February Goodness: Volunteering

I can hardly believe February is nearly over! So many good things to report, and many I missed writing about because I was busy living them…

What an amazing event! And I have gotten to volunteer to help with it, in a very small way, for the third consecutive year. The American Birkiebeiner is the largest cross country ski race in North America and the third largest in the world, and it was created by a visionary man who lived right here in Hayward, my home town.

Part of my amazement is the way the race has adapted to pandemic times and become even more available to sports enthusiasts all over the world. The Birkie went virtual. There were still over 8,000 skiers participating this 47th year of the race but half of them were not here in person. Yesterday I got to watch some of them as they passed the Fire Tower Aid Station. Unlike other years, they had to bring their own water containers and food, but we dispensed water and electrolyte drink and watched out for those who might need medical attention.

Our cozy aid station with drink systems in place. Challenge was to keep the hoses from freezing.
Volunteer and Birkie employee, keeping the fire going.

It was a perfect skiing day with temperatures getting into the 30’s and barely any wind. Many skiers remarked about the snow being just right. What they complained about were all the hills. There are few places that have the kind of hilly, glacial terrain found in the 43 K forested trail of the Birkie, so skiers have a challenge to prepare for it. I talked to one man who thought he had prepared but was seriously considering cutting his distance in half after reaching our aid station.

Most skiers would expect to be skiing down hills like this, but not in the Birkie, no, no, no. Every “down” is partnered with an “up”.

What did I and the others on our team do? We set up the aid station with water hoses, touch-less dispensing systems for water and drink, got the fires burning for those needing to warm up (but seriously, there were people with shorts and T-shirts in this race and they still thought they were hot) and served as the cheering audience. No spectators were allowed this year. I mixed up several batches of Noom in the 10 gallon coolers, answered questions (like “how much farther do I have to go?”) and held ski poles while people filled their drink bottles.

It was a great day to be outside. We started at 7:30 am and were done by 2 pm when most of yesterday’s skate skiers had passed our station. As I watched some of the last stragglers wearily climbing Fire Tower Hill, I remembered my Grand Canyon experience, and was glad I was going home in my truck and not skiing another 12 K out in the forest wilderness of north Wisconsin.

These were the elite, early wave skiers. The later ones did not power up this hill with the same energy.

I will probably never ski the whole Birkie Trail – it’s not on my list – but I would like to hike the whole thing. Maybe this summer will be the right time to do it. Tell me if you want to come along. It will be epic, in one way or another, I promise.

February Goodness: Getting Outside!

After over two weeks of -20 degrees F. and even lower!!

Well, you know I live in northwestern Wisconsin where it’s cold and snowy. Many people wonder how we endure this long, frigid and dark season and the answer is, we get used to it. After the first month or so, we can go outside and have fun even when the temp is below zero. Actually, it’s not uncommon to see someone in shorts and flip flops, all it takes is a warm streak of 20 to 30 degrees F. And yes, it’s usually in Walmart that you see these people, but they are not the weirdest ones there by any means.

This is as close to taking a selfie as I can manage while on skis.

We dress for the weather. Today I went out to ski for my exercise. I have nine extra articles of protective clothing and shoes that I wear so it takes me a few minutes to get all geared up. Ski boots for my feet, snow pants and gaiters for my legs, head band for the ears and cap over that for the rest of my head, neck protector that I can pull up if my face gets cold, jacket of course, and gloves or mittens. I am usually sweating under all these layers.

I literally start at my side garage door and ski through the development to get out to the meadow where my paths are. It’s extremely convenient, although I am always hoping no one is watching as I ski past the other condos. There are many trails near by that are groomed regularly with machines and they get a lot of traffic. Those are nice if I have the time to drive but most of the time I stay at home and make my own trails.

Making my trails is something I’ve come to enjoy. There’s a lot of freedom in doing it that way. Skiing is a lot faster than walking in snowshoes and I can go anywhere I want to go. Breaking the trail is slow, but the second time over it’s much faster. I take the widest circle around our property and then do a lot of criss-crossing to add variety. I have no trouble getting in two or three miles that way.

Isn’t this snow so clean and beautiful?!

I’m still in beginner stages and spend a lot of time looking down at my skis to make sure I’m in the track (if there is one). Somehow, it is easier to keep my balance when I’m focusing on the ground in front of me. Unfortunately, that means I sometimes run into low hanging branches that I don’t see until it’s too late. Today I did that again. I felt the branch as it loosened my hat and knocked my glasses crooked and for a few seconds I thought maybe I could correct things and stay upright, but no. My skis were too far ahead of me.

Falling is not the hard part, and doesn’t even feel dangerous. Getting up again is hard. I have learned, the hard way, to take at least one ski off when trying to get up. It still doesn’t look graceful, but it cuts down on the failed attempts.

It is really an un-natural state, this being on skis. It’s like having shoes that are over five feet long, and having arms that reach down to the ground. The “shoes” are so narrow that any tilt to the track, or a sudden sticky patch of snow, creates a challenge to my balance (an alternate way of saying I might fall down…) And the long arms (poles) seem to be life savers during those frequent off balance moments, but not at all helpful in getting up after a fall. They are one more thing that has to be retrieved from the ground after I’m standing again.

The mess under this tree branch tells the story…

One day last week a rather large dog came silently loping out from between two trees. I looked over at it briefly to assess whether it was going to eat me or be friendly, and again got a balance challenge. I think we were both equally alarmed when I landed in the snow with my skis crossed. It took me so long to get up that the dog got bored and wandered back where he came from. He appeared again today and clearly remembered me – probably wanting me to get down on his level again.

Now that I am learning so much (the hard way) about skiing I will probably continue to share these insights until the snow is gone. This week, for the third year in a row, I will be volunteering for the Birkiebeiner Ski Event. I expect that will be an adventure. The Covid Birkie is going to be way different than it has ever been and I will tell all about it in the next post!?

February Goodness: Persistance

I finished it today. Here it is Elaine.

Many people just don’t get into doing jigsaw puzzles. I am not one of those people and I’m not passing judgment because I know that they have various reasons for walking away. I walk toward, sit down and lose myself in the hunt, quite easily.

It might seem like a waste of time to reconstruct a picture from hundreds of tiny pieces, look at it (maybe glue it on a board and frame it), and then take it apart and put it back in the box. For me, the value is in the process. Each puzzle is different not only in the picture, but in the way I must solve it. An hour into a hard puzzle I can usually decide what the dominant method should be. I am not always fast, but I am persistent. There has only been one puzzle that I have not finished because it was so disgustingly hard as to not be fun at all.

I am almost sure that someday I will solve a great, important mystery because I have learned to do jigsaw puzzles. It’s mind exercise.

Exercise is another activity that requires some persistence. A few weeks back I was working on 10,000 steps a day and writing about the experience. I did cut back a bit after the self-imposed challenge was over, but am still aware of how important exercise is to my physical health, of course, but also my mental health.

I decided to investigate Noom, a strategy which injects psychology into the weight loss world. I have lost 10 pounds and feel much better about the body I live in. Exercise is part of the Noom strategy and yesterday I was given a strength training regimen to work on. Yesterday’s good thing was making it through the session alive. Now I know how much stronger I need to get, and I have something new to persist in. I also got in 7,500 treadmill steps, which is a decent amount for winter.

Persistence in doing good things will be what gets us through 2021. Let’s encourage each other whenever we find opportunity. Just sayin’…

What are you doing that you would like to be encouraged to persist doing. I’d like to encourage you.

A Ride in a Truck – Seattle

My people in Seattle have an affinity for vintage things – clothing, furniture, Airstreams, and a truck. Yesterday we took a ride in the vintage truck.

Ryan’s Roaring Ranger

Bench seats are kind of a thing of the past, although I’m not sure why. The fun of searching for seat belts, finding the right spot for sitting in the middle (straddling that big lump on the floor), and the comfy lean off the edge of the passenger seat – I kind of miss all that, and it was fun to be reminded. Come to think of it, any vehicle where I can look to the side and see two people in front with me, instead of just one, is kind of special, don’t you think?

Our outing was to an island, which is also kind of exciting. Southward from West Seattle, right below Lincoln Park, is the Vashon Ferry landing where two large ferries go to and fro on a constant schedule. The distance is short and takes only about half an hour, including the loading and offloading of cars, trucks and buses. It was not a particularly busy day so we did not have to wait in line (that happens, and did happen on the way home).

The truck was the chosen vehicle for this trip because there was a task. Our first stop was to re-position the vintage Airstream that Esther and Ryan have on their property. It didn’t take long and I don’t have pictures of this complex, logistical feat of trucking. Suffice it to say that I heard Ryan lovingly commending his truck for doing a good job.

Next, for the daily walk, we drove down Vashon Island to a connecting island park – Maury Island and Maury Beach. It was a lovely place to get close to the water and I totally satisfied my obsession with rocks and driftwood while there. The walking part was not as horizontal as we would have liked so we didn’t get in lots of steps. The beach was entirely smoothed stones with no sharp edges. It might seem that would make comfortable walking, but no. The stones roll out from under your feet with every step. They are fascinating to look at though, and I kept finding favorites.

The water was beautiful and clear. A few people were boating, tubing, swimming, sailing, and thoroughly enjoying the day.
However I was concerned that this one guy kept stalking this woman…

Before heading back to the mainland we had dinner at Casa Bonita Mexican restaurant. So good! I’m even getting hungry now thinking about my leftover fish taco waiting in the fridg.

It was another fine day in Seattle, spent making memories with people I love. I may even have spoke lovingly to the truck myself, for the nice ride, just sayin’…

The Least Favored Soup

The Least Favored Soup

They kept coming, wave after wave of people carrying backpacks, looking a bit dazed, numb. They were hungry and they needed food, warm liquid, salt, calories. They had just skied 29K in below freezing temperatures. This was the Kortelopet and Prince Haakon races of the American Birkebeiner. https://www.birkie.com/ski/events/kortelopet/

Our small town hosts this winter event every year in February, unless there is no snow or the temperatures are deadly, rare situations. The number of people in town goes from the usual 2500 to 40,000 for the two days of races. It’s a pretty big deal for people who like snow. It takes nearly the whole town volunteering to pull it off. This is my second year of helping in the food tent, where all the skiers congregate after crossing the finish line.

The International Bridge which all skiers cross to reach the finish. It is erected over the main highway and covered with snow.

My brother is one of the race chiefs, heading up the serving of food and all the volunteers who help him. The menu is simple – soup, bread, bananas, cookies and drinks. The challenge is doing it in a tent, set up on a vacant lot where everything you need has to be brought in by someone. All the soup arrives frozen in gallon bags and has to be thawed before being warmed to serving temperature. It takes a crew of several men to keep filling the warming tanks, opening the bags and emptying them into the cooking pots, then transferring the hot soup to the serving tables inside the tent. All this is done outside.

“I ski the Birkie every year just for the chicken soup,” one man tells me. I don’t believe him, but the soup is really good. Volunteers inside the tent ladle it into serving cups as fast as they can for hours. Chicken noodle soup is the favorite but there is a choice. The tomato vegetable soup was my station and it is also a good one, perhaps a bit more nutritious too. However the chick/noodle is favored two to one.

I’m guessing that the pots are filled with about seven or eight gallons of soup at a time. I emptied seven of them – I can’t even imagine how many servings that was. It helped that I was tall. Scooping into the pot is easy when it’s full but as the level goes down, it gets more difficult to reach the bottom, and messy, especially when doing it fast.

The (least favored) vegetable soup

It was cold in the tent before we started serving the first finishers. The wind would lift the tarps and blow cups and table coverings off our tables. The ground also is frozen and cold, which is why we stand on rubber mats. After we got really busy I forgot all about my feet feeling like frozen blocks of ice. Watching the people come in, young ones, elder ones, men, women from all over the world, all I could think was “why would they want to be this cold and still call it fun?”

We fed over 3,000 today, and this was the smaller of the races. Tomorrow’s crowd will be twice as many. I hope to be there again, serving up the least favored soup, just sayin’…

Lassitude

Yep, it’s still winter….

Lassitude: A state of physical or mental weariness; lack of energy.

This is a winter word. We are half way through our fourth month of winter and I am getting weary in my mind. I’m also weary of hunting for boots, mittens, scarves and coats every time I have to go out. Actually, I don’t always put all that stuff on – that’s how weary I am of it all. I just run outside in my sweatshirt and hope to make it over to Mom’s house before I freeze.

You would find some things about our winter surprising. For instance, you can’t imagine how warm our house gets – too warm to wear anything long sleeved. On a sunny day our south windows heat the place up to 78 degrees and I have to open a few windows in order to breathe. I have one blanket on my bed and sometimes I throw that off. And inside those down jackets, it can get hot and sweaty on a walk. Yes it can.

I’m still taking walks in the wetlands every now and then. I take my phone along in case I encounter a photographic moment, but lassitude has taken over in that area too. All these winter pictures start looking the same. Kind of white.

I took a walk today. Most of it was on the track made initially by a snowmobile, followed by a couple of showshoers, followed by some boots. It’s frozen hard and is rough. I had to look down and pay attention not to twist an ankle, but at least my knees stayed dry (except for that one time coming through a deep place where I had to crawl out).

It was clear today and the snow was all sparkly and clean. Okay, I did take pictures. I have cool gloves with the finger patch that lets me do the touchscreen AND keep my hands warm. Here’s some winter whiteness, and to liven things up see if you can guess what kind of animal tracks you’re seeing. (You’re all “wilderness scout” types right?)

Something that drags a tail.

Something with long toenails.

Something with three feet and a tail? I don’t know.

Something (four footed) that meets friends on top of the hill.

Something that walks on two feet until it falls.

Lake Fest

Lake Fest

8-4-2019

Do you have a community? I mean a community where people know one another, speak regularly, wave to each other and know who is in your family? I haven’t often observed that type of neighborhood, even in a place I lived for over 20 years.

But then, along came Lake Fest. I had been hearing about it from day one of our time in North Carolina. “Are you staying for Lake Fest?” “They will be pretty busy getting ready for Lake Fest.” “Leave the slip n slide in the truck – it’s for Lake Fest.” I had originally planned to leave before this event, akin to a national holiday, occurred but my curiosity got the better of me. We stayed.

Lake Fest, as I understand it, is the natural outgrowth of a healthy community. It’s neighbors, friends and family who love where they live, love to celebrate summer, and really like being with each other. And who doesn’t love an outdoor, summer party?

Three neighbors with adjoining properties around a small, private lake took it upon themselves to start this event. It is now well on its way to becoming an annual tradition. A block party, with a lake instead of a block. A Saturday afternoon in August with games, water sports, food (food, lots of food), a pool, live music and so many beautiful spots to sit and watch it all that it was hard to decide where to go.

I didn’t kayak the lake – though I wanted to.

I didn’t do the slip ‘n slide – I really wanted to do that, really!

But I had lots of good conversations, enjoyed some good food, listened to great music and decided (unofficially) to photograph the event in order to share it.

Parking could have been a problem, but many people walked.

This neighbor hosted the children’s games and the slip ‘n slide.

Boat rides, tubing, and a jet ski on the lake.

Furry family members were welcome.

“Santa” (not his real name) putting flames to the hot dogs and hamburgers.

Live music!

Dad’s and kids

Keeping cool in the pool

Sharing a drink?

Lots of good “eats”

No one is too young for this party…

No one is too old for this party…

Wondering where his “mama” went…

Relaxing, just relaxing

At the bottom of the slip’n slide.

Have you had an event in your neighborhood to encourage real community? What good things might come from knowing those physically close to you better?

Take Me Out (to the ball game)

7-27-2019

It’s a beautiful morning in North Carolina.

I’m thinking about the fun time I had last night at the baseball game. Normally, baseball is not one of my passions. As far as watching the game, I put it a notch above golf on the excitement scale, which is why I have only gone maybe three times in my life. However, the whole ambience is interesting and attractive – the crowd, the camaraderie, the food, all that.

I really did not know much about the nuances of play and the organization of the teams and leagues but luckily, daughter Julia’s special friend Kevin, was a baseball player in a semi-pro league. He was the host for this night, and through family connections he had tickets to a box suite. It is a whole different experience to have a choice of air-conditioning, or outside balcony. Add in free popcorn and peanuts and it becomes a place I could take for several hours whether there was a game to watch or not. It was also informative and entertaining because Kevin’s three children were along, getting tutorials from dad on the plays.

I once did a stint working refreshments at several baseball games in Florida. I didn’t get to watch those games but I did learn that people spend way more on refreshments than they do to get into the game, in most cases. I didn’t need a hot dog or other food but I was thirsty enough to order a souvenir cup of Dr. Pepper for $ 6.50. This will help me remember the experience.

Greensboro Grasshoppers souvenir cup

Another reminder will be the picture that the kids and I had taken with the team mascot. You wouldn’t be able to tell, so I will inform you – he’s supposed to be a grasshopper. He wanders about, with an escort to help him see where he’s going, getting pictures taken with youngsters. I kind of snuck in there. It’s not every day I get photographed with an insect.

The Grasshoppers are the local team in Greensboro and, fortunately, they won by a healthy margin. The league is entry level professional and most of the players were right out of college, or even high school. All those long breaks waiting for the pitcher to decide to throw the ball were filled with chants, cheers and commercials over the loud speaker and on the giant screen at the back of the outfield. There was also pure silliness going on from time to time promoting the game sponsors. These cows came out and danced the chicken dance – thank you Chick Fillet.

In this league, occasional heckling and teasing was allowed but kept nicely in line by an announcer who led everything with sound effects and cheers at every opportunity. Nice idea and it worked.

And there were fireworks. Impressive ones.

Great night, beautiful stadium, family friendly atmosphere (including a real live rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” by the announcer and some kids) – all the things baseball has been and should probably be. The one sobering moment was at the gate where, as times require, my purse was searched and we had to go through metal detection. I had to take my jacknife back to the car. Oh well, …

Thirteen Thousand Steps

One day this week I took a longer than usual walk, for training purposes. Since the first day walking at the Grand Canyon will be at least four hours of descent, I’ve been trying to think of places that would be interesting for the longer training walks. The trails around Hospital Lake fit the description.  Hospital Lake, named for the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital which can be seen from nearly every vantage point around the lake, not only has ski and hiking trails but actually has a very cool bike trail designed and maintained by the Chequamagon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA).

ATV trail on old railroad bed

From home, I took the railroad bed ATV trail. Right away I had to take pictures of the fungi and moss. There aren’t a lot of green things growing yet so these plants get top billing. And they are so interesting they deserve it.

Love these colors and textures!
Different!
Mullein
And a bit of color.

A short distance on Hospital Road, and then I ducked into the pine woods where I knew I would intersect with a trail. It’s a small enough area that is fairly familiar to me so I wasn’t concerned about getting lost. My motto is “I’m never lost if I don’t care where I’m going.” So true. And if the goal is to get in as many steps as possible…

All the trails aren’t this wide and smooth. This is one of the ski trails.

In opting for whichever trail looked most interesting, I ended up on some I had not seen before. I discovered that some new trails were being made in the woods by workers with heavy equipment – they weren’t there at the time but there was lots of evidence. Part of this forest is old growth pine – trees which always have me in awe of their size and bearing. Guardians of the forest, who have seen a lot of action.

The guardian and his weapons.
Swans on Hospital Lake

Reaching the lake, I got a glimpse of swans on the far edge, too far for a good picture. I counted five and watched them for a while.  On the way out I did try a couple trails that took me in circles, and again I ended up in places I hadn’t seen before. The area is bigger than I thought. Thirteen thousand steps, for me, is 5.84 miles and I was beginning to feel the strain so I headed home. My sis-in-law met me on the way back and we walked home together.

Hospital Lake – beautiful area for walking, biking or in winter, skiing. Try it if you are ever in Hayward.