Exercise Anyone?

It’s not easy being an exercise-aholic.  While most people struggle to find time to work out, can’t get themselves out the door, or have a million excuses to avoid exercise, I thrive on it. My day isn’t complete without a run, going cycling, swimming or XC skiing – even better if I can fit in more than one activity.

My friends roll their eyes when they hear of my obsession.  Some decline my invitations to accompany me, fearing I will push them too hard.  My husband chides me for rarely taking a day off.  Honestly, I’m not a super athlete.  I just have a lot of stamina, and love going the distance.

Fortunately, I have a few friends who “get it.”  They are the ones who willingly submit to my over eager ideas.  They understand when I suggest we go “just a little further.”  They know why I do this day after day – because they do too.

Today I spent the day with one of those friends.  My friend, Myra, and I went on our fourth annual Century Ride – a 100 mile bike ride.  Leading up to the day, I couldn’t help but look forward to it.  I loved the very idea of spending all day on our bikes, exercising non-stop.  Mentioning this to Myra, her eyes lit up and she responded, “Me too!”  Yes, she gets it.

The day followed our usual pattern.  Eight hours of actual cycling time, elapsed time around 10 hours.  The time not cycling was spent eating.  After all, what’s the point of all that exercise if we can’t blow a few calories?  The stop at Dairy Queen was particularly satisfying.

Molly and Myra Century RideThis year’s route included an out-and-back portion on the Munger Trail.  Approaching our turnaround spot, we slowed to reverse our direction.  It was at that point that Myra noticed the road sign – we were at Bonk Road. We couldn’t help but enjoy the irony of the location, even though we were still going strong.

Perhaps it wasn’t an accident that we overestimated our mileage and came in at 105 miles.  We’re both rather over achievers.  And we’re already looking forward to next year’s century.  Exercise anyone?

Volunteer Sunflowers

Gigantic bags of sunflower seeds inhabit our pantry.  I am continually trying to wrestle them into submission and shove them under the lowest shelf so that I might have room to move.  At first it’s a challenge, pushing around nearly half my weight in seeds.  But the birds that frequent Rich’s bird feeders are voracious, and it’s not long before the diminishing supply is easily relegated to its storage spot.  Until the next bag arrives.

This summer those seeds delivered a pleasant surprise.  Out of the thousands of seeds provided for the birds, a few of the sunflower seeds migrated away from the bird feeders and into our garden.  Here and there among our colorful perennials, we discovered individual sunflower plants beginning to grow.  Not the enormous picture book sunflowers, just a nice size stalk reaching about four feet tall.  Now this was a use for sunflower seeds that I could really appreciate, and eagerly looked forward to their bright yellow blossoms.  Unfortunately, I was not their only fan.  Just as the largest buds looked about ready to bloom, the deer nibbled off the tasty flowers.

Volunteer SunflowerWe still had a few remaining plants that were behind in their development, so we quickly deployed the deer spray.  They got a liberal dousing after each rain and whenever we thought of it.  Our diligence paid off, and a few days ago the first sunflower bloomed!  We are nursing a couple more along, hoping for a few more sunny blossoms to grace our landscape.

Not being a birder, I’m not always thrilled with those voluminous bags of sunflower seeds in my space.  Nor do I fully appreciate the birds they attract.  But I have to acknowledge the role the birds played in dropping said seeds onto fertile ground. Yes, they have purchased a few months of good will as I enjoy the volunteer sunflowers that resulted.

The Wedding Cocoon

Weddings, funerals and the birth of a baby. In my limited experience, those three life-changing events stop the world. While life goes on, news events happen and the clock ticks forward, for those closely involved all that ceases to exist. Only the event at hand matters.

That certainly was the case for me this weekend during the wedding of our son, Carl, and his new bride, Chelsea. From the moment we arrived at our hotel until our trip home, I happily surrendered email, board responsibilities, writing assignments, coffee dates and my to-do list. All that mattered was on the detailed schedule developed by Carl and Chelsea – my life was theirs for three plus days. And it was a wonderful ride.

Reception TentIt was easy and exciting to get pulled into the final preparations for the outdoor reception to be held on the lawn of Chelsea’s family’s farm. Despite being kept in the loop as plans progressed, nothing could have prepared me for arriving two days before the wedding to see the final production in full swing. Everything was carefully staged in Chelsea’s parents’ expansive great room, with Table Settingarmies of friends and family pitching in to put it all in place. The large white tent stood majestically in the expansive manicured yard, surrounded by trees, a wall of cornstalks and large shed lined with sunflowers. The dance floor was under construction, tall tables were being moved into place for the social hour, and large scale photos from parents’ and grandparents’ weddings were being mounted on trees. Flowers had just been cut from the garden where they had been planted specifically to grace the dining tables. Boxes containing the lace tablecloths, unique china plates and hand-made napkins were labeled for distributing to each table. And the pièce de résistance, 15 red vintage tractors carefully restored by Chelsea’s grandfather stood as lawn ornaments among the trees. It was magic in the making.

Events began in earnest with the rehearsal. Having met at Wartburg College nearly ten years ago, it was entirely fitting that Carl and Chelsea chose the college chapel for their wedding ceremony. Dinner was in the “Castle Room” of the college, a warm wood paneled room reserved for special events where we shared a memorable meal with those closest to Carl and Chelsea.

With a perfect weather forecast, the wedding day went off without a hitch (well, if you don’t count best man Erik’s missing pants – but even that ended well). The chapel quickly filled with family and friends and the moment we’d all been awaiting finally arrived. From my front pew, I could clearly see Carl’s eyes fill with tears as Chelsea entered the back of the chapel with her father. His emotion triggered mine, and I’m sure many others as we witnessed the love of this young couple as they came together to be joined as man and wife. From there flowed a veWedding Partyry personal and meaningful ceremony performed by Pastor Steve, a long-term friend of Chelsea’s family.  It was gratifying to see our entire family involved with Erik as best man, Karen and Matt singing, Katie as an usher, and Ben and Mya as Ring Bearer and Flower Girl.

By the time we arrived at the reception, the Iowa heat had broken for the day and in the Carl and Chelsea's entranceshade of the trees and tent it was delightful. Guests filled the lawn and mingled as they explored every detail of that special venue. Snacks were artfully arrayed, wine and beer were flowing, lawn games could be played.  It wasn’t long before the wedding party exited their party bus, following the requisite stop at Dairy Queen (a Hoeg tradition…), ready to celebrate.

Molly's ToastAll the important elements flowed flawlessly – the Iowa barbecue dinner, the toasts, the couple’s first dance, cutting the wedding cake and special Twin’s hat groom’s cake.  In the warmth of the evening air it could not have been more perfect.  And yet, there was one more detail to be revealed.  A secret planned by Chelsea’s parents aCake Cuttingnd not revealed to a single sole, including the wedding couple.

The band announced they were taking a break, and asked guests to clear the dance floor.  Just moments later, the first burst of color exploded over the cornfields.  It was followed by additional pops and flashes as an extraordinary display of fireworks proceeded.  We Reception-Night-6were treated to ten minutes of non-stop sparkle as the night sky lit up with continuous tributes for this special occasion.  It gave me goosebumps just standing there as the brilliant illuminations reflected off the faces of Carl and Chelsea and the assembly of guests.

Fireworks-4 The whole weekend was memorable.  Snapshots of time, faces and emotions will remain with me forever.  Now that I’m back home, I’m having trouble picking up the pieces of “life as usual” and resuming my normal routine.  I’m still basking in the joy of the moments of that wedding cocoon, when all else paused for Carl and Chelsea’s marriage.

Wedding Finery

For weeks I’ve been working under wraps. I eagerly volunteered to sew the outfits for my grandchildren’s roles as Ring Bearer and Flower Girl for my son Carl’s wedding. And like many wedding plans, it meant staying mum about the details until the big day.

Finding sewing patterns turned out to be a lesson forMya dress front me. While I naturally began with Simplicity, McCalls and Butterick, my daughter took a different route. In short order, she sent me an email with links to dress, vest and tie patterns online – all through Etsy. I’d never gone that route before, using patterns created and shared by creative sewers that I could downloadBen vest and tie and print right at home. I was a little concerned about the quality and fit of the patterns, but soon found that they were well designed and included excellent instructions.

Selecting fabric was also informative. With the bridesmaids wearing yellow sundresses of their own choosing, my daughter, Karen, and I sought coordinating prints in yellow tones. We found a few at a chain fabric store, but before finalizing the selection, I checked out Hannah Johnson Fabrics right in Lakeside. There I feasted my eyes on beautiful prints all displayed in color families. I quickly honed in on a brilliant floral piece and several good options for companion fabrics. Knowing that these fabrics were 100% cotton aimed at quilters, I expressed my concern about sewing a dress for a toddler that might wrinkle easily. The helpful owner of the shop quickly allayed my fears, explaining that quality cotton would wear beautifully without wrinkles. I took her advice, paid the premium for the beautiful fabrics and didn’t regret it for a moment. She was absolutely right, and I know I’ll be a repeat customer.Isabel dress and panties

Half way through the creative process, it was a great joy to finally begin the sewing. Clothes for little people go together quickly and are so darn cute. I couldn’t resist snapping photos of each piece as I completed it, sending it to Karen and bride Chelsea to see. One project led to another, and as soon as baby sister Isabel Flowers for haircame along, I sought out patterns for her wedding outfit as well – all on Etsy, of course. To my delight, I found patterns for a newborn dress and diaper cover for free. It was hard to stop, so I went one step further and created fabric flowers for Mya to wear in her hair, and a matching headband for Isabel. I’m sure given more time I’d have found more details to add.

IMG_3865Flower Girl and Ring Bearer from the back


IMG_2298During one of my try-on sessions with Ben and Mya, they took off outside to show their mommy. Running around the yard, romping and chasing each other, they wiggled and rolled in their “fancy clothes.” To my own surprise I was not worried at all, thrilled with their delight in their wedding clothes.

The good news is that the Flower Girl and Ring Bearer performed their roles beautifully and charmingly – an outcome by no means guaranteed. And I think they were as excited as the bride and groom to don their wedding finery that day.IMG_3862

A First Class Experience

The MISA campusIt’s been almost a month since I first set foot in the big red barn.  But from that moment it became my home for five days, and my life revolved solely around my purpose for being there.

I was at the Madeline Island School of the Arts (MISA as we came to know it) for a writing class by Catherine Watson.  The focus was memoir and travel writing, and we soon learned that we were there to learn from a master.  But it was the whole package that made the experience so rich and rewarding.

It was one thing to spend five days learning about writing.  It was another to be steeped in   the experience.  Staying at MISA, we nestled into simple cottages on campus.  No husband, no family and poor cell phone reception meant I was completely on my own.  I was master of my time and could focus entirely on the writing and the beauty of the island.  That lack of distraction was key.

Mealtime in the red barnMost of our meals were provided for us.  All I had to do was saunter over to the red barn.  There I found foods tailored perfectly to my liking.  Lots of fresh fruit, hearty breads, crisp salads, quiches, soups, wild rice salad, pasta.  And every classroom featured a jar kept filled with chocolate chip cookies.  I was well fed.

My bicycle accompanied me to the island, so I spent my early mornings and afternoons after class exploring, either running or cycling.  The weather was beautiful as were the surroundings, and more than once I worked out some of my writing problems in the process.

Our writing classWith that as the backdrop, I poured myself into my class and assignments.  There were ten women in the class, and we met in the upper level of the barn.  Each night we had a writing assignment, which we read aloud in class the next morning.  Catherine fostered a very supportive environment for sharing our stories, resulting in thoughtful and useful feedback from her as well as our fellow students. As a result, a strong sense of trust was quickly established among our little group and we soon bonded as aspiring writers.  I knew my fellow students by their writing style better than I did their names.  Each morning I eagerly mounted the stairs, looking forward to another session with this diverse and caring group of women.  We laughed heartily together, we felt for one another, we lived each others’ lives through our personal stories and we cried together.  We were strangers at the start, but left with solid friendships and a common passion for our writing.

It was a week of growth for all of us.  We learned to believe in ourselves and our abilities.  We gained confidence in our writing.  We gathered invaluable insights from Catherine from her many years of travel writing, and loved her vivid stories of the writing assignments that sent her all over the world. All this was delivered with a graceful style that nurtured and encouraged us, married with constructive instruction that improved our writing day by day.

I loved my week in that big red barn.  I would do it again in a heartbeat.  I can’t imagine a more effective way to learn and grow as a writer.  It was a first class experience in every detail.

Trading one lake for another

It was ideal cabin weather. Our unprecedented long string of hot sunny days continued, spelling out ideal conditions for being at the cabin. Plans were laid. We’d leave mid-morning.

North ShoreWaking up to deep blue skies, a fresh breeze and less humidity than we’d seen in days, it was a fabulous day in Duluth. Heading out for my early morning run, I couldn’t help but absorb its perfection. Lake Superior was at its finest. Mostly calm with a royal blue hue, lined with rich green trees and brilliant blooms along the Lakewalk, it called to me. I realized that I have let the summer slip by without enough time spent on its shores. I craved time to sit on the rocks and stare into the water. A picnic by the lake. A close encounter with a ship passing through the canal. Anything to be by the Big Lake.

There were ample offerings to enjoy the weekend in Duluth, so why was I going to the cabin? It was my idea, and I’d spent the previous evening executing my usual over-scripted routine to round up plentiful food and other assorted necessities for the trip. I could have abandoned all that. One word and Rich would have been happy to stay home. But despite my internal conflict I remained silent.

I will admit that part of me rationalized staying home because I could also make further progress on my to-do list. That bottomless source of busy-ness is the bane of my retirement, keeping me constantly occupied and prone to turning down opportunities for pure pleasure activities. I allow it to squelch my flexibility and in return I reap mild reward from some warped sense of accomplishment. Perhaps this knowledge unconsciously propelled me to continue loading the car.

ANorth Star Lakell it took was arriving in the cabin driveway. I could already feel life’s requirements falling away. The silence was broken only by the wind rustling the leaves and the flies buzzing. And the lake was beautiful. With only occasional boats cruising by, it was the picture of tranquility.

My to-do list is meaningless here. With no computer, internet or sewing machine I am powerless to tick anything off that list. And I’m so glad. With just the two of us here, there are no demands on my time. I am free to do nothing, or as close to it as I can manage. (I do have my limits.) I have already finished one book while sitting on the dock and started another. I’ve mulled over some writing ideas, which have previously been crowded out by tasky clutter. I can feel my creativity flourishing. It’s peaceful here in a way it never can be at home, precisely because it is not home. Although I generally prefer a more sociable setup at the cabin, sharing this small space with family and friends, there is a lot to be said for some quiet time.

At the cabin, anything feels possible. I am confident that I will find another time to linger by the Big Lake. For now I’m happy absorbing the solitude of North Star Lake. It turned out to be a good trade.