Christmas al fresco

There’s a pine tree standing in our entryway.  Boy, it smells good.  Once the branches drop and stop dripping from the ice and snow, it will move into the great room.  Who ever thought of bringing the outside in for Christmas sure had a good idea.

I’m not sure I could handle Christmas in a warm climate.  The cold and snow are an integral part of what signals the season for me.  Even if it means cold toes, bundling up and heading outdoors for the season’s festivities are part of the package.

Julebyen 1The typical Christmas craft fair took on a new look recently when Knife River started up Julebyen.  That is the Norwegian word for Christmas Village, and it combines a place for celebration and gathering with music, crafts and food.  And it’s all outdoors.  In this its second year, the weather was far more seasonable than last year’s frigid temperatures, making it pleasant to wander down the shortJulebyen 2 “street” of village shops and peruse the fine wares made by local craftsmen.

The tent at the end of the row offered Norwegian delicacies, and a musician playing the dulcimer provided entertainment. In the background the skating rink hosted an active group of children enjoying the winter ice.  Combined with colorful Norwegian characters, it was a delight to the eye.

Julebyen 4Julebyen 3

Bentleyville 1For nocturnal outdoor fun, nothing beats a trip to Bentleyville. The collection of Christmas lights and surround-sound seasonal music is irresistible even to adults.  This year we went without the benefit of children and grandchildren, and enjoyed the light show as much as ever.  The “dancing tree” was my favorite – watching the 130-foot tall conical Christmas tree’s lights pulsate in patterns in time to the upbeat music was great entertainment.  We commended ourselves for spotting a few new additions, including Split Rock Bentleyville 2Lighthouse and some Tall Ships sailing near the illuminated Aerial Bridge.  It’s hard not to feel the magic of Christmas, surrounded by so much fanciful brilliance.

Yes, it’s good to have the smell of pine permeating the house, and a real tree temporarily rooted to the floor.  It will tide us over until our next Christmas al fresco activity.   Hmm, Christmas caroling anyone?

Tag Along Photography

I just don’t have what it takes.  The patience.  The persistence.  The hours of practice, research, testing, trial and error.  Not to mention standing nearly motionless out in the cold.  From watching Rich, I can see just what dedication it requires.  And I am fully prepared to admit that I’m not cut out to be a serious photographer.  But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying taking pictures.

Recently, Rich was hot on the trail of another photography idea.  He’d worked it all out.  The crescent moon would be setting at just the right angle to be seen over the Two Harbors waterfront.  His plan was to photograph the lighthouse at the end of the pier, along with the setting moon.  (Now do you see the extent of his efforts?)  So despite single digit temperatures that promised to fall further in the evening hours, he convinced me to head out with him for this marvelous adventure.

In theory it was a great idea.  Rich’s calculations were accurate.  The only problem was the lighthouse had no spotlight, and hence was invisible.  Part of me wanted to rejoice and head home, as the wind was stronger than we expected and infiltrated my heavy down jacket and warm gloves.  But the photography session was salvaged by an incoming ore boat.

It moved ever so slowly through the black night.  Watching and waiting for the boat to line up with the moon, my fingers reached ever increasing degrees of iciness.  And yet the scene was captivating.  The boat’s lights twinkled over the water, and occasionally big spotlights swept out IMG_0228across the liquid expanse as it progressed toward the ore docks.  I was too cold to think very hard about what settings I should be using, or to try different techniques.  That would be too much like the photographer I profess not to be.  But I still snapped away, hoping I was close.  The result requires a bit of imagination to see the boat, but I do rather like the sparkling effect.

Settling into its berth at the IMG_0233ore docks, the boat’s lighted posterior lined up nicely with the dropping moon.  Without that description, it would probably be unrecognizable.  But I still thought it was picturesque.

That was enough for me.  A beautiful evening.  Chilled to the bone.  A floating spectacle.  Ready for home.  Oh, but wait – another boat was heading our way!  How could we be so lucky?  With the moon nearly down and the ship still a mere speck, it would be a long wait.  Fortunately, even Rich was ready to call it a night.  We took a pass on that one.

No, I’ll never make it as a photographer.  I’ll stick to wrangling with words, thank you.  Writing is my gig.  But that doesn’t stop me from tagging along and snapping a few pix.  Just for fun.

A Happy Houseful

I haven’t touched my email in three days. I haven’t even checked it. And the world hasn’t stopped.  In fact, I’m more in touch with reality than ever.  Just a step outside my bedroom door life abounds.

We built our retirement house for the two of us.  We took into consideration IMG_0301that we wanted to be able to host overnight guests and family visits.  But just two years into full-time occupancy, we have a rapidly expanding family.  So we are a bit space challenged when everyone comes together.  But I can’t imagine farming them out to hotels.  And fortunately, they are all good sports about it.  So far.  I call it “making memories.”

IMG_0315For Thanksgiving weekend we shoehorned 9 family members into the house. Including 2 little people.  On the sleeping scale the little peeps weigh in on the light side, cocooning in narrow crevices on our backpacking sleep mats. Any other way you measure it, they tend to dominate.  Especially on an energy and volume level.  But to me, they are happy messes.  Happy noises.

IMG_0267There is nothing better than being surrounded by family.  Everyone pitching in.  Big family meals.  Piling into a van to go to a movie.  Breakfast around the kitchen island. Laying down Brio train track. Running to the grocery store for yet more milk.  Playing card games late into the evening.  Who cares about email?

I’m a proud mama and happy to see our kids making their way in this big world.  But I still love nothing more than having them come home.  Especially when they all come at once.  No matter that we’re a bit squished.  This is more than a happy houseful.  It’s an overflowing heart full.IMG_0254 trimmed


Nature’s Imagery

What to show out of town guests?  That’s not hard when we live in such a beautiful area.  With visitors here this week, it was an easy choice to drive up the North Shore and share a few of our wonderful state parks with them.

When we planned this visit, we assumed we would be walking the trails at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park in crisp fall weather with leaves underfoot.  Winter’s early arrival changed the context but did not deter us from our plan.  We just needed boots and a few more layers of clothes.  There were few other visitors in the park and we enjoyed exploring the lakeside trails with their view of the lighthouse.  Snow was everywhere, and it was tricky walking on the pebble beach.  Some rocks were frozen together in clumps, others harbored hidden ice, the rest were loose, creating rickety footing.  As much as I love the shoreline, I was relieved to return to the trail.

With plenty of pictures of Split Rock in my albums, I searched for other sights of interest. It wasn’t long before I became fascinated with the shapes and patterns created by nature all around me.  Soon I found plenty of images to capture.IMG_0186 IMG_0179 IMG_0177 Moving on to Gooseberry Falls State Park, we found frozen waterfalls.  I never guessed that the falls would be encrusted in a frosty facade by November 19!  We could hear the water moving under the ice formations, and enjoyed the drippy icicles left on the surface.  Once again, I found plenty of material for my study of nature’s details.IMG_0196IMG_0201 IMG_0200Our final stop was back in Duluth.  We arrived at Canal Park in time to see the Walter J McCarthy Jr slip through the piers and under the bridge.  Evidence of its trip through the frigid lake was plain to see, with its ice encrusted bow.  Mother Nature’s study in white. IMG_0206No matter how many times I visit the North Shore, there is always more to see and enjoy.  This time it was a matter of looking more closely instead of viewing the big picture.  That’s where I found nature’s imagery, in ice and snow.

The indecisive ore boat?

It was bitterly cold.  The wind was so fierce that I had to stop and blow warm air into my mittens cupped over my face to revitalize my nose every few miles.  But still I persisted.  Very little keeps me from my morning run.

Tadoussac 2

The CSL Tadoussac – photo by Steve Geronazzo, courtesy of

My destination was Lief Erickson Park via the Lakewalk.  Passing under London Road next to the railroad tracks, I reached the lake shore for the first time.  As always, when I see a boat out in the lake, my heart does a little flip and I am grateful for living next to the wonderful body of water we call Lake Superior.  Seeing an old style ore boat is even better, connecting me back to the days when all boats had such graceful lines and majesty.  So seeing the CSL Tadoussac heading out into the lake was distraction enough to help me forget the wind and cold.  I had something much more appealing to focus on.

But then things got really interesting.  The boat began to turn toward shore.  Running to the next open view point, I stopped to watch.  Before long it had done a complete 180 and was heading back to port.  Why would a boat come out of the harbor only to change its mind and return a short distance later?  It didn’t appear to be having any trouble as it steamed back toward the bridge.  Continuing on my run, I followed its progress, and sure enough before long the bridge lifted for the incoming boat.  I didn’t actually see the boat go under the bridge, as by then I had turned around myself.   But I did hear the boat and bridge salute each other as it slipped under the raised bridge deck.

The whole episode might have remained a mystery to me, but this is where it helps to be connected.  As soon as I contacted Konnie at Lake Superior Magazine, she was on the case.  She in turn went to her shipping experts who not only solved the puzzle, but provided a visual explanation.

Tadoussac route

The CSL Tadoussac’s route, from, and my route – I’m the red X watching the boat turn tracks ship movements worldwide, and by zeroing in on the port of Duluth, it is possible to view the exact movements of any recent vessel.  As soon as the Tadoussac’s route displayed, the answer became clear.  She hadn’t come out from the harbor at all – that was just my own mistaken assumption.  Instead, she had been anchored outside the harbor awaiting her turn at a dock.  When her turn came, she must have needed more room to maneuver to get a good point for entering the narrow ship canal, so headed down the lake before doing her U-turn and pointing toward the bridge.

I really should have thought of that.  After all, I just wrote a story for Lake Superior Magazine about boats using the “free parking” outside the harbor!  But logic doesn’t always flow through the cold brain of a runner.  It seemed far more exciting to consider the dire consequences of the ore boat that appeared to change its mind.  And yet, I’m glad there was a simple explanation.  We both had a good run this morning, me and the Tadoussac.

It’s here to stay

Winter.  Snow.  I can’t see it going anywhere soon.  While we have had early snowfalls in the past, I don’t remember anything that feels so permanent.

It’s a bit of a shock to the system.  One day I’m out puttering in the garden, reaping seeds from some of our perennials and scattering them in bare spots in the hope of generating new blooms.  The next day the plants are all covered in snow.  I’ve had to dig into the storage boxes that contain my out of season clothes.  Now where were those heavy wool sweaters?  Time to exchange them for the sleeveless tops and flimsy running clothes in my drawers.  It’s taking a while for my body to adjust to these frigid temperatures.  Single digits bring a penetrating chill.

Snowy running trailI know I should be out on the ski trails. Rich claims that they are amazingly good.  I did give them a whirl one day.  But I can’t quite give up running yet.  It’s been a challenge, dodging the crusty snow left behind when they plowed the Lakewalk, but each day it gets better.  And I have a great excuse for running a slow pace.

The biggest bonus was having the sun come out the last two days.  What a transformation, from dark and dreary to sparkling contrasts of white and blue.  I was inspired to run all the way down to Canal Park and back just to spend more time alongside the deep blue lake.  How I wished I could capture it with more than just my eyes.

Brighton Beach with snowThis morning, I discovered that my tiny camera would fit snugly into the key pocket of my winter tights.  There was no chance it would bounce around there, which drives me crazy.  So I was in business.  I didn’t repeat my visit to Canal Park, but made a swing through Brighton Beach instead.  There I found the same blue/white combination I find so Lester River icing upappealing.

I was amazed to see just how much freezing is going on already.  Lester River was filling in with ice, creating a wiggly pattern through its snowy banks as it made its way down to Lake Superior.  If this keeps up, soon it will disappear below its icy surface.

Even if fall does briefly reappear, it won’t feel real.  By now we all know where this is headed.  Winter is here to stay.

Hello Boots

I have been reacquainted with the new boots I bought last winter.  If today’s weather is any indication, we will see a lot of each other for the next six months.  Good thing I really like them.

It’s only November 10.  Barely out of the single digits.  Not long past Halloween and the earliest snowfall in my memory, back in 1991.  This one is nothing compared to that blizzard, but it still looks plenty white out there.

IMG_1474I was content to stay inside as the flakes fell throughout the day.  Working on my latest writing assignment seemed the perfect excuse to hole up and avoid the slippy slidy world out there.

But by late afternoon I just had to venture out in it all.  Groceries for dinner were as good an excuse as IMG_1477any, and I opted to walk to the store.  The world was hushed by the new layer of snow, and few vehicles were moving on our out-of-the-way road.  It was easy to make believe it was mid-winter.

With temperatures promising to stay well below freezing for the remainder of the week, it doesn’t look like this snow is going to disappear any time soon.  Rich is already chomping at the bit to strap on his rock skis and start the XC ski season.  Honestly, I was hoping for a few more weeks of good running weather.  But I may just have to ski a few loops around the golf course tomorrow instead.  Today snow boots.  Tomorrow ski boots.  Why not?