The Last Time

The title is a bit scary, but not really, if you consider how many “last times” there are. Tonight I read to the husband for the last time today. I wiped off the kitchen counter for the last time tonight. I had my last spoonful of ice cream before putting the lid on and sticking it back in the freezer (yes, I eat out of the carton). There’s a “last time” to be considered at every turn of life, and that thought alone has got me thinking about the preciousness of each moment.

Today was a great day for taking my last ski outing, and by last I mean that I have met my goal of 25 times this season. I am content for it to be the last – winter has seemed long. There is a lot of water around as the snow melts and it’s good to hear and see the brooks opening holes in the ice. There are lots of signs of spring. I was almost afraid it would be here before I reached my ski goal, but no, there is still snow in the forest.

It’s wet snow in the open places where the sun hits it. Snow gets kind of airy, sticky and rotten when it’s heated. In the shade it cools again and gets hard, icy and very slick and I could feel the difference in the speed of my skis. But the real challenge was all the piles of debris on the trail. The ice storm last week brought down lots of limbs. Pine cones and needles were all across the trail where volunteers had been through with chain saws and taken the big branches off.

This is not the worst mess I encountered, by any means, and it is on the flat and not at the bottom of a hill. Annoying but not dangerous.

Although I have improved in my balance, and my technique this winter, what I’ve really gotten better at is being cautious. The falls I’ve had, and the ones I’ve seen my friends take, have proved to me that things happen so, so fast. I’m now always thinking about what could happen in a given situation, and the risk involved. How sad would it be if, after skiing all season without breaking anything, I would fall and become injured on my 25th, and last, time? It would be very sad.

I thought about this at numerous points along the trail, but especially at the top of one hill on Hilly Loop. I generally like hills and going a little faster now, but at the bottom of this one there was a tree mess. I knew I would pick up speed going down and there would be a sudden slowing when my skis hit the debris. I had already “snow plowed” down a couple inclines and actually side stepped down one, but this time I actually took off the skis and walked down. Yay me.

Once I got out of the pines and into some hardwood areas the skiing was a bit better. I enjoyed the longest distance of any of my times on the snow – only 5.4 miles – but it made a nice finish for my last time. I felt very grateful for the day, the activity, the beautiful weather, and the fact that I was intact and not hurting (in very many places). It was wonderful to be alive, with the possibility of living to ski next year.

Today, I think they call it being “in the moment”. Isn’t that the same as being fully aware of what you’re doing and that it might be the last time you ever did it? Yeah, I think it is. Just sayin’…

Celebrating small victories, last times and being in the moment.

Winter On Its Way Out

Winter is struggling. It knows its days are numbered, but it doesn’t want to give up without a fuss. I know it likely has another storm or two to annoy us, but the longer days (yay! thank God!) and the higher trajectory of the sun are doing their job. We still have two or three feet of snow on the yards but there is melt taking place every day.

Have enjoyed watching this guy out my kitchen window.

I’ve enjoyed many things about winter, and am ignoring those other things, whatever they are.

Poor dear, literally, poor deer.

I skied 24 times, and have only to go out once more to meet my goal of 25. Some of those times could be titled “Freezing with Friends” but many have been perfect winter days and not at all uncomfortable. Skiing – we all know what it looks like and don’t give it a second thought when watching it. There’s a difference when you call it “walking on slippery surfaces with shoes over five feet long”. Suddenly it becomes ridiculous and dangerous. But, I’ve only fallen a couple of times and I have not broken any of my bones!

Soup, rolls, fruit and drink for 10,000

Our February ended with the American Birkebeiner, the biggest cross country ski event in the U.S. I’m in a much safer role for this activity. I help serve hot soup to people who’ve just done 55k on skis and lived to tell about it. Ten thousand bowls over two days – we volunteers have seen enough chicken noodle soup to last for a while.

Reading to my husband, watching Dr. Phil with Mom, early morning briefings over coffee with the family, errands, grocery shopping, a little housework now and then, trips to the clinic for doctor’s appointments, fixing meals, changing light bulbs, paying bills, playing with the cat… welcome to my world.

Which is so tame and safe compared to what is happening over in Ukraine. The people there are more like me than unlike me, with their parkas and winter hats. I think about them most of the day, pulling their suitcases across the border to safety, hiding in the subways with their children, taking up weapons and going out to actually shoot, and many of them dying. They are dealing bravely with their circumstances and I admire them, pray for them.

It doesn’t feel right to watch war on the news, to be a bystander. It feels a lot like being in the Roman coliseum watching the lions being unleashed on the undeserving and helpless. It’s not acting. It’s not a game show or a mini-series. I feel very affected and yet I have to go on working out my less important, more mundane circumstances, watching as one more winter comes to a close. I have to say, it is very strange and disturbing.

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.

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’…

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!?

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’…

Catch Up

I put this first just to get your attention.  Read to the end for the story.
I put this first just to get your attention. Read to the end for the story.

Over a week at home since a wonderful trip up north and I still have not had time to write down the memories and reflect on them. It was our Thanksgiving trip and since I think we would all agree that it doesn’t make sense to limit being thankful to one day of the year, I’m thankful again today!  Thanks to Florida daughter Julie, who shared the trip with us and to all our hosts and fellow celebrants in Hayward.  I love you Mom and Dad, Denny and Mary Pat, Evan, Claire, Scruffy and Socks, Bob and Ozzie, Gary, Jamie, Eduardo, Jonathan and the Madison sisters Michelle, Judith and Susan. It might better be done with pictures so here goes…

 

Before the feast - one of our two tables with Mom's birthday flowers as the centerpiece.
Before the feast – one of our two tables with Mom’s birthday flowers as the centerpiece.

During the feast.  Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?
During the feast. Way too much food, but this is one of the things we remember about Thanksgiving, right?

After the feast.  My Dad doesn't cook.  Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility.  Go Dad!
After the feast. My Dad doesn’t cook. Thankfully, he does take dish washing and clean up as his main responsibility. Go Dad!

And for the second year in a row, the snow fell heavily.  We spent time in the woods, skiing, snowshoeing, and driving the unplowed fire lanes in Brother Bob’s four wheel drive truck. You cannot imagine how beautiful it was unless you live in the north and see it for yourself. 

Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.
Brother Bob and Jullia and yes the backdrop is REAL and REALLY COLD.

The skiing style is cross country, which is not to say that there aren’t hills, you just have no lift to pull you up them.  An international ski event, the American Birkebeiner, is held in the Hayward area on this beautiful, well maintained trail – 26 miles through forest and field.  We spent some time on a small section of it and warmed up afterward in the shelter, and then, of course, it was time for latte’s and hot chocolate at the Mooselip Cafe.  You saw the moose himself in the opening picture.

Skis on Julie
Skis on Julie

Snowshoes on Mary Pat
Snowshoes on Mary Pat

Snow on trees
Snow on trees

Happy snow people...
Happy snow people…

Best place to come after skiing!
Best place to come after skiing!