I Thought Slow Was Safe. Nope.

Snow looks so… soft, doesn’t it?

For someone who loves being outside as much as I do, winter in the north is challenging. Snow, sleet, and ice can be cold and uninviting. The words slipping and sliding also are also prominent in my winter vocabulary. My somewhat advanced physical (not mental) age would suggest that I avoid all opportunities to slip, slide and fall. So, why on earth would I choose to take up cross country skiing, where slipping and sliding is actually the whole game? I don’t know. I guess I thought it wouldn’t matter if I went slow.

My first clue that slow was not the answer came as I plodded along, breaking my own trail in deep snow – a definite slow process. As I passed a line of spruce trees separating my path from a row of houses, a large Husky came silently bounding out to meet me. I stopped forward motion, startled, and promptly fell over. I hadn’t yet learned how to get up with skis on, hands trapped in pole straps. After trying for 5 minutes, I took the skis off and managed to get upright. Even the dog was surprised, and did we ever leave a huge hole in that smooth blanket of deep snow. That was last year.

More recently I went on an afternoon ski with some good friends who ski anything but slow. They think slow is okay, but fast is fun. They would pass me on the skate track, turn around and come back and pass me again just to keep moving. I felt a slight hit on one of my poles as I was being passed and made the mistake of turning to look.

I have heard even good skiers say that keeping balanced is tricky when they look around them at scenery or behind them to see who is following. This has always been the case for me too. When everything around me is white (snow) I have a hard time finding a point of reference, so I keep my eyes fixed on the track ahead of me and my skis. Like I said, turning around to look was a mistake.

I had a few seconds when I thought I might be able to recover my balance. They were very brief and then I felt my knees hitting the ground and my nose plowing into hard, crusty snow. “Face plant” is what it’s called, and I think it happens because hands, which normally would reach out to protect the face are, once again, strapped to ski poles and unavailable. My glasses came off, losing one of the lenses. My friends rushed to see how hurt I was, but I was already practicing my advanced skill of getting up without taking off skis. I have learned how to do that this year. Progress.

I was not skiing fast, and was very glad to have been going slow, for things could have been much worse. I have to say that in this season of my life, when slowing down can be very important, it is not the only friend that I should consider. Right alongside it is balance, not only in skiing, but also in life. Gives me something to think on… just sayin’.

This is as close to a “selfie” on skis that I will ever take. Even taking pictures can make me lose balance.

My White World (not a political post)

We get snow as a regular winter thing where I live. I realize others do not. But it’s interesting this year to see how many places are getting to experience the mixed blessings of fluffy, frozen rain. I’m watching a bit awe struck to see how it is dealt with (or not) from place to place. I’m actually glad that I live where snow hardly ever makes the news except when there’s not enough of it.

It’s Thursday. Motels and restaurants are gearing up for the weekend influx of snowmobilers, skiers, snowshoers, and fat bike enthusiasts. A snowmobile trail crosses our driveway and sometimes it looks like there is more traffic on it than on the road. We’ve had several snow days lately and there is a good covering on the ground. Yesterday it came down all day and the plows were running constantly, keeping the roads as clear as possible. I traveled out to do some snowshoeing with friends and my car was so covered with snow and ice that I had to give it a bath in the garage when I returned. This kind of thing is normal life in northern Wisconsin.

Normal life includes frequent shoveling.

I deal with a snowy winter in two ways. On below zero days I have trouble making myself go outside. Instead I sit inside and eat, drink tea and stare out the window. On days when temps are above zero I make myself go out. It’s still not easy because there is all that unusual dressing that has to be done. Lots of necessary activities cannot be done with two or three layers of clothing snapped and velcroed in place, so the prep to go outside is as important as having the right jackets, boots, mittens, caps, etc…. My pockets have to contain all the right stuff too – tissues, phone, mailbox key, car key, mask. That’s the short list.

But once I get all that done and am outside looking at this beautiful, frozen world, I am always glad to have put forth the effort. Snow is snow, and the pictures don’t change much from year to year, but I take them anyway. Here is my snowy world.

It takes about 20 minutes to get to this point of standing with skis on, ready to move out.
My outings are often around the greenspace where I live. My grandfather’s barn is one of my favorite landmarks.
The sun rises in the south(east), and sets in the south(west), rarely getting any higher than this. Makes for nice shadows.
This snowmobile track makes for easy going on new snow but I get to cut my own path fairly often.
Having trails through the forest like this are one of the benefits of living in Hayward, Wisconsin.
These are beautifully decorated trees.
The alternative to skis.
Because sometimes the forest is a hard place to ski. My friend Barb has on snowshoes, and Gwen has new skis that are more like snowshoes than not.

Apology to My Friend

So, Jesus, I know an apology is not the same as a gift, but it’s a start. I really have a hard time thinking of what to give someone who has pretty much everything, including my heart. It’s because I love you so much that I feel the need to apologize. You see, the other night when someone on the stage opened the mike to anyone who had something to say about you, about what you had done in their life, suddenly I couldn’t think of what to say.

I’m hardly ever at a loss for words, but it caught me off guard. As the seconds ticked off in a very awkward, silent way I got really stressed. It was looking like you hadn’t been doing anything, which is so not true. A person finally credited you with a healing, and another with your saving acts on the behalf of persecuted Christians but somehow that paralyzed me even further. What could I possibly mention to match that kind of dramatic “bigness”?

It’s true that there isn’t a great deal of drama in my life, but I’m pretty sure it’s because you’re protecting me. You are keeping your promises to me, especially that one about not giving me more than I can handle. But thank you that you also give me just enough adventure and excitement to make me feel alive and blessed. You know I need that! Thank you for knowing me so well.

This week has given me a lot of time to think about all the things you do for me, with me, and to me that are common but so significant. You don’t do them just on rare occasions but dozens of times every day. They are the “small” things that should not be discounted or despised. They are the bulk of your work in my life. I get so used to you being there, on the job for me, that I forget how to talk about it.

You haven’t seen fit to take away all my problems, but you’ve given me a view of them that cuts them down to size. Honestly, how can I even get upset about pandemics, politics, personalities, or ANYTHING when I know you are in charge? I don’t. Thank you for handling all those things so I can rest and be content. I know you’ve got me.

Next time I will be ready. It’s like the equivalent of an “elevator speech” isn’t it? I will be ready to say the important things about you, to give testimony like a good witness of your kindness, your love, your generosity, your great skill, your saving power, your graciousness in accepting apologies (like this one). Thank you so much. I love you.

Heavy Box

Small stories about me make me think about you, because we all share some of the same weirdness.

It has been cold this week and I only had one day of meeting my 10,000 step goal. But today it warmed up to 43 degrees F and I could not resist going out for a late fall walk. It was also the first day of deer hunting season so I decided not to tempt fate by walking in the forest. I headed west into town, on the sidewalk.

I may actually have taken a bigger risk by walking in town, since there was so much to look at, so many curbs to step off, so many stores to get sucked into. My route took me up Main Street. My town is working on winning the title of “America’s Main Street” and so far has made it into the top 25 five different years, including this year. There is a lot of electric decorating that’s going to light the place up after Thanksgiving, and it really does make it a picture perfect, small town Main Street. (Please, please vote for Hayward, Wisconsin by going to this link, every day through December 12 http://mainstreetcontest.com/profile121 It’s a popularity contest – you don’t even have to go there to vote for it.)

After my halfway mark of 3,000 steps I headed home. On the way there was a big garage sale at my church, so I decided to walk through.I usually consider it safe to do that when I’m on foot because who wants to carry a bunch of stuff for a mile? Not me. My excuse for stopping was that I might find the perfect thing for Mom’s birthday. She loves garage sale treasures. Instead I found a whole box of really nice glassware – just the kind I’d been looking for at the thrift stores. They were heavy glasses, sixteen of them.

But they are pretty (heavy) aren’t they?

Leaving the sale with my box of glasses, I started looking for shortcuts home. I am always aware of the difference between “as the crow flies” and the distances I normally walk on the streets. Most of the time I’m trying to get more steps in and don’t mind, but the box wanted to get home, and there was kind of a path heading in the right direction. I took it.

Shadow of girl walking with heavy box

It turned out to be the way to the impenetrable urban woods, where the church lawn crew dumped all their leaves and pine needles. I say impenetrable, but really it wasn’t. I was able to put the box on the ground and push it under the downed pine tree and follow it out into the ditch. The road I wanted to be on was right there, where the crow was still flying, in the direction of home. I was glad there were no cars going by though.

One more shortcut remained between me and my destination. I was getting a little tired, maybe a tad clumsy as well. But the thought of tripping and ruining all my new glasses kept me going so, so carefully.

It feels a little odd walking in places I normally drive, cutting across parking lots and ditches. It feels odd and sneaky taking back alleys and roads that most people don’t travel or even know about. But honestly, at my age, there aren’t a lot of things more exciting than this to do, so I like doing this. Especially with a heavy box.

Girl and box wondering if this alley with icy potholes is a good idea

I crossed the last highway and made it home, all the glasses intact. And today, once again, I finished my 10,000 step goal. But I will say it’s going to be harder to do it very often this winter, and it’s definitely harder with a heavy box. Might not do that again, just sayin’…

Stop pretending – you’ve probably done something like this too. What was in your “heavy box”?

Laugh

Going to a doctor’s appointment is not where I usually find things to laugh about, but there are exceptions. Mom and I manage to find them. We go together to her appointments, because two sets of eyes and ears are always better than one, and also because she has decided not to drive anymore and lets me take her around.

Yesterday found us at the clinic for a pre-op exam. We were hoping it would go well so she could have her carpal tunnel surgery next week. Mom wanted to ride in a wheelchair (why waste energy?) so after I parked, I went in and got one. It had no footrests, so in we went, masks on, feet held high, to join all the other compromised and infirm in the waiting room. It’s an exercise in gratitude to watch others who are living with conditions we are glad we don’t have.

But our observations were cut short when one of the assistants opened the door, with chart in hand and called out “Owen!” No one responded and we were all wondering where Owen had gotten off to, when she called him again. Still no response.

“Could you possibly mean Gwen?” I asked. The similarities in the names was something I had often thought about because Dad’s name was Owen – one letter different, and a G is a lot like an O.

And so started our relationship with Krisy, who was willing to laugh off her poor eyesight and be thankful she had not lost an Owen but gained a Gwen. We had our short stop at the scale, in spite of Mom’s joking attempts to get past it. Mom would make a great stand up comedian with her own kind of dry humor, which I think she gets from watching Golden Girls. Krisy directed us on into the exam room and in the course of getting us settled, she noticed Mom’s purse.

“I really like your purse! I need one like that to go with my new coat.” She went on about purses that didn’t go with her coat, until Mom, thinking that she would share a valuable secret with a new friend, told her where she had gotten her really cute red purse. Mom is unabashedly proud of her ability to find pretty much anything she needs at Salvation Army. Of course, there was no chance of finding another purse like that at Salvation Army now, so Krisy just answered her with “Oh, well that’s okay. I’m kind of a purse snob anyway.” I think she was surprised and I think Mom was glad she had gotten there before Krisy.

So the vital signs got taken and the routine questions got answered and recorded on the computer while Krisy chatted with us about the new coat. I can’t remember the exact words she used to describe it, but in general, it was black and shiny. I was picturing something like patent leather when she said shiny, but the image got more defined when she said one of her co-workers told her it looked like a garbage bag, the big, black kind. Krisy was having a great time telling us this so she must not have gotten offended.

It was not the end of the coat story either. She went on to say that her coat had fur trim around the hood which she really liked – very fashionable. Only one of the doctors at the clinic had told her it looked like a squirrel, checking out a garbage bag for something to eat. That cracked her up, and we had to laugh too. The exam was off to a real good start.

We had a good little wait time after she left. I went on a long verbal critique of the picture on the wall that I was facing. Mom felt a little cheated since her wall only had a mirror. She’s not big on mirrors and is always wishing to fix what she’s seeing in them.

We have a nice, woman PA and she finally came in and explained things that would be covered in the pre-op exam. Well, actually she only got about three sentences out before she got a tickle in her throat and had to leave the room, coughing into her mask. Mom and I kind of looked at each other in horror, or maybe it just seemed that way because all we could see were each other’s eyes.

These poor healthcare workers don’t have it easy. Our PA returned after a while, reassuring us that she had a cough drop in her mouth, and had gotten over her bout with Covid a few weeks ago “but that darn tickle” was hanging on.

The rest of the exam went just fine. Mom answered all the questions the right way. The PA listened to her chest and couldn’t hear anything alien in there. Krisy came back and did an EKG on Mom – she was still just as happy as could be. We finished off with a trip down to the lab for some bloodwork, and then out the door, feet held high, whipping off our masks.

Mom and I try to laugh a little everywhere we go, but as much fun as this pre-op exam was, I can hardly wait until the Covid test on Friday and surgery next week. Yeah, just sayin’…

Mom’s best pick of the day

Suddenly Winter

It happened at night when I hadn’t paid attention to the forecast. I woke up in the morning and there were 4 inches of snow on the ground. I had already been forcing myself outside for a couple weeks, in temperatures close to freezing and my suspicion (of winter) and reluctance (to accept it) were coming on strong. The snow clinched it.

Good morning! Yeah, it really looks this dark and this snowy.

Since the snow I’ve developed some new diet and exercise parameters.

Diet first, I did the Noom thing already last spring and summer so I’ve got the psychological part well in mind. Lots of psych tricks, no “all or nothing” thinking, no real guilt about satisfying my cravings. In other words I’m going to welcome a few extra pounds of insulation. It’s cold out there. Dessert after supper every night will be the new benchmark. I’m going to weigh myself daily to make sure I’m not gaining too fast. I believe in moderation.

As for exercise, I’m going to change my daily step count goal from 10,000 to … basically whatever I get. I do enjoy a challenge though, so I might have a week or two during the winter when I see if I can keep it under 1,500 a day. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard, but I can do hard things.

My winter affirmation.

I’m thinking there might be a day now and then when it’s warm enough to bundle up and go cross country skiing outside. I have a goal for that sport too. There’s a particular hill that I attempted last year right after I got skis. This year, with the proper amount of instruction, I hope to ski down that hill and not fall over at the bottom. I missed the lesson and practice session last week. I don’t know how people make themselves leave their warm houses at 8:30 in the morning to go stand in a cold parking lot and do exercises. Besides, it was raining, wasn’t it? Somewhere?

Really though, what’s throwing me off my usual energy level and positive thinking habit is all this darkness. I’m used to going to bed when it’s dark but it’s so impractical to do that at 4:30 in the afternoon. I’m automatically tired looking at a dark sky. After a couple hours of pitch black, I tell myself it looks way too late to start cooking supper. But I have to do it anyway. The thought of dessert is the only thing that gets me through it.

All this is to say that I’m struggling, probably with the thought of winter more than winter itself. Thoughts are important, right Noom? And I live, thinking in my head, almost all the time. It’s going to be five long, dark months ahead. That’s what I’m thinking now, just sayin’…

Does My Heart Have Ears?

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I’m coming.” Psalm 27:8

I’m thinking about that question, “does my heart have ears?” I think it does.

I was walking one evening this week, feeling thankful for a chance to get out where it was quiet, feeling the rhythmic, somewhat stumbling way my feet were hitting the uneven ground, feeling like the open sky was listening. I was thinking (because it’s too hard not to think) about all the decisions of the day, all the possible responses to upcoming events, and processing, processing.

I felt like I heard in my spirit the suggestion that I talk about all those things – like, just speak them out. So I did that, and as I got into it more, it didn’t feel terribly weird. It felt like I was being listened to. It was easy to credit God with that – it had sounded like his voice, and no one else was around.

Birkie Hike: We Finish!

Just to clarify – I have two Gwens in my life. One is my mother and the other is the friend who has been hiking the Birkie with me. Some who know us have been asking…

November 3, 2021. North End TH to Timber TH, loop. 6.5 miles, 14,828 steps

I asked, “Do you think we really need to go down this hill and touch that road?”

“Yes, of course we do,” Gwen told me. And so we walked down that last hill which marked the completion of our 34 miles of Birkie trail, stuck our poles in the sand, took a picture and started back up the hill. We had walked on the skate side of the Birkie and were looping back to the car on the classic side.

Today was cloudy and cold enough for gloves and hats, but we did end up shedding our outer layer of jackets. At one point near the end, we saw several large white snowflakes falling in the forest so we knew it was in the low 30’s for temperature.

I had spent time studying the map of our remaining section and had printed it out. That meant we only had to question ourselves at a couple intersections where fresh logging roads had added to the confusion.

Rocks and trees are the main features of this forest trail and the subjects of most of my photos. I’ve also started a collection of “meaningful” rocks to mark different hikes I’ve done, so I was on the lookout for a rock. The one that caught my attention was a bit bigger than the pebbles I usually pick up, but it had a pattern to it, and I liked it. Gwen doesn’t stop me from doing stupid stuff, she even carried the rock for me when I needed a rest. We had guesses as to how much it weighed. She won. Thirty-five pounds.

Good job Gwen. This rock will show its pattern more after I wash it up a bit.

Our last stop before leaving Cable, Wisconsin and the Birkie Trail was the Brick House Cafe. It wasn’t that we were hungry, or needed the calories but more that I needed to see if the Chocolate Tower cake was as good as Gwen said it was. I figured we should mark our accomplishment with some kind of splurge, even if we ended up taking it home to put in the freezer (which, by the way, didn’t happen). This cafe is known for its lunches and desserts as attested to by the dozen hunters, and huntresses who trooped in shortly after we were seated.

What I really feel good about, in addition to feeling very exercised, is that I got to be a tourist in my own backyard. I would feel sad not to know what this internationally famous trail was like. Now I know where the trailheads are, how difficult and hilly the terrain can be, and how many more paths are there yet to be explored. I have that sense of ownership that comes with familiarity, and that feels good. The chances of me ever skiing this trail are almost nonexistent, well, they are nonexistent. Really nonexistent. But I have walked it. That’s good enough for me.

Hiking the Birkebeiner: Part 2

Most of the leaves are on the ground now and walking in them is fun and “autumn-ish”.

Tomorrow Gwen and I will finish the last section of the Birkie Trail, and it’s good timing because we are starting to get snow flurries and temps in the teens. Hiking this northern section of the trail has been quite different because we have used the actual Birkie trail rather than the single track bike trails. Another difference is that it’s about the busiest place “out in the woods” that I’ve ever seen. We are always crossing ATV trails, bike trails, logging trails and fire lanes and more than once we have been confused. Often we are telling ourselves to just enjoy the walk in the woods and see where we end up, because we have no clue where we are. Backing up, here are the finished sections.

September 12, 2021 Hatchery TH to Hwy 77 Bridge

I explored this short section myself one afternoon because I’ve been curious about the bridge ever since it went up. For years the Birkie ski race used to cross Hwy 77 near this spot and the road actually had to be covered with snow and closed while thousands of skiers crossed it. There was even talk of tunneling under the road, but the eventual decision was to put a bridge over it, making it much more convenient and safe. I’ve gone under this bridge countless times, and now I’ve also gone over it.

September 17, 2021. OO TH to Firetower TH. 5.53 miles, 12,410 steps

We had some logistical help when we hiked the section of OO to the Fire Tower trailhead. My brother dropped us off at the Fire Tower warming cabin and picked us up a couple hours later at the Johnson Center on OO. He rode mountain bike trails in the area while we hiked. In fact, there were quite a few bikers riding the trails that day. I guess some of them got hot and sweaty and had to change clothes, at least that’s the story we told ourselves as we passed the warming cabin at Boedecker Road where a guy was standing naked by his car. The things you see in the woods… I did not take a picture. It was a beautiful fall day in all respects!

September 30, 2021 Firetower TH to Timber Trail TH 6.9 miles, 15,484 steps

A couple weeks later we did the next section ourselves, doing a loop from the Fire Tower TH to Timber Trail warming cabin on the classic trail and back on the skate trail. It was another beautiful afternoon, but we had a later start. We didn’t make it back to the car until 6 pm and the sun was nearly down. Our days are getting noticeably shorter. This one got us a little tired. We did extra steps looking for trail signs and my real step count for that day was 19,172.

This map does not include logging roads and single track bike trails. We were often surprised to find out where we were. Thankful for the red arrows.

October 26, 2021. American Birkebeiner TH to North End TH. No idea

I could hardly believe we had taken almost a month off. It didn’t seem like that long a time because both Gwen and I started going to Ski and Tea. It’s a ladies ski group coached by some amazing, experienced cross country skiers. We’ve been getting together nearly every week for training on the Birkie. Since there’s no snow, we practice various ski techniques while hiking – it works. On the afternoon of the 26th we drove to the far end of the trail, the Birkebeiner TH in Cable and walked in some kind of a weird circle until we got back to the car a couple of hours later. Too many intersections, too many maps, too many trails. I think we set foot on enough of the Birkie to say we did a good section. My total step count for the day was 15,464, about 7 miles. Have I mentioned that there are lots of hills? There are LOTS OF HILLS.

No, not confusing at all…

And as I wrote, tomorrow we will hike our last section, Lord willing. I hope to post about our triumphant finish. Excited! Check in to see if we made it (and find out about our planned reward).

Being A Friend

There is an art to being a good friend. It’s mostly about showing up in the right way, at the right times, consistently, and that’s not easy to do. It takes somewhat of an artist. Today I had fun looking at pictures of a “friend artist” that I have known for years. I should have finished this task yesterday on her birthday. But I believe in birth week, as well as birthday, so I’m still on time for that.

She came all the way from Florida to visit after we moved to Wisconsin.
She and her husband were our business associates for 30 years, which amounts to lots of dinners together, lots of discussions, lots of influence.
We both like to take walks and eat in cute, casual restaurants. She knows how to enjoy her friends in all kinds of settings.
She doesn’t mind getting into unusual places, meeting unusual people with me. This was at the barn of the Cracker Poemer. She adopted my friends as her own.
Always the smile is there. DeSoto Park.
Not afraid of new things or of following God’s leading. I remember this BSF leadership conference that we attended together.
I could always get her to show up for birthday parties I was throwing for friends – even at the beach on hot July days.
She has a way of loving my children as if they were her own. They feel that way about her too.
She and her husband give and serve in so many ways. I love hanging out with people like that. Walk for Life in Bradenton FL.

There are so many ways that this lady has exhibited friendship, that it would be hard to name them all (her husband too, but it’s not his birth week). We are thousands of miles apart now, but there are ways of being a friend at a distance and she knows how to do that too. I never had a sister, but she makes up for that in my life. Happy birth week Arlette. I love you dear friend.

Look through your photos, your letters, your memories and have fun today thinking about a friend who has meant a lot to you. You don’t have to wait until it’s their birthday. Tell them how much you appreciate their friendship. Tell them now while you have the chance. Just sayin’…