North Shore Nostalgia

It is difficult to say what draws a person to a particular place.  I spent only four years of my life living in the north woods city of Duluth, Minnesota.  My house sat 8 blocks uphill from Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh water lake by area.Four years is a small portion of a 63 year lifetime but I sometimes describe my time here in such warm detail that my listeners assume that I grew up in Minnesota.

It is a cold part of the world,partly because of the northern latitude but also a result of the frigid water mass nearby.  Yet I’m here with my easily chilled husband (Bill says this is an exageration) sleeping in a tent pitched in the Grand Marais Municipal Campground, a few steps from that giant body of water.

My love for this area can’t be explained by a yearning for a simpler time in my life,though perhaps for a more intense time.  My son was six months old the October that my first husband and I arrived in Duluth.  We bought a first home,excited and nervous.  I began that first year cold and lonely.  Within two years my marriage had failed and with it my image of what I thought my life would be.

But it was also a vivid four years.  Black bears sometimes ambled among the neighborhood swing sets.  Caring people welcomed us,and then me, unpartnered.  The air smelt of pine and flocks of birds migrated through town, funneled by the great lake they wouldn’t cross.  I learned to crosscountry ski by moonlight and heard wolves howling in the distance.

My son learned to talk and added the word “gall” to his toddler vocabulary as I patted the giant growth on our front yard tree.

So my generous husband, Bill and I started our gentle adventure by revisiting some of my old stomping grounds. First a night in St. Paul with my son. St. Paul is also the city where my grandfather changed trains on his homesteading adventure to Saskatchewan in 1906.  There will be more about Saskatchewan and grandpa later.

Next we spent two nights with old friends who baked bread and served wood fired pizza to a gathering of folks I hadn’t seen in years.  These friends have aged and changed a bit – but somehow seem not so different from all those years ago, kind and involved in their community.

And then we were on our own,driving up the North Shore of Lake Superior, visiting State Parks, which much like old friends, have matured and changed but remain essentially the same.  Gooseberry Falls has a fancy visitor center.  But the falls were essentially the same, perhaps more torrential than I remembered due to a recent two inch rain.

Tettegouche State Park has spruced up its trails but they still lead to cliff top views of Lake Superior.

Bill and I had been to Grand Marais to cross country ski and I had hoped to show him a warmer Minnesota.  It wasn’t as warm as I hoped.  The grays of the overcast skies met the steely gray water with highs that only reached the 50s.  Warm weather was yet to arrive.



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Why are we going on a two month camping trip to Canada?

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A lot of camping gear!

The stuff is piled in the dining room.  We’ve done a test pack to make sure it will all fit in the car – along with David, who we will pick up in Calgary to join us for a week.  Lawn mowing, house checking, and other preparations have been arranged.  And soon we are off.

Perhaps just a little meditation on why we’re doing this is called for before we head out.

The first answer is probably because we can – or maybe that should be because we still can.  At our age, we have lost friends who can no longer do these things.  Others have illnesses that limit their activities.  We have slowed ourselves, but a leisurely car camping trip is something that we can handle and enjoy.  We hope the memories will carry us into the future.

We love the outdoors. Listening to tree frogs as we settle down to sleep on our comfy camp cots sounds like a great way to spend the summer months.  Hikes and bike rides let us slow down and see things.  We love the grand beauty of the mountains, but also the vastness of prairies and tundra.

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How many bins will fit in a compact car?

We thought we’d tie several of those someday trips into one.  A trip to see where my grandfather homesteaded on the Saskatchewan prairie, a visit to the highly touted Canadian Rocky parks of Banff and Jasper, a tour up the north shore of Lake Superior, a visit with some old friends…  Putting these things off might have meant we wouldn’t do them.

We want to be able to explore.  When we were working, trips were often crammed into short periods of time.  We have the time now and relish the idea of seeing not just the big name sights but also the smaller things – interesting little towns that most people blow through, out of the way parks, and little museums.  Small city baseball teams. Birds that fly through our part of the country on their way to summer breeding grounds.  People and places that we haven’t heard of and that will surprise us.

So friends and family, come along and we’ll do our best to share our adventure with you.


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A Winter Walk

What was that?  A large bird with a bright red crest flew through the woods in the distance, making quite a racket with it’s cawing sound.  A Pileated Woodpecker! You know, the big woodpecker that Woody Woodpecker was modeled after, the one that looks similar to the now extinct Ivory Billed Woodpecker! I maybe see one every five years.  What more could one ask for on a cold winter day?

Hidden Valley Park January 2016

Perhaps a flock of Bluebirds feasting on yellow berries in a sunny field?  A Red-headed Woodpecker  searching the side of a tree for goodies.  Two White-tailed Deer bounding across the trail?  I could have been inside grousing about the weather but Bill and I had decided to check out a park that we had never visited in the northern part of our city.  We were being paid back for our effort with a mostly clear sky, dark winter branches against the blue, our warming bodies from the exertion, and some very fun creatures crossing our path.

One of the nice great things about being retired is that you can decide to go for a walk in the woods on a January morning.  You can bundle up with long underwear, a warm coat, and head out with your honey or a friend to check out a nearby natural area.  It might be 18 degrees out but the sun is shining, the woodpeckers are flitting about and there’s a frozen silver river winding down a deep ravine.

I’ve been trying to walk 7,500 steps daily even though it is pretty chilly in January in Kansas City. My doctor wants me to walk for my bones and I sleep better when I do.  In my neighborhood there are a few hardy runners out in the evenings and the dog walkers are hurrying their pets around the small park behind our house.  There’s even a Mom or two with the jogging stroller and their little one under a pile of blankets.  But mostly people are rushing from house to car to destination.  Time to be a contrarian!

The park we decided on is about a half hour drive from home – Hidden Valley Park.  Sounds fun doesn’t it?  We had a little trouble finding an entrance to the hiking trails in the natural area of the park which is managed by a combination of Kansas City Parks and the Missouri Department of Conservation.  We found a parking lot near a shelter house and crossed the road, walked through a field.  There was the trail – maintained, but not otherwise marked.  In the winter it is easy to see the lay of the land and the hidden valley consisted of some incredible deep ravines with a frozen creek carving its way to the Missouri River, not so far away.

Walking outside has so many advantages.  Uneven ground causes you to use all sorts of interesting muscles.  While a lot of people worry about falling, research is telling us that practice at maintaining your balance is protective.  You lose your abilities if you don’t use them.

What other advantages? – vitamin D from the sun, better sleep, and interesting things to see.  But best of all, I always feel happy after a walk in the woods.

Hidden Valley Park  January 2016

Some places to read more about it:

Hidden Valley Park Natural Area

The Pileated Woodpecker at “All About Birds”  from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Richard Louv’s blog about the importance of nature in our lives.

Nature:  science shows it’s good for the body and mind.  AARP Bulletin


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Filed under activities, Health, Natural History, retirement

Taking the Leap – When Should You Retire?

It’s Saturday morning, the heat has broken and a lovely cool breeze is blowing.  Yesterday’s rain washed out the humidity and I’ve been out hanging my clothes on the line.  Children are laughing and playing in the park behind our house.  But it doesn’t matter that it is Saturday.  I could have hung these clothes out yesterday if I hadn’t been so busy looking at bicycles with my husband, attending a going away party for a staff member at a nature center where I volunteer, planning a trip to Yosemite, or working on a sweater I’m knitting. 

Finally, retirement!  Last December I took the leap.  And I’m returning to the blog to report on how it is going. 

If you spend any time reading about retirement, you know that the timing of retirement is not a simple decision.  Headlines run the spectrum:  “Baby Boomers Ill-Prepared to Retire” to “You Don’t Need as Much as You Think to Retire”.  I sometimes follow an early retirement forum and there is a lot of talk about the OMY (one more year) syndrome.  You think you have enough but then chose to wait one more year.  And then another, and then another…

Rather than rehash these discussions, let’s see how my first half year has gone.

Unexpected Health Issues:  Not for me, but for my husband.  In January Bill got a pacemaker and went on a range of drugs to regulate his heart rate.  His heart is healthy (other than the fact that it beats too fast without intervention) so we are fine but this put things back a bit.  On April Fool’s Day he had rather extensive surgery on his shoulder.  The surgery was to correct some long term damage that had gotten so bad as to prevent many activities that he enjoys and to allow him to sleep without pain.  We slipped a trip to Guatemala and Costa Rica in between the two surgeries.  He has turned in his resignation to the surgery of the month club!  One point for retiring sooner rather than later. 

Money:  We are spending a little more than I planned.  We replaced a car earlier than expected (needed one with automatic transmission for the bad shoulder), are doing more to the house than planned (when you have more time to arrange for workers to come in, you do more), and spending a bit more on travel than I budgeted.  Again, not a big deal, as my spending plan was very conservative in relationship to how much money we have.    I’d say this is a wash on the “should we have retired sooner or later” spectrum.  We have enough and can always cut back later if needed.  The health issues tell me to enjoy what we can while we can.  And making repairs to the house will matter if we stay or should we decide to sell.

Scheduling:  I’m struggling with this.   I feel like a kid trying to catch up on all of the things I didn’t have time to do.   Spanish classes on Fridays, volunteering on Tuesday, day trips with friends, plays to see, weaving classes, visits to children and grandchildren, getting into bicycling shape, expanding the flower beds, trips to Central America and Washington (the state).   It is fun to be spontaneous but we also fear that if we don’t plan, we find ourselves sitting around.  Someone told me recently that her parents were bored in retirement.  I can’t imagine.  This is definitely is one for retiring earlier.  So much to do!

Adjusting to each other:  We haven’t spent this much time together … ummm … ever.  Bill and I have always travelled well together so I’m a little surprised that we seem to be going through an adjustment period for the full time together routine.  How many baseball games can one person watch?  Your stuff lying around is clutter and mine are projects!  I’m happy to report that this is sorting itself out.   Not sure this relates to the decision as to when to retire – so neutral. 

Work Place Issues:  Workplaces change.  My work had grown tedious.  A relatively new administration was less willing to trust their staff.  Finding new work in your 60s is not easy.  My colleagues left behind report an even more toxic atmosphere.  I truly believe that everyone, even those who love their jobs and are great at them should prepare for financial independence.  Things change.  But even with all of that, a certain part of my identity related to my work.  If you’ve worked many years at something, you’ve developed a certain expertise that gives a sense of worth.  Still the balance in my case is definitely toward earlier rather than later retirement. 

Looks like it was time to take the plunge.  I’m going to bring the laundry in and head to the Irish Fest where my 88 year old German heritage mother is expected to be crowned a co-queen of the festival!  Talk to you later. 

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How to Get Yourself to Exercise – Pay Yourself First

It used to be that doctors recommended rest for all kinds of conditions.  Child birth.  Stay in bed for a week.  Major surgery.  Don’t even think of getting up and moving.  Feeling stressed?  The Victorians went to the beach and put their feet up for weeks at a time.  But no longer.  Now, medical research has found that there is hardly anything that is wrong with you that exercise won’t help.


a great way to get out on a cold day

Skiing in the park

It is very easy for me to put off exercise.  The carpet has cat hair that needs vacuuming.  Moldy leftovers have invaded the fridge.  Or, I admit it, I just want to finish the level  5 Sudoku.


My husband doesn’t have this problem.  He goes to the gym and uses the weight machines.  He has a standing date to play racquetball with friends.  He rides his bicycle for errands, to his substitute teaching jobs, or just a few miles for the heck of it.

Why can he get regular exercise and I can’t?  My natural tendency is to get a bit irritated at him for putting himself first instead of helping with the chores.  But a couple of months ago I decided to try to learn from him instead.  After all, he does help out – just after he’s exercised.

As I thought about it, I realized, that is the difference.  Just as in saving money, it helps to pay yourself first.  Bill places a top priority on exercising and because he exercises regularly he has more energy to tackle the chores after he is finished.

So last November, I decided to change the priority.  I would make my to do list and move exercise to the number one spot.  I had some motivating factors.  We’re going on a cross-country ski vacation in February and I want to be in shape.  My bone density test showed some osteopenia, a precursor to osteoporosis.  My doctor encouraged me to work with weights.  I want to continue to be active as I age.  Exercise seems to be the factor that I can control.

How’s it going?  Better.  I was doing a great job of using my free weights and going for brisk 3 mile walks until the Christmas season hit.  Then preparing for company seemed to push exercise down the priority list.  I picked it back up in January and the unusual (for us) snow fall meant that I had chances to get out and cross-country ski.  I haven’t completely changed but I’m doing better.  Most weeks I lift weights twice and go for at least 3 brisk walks or similar outings.

How about you?  Where does exercise come in your priority list?  Do you have some tricks to get yourself to exercise?


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Filed under activities, Time management