Month: February 2015

On Georgian Bay

While it has certainly been a very cold winter, there is no denying the beauty of winter. As I look out at frozen Georgian Bay with the sun highlighting great shards of ice jutting from clear glass and snow-covered stillness, I smile in awe. Right now the wind is only barely moving the tree branches, the sky is mostly blue with drifts of white clouds. After a two day hiatus from skiing, we enjoyed our 7.9 kilometre ski around Cobble Beach, sporting our new backpacks loaded with ten pounds of filler.

At Cobble Beach in winter

At Cobble Beach in winter

The wind the past two days was more than we could stand on our faces, the only part of us still exposed. I guess we need full face masks. We went snowshoeing yesterday on Georgian Bay, figuring that the wind would bother us less at a slower pace. Where the ice was swept clear we could see right to the bottom to the rocks. The ice appeared to be a foot thick. It was amazing to see the bubbles frozen in the ice. I had recently seen photos of this phenomenon, but did not recall having seen this before. Our ski poles skittered along beside us, not finding purchase, but the spikes of our snowshoes gave us sufficient grip. We really should try skating. I think we could shovel a meandering trail on the bay, along the shore. No one has put ice huts on the bay in front of Cobble Beach although a village of ice huts adorn the bay closer to Owen Sound. We have not heard how successful fishing has been.

Mother Nature, the artist

Mother Nature, the artist

Inside, we have had another golf lesson on the simulator and have played a few holes here and there in the golfing world. A delightfully warm thing to do. We chose courses where the weather was sunny, the sky blue,  and there was no wind. We still hit the ball into sand. I even lost a ball in the ocean off the coast of Scotland. Believe me that cost me strokes!

Ah, come on, Brian, I think it is only 5 km across. Surely there won't be open water?

Ah, come on, Brian, I think it is only 5 km across. Surely there won’t be open water?

We have secured our flight from Santiago de Compostela to Barcelona. We even looked into extending our trip by a week, but for the cost of doing so, we could afford to do a return trip on another occasion.

We are still deciding on how to get from Paris to St. Jean Pied de Port on March 31st. Much hinges on the time it takes to deplane in Paris and get through Customs and Immigration. The question becomes whether or not we can make an early connecting flight or train leaving Charles de Gaulle. Eliane phoned this morning with an offer to meet us in Bordeaux and drive us from there to St Jean. That sounds like a delightful alternative to a number of trains and bus transfers. We are now looking into connections to Bordeaux. Such fun making plans!

Last night I weighed the items I intend to pack and am now discarding items from that list. How frugal we become when measuring in ounces and imagining each ounce on our back.

This is my swimming hole in summer.

This is my swimming hole in summer. There will be summer this year??

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Still in Connecticut

Bye, Mom/Grandma! Have a good trip!

Bye, Mom/Grandma! Have a good trip!

Make your own track, the beech leaves have taken over.

Make your own track, the beech leaves have taken over.

Today was supposed to be departure day. We said our good-byes to each as he/she left for school and work. Alex hoped that UPS would not deliver Grandpa’s backpack until the afternoon; so, we would still be here when he got home. Alex got his wish. Brian had ordered a backpack from Sierra Trading on Saturday and had even paid extra for quicker delivery. Alas his VISA card encountered some fraudulent activity; so, his purchase was held up, then the route for delivery went through Kentucky where a snowstorm delayed it. The end result was the red 40 litre +10 Deuter Backpack did not arrive until noon today, by which time we had decided we would go for a ski and head for Niagara tomorrow. Brian is delighted with his backpack. Margaret and I will not lose him on the Camino. I am wondering why we did not order two of them, other than that I had wanted to try a Slim Line version and a slightly smaller pack. We have bought houses with less deliberation than purchasing a backpack!

Brian and I painted the upstairs hallway then had a coffee and watched the birds at the feeder while waiting for the backpack arrival. So the hall is the beneficiary of fresh paint and we were rewarded with viewing, bluebirds, tufted titmice, bluejays, doves, juncos, a robin and nuthatches.

A robin...wondering where spring is

A robin…wondering where spring is

Then we went crosscountry skiing in Timberlands forest nearby. Shawn was the only skier who had “groomed” a previously non-existent trail by skiing up, down and around. For the most part we followed his tracks although for some downhills we opted to create our own, to slow us down and avoided colliding with a tree. Snowplowing through deep snow was not an option. Likewise for uphill we had to resort to rigorous herringbones rather than running straight up as Shawn had done. The end result was that we had a great time in early afternoon sunshine and we were drenched in sweat; thus, we had sufficient exercise.

We picked up a selection of sausages for supper and buns and meat for sandwiches for tomorrow’s drive as well as corn chips to make more nachos for this evening’s appetizer.

Alex arrived home first on the bus, delighted to see us. He went straight to his room to do his homework then practised the cello for twenty minutes, entertaining us and his great grandparents on Skype. Alex has a well honed routine. Julie arrived by bus an hour later, with hugs and a request for yoghurt.  The three of us went sledding again, because Grandma had not yet had enough exercise today! Certainly -5C and sunshine with no wind is delightful.

It was great to have an extra day here!

Every Day Is Special

I am nodding off this evening at a very early hour. Shawn is preparing the kids for bed. Everyone has to rise earlier for school in the morning. I am feeling quite weary. Is it the cumulative effect of playing outdoors in winter sunshine for at least two hours a day for the past four days? It has certainly been enjoyable, but I am feeling fatigued.

Sledding together

Sledding together

Downy woodpecker

Downy woodpecker

As well as sledding and the fox chasing geese, we used our feet to trace out art in the snow. We are no doubt a long way from becoming famous snow artists, but we had fun. Julie and I created a house and Alex made a giant smiley face with the words, “I am watching you” hovering above it. For some very fancy snow art made by a person snowshoeing in Savoie, France, check out, http://www.mymodernmet.com

I was not overly pleased with our heart cookies. They were quite hard, tasty and almost all gone, but hard. It was a new recipe; so, today I used my tried and true chocolate chip oatmeal cookie recipe. Soft and chewy, the way I like them. Of course they were not heart shaped and had no sprinkles, thus not perfect!

Brian and Alex made a ring from a quarter with a new tool set Brian bought online for his father. They were testing it. They did not succeed in getting the exact ring size or in having the year of the quarter show on the outside, but for a first attempt they did quite well and now they know how to tackle a second one. If you have spare quarters kicking around, I know someone who is looking for quarters to turn into rings.

I painted the edges in the upstairs hall so that Agnes will be able to continue more easily with a roller. Room by room colours are changing in this house!

While Julie was engrossed in Minecraft, Alex, Brian and I played the board game, Settlers of Catan. It takes some time to set it up and we had to remember how to play. It has been a long time since last we played.

Everyone savoured Brian’s bread and chowder that was filled with clams, cod and lobster. Shawn brought home Poire, a pear cider from France, also delicious. I think I am starting to like cider more than wine, and pear cider more than apple cider.

Although there are many things we do the same in a day, each day is special. The time we spend together is made of small moments and kind words that we treasure. One of our joys today was watching a flock of bluebirds come to the suet ball and sit on the line awaitingtheir turn. I have seen bluebirds before but never so close and never so many. I told Julie that her great grandma, my mother, did not see her first bluebird until she was about eighty-five and we drove slowly around the concession roads close to where we live so that she could see one. Today we saw not one, but two flocks of bluebirds.

Bluebirds

Bluebirds

Presidents’ Day or Family Day

Since we are in the United States, it is Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday; so, those who work for the government have a holiday, and schools are closed, which means Julie and Alex have the day off and tomorrow too. In the past this week has often been a school break, but because of a proliferation of snow days in recent years, this year the schools are only closed for two days. The rationale is that these could be snow days; so, cancel the holidays now and open the schools rather than cancelling summer holidays in June.

In Ontario it is Family Day and everything is closed. It is a non-working day. Cobble Beach as well as other places had family events planned, many of them outdoors. We don’t know what kind of turn-out there was for outdoor events since at home the temperature was -30C and more than -40C with the wind chill. The right clothing is key! Brian has often done demonstration wood-carving at this event. This year he started a carving of a bear and one of a spirit. He told staff they could tell people the carver was taking a break or had gone for lunch. You can see Brian’s carvings on Cobble Beach’s Facebook page.

We had -12C, no wind and sunshine here in Connecticut; so, Alex and Julie and I had our regular snow adventures plus a second outing late this afternoon. It was definitely more beautiful in the morning sunshine. On the second occasion at 5 PM, Alex said, “Let’s go sledding!” Julie responded, ” I am only going out if Grandma goes out.” We went sledding…again! This morning we added to our snow fun by tunnelling in the banks. Alex improved on a previous tunnel he had made. Julie and I made a Julie-sized tunnel. I certainly did not fit in it, but Julie was able to have an entrance, exit and skylight. Julie added a green and red button to open the invisible door.

Shawn and Agnes went to work today. Brian gave a second coat of paint to the hallway and kitchen. The more difficult task which we tackled was removing the tape used to protect the woodwork. Unfortunately much of it was well baked on. After Alex tried for awhile, he said it was boring. He was right! He played Minecraft with Julie. I am sure if I had googled the topic, someone has found an easier way to remove old tape.

i prepared roast chicken with stuffing, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and salad for supper. Brian made baked beans. I made butterscotch pudding for dessert. After two spoonfuls of pudding, Alex said he really did not like butterscotch pudding. I then remembered him telling me in the summertime that he did not like butterscotch pie. I think there is something about the texture of pudding that does not appeal to him. There are not many foods that Alex does not like. He has a healthy appetite.

Every Monday morning I receive an email from Terry Hershey as I subscribe to his weekly Sabbath Moments. I always enjoy his writing. At this time of year, news from the Pacific Northwest usually finds Terry savouring the early signs of spring in his garden. This week he was cutting his grass, in shirt sleeves. We are a far cry from those special days. Nevertheless we have spotted robins in this neighbourhood the past couple of days. The robins must be wondering why they headed north so soon. There sure are not any worms available when yards are buried in three feet of snow.

Mid-February

The blizzard forecast for today in Connecticut did not really materialize, or at least not as I imagined it. We did have high winds as witnessed by the oaks swaying and groaning and about four inches of snow freshened the already white landscape. Blizzard to me means whiteouts but in the forested hills it is not the same as our flatter more open landscape at Cobble Beach.

Lots of space for trail blazing and hiding.

Lots of space for trail blazing and hiding.

This morning Julie and I made bran muffins with the very necessary chocolate chips. Everything is better with chocolate. Alex read Grandpa the instructions for installing the drain for the bathroom sink. Only one trip to the hardware store was necessary and everything works, no leaks. Agnes and Shawn went skiing. They don’t often get out together, just the two of them, and certainly not for skiing.

Monkey supervises muffin making.

Monkey supervises muffin making.

This afternoon Alex, Julie and I conquered the slopes again with sleds. I also got to slide down as well as carry a sled uphill. Today I opted for trudging uphill in the snow. I wanted to match Margaret’s exertion climbing 1500 steps in Hamilton. I am sure I did. And if that did not do it, more chasing of geese certainly did. We expanded our fox and geese paths to give the fox even more of a workout. My thighs feel today’s fun.

The fort is feeling fine.

The fort is feeling fine.

Agnes made an excellent sausage vegetable soup for lunch. Brian, Shawn and I prepared tonight’s feast. Everyone enjoyed a filling lasagna and salad. A scoop of coconut gelato and one of black cherry gelato was a very satisfying dessert.

I taught Julie how to play Hand and Foot. She beat me. Brian and I showed Alex and Shawn how to play. Alex and I won the first hand by thousands, but we have not got back to finish the game. Julie and Alex are engaged in Minecraft. A lot of chatter bounces back and forth as they play.

Before bed I take a few minutes to read a little of Tim Moore’s Spanish Steps, Travels with My Donkey. I am not planning on leading a donkey along the Camino, but you never know what Brian might do. I will encourage him to read the book. That should dissuade him of any such notion.

Valentine’s Day in Connecticut

Happy Valentine’s Day! Always a pleasure to spend time with people I love!

Cello practice

Cello practice

I think perhaps that 2 hours of playing with a ten and five year old in the snow might be more exhausting than four hours of crosscountry skiing. Although I started this day slowly with half an hour of Yoga Studio, the rest of the day has been busy!

Shawn made waffles while Brian fried Vermont bacon and we ate them with Kemble Mountain maple syrup. A nutritious delicious start to our day.

Julie protested that she hated winter and it took some convincing to get her dressed and outside. She preferred raising frogs on the iPad. Mostly she wants summer to arrive with days spent at the beach. I must admit I love those days too. Nevertheless, Julie donned her snow gear. Alex was already sledding. Shawn gave me some snow pants to keep me dry and warm. Minus nine Celsius was positively balmy compared to yesterday. The front yard is a great sledding hill with only a couple of trees to avoid. I did not slide down but walked down in foot deep snow and pulled sleds back up. After a few of these uphill killers, I opted for carrying the sleds up along the roadside. I know, not as much exercise! Mea culpa!

We took time out to make snow angels then went to see what we could do in the backyard. The snow was not good for packing; so, I shovelled out a fort and told Alex they would be able to build the walls higher when they had packing snow (“sticking snow” according to Julie). I pushed Julie on the glider while Alex pumped himself on a swing, sort of, since the snow was at the level of the swing seat.

Snow angels

Snow angels

Julie asked what we could do next. I suggested playing Fox and Goose. They did not know what this was; so, I showed them how to make a trail, again lots of stomping around in foot-deep snow. Although I talked Alex into being the fox, he soon caught me. My big boots were good for making me fall over in the narrow track. I got to be the fox, more than the goose. That was not such a great game for me to teach them! At least not for me. Julie thought it was fabulous and oh, wonder of wonders, the girl who hates winter wanted to stay outside when Alex and I wanted to go in. Naturally she wanted the fox to stay out too, but no, she did not want to be the fox. The fox convinced the little goose to come inside for hot chocolate and lunch.

While we were enjoying the fresh air, Brian and Shawn went shopping for oatmeal as well as paint and hardware for a bathroom reno. Agnes bought a sink and countertop and completed some work at the lab. In the course of the day, the bathroom received two fresh coats of paint and Brian installed the cherry vanity he made at home, the counter, sink and taps. Shawn took advantage of everyone’s busyness to ski 6.8 miles, the first crosscountry skiing he has done in a long time.

Cookie decorators

Cookie decorators

Alex, Julie and I made our heart-shaped oatmeal chocolate chip cookies decorated with lots of colourful sprinkles. We are now waiting for ribs and spaghetti squash to finish cooking. Wild rice and salad are ready, the table is set. Nachos have already been devoured. What board game will we play tonight? Or maybe Hand and Foot. We have a new deck AND a card shuffler!

Travelling in Sunshine

We are fortunate that our travelling days have been sunny under clear blue skies. Today it was especially important as the sun helped keep us warm on a very cold day. True to the forecast, we awakened to -20C with a windchill of -25C. We decided we did not need to go skiing. After a few yoga stretches we were reassured that yesterday’s skiing had not ruined us. From our bedroom, we could see the ski runs of Magic Mountain glistening, awaiting today’s skiers. Apparently downhill skiers are better protected from the bitter cold.

Lisa and Ken welcomed us to the breakfast table with plenty of choices: orange juice, tea or coffee, yogurt, fig or granola bars, cottage cheese and fresh fruit, crustless quiche with ham and cheese, toast with homemade plum jam, hot cereal, an assortment of cold cereal. The next couple who came in declared themselves vegetarian; so, they were offered scrambled eggs. Yesterday we had French toast made with Lisa’s multi-grain raisin bread. All delicious! As we ate we watched blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches and a downy woodpecker at the feeders. Lucinda, the very large, very long-haired cat watched the birds too. Our hosts had said they would remove the cat from the common areas if we did not like cats. We were happy to watch Lucinda make her rounds.

The sun created beautiful shadow patterns on the wooded hillsides and fields as we travelled first east then south to Connecticut. Long grey shadow branches reached across the snow-covered rivers. We stopped at the Vermont Country Store, mostly to take a photo of the old grist mill and the covered bridge, but we were drawn in by the charm of the general store. Inside was a plethora of food samples: local cheeses, flavoured mustards and cream cheeses, fudge and biscuits. One room of the store had floor to ceiling cupboards and drawers reminiscent of a very old apothecary shop. We bought some fine smooth Vermont cheddar and venison sausage, but the flavour I left the store with was a delicious lime cheesecake.

In Brattleboro we stopped at Grafton Village Cheese, another store we remembered fondly from a visit two year’s ago. We needed to sample many cheeses there after tasting one chili flavoured cheddar. It was too spicy for both of us. When something is too spicy for Brian, you know it is really hot. Effie’s biscuits were best at dousing the flames. We bought some Gouda and more cheddar then headed across the river to New Hampshire to buy liquor and wine where taxes are much lower than elsewhere.

We settled back into listening to more of The Pilgrimage as we drove through Massachusetts. We decided we had time for a stop at REI near Hartford and still arrive near Guilford in time to pick up our grandchildren from school. We did not buy any backpacks at REI but I tried on two packed with fifteen pounds each and after discussing backpacks with the knowledgeable salesman, I decided I wanted to try a different one that was sold out. The search continues.

Alex flew into my arms when I opened the doors of his school. Alex accompanied me into Julie’s school. Julie was not eagerly watching for us. She was engrossed in a game with a friend; so, my arrival was met with a frown. I grabbed a hug and once I lured her outside, her game was forgotten. Stories of valentines accompanied us home.

Alex practised the cello and Julie showed me how to play Minecraft on the iPad. We thought about making chocolate chip oatmeal heart-shaped cookies, but the oatmeal part was non-negotiable from Alex’s perspective; so, we will make these another day after shopping for oatmeal.

Our sunny day ended with family around the dining room table enjoying roast of lamb. Perfect.

Skiing in Vermont

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The only thing that would have made this a better day was a little more sunshine, but we are not complaining. The sun did shine for about an hour this morning. We are happily reclining after a hot shower and almost four hours of cross country skiing at the Viking Nordic Centre near Londonderry, Vermont. This area received about three feet of snow in the past ten days; so, the trails had a terrific base and were groomed just before we headed out at ten this morning. It was snowing pretty steadily for about half of our skiing; so, a fluffy top layer covered everything.

We skied more than twelve kilometres in two hours this morning. Within ten minutes of starting I darted off to the left on Helga’s Way with Brian calling after me that he did not think this was a good idea. Brian had noticed, and I had not, that this was a black trail, the most difficult. Once committed we kept going and I slowed so Brian could lead the way down a steep multi-curved hill. Brian keeled over part way down to avoid missing the next big turn. I sailed past then dropped into the snow rather than do battle with the very large pine in the next curve. Happily we were without injuries and finished the rest of the black trail without more spills. After this we avoided the black trails. The blue ones were challenging enough. We are certain that we climbed more than we descended.

The barn condos are n the bottom middle of the photo. We went all the way down and all the way back up.

The barn condos are in the bottom middle of the photo. We went all the way down and all the way back up.

Downhill ahead!

Downhill ahead!

We took a break at noon. We changed our upper layers and left things hanging around the wood stove in the warming hut. We drove a few miles to the Maple Leaf diner where we ordered a cheeseburger with fries for Brian and burger and onion rings for me. We could easily have split a burger and only had fries or onion rings, not both. All portions were enormous. Brian did the manly thing and finished my burger for me.

We returned for another hour and three quarters. We completed just over eight kilometres. I think we were weighted down by food and we are sure we went almost continuously upward. The downhills always felt shorter. According to Brian’s GPS we climbed about three hundred feet. We think the GPS was defective. It felt more like a thousand feet of difference in elevation.

Red barn condos

Red barn condos

We passed a huge red barn-like building with outbuildings which had been converted into condos in the seventies. They look out over a wide river valley. Today the river was heavily blanketed in snow and looked more like a field than a river. We enjoyed skiing through a pine forest and mixed forest of huge hemlocks, birches, maples and beech trees still sporting their bronze leaf dresses. We had the trails pretty much to ourselves. They are busier on weekends.

With tomorrow’s forecast of temperatures of -25C without counting wind chill, we may decide to head south to Shawn’s sooner rather than ski again. We are pleased that the Blue Gentian has a hot tub and it will be toasty for our use after tonight’s supper.

Vermont In February

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Here we are, cozy by the fire in The Blue Gentian Lodge east of Londonderry in south Vermont.  We are stuffed from having dined at The Grill, a restaurant in a small plaza just down the road in Londonderry. I had a plate full of scallops with mushrooms and red peppers on rice. Brian and I shared a bowl of thick New England chowder then Brian had fish and chips with a local brew, Switchback.

We drove three hundred and seventy miles to here from Niagara in seven hours today with rest, coffee and food stops along the Niagara State Thruway. We were watched by hawks, silent sentinels in the bare treetops along the thruway. Once in Vermont we stopped near Troy at a beer store we had discovered two years ago. This store is packed floor to ceiling with hundreds of varieties of ale, lager and ciders. The very genial staff pointed out lots of different possibilities and told us we could make up our own six pack; so, we did. It appears that craft breweries in Vermont are doing well. There are more than thirty of them, AND pay attention, Government of Ontario, they are all available in grocery stores! Brian is enjoying Bear Naked Ale as I write. I have no room for my Cherry Razz Ale nor my Grapefruit Ale tonight.

It was a sunny day for travelling on dry roads with white fields and forests which became much hillier as we approached Vermont. Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage accompanied us in Audiobook format en route. We are preparing for our Camino!

This lodge was opened in the sixties when Magic Mountain, the downhill ski resort next door, opened. The current owners have been here twenty years. Based on the couples we have met in the lounge, the lodge has many repeat guests who have been coming here for several years. It’s cozy and clean, with quilts and local art on the walls, not fancy, but comfortable. We are looking forward to French toast for breakfast before going cross country skiing at the Viking Centre three miles from here.