We thought she was a goner

It didn’t look good.  Spot’s accidents in the house turned out to be more than a nuisance – she was sick.  Blood in her urine and losing control of her bladder could not be a good sign.  At 15+ years old, we knew her time was limited and we had pledged not to resort to any heroics to prolong her life.  It was with heavy hearts that we acknowledged we could be facing the end.

The difficult part was waiting.  It developed over a weekend, and we wanted to get her in to see her regular vet who had examined her just two months prior and knew her history.  So we kept her warm and as comfortable as possible and doted on her.  We had to keep her confined to the tiled area in the house, which meant she could not sleep beside our bed at night.  I awoke in the morning to find Rich missing from his spot beside me.  He had gotten up in the middle of the night, scrounged around for a sleeping bag and laid down with his beloved pet.

We called the kids to let them know and give them warning of what seemed to be a likely outcome.  We promised not to do anything until they could come over for their final good-byes, and planned a Skype session with our son in DC so he could “see” Spot one more time.  It was pretty grim around our house.

We were able to get in to see the vet first thing Monday morning.  Rich and I went together, but he could hardly speak, given his sorrow.  The upbeat attitude of the assistants in the office and the professionalism of the vet were somewhat calming, but I wondered if it was false hope.  It turns out not!  A urinary tract infection seemed the most likely cause of Spot’s woes, and could easily be treated with antibiotics.  That didn’t sound like heroics to us, so we agreed to give it a try and left with our bottle of pills.

Miracle medicine we called it.  Spot’s system rapidly responded to the treatment.  With the help of frequent trips outdoors, her accidents ceased. She lost that haunted look she had been wearing.  The appearance of the dog across the street initiated vigorous barking.  That’s our old Spot!  She also figured out that the additional pills meant more peanut butter – her favorite treat.

We’ve gradually given her greater range in the house, and she’s still enjoying pampered treatment.  We’re just glad she’s still with us.  Her time wasn’t up after all.

Early season skiing

Sometimes a little restraint is required. My husband, Rich, is a fanatical cross-country skier. He can't wait for the season to begin, and bolts out to the nearest trail at the first sign of snow. His spirits are impossible to dampen, and he relishes nothing more than being the first out on the trail. I have learned to interpret his early season enthusiasm with a dose of skepticism, however. His glowing reports of that first ski often come with skinned knees, new gouges in his rock skis, and harrowing tales of catching a rock going downhill.

My own forays out on the trails are attended by a greater dose of caution. Why is it that I think I won't remember how to ski? Why is it that my first venture of the season finds me flailing and struggling to find that elusive sense of balance? Never mind that the trails are ungroomed and that my skate skis are ill suited to the untamed powder in the woods. That first ski is never pretty.

Skiing ungroomed trails

This year's first outing was no exception. I let myself be talked into skiing the first snowfall on trails that reportedly had been rolled. In reality, hikers and dogs and tromped and stomped all over the trail, leaving it barely navigable on skis. Come to find out, we had mixed up trail names and were in the wrong place.

With another two inches of snow overnight, I decided I was willing to give skiing another shot. This time I headed to the right set of trails, and although the new snow obscured any previous grooming, it also erased the heavy wear from the previous day. Unfortunately, when I arrived so did two carloads of adults and kids with dogs who eagerly bounded out onto the trails ahead of me. Early season skiing certainly has its hazards. Without groomed tracks, trespassers on foot are oblivious to the errors of their ways. Forging on, I soon left the hikers behind and found I was enjoying myself. The woods were quiet and pretty in their new blanket of snow, and the trail was unchallenging but very skiable. I had no idea where I was going, having never been on the trail before, but it wasn't difficult to follow and I easily made my way around the figure eight loop for 2.8k of fun. So much so that I did it three more times. With each repetition, my rhythm improved, my technique began to return, and at times I even felt quite competent. I didn't exactly break any speed records, nor did I get the workout of my life, but I was out skiing.

Hopefully I now have the flailing behind me.

If you don’t like the weather in Duluth…

Wait five minutes.  That’s the saying, and today it is so true!

Getting ready for my morning run, our outdoor thermometer said 30 degrees.  The Weather Channel on my iPad said 39 degrees.  Turns out both were right.  Stepping outside the door, seeing the frost on the garden and feeling the air, I knew our thermometer was accurate.  I headed up 7 Bridges Road and continued on toward Hawk Ridge running through the morning’s chill, challenged by the hill work.  Suddenly it was SO WARM!  It was as if I’d crossed a magic line and the heat was on full blast.  Off came the hat and gloves, and I wished I for lighter layers of clothing.  I had reached the critical elevation where I was out of the lake’s reach and its morning fog.  Sun blanketed my path and I knew I was in the zone measured by the Weather Channel – it was at least 10 degrees warmer than down below.  Not long after, while cruising down Glenwood Street I re-encountered lake effect air.  Back on went the hat and gloves.

I continued on down to the lake, through Brighton Beach and up the North Shore before returning home.  As I ran, the sun burned through the fog and began to warm the air even down by the lake.  Once again I felt overdressed.  But it was a welcome warmth and I enjoyed the glorious morning that resulted.

By early afternoon when we left for Thanksgiving dinner, it was positively balmy out!  The temperature had risen to over 50 degrees.  It seemed so odd to think that it was so warm on Thanksgiving when by all rights we could have snow.  (Oh, if only!  We skiers are getting concerned…)  But we didn’t give Duluth her due.  By the time we returned home, big fat flakes were falling and by now it’s even accumulating on the ground. It’s a winter wonderland out there.

What a difference a few hours makes.  Or five minutes.

Pre-Thanksgiving Hike

One of the best parts of living on the edge of Duluth is the proximity to the North Shore.  Today we decided to go up to Tettegouche State Park and go hiking.  In just about an hour, we were there and heading up the trail to High Falls.

The day’s weather held promise.  It wasn’t too cold and started with a clear sunrise.  But fog and clouds drifted in and lingered, masking the blue sky that we knew was up there.  No matter, it was still bright if not sunny.  The barren deciduous trees provided a backdrop of gray and the blanket of leaves on the trail had weathered to a subdued brown.  In contrast, the pine trees brought a welcome splash of green color.

We had the trails to ourselves – it wasn’t exactly prime season.  We rather prefer it that way, just us and nature.  We could walk and absorb the sights and sounds around us uninterrupted.

The Baptism River was low, which was to be expected for the fall season coupled with the summer’s drought.  There was still enough water to provide action over the falls.  And the sound of rushing water drew us to the sights.

The bridge above High Falls provided some great entertainment.  Suspended from a single cable anchored at each end, there was plenty of sway in the middle.  We felt like kids bounding and bouncing across.  It only made me a little bit nervous.

We have a lot to be thankful for, living so close to such natural beauty.  Not everyone has the good fortune to venture into the woods on well-kept trails, to watch the water plummet over the rocks, and to benefit from living near the largest fresh water lake in the world.  Thank you, God, for planting us in such a special part of your world.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We have arrived!

It’s only a mailbox.  Well, a super-duper mailbox.  But it represents so much more.  After building a house and several years of splitting time between the Twin Cities and Duluth, we have finally tipped the balance and are spending over 50% of our time in the Northland.  And we anticipate that growing.  So we decided it was time to make it official.  Yesterday Rich filled out the forms to make this our formal residence and started mail service.  Expecting government forms to fill out in triplicate for the mail, Rich was amused and gratified to find that all it took was writing the address on a post-it note.  Done deal – that’s all our mailman needs.  Today the mailbox went up.  We are Duluthians once more.  We both grew up here, and love being back by Lake Superior.

I have to admit that for me, there are still family members in the Twin Cities that tug on the heartstrings of this decision.  We are fortunate to have two of our three children settle in good jobs back in the Cities after college.  And one has produced two beautiful grandchildren for us.  Proximity to them is priceless, which is why I know that we haven’t seen the end of Highway 35 yet.  Not in a long shot.

On the flip side, the rest of our family loves Duluth and the North Shore.  I guess we brought them up right.  And we learned one unexpected lesson.  Once we began celebrating holidays in our Duluth home, having our children and grandkids here for the holiday meant having them stay.  If the little ones get cranky or need a nap, they don’t head home after the big meal.  And we get them for several days, not just one.  There is nothing like waking up in the morning and making fresh muffins for my grandson.  Or snuggling with my granddaughter as she has her morning bottle.  Or perhaps I can go for a run and out for coffee with one of my own kids.  The time is precious, and there is nothing like sharing space with them in our home.

My daughter reminded me of the times she and her brothers stayed with my parents in Duluth while Rich and I took time to go up to the Boundary Waters or other adult pursuit.  She remembered it fondly, calling it “Grandma and Grandpa Camp.”  It’s a term I don’t remember myself, but I’m ready to recreate the experience.

Home is where the computer is

We’ve had our house in Duluth for over two years now, and we’re beginning to tip the balance with spending more time there than in the Cities.  Instead of making trips to Duluth, I feel like I’m packing for a few days in the Cities.  That’s all fine with me!

But it does make for a transition of goods.  Most of my clothes still live in the Cities, and my favorites seem to travel back and forth.  I guess that just goes to show how few clothes I really need…  Perhaps there is a message there for me, and a closet cleaning activity in store.  Specialty cooking tools and ingredients appear to be making a gradual migration.  We’re more likely to entertain in Duluth, so with each recipe different items make my packing list.  Sports clothes are largely duplicated in each home, but the big ticket items like bikes and skis will continue to travel back and forth.

But the real indicator is my computer.  Until now, my “main” computer has stayed in the Cities.  It has all my specialty software installed – including SportTracks for tracking my workouts, and Scrapbook Factory for designing Christmas letters and creative photo pages – and stores all my photos and files.  In Duluth I have used a hand-me-down computer, which I primarily use to connect to the internet, do email, write on my blog, and use Word and Excel.  Any files I need from my main computer are accessible by virtue of using Carbonite for online backups or with Dropbox.  It’s a system that has worked well so far.  But now that has changed.  Recently I loaded up my main computer and moved it to Duluth.  For a technophile like me, that’s making a statement.  Duluth is becoming our real home.


Just yesterday I was complaining about the cold. This morning I am writing this post out on my front deck! The thermometer reads 42 degrees, but the sun is shining and I am well protected from the wind. We learned early on in the building process that the deck was perfectly positioned for morning coffee, lunch or just reading. We’d like to say we planned it that way, but we didn’t have that much foresight. The deck faces south, which also happens to be the only side of the house that we could not leave wooded in the building process. All that big equipment needed access to the site somewhere. But once we discovered the windfall in sunshine that resulted, we loved it. It’s all the better in the seasons when the leaves are down and the sun lingers longer on the deck. We have planted new trees on that side of the house, and added to them each year so far, but this time we are planning the result – they are strategically placed so as not to shade the deck, even when fully grown.  The addition of Adirondack chairs was a requirement for me.  Nothing denotes relaxation like an Adirondack chair.  And being Polywood, they can be out year-round.  Another necessity.

I can hear Amity Creek flowing, a bit of wind blowing, small animals scurrying in our woods and birds twittering. Can winter really be right around the corner?

Getting Acclimated

For all my bravado about eagerly awaiting the start of the cross-country ski season, I have to admit that the season’s first cold temperatures are getting to me.  Stepping outside to go running the other morning when the temperature read 22 degrees was a chilly reminder of what is to come.  It didn’t help that the sky had that dreary winter gray look, and the winds whipped me in the face for the first half of my run.  There’s no getting around it – it felt cold.  I zipped my jacket up under my chin and forged ahead.  My fingers eased themselves out of their individual compartments to snuggle together in the palms of my gloves.  As always, once I got going my body generated enough heat to warm up and eventually I even enjoyed the “freshness” of the air on my face.  It’s getting rolling that’s tough.

Note to self: Hiking does not generate nearly as much warmth as other more intense forms of outdoor exercise.  I had the right idea, dressing in layers, just not enough of them.  It was my hands that suffered the most.  I’m convinced that I frostbit them more than once over the years, leaving them more susceptible to the cold.  Next hike, it’s heavy mittens for me.  It took a cup of hot tea, cradled in my hands to rewarm me both inside and out.  But I still enjoyed the hike.

I’m glad that I took advantage of the nice days last week to get in a long bike ride.  I was just 21 miles shy of 4,000 miles for the year and couldn’t bear the thought of missing that milestone.  I’m now safely 9 miles over.  Anything more is just gravy.  When I took up long distance cycling as a newbie back in March, I had no idea I’d cover so many miles.  Those that know me are probably not surprised, however.  And if the temperatures moderate and the sun peaks out, I’ll probably sneak in another ride or two.

Hopefully I’ll acclimate and get used to winter’s chill by the time it comes in earnest.  Even so, I know I will still have to psyche myself up to head out into the cold.  And I know I’ll return feeling glad that I did.


Tick Tock – A very special clock

Grandfather has moved in with us.  The grandfather clock, that is.  I grew up with this clock, its slow audible tick and faithful dinging on the hour.  It inhabited the space in our front hallway and its tone was easily distinguishable from the other chiming clocks in the house – and we had a few.  Friends sleeping over were constantly awoken by the myriad bells going off on the quarter, half and full hour while family members easily slept through them all.

Sunday was the day for winding clocks.  Dad would make his rounds, getting out the unique key for each clock and methodically turning it until it was fully wound.  The grandfather clock kept impeccable time until his death.  After that, the clock just wasn’t the same.  They say a clock doesn’t run the same when someone else winds it.  This one was no exception.  No one else had Dad’s touch.

Even as a youngster, I was aware that this clock had a special history.  There were vague stories about its original lead weights being melted down for bullets during the Revolutionary War.  I was never sure if it was fact or just a good story.  But it was indeed born out by a history of the clock, written by my great uncle, and recently unearthed by a distant cousin.  He also related how the “new” canister weights, filled with sand and scrap iron were unable to travel a long enough distance to run the clock for a full 7 days.  So Uncle Henry cut holes in the base of the clock to allow them to travel right down to the floor.  I’m sure that the Antiques Roadshow folks would shudder at his ingenuity, but he reports that he achieved his desired result and the clock then ran for a full week.

The clock was believed to have been purchased by Uncle Henry’s mother around 1872, and therefore was not considered a family heirloom.  But by this time I can’t help but consider it anything else.  It’s simple lines and lack of ornateness add to its appeal and are a testament to its ancient lineage.

On its travels from Mom’s house to mine, I had a local clockmaker take out the works and get the clock running again.  He did a fine job, and once more it is ticking, chiming on the hour and keeping good time.  It stands out as the only antique in a very modern house, but I rather like it that way.  And time will tell if it adapts to my own winding technique.

It’s a Shoe-In

The UPS guy just deposited the package on our doorstep – my new running shoes are here!  And with that, I leave behind my conservative self and enter the age of brilliance.  Not brain power, footwear.  I don’t know when or where this trend started.  I admit to running my old shoes well past the recommended number of miles, erstwhile ignorant of new offerings on the market.  I did see the occasional runner in blinding foot colors, but passed it off as weird.  Then my daughter replaced her running shoes and found that ordinary color-trimmed white was no longer an option, and came home with deep purple.  She admitted to feeling a big funny when her feet came into view and shocked her with the color.  But she compensated by coordinating with a purple top.

Next my son, Erik, updated his footwear.  “Come see my new running shoes, Mom” he said.  I was unprepared for his unveiling – he bought those goofy looking rubbery foot booties (my terminology), complete with individual toes.  In his terms, they look a bit like skeleton feet, and was disappointed they didn’t have the more colorful version.  But he swears by them, particularly for trail running.  No matter, I don’t do trail running.

When I finally broke down and anted up the price for my own new shoes, I admit that my favorite model still came in white with aqua trim.  It would have been the easy way out.  But something about those colors enticed me.  Why not?  Shocking pink with black trim.  It’s so not me.  Or is it?  Too late to back out now.  I hope they don’t clash too much with my other running gear.