Winter at the Cabin

For years, Jack and I struggled to make time to go to his family’s cabin in the summers. We’ve always loved to go to the lake, but we had kids in sports for many years which meant that evenings and weekends often found us sitting and cheering at a ball field. Jack’s job was sometimes a roadblock as well with its rotating schedule that kept him at work every other weekend. Then my parents’ health began failing and their need for help became a priority over up-north escapes.

But the years passed by, the kids grew up, my parents passed on, and Jack’s work situation changed. Suddenly we had time again to get away to the lake, to unplug, to commune with nature and simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings of my father-in-law’s happy place. We have made a true effort to get there more often lately, to make use of it and help manage the upkeep the way Jack’s dad would have wanted us to do.

The cabin is a rustic dwelling and lacks many of the conveniences we enjoy at home. To be honest, that’s part of its charm. It’s small but it has a big farm table to accommodate the large extended family. There’s no cable television, (so get outside and play!) The rooms are few but there are many places to sleep. Just don’t expect any privacy. There’s no central air conditioning; just a small window unit used only on those days when the air is truly stifling and it’s too hot to sleep. There’s no furnace, but there’s a small stove to heat things up in the fall when the guys gather for hunting trips.

Jack and I have never gone to the cabin in the winter. The conveniences are even fewer during the cold and snowy months. Since the cabin isn’t occupied on a regular basis, the water and heat are shut off after hunting season. That’s not to say that we can’t go in the winter. It just takes a more effort. It takes a couple of hours for the cabin to heat up to a comfortable level, and using the bathroom means walking outside – day or night – to use an outhouse.

Last summer while spending time at the lake with extended family, the talk turned to planning some winter trips. The idea took hold and last weekend, we made it happen.

I’m often guilty of having expectations that are too high, ending up disappointed when things don’t play out as perfectly as I imagine. As the weekend drew near, I daydreamed of perfect weather that would ensure snow on the ground but not too much. I wished for temperatures cold enough to maintain the snow cover and to keep the ice strong on the lake, but not so cold that we’d be forced back inside. I envisioned all of my kids and their significant others being able to join us. And I pictured all of us frolicking outside happily until we were exhausted and starving for one of those simple cabin dinners that always tastes best when every chair at the table is occupied. I had to keep reminding myself to take the weekend as it came, and not to be upset if everything wasn’t perfect.

I’ve made a concerted effort to find reasons to be grateful over the last year. Our winter cabin weekend made it so easy. I sincerely could not have asked for more. All of my kids and their significant others were able to join us, as well as Jack’s younger brother and his family. The weather was spectacular! Saturday was overcast with really comfortable temperatures. Sunday brought a clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine and temperatures just a bit colder than the day before. And we did it all!

I have to give credit to my brother-in-law who is just a big kid at heart. He talked Jack into participating in this weekend when I couldn’t. And once we were all at the cabin, he bounced around encouraging everyone to do this and try that. He was like a cruise director, making sure everyone was happy and having the best time imaginable! We rode sleds and tubes down the hill from the deck of the cabin down onto the lake. We made and threw snowballs. The guys did some ice fishing and the dogs ran, and ran, and ran! Thanks to my brother-in-law, I learned to drive a snowmobile as well as how to cross-country ski. The snowmobiling was exhilarating and fun! The skiing was more work than I’d imagined but such a peaceful experience. I definitely want to do more skiing.

After so much activity, I truly did work up a hunger such as I rarely feel. The food, though simple and convenient, tasted so good because it was shared with loved ones. When it was too dark to be outside any longer, we gathered around the table and played board games together, our voices growing louder as the night went on and laughter bubbling over easily. Leaving at the end of the weekend was, as it always is when departing from the cabin, bittersweet. I was anxious to get back home to a shower and a comfortable bed. But I was reluctant to see it all come to an end.

I needed this weekend. It was an opportunity to escape the sense of COVID fatigue for a while. And it is so rare that we’re able to gather all of our kids together in the same place for any length of time, much less an entire weekend. My heart swelled with love as I watched my kids talk and play together. I love seeing the incredible adults they have grown to be and the way they’ve grown closer to one another as they’ve matured. Everything about this weekend was simply amazing and I was literally overjoyed. Before I closed my eyes last night, I said a prayer of thanks for such a beautiful gift.

Why Am I So Hungry?

My sister texted me yesterday, just checking in to see how I’m doing. She told me that her sister-in-law’s husband, a doctor in the Chicago area has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Sister-in-law is a nurse and has been quarantined due to exposure. Her husband is pretty ill, but the family hopes he’ll be okay. He’s generally healthy, my sister said but is almost sixty-five years-old so, there’s reason to worry. Already, it begins to hit close to home.

Dire news aside, my sister really just wanted to chat. She said that she spent her weekend crocheting, crafting, cooking and listening to old Randy Travis gospel music.

Sidebar. I just have to add that the previous sentence probably does not paint an accurate picture of my sister who can also rock a pair of jeggings, down a few beers, and go shake her booty to a good rock band! She’s nothing if not eclectic. In a good way! 🙂

The more domestic side of my sister spent the weekend enjoying a slower pace, appreciating, as she said, the diminished self-absorption, and self-indulgence. She’s been cooking a lot and loves having her boys home for family dinners. 

Me too. I’m relishing a sense of calm for the time being. I’ve been planning meals and spending more time in the kitchen making home-cooked meals. We’re not spending needless money on take-out and we’re eating healthier. But the downside is that since I’ve been home, I feel like I’m hungry all the time! Why is that? I could call it stress-eating except as I said, I’m not stressed. So right now this is probably the one thing I miss about leaving the house to go to work. On going-to-the-office days, I plan and bring my food to work. I only pack relatively healthy stuff because once I’m out the door, what I’ve packed is what I get. There’s no room for mindless snacking … unless my cubicle neighbor, Paul decides he’s hungry for cookie and buys an entire box as he is wont to do, eats one, and leaves the rest in the break room. And even then, I can often just say no and walk on by. But not so much at home. Clearly, I’ve got some habits to work on.

So as my self-control was spiraling… On Sunday afternoon, I was tidying up the kitchen and putting a few things in the dishwasher when I noticed the bananas were overripe. “I should make banana bread,” I thought. Yes, I’m afraid to step on the scale, so why not make a cake that pretends to be bread? Good idea!

But really, I’ve been making better use of what’s around the house and didn’t want those bananas to go to waste. There are already more frozen bananas in the freezer than I know what to do with. So baking ensued.

I usually use a banana bread recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook that I received as a shower gift before our wedding thirty-ish years ago. But my bread always comes out with a big section of goo in the middle. (Chesney says the goo is the best part, but it’s just a little too raw for my liking.) If I leave the bread in the oven long enough bake away the goo, the outer part gets too done.

I have countless cookbooks on my baker’s rack, including my mom’s old Betty Crocker cookbook, copyright 1961. It’s a book that’s been well used, and after Mom died, I wanted it mainly because it’s filled with notes in her handwriting. I decided to see what this book had to say about banana bread.

The old cookbook offered a basic “white nut bread” recipe that could be modified to make other types of bread. (Although, who ruins their baked goods with nuts? Not me.) This recipe called for more flour than my usual one, two tablespoons of shortening instead of a lot more butter, one egg and some milk instead of two eggs, and way more baking powder than I’ve ever used while baking.

But the end result was good! Different, but tasty. There was still a little bit albeit acceptable amount of goo in the center. The bread was lighter in color, and less cake-like than my usual bread, but it had good banana flavor and got a big thumbs-up from both Jack and son, Ryker.

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Thankfully the bread won’t be around long. I know I can count on the guys to make it disappear quickly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear the ice cream calling my name…

Isolation Activities, Including Cows

Since Minnesota’s shelter-in-place order just became effective on Friday night, this is the first weekend we are officially expected to isolate ourselves. But like so many others, Jack and I had pretty much already been doing just that. Although he still goes to work every day, so he may not have as much of a sense of the walls closing in as I do. Still, the formality of the order has had a positive impact on him. He spent Saturday rearranging the furniture in our bedroom, deep cleaning the room, and purging things that are no longer needed. This wife is not complaining!

IMG_9517[2825]Me? My special project was to unpack, inspect, wash, and repack three dozen twelve-inch cylinder vases that were delivered this week.  Chesney and I ordered the vases last weekend. We’re going to make table centerpieces for her November wedding, which at this point, we still hope will happen as planned. (Our niece just canceled her May 9th wedding and is trying to figure out how and when to reschedule. She’s handling it all with grace and humor. Good for her!)

The vases were covered with a light film of dust, so the washing, drying and repacking helped pass a couple of hours. I was seriously impressed that only one was broken since all of this glass traveled from Texas to Minnesota. And the seller has a good replacement policy, so no worries. Each vase was packed in bubble wrap inside of its own box, then packed by the dozen in a larger box, which was packed inside yet another box lined with packing peanuts. I will definitely give this company my highest reviews!

This weekend’s weather hasn’t been ideal for the collective time-out that’s been imposed. It rained all day long on Saturday and Sunday arrived still very wet and gloomy. The temperatures dropped overnight so the day’s forecast includes snow. Needing to get outside of my own walls, I decided to go out this morning anyway and take a quick walk. If nothing else, I could breathe some fresh air, clear my head, maybe talk to God a little bit.

A steady sprinkle of rain was falling when I went out. I pulled my sweatshirt hood up over my head and made tracks in spite of it. Avoiding other people on the walking path was not a problem today. However, as I came near the farm just up the road, I realized that we humans may not be the only beings craving company these days. A few cows were out in the fenced area near a pole barn, but as soon as they caught sight of me, they came bounding over to the far border of the fence like a bunch of rambunctious puppies. I was tempted to pet them but thought better of it. So I just chatted with them a little bit. (They’re not great conversationalists, so I didn’t stay long.)

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Today I plan to cook a good old-fashioned Sunday dinner of turkey breast, mashed potatoes, and gravy. I might venture out to the grocery store for some salad fixings. Other than that, I have yet to figure out what activities will fill my day. And, wow! Just like that, I’ve realized that for the first time ever, I’m not dreading the end of the weekend and the return of the workweek.