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.


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.

The Light Show

Ask anyone in Duluth – or anywhere in Minnesota for that matter – and they will tell you how dismal the weather has been for the past umpteen weeks.  Clouds, dark and heavy have obscured the sun for all but one day in the last 18.  It hasn’t helped that these clouds have produced only rain, not any negligible snow for those of us who love winter sports.

Rich with Christmas lightsThe lack of sunlight has been depressing to say the least.  So like all good northern Minnesotans, we look for the bright side (literally in this case) wherever we can.  Christmas lights certainly quality.  If daylight disappoints, evenings bring on a bright glow.  Driving anywhere in town delivers a showcase of pleasing light displays.  We were a bit on the late side getting our lights up, but Rich headed out one gloomy night to add our own colorful strings to the night time drama.

In the midst of this light drought, we passed the Winter Solstice – the day with the least amount of sunlight.  So even though we couldn’t see it, the sun made its shortest appearance of all.  Bonfire at Solstice SkiOur ski club has an annual Solstice Bonfire Ski, and the thought of a bright bonfire to light up the night enticed me out there.  I skied over the trails at Spirit Mountain to find not one but nine bonfires illuminating the way.  My particular favorite was the elevated bonfire, flaming away in one of the barbecue grills. The snow far exceeded my minimal expectations, Winter-Solstice-Ski-1and it was pleasant skiing in the mild temperatures.  But it was even better just hanging around the main bonfire.  Roasting a hot dog over the fire, singeing my face as well as the dog sure felt good.  Wrapped in a tortilla, char-broiled never tasted so good.  Spirits were high as we all basked in the light of the fire.

This morning I woke to an unusual sight – a break in the clouds!  I can’t say it was sunny exactly, but just seeing some blue sky and a touch of pink from the rising sun was uplifting.  The lake reappeared and there were the waves crashing onto the shore as I ran along the Lakewalk.  It was as if life in the the great outdoors had been reactivated.  I couldn’t help but smile, passing others and hearing them remark, “Look, the sun!”

Not too surprisingly, by mid-morning the clouds resumed their cover and the world returned to its gray hues.  But that short glimpse was enough to get us through and feed our belief that one day the sun will shine again.  The ultimate light show.

Christmas al fresco

There’s a pine tree standing in our entryway.  Boy, it smells good.  Once the branches drop and stop dripping from the ice and snow, it will move into the great room.  Who ever thought of bringing the outside in for Christmas sure had a good idea.

I’m not sure I could handle Christmas in a warm climate.  The cold and snow are an integral part of what signals the season for me.  Even if it means cold toes, bundling up and heading outdoors for the season’s festivities are part of the package.

Julebyen 1The typical Christmas craft fair took on a new look recently when Knife River started up Julebyen.  That is the Norwegian word for Christmas Village, and it combines a place for celebration and gathering with music, crafts and food.  And it’s all outdoors.  In this its second year, the weather was far more seasonable than last year’s frigid temperatures, making it pleasant to wander down the shortJulebyen 2 “street” of village shops and peruse the fine wares made by local craftsmen.

The tent at the end of the row offered Norwegian delicacies, and a musician playing the dulcimer provided entertainment. In the background the skating rink hosted an active group of children enjoying the winter ice.  Combined with colorful Norwegian characters, it was a delight to the eye.

Julebyen 4Julebyen 3

Bentleyville 1For nocturnal outdoor fun, nothing beats a trip to Bentleyville. The collection of Christmas lights and surround-sound seasonal music is irresistible even to adults.  This year we went without the benefit of children and grandchildren, and enjoyed the light show as much as ever.  The “dancing tree” was my favorite – watching the 130-foot tall conical Christmas tree’s lights pulsate in patterns in time to the upbeat music was great entertainment.  We commended ourselves for spotting a few new additions, including Split Rock Bentleyville 2Lighthouse and some Tall Ships sailing near the illuminated Aerial Bridge.  It’s hard not to feel the magic of Christmas, surrounded by so much fanciful brilliance.

Yes, it’s good to have the smell of pine permeating the house, and a real tree temporarily rooted to the floor.  It will tide us over until our next Christmas al fresco activity.   Hmm, Christmas caroling anyone?

Tag Along Photography

I just don’t have what it takes.  The patience.  The persistence.  The hours of practice, research, testing, trial and error.  Not to mention standing nearly motionless out in the cold.  From watching Rich, I can see just what dedication it requires.  And I am fully prepared to admit that I’m not cut out to be a serious photographer.  But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying taking pictures.

Recently, Rich was hot on the trail of another photography idea.  He’d worked it all out.  The crescent moon would be setting at just the right angle to be seen over the Two Harbors waterfront.  His plan was to photograph the lighthouse at the end of the pier, along with the setting moon.  (Now do you see the extent of his efforts?)  So despite single digit temperatures that promised to fall further in the evening hours, he convinced me to head out with him for this marvelous adventure.

In theory it was a great idea.  Rich’s calculations were accurate.  The only problem was the lighthouse had no spotlight, and hence was invisible.  Part of me wanted to rejoice and head home, as the wind was stronger than we expected and infiltrated my heavy down jacket and warm gloves.  But the photography session was salvaged by an incoming ore boat.

It moved ever so slowly through the black night.  Watching and waiting for the boat to line up with the moon, my fingers reached ever increasing degrees of iciness.  And yet the scene was captivating.  The boat’s lights twinkled over the water, and occasionally big spotlights swept out IMG_0228across the liquid expanse as it progressed toward the ore docks.  I was too cold to think very hard about what settings I should be using, or to try different techniques.  That would be too much like the photographer I profess not to be.  But I still snapped away, hoping I was close.  The result requires a bit of imagination to see the boat, but I do rather like the sparkling effect.

Settling into its berth at the IMG_0233ore docks, the boat’s lighted posterior lined up nicely with the dropping moon.  Without that description, it would probably be unrecognizable.  But I still thought it was picturesque.

That was enough for me.  A beautiful evening.  Chilled to the bone.  A floating spectacle.  Ready for home.  Oh, but wait – another boat was heading our way!  How could we be so lucky?  With the moon nearly down and the ship still a mere speck, it would be a long wait.  Fortunately, even Rich was ready to call it a night.  We took a pass on that one.

No, I’ll never make it as a photographer.  I’ll stick to wrangling with words, thank you.  Writing is my gig.  But that doesn’t stop me from tagging along and snapping a few pix.  Just for fun.