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!?

On Riverside Drive

Yesterday’s steps were finished in the late afternoon. Today’s steps will be done this evening. I have already taken a long walk outside, in the cold, with fresh snow underfoot, so 8,000 steps are already accomplished.

Walking outside is much superior to walking on the treadmill (if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it more than once…). I am always stopping to look at something beautiful and hearing the “workout paused” remark, then “workout resumed” as I walk again. I’d prefer having a whole body along for the walk but a voice is better than nothing. I could mute it but sometimes it’s just nice to hear that my app is tracking me.

The walk today was a circle mostly done along the highway and small residential roads. Riverside Drive winds along the Namekagon River and has some remnants of tall pine plantation on either side with rustic looking homes tucked in here and there. I look at the ground a lot when I’m walking because the footprints are interesting. I measure my prints against the one other walker who has come since the last snow. It was probably a woman – the boot print is narrower than mine – and she had a dog with her. There are lots of rabbit tracks and deer prints as well. Winter walking is interesting when I look into the woods as well. The trees “bones” are laid bare and have lovely composition. Crows, hawks, and woodpeckers give alarm calls and fly away as I get closer than they would like.

An unusual pine. Had to take a picture.
Another “had to take a picture”.

I end up walking along a major highway and cut into the Walmart parking lot. I go in and pick up a prescription for the husband, then finish the walk by circling the store and opening the gate into our residential development.

It’s been a quiet, overcast winter day and the walk was very calming. I had a lot of time to think and pray.

Proceed!

Lately, I’ve found it challenging to proceed with normal life when so many NOT NORMAL circumstances are developing around me. How about you? I didn’t really think that I was very busy with outside events and gatherings but it seems I have a lot more quiet time at home now. Part of me welcomes that, and then there’s the other part that seems to waste that time wandering about looking for something “important” to do. It’s like the path ahead has suddenly gotten blocked by obstacles, kind of like this foot bridge that I came across yesterday.

And it’s right in the middle…

I often head to the woods when I’m frustrated and need a new and bigger perspective. There’s a foot trail there that gets some snowshoe traffic in winter but is primarily a spring/summer/fall path. Yesterday it presented a pretty good metaphor for life in this singular time of worldwide concern over COVID 19. There were places in the trail that were soft with mud, other places where the hard packed snow made it slippery and impossible to climb the grade. One time when I stepped out onto an innocent looking flat area, the ice got me and I fell. I was thankful I had my hiking pole along (and that no one was watching me trying to get up…).

In spite of all that, the bigger perspective was there and I found it. The forest is getting ready for spring. The streams have lost their cover of ice and the sound of moving water is everywhere. The snow is wet and waterlogged where the sun shines and cold, hard and dead where it’s in the shade. It’s days are numbered and short. The cold air from the ground, like from a freezer door left open, is no match for the sun’s warmth on these longer days. The beautiful contrast could be seen everywhere I looked. I am so thankful for seasons, and promised change.

Esther’s idea.

I found these little notes, written back in April 2016, with goals/aspirations for the future. Some had been accomplished, some not so much. They were kind of like a message from God (and my former self) affirming that progress had been made, but there were still worthy things to put my hand to, and what better time than now? I spent a couple happy hours going back to a long overdue project.

I’m not worried. God is providing a path through this. I’m proceeding.

Would you give me a comment telling how “social distancing” has given you a new routine at home or a new focus in your life?

Follow the path.

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’…

Small Town Chronicles

Grocery Shopping with Mom

It is dead of winter in this small town in the northern part of the Midwest, which is synonymous with saying not much is happening from day to day, except trying to keep warm. Our weekly excitement is going grocery shopping at Walmart on Friday mornings.

We go on Friday so we can plan a pleasant sabbatical rest day on Saturday. Eating good stuff always makes it special. We go early to avoid the Friday rush. The parking lot is not full yet at 8 am – we usually have our pick of the handicapped spots. It is also nice to avoid crowds since we have an immune suppressed person in our family to consider. We just don’t need to be around coughs and sneezes.

This particular Friday I loaded up our trash and recyclables because we take it all to the dumpster on the way. We always take Mom’s SUV because it’s easy for her to get in and out and has lots of room for all the stuff we buy. It’s also a significant blessing to have this SUV in a heated garage. We never have to feel the freeze when it’s below zero outside. We just get in our seats and off we go.

I say that we shop at Walmart, but that’s really the last place we go. We know what’s there most of the time, so we check out the other grocery store in town to see if they have different/better stuff on sale. I pulled into the parking lot at Marketplace Foods and looked for good parking. I was just planning on how I would park so we could wheel our carts right up to the lift gate, when I remembered that we had forgotten to stop at the dumpster. The back of the car was full of garbage.

Another wonderful thing about living in this small town is that everywhere we go is within five minutes drive of home. So we extended our outing a few minutes and drove back home to the community dumpster. Good to get rid of that stuff and have room for groceries, yeah.

The rest of our shopping trip, through the two grocery stores, dealt with the details of finding a boneless turkey roast – not just any turkey roast, but one with both light and dark meat. It involved tech skills on smart phones and researching the store we hadn’t yet shopped. It resulted in a large white meat roast and a package of turkey legs, bone in, at the first store and the kind of turkey roast we wanted at the second store. In short, research was ineffective. Way too much turkey.

That’s it folks. That was the excitement last week in Hayward, for us. But before you label us totally lame, know that this coming weekend 40,000 people are showing up in Hayward for the American Birkiebeiner (ski race) and it will be enough excitement to last us until spring. I get to help feed hot soup to this crowd after they knock themselves out skiing 40k through the woods. This is not something one sees every day, not in this small town.

The soup crew (me on the right)
How we cook soup for a crowd with no kitchen.

P.S. There actually was more shopping excitement last Friday. Mom is redecorating the living room and we also have two furniture stores in town… but that story is for another thrilling post, someday. I don’t want to throw all the adventure in one post when it’s really worth two. Just sayin’…

Family, Festivals, Fire Trucks

10- 5-2019

It is blustery, rainy and cold today. The electricity went out mid morning. My brother is visiting and we had planned an early breakfast outing to Delta Diner but gave it up after thinking on it. The weather wouldn’t keep the place from being busy, but it would mean we would have to sit in the car waiting for a table. We always have to wait there.

This is October, month of Cranberry Fest (today) and Apple Fest (all weekend in Bayfield) and the area is hosting people from all over. Some just come to see the fall colors which have not disappointed, in spite of rainy weather. Hayward is a destination. For us, family is the draw.So, we gathered one by one in Mom’s living room while it was still dark.

I’m first. Like Mom, I usually can’t sleep much past 5:30 so I get up, dress, make a cup of coffee and peer out towards Mom’s condo. She turns on her outside light when she’s up, just to signal that she’s alive and okay. Today I managed the short walk in the rain with my cup of coffee and the umbrella, my coordination challenge for the day.

Dennis, my brother, was next, raincoat and hood in place. Somehow he had managed to keep his toast from getting rained on, and he graciously chose the wooden rocker, saving the recliner for his older brother. Gary came out of the guest bedroom a few minutes later and we sat, three siblings and Mom, talking about life and the world. I’ve come to love these times, whether we are two, three, four or all six.

Deciding we would be happier making our own breakfast was fairly easy. The night before we had gone to a notable fish fry at a resort in the area. I say “in the area” when it was actually as much as 20 miles away. It was so busy the host couldn’t even determine what the wait time would be. We left. It was not a total waste of time because the drive was beautiful, and we did find another fish fry, as good or better, and were seated immediately. I’m learning that life is like this when you live in a tourist town – be it in Florida or Wisconsin.

The rain and wind continued even later as we sat around the table. We had finished our blueberry pancakes, eggs and sausage, and fruit salad when the place went dark. Strangely, we had been talking about things like the power grid going out and how we would handle that. It seemed appropriate for us to think about it more.

The husband and I are back home now, wondering why there is a fire truck and more than usual commotion next door. It is a blustery, rainy day – a good day to stay home, which I intend to do. Just sayin’…

Random Paragraphs on Summer

This is my first full summer in Wisconsin in 30 some years. It is turning out as I remembered it, short and sweet, full of vividly colored flowers and nesting birds of all sizes. Family dinners outdoors are weekly events. There are gray, rainy days but that only makes it more amazing when the sun comes out and everything is watered and cool and green. Summer is my favorite season (as is spring, fall and winter).

We are no longer out in the trailer in the meadow. It was a tough time in some ways, but I’m going to remember all the amazing moments looking out the window at the real world. As we stayed on, the deer got used to our presence there and got back to their routines of grazing and play. I started recognizing the call of the red tail hawk and knew just where to look for him. The evening fog drifting in, the fireflies, the stillness as the birds stopped singing. Beautiful memories, all.

Play time
Leaving the meadow
Eventide

The garden. I had forgotten the satisfaction of seeing a plot of ground with nothing but stakes and strings turn into row after row of fresh green plants. All the lessons that come with a garden are coming back to mind, how everything has its time to mature and be ready for harvest, how neat edges and straight rows not only create order but are beautiful and functional, how good gardens take regular tending and lots of hours of work. A garden can be a metaphor for life itself – I always find myself thinking of that when I’m pulling weeds.

My least favorite part is “thinning”. I always end up planting small seeds, ones that are hard to see and handle, much too close together. If they germinate well and grow, I know they will have to be thinned out as they get bigger or they will not develop as they should. It’s painful to pull out perfectly good plants. It’s hard to decide which ones to leave and which to pluck. Again, I think of the many applications to life in general. There is wisdom to be learned in a garden.

Too many beet plants leave no room to grow. Which must go?

A Much Needed Visit

Friends. Most of the time I am aware that I have some, here and there, people to smile at, speak with, do an occasional lunch or other outing with. But then there are those times when people show up, at great expense to themselves, when I am not at my loveliest or in the greatest of circumstances. They are the truest of friends who show up and do life with us, me and Dennis, when they wouldn’t have to. That is what happened last week.

It surprised me when my invitation to come “up north” was accepted not just with “sure, we’ll come someday”, but with “when is a good time – I’ll buy tickets…” Not many visitors make it up here, although it is a great place and to cool off in the summer. I also was thinking of the perfect time for them to come. My whole local family was taking a two week Alaskan cruise. I couldn’t see how we could go with them since I had just done my Grand Canyon trip. I was fairly content to stay home, watch the animals, water the plants and weed the garden. Having friends come would be the perfect thing to keep me from feeling sorry for myself.

Arlette, a.k.a. “French girl” has been one of my best friends for several years. Her husband, Dwight, and my husband, Dennis, started the American Aldes office in Sarasota way back in the 1980’s. They had heard a lot about our Wisconsin home since helping us move last July. Now I had a chance to show them some of its charms.

It started with the three hour trip from Minneapolis airport to Hayward. Then we rushed them off to eat at The River Deck, a waterfront restaurant where my nephew had just started working. It’s also the location of the National Lumberjack Championships, which had to impress them (I think). And although we didn’t visit it, I did point out the gigantic Musky (at least three stories tall) in the nearby park.

Eating out was one of the easiest things for us all to do together, and I had my list of favorite places. In addition to the River Deck, we were able to go to The Angry Minnow, and Garmisch Resort. Each of these places had its own unique vibe and I think we all enjoyed the differences.

One of our lunches was a bit different. It was on a boat, out on my favorite Round Lake. I had heard of the Jacobson’s project from my brother. Ralph Jacobson and several of his friends built the “Galilee”, designing it to host small groups on the lake, as a ministry opportunity. He and his wife Carrene, served us lunch and spent an hour showing us their part of the lake. It was a beautiful day, weather wise.

Thank you, my friends, for your supportive visit.

Dwight and Arlette, the brave ones.

Slapping mosquitoes on a hike. Photo ops were brief.