as I gave my weekly “What’s in the paper this week” report to WTIP.

They said sure. They’ve gone with me before and they enjoy it. It’s fun watching the action at the radio station and the candy jar there is always full.

RaeAnne & Carter, two of my five wonderful grandkids!

I thought as long as we were cruising around Grand Marais, it would be fun to take them by the Little Free Library on Third Avenue West. They picked out a couple of books from the collection of kids books at my house and off we went.

I finished my radio report and we swung by the Little Free Library and I had another great idea. The current exhibit at Johnson Heritage Post, Feels Like Home, with beadwork by Jo Wood and paintings by Don Lessard, is absolutely amazing.

I asked if they wanted to go to an Art Gallery and they said sure. They’re game for anything new. So we headed that way to find that we were a little early. The doors were not open yet.

No problem, we walked over to Java Moose to get an early morning treat. An iced latte, strawberry smoothie and mint Italian ice later, we were strolling back to Johnson Heritage Post.

The museum was open and we enjoyed Don Lessard’s lovely paintings—I especially like Croftville Walkers—and Jo Wood’s exquisite bead pieces. The kids loved them, marveling along with me, “They’re 3-D.”

Since the kids hadn’t been there before, we had to take a few minutes to look at the beautiful permanent Anna Johnson collection. And when I noticed that Linda Blaine Ottis was working at the gallery, I had to point out her charming woodcarvings, telling RaeAnne or Carter that she is the artist that made them.

I was reluctant to take them home to grandpa and to head to work—to unorganized territory. I did though, and when I got to my desk, I was discombobulated. I hadn’t written my column! So here I am, frantically telling my unorganized tale as the weekly deadline looms.

It’s okay. It was a wonderful morning in Unorganized Territory.

~     ~     ~     ~

Time you enjoy wasting
is not wasted time.

Marthe Troly-Curtin

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Shopping for candidates

Sun, 07/20/2014 - 5:29pm

The run up to the August 12, 2014 primary election has been very interesting. The primary is almost a month away, but things are heating up. Partly because of the number of candidates on the primary ballot, partly because of the unique things each candidate brings to the table, but mostly because mail ballots are being sent out soon.

Cook County Auditor Braidy Powers told the News-Herald that per state law, mail ballots could have been sent out to voters as early as June 27. Powers said the county wouldn’t send them out that early. Our auditor knows ballots will get misplaced in our piles of junk mail if they go out too early. No, Braidy said ballots would be hitting the mail starting July 22.

Voters could also change their minds. It certainly will be a tough decision for the two Cook County commissioner districts that will be going to the polls in August. There are six choices in District 1—the Colvill, Hovland and Grand Portage area—and four choices in District 5—the Pike Lake, Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder area.   

I know all of the people running for office—some better than others—but they are all good people. They would all do a good job representing our county.

So it comes down to the candidate’s stance on certain issues. That is where citizens need to pay attention. Voters need to attend local forums sponsored by community groups. There have already been a few opportunities—two in Colvill at the town hall and one on the West End at the Schroeder Town Hall.

Before the primary arrives, I’m sure there will be others.

Thanks to all of the candidates—John Bockovich, Kristin DeArruda Wharton, Harry Drabik, Steve Fleace, Jerry Hiniker and Frank Moe in District 1 and Tim Goettl, Bruce Martinson, Ginny Storlie and Stan Tull in District 5. Thanks for being willing to expend your time and energy on listening to constituents.

Voters also had the chance to listen to the WTIP radio forums held Wednesday, July 16 for District 1 and 7 p.m. on Thursday, July 17 for District 5. Visit the radio station at to hear what answers they gave when WTIP’s Jay Andersen and I talked to them in the studio, asking your questions of the candidates.

And, please take some time to read the News-Herald—we had interviews with the District 1 candidates in the July 5 issue and the District 5 candidates in the July 12 paper.

We may not have touched on your issue with our questions. It is really difficult to come up with just a few questions that cover everything. One question is just asking for the basic candidate biographical information, which is interesting but cuts into the harder hitting questions.

Or the silly questions. I would have loved to ask a Barbara Walters-style question: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

Unfortunately, the maximum number of questions with four or six candidates was four questions. Approximately 100 words per question, four questions, six candidates equals 2,400 words. That’s a huge chunk of the newspaper. With a small introduction and the questions themselves, the article on our District 1candidates totaled 2,760 words.

It seems like a lot to read, but it’s worth it. It’s an easy read as the candidates all gave thoughtful answers.

My favorite question is one that actually came from a local business owner during a previous election. LeAnn Zunker of 1010 Design sent a letter to the editor as Election Day neared in 2010. LeeAnn asked, “What have you done personally to support the economy of Cook County?”

I think all of the candidates said, “Good question!” before answering. It’s not the typical question about the levy and budget, about road maintenance, about ordinances or economic development.

The question gave them all a pause, as it did me when I first heard it back in 2010. What have I done to personally support the economy of Cook County?

It’s a good question to ask ourselves, whether we are running for office or not. Sure, we all take a long shopping list with us when we make the trip to Duluth or the Twin Cities for an appointment or to visit family. It just makes sense to stock up on things that are hard to find in Cook County when you are there. Although all of our retail stores do a really good job carrying just about everything imaginable, there are times that they don’t have our favorite toothpaste or tennis shoe or power tool.

But how many of us run to Duluth just to go shopping? I used to when I had teenage boys and the herds of kids that hung out at our house went through a case of Hot Pockets per week.

But then a friend pointed out that you don’t really save with a trip to Duluth. She said you have to factor time off work, the cost of gasoline, and usually a lunch or dinner on the road. It adds up and those bargain socks or spaghetti sauce don’t seem to be such a bargain after all. Not to mention the wear and tear on your vehicle and your peace of mind. No, it’s better to shop local, to support your friends and neighbors.

Plus, you may just run into a candidate for a local government office. You can ask them your own questions while you stand in line at the grocery store or pump gas next to them.

Something hard hitting like: What can the county board and the city of Grand Marais do to make the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority (EDA) more successful?

Or something silly like: If you were a yogurt flavor what would you be?

It’s up to you—what do you want to ask your candidate?


Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.
Abraham Lincoln


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