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.

Too Cold to Go Outside

I haven’t been getting outside to walk for the past week or so. It’s too cold! I was really sticking with it too, well past the point in the winter that I normally do. Usually I’ve given up long before now. But if I can say anything good about a pandemic and working from home and rarely going anywhere, it’s that it has motivated me to go outside, see something besides the walls of my own house, and breathe fresh air. But the past couple of weeks with their sub-zero temperatures broke me. I’m pretty hardy, but I draw the line when the temperatures are cold enough to pose the risk of frostbite on skin exposed longer than five minutes.

It was eighteen below this particular morning.
An enjoyable view from inside the house

I miss my walks. I miss my friend and neighbor who walks with me. It always refreshes my spirit to get out of the house and talk with someone who doesn’t live with me. When the temperatures started falling, I told myself that if I couldn’t go outside, I’d still step away from my desk for a while each day and read a book, eat some lunch, watch an episode of something, or even do some laundry. But I never do. Without even giving it much thought, I just keep working. Oh, well. I’ve accomplished a lot at work and that in itself is fulfilling. It’s probably not a great long-term plan though.

This weekend promises a slight warm-up, thankfully, and next week looks good for getting outside again. I can’t wait!

Other benefits of these long, slow, quiet days? I’ve managed to stick with my goal to plan meals, cook, and eat better. I’ll dare to say that I’m well on my way to creating a solid habit of planning and shopping so that I have ingredients on hand to cook some things we’ll enjoy and feel good about eating. I’m only slightly worried I might start slacking off when spring and summer roll around.

I’m doing a ton of reading and really enjoying it.

I’ve not really worked much on crocheting. I got very excited about it at first and then I just fizzled. I’ve been too wrapped up in my books, I think. I’m not worried though. The yarn and hooks aren’t going anywhere. And obviously, neither am I!

LuLu’s New Jacket

The real Minnesota winter is making an entrance this weekend. The snow that has fallen so far has been nothing to brag about and spending time outside hasn’t been unbearable. I have very much appreciated being able to go outside for my daily walk all the way into February. But the honeymoon might just be over. The temps are dropping and they aren’t expected to climb back up over the next week.

And so I did what any responsible dog mama would do. I got my baby a new jacket.

“I am a fashionista!”

She looks less than thrilled, doesn’t she? She’s a dog that clearly needs a winter jacket, yet still manages to look put off when I put one on her. But she’ll be thanking me tomorrow when the temperature is expected to be … lemme check … ZERO! Zero degrees tomorrow. That’ll be fun. Where’s the sarcasm font?

Lucy is a mix of breeds of which we’re not entirely sure. She’s got some Boxer and Pitbull for sure but beyond that – who knows? She can howl really amazingly, so she might have some kind of hound in her as well. Regardless, whatever breeds contributed to the making of this beautiful girl, they did not provide her with the genes for thick, warm fur. She gets cold easily, the benefit being that makes her a great cuddler.

Sometimes LuLu will scratch at the door to go outside. When I slide it open if we’re greeted by a sudden wall of cold air, she’ll pause, sniff, drop her head, and walk away from the door as if to say, “Forget it.”

So we learned long ago that she would need a coat for chilly winter days. With her broad chest, skinny back end, and only medium height, it took a few tries to find one that fit her well. But we did find one eventually. It was designed just right for a girl like Lucy, with Velcro on the straps so that we could snug her into it perfectly. The colors were a bit on the boyish side, but she didn’t seem to mind.

Unfortunately, the Velcro parts that held that boy-coat in place have begun to lose their stickiness. Sometimes after a good romp around the back yard, racing the neighbor dogs up and down the fence line, and chasing squirrels around the shed, LuLu returns to the door with her coat hanging on only around her middle, the front straps flapping around uselessly.

So it was time for a new one. She’ll be warm and fashionable. All the neighbor dogs are going to be so jealous!

Therapy Cows

I am so grateful that it’s Friday. For a short week, it sure felt endless. I had problems all week-long with the system where I do most of my work. I kept receiving errors and subsequently reporting them to the System Admin. I told the S.A. multiple times that I suspected the system generated alerts, which inform me that something is waiting in my queue, were not working. Since the S.A. has been making some changes to the layout and workflows in the system, he kept brushing off my concerns, even going so far as to suggest I might be accidentally deleting my alerts without acting on them. Things have been really busy. I was probably just overwhelmed, he said. “I don’t know,” I said. “I’ll run a report for you so you can see what’s outstanding,” he said.

The report was long, but I began to research each item and address it as best I could. The problem was, as much as I worked through the report, more things inevitably fell into my queue. I could not seem to keep track of my responsibilities in the system and couldn’t figure out why I was having such a hard time with a process at which I am an expert. I honestly reached the point of wondering if I was losing it. And then this afternoon, lo and behold, the S.A. sent an email marked high importance. It said that he had discovered the system was not sending alerts and therefore everyone should refrain from completing any tasks until the software provider could be consulted.

I felt vindicated. And also annoyed. When I asked how long the alerts had been out of commission, my suspicions were confirmed. Since last Friday! I know he didn’t really mean to completely disregard my concerns, but sometimes the S.A. is very confident in what he believes and sometimes I allow myself to back down too easily. But when I thought about the long hours I’d worked this week trying to get things under control … when I thought about how much I’d doubted my own capabilities the past few days, I was beyond frustrated!

I needed to blow off some steam in a productive way, so I decided to take a walk. The outside temperature was twelve degrees but I did not let that stop me. The sun shone in a clear, blue sky and I wanted to put some distance between myself and any device that would require me to interact with other humans. I pulled snow pants on over my leggings, slid my arms into a long, warm jacket, and headed out the door toward the walking path.

The asphalt was a bit icy and slick, and I had to walk carefully, but it felt good to breathe fresh, cold air into my lungs. The cows were outside up the street. They leaned curiously in my direction as I approached. When I reached their fence, I stopped to talk to them. I couldn’t help myself. They’re cute, and my dog-loving instincts always kick in when I see them. I stayed on the path and called over, “Hi babies,” in my dog-loving voice, and then they posed for a nice photo. And I felt a bit better.

Moo.

I was able to return to work for the rest of the afternoon with a renewed sense of calm. As it turns out, cows are pretty good therapy. I wonder if it’s too late to consider a career in farming?

A Winter Night’s Walk

Today was my last day of work for the year and it ended with me feeling like I could crawl out of my own skin. It was probably an inevitable occurrence after ten months of (and now permanently) working at home, when leaving work merely means shutting down the computer and walking upstairs to the kitchen to make dinner. Also, Christmas is over and it’s all of a sudden too quiet. The evening routine has become painfully, well … routine. I shouldn’t complain, I know. I don’t need to be reminded how fortunate I really am. I think tonight’s mood is just courtesy of 2020. I’m actually surprised it took this long.

A winter storm has been playing out since early afternoon. I paced around the house after reheating some leftovers for dinner. I stopped at a window several times to stare out into the darkness and watch the snow showering down from above. Jack asked what was wrong, twice. I told him I was bored, twice. I hated that I sounded like a spoiled child. It’s not as if I couldn’t find something to read, or tackle some project. I just was at odds with myself. He asked if I wanted to go shopping and offered to drive me.

“I don’t want to spend money just to cure my boredom,” I moped. “Bad idea.”

“Go outside and shovel,” he suggested.

You go outside and shovel,” I mimicked under my breath. Of course he would suggest that. I was mildly irritated because much as I hate to admit we’re still this old-school, the outdoor jobs are, by default, his responsibility. Since he doesn’t contribute much inside the house, those kinds of jobs fall on me. Also, it seemed kind of pointless to go out and shovel the driveway when there’s a perfectly good, new-just-last-year snow blower sitting in the garage that I know he’ll be just dying to fire up tomorrow.

I had to admit Jack was onto something though, since I soon found myself shoving feet into boots and digging in the closet for a hat and scarf. I’d gone out for my lunchtime walk earlier today, as usual, but I still needed to burn off some steam.

So I layered up in all my outdoor clothing and went out to shovel the driveway and front walk. By the time I was done, there was already a new layer of snow covering it all up again, so I ran my shovel back and forth again, which was clearly proving to be a futile effort and which hadn’t produced the desired effect on my psyche anyway. I poked my head inside the door and called out to Jack that I was going for a walk.

His face appeared in the stairway from the lower level. “Are you okay?”

“Yes… No… I just need to get out for a while.”

“Okay,” he said a bit warily as I closed the door behind me. And I trudged off.

I love the path that runs behind our house. On nicer days, I can follow its entire loop (about five miles) and arrive right back at home. Tonight, in the dark, with the snow falling steadily and my feet kicking up a poof of fresh powder with each stride, it was enough to walk up the hill, across the bridge and then turn around to come back again.

It felt so good to be out of the house, away from the same old walls and the constant sound of a television. I took long, purposeful strides and filled my lungs with the wintry air, hoping to replace the stale feeling inside of me with something cleaner and lighter. The blanket of white on the ground muffled the sounds of cars as they drove by, but magnified the steady note of a train whistle. At the house next to the farm, someone was driving a four-wheeler around the yard and pulling a chain of strung-together sleds filled with kids. The kid in the caboose waved at me as I walked by. That made me smile. I waved back and felt a little better.

Christmas lights still adorned trees and twinkled outside many of the neighborhood houses. Chunky snowflakes pelted my cheeks as I kept moving ahead. I crossed paths with a guy sporting a full, black beard turned white with snow, but otherwise had the path to myself. The tops of my boots filled with snow and the lower half of my jeans got wet, but I didn’t care. Whatever it was that had been churning around inside me was finally gone by the time I came back home.

Jack looked relieved when I came back through the door.

“Better?” He asked.

“Better.” I said. Much better.

SO Damn Happy for Spring!

This past winter was a beast! It took a while to arrive, but when it got here, it came with a vengeance. When the snow and cold decided to show up, they hit hard, and just kept coming.

My mom used to share with me that the winter days were so hard for her, so depressing. I always wondered why she couldn’t just shift her focus to a brighter place and rise above it. That’s an easy thing to think when you’ve never experienced how persistent those dark emotional clouds can be.

Like so many others who live in this part of the country, I’ve often felt the winter blues to some degree. But this past winter, they were intense! I felt like I was just trudging through endless dreary, frigid days with little enthusiasm for anything. And I hadn’t realized how much harder it was hitting me until the season finally began to break.

Now I’m seeing the sun again before I leave for work in the morning, and it’s still shining when I drive home at the end of the day.  The air is slowly warming and the mountains of snow are beginning to melt away. I feel like I can breathe again. And I’m definitely a candidate for snowbird status at some point in my life.

IMG_7697That’s not to say it was an entirely awful and wasted winter. We started a new home improvement effort in which the remaining carpet in the upper level was ripped out. (YAY!) It has been replaced with wood flooring, which I have to say, thanks to my hubby, sons, and a small crew of talented friends, turned out beautifully.

Since adding living space to the back of the house a couple of years ago, we no longer really need the small living room in front. So we’re planning to convert that space to a dining room. I’m not in a hurry,  but I’m keeping my eye out for a dining table that will seat at least ten. Yes, I have plans to host more family gatherings! After we move our smaller, round table out of the dining area that adjoins the kitchen, we’ll replace it with an island that will have more kitchen storage space and an overhang so that we can have some casual seating there.

We had some fun too, in spite of the cold winter days. There was bowling (and both my women’s and couples’ teams are contending for first place!) We enjoyed a weekend up north with friends at their beautiful “cabin.” (The quotes are necessary because in spite of the fact that our friends called it a cabin, it could hardly be labeled a cabin. It was a gorgeous lake home!) The weekend was way too cold for any outdoor activities, but we enjoyed food, games and camaraderie.

We saw 38 Special in concert a couple of weekends ago… which was actually Jack’s Christmas present. It was a great show, and they’ve still got it!  And, not to mention, we had some good cuddle time with Lucy. She’s way more cuddly during the winter when she’s shivering as much as we are.  

 

Oh, and did I mention a little trip we took to Mexico? I wanted to just stay there forever …

 

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So the winter wasn’t an entire waste, but I, for one, am not sad to see it go! Goodbye, winter. Thanks for stopping by, but good riddance!

Bundling Up

This week, I’ve frequently found myself feeling grateful for the remote car starter. Business casual has gone out the window at the office. It’s jeans, heavy sweaters, and as many layers as one can comfortably manage. I’ve made a new friend at work. After 4:30, we meet in front of the large break room windows pressing buttons on our key fobs until we see headlights illuminate and the tell-tale sign of exhaust plumes floating from their pipes.

Winter is in full force here in Minnesota. We’re hunkering down inside our homes, in front of our fireplaces, and under mountains of blankets when we go to bed at night.

Well, I am anyway.

And let me just say, if you’re contemplating building a new deck like we did last summer, and if you’re considering one of those maintenance-free options, think long and hard. Nobody warned us that this kind of  decking would become mildly treacherous when it rains or snows. Or when it rains and then snows. Or when it has snowed several times and the temperature remains steadily low enough to maintain all that snow on the ground, and then it rains and freezes.

Our split-level house doesn’t have a lower-level walk-out. (I think I just won the prize for most hyphenated words in one sentence!) The deck and its flight of stairs are the dog’s typical means of getting to the fenced back yard. When it rained last Monday night and then quickly dropped to single-digit temps for the week, our world became a glazed, icy wonderland. And our deck became impassable. All week-long, we’ve been bundling up and walking poor Lucy out the front door and around through the back gate to do her business.

img_4787Oh, well. As one of my favorite former coworkers used to frequently remind us in the face of complaints, “First world problems.”

Anyway, it looks like we’re having a bit of a heat wave this week. I might be able to shed a layer!

Also, there’s a lovely Mexican vacation in my near future (first time EVER!) and that makes me very. VERY. HAPPY.