Rainy Day Activities

What to do when the weather’s cold and miserable?  It’s that terrible in-between season.  Too cold for comfortable cycling.  Too soon for snow and skiing.  I’ve returned to my old faithful running routine to fill the gap and get in shape for the ski season.  Fortunately, I’m fine with running in marginal weather.  In fact, once I get out there I rather enjoy pushing through the dreary skies and wet pavement and enjoy running for the pure exercise.

But days on end of gloomy weather do invite restlessness.  With few mid-week offerings on the cultural scene, I decided we should make our own fun.  What better cold weather activity than making homemade pizza?  Normally, it’s reserved for our traditional dinner on Christmas Eve.  I know, kind of strange for the Christmas holidays.  But the boys love it, and request it every year.  So when they read this, I’m sure they will be envious!

It’s really not all that difficult to make, so I’m not sure why we don’t do it more often.  I rounded up the ingredients, and prepared the dough.  From there, it was a group activity, layering on the toppings and shuffling the pizzas in and out of the oven.  Voila!  Homemade pizza dinner and a good evening’s entertainment.IMG_4804 trimmed IMG_4803 trimmed

Another rule of pizza, at least when it’s just the two of us – we settle ourselves by the fire in the great room, in more relaxed environs rather than the dining room table.  It all started when we were first commuting up to Duluth.  We’d arrive in the evening with hot pizzas straight from Sammy’s that we’d consume as soon as we carried in our worldly goods.  Now that we’re permanent residents, it’s a ritual we have continued.  A good one.

The weather is still gloomy, but we did enjoy our pizzas.  In the event that the sun doesn’t shine for a few more days, here is my recipe for homemade pizza, adapted from a Blackwoods Restaurant recipe.

Homemade Pizza

This is a version of the recipe you can print or save: Homemade Pizza

Farewell to a friend and cyclist

One never knows what awaits us in life.  And today, we had very sad news that reminded us never to take life for granted.

wpid-Photo-Sep-15-2013-955-PM.jpgWhile on our Grand Gaspé Cycling Tour, we met fellow long distance cyclists Robert and Diane Picard.  It was a chance meeting, and the usual trip details were exchanged, but in the few minutes we hovered over our bicycles a bond was formed.  We sensed a common spirit, and 1,000 miles down the road we took them up on their generous offer of hospitality.  They were the ultimate hosts, guiding Photo Sep 16, 5 25 02 AMus through Old Quebec City, opening their home to us, and feeding us well for our continued cycling tour.  We enjoyed long conversations on cycling, grandparenting and retirement with them – all despite the language differences.  We persisted with our limited French to their passable English, and it worked.

Some people talk idly about future plans, but after spending hours pouring over maps together, we left with the certainty that they would come out to Minnesota next summer to cycle with us.  And cycle home again to Quebec!  We didn’t doubt that they would actually do it.  They are that kind of people.  We looked forward to repaying their kindness and spending more time with them, both on our bicycles and off.

So it was with heavy hearts that we learned of Robert’s passing this morning.  His son graciously contacted us, to let us know that he had died swiftly and unexpectedly of a stroke.  The news seemed so implausible, and our hearts go out to Diane and all the family in absorbing this great loss.

Photo Sep 16, 6 57 38 AMRobert’s enthusiasm for life and willingness to share it with others will remain with us forever.  His passion for long distance cycling will continue to be an inspiration, and his and Diane’s friendship will always be a highlight of our Gaspé trip.  It was an honor to know Robert, and we extend our most heartfelt condolences to his family.

Farewell, Robert, and cycle on.

Cabin Seasons

It’s the end of cabin season. That’s how most folks look at it. True, we needed to shut down the water system, defrost the refrigerator and clear the perishables out of the cupboards. But to us, those are just fall chores.  We’re not closing down the cabin.  We consider it preparing for winter.

And so we headed off to the cabin for a brisk fall stay. With the string of cold days the weather has delivered lately, the cabin had taken on a definite chill. In fact, it was colder inside than out. Before we could fire up the wood stove to begin the warming process, Rich needed to complete his first maintenance and safety task. Donning his chimney sweep persona, he climbed up on the roof with what looked like oversized bottle brushes. Once the chimneys were clean and the fire was crackling, we headed outside to stack firewood.  First rule of cabin visits in cold weather – stay active keep warm while the cabin heats up. With a new delivery of wood piled in the yard, we generated plenty of energy and warmth stowing it in the woodshed.

With our initial burst of chores completed, we settled inside to read. Each season of cabin life has its own personality, and fall is perfectly suited for snuggling up with a good book, hunkering down on the couch, and sitting by the warmth of the fire. It’s a more relaxed season than summer. The lake no longer calls to us. The boat is not beckoning. The fish are not waiting to be caught. There are fewer options and more relaxation time.

The short days of fall invite plenty ofPhoto Oct 25, 6 31 47 AM good sleep. The nights are so dark and silent, it’s easy to hit they hay early and sleep in the next morning. We did just that, and still had plenty of time to get outside by the first signs of sunrise. The early colors were vivid and soon delivered on the promise of a spectacular show. Each moment brought a new configuration of pinks and then reds, with the hues shifting Photo Oct 25, 6 42 09 AMand reflecting off the clouds above the horizon. Armed with our cameras and tripods, we each sought the ideal vantage point  Photo Oct 25, 6 45 32 AM to catch the best view, staying out until our fingers were numb and the colors faded back to pastels. Retreating to the cabin I felt I’d earned my breakfast.  Hot coffee and crispy toast never tasted so good.

Weaving our tasks in between cabin time, we were able to strike a nice balance between work and relaxation. The longer we stayed, the more it felt right to “do nothing.”

Soon winter will be upon us, and the cabin is now ready. Shovels are placed outside the door, firewood and kindling are in abundant supply, the ice auger has been retrieved from storage, the outhouse and sauna are accessible, extra blankets await. Winter is a wonderful season at the cabin. Let the snow fly – we’re looking forward to it!IMG_2853

Sharing Life’s Simple Pleasures

It’s been a long time since we’ve had toddlers.  But we figured we were up for the challenge when we offered to take our two young grandchildren for three days so our daughter and her husband could get away to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.

Just keeping up with a 3 1/2 year old and a 19 month old is a momentous shift in routine for us.  Yet I wanted it to be more than just babysitting – I wanted to do some special things with them.  After all, that’s what grandparents do.  Left to my own devices, I would have ventured out to a pumpkin patch.  Or maybe taken them to the zoo.  But my husband, Rich, had other ideas.  “All the IMG_0437outdoors is a playground” he said.  So off to the park we went.  Not to play on the swings, but to walk through the woods.  Ben, the oldest, wasn’t too sure about shuffling through the leaves on the muddy ground.  And the trees lurking overhead did make it a little dark.  But when presented with a large stick to carry, he grew in stature and ventured forth.  And discovered he liked the woods!

The next day we walked down to the lake.  A couple of park benches and a patch of grass didn’t look too interesting to me.  But soon Rich and Ben were headed into the woods again.  A short walk through the brush brought us all to a stream.  What better place to throw sticks into the water!  Only when we depleted the local wood supply, did Ben venture further into the woods.  This time we were not on IMG_0455park trails.  It meant working our way through light underbrush.  But Ben was not to be deterred.  “C’mon, Grammy” he’d say.  Well, if he was game, who was I to hold back?  Rich was busy trying to keep Mya from falling in the stream, so it was up to me to follow Ben.  He was intrigued with the large downed trees, and his imagination began to unfold.  “This is my home” he declared when we found a particularly cozy spot.  This time he was so intrigued that we had to lure him back out of the woods to go back home for lunch.

Perhaps there was something to Rich’s idea after all.  I still think the pumpkin patch or the zoo would have been fun.  But sometimes simple pleasures are the best.  I think Ben would agree.

Good Morning, Sunshine!

Sometimes a change in routine is good.  I love getting out early for a run or cycling, but today’s weather forecast promised a beautiful afternoon for one of our favorite fall bike rides.  So I held off on my morning workout.

Instead, I headed down to Lake Superior to capture the sunrise.  I was approaching Brighton Beach, our usual spot for viewing the morning sun, when the vivid sky behind the lamp posts of the Lester River bridge caught my eye.  I decided to stop there instead, and found some great new vantage points for my photography.  In fact others were already there with their tripods, and I admit to borrowing their technique, shooting over the still water at the mouth of the river to gain a reflection.IMG_2752 IMG_2770 IMG_2781The colorful fall leaves were also mirrored in the same waters, so I turned my camera on them, catching the sun’s rays form a different perspective.



I have to say, it was a very satisfying start to the day.  It required more patience, observation and stillness than the energy and drive I am used to expending.  But it had its own reward in the sense of well being I felt in the stillness of the morning and the warmth of the sun’s rays.  The resulting photographs and lessons learned in the process were gravy on top of that.  I’m so very glad I decided to get up and greet the sun.

Fall Farmers’ Market Fun

I figured it was nearing the end of the Farmers’ Market season.  But having been gone for the height of the growing season, I was drawn to the 100-year old institution to make up for lost time.  I figured it would be quiet, with a few vendors and fewer customers at this time of year.  Boy was I wrong!

IMG_2742I arrived to discover that the parking lot was crammed full of cars, and quickly exited the melee to vie for the elusive street parking spots.  Returning to the long red wooden building, I found cider making in process outside the center door.  It was apple cider production at its very basic best.  A load of apple chunks were dumped into a wooden press, and as they were compressed apple juice streamed out the bottom into buckets.  After the initial turns of the circular crank on the press, a long wooden bar was fitted to the top and several eager young boys were recruited to turn it.  Round and round they IMG_2745walked, pushing the bar and enjoying the work, much like young Tom Sawyers.  Adults and children alike gathered to watch the process and line up for the freshest cider in town.

Inside, the booths were filled with vendors and their was an air of festivity to the fall showing.  Tunes from a dulcimer player situated in the center aisle mingled with the murmurings of customers as they moved among the colorful produce.  Only a few summer vegetables lingered among the offerings, with the preponderance of space dedicated to pumpkins, gourds and squash.  Their hues reflected the brilliance of the fall leaves outside.  The baked goods were tempting, from whole grain breads to gooey rolls, sweet breads and giant cookies.  And a variety of jams and canned goods were on hand to sample and purchase.  It was truly a feast for the senses.

IMG_2747  IMG_2748IMG_2749I made the full circuit of the prolific booths before making my selections.  Filling my bag with peppers, baby potatoes, squash and tomatoes, I felt good about supporting our local farmers and looked forward to cooking with my fresh produce.  I resisted the baked goods, knowing I’d enjoy making them myself at home, and brought home fresh inspiration for baking projects.

I’m so glad I didn’t ignore the calling.  The season appears to be far from over.  I can’t wait to go back next week.

Home at Last

Sixty-four days is a long time to be gone. Between our Grand Gaspe Cycling Tour and the car trip out east and back, that’s how long we were away from home.

Photo Sep 27, 7 06 49 AMReturning to Minnesota we had a beautiful drive, with sunny days and fall color approaching peak. We stopped to visit good friends in Rochester, NY and checking out our old haunts where we first met and dated. We even got back on our bikes and cycled along the Erie Canal – a slow, leisurely ride. But from there, we made a bee line for Duluth. The closer we got, the more eager we were to be home.

It sure felt good to drive into the driveway and reclaim our home. We had to reacquaint ourselves with an ordinary life style at first. It was great to sleep in our own bed, to sip coffee out of my own mug and bake up my morning muffins. It felt strange to try and reconstruct what a “normal” day was. I didn’t expect to falter when looking for kitchen implements – now where do I keep that? And most awkward of all was re-adapting to my PC, after months on my iPad. I kept thinking, “Where is the app for that?” Microsoft needs to get with it. Fumbling through a web browser just felt too foreign.

We were pleased to find that fall was still in full swing in Duluth. Although we missed the height of color in our perennial garden, we have flowers still coming onto bloom as if to welcome us home. The trees continue to change color, and our own young red maples are some of the most brilliant.

IMG_2738Naturally, it didn’t take me long to head out on my bike. I’ve been out re-exploring my old routes and even forging a few new ones. Each ride reinforces how beautiful our surroundings are, and how fortunate we are to live here. Our own Lake Superior shoreline easily ranks up there with the stunning views on our trip. And little can compete with the quiet scenic beauty right at the end of our driveway – Seven Bridges Road excels as a cycling haven, particularly when cloaked in fall foliage.

Photo Oct 04, 9 27 03 AM trimmedBest of all has been reuniting with family and friends. There is nothing like a sloppy kiss and tight hug from a grandchild. Family dinners, cheering kids on in the Twin Cities Marathon events and just spending time together to catch up have filled my heart. Already we are planning holiday time together.

Oh, it’s good to be home.

Blogging on Two Wheels

With a blog focused on “Life and the Outdoors in the Northland,” it was a natural for me to chronicle our latest bike trip, the Grand Gaspé Cycling Tour. I don’t consider it a stretch at all to expand the geographical reach of the Northland concept. The interesting thing is that blogging became an integral part of the trip, and in fact had a significant influence on our daily routine. Since Rich was also narrating the trip on the Crazy Guy on a Bike website, my passion did not create conflicting interests.

While we were cycling, which was most of the daytime hours, my attention was focused on the physical activity, the sights, the meals and the logistics of travel – as it should be. But my blog post was never far from my mind. What might today’s theme be? How best to describe this view? How can I work in this situation?  What would be a good title?  I was often composing as I went.


Taking photographs for my blog posts

Photography was equally impacted. Of course there were pictures of scenery, activities and landmarks that I wanted to take. But I also wove in photos that would illustrate the day’s post. If I fell behind Rich in an illogical spot, he would remark, “You must be blogging again. I didn’t see anything worthy of a photo.” He was usually right.

At the end of the day, our first priority was a shower. But second on the agenda was to download all our pictures. We each brought a nice Canon camera and a tablet, and once we transferred our pictures to the tablets, we’d weed out the bad ones and save the rest. Using each other’s pictures was entirely permissible, as it helped reduce duplication and we could choose from among the best shots. We weren’t fussy about attributing credit to each other as photographer. I just got a little testy when my photos showed up online before I’d even seen them yet.


Quickly publishing a blog post where the campground signal was the strongest

My tablet happens to be an iPad, and Blogsy is my app of choice for blogging on it. It integrates perfectly with WordPress and has the advantage of displaying my post in rich format instead of HTML, and offers formatting tools that are easy to use. Adding photos from my iPad’s native photo app is a cinch – just drag and drop, resize and add captions. Although most motels and even campgrounds had wifi, if I had no connection I could still fully compose my blog post offline in Blogsy. Then it was simply a matter of publishing the next time I found a signal.

Blogging is not a trivial activity. At least not for me. Many a night I’d be up late, wordsmithing in the dark with only the glow of my iPad screen to illuminate my work. Rich was much quicker to compose his posts, and he would shake his head at my obsession for finding just the right tone or phrase. Fortunately, he can sleep through my keyboard tapping.

I fully intended to be more economical about my blogging on this trip. Since it would last two months or more, I reasoned that periodic updates would be adequate. But I should have known myself better than that. I love to capture all my experiences in writing. It’s how they become real to me, by documenting them. So it was no surprise when my posts became nearly daily occurrences. What may have been overkill for my readers was really for my own benefit.

There’s no doubt that blogging on our cycling trip was a big commitment. To say it bluntly, it took up a lot of time. We could have been out seeing the sights of the local towns instead. But to be honest, after a full day of cycling, it was a grand excuse to sit and rest our weary legs and bodies. And I seriously doubt we missed much in the small towns where we stayed. Or so I tell myself.

A Tribute to Warm Showers

There is no doubt about it. Warm Showers made the trip. We both agree whole heartedly that our 2-month cycling trip through Maine, the Canadian Maritimes and New Hampshire would not have been as enriching and heart warming without the hospitality of our hosts.

Warm Showers is an association of long distance cyclists who participate in a free lodging exchange. By joining, cyclists agree to host other traveling cyclists in their home or yard, and in return have access to a world-wide network of host homes. Finding a Warm Showers host is as easy as pulling up an app on a smartphone. It uses GPS and Google Maps to find your location, and shows you all hosts in close proximity. By tapping an icon, you can send a message to the host requesting accommodations. As a host, you can choose the level of hospitality that suits you – camping space, beds, food, laundry facilities and kitchen use are some of the options.

Hosting is rewarding in itself. We have met fascinating people traveling through Duluth on bicycle, with a wide range of itineraries and length of trip. And after the wealth of hospitality extended to us on our trips, we are eager to continue to repay that generosity.

All the people that opened theirwpid-Photo-Sep-29-2013-1243-PM.jpg homes to us were so welcoming and made us feel right at home. They not only provided us with hot showers and comfy beds, but let us give our hand laundered clothes a thorough wash in their laundries. And we were so well fed! Other cyclists totally understand the insatiable hunger and need for calories generated by long distance cycling – even if we didn’t quite recognize it ourselves. We ate many a gourmet meal and feasted on local delicacies. Equally enjoyable was the opportunity to use the kitchen and do a little home cooking ourselves for a change.

Because the network is comprised entirely of cyclists, by definition we always had a great deal in common with our hosts. And we knew in advance that they would have values similar to our own. Conversation was easy as we shared cycling experiences. We were wowed by the extensive travels our hosts had completed, and inspired by their destinations and cycling philosophies. As relative neophytes to long distance cycling, we always learned useful tips from our hosts. They were also the best source on local cycling. We avoided bad routes, enjoyed the best scenery and got the scoop on good eateries all through their sound advice.

wpid-Photo-Sep-29-2013-1233-PM.jpgBut the biggest benefit of all was the local knowledge we gained. Had we merely cycled through on our own, we would have missed out on learning about the local history, customs and culture. The in-depth personal perspectives they shared with us were the gem stones of our trip. From understanding the background of the Acadians to getting the inside scoop on developing national geological parks, we found it all fascinating. We watched one host’s lobster boat arrive at the wharf, followed his catch from there to our dinner table and learned about the lobster industry. Our extensive tour through Old Quebec was led and narrated by new local cycling friends. Some hosts drove us to see local sights – places that were not on our direct route, and otherwise would have missed.

We knew that staying in Warm Showers homes would be useful, but in no way did we foresee just how it would shape our travels and enrich the memories of our trip. To all our wonderful hosts – who now feel like good friends – we owe a debt of thanks. And we sincerely hope that they cross our threshold in Duluth one day.