Our own Black Friday

The day dawns bright and clear.  Having laid out a clear strategy for our Black Friday shopping expedition, Rich and I hop in the car.  After the required stop for latte, I’m fueled with caffeine and ready to do battle.

The road to ElyNot content with the local offerings, we make our way to a distant renowned marketplace to do business.  It’s a taxing two hour drive.  The further we travel, the quieter the road.  Barely a car passes.  Soon snow appears – a harmless quantity and just the thing to put us in the mood for this holiday shopping trip.  It clings to a few trees and coats the roadway, barely touched by tire tracks.  Sunlight snakes through the trees and the sky is that winter blue overhead.  All we hear is the thrum of the tires.  Yes, it’s a rough trip.

At long last, we approach civilization.  The streets are navigable and traffic is tolerable.  We wait through a single stop light.  There, up ahead is our destination – and our choice of parking spots right in front.  We ease into a generous space, note the lack of parking meters, and emerge into the sunshine.  Ah, Ely is a great place for our Black Friday shopping.

The store windows are trimmed with evergreens, and attractive displays entice us into Steger Mukluk Co.  We first take time to browse through the merchandise, energized by all the outdoorsy offerings.  There are just enough customers to generate a friendly buzz, with no need to elbow our way through the aisles.  Despite our casual approach, we have one true mission and ultimately make a beeline for the footwear.  It’s Steer Mukluks that we’re after.  The king of warm boots.  What we hope will be the end of cold feet.

MukluksIt takes a lesson and several tries to get the laces right.  Cross them over just so.  Cinch them tightly.  Pull snugly.  But once done right, the boots conform to our feet.  And we’re sold.  Rich dreams of endless hours out photographing the Northern Lights in the snow.  I envision long treks on snowshoes and sledding with grandkids.  All with toasty warm toes.  We make our purchases without hesitation.

Rich shopping in ElyGiddy with our recent acquisitions we walk the quiet main street, meandering in and out of pleasant shops.  We treat ourselves to lunch.  We ponder our real holiday shopping duties and come up with a creative idea or two.  But feel no sense of urgency to fulfill them just now.

The trip home offers more scenic views and I admit to nodding off now and then.  It has undoubtedly been a successful day for us.  Just doing our bit to offset the rest of the world’s shopping chaos on this Black Friday.

Stoney-River-Molly-1Stoney River


Seasonal Mix-up

Amity Creek bridgeIs this really November?  Just across the street Amity Creek is roaring, filled to the brim with fast moving water rushing over the rocks on its trip down to Lake Superior.

I love the sound of the waterfall, the natural white noise of nature that I can Trail along Amity Creekhear from our house.  And despite the Amity CreekAmity waterfalls into The Deepsspitting rain, it seems a fine afternoon to walk the trails along Amity Creek following the swollen waters.  Every turn brings a renewed appreciation for the beauty of our neighborhood.  The amazing outdoor wonders that are just outside our door.  The sound of the water fills my ears, drowning out any possible infiltration of human or automobile sounds.  It’s just me and the riverbanks.

And yet, something is amiss here.  This is the time of year the creek should be barely more than a trickle.  I should be looking for ice crystals on the placid thinly coated waters.  Watching my step to avoid slippery patches.  Better yet, gliding over the snow on newly groomed ski trails.

The creek is a pretty good barometer.  There seems to be some kind of confusion in the seasons.  Last spring, the usual daredevil kayakers were stymied by the lack of snow and non-existent run-off.  The creek was so low, none of them dared shoot the falls to plunge into The Deeps. They would love today’s tumultuous waters.

Last I checked, Thanksgiving was still on the calendar for next week.  I just hope I don’t find swimmers at The Deeps when I go for my post-turkey stroll.

Sunset Cycling

After two months sitting dormant in the garage, my bicycle is back out on the road again.  These oddly warm days of November have enticed me back onto the seat, and it sure feels good.  How could I forget how wonderful it is to fly along Scenic 61?  My feet going in circles, the wind whistling through my helmet, the whir of my gears and the lake my constant companion.  Never mind that it’s chilly, I’m wrapped in layers of clothes and my toes grow colder with each mile.

Sunlight on the birch treesThe shorter days catch me by surprise.  I’m enjoying the golden glow of the sun behind me as I ride up the shore.  Its low light reflects off the white of the birches and bathes the shoreline in amber as it slips down in the sky.  I pedal on, in search of a good vantage point for a photograph, oblivious of my narrowing window to return.North Shore sunset

At last a gap in the trees provides me with a view.  Turning around, I find a stunning sunset.  The sun is making its final descent to the hillside of Duluth, and in its final moments the brilliant yellow flare is almost blinding.  The rest of the sky is just beginning to take on a fiery orange cast, each cloud becoming the perfect reflector for the sun’s rays.  I snap photo after photo, trying different viewpoints and settings, hoping to capture the magic before my eyes.

Returning to my bike, the road is visibly darker.  Daylight is fading fast with the sun’s disappearance.  I have a good 40 minute ride to get home, and it quickly becomes a race with the diminishing light.  Thankfully the flashers on my bike have retained enough battery power to make me visible to cars.  But they do nothing for my own night sight.  What might be a dire situation is actually a thrill.  With each passing mile, the sky intensifies to an even deeper red, reaching high overhead.  The trees have become flat black silhouettes, outlined in sharp contrast with the crimson backdrop.  Looking higher, I discover an ultra-thin crescent moon perched in the darkening sky above.  My legs pump and I spin toward this magnificent scene.  I drink it all in with my eyes, knowing I can’t afford any more stops on this trip.  Perhaps it’s all the more beautiful for its ephemeral nature.

Night sky at homeMy own neighborhood is darkest of all.  The last few blocks lack a streetlight and I am pitched into near total darkness on our rural road.  There the moon hangs over the neighborhood homes, and I am thankful to return safely.  Yet all the richer for my sunset cycling.

Staying after Class

Writing Class

Class was dismissed, time to head home. Or so I thought. It was the end of a wonderful 4-day stint in Grand Marais, rubbing elbows with real authors and nascent writers at the inaugural North Shore Readers and Writers Festival put on by the Grand Marais Art Colony. My time there was jam packed with workshops, craft seminars, entertaining speakers, readings by authors and book related special events. I left with a head full of inspiration, myriad ways to improve my writing, and great role models among both presenters and attendees to fuel my ambition.

The noonday sun shone brillliantly in the deep blue sky. I shuffled through the fall leaves while breathing in the brisk air, listening to the waves crashing against Lake Superior's shore as I walked back to the motel. After days indoors perched on chairs, listening intently, thinking and practicing writing, the outdoors felt envigorating. So when Rich proposed staying on for another day, it didn't take me long to overcome my natural inclination to stick to the original plan and agree to the extension.

Northern Lights Lake Trail

In short order we headed up the Gunflint Trail. With hunting season just opened our hiking options were limited, but Rich assured me no sane hunter (or deer) would choose the steep trail up alongside Northern Lights Lake. The trail rose steeply rewarding us with nice views of the lake through the trees. Navigating the path required careful attention to where I was going. Avoiding slippery rocks, wet mud and tree roots kept my eyes riveted on the trail. Perhaps that's what brought the forest floor into such sharp focus, with all its intricate detail. There the lichen spread its delicately patterned fronds over the green mossy ground cover. From a distance, it resembled a field of cauliflower. Up close it was like fine lace.

Lichen along the trail

Similar looking decor proved to be something else entirely…snow! Just a gentle reminder that winter is not far away.

Snow along the trail

The silence of the trail was a calming influence. With only the wind rippling through the trees as accompaniment to our falling footsteps, it made for a relaxing retreat. My only regret was that the trail wasn't longer, to prolong our foray into the woods.

With the fall days rapidly growing shorter, by mid-afternoon the shadows were lengthening and dusk was already beginning its advance. We chose to spend the remaining hours of golden sunlight at the harbor, watching the waves crash on the rocky breakwater. By then, I was grateful for bringing a warm jacket, gloves and hat. On the North Shore, one can never be over-prepared for the weather.

Grand Marais harbor

As the sun set behind the lighthouse, casting its fiery glow, I knew we'd made the right decision. It was worth staying after class.

Grand Marais sunset


Hiking, Czech Style

You have to hand it to the Czechs. When hiking in the mountains, they do things right. How well I remember the first time we went hiking with our Czech daughter, Pavla, and her family. After toiling up the steep climb, wading through deep snow, slipping on the ice and marveling at the stamina of the locals we came to the summit. And a pub! Taking in the surprise registering on our faces, Pavla patiently explained that all such hikes terminate at similar establishments. After all, what would be the point otherwise? Good thinking. We decided on the spot that we liked hiking in the Czech Republic.

MoravkaOur latest visit with Pavla included a stay in Morovka, where she and her family spend most weekends in husband Pavel’s family home. It is a beautiful spot in a valley situated in the Beskidy Mountains. And right from the doorstep there are numerous hiking options. Blessed with a perfect fall day featuring peak foliage and brilliant sunshine, we set out shortly after lunch with extended family members to tackle the hillside.

Hiking near MoravkaThe air was crisp and cool, particularly in the shade of the towering trees. It was good incentive to keep moving. We weren’t the only hikers on the trail by any stretch. And nearly all were family groups. What impressed us most of all was the way the young ones carried on without complaint. The youngest in our group was only four, and she covered nearly the whole 5 kilometer distance uphill on her own. She definitely earned the piggy back ride she got on the way down. Those only a few years older hiked round trip with energy to spare. Clearly, they were raised on this stuff.

This particular hike delivered in style. There were multiple resting spots along the way, with plenty of beverage and food options to refresh the weary traveler. At the first, we paused long enough to indulge the children in a pony ride. Our destination was Chata Kotar, where we happily gathered around outdoor tables to enjoy the view. And lift a glass or two.
Chata Kotar on the hiking trail
The views were as spectacular going down as they were on the way up. We couldn’t help marveling at our good fortune with the weather. And there was no better way to enjoy it than traipsing through the colorful, rustling leaves with our Czech family.

Hiking in the Beskidy MountainsThank you, Pavla, for introducing us to hiking, Czech style!Molly, Pavla and Rich

At home in Ostrava

Little did we know 14 years ago that our search for summer child care would forever tie us to the Czech Republic. It was a link through our children’s small Christian school – and fate – that brought Pavla to us. What started as just a summer job ended with inviting her into our home for her final year of post-graduate studies as a member of the family. Her babysitting duties were over.

Despite having to part at the end of that year, we have remained firmly connected ever since. We took the kids over to see her the following year, and we were warmly embraced by her entire family. Rich and I have returned several times since, most memorably for Pavla’s wedding. There we were honored to be recognized as her “American parents” and enthralled with the Czech wedding traditions. Nine long years have since passed. We were overdue for a visit.

Molly, Rich and PavlaIt was a joyful reunion on the train platform when we arrived in Ostrava. With tight hugs and emotions raging we looked forward to an entire week together. Soon Pavla was ushering ushering us into their new apartment in central Ostrava. We marveled at the remodeling her husband Pavel had done, transforming it into a bright modern home. But more importantly we met their young daughters for the first time, Elenka and Beatka. Their English may have been limited, but we had little trouble connecting with them. Sharing their pet bunny and playing board games involved no language barrier.

Despite the passage of time, regardless of Pavla now shepherding a family of her own we instantly felt at home. And we were quickly assimilated into their family routine. Our time revolved around Pavla’s availability, as the realities of work, mothering and running a household took precedence.  Early on we accompanied Pavla on her rounds to pick the girls up after school. It gave us the unique opportunity to peek into their classrooms and get a glimpse of their day at school.Picking Pavla's girls up at school

When left to our own devices, we happily reacquainted ourselves with Ostrava.  Far from being a tourist town, we enjoyed the fact that we never saw other Americans and immersed ourselves in the life of an ordinary Czech city.  It didn’t take me long to get to know the coffee shops, and I enjoyed meandering along the city streets admiring the local architecture. The age and location of the city alone provided plenty for me to see.  My favorites were the colorful detailed buildings and the onion topped towers.Views of Ostrava

We rambled along the Ostravice River daily, walking its banks until it reached the countryside on each end. The fall colors were vivid, enhancing its appeal and cancelling out the gray skies.

Dinner with Pavla

We were fortunate that Pavla’s job teaching business English in the local university gave her a varied schedule. And we made the most of her free hours. She made sure we got out to see some sights, so we took the girls to the zoo and visited the Tatra Museum in a nearby city. As always Pavla spoiled us by making Czech meals, remembering the foods we most enjoyed. But the best times were the quiet hours we had together. Spending a morning over coffee visiting. Having an evening together when the girls were happily playing. Accompanying her on errands in the city, always walking. Those were the moments when we relived memories. Laughed together. Analysed life. And treasured.

As always, the time went too quickly and it was hard to leave. Instead of saying goodbye, it felt better to say “See you soon.” Because I know we will. And I know we always have a home in Ostrava.Rich, Molly and Pavla's family


The Runner’s Low

I’ve been sidelined. And I don’t even know how it happened. What seems to be a groin pull has definitely knocked me out of the running game. I have no idea when I will be back in play.

Anyone who knows me will instantly recognize that this is not going down well. My whole being yearns to be out exercising. When I awake in the morning, it’s a crushing blow to know I can’t lace up my running shoes and put in 10 miles. The world as I know it has shifted.

Walking in Dubrovnik

The fact that I am traveling through Europe for the month is my saving grace. I’m already outside my normal routine, and there are so many other great things to do that I reconcile filling the void with exploring, sightseeing and visiting. I pretend that all the walking I do around each city I visit is enough exercise for a day. At times I even I admit that it is liberating. No need to agonize over when I will get in my run. It just isn’t a factor. And I have extra time for being a tourist.

Cycling with Mary

Before I mislead anyone into thinking that I may even be letting go, I’d better set the record straight. While I can’t run, cycling seems to be okay. So I appreciated the afternoons that Mary and I went for bike rides together in England. Even if they were leisurely jaunts to a tea shop to splurge on rich cakes. I also spent many a morning in the cruise ship’s fitness center spinning my way into port. I took it easy, though, and limited my workout to a fraction of the distance I would normally do. It’s a real challenge, but I really am trying to be good. Honest.

Sunrise in Rothley

Some days I get my fix of pre-breakfast fresh air by going for a brisk walk. That has its compensations, as I can bring a camera. I captured this nice sunrise one morning in England.

While in the Czech Republic, Rich and I have spent many an hour walking together while our “Czech daughter” Pavla is at work. I well remember running this same path in Ostrava on a previous visits, and each time a runner strides past us my heart twists with envy. But I stay the course, gently putting one foot in front of the other. Taking in the fall colors.

Fall leaves in Ostrava

It’s not easy being good. But I’m doing my best to keep a positive attitude. I can’t stay in Europe forever. So soon I will have to face mornings at home without a run on the Lakewalk. That’s a real runner’s low.