The North Shore Gift

We made the reservation weeks ago. A mid-winter weekend at Naniboujou Lodge is a treat in itself, but Mother Nature threw us a curve ball that made it picture perfect. As cross-country ski enthusiasts and lovers of winter, we cringed when we saw the forecast for continuous days in the 40s. But as visitors to the North Shore, we reveled in constant blue skies and sunshine with real warmth.

We put skiing at the top of our agenda, knowing the snow conditions were likely to suffer through the weekend. A morning ski at Oberg Mountain gave us beautiful soft snow before it got too soft and sticky.Rich and Molly XC skiThe harbor in Grand Marais sparkled in the sunshine, and the sun melted enough of the ice and snow for me to make it most of the way out to the lighthouse. It was so warm at the Java Moose that customers took their coffee drinks outside to bask in the Adirondack chairs. Could this really be mid-February?Grand Marais lighthouseNaniboujou Lodge was a lovely oasis. The rock beach was exposed and waves crashed onto the shore. Its deliberate lack of wifi and cell service was a fine excuse to read and relax in the quiet sunroom. And because they offer only package deals in the winter, we feasted morning and evening on fine meals in the colorful dining room. What’s not to like about that?

Naniboujou LodgeA trip to the Pigeon River, right on the Canadian Border, necessitated a walk up to High Falls. The warm weather had released sections of ice over the waterfall, giving us a view of the rushing water. It was easy to stop and look around amid the din of the falls in the mild temperatures.High FallsThe Witch Tree was nearby, and Rich knew how to find it. So we made a trek through soft, wet snow to its sacred location. There were signs informing us of its significance to the Ojibwe people, and asking us to remain silent and refrain from smoking. But there was a good platform from which to view the tree from a respectful distance. I’d seen many photos of the tree before, but never actually laid eyes on it in person.Witch TreeThe afternoon sunshine lured me outside once more. Judge Magney State Park was just across the road, and I followed the hiking trail up the Brule River. It was pretty easy going for the most part, with well packed snow. But inclines were slick and the 175 steps down to the middle falls required careful balancing on the narrow exposed wood on the edge of each step. The water shot forcefully out from under the ice at the falls and disappeared again, leaving a fine mist in the air. Devil’s Kettle proved to still be ice covered. If only I’d known, I would have spared myself the hairy climb and slipping down the treacherous slope that led to it. But it was so nice out, I was happy to prolong the hike.Middle FallsRich preferred seeking photo spots for the beautiful sunrises over the lake and starlit nights.  He obviously does it well.Sunrise over Susie Islands
This weekend was a gift from our son Carl and his bride Chelsea.  We loved their selection of Naniboujou Lodge, and the unending blue skies that accompanied our visit made it even more memorable.  Thank you!

The Year of my Book

It’s been rumbling around in my head for some time now.  Having progressed from blog to magazine stories, might the next step be to write a book?  There is no denying it is the ultimate writing accomplishment.  And I rarely begin something without going all the way.  This would be the marathon of writing.

Through the course of several memoir writing classes and workshops, I’ve pondered several topics.  It was only last fall that the idea crystallized.  And suddenly it was so obvious.  I would write about our cycling trips.  Between my blog posts, detailed journals, photographs and Rich’s trip reports I have a wealth of material.  My passion for the adventures will fill in the rest.

Feeling a bit timid about the idea, not to mention being a complete novice, I hesitated to mention it to anyone much less start the project.  So I set my sights on a writing retreat.  I would be spending Thanksgiving week with my son Carl and his wife Chelsea in Milwaukee.  With three full days to myself while they were at work, I had the perfect opportunity to dedicate myself to writing.

Sinclair Lewis tableCarl was the one who delivered the ultimate push.  He reminded me that their dining room table, which he inherited from his Grandpa Hoeg, once belonged to Sinclair Lewis.  What better place to begin my writing?  That did it.  I assembled my resources and notes online in preparation for the trip.  In the quiet household, I brewed myself a big mug of hot coffee.  I fired up my laptop and sat down at the famed table.  And began.

Molly and Rich near PerceBy the end of my three days, I had several short chapters written.  I could feel this book.  I knew my intended audience, and what I wanted to give them.  In my collection of stories, I will convey the good, the bad, the ugly and the funny about our version of cycle touring.  It should satisfy the curious.  Inform the wanna-be’s.  And entertain those with a travel bug.  For now it will be known as America at 12 Miles an Hour.

Clearly I have a long way to go.  A lot more writing to do.  A ton of learning, editing and selling. Even just admitting my goals here makes me feel vulnerable.  But if I don’t give it a try, I’ll never know if I can do it.  So far, I’m enjoying the challenge and reliving all the memories from the 10,000 miles Rich and I have toured via bicycle.

If my blog posts are sparse, now you know why.  My writing is focused elsewhere.  No matter what ultimately becomes of it, 2017 is the year of my book.

 

Grammy Jammies times 4

The tradition was reborn six years ago. Just as I made matching pajamas for my own children each year for Christmas, I began sewing slipper jammies for my first grandchild. As each new addition enters the fold, I increase production. The top sizes grow larger each year, and I wonder how long the oldest will still want to wear footie jammies. But I’m tickled that at age 6 1/2, my Grammy jammies are still popular.

Grammy with Kennedy grandkidsAs I commenced sewing for this seventh round, a new grandchild was on the way. Soon a cousin would join the three siblings. It seemed unlikely that the baby would arrive by Christmas, but it would be a shame to exclude her from the tradition merely for making an early entrance. Hence the first Grammy bunting was delivered.
Grammy JammiesAlthough even this newborn size swamps little Maren it feels good to see her initiated into the tradition. And should she grow quickly, I eked out one more set with proper footies for her in a 3 month size.
Grammy and Maren in buntingBy now I know this sewing pattern really well and have it in every possible size. I’ll be making my Grammy jammies as long as the babies keep coming. If the current trend continues, that will keep me busy for quite a while.

Precious New Life

There is nothing like a newborn baby. Especially when it is the first. Being grandparents affords us the unique joy of being part of this special experience multiple times. And it never grows old.

As we await the impending arrival, we are as anxious as the new parents – almost.  When the due date comes and goes, we awake each morning and note, “Well, no phone call yet.”  Ironically, when the text does come in the middle of the night to inform us that the baby is on its way, we sleep right through it.

Photo-20170119161608594.jpgHow quickly I forget how tiny and vulnerable these little beings are. I meet little Maren when she is only four days old. Small enough to fit in the crook of my arm, she favors scrunching up into a little ball as if still in the womb. She wraps her long thin fingers around my own and opens her mouth in bird like fashion. Occasionally I see her piercing dark eyes.photo-jan-16-3-51-05-pm

 

 

It is only moments before she dominates my life. For the full duration of our visit, my world revolves around her. Priorities rearrange themselves without thought, as I savor these limited days. Drinking in that new baby smell, feeling her cuddly warmth in my arms, amused at her repertoire of comical facial expressions, there is no need for outside entertainment. I am easily reminded of those early days with my own children. In that hospital room following their birth, the outside world did not exist. News and current events were unimportant.

My grandma role also gives me the joy of seeing my children grow into parents themselves. In this case, it is our son Carl and his wife Chelsea who are learning the joys and challenges of raising an infant. What is different this time around is that they live seven hours away by car. Seeing the new family is not a casual visit. It involves moving in for several days. The beauty is in the total immersion I am granted, the intimacy of joining in this new lifestyle that is emerging for them. The graceful way that they warmly welcome me into these early days is as heartwarming as the baby herself. Her arrival has already enriched our relationship. This is a precious new life indeed.

Grammy Camp

It was Karen who reminded me.  She has vivid and fond memories of the times Rich and I would leave her and her two bothers with their grandparents in Duluth while we continued up to the Boundary Waters for some alone time canoeing.  That much I remembered.  But I didn’t recall that she referred to it as “Grandma and Grandpa Camp.”  The name alone conjures up visions of kids having a great time, sans parents, doing all sorts of special things with their grandparents.

For some time now, I’ve been eager to bring my own grandkids to Duluth for a visit.  But I had to be patient.  Last time I gently asked if they would like to come, the answer was a swift and firm “No.”  Even from the feisty middle child who I thought might be game.  I had to bide my time until they were old enough to relish the experience.

I also had another stipulation.  I wanted them one at a time.  I craved having one-on-one time with each of them, where I could have their undivided attention and they could monopolize mine.

At last the day finally arrived.  Ben had an extra week of Christmas break when his parents and siblings were back at work and day care.  It seemed the perfect opportunity to try again.  Emboldened by attending Kindergarten, Ben was actually excited about the idea of spending three days with us.

I knew we were off to a good start when I went drove down to pick him up and he practically jumped into my arms shouting “Grammy!”  The next morning he arose before six, eager to add his blanket and stuffed animals to his backpack.  The fun started almost immediately when we stopped at Caribou for coffee and I bought him a hot chocolate for the ride.  This was going to be a true Grammy visit.

My instincts were dead on.  We had the most delightful three days together.  Everything we did took on the aura of being special.  He relished all the attention, and so did I.  The normal tendencies of sibling rivalry, the temptation to push the limits of discipline and finicky eating evaporated.  Homesickness never materialized.

The only downside to the visit was that Rich, aka Grandpa, was out of commission with a sprained back.  He was unable to participate in any of our antics, but observed it all from his painful perch on the couch.  But I was in my element, and carried on.

Ben in the train engineBen loved the Train Museum, particularly the huge snow plow train and the tall steam engine.  He overcame his initial fear of the giant trains and soon climbed inside to sit in the engineer’s seat.  I took him to Marshall Hardware, where they have a couple of aisles stocked with modest but time tested toys and let him choose one to bring home.  A blue steam engine was his proud pick.

Bens PizzaWe had just as much fun at home, playing, cooking and crafting together.  My inner child was reborn as I spent hours building with Lincoln Logs, making Lego creations and connecting miles of Brio train track.  Ben was in seventh heaven making his own pizza for dinner, using pepperoni to create a face.  Making it turned out to be far more interesting than actually eating it, but it was totally worth it for the joy it delivered.

The best were the moments of silliness.  Scooping ice cream was an absolute necessity after dinner each night.  That much he inherited from me.

Grammy and Ben being sillyMy favorite craft was making cookie cutter ice ornaments.  Inspired by Outside in Duluth, we filled a pan with water, cookie cutters and twine hangers.  In the frigid temperatures, it all froze quickly and soon we were hanging beautiful icy shapes on the outdoor tree covered in lights.  Those ornaments will serve as a tender reminder of Ben’s visit until they melt – which doesn’t look to be any time soon.

Ice heart ornamentchristmas-ornaments-ben-molly-2-trimmed

It was well worth the wait, for the time to be right and the visit to be a success.  And since sister, Mya, is now begging for her turn I know I will get to do this again soon.  Grammy Camp has been firmly established.

Passing the Torch

The invitation came nearly a year ago. It was our turn to have the kids for Thanksgiving and our son, Carl, invited us all to Milwaukee for the holiday. We were quick to accept.

It’s a tricky game. Marrying off the kids and sharing them with the in-laws can be complicated. We should know, we went through it ourselves as young newlyweds. I remember well that first Christmas, traveling home to be with family. The good news was that both sets of parents lived in Duluth. The bad part was we spent Christmas Day ping ponging back and forth between houses trying to be everywhere at once. Not a wise idea.  The year we stuffed the car full of gifts for the trip home with the tricycle wheel spinning over one of the carseats, we reached our limit.  Christmas would be at our house in the future.

Those memories compel us to try and make it easy on our kids, allowing them take the lead and let us know what works for them. Fortunately, for starters at least, they have all managed to land on a common schedule. Thanksgiving with us one year, Christmas the next.

By now we’ve experienced both holidays “kidless.” It’s not so bad, really. The key is not to dwell on their absence, but to strike out and do something new. Viewed as an opportunity as opposed to a loss. Good friends become family for a day. Or we take ourselves somewhere new for a treat. Different yes, bad no.

Carl and Chelsea Thanksgiving turkeyThis Thanksgiving marks the first time we have been guests, not the hosts for a family holiday. It was a change, but adapting was oh so easy. Carl and Chelsea set a beautiful table and produced a bountiful turkey. The rest of us brought our favorite side dishes and desserts, all prepared ahead of time. I have to admit I watched in admiration as Chelsea calmly puttered over those labor intensive last minute sides of potatoes, gravy and vegetables. It brought back memories of my anxieties over gravy that would not thicken. Potatoes that took longer than expected. And getting greatly flustered over the whole bit required to bring it all together at once. I was happy to turn it all over to younger, very competent family members. Sure, we all pitched in. But someone was in charge and holding the reins. And that someone wasn’t me.

Hoeg Thanksgiving in MilwaukeeWhat a pleasure to sit at Great-Grandpa Hoeg’s long dining room table lit by his candelabra, surrounded by our family now numbering 11 and friends. We are now the top of this family line, and it is humbling to think that this fine array of individuals are the product of our own marriage 33 years ago. We are truly blessed.

I’m not entirely ready to give up hosting for good. I still crave gathering my family at Grammy and Grandpa’s house.  I still love anticipating their arrival and hugging each as they arrive and fill up all our available space.  It still feels right to have them all come home.

We have another invitation for Christmas, even though its technically not “our” turn. But who can resist waking up Christmas morning in a house filled with our grandchildren?  I’ll readily pass the torch for this one too. I just may ask for it back now and then.

Hiking with the Super Moon

When the sun shines, you just gotta get out there and enjoy it.  And when the temps are far warmer than they should be in November, there is no excuse for staying inside.  So although I have not been out hiking around Duluth for ages, I’ve logged four straight days of blissful rambles through our local woods.  I have to credit the weather for that.

My first foray was down Congdon Creek and back with my sister, Susie.  This was our backyard growing up.  We’d play in the woods and follow the creek on a regular basis.  I walked over the huge pipe every day going to Ordean Jr. High.  (You could never do that now!)  And yet, we were amazed by the beauty and extreme scenery that day as we meandered along the creek.  It was flowing faster than could be expected for late fall, and the high rock canyons and waterfalls left us in awe as we crossed and recrossed the river on the new bridges.

I followed that with the trails just below Hawk Ridge, with their outstanding views of Lakeside.  I still can’t quite work out which streets are which from that height, but it doesn’t matter. The lake stretched out in the distance, and the sun brilliantly illuminated the entire scene.  Even closer to home, I walked the Lester-Amity ski trails, delighting in seeing them now free of trees and ready for that first snowfall that signals the start of cross-country ski season.

Superior Hiking Trail mapThose were just warm-ups compared with yesterday’s hike on the Superior Hiking Trail with friend, Beth.  She took me on her favorite hike across West Duluth, which she calls the “greatest hits” for its wide array of natural scenery.  Starting from Highland and Skyline Parkway, we made our way on the Superior Hiking Trail across the ridges high above the St. Louis Bay to Lincoln Park.  For six miles, we walked through beautiful woods, kicked up leaves, scrambled over rocks and embraced the fall scene surrounding us.  Nature had retreated to its pre-winter state, brown and brittle with dry wispy remembrances of blooms past their glory days.  Beautiful in its own way.

Once up on the ridge line, there was more.  Each opening of the trees brought stunning views of the city and shipping lanes below.  It wasn’t hard to marvel over the beauty of the city where we live, and our good fortune in choosing it.City View from SHT 1We started late enough in the afternoon that sunset crept up on us mid-hike.  The blue sky began to pale and the city glowed in the low angle of the sun.City View from SHT 2I was anxious to see the rise of the Super Moon, which is one of the reasons we chose this hike.  We began searching for its debut, peering out over the lake at every opportunity.  It was Beth who first spotted it, low and pink, still reflecting the colors of the sunset in the opposite direction.Super Moon 1That part of the hike was magical.  Every view of the moon was different.  Framed by new scenery.  Taking on more vivid colors.  Peering out at us from its perch in the sky.  I didn’t even care that my good camera and tripod were in the car.  I preferred to see it all live, and snap the occasional haphazard picture with my pocket camera.Super Moon 2All were great hikes.  Restorative and soul enhancing.  But that last bit was extra special.  It’s not every day that you can hike with the Super Moon.