The Fitness Geek

There is a fine line between passion and obsession.  Sometimes the only difference is who is describing the behavior.  My passion for exercise and fitness is hardly a secret.  A day without pushing my body makes me feel lazy and crabby.  Rich knows.  He calls it obsession.

Second only to the activity itself is my compulsion to track it all.  The notes on a small calendar have long since been replaced by a Garmin GPS watch and SportTracks on my PC.  Through the wonders of technology I can see at a glance just how many miles I have run and cycled and the kilometers I have skied over the days, week, and years.  It’s beautiful.  I thought I had it all.  Until my birthday.

Recognizing that I couldn’t track my lap swimming with my Garmin, Rich gave me a Moov Now device.  The little red button slips into a flexible rubbery band and is totally waterproof.  I failed to see how it could track my swimming, but gave it a try.  I downloaded the app on my phone,  paired it with my device and pressed “start” while still in the locker room.  Doubt lingered.  I barely felt the light band around my wrist as I swam back and forth, back and forth.  Ok, for 2 miles in the pool.

Moov Highlights

After showering, I retrieved my phone and clicked End.  When the data finished downloading from that red button, I took a gander.  Wow.  It knew everything.  It knew exactly when I started swimming, what stroke I was swimming, how many laps I’d done (2 more than I thought), how long it took me for each flip turn, how much time I was actually stroking, and when I finished.  It would have recorded rest time, if I’d had any.  Averages were calculated for stats I couldn’t even recognize.  

Moov Laps

It was almost creepy.  But not enough to stop me from studying the results.    From the lap by lap graph, I could see how my flip turns took longer near the end – documenting that slight pause I knew I was taking as I tired.  My Distance Per Stroke average was below the “ideal range” so it gave me two paragraphs of coaching advice for improving my efficiency.  At its most basic level, it kept me honest if I lost track of my laps.

I had no idea technology had advanced so far.  I’ve lived without all this data for years.  I don’t really need it all, but still…  It’s pretty cool.  How can a techno geek resist?  Now I wonder what it can do for my other activities…

But that wasn’t all.  Removing more gift wrap revealed a pair of spur clips for my running shoes, with LED lights.  I couldn’t even feel them when I ventured out in the dark on my next pre-dawn run.  But Rich said he could see me all the way down our pitch black road.  Hating my safety vest, I immediately took to these glowing wonders.  And I sure got noticed on the Lakewalk.Molly with shoe lights

I was impressed.  These were real winners.  So Rich confessed that he had help.    Entering something like “gifts for runners” in Amazon’s search box brought up a wealth of options for the fitness obsessed.  I guess I don’t really care what he calls it.  This fitness geek loves her new toys.

Writing Retreat

The snow crunches under the wheels of my car as I move slowly down the drive.  Pulling up in front of a rustic building, I exit my car to find chickens pecking the frozen ground and horses neighing across the way.  Surrounded by crisp cold air, I hurry into the office to confirm my reservation and pick up keys to the Tree Lodge.

The cluttered office and scruffy environs matter little.  This is a retreat after all, and I intend to install myself in the cabin for some serious progress on writing my book.  I am soon joined by Kristina, and we quickly make ourselves at home in the two story dwelling.

Molly by Tree Lodge

Billed as a place to retreat from the busy world, Shire in the Woods hosts 7 cabins in a square mile of woodlands in central Minnesota.  Although it’s possible to see bits of the other cabins through the leafless trees in winter, the environs exude seclusion.  We are self-sufficient with the food and supplies we have brought, and stock the cabin with firewood to fend off the winter chill.

It doesn’t take us long to get down to work.  Despite the simplicity of the place we welcome the modern wifi, plugging in laptops and tapping away on our keyboards.  Kristina graciously helps me navigate the murkiness of my material, teasing out themes and probing my purpose to help me organize my stories about bicycle touring.  In time, my premise statement evolves – an elusive concept I have been pursuing for months.

Molly and Kristina on writing retreat

Kristina pursues her own project, finding an agent for her heart-tugging book for infants and nursing mothers, Sweet Moments: Celebrating the Bond of Breastfeeding.  It’s amazing to find we can work in isolation right across the table from one another.  The camaraderie furthers our work, rather than inhibiting.  Warm meals of whole foods and sharing our passions flavor the progress.

Morning brings clear skies, below zero temperatures and restorative sunshine.  Huddled by the fire, sipping tea and coffee, we labor on.  Keystrokes are punctuated by periodic conversation, questions and diversions.  When my work drifts off course, Kristina gently guides me back into focus.

Kristina walking the trailNoontime takes us out for fresh air and an explore.  Totally confused by the hand drawn map of the trails, we strike out for ourselves choosing the most obvious straight path.  When it becomes as twisted and convoluted as the map, we just go with the flow.  The sun warms our faces and the blue sky outlines the tall trees that make wispy shadows on the new dusting of snow.

Kristina’s departure to meet the afternoon school bus and resume her motherly role leaves the cabin empty and quiet.  So I bury myself in continuing the work I started.  Soon I am plunking down post-it notes on a poster board, positioning and moving them around to find order among the chapters.


I’ve never spent time alone in a cabin in the woods before.  Not even our own cabin.  I tend the fire, listen to the clock tick, eat my dinner while perusing other peoples’ memoirs and sip my cold white wine.  The wifi is just strong enough to allow me to listen to Pandora music, with periodic pauses to buffer.

My final morning is cozy and warm.  I have finally mastered the wood stove and heat pumps out faster than my work.  Still I putter with my storyboard, certain that I have not yet found the right flow.  But I’m infinitely farther along than I was two days ago.  I haven’t written a single word, but I’m finding the glue.

I have Rich to thank for this writing interlude.  He found the Shire and presented it to me for Christmas.  Perhaps he sensed I was losing my way on this book.  I haven’t solved all its mysteries, but I’m ready for forward momentum again.  Taking time out to retreat from the world with the help of the right writing partner has put me back on my path.

Gliding Again

Fickle winter.  It teases us with cold weather but fails to deliver on the snow.  It wreaks havoc with my motivation and my love of the outdoors.  My identity as a cross-country skier is in shambles.

For weeks I have been unable to get excited about skiing.  I can’t drag myself across the street to ski on trails that are barely covered, and I convince myself that I’d rather go running anyway.  Despite slipping and sliding on the icy or snow-clogged Lakewalk, I take refuge in the familiar.  I just can’t get over the hurdle to embrace skiing instead.

But the recent snowfall engineered a shift.  It actually looks and feels like winter.  Distant memories return.  Suddenly I feel the draw of the trails.  The pull of a new blanket of snow.  The sun filtering through the trees and glinting off the soft white powder.  The crisp air brushing my cheeks.  It is mine for the taking.  This time I can’t help but answer the call.

On mySkiing ungroomed Lester first foray into the woods I discover that I beat the groomer to the trails.  Instead of crisp firm corduroy, I find soft untouched snow with a packed base not far beneath.  All sounds are muffled by this new fallen splendor.  The hush quiets my mind as the powder slows my skis.  I am moving in slow motion, but it makes no difference.  For once it’s not about the pace, it is all about the experience.

Lester on groomed trails

Day two and I’m eager to return.  The groomer has worked its magic in my absence.  I am early enough to enjoy some virgin terrain, cutting my own diagonal slices through the sculpted surface.  The tall pines still wear their mantle of white and the forest floor is a series of soft undulating mounds pocked with occasional animal tracks.  Whether real or imagined, the air feels fresher than ever.

I knew there was a reason I loved winter, I’d just forgotten what it was.  I’m glad to be out gliding again.

Holiday Cheer

Amazon packages arrive by the truckload.  Wrapping paper flies off its rolls.  The sweet scent of once-a-year cookies wafts through the house.  Christmas meals fill every nook of the freezer.  Carefully crafted holiday greetings travel far and near.  It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings and “must do’s” of the season.  I should know – I’m a prime target for succumbing to holiday stress.

But the season has a wealth of feel-good experiences as well, and this year I happily overindulged my love for music and theater.  All in the name of Christmas.

Ben and Mya at the GrinchIt has become an annual tradition to take our older grandchildren to see a Christmas play.  This year we hit the big time, taking Ben and Mya to the Children’s Theater in Minneapolis to see “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”  It was Dr. Seuss to the core, and so very true to the book with a very green Grinch whose mouth sparkled redness.  I knew the experience reached the kids when Ben leaned over to me mid-performance, and whispered, “This is really good!”  He took the words right out of my mouth.

Just two days later, Rich convinced me to go see the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train.  Although it travels through the Twin Cities, he insisted we needed to experience it in a small town.  A four hour drive took us to Plummer MN, where indeed we were treated to an energetic community that rallied around the arrival of this brilliantly lit train.  At 6:00pm the train slowly approached the crossing, its holiday colors reflecting against the local grain elevator as it passed.  Once stopped,Holiday Train a draw-bridge like door came down with fog pouring out and laser lights pulsating.  The country music performers where already in place and performing by the time it was fully open.  Pressing against the stage, the crowd bounced to the music, performers hand-bumped the kids up front, and we all sang “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with the musicians.  Thirty minutes passed Holiday Train Concertquickly, then the train resumed its journey – on to the next town.  Its whole purpose is to support local food shelves, and indeed the evening’s take from locals as well as a generous donation from CP covers half their needs for the whole year.  My heart glowed as brightly as my face in the glimmer of the retreating train.

Returning to Duluth the following day, we turned to home town entertainment.  That very night we had tickets to “A Christmas Carol” at the Duluth Playhouse.  No matter how many times I see that show, it always delights and conjures up the goodwill of the season.  Topped off with wine and Christmas cookies with friends in the light of their decorated tree, it was an evening hard to beat.

East Holiday ConcertOur finale involve another tradition – a school Christmas concert.  This year I insisted on revisiting my past, attending the East High School Holiday Concert.  Memories of my years in choir and the Choralaires came flooding back as I watched from the balcony.  But even more pronounced was the depth of talent and commitment of the young musicians and their directors.  The performance underscored what an amazing opportunity these youngsters have to participate in such excellent ensembles.  I know now that it’s something they may never experience again in their lives.  Shivers ran down my spine as the entire assembly of students closed the evening with “Carol of the Drums.”

Quite a blitz for one week.  An abundance of holiday cheer, certain to propel me through the remainder of the Christmas season.

Move over Laptop

Sewing slipper jammiesSometimes the writer has to take a backseat to being a Grammy.  My office space allotment has ample room for my laptop and was designed with plenty of surface area for spreading out notes and research materials.  It just does not accommodate a sewing machine and yards of material without a bit of compromise.  So when my inner Grammy takes over, the laptop gets shoved aside.

It’s well known in this space that I have an annual appointment with the sewing machine and piles of fuzzy fleece.  What started as a single pair of slipper jammies, also known as Grammy jammies, has multiplied into four such outfits fitting little bodies from 10 months to 7 years.  And next year already promises to push the total to five.  No matter what the number, I press on and rue the day when the older grandchildren start opting out of such cozy comforts.

It feels a bit like an assembly line.  Cut, cut, cut.  Sew, sew, sew.  A zipper here, a cuff there.  Gripper feet for all.  The outside world hardly exists.  All I see is red fleece, goofy reindeer faces and a needle bouncing up and down in rapid motion.  I cannot rest until the last piece is in place.  The final stitch sewn.  It is a labor of love.  When I am finished, they come to life – four little visitors inhabiting my couch.I am lucky this year.  I found Christmas fleece, which has become a rare commodity.  That means an early delivery so that the kiddos can wear them for the run up to the holiday season.  When I produced the customary cloth gift bags last weekend, the older ones already knew what must be inside.  Kids sure learn fast.Ben, Mya and Isabel in their Grammy Jammies

I had to entrust the final pair to the US Mail.  Through the marvels of FaceTime I was able to watch Maren rip through the packaging to reveal her very own Grammy jammies.  A style show ensued.Maren models Grammy Jammies

My task complete for now, the laptop has been restored to its place of honor.  With this little interlude behind me, my writing resumes.  Bits of fuzz and pins linger in my workspace.  I smile, looking forward to Christmas when all four grandchildren will pile into our house – in their matching togs.

October Lightkeeping

What a difference a year makes. Last October we occupied this same spot, performed the same lightkeeping duties and camped in the same tent. But the similarities end there.

Last year five days of mostly cloudy skies, a fair amount of rain and temperatures in the 40s left us shivering despite our winter jackets and long underwear. Our down sleeping bags were our saviors at night. Dark skies challenged the solar power system, which drained away from lack of sun and struggled to regain any power from dim bursts of sun. The challenges did not diminish our love for this gig, nor did it deter us from signing on for another year. But we felt rather foolish for choosing another stint in October.

Fortunately, history did not repeat itself. Far from it. We have enjoyed five days of sunshine, moderate temperatures on the 50s-60s and Lake Superior in her finest blue. I happily resumed my early morning writing sessions on the beach.Molly writing on beach Rich raising the flag Crisp Point wavesOur visitor count is up considerably over last year. We welcomed over 200 guests. All who come lend a new perspective. They hail from as far away as Wyoming and Beijing. Others have local ties and have been coming since before any restoration began in 1998. They know more of the lighthouse’s history than we do, and we love hearing their first-hand experiences. They especially appreciate all the work that the Crisp Point Light Historical Society has put into preserving and enhancing this site. Newcomers never fail to be impressed.
Lighthouse in setting sunWe marvel at the folks who come merely at the suggestion of a lighthouse on a new highway sign. Little do they know the conditions of the dirt road approach, but all agree it was worth the journey. They buy our best selling sticker, “I survived the drive to Crisp Point Lighthouse.”

Thinking that the week could not be more ideal, we are treated to a grand finale. We witness a deep pink sunset from the beach. We have the biggest blazing bonfire yet. Two classic ore boats parade by, illuminated stem to stern with white lights. We watch a glowing sunrise from the lighthouse tower. And the day is balmy and warm.
Lighthouse pink sunset Crisp Point bonfire Sunrise from lighthouseSuddenly October doesn’t feel like such a crazy choice. But just for kicks we signed up for August next year.

Lightkeeper’s Haven

Perched high above the shoreline I own the landscape. Lake Superior relinquished her pounding waves overnight leaving mere ripples on the surface and gentle pulses kissing the sand. Long shadows cross the beach and the neighboring trees are bathed in the glow of the low sun. The water’s sound competes only with the wind as it whistles through the open doors to the catwalk. Morning’s cool fresh air contrasts with the warmth of the sun on my back.
View from lighthouseIt is a rare privilege to claim a lighthouse for one’s own, even if only for five days. From 10am – 6pm we share this beauty with others seeking to explore her, acting as light keepers and welcoming visitors. But the early morning hours and evenings are ours.

My morning began while the stars still dominated the sky. Emerging from our tent, wet with an overnight ground fog, the intermittent beam from the lighthouse was the only source of illumination. I could barely make out the rocks on the beach as I picked my way down the waterfront while the eastern skies took on their first rosy glow. On my return the orange hues crept up around the lighthouse to meet the velvety dark blue above.
Lighthouse sunrise reflectionWalking the opposite side, I took in the handiwork of the lake, reconfiguring the shoreline even since last year. The high water level has eaten its way up into the dunes, carving off the front slope to reveal multi-colored sand strata in its new vertical edge.

Once more my return yielded new views of the lighthouse. The sun embraced its red cap and glass face, walking gently down its elongated white body. Soon only the shadows of the nearest trees remained and stubbornly lingered.
Sun on lighthouseThe morning’s light show complete, it is time for my final retreat. Ditching my usual spot on a driftwood seat on the beach, I climb the lighthouse, coffee mug in hand, writing tools at the ready. Here I sit, sheltered from the wind with the world at my feet. The moments are precious. I do not take my keeper’s privileges for granted. Soon I will relinquish my private haven – the public awaits.