Woman vs. Machine

It’s been lurking in the back of the closet for years.  At least 16 years, as far as I can tell.  That’s how long it’s been since my children were young enough for me to sew matching pajamas, sweatsuits, leggings and Zubaz for them.  Those were the heydays for my serger.  Me and my machine – we spent a lot of time together back then.

Recently I pulledMolly with serger my old pal out from the recesses of its hiding place.  Not only did I dust it off, but given its long retirement, I took it back to the sewing shop where I bought it for a good tune-up.  Soon it was lubed, oiled and ready to go.  I just wasn’t sure I was.

Sergers are finicky machines.  With not one but four gigantic spools of thread and complicated threading schemes involving upper and lower loopers and two needles, just getting it ready to sew is a complex business.  Unlike my regular sewing machine, which I can still operate on autopilot, this one was going to require a hefty re-learning process.  Me and my machine needed to get reacquainted again.  It didn’t help that I couldn’t find my manuals.  But Google solves all, and I soon had an electronic version of my 25 year old booklets.

Serger and scrapsOnce I worked up the nerve to start sewing, the real fun began.  Ugly messy stitches ensued, followed by the hit or miss process of fiddling with the tension knobs for each spool of thread.  It took several days, more Google searches, many scraps of fabric and lots of thread, but finally I mastered it.  I had a good stitch going!

By now I’m sure you’re wondering just what could possibly entice me to resurrect this old relic and re-engage in battling with it?  The obvious answer is grandchildren.  But they’ve been around for almost 5 years now, and despite feeble promises to sew knits for them I’ve yet to deliver on that.  No, it’s napkins.  More accurately, lots and lots of napkins for our son’s wedding reception.  In keeping with some homespun elements of their outdoor celebration, his fiance envisioned vintage looking napkins in various patterns.  And so I volunteered.  Happily.  After all, I have a serger that makes fast work of just that sort of thing.

Wedding napkinsToday was the true test.  I finally set aside my scraps and set to work for real.  My serger hummed and stitched, overcasting each edge with absolute precision.  Just as I knew it would.  I created neat rolled hems on all four sides of 25 napkins with ease with my trusty machine.  So far so good.

Woman vs. machine?  Naw, we’re a team again.  Me and my machine.  And only 200-some napkins to go.

Happy Dogs

The afternoon was gray and gloomy.  What little snow we had in the yard looked crusty and tired.  I’d been out all morning.  So the idea of going out to watch and photograph the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race was beginning to lose its appeal.  Fortunately, I didn’t let the excuses keep me away.

With the race starting north of Two Harbors due to lack of snow this year, we had to scout a new viewing spot.  Yet once we arrived, it reminded me of last year’s John Beargrease 2015 aoutpost.  We were at a point where the race course crossed a road and were able to peer down the tree lined trail.  Our timing was good, as the half-marathon mushers were just starting to pass by as we arrived.  There was a steady stream of sleds with reasonable gaps in between – the beauty of being a short distance from the beginning of the race.

John Beargrease 2015 cOne of the race officials must have been in contact with someone just up the course as he’d yell “dogs on the trail,” and sure enough a team would soon turn the corner and enter our field of view.  Sometimes we’d get a double – one team just behind another bearing down the trail.  It always seemed to take them a while to come into my viewfinder, and then suddenly they were past and we were hooting and hollering for the mushers.  What I managed to catch in my photos each time was a matter of pure luck.

With all the teams still fresh, theJohn Beargrease 2015 d temperatures mild and the trail conditions good, there was an aura of positive excitement among the teams.  The dogs in particular seemed to be having a good time.  In fact, they were decidedly a happy bunch.  Especially after viewing all my photos, I couldn’t help but have a bit of fun with that idea.  I nominated this group for happiest dog team.

There was no question about which was the happiest dog.  This had to be the most delighted canine out there on the trail.  Have you ever seen a bigger dog smile?

John Beargrease 2015 eWhen it came to mushers, this woman’s smile was infectious.

John Beargrease 2015 fWe stayed until the last full marathon team sailed through.  By then the day was darkening, my fingers and toes were chilling, and it was easy to head home.  But I was glad I’d gone out to watch the race.  I was a happy spectator.

Skiing with Nature

Driving up the Gunflint Trail was like entering a new world. Moving further inland with each passing mile and leaving behind the warming effect of Lake Superior transformed the landscape into a snowy winter scene.  I could forgive the trickiness of driving on a slick icy road for the benefit of the snow accumulations blanketing the woods.

Susan and I were extremely grateful for having chosen to spend our annual XC Ski Weekend together staying at Poplar Creek Guesthouse on the central Gunflint ski trails.  It was the perfect destination for a winter marred by lack of snow.  For three full days we could leave behind the frustrations of barren brown ski trails and revel in the deep soft whiteness of beautifully groomed trails through the woods.

Susan on the Bearskin trailsI might have expected that the lure of good snow would draw crowds from the Cities to ski these trails over the weekend, but it certainly didn’t seem to be the case.  Perhaps because the trail system is so extensive, we rarely saw another skier.  In fact, evidence of wildlife was in far greater abundance.

My favorite time out on the trails was early in the morning.  Getting in at least 10k of fresh air and exercise makes the sumptuous and generous B&B breakfast all the more delicious.  So I ventured out before light to ski through the pre-dawn stillness.  Each morning I was greeted by nearly an inch of new powder on Skis and animal tracksthe well groomed trails.  It was the perfect carpet to record the previous night’s animal activity.  I spotted plenty of bunny prints, watched a fox’s paws follow the ski tracks and wondered about the origins of other divots in the snow.  But the best part was the musical accompaniment.  Hearing something in the distance, I stopped skiing to silence the swish-swish of my skis.  And there it was again.  Howling.  Bark-bark-bark-Oooooooh-bark-bark.  Sometimes multiple Ooooooooohs in the middle.  Over and over again.  The song of the wolf was haunting and beautiful.  And far enough away not to be a threat.

We chose the Banadad Trail for one afternoThe Banadad Trailon’s ski outing.  Having done it before, we knew just what to expect – endless kilometers of narrow, single classic tracks through densely wooded forest with pine branches bending low under their burdens of snowy cover.  Since it is largely flat with few turns and no intersections, it is the perfect opportunity to ski on autopilot and let one’s brain loose while drinking in the peaceful surroundings.  We dubbed it a “contemplative ski.”  It might have been completely serene had it not been for the moose tracks.  Most were made prior to the overnight snowfall, so although they trampled the ski tail, we felt reassured by the fact that the moose were long gone.  Then we found the fresh tracks.  Multiple moose chose to cross and follow the ski trail for a bit before wandering back into the woods.  For all we knew, there were still there staring at us.  But we never saw them.  Susan was greatly relieved, by my camera-toting self was a wee bit disappointed.

Molly on the Banadad TrailLest all this sound too serious, we did have our moments of levity as well.  Remembering our last ski on the Banadad when Susan missed the final turn to reach the Guesthouse, I stood sentinel to make sure it didn’t happen again.  No point in delaying our evening wine and cheese, after all.

 

It was three glorious days of cross-country skiing at its best – soft snow, endless views of an undisturbed natural environment and evidence of furry friends playing on the trails.  There’s nothing better than skiing with Mother Nature.

Running Around

I  missed my run yesterday.  I knew it would happen, and it was a conscious decision.  That’s not a trivial affair for this exercise addict.  But it was oh, so worth it.

In actual fact, I still did plenty of running.  But it was in the confines of my daughter’s basement, chasing two toddlers.  I may not have clocked many miles, but the tally for giggles and hugs was sky high.

Ben in the playhouse

Ben and the crow in the playhouse

Right off the bat we found a stash of puppets.  These weren’t your run of the mill puppets, they were Shari Lewis style gems.  As we resurrected Lamb Chop, Hush Puppy, Charlie Horse and the black crow, the memories came flooding back.  How I loved those TV shows and Shari’s marvelous ventriloquism.  The puppets joined our play for most of the morning and shared the cardboard playhouse with us.  Its no-frills simplicity made for a perfect hide-out for the three of us and our puppet pals.

In fact, that led to our next adventure – Hide and Seek.  There were endless places to sneak around among the boxes and storage bins in the basement.  But admittedly, the playhouse was a favorite hiding spot.  Funny how it took me so long to catch on.  I loved searching high a low for those two little munchkins, bypassing them intentionally to drag out the hunt.  But I got an even bigger kick out of it when they did the same!  Kids catch on so fast.

Molly and Mya with the puppets

Ben’s picture of Grammy, Mya and the puppets

I tried to capture the moments with my little camera.  Catching the joy on their little faces or the mischievous glint in their eyes was next to impossible.  But the camera served an even better purpose.  I had let Ben take some pictures with it at Christmas time, and we all had a good laugh out of seeing the world from his point of view – looking up at everything.  So when my camera emerged again, he insisted on another turn.  And like before, he took some very credible shots.  I like them even better than my own.  Mya’s turn produced a lot of fuzz and blur, but a Grammy can’t be partial when granting favors.

Play.  It’s all we did for a whole morning.  It’s truly the luxury of being a Grammy.  I don’t recall ever abandoning my long To Do List to just let down and play with my own kids.  At least not for hours on end.  And yet, it seems to come naturally the second time around.

I really didn’t miss that run.  I had better things to do.  I got to play.

De-Christmasizing

It’s always a whole lot more fun to decorate the house for Christmas than it is to take everything down.  Getting out each ornament and remembering its history.  Finding each decoration’s special spot where it is always placed.  Positioning them just so and deciding how much is just enough.

Christmas decorationsI admit that in these latter years I’ve been trimming down my decorations.  I no longer feel the necessity to display every single Christmas item in the boxes.  It does streamline the process.  But there are some that are too special to omit.  The knitted snowmen, made by a friend dating back to junior high.  The corn-husk angel holding a Christmas wreath, another hand made item that was a prize for selling the most wreaths in a fundraiser.  The cross-stitch bird and musical horn ornament, one I made for my Mom years ago that recently came back to me.  The detailed nutcrackers, given to us by Rich’s parents in the early years of our marriage.

At this end of the holiday each item gets carefully wrapped and placed in its box and stacked in containers, the same way every year.  The tree, denuded of its decorations, garland and lights, is carried out the door trailing a telltale path of dry pine needles.  The house once again resumes its normal appearance, no longer decked out in red and green.

Christmas mealWe may have stripped the house of its Christmas decor, but the memories still linger.  Sitting on the couch extracting trinkets from our Christmas stockings.  Gathering around the table for a big family dinner.  Eager little ones finding their names on presents under the tree, and always looking for more.  Joy and laughter as presents are exchanged.  Just being together with family, and talking on the phone with those who call from afar.

The Christmas boxes are once again stored away.  In Rich’s words, the house has been de-Christmasized.  There’s a bit of peace that comes with the transformation.  Yet I’m already looking forward to doing it all again.

The Search for Snow

It’s winter all right. But any more, that doesn’t guarantee snow. Thinking back on growing up in Duluth evoke memories of high snowbanks, snow days off school, building igloo-like forts and constant snow cover throughout the winter months. If there were brown Christmases or sparse snow years, my memory has conveniently deleted the images.

This snow season started with great promise. Early delivery of a decent snowfall in early November and cold temperatures to hold it on the ground seemed to bode well for the winter. But fickle weather with tropical warmth rapidly erased that bountiful jump start. And still we wait for replacement snow.

Near Caribou TrailIf the snow won’t come to us, our only option is to seek it elsewhere. The day after Christmas, brought our first success, finding beautiful fresh snow inland from Lutsen. Driving along the narrow road, hushed by the snow covering and flanked by trees laden with deep new snow on the branches was heavenly. It was even better getting out and hiking in it, blanketed by silence.

Onion River RoadFinding snow for cross-country skiing requires additional ingenuity. Returning up the North Shore to Tofte brought us to Onion River Road, which proved high enough above Lake Superior to hold a recent snowfall. Prior experience has taught us that the flat roadbed absent of brush and other undergrowth along with excellent grooming provides the first good skiing of the season. It held true once more, and we logged 22k each on that stretch of snow.

Bonita PointNew Years Day found us in cabin country, north of Grand Rapids. Although the snow cover wasn’t deep, the large expanse of white lake gave the illusion of real winter. Snowshoes were certainly unnecessary, but substituting warm boots and bracing against the wind to hike along the lakeshore was a decent substitute for that winter activity.Deer Lake

It’s not over until it’s over. Up here in the Northland we have plenty of winter months left.  But until the ultimate snow storm comes, the search for snow continues.

An Empty Nest Christmas

We knew this day was coming.  It just caught us Christmas stockingsoff guard when this turned out to be the year.  All of our children were spending Christmas with their “other” families – in-laws or almost-in-laws.  Ours was to be an empty nest Christmas.  Only two stockings to hang for Santa this year.

It’s all part of the natural progression.  Kids grow up.  They get married.  They live their own lives.  We are a close family, but we also know they need to spread their wings and make new traditions.  So we set about doing the same.

We realized that adhering to the usual routine would be a guaranteed path to feeling lonely.  So we decided to take ourselves away for Christmas.  A destination Christmas, if you will.  Making reservations at Lutsen Resort on the North Shore felt right, and we looked forward to spending the night in the old style lodge.

The original plan was to spend Christmas afternoon cross-country skiing.  When the snow failed us, we changed it to hiking.  But Mother Nature nixed that idea as well, when we found the trails too icy to navigate safely.  It wasn’t too hard to accept extra time in front of the big fireplace in the lodge, and I soon found myself nodding off over my book then chatting with other guests by the Christmas tree.

336-Birds-365-Christmas-Creek

Lutsen Resort – photo by Rich Hoeg

The only reservation left for the Christmas buffet dinner was at 8:00pm – an outrageously late time to eat for this couple, but this adventure was all about change, so we accepted it graciously.  With plenty of time to linger, we each drifted outside.  Rich was eager to try out his new camera, and got some great night-time shots.  I had a bonfire to myself on the beach Christmas dinner at Lutsen Resortwith its mesmerizing flames and the sound of the Lake Superior waves lapping on the shore.  It was easy to feel all the holiday tension slip away in the beauty of that scene.  Topping off our evening with a festive Christmas dinner was a fitting finale.

Morning found me running along the lake shore and Rich birding.  What else is new?  But Rich came back all excited and soon dragged me up the Caribou Trail to 337-Birds-365-Caribou-Trailfind…  SNOW!  The farther inland we drove, the deeper the layers on the trees.  Finding a road designated for foot travel only, we took a hike through the winter wonderland.  It was silent and beautiful, yet another opportunity to drink in the peace and shed life’s cares.  Another magical moment of our unconventional Christmas.

Within 15 minutes of reaching home, our children and grandchildren began to arrive.  The house soon filled with the bustle, noise and activity of three generations.  Our family Christmas celebration began.  And our nest was no longer empty.  It was worth the wait.