Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Live Like You Mean it in Pure Michigan?

I am not sure who does the ad campaign for Michigan tourism, but I have to stay they do a great job. Every time I hear an ad for Pure Michigan, I want to hop in the car and drive there. This morning I heard one that really got to me. It’s the one that says, “Realize water’s true potential”. I heard it on the radio and could only imagine the pictures, so I checked it out. The visuals are stunning, as are some of the other short videos at Pure Michigan – Michigan’s Official Travel and Tourism site.

By comparison, Wisconsin’s new ad makes me yawn. The theme for Wisconsin Tourism 2009 is Live Like You Mean It. There has been a lot written about the fact that the theme is not original, but for me that’s not the problem. The theme is - well, so ho hum. The first time I heard it I wondered, “What does that mean?” It doesn’t exactly entice me to visit all the wonderful spots in Wisconsin. Whatever happened to Escape to Wisconsin? That was popular when I was still living in Illinois, and only thinking of returning to Wisconsin. I loved seeing all the Illinois cars sporting that bumper sticker as they crossed the state line.

According to state officials, Wisconsin chose the 2009 based on more than tourism. They thought it would distinguish the state from its competitors in areas such as agriculture and commerce, too. I think it distinguishes us – but not in the way they wanted. I guess I am not the only one who doesn’t like the theme. Neither do 78% of the people who participated in the Business Journal (Milwaukee) poll a few weeks ago.

Michigan and Wisconsin are both states that are hurting in this economy – maybe Michigan even has us beat in this area. Tourism is an important business for both states and summer is a critical time. If ad campaigns matter, I think Michigan is going to win. And I am going to be one of those who head over to the Michigan side of my home lake.

Sure, part of the reason is that my son lives on the shores of Lake St. Clair and I will be visiting him Memorial Day weekend, but it’s more than that. I want to “realize water’s true potential” although I guess I could also ask the same question about this slogan – what does that mean? But it sounds so good. And I feel like I always live like I mean it – or should I say as if I mean it - whether I am in Illinois, New York, Michigan, or Wisconsin. How else should I live?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


As a professed water watcher, I cannot help but comment on the play I saw last night. It is called Urinetown: the Musical. Odd name, right? Odd play, too, but it was thoroughly delightful. It was performed at Bradford High School here in Kenosha, and they did a wonderful job, as they always do with their performances.

Even though Urinetown won three Tony awards and was on Broadway for almost three years, it is not among the best known of musicals. The story, which is told in an unusual way with reverse pantomime style (whatever that is), is a satire on many themes. One of those themes is water shortage. Because of a long drought, the use of toilets has been severely limited in order to conserve water. I love the name of the corrupt company that controls the toilets – Urine Good Company. The play is also filled with good vs. evil, rebellion – and love. Of course, I particularly paid attention to the water parts, and as in any good satire, there is a grain of truth.

A synopsis can be found on-line so I won’t rehash it. And if you are reading this and live in Southeastern Wisconsin, I strongly encourage you to catch the play next week. It will be here in K-town for one more week.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Guilt-free Eating?

That wonderful dinner we had last weekend to celebrate my son-in-law’s birthday keeps playing back to me. Not the conversation but rather the menu. The restaurant where we celebrated specializes in seafood. The choices in our group ranged from a seafood sampler to mahi-mahi, Chilean sea bass, and salmon. I had the steelhead trout, which was delicious.

I knew as we were placing our orders that some of those fish, like the Chilean bass, were among those that are being depleted from our oceans. I did not speak up and tell my companions this, and I guess I feel a little guilty that I didn’t. I don’t carry one of the Seafood Watch pocket guides that tell you what seafood to avoid and offers good alternatives. Even if I did, I am not sure I would have said anything. There was more that I could feel guilty about, too, besides the decadent desserts that we enjoyed. None of the fish, including mine, were local varieties and all had to be shipped to this suburb of Chicago so we could enjoy our meal.

Today as I was checking out a couple of my favorite blogs for Earth Day I came across an updated version of a way to check my Ecological Footprint. One of the questions it asks is how much of the food I eat is local. My choices were limited – all, half, a quarter or none, so I picked a quarter, knowing that’s not totally true. It might be true in the summer, but certainly not at this time of year. I do avoid buying cantaloupe and tomatoes in the off – season but admittedly that is as much because they don’t taste good and are too expensive.

I try to be careful about other things that I buy, too, with some shopping trips being more successful than others. Between counting calories, cholesterol and salt, watching the budget, and worrying about my various footprints, I wonder if it is possible to eat guilt-free anymore.

Back to fish. I eat little meat, mostly for health reasons but at this point fish, poultry and veggie meals are my preference. I would like to eat local fish, but given the cautions about Great Lakes fish, what would I eat? And where would I buy it? And how would I know if it was safe? I don’t have the answers to these questions and if someone can help me out on it, I would appreciate it.

There is one thing I do not have to feel guilty about today. I promised that I would not drive on Earth Day and I didn’t – and it was harder than I expected. My plans for the day were cancelled and I had nothing much to do. I thought about visiting a friend who lives on the other side of town, or going shopping, or taking Burlee out to a park, but all would have meant driving, so I didn’t. I didn’t do laundry either, although that was not a hardship.

Burlee and I did go for a walk close to home. Along our route, we saw a few of the sport fishermen that enjoy Lake Michigan. Some were along the harbor; others were getting their boats ready in the Small Boat Harbor, as seen above. Soon that harbor, which cannot accommodate the tall masts of sailboats, will be filled with fishing boats of all sizes. Fishermen of all sizes, too. I just wonder if they eat what they catch.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Both Earth Day and my son-in-law’s birthday (April 22) come in the middle of the week this year, so celebrations for both took place yesterday. Although not specifically an Earth Day event, my husband and I went to Milwaukee for last of the Great Lakes Water Institute’s lectures in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the dinner for my son in law was in Cook County, Illinois later that day. Driving 40 miles north, then 60 miles south was not exactly an earth-friendly thing to do, but we wanted to attend both events, so we did. However, I will only tell you about one of the events.

The topic at the GLWI was “How the UWM Water Institute Scientists Influence Policy, Law, and Management of Our Freshwater Resources”. The two speakers, Rebecca Klaper and Peter McAvoy did a nice job of summarizing the science behind political issues, telling us about pollutants, where they come from, how they affect public health, and what we can do about it. I picked up a few facts, but in general, I am not sure I learned anything new. However, the talk was a good summary and for the newcomer to this topic, I am sure it very informative.

There were maybe 40 people in the audience (don’t quote me, I’m not good at estimation) and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them were actually newcomers to the topic. A few people came into the lecture and then, perhaps when they realized that it was a serious presentation, quietly left via the back door. As always, one wonders if an audience like this isn’t the proverbial choir that has already heard the sermon. I would be curious to know.

Still I think these events are important and I would like to see more of them. Even if one or two people learn something – and even better are motivated to do something – the program will have been a success. And as someone who “sort of does something”, I was pushed to do more, and that’s a good thing. The series of lectures was entitled Celebrating Freshwater, and it did exactly that.

I know I wasn’t going to tell you about the birthday celebration, but I changed my mind. We had a wonderful time, with great food and great company. I am not sorry I went to both events, but I also know I will have to repent in some way. So on Wednesday, the real Earth Day, I plan not to drive anywhere. I will walk wherever I go. I will not do laundry and I will not waste water. If I walk to the store, I will carry my tote bag and not use either plastic or paper. I will make amends for my wasteful ways – but I will not say that I was wrong to go to both celebrations yesterday. Sometimes you got to do what you got to do.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Signs of Spring

It was in the mid fifties yesterday, with sunny skies and light breezes. It’s also spring break for the local schools. Burlee, the pug, and I had a great walk by the lakefront and so did many other people. Along the way, I saw people strolling, playing in the park, skateboarding, and even kissing along the water. I saw people fishing and riding bikes. I saw a yacht being lowered into the marina and another out on the lake. I even saw evidence of someone not working.

Today’s is expected to be even warmer – a day to put some spring in your step. And boats into the water.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Language of Water

It’s raining again today. Although I am not happy running errands or walking my dog in the rain, I understand that this rain is necessary. It’s more than that April showers bring May flowers. It’s that rain - and water - are critical to life. All my cells and their chemical reactions need water to survive. So do those flowers, the bees that pollinate them, and the rabbits that eat them.

This has gotten me thinking about the water cycle and I spent some time this morning pondering where water goes, how long it sticks around, and other related topics. I did some research and found some cool things.

But I have to take a moment to share something else I saw on my way to learning about hydrology. One of my favorite websites is that of the United States Geological Survey (USGS), which has often been a source of information for me. The section on Water Science for Schools is terrific and not just for schools. It provides tons of information, charts and graphs that everyone can use. There are games, surveys, and other activities, too.

Today I was especially struck by one of the side panels on the site – the one that lists how many languages the water cycle diagram and summaries are available in. There are over 60 languages listed – with a note that more are coming. They range from Afrikaans and Albanian to Uzbek, Wolof and Zulu (Where the heck do they speak Wolof?)

Okay, I digress. But don’t you think it's interesting that the USGS provides this information in so many languages? Talk about what I learned on the way to learning about the water cycle. I learned that the United States may have its problems, but it still seems to have a mission to educate. We may not always know how to do it effectively but there are plenty of people who are trying. And not just for our own children but for the world. We could paraphrase Emma Lazarus in her poem The New Colossus “ Give me your tired, your poor, your uneducated…”

To paraphrase someone else, “Is this a great country or what?”

And just so you know – according to Wikipedia, Wolof is spoken by 3.2 million ethnic Wolof people in Senegal, The Gambia and Mauritania. A quick look at the geography of these countries shows me that they differ greatly in their relationship to water, but I am sure that understanding the water cycle – in any language - is important to all of them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

An Investment in the Future

Yesterday was the fourth in the five part series Celebrating Freshwater at Milwaukee’s Discovery World. The events have featured scientists from the Great Lakes Water Institute addressing issues concerning the Great Lakes. Yesterday Professor Sandra McClellan’s talk was titled “Why is the Beach Closed? And Other Issues Affecting the Shoreline.” Prof. McClellan spoke about pollution, primarily that resulting from sewage dumped into the lakes.

We learned where the fecal material comes from (not just cows, but birds and sometimes humans), why E. coli is a problem (because their presence indicates other, perhaps more harmful, contaminants) and what we can do about it (besides not swim when bacterial levels are high). Prof. McClellan was well spoken and informative. However, sewage is a less sexy topic than some of the others that have been addressed in the series, and for me, most of what she said was nothing new. Nonetheless, I was glad I attended and plan to attend the final session next week, too.

Part of the reason I was glad I went is that it is always a pleasure to be in a space as pleasant as the Discovery World. This structure, which opened last year, has huge windows opening onto Lake Michigan. It makes maximum use of natural lighting and the expansive lake views. In addition, the building is located right next to the Milwaukee’s Summerfest grounds and Lakeshore State Park, which is the only urban state park in Wisconsin.

My husband and I have been to Discovery World twice before the lecture series. The first time was just after it opened, and we were disappointed, as much of the space was still under construction. The second time was several months later when we had guests from out of town and we decided to try again. The exhibits were better but both times we felt the price tag was high. Yesterday we only went to attend the lecture so we didn’t have to pay the admission fee, which is a whopping $16.95 for an adult and a little less for children and students. That’s a hefty price to take a family for an afternoon’s outing.

Still, the place was filled with families and couples wandering around enjoying the exhibits. Discovery World is a unique museum. It is visual, hands-on and couldn’t be in a better location. To my knowledge, it is the only such museum with such a large exhibit focusing on the Great Lakes. My favorite part is the huge relief map of the Great Lakes Basin and the thunderstorm that periodically shows what happens to water in the basin.

One of the most important things that Professor McClellan said yesterday was that we need to educate our children about the importance of our freshwater coast and involve them in efforts to keep it clean. If I were to judge by the number of children at the museum yesterday, Discovery World will make a significant contribution to that education.

Perhaps I should think of that fee for a family of four to visit as more than just an admission fee. It is an investment in the future of something I care about a great deal. What's $60 bucks in the greater scheme of things?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Holiday - and Great Lakes - Fish

What with planning for Passover and two seders, I shouldn’t be spending time thinking about the Great Lakes. Yet even while preparing for the holidays my thoughts turn to the nearby waters, specifically to the fish swimming around in them. Why? Because gefilte fish is an integral part of every Jewish holiday.

Gefilte fish means “stuffed fish”. According to Joan Nathan, in the Jewish Holiday Kitchen, the holiday food dates back to the middle ages in Eastern Europe. In those days, fresh fish was not as readily available as it is today, and poor Jews invented a way to extend the little fish they had by adding onions, seasonings, bread or matzah crumbs, and even including the skin and bones in the concoction, which is then boiled or poached.

Over the ages, gefilte fish has been made with whatever kind of fish was available and inexpensive. Everything from carp and mullet to whitefish and pike are still used. My mother would tell how her mother would bring home a fresh carp, probably from nearby Lake Ontario, and have it swim in the bathtub for days before holidays. Her story was confirmed when in the 1980’s when my children were young I found the children’s’ book called A Carp in the Bathtub.

Carp was not native to North America but was brought here from Europe in the early 19th century. Some think they may have migrated up the Hudson River, through the Erie Canal into Lakes Erie and Ontario. Carp can live in low oxygen conditions and that is probably why in the years that eutrophication - which we know as tons of algae in the lake- was a problem in Lake Erie, the carp survived. By the way, this carp is the common carp and not the huge Asian carp, which are invasive species that are now in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and present a significant enough risk that an electric barrier is being constructed to try to keep them out of the Great Lakes.

Carp are large bottom feeders and have high fat content, which means that toxic substances accumulate at a high rate in them. In some areas, depending on the pollutants, they are highly toxic. My grandmother probably wouldn’t be using today’s carp in her gefilte fish.

From the time my husband and I were married, making the gefilte fish was my mother-in-law’s job. She is no longer alive but I still think of her gefilte fish as the best ever. Her preference was to make it from all whitefish, which is a mainstay of Great Lakes fisheries. According to Wayne Grady, In The Great Lakes: A Natural History of a Changing Region, whitefish populations have been up and down in all the Great Lakes since the 1920’s, influenced by such things as the introduction of other species, like alewives and smelt, which are predators of whitefish. The population increased in the late 1980’s and 90’s and is now somewhat stable, but the evidence is that the fish are smaller than they used to be. I guess Mom would have had to scale, clean, and grind many more fish to make enough fish for our family.

This is just a taste - no pun intended - of what I have learned about a few of the fish that can be used to make gefilte fish. I would tell you more but I have to also make chicken soup, brisket and bake a sponge cake. No time for further research today.

I am not sure if there is any kind of fish associated with Easter. I think of Easter as more of a chocolate and bunny rabbit holiday, but if there is a special fish dish eaten on Easter, please let me know. After this week, I will have time to do more research.

Happy Holidays to all.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April Fools' Regatta

I was not home yesterday afternoon to see the April Fools' Regatta, an annual event sponsored by the Kenosha Yacht Club, but my husband got a few pictures of it for me. While I was out feting a young couple at a bridal shower, a group of hearty sailors raced little butterfly boats on the Kenosha Harbor. They were lucky this year. Although temperatures were only in the forties, the winds were light and the sun was shining. I remember seeing them last year, sailing amidst snowflakes. There are more pictures and information about the event on the Kenosha News website.

Butterfly boats in the harbor and June weddings, preparing for Passover and Easter - all signs of spring. And a forecast for 2-4 inches of snow tonight. Well, this is still Wisconsin, isn’t it?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What's In, What's Not

A few days ago, I learned that quagga mussels are “in” so to speak and zebra mussels are “so yesterday”.

On another in and out topic, I knew that the issue of diverting water out of Lake Michigan to Pleasant Prairie was a last century issue, having been decided several years ago. More this century is the decision of whether to divert water to Waukesha, which is also out of the Great Lakes Basin. That is an on going debate, and in terms defined by the Great Lakes Compact, which was signed in December 2008, all states and provinces in the compact have to agree to the diversion. You can see where that would get to be a complicated and time-consuming legal battle.

I did not know until the other day that another Wisconsin community has applied to divert water. That community, New Berlin, is neither in nor out of the basin. It is what is called a “straddling” community. The city of New Berlin seeks an exemption from the Compact, which states that water cannot be diverted out of the basin except with limited exceptions. Because part of New Berlin is within the basin, only the State of Wisconsin, not the other compact members, need approve the diversion. Still it is not a straightforward decision and at least two conservation groups are against New Berlin’s plan as it has been proposed.

The Great Lakes Compact was designed to protect Great Lakes water but already is being challenged by communities in need of water who see themselves as pretty darn close to the Great Lakes. But the protection of the watershed is not a “no brainer” even for straddling communities. The community needs to establish need and that there is no other “reasonable water source” available. The community must provide a detailed plan to protect rivers, creeks, and wetlands. It needs to minimize the amount of water taken out and maximize the amount returned to the lake. You can read more about the New Berlin plan, including a 55-page letter from city officials responding to questions, on the Wisconsin DNR website.

Whether New Berlin is in or not, one cannot help but wonder, as in the case of the invasive mussels, what’s next? Will it be a community outside the basin or a straddler? New Berlin is the first test of the Great Lakes Compact. I don’t expect it will be the last. What will next year’s “last year’s” issue be?