Permission to be Kids

There’s nothing like the holidays to provide ample opportunity to shed our adult persona and reconnect with our inner child.  Add to that an abundance of snow, and the possibilities are endless.

1500812_704546786668_1722331551_oOn Christmas day my sons and I headed out on snowshoes to enjoy the deep powdery snow. After averting near disaster when my foot broke through into the flowing Amity Creek, we sought safer ground and stuck to trampling through the woods.  With big fat snowflakes falling, it was an idyllic scene.  We eventually made our way down to the Big Lake.  The snow layer was 1531867_704546991258_540783886_omuch thinner there, but Brighton Beach’s rocks were encased in a thick coat of ice, which was beautiful but treacherous for any kind of foot travel.  Backing up from the shoreline, we found a cache of rocks under the snow and proceeded to do what any kid would do there – throw rocks in the lake.  Since the shoreline was ice-bound, it became a game to see who could break through the ice with a rock, producing a mini spurt of water through the hole.  What better way to spend Christmas afternoon, than having a rock throwing contest amid ice and snow?

IMG_0684Throw a couple of toddlers into the mix, and the fun multiplies.  After a morning of sledding on the neighbor’s hill, my grandson proceeded to lead me on a tour of the woods in our yard.  Seeing the snow, trees and findings of nature through his active imagination was one of the most delightful hours I have spent in a long time.

Kids of all sizes love Christmas Bentleyvillelights, so a visit to Bentleyville has become an annual tradition.  This year the milder temperatures allowed us to linger and enjoy all the offerings of that expansive holiday display.  After roasting marshmallows and warming ourselves by the fire, the lively music caught the ears of the littlest ones who began to wiggle and dance. An impromptu family dance party ensued, as we couldn’t resist their merriment and joined in the fun.

As family members gradually drift back to their own homes and we resume our own routine after the holidays, I only hope that we can keep some of the kid alive in each of us.  It’s far too much fun to reserve for the holidays.

Holiday Music Traditions

Christmas is a season rich in musical traditions.  Coming from a family steeped in music, I have fond memories of Christmas caroling out in the cold with family and neighborhood friends.  I sang in countless Christmas concerts, and mustered family members to play musical instruments in church for Christmas services.  It was a joy to see the tradition continue when our children were old enough to sing in Christmas concerts of their own.  And when they went on to sing in college choirs we were treated to some of the finest musical tributes of the season.

With college graduations behind us, we decided the trips to distant campuses were no longer necessary.  Instead, we have visited local colleges to sample their Christmas music.  It’s amazing the talent we have in our midst.

This year, however, I was drawn back to the past.  In middle school and high school, our daughter Karen spent five magical years singing under the direction of Julia Fahey in the Partners in Praise Girls’ Choir.  It was an experience that would shape her life, both musically and personally.  The music that the choir produced, the discipline that it required, and the mutual respect that each member had for each other were of the highest standard.  They traveled internationally, performed spontaneously in public places and sang in prestigious venues, but more than that, they won the hearts of all who heard them sing.  As Karen put it, Julia taught them so much more than just music.

So when I realized that I would be in the Twin Cities close to the time of their annual Holiday Benefit Concert, it was no decision at all to extend my stay long enough to attend.  As always, it was an evening that filled my heart as well as my holiday music quota.  The girls looked so young and I didn’t recognize a single one, but it was the same choir.  They still had the that special sound, the spirit, and they owned the music. When alumni were invited up to sing, I couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down my face as Karen took her place among the other singers.  They all still sang like angels, just with richer more mature voices.

I couldn’t get enough of the music that night.  This was one holiday music tradition that was well worth going back to relive.  I just may have to do it again next year.


It’s a Blue Ball Year

We finally bought our Christmas tree late last week.  Our old faithful, the Duluth Farmers’ Market, came through for us, but we barely made it in time.  They apologized for the slim selection, adding that most people bought their trees Thanksgiving weekend.  We were a few weeks later than that…  But the real explanation was the snowfall.  Because of the deep snow, they have been unable to access the remaining trees on that lot that they intended to cut yet this year.  So their inventory has been frozen.  Literally.  Luckily for us, we still found a nice tree and happily carted it home.  As predicted, the Market sold out by Saturday.

Fortunately, since it is a Blue Ball Year, Rich was actively engaged in trimming the tree, and it went up quickly.  Blue Ball?  Early on in our marriage we reached an impasse over Christmas tree decorations.  I already had a collection of carefully selected ornaments that I had gathered over the years.  Many of them were hand made by me or by friends, some were souvenirs from trips, a few were from my parents’ tree, and all had special meaning to me.  But not to Rich.  He wanted blue balls.  Period.  For him, that brought back memories of his parents’ earliest Christmases when they could only afford simple blue balls for decorations.  The elegance and simplicity of the tree still resonated with him.

IMG_0622Since hand crafted ornaments and blue balls didn’t mix, we arrived at a compromise.  We would alternate years.  So every other year I get to handle my treasured collection of ornaments and memories, and continue to add to the array.  On the alternate years, Rich merrily hangs blue balls.  It has turned out to be a good system, and has kept the peace for 30 years now.

IMG_3153 trimmed

The good news is that the tree is now up and decorated.  The lowest balls are a good plastic imitation of the shiny breakable variety, in preparation for the arrival of the grandchildren.  And an active cat, who delights in denuding the lower two feet of the tree.

It now feels like Christmas in the house.  The remaining decorations are up, and I even have a few Christmas cookies made.  Soon presents will appear under the tree, and family will begin to arrive.  Ah, Christmas!

And then I will begin anticipating next year, and triggering special moments with each unique ornament I hang.

Ah, Sunshine!

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.  After three days of constant snowfall and heavy cloud cover, the reappearance of the sun lent a welcome glow to the new fallen snow and rays of visual warmth to my world.

IMG_0607I started snowshoeing in the woods early this morning just past daybreak.  The temperature had dropped during the night, and the trees that were doubled over with the weight of the wet snow were now frozen in their curved poses.  Occasional trees and branches had snapped and fallen under the strain.  Following the trail was like doing an obstacle course.

The snow under my feet started out hard and crunchy.  While it easily bore my weight, progress was noisy. Further inland, the depth increased and the snow softened.  That’s snowshoeing at its best in my mind.  Silent and deep.

IMG_0609The prettiest trails were those that followed the Lester River.  The ground rose high above the water and my path was narrow and secluded.  The trees must have been more open to the wind, as they all stood tall and proud.

It was at that point that I saw it.  The sun had just risen above the clouds at the horizon and illuminated the trees all around me.  Their long thin shadows lay across the trail, adding a new dimension to the snow.  Re-energized by the sun’s appearance, I prolonged my snowshoe trek to absorb my new surroundings.

IMG_3131The longer the sun was up, the bluer the sky.  It made a beautiful backdrop for the snow covered tree limbs.  And it lifted my spirits.  After days of isolation and greyness, we had color again.

Ah, sunshine is a wonderful thing.

Braving the Storm

Day 2 of Duluth’s big snowstorm.  From our house, about 1/2 mile in from Lake Superior, it seemed a mild event. The main feature was the slow but constant and significant accumulation of snow.  Sure, it was windy, as evidenced by the broken branches in the yard and slightly swaying trees, but for the most part just a pretty winter wonderland.

Similar to yesterday, by late morning I made my way out into the snowy accumulation.  This time I donned snowshoes and headed toward the lake.  We had at least 8″ of heavy new snow in our yard, but the closer I got to the shore, the wetter, sloppier and skimpier the snow.  And when I emerged from the new lakewalk tunnel, I was surprised to look down and discover that my jacket was covered in droplets and soaking wet.  I had entered an entirely different micro-climate.

IMG_0575 trimmedBut that wasn’t all.  I was suddenly in the throes of a real storm.  I could hear the wind as I approached, but that was nothing compared to the fury with which it whipped past me.  Sticking to the shelter of trees at the shore, I watched as the brown water churned and huge waves crashed over the rocks.  It was all I could do to hold my little camera steady to see if I could catch the action.

Not content with one view, I soldiered on toward Brighton Beach.  The wind coming down the lake was so fierce, I couldn’t see a thing as I fought my way forward through the windy wetness.  There was no way I was going to survive on the open rocky beach, so I sought another grove of IMG_0584trees for my viewing point.  There I could see the rainy snow driven sideways in sheets across the water.  It wasn’t a place I wanted to dawdle, and as soon as I did an about face the wind fairly blew me back to the tunnel.  On the way, I had to smile at the snow encrusted North Shore sign, perfect proof of the horizontal snowfall.

My return trip was the same transition in reverse, and I reached home in the quiet snowfall I’d left.  It was a short but intense excursion, from one world to another and back again.  I guess we really are in the throes of a major storm after all.


Today was my first ski of the season, if you can call it that.  After weeks of running, waiting for snow, it was finally here. I’m pretty leery about early season snow.  Unlike my husband who heads out on his skis at the first sign of a snowflake, I prefer to wait for the real deal.  But I had to admit that there was plenty of snow right outside my door this morning.  So I waxed up my classic skis and headed out.

It was deep all right.  Thick and moist too.  Lacking groomed trails yet, I made my way up Seven Bridges Road.  For once, I considered the snowmobiles my friends, as they had packed down a nice trail right down the middle of the road.  It was far easier following their path than trying to break trail.

IMG_0574Although the wind howled overhead, the road was pretty well sheltered.  The trees were laden with snow, some bending way over under the heavy weight.  And the world was silent.  Progress was slow, and getting any glide from my skis was only a wish, but the early season novelty of the new fallen snow was ample compensation.

Continuing onto Skyline Drive and summiting at Hawk Ridge, I came into the full force of the wind.  It raged across the open viewing area and obliterated the snowmobile tracks.  Down below the city faded into greyness and Lake Superior was left to my imagination.  The only reality was the snow beneath my skis.

IMG_0572I hoped for some benefit from retracing my tracks on the return trip, but it was a futile wish.  If anything, the snow was softening and increasingly clumped up on the bottom of my skis.  It felt more like walking than skiing.  That’s when I coined a new phrase – ski-shoeing. Tramping through deep new snow being held up by long sticks instead of snowshoes.  At least I had the benefit of my ski poles.

It may not have been glorious skiing, but it was a start.  And it felt great to be outside in the snow.  Perhaps tomorrow I’ll dig out my snowshoes.

Thanksgiving Kindness

Like any family, as our kids have gown into young adults we have had to learn to share them. Particularly on the holidays. With our oldest married for five years, we are well versed in the trickiness of spreading their holiday time between multiple families, and have tried to allow them to make guilt-free decisions.

With one far-flung son out in Washington DC comes the added complexity of travel and extra vacation time required for these occasions. We fully understood when he chose to spend Thanksgiving with his long distance girlfriend, rather than making the trip home. But what came as a complete surprise was her family’s invitation to all of us to join them. Not just Rich and me, but the rest of our kids and grandkids as well. It was an act of sincere kindness that humbled and excited us. We happily accepted.

Joining forces with as-yet-unknown-friends proved to be seamless and heartwarming. I maintain that it’s not all coincidence. Carl undoubtedly is drawn to a young woman brought up with similar family values. Enveloped by their warm hospitality, we felt right at home and enjoyed sharing many common experiences, not to mention a wonderful multi-generational Thanksgiving dinner.

As if that wasn’t enough, their generousity enabled us to stay for on an additional day to stretch our scarce time with our son. Many games were played, football games watched, Christmas lights installed (with the help of a tractor – we were in Iowa, after all), walks taken and stories told over more meals shared around the table.

wpid-Photo-Nov-29-2013-1154-AM.jpgwpid-Photo-Nov-29-2013-252-PM.jpgThis Thanksgiving gave us many new reasons to be thankful. For wonderful new friends. For sharing the strength of family. For gathering together from far and wide. For those reaching out with acts of kindness. And for Carl and Chelsea, for being the reason it happened.