All That I Can’t Leave Behind

(Posting this entry to enter into a contest on U2.com contest. I know some of my readers have heard this story before. Just hang tight!)

Though I had been a U2 fan since high school, my first concert was May 3, 2001 at the then Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. I almost didn’t go to the show, for less than a month earlier, on April 14th, my first husband, Mike, died at the age of 32. I’d bought the ticket with three other friends many months earlier. Like many of the other commitments I’d made prior to this major shock in my life, I tried to bail out from going to this show. Thankfully, my friends refused to let me back out. I don’t remember many details of 2001—I suffer a kind of grief-shock black-out from that year—but that U2 concert was one of the bright spots of happiness that stand out for me in that year  after Mike’s death.

We originally had bought the cheapest tickets, which gave us nosebleed seats in almost the very last row at the top of the arena. My friend, Kamill, however, knew one of the people who worked at the Gund, and he asked him if we could get our seats upgraded. His friend told us that he would see what he could do, that he’d come get us at our assigned seats if he could help us out. From our seats in the nosebleeds on the side of the arena completely opposite of the stage, we watched PJ Harvey jump around, a tiny dot on the stage, and we were depressed. We’d hear the music, sure. But we wouldn’t see much of the emotional delivery and showmanship for which U2 is known. The arena was filling up fast and it didn’t seem possible to us that any better seats would be available to us.

We were waiting impatiently after PJ Harvey’s set when Kamill’s friend appeared and motioned us to follow him. We got up, excited, following him down past all the rows of the upper level; down further into the lower level. And then down again into the last section before the floor. With each step, the details of the stage came into focus. I could see the crew and techs running about preparing the equipment for U2. I would have been happy if he had given us seats at any point on that lower level, but he just kept moving us closer and closer and closer. Until we were just left of the stage, in the second row from the floor of the arena. Right next to the stage on The Edge’s side.

Throughout the show, we were close enough to see every expression on The Edge, Bono, Adam, and Larry’s faces. I forgot about my pain and my sadness. My spirit was lifted up by the freedom of sound, of Bono’s warm voice and his passionate delivery of each song, particularly during “Walk On.” I know that this song was written for Aung San Suu Kyi; however, I’ve always felt the words spoke to my particular turmoil that year:

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong …

Walk on, walk on …
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it

Those words reminded me that though my husband and I were separated by the darkness between life and death, the love we had felt for each other was something extraordinary, something we had that could never be taken away from me. From that moment on, the song became my anthem. It helped me to forgive my friends and family for not understanding what I was going through, to forgive all the people who had said thoughtless, insensitive things to me about grief and my husband’s death. Most importantly, it helped me to let go of my anger. To walk on.

Being at that U2 concert was better than any medicine I could have been prescribed for my grief. Being given the gift of the best seats I’d ever had at any concert, let alone my favorite band, U2, at that moment, was the answer to a prayer I’d never vocalized. For just one night in that very long year, I was the same girl I’d always been. It felt good to not be a widow for just a few hours. I’m forever grateful to U2 for helping me to fight off the darkness that threatened to engulf me that year.

U2ElevationTicket

Upgraded ticket.

U2 Continues to Surprise and Deliver

U2

U2 reinvent themselves with Songs of Innocence.

As any reader of my blog knows, I’m a HUGE U2 fan. The kind of fan who follows the band on tour to multiple shows, waits hours in a general admission line so to get the best spot possible to see the band, and who once, admittedly, stayed overnight at a posh hotel I thought the band would stay at in hopes of catching them for a picture, autograph and quick spewing of praise (it didn’t work out as I’d hoped). It’s true that Bono is probably the celebrity I most long to meet. I love everything about this band, including Bono’s activism. Their music is the soundtrack of my life from childhood through adulthood, even before I knew who they were. Their music means so much to me on a personal level–it grabs me right in the heart and says all the things I feel without words.

So, of course, when it was leaked and later somewhat revealed that U2 would be a part of Apple’s new iPhone 6 presentation, I dutifully plugged myself into the presentation, half-watching on my own iPhone at work. I listened through the hour long presentation, waiting with baited breath for some word of U2. Bleh bleh, iPhone 6.. Bleh, bleh cool AppleWatch (which would only be cool if it were an actual phone and not an accessory to your phone). What I was expecting was that U2 would play single from their forthcoming album, announce the new album’s release date, and then enable the new single for purchase. Which, of course, I’d dutifully download because new U2 songs have been few and far between (I downloaded “Invisible” for free when it was offered and I bought the “Ordinary Love” single when it was released as a limited edition vinyl last November). I’ve been waiting at least four years for a new album so I was pretty excited that they might finally have something ready for release. They’ve teased us fans since 2010 about a new album they were working on… and I’ve grown rather antsy in anticipation.

I totally did NOT EXPECT that a new album was about to get dropped into my lap. I could not believe my ears when Bono asked Tim Cook if the new album could be dropped to all iTunes users’ accounts at that moment. Oh, the utter surprise was well worth the four year wait! Forget about work the rest of the day, my mind was blown. Leave it to U2 to blow my–and everyone else’s–mind.

Being a huge fan, I admit that I’m probably not the most unbiased person to write a review of the album. I even liked the rather unfavored No Line On The Horizon (2009). How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2005) was a long-time favorite of mine because it sounded old-school (whereas most fans did not like it because it was seen as more of the same) and because at that time in my life, after moving back to Ohio from Colorado, songs like “Miracle Drug” spoke to me. My favorite U2 album is the often ridiculed October (1981) because it is raw, emotional, full of spirit and bold, brave musical experimentation. In fact, I don’t honestly think that there is a U2 album that I dislike. Some albums resonate with me more than others. But I listen to them all.

In the recent years, U2 has struggled internally with themselves in a quest to stay “relevant” in the music scene, which has absolutely driven me–and a lot of other fans–insane. I don’t feel like relevancy is something you lose once gained. U2 will always be relevant because they have left a mark on musical history that is in line with the greats like Elvis Presley, the Beatles, even the Rolling Stones.  Their performance at Live Aid in the early 80s made the world take notice, The Joshua Tree (1987) sealed their relevancy in musical history, and ZooTV, the tour that supported Achtung Baby (1991), was revolutionary.

What U2 seeks is a continued place in the current musical scene. They want new fans, not just us old time devotees. I think when a band has reached the age they are at, when possibly the best years of their musical life is behind them, they still want to feel “loved.” On some level I understand as an artist myself (who has yet to write her own The Joshua Tree), I can imagine how it must be like for them to have written such great “best sellers” as The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby and then have to move beyond that. How can you top the greatest music you ever wrote? It’s the same as living down a best selling novel, I’m sure, and the world at large is ever the critic, comparing your latest work to the old masterpieces, and evermore predicting–and almost relishing in–your “downward slide.”

I understand U2’s desire for their former glory, but it really has worn my patience thin at times. It’s like listening to your lover berate himself over and over. I’ve wanted to shake Bono myself and scream, “You’ll always be relevant to me! I still love you!” After awhile, you even get worn out from telling your lover that he’s wonderful when all he continues to see is failure.

I’m also a huge fan of Greg Dulli (lead singer/songwriter of The Afghan Whigs, The Twilight Singers). What I’ve always loved and respected about Dulli is the fact that he produces what he feels like writing at the time and he doesn’t given a crap (or at least he does not appear to) what the public or the reviewers say. He cow-tows to no one’s desires. He’s never been in a band that has seen the fame of U2 and maybe that’s what keeps him going. But I respect the fact that he does not try to reproduce Gentlemen or Black Love (which are probably the albums for which The Afghan Whigs are most known). He just evolves musically without appearing to try too hard. I have often wished U2 would share a similar attitude–that they would just produce what they wanted to create and ignore what the general public has to say. I think that is probably the most freeing way to create music and art.

With all these thoughts in mind, I had some serious concerns about the new album U2 was rumored to be making. Forced art often feels forced. I was afraid they might be trying a bit too hard. They were deliberately using new record producers, straying from their usual go-to men–Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois, and Steve Lillywhite–to look for a new sound. They started sessions with Rick Ruben and aborted those. They brought in Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) who then seemed, most recently, frustrated by the project in an article I read. And lastly, Ryan Tedder (OneRepublic front man) and Paul Epworth were brought in. Too many cooks?

Needless to say, I was very, very nervous as U2 stepped out on stage at the Apple release. What was I about to hear? Within the first couple notes of “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” I glanced down at my phone to see Adam Clayton really rocking his bass. Woah. I’m a huge fan of bass–my favorite songs always have a prominent bass line. I don’t remember the last time Adam looked so alive playing a song.

Of course, I downloaded my copy of the album and immediately began playing it. Since then, according to my iTunes play count, I’ve played the entire album 7 times and some of the songs over 10 (“Volcano,” currently has 25 plays).

Songs of Innocence is undoubtedly the most directly personal album that U2 has written since October. The lyrics cover some of the themes Bono has grappled with his whole life in many songs–the death of his mother, religion/faith, terrorism, growing up–but are backed by fresh music and some of the tightest lyrics Bono and The Edge have written in a long time. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone), “California (There Is No End To Love),” and “This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” are homages to the music that woke Bono, The Edge, Adam, and Larry to the music scene in their youth–The Ramones, The Beach Boys, and The Clash respectively. The album is surprisingly cohesive given the multiple producers credited in the liner notes. The bass and drums have come alive again with the band, which has been a quality sorely lacking in previous releases, and they sound daring like U2’s early catalog.

My thoughts on the individual tracks:

“The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” – Catchy and bold. Played live at the Apple premier, I could see joyfulness on the faces of all the band members. Leading off the album, “The Miracle” heralds a change in musical style for the band. After a few listens, this song became one of my favorites on the album.

“Every Breaking Wave” –  To be honest, I was in love with the stripped down acoustic version of this song that U2 played during some shows on the 360 tour. I’m struggling to get over the very cheap rock riff in the background to the song. The lyrics are still beautiful, but I wish they applied a little less production to this song. I hope that when they play it live, they return to the acoustic format. This is the most bland sounding song on the entire album to me and may end up as the track I skip most often once I really get tired of its newness. A part of me cries inside to say that. I wanted so badly to hear this original version of this song live, but I was never at a show where they played it.

“California (There Is No End To Love)” – My first impression of this song was, “Oh my God, how hokey. My favorite band has turned hokey.” The “Santa Barbaras” were very off-putting and I thought the song was kind of a strange direction for the band. However, after a few more listens, and reading the liner notes, I realized that the song is homage to The Beach Boys. Taken in that context, the song is much more palatable; shutting off indignant fan within me, I grew to enjoy the song. It’s pleasant and a bit of a dare for them to use a cheesy hook like chanting  “Santa Barbara” and get away with it. Once the chorus cuts off, there’s a nice summery melody that is hard not to like.

“Song For Someone” – I really love the chorus. This is one of those ballads where The Edge’s backing vocals compliment Bono’s lead vocals so well. I feel compelled to sing the chorus: “This is a song… for someone!” The line “From where I was and where I need to be” makes me think of “North Star,” an unreleased song played on the 360 tour, which makes me wonder if “Song for Someone” is the final evolution of the song. In “North Star,” the similar lyric is “Is where you are and where I want to be.” Some part of the melody of both songs seem to be somewhat similar.

“Iris (Hold Me Close)” – Bono calls his mother by name in this wistful song of loss and longing. While October‘s “Tomorrow”‘s lyrics haunt with the plea, “Won’t you come back tomorrow?”,  “Iris”‘s lyrics beg, “Hold me close and don’t let me go / Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know.” Bono’s mother died when he was 14–she would never know the man he became. Some of the most beautiful lyrics on the album are wrapped up in this song, single one-lining punches that convey so much: “The universe is beautiful but cold,” “Iris says that I will be the death of her / It was not me.” Never has Bono been so straightforward in a song with his emotions about his feelings about his mother. There is no doubt that I will cry if this song is played live.

“Volcano” – This is the track on U2’s new album that, I think, harkens most to their early music. That bass line — bold, upfront, in your face. I’m so happy to hear the bass again in U2’s music. In Boy (1980) and especially October, Adam had a carefree, “I’ll play whatever the flip I like” approach to his bass playing (because back then, I suppose, he didn’t really know how to play bass so he just didn’t care). Bono’s “Vol-CANE-oh” chorus with the falsetto sounds so retro 1980s, yet at the same time, the sound is very fresh because U2 was never one to use cliché 1980s sound. “Volcano” is a modern ode to early 1980s U2 and that whole decade of music without sounding hokey. My absolute favorite song on the entire album. (It currently has 26 plays in iTunes.)

“Raised By Wolves” – Classic riffs by The Edge in the background mixed with interesting new electronic mixes. Love the eerie echo-y keyboard effect.

“Cedarwood Road” – Instantly a favorite on the first listen. I have had this song stuck in my head all weekend. I love everything about this song, from the really thumping, hard guitar riff to the melodic refrain, to what I feel are the best lyrics on the whole album. “Sometimes fear is the only place / That we can call our home.” Bono is best at painting pictures with simple language. Threaded throughout the song is the image of a cherry blossom tree as a symbol of freedom and escape from the rough reality of his childhood. (I read somewhere on the internet that this tree was actually in the yard of his childhood best friend Guggi and that he spent a lot of time there as a teen. I’m cheating a little in my interpretation.)

“Sleep Like A Baby Tonight” – This song is intentionally creepy. In the liner notes, Bono seems to indicate that the song is about the sexual abuse in the Catholic church. I absolutely love the verse where Bono sings falsetto, “Hope is where the door is / When the church is where the war is.” It seems appropriate at that moment in the song, pleading and desperate and painful. I can hear notes of Danger Mouse’s influence in the keyboards and spooky electronic noises. This is perhaps the most un-U2 sounding song on the album, but it holds the promise of a darker direction that would be an interesting evolution for the band.

“This Is Where You Can Reach Me Now” – I think this song sounds the most like a Broken Bells song out of all of them–especially at the 1:19 mark where that whistling synthesizer noise comes in. Bono credits this song to Joe Strummer of The Clash. I can’t speak too much to the interpretation of this song or its specific references to The Clash. It’s a great tune, though, and flows well with the second half of the album.

“The Troubles” – A typical quiet closer for a U2 album with backing vocals by Swedish singer Lykke Li. A haunting reflection on grief, Bono states in the liner notes, “There is no end to grief… that’s how I know there is no end to love.”

Overall, a really surprisingly solid album. I feel like U2 is back on the music scene and I’m really hopeful that this one helps fulfill their desires for “relevancy.” Despite all the backlash from them “foisting” their album on iTunes users, several of U2’s albums have risen to the top 200 sold on iTunes since the release of Songs of Innocence on Tuesday; before Tuesday, these albums were not on the top 200 list at all. So I have to applaud the bold act U2 took in releasing this album the way they did. Once again, they found a way to get the world to pay attention. Even negative publicity is publicity. I look forward to the rumored second release of Songs of Experience and the lately mentioned Songs of Ascent. Could it really be 3 releases by U2 in the next two years?

Though I have to admit that I can’t help but feel that a triple release from a band that takes years to release albums may be their swan song to the world. Bono has stated numerous times that he wasn’t going to be an old, dried out rock act like The Rolling Stones, holding it out until the bitter, sad end. If this is U2’s last big kick before departing the music scene for good, I’m going to make sure I enjoy every second of it. Time to save that money for concert tickets…

On and Off the Road

On August 9-10, Crow and I completed our forth Roscoe Ramble together, marking three years that we have been together as a couple. We trace the beginning of our relationship back to the ride in 2011 when sparks flew between us as we conversed over beers at Uncorked in Roscoe Village. We actually had our real first date earlier in May; however, I got cold feet and kind of nipped the possibility of a relationship in the bud by blowing him off after that date. (It was easier for me to avoid relationships than deal with the emotional messiness of getting involved in one. I’ve since seen the error of my ways.)

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

So since Roscoe Ramble marks the length of our relationship, we really can’t help ourselves in signing up for the ride every year. I thought we might take the year off to instead watch the Civil War reenactment at Hale Farm, which always falls on the same weekend as Roscoe, but then around July, I felt a void in our schedule and we decided to go anyway. We even fit this ride in last year after returning from our three-week honeymoon the weekend before the ride! (Fortunately, next year’s Roscoe Ramble is set for a weekend later, so Crow and I might be able to see the Civil War reenactment and do Roscoe Ramble. Hopefully, Hale Farm won’t push the Civil War reenactment out a week!)

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together.

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together. (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

Since we started doing Roscoe regularly, we’ve ridden the 75 mile once (2012) and the 50 mile once (2013). This year, we chose to do the 75 mile route again, which was a little bit of a stretch being neither of us have gotten the riding in this year that we wanted to. With all the chaos that was our life in the spring, this is only the second two-day ride of significant miles we’ve done… and, actually, only the second organized ride we did this year. I felt a little out-of-shape, but I still managed to get up all the hills. The weather was perfect all weekend, too–warm, sunny, in the 70-80s.

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

For the last two years, we’ve been enjoying the pool at the campground. There are two waterslides–one for inner tubes and one body slide–and we really have fun going down those. We’ve become quite the fans of water slides since our adventure at Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA in 2012. Because it was so warm during the climbs on Roscoe this year, it felt totally refreshing to cool off in the pool!

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

On Day 2 of Roscoe, we decided to go rogue and taking the bike path to Fredericksburg from the first rest stop in Kilbuck. Not so much to avoid the small climbing on the roads between Kilbuck and Fredericksburg, but because, honestly, the route is really not that exciting. I’ve done that Day 2 route now about four times and it’s all right. A lot of bumps on some of the roads, a lot of traffic, and really not all that scenic. Day 2’s highlights are really all in the ride out of Coshocton which are long, climby steep county roads with little traffic. And it always seems to be foggy, which lends a certain ambiance to the ride. After Kilbuck–and it’s not the fault of the ride planners, I’m sure there aren’t that many routes in that part of Ohio–it just gets kind of bland for awhile. At least on the bike path, you can enjoy a nice fast-paced push back to Fredericksburg along tree-lined pavement and you get a reprieve from cars.

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong!

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong! (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

The trail is shared use with bikes, hikers, and Amish buggies. So there are some “road apples” to avoid. One of the Roscoe Ramble routes used to use this 15-mile stretch of bike path. I heard that people complained because one time the trail was wet after a rain and there was lots of poop-splashing going on. I did that ride and I don’t really remember it being all that bad. I guess maybe I wasn’t thinking about it too much, that what I thought was mud was actually horse poop. Eh. Whatever. It all washes off with soap and water. I also heard that the reason the trail is no longer on route is because it’s hard to SAG support that section.

Either way, we both kind of prefer the bike trail. So, we did it. And it was a good thing, too, because honestly with as little as I’ve rode this year, I was toast by the end of the ride. Which really shouldn’t be the case for a 75 mile ride in August. But… well… maybe I’ll do much better next year! (Pray for no more water issues in the Woods’ basement.)

The weekend after Roscoe Ramble, Crow and I took off for some camping and mountain biking in Michigan. My first mountain biking trip! I was so stoked! I also like that many mountain biking trips involve car camping. Yay! I love life in a tent! Campfires! Fun!! I can totally get into this mountain biking lifestyle!

We left on Friday for a three-day weekend. Crow had a lot more trails planned for us to do than we were actually able to get to–the downside of riding with a slow poke beginner. But I felt I got my first taste of what mountain biking is truly about. At this point, I was still leery about using clipless pedals so I was on flat pedals.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

On Friday, we hit Maybury State Park, where I gained a false sense of confidence about Michigan trails. Maybury was pretty moderate–not much harder than anything I’ve ridden in Ohio–so I incorrectly assumed that the rest of the trails in Michigan were going to be right up my alley.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Additionally, the trail was running in the opposite direction that it normally does because there was going to be a race there on the following day. I don’t know if the trail usually runs faster or if it’s more difficult in the normal direction.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

The next day, we planned to take a long ride. We went to Holdridge and started on the East Loop trail. We intended to do the whole 18 miles but as we got further into this trail, I felt a little in over my head. For me, the short, steep hills were challenging. After several failed attempts at climbs I should have been able to do (would have been able to do on the road), I realized that my method for getting up hills road bi

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

king would not work for mountain biking. On the road, the surface is smooth so momentum is less important (unless, of course, you have no momentum at all). So when I’m making a climb on the road, I always use the most difficult gear I can handle (in the granny ring, of course), and then I drop to the next lower gear as the hill gets tougher. This is a psychological game I play with myself so that I do not bottom out to my lowest gear too quickly; that way, if the hill gets steeper, I still have  lower gear to switch into. Once I run out of gears, all I have left is standing on the pedals, which I prefer not to do, and there’s only so much power you an get for so long out of standing. Being in a tougher gear makes you go slower, but since the pavement is pretty smooth, you won’t lose momentum.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

This technique does not work mountain biking because of the many obstacles on the trail–primarily tree roots and rocks. Not to mention the fact that the dirt itself is already tougher to spin on than pavement. Every time I’d get into a climb, I was in too high a gear, moving slowly. As soon as my tire hit a tree root or a rock, the bike would pretty much stop. I also had a problem where my tire would lift or bounce off the trail while I was climbing because I did not have enough momentum. Most of the time when I looked at my gears after failing at a climb, I was in way too high of a gear.

A "rest stop" along the Lake Loop.

A “rest stop” along the Lake Loop.

One of the problems with getting into the right gear mountain biking is that you often come up on a steep hill when you’re going pretty fast in a high gear. So I have to learn to change quickly from a high gear down to a low enough gear to climb.

I still had fun, though. After a few mental break-downs and fits of frustration. We ended up cutting off the East Loop using the return at the 7 mile mark. We still ended up completing about 14 miles of the East Loop. After a short break for lunch, we hit the West Loop, including the 1-mile Lake Loop, for another 4 miles. For the most part, this trail was less difficult; however, it did involve one horribly steep climb that I didn’t even attempt. (The horribly steep climb was the new bi-pass for an even more terrible climb… Seriously, they weren’t much different.) The Lake Loop had some long stretches of flexible mat–basically, a long boardwalk–that made me a little nervous. One spot had two trees on either side of the flexible mat right on a turn. I almost rode off the mat on that turn and crashed. As it was, I ended up getting off my bike to prevent falling off the mat and ended up getting a handlebar jabbed into my abdomen. Ouch.

We finished at Holdridge with the North Loop which was totally flat and easy. It’s just a few miles long. I ended the day with about 20 miles, a lot of bruised confidence, and feeling completely beat up. But good thing you can drink alcohol in Michigan State Parks! Crow and I sipped beers in the parking lot before heading back to camp.

 

Beer drinking selfie.

Beer drinking selfie.

Crow’s friend, Dick, joined us at camp for the evening as he was returning home from visiting family in Michigan. We had a really great time sitting by the campfire (once we painstakingly got it started) until midnight. We cooked our meal over the campfire and, for the first time in ages, I had a hobo pie with blueberry pie filling. I forgot how good those damned things are. When I was a camp counselor one summer, we had our campers making entire meals using hobo pie irons. For dinner, we made pizza–two pieces of bread with pizza cause, cheese, and usually pepperoni; for dessert, two more pieces of bread with any number of pie fillings (it was different every week). The kids could cook them themselves without much supervision and even the pickiest kid enjoyed eating them. I think that was probably the last time I had a hobo pie… and I’ve had these hobo pie irons for over 10 years (I got them from my former father-in-law for Christmas or something). I’d been lugging those things along with my camping gear through multiple moves, but never once managed to remember them when I had a campfire going… It took Crow discovering them to lug them out. I’m so glad he did!

The next day, I was feeling pretty shot and a lot less confident after the previous day’s failures. So we decided to go to Lakeshore instead of Pontiac Lake since it was technically supposed to be easier. Crow had wanted to do both trails, but I honestly was not feeling up to it at that point. During the previous evening, it had rained some at the campground, but it never got very heavy. However, the trails at Lakeshore were damp so it must have rained a bit more. Add damp to my dying confidence and it was really not my best day.

More Lakeshore Park riding.

Mountain biking at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore is a neat trail, though. Unlike Holdridge (which is more typical of Michigan), the brush is sparse and you can see most of the trail and switchbacks ahead of you. It’s kind of weird because you can see people winding parallel down the trail who are way ahead of you. I was extra careful going over the wet roots, bridges, and rocks. There were several log piles and I tried a few of the smaller ones. I also had fun riding my bike over the pump track (I did not do it like a proper pump track, however; I pedaled).

Mars Girl riding at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore Park has great sight lines.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Overall, the weekend was really fun! Since returning from the trip, Crow and I rode Royalview in Strongsville and I went on a group ride with CAMBA (Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association) at Bedford. I’m getting better at it and having some fun. It will be awhile before I feel like a decent mountain biker, though. After the Michigan trip, however, I did decide to put clipless pedals on my mountain bike. It will help me with momentum up those steep hills. I’m still getting used to being in the clips on a mountain bike… So it almost felt like starting over. I’d hoped after Michigan that I’d feel more confident on the easier Ohio trails… that hasn’t happened yet! But at least I haven’t given up! We’ll see how much I improve over the next year….

Pelee Island, Revisited

Crow and I had to cancel our plans for a self-contained bike tour on the Maine coast this year due to The Flood and all the ensuing issues with the house that it caused, thus relinquishing us of our normal surplus of cash. We weren’t about to let The Flood ruin our whole summer, however; we decided to take a few small weekend trips now that we have some breathing room for fun. Of course, the Roscoe Ramble bike ride was already in our plans since that is kind of a special ride for us because it’s where our romantic relationship started in 2011. But we wanted to plan a few other get-aways. So we decided to each plan a trip. Crow came up with a mountain biking trip near Ann Arbor that we’re going to go on in a few weeks. I chose Pelee Island.

I’d been to Pelee Island once before–seven years ago–and I’d been meaning to go back every since. One of several islands located on Lake Erie, Pelee is located in Canadian waters. Unlike the US islands of South Bass (Put-in-Bay) and Kelley’s Island, Pelee is pretty primitive. There are two campgrounds, four restaurants, a winery, a bakery, the “co-op” (a very minimal grocery store), a post office (located in the co-op), two marinas, a few gift shops an airport, and plethora of B&Bs. Only a few roads are paved, the rest are dirt and gravel. Because the island does not have the population of the other islands, nor does it have a thriving nightlife, it is very laid back and quiet. The perfect place to get away and forget about the world.

For people who enjoy the outdoors, there is plenty to do on Pelee. Originally when I planned the trip, I figured Crow and I would have a lot of down time in which we’d just lounge on the beach, swimming and relaxing. I brought my Kindle and a journal for jotting down stuff for my novel, figuring that I would have a lot of time to read and write. I remembered that there were only really a few things specifically to see on Pelee and I guess I thought we’d do see and do everything on one day. Still, I booked a four day weekend because I figured that two full days at Pelee would give us a chance to experience everything.

Friday

Total miles biked: 20.69

We took the first ferry running to Pelee out of the Sandusky. The 3:30pm departure time gave us a leisurely start to the day (we did all our fretting the night before with last-minute packing!). We arrived in Sandusky at around 1:00 which allowed us time to have lunch at a nearby Irish pub called Daly’s. We then loaded our bikes and walked across the street to the dock to get our ticket and board the ferry.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander--the ferry to Pelee Island.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander–the ferry to Pelee Island.

The ferry takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to cross the 26 miles of lake to get to Pelee. Along the way, passengers are treated to a lakeside view of Cedar Point (an amusement park in Sandusky) and the US islands.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

The view of Pelee Island’s West Dock from the ferry was exactly as I remembered it. Not much had changed on the island, apparently, in the last six years since I’d last visited, except for a new Customs building that I was pretty sure had not been there before (I later confirmed in looking at my old photos from the first trip that I was right.)

Put-in-Bay's Perry's Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Put-in-Bay’s Perry’s Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Arrived at Pelee's West Dock.

Arrived at Pelee’s West Dock.

I made reservations for East Park Campground. The first time I went to Pelee, I stayed at the campground at the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I was not really impressed with this site as it was not very private and, being part of the busier area of the island (I’m not sure if this is considered “downtown” on Pelee), it tended to be a bit more noisy. The “campground” was basically a field outside of the restaurant.  The only advantage to this location is that you can bring and consume alcohol on the premises, which you cannot do at East Park Campground–Pelee’s other campground. Not really a big deal as there are plenty of places to consume alcohol on the island; I certainly wasn’t going to miss not being able to drink at my actual campsite.

The only other downside to the East Park Campground is that the water has not been cleared for drinking. It’s fine as long as you boil it, though, so between that and buying very reasonably priced jugs of water from the camp store, we were fine all weekend. Turns out there are no public places on the island that have potable water you can get for free. I didn’t remember this detail from my last trip out.  According to the Pelee island website, the water at the “majority” of the local establishments is cleared for drinking. However, we found that almost all the restaurant (except for Scudder Bar & Grill) serve you (and charge you for) bottled water when you request water. I’m not sure if this is because of the water situation or if Canada is more similar to the countries in Europe who won’t serve you tap water no matter how nicely you ask.

East Campground is located approximately four miles from the West Dock, obviously on the other side of the island. With our loaded bikes, it took us about fifteen minutes to arrive. Right away, I liked this campground so much better. There were several private sites surrounded by trees. After checking in, we chose site 12 and it became our happy home for three nights.

Site #12 upon arrival.

Site #12 upon arrival.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

We did discover, however, that we were being monitored by a strange alien creature….

Strange alien mushroom being.

Great Mushroom Being

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I cower in fear of the Great Mushroom Being.

By the time we got all set up and unpacked, it was about 7pm. Excited to start exploring, we decided to head off back down the main road to find food and libations. I originally thought we’d hit the winery, but it turns out close every day at 8. Even Fridays. So we ended up going to the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I learned that Lake Erie walleye is called “pickerel” in Canada. Whatever you happened to call it, it was delicious and fresh at Anchor & Wheel. Especially washed down with a wine spritzer.

Unfortunately, it started to drizzle as we headed back to camp despite the predicted 0% chance of rain for the day. Go figure. This set the precedent for the remainder of the weekend.

Saturday

Total miles biked: 28.67

Establishments Patronized: Pelee Island Winery, Scudder Bar & Grill

We woke Saturday morning to sun and warm temperatures. I could almost forget that a 40% chance of rain had been predicted for the day. Before we could begin any exploring, we needed to ride to the co-op to pick up some more oatmeal (we hadn’t had time to shop before leaving and we were short of breakfast food). The co-op is closed on Sundays and only open until 2 on Saturday so we had to make it our first stop. But we decided to try a new route north up East Road, and then crossing one of the intersecting westward roads so that we could see new scenery.

Pelee’s farms are located in the middle of the island while all the summer beachside cottages dot the outside. It’s like two different worlds–the scenery along the outer roads beachlike and tropical, harkening to images of the Florida coast sans palm trees, while the scenery on the inner part of the island looks like any old road in Northwestern Ohio.

The co-op is located on the northwest side of the island next to the marina where private boats dock at the island. The co-op also serves as the island post office. In addition to the co-op, we discovered the bakery, the Scudder Bar & Grill, and a small ice cream/hot dog shack. We stopped for ice cream (shame on me), and then took the roads we’d just used back to the east side of the island where we had decided to ride to the trailhead for the lighthouse.

The road leading to the trailhead goes along the side of Lake Henry–one of Pelee’s only remaining marshes. As I learned later, the island was once actually three islands separated by marshes. In the 1880’s, the island was drained by the colonists to make more of the land useable for farming since the weather at Pelee is moderate and, as it turns out, perfect for growing crops, especially grapes due a longer growing season.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

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A heron fishes nearby.

Path to the lighthouse.

Path to the lighthouse.

The hike to the old lighthouse starts in the woods and then ends, as all trails on Pelee seem to, on a beach. I’m always amazed by the beauty of a Lake Erie beach, especially this far away from the mainland. The water is clear and the waves lap softly on the more-pebbles-than-sand shore. We stuck our feet in the water. At first, it seemed a tad chilly, but after a little bit, it seemed perfect and refreshing. We walked together in the water along the shore. Right away, the lighthouse began to peak through the trees ahead.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

Whoop, there it is!

Whoop, there it is!

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Unfortunately, you can’t go into the lighthouse, which is kind of a bummer. But I suppose hasn’t been kept up and is probably unsafe. We took some pictures and tried to keep moving because when you stand still, the beach flies land on your flesh… and then they BITE you. It stings. We also kept running into clouds of mayflies.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

While circling the lighthouse to admire it, we noticed another trail heading off into the woods. There is apparently another loop trail we could take, probably offering additional views of Lake Henry. We decided we would come back to it at a later time. We never did get a chance to do it on this trip, but we will definitely have to walk this trail the next time we’re on Pelee.

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

We headed next to the Pelee Island Winery, but slowly because no one is in a hurry on Pelee. We stopped took Henderson, the north-south running road in the middle of the island, a dirt road between fields of soy beans. We stopped at the Pelee Island Art Works to look at the handcrafted souvenirs (I bought a pair of beach glass earrings!).

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

When we arrived at the winery, a tour was just starting. I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to jump on it, so indecision led us to just get our three (or so) samples at the tasting area. Crow and I tried between each other (and our three samples each) about six wines (give or take a few since the bartender was feeling generous). I didn’t remember the winery’s list being so extensive–there were over 20 wines on the list! We decided to get a bottle of Cabernet Franc. We bought a bread and cheese plant and snacked at one of the picnic tables in the wine garden listening to the live music. It was pretty relaxing… but the sky was starting to get a little dark.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

By the time we finished our bottle, new winery tour was beginning, so we decided to go on it after all. Which turned out to be kind of convenient because the skies let loose and a rather loud thunderstorm began to rage. During an abbreviated section of the tour outside right before the rain began, we learned that they plant rose bushes serve as the proverbial canary at the end of every row of grapes. Apparently, roses will exhibit signs of a disease several days before the grapes will so it gives the gardeners a chance to take action to save the grapes before the disease takes them as well.

 

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

We're all smiles now!

We’re all smiles now!

Anyway, we drank way too much wine between our samples, the bottle, and the additional samples (6) on the wine tour. We were with a fun group of Canadians, though, who gently chided us about being American and also persuaded our tour guide to more generously fill our tasting glasses. Haha.

By the time the tour was over, the rain had stopped. We were able to bike over to dinner (despite apparent states of inebriation). Unfortunately, Crow got a flat tire and, in our haste to get to dinner, neither of us inspected the tire well for the culprit…. So later, on the way home from dinner, at 10 o’clock at night, in the middle of the complete darkness of the middle of the island along some farm road, he got a second flat. We both had bright LED lights and after about forty-five minutes of fiddling, while thunder rumbled in the background (no lightening and no rain, though), Crow found a small shard of glass in his tire. He removed it, replaced the tube a second time, and we made it back to the campground unscathed.

Sunday

Total miles biked: 16.22

Establishments Patronized: Westview Tavern,  Pelee Island Coneheads

Once again, we woke to sun, but now the temperature was quite steamy–hot and humid. After taking showers, we both were sweaty again just preparing breakfast. The weather forecast predicted 60% chance of rain for the day so after a quick stop at the bike shop in front of the West Dock, we headed straight towards my absolute favorite thing about Pelee: Fish Point Nature Preserve.

Fish Point is a long sandbar that extends out from the southwest part of the island. People like to walk to its furthest point because it used to be the southernmost point in Canada. Recently Canada bought Middle Island–a deserted island a little more south and close to US-Canada border–from the US. Apparently, this island has changed hands many times. Since you can only get to Middle Island by private boat, most people consider walking along Fish Point close enough to claim having stood on Canada’s southernmost point.

 

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

For me, though, Fish Point is just the coolest feature ever. It was the one thing I remembered very clearly from my last visit to Pelee and I just couldn’t wait to walk it again. The water is so clear and I loved just walking along it to the end of the peninsula.

On my way out there, I was examining the various rocks that are rounded and smooth from the water’s relentless tumbling and weathering. The original rock tumbler–the sea. My eyes fell upon something white among the rocks and I picked it up. Beach glass! I’d never really heard about beach glass until I’d visited the Art Works shop and admired some of the items made from it. And now I had unwittingly found a piece myself. It was so cool that I began to actively look for more. I found a green piece next. I showed Crow and he too began to look for some beach glass. He eventually found the biggest piece I collected.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

I also picked up a few of the intact small shells… I immediately began to think about the jewelry I  might make from these treasures. Even after we’d walked out to the point and took pictures, we slowly made our way back towards the shore looking for beach glass. Unfortunately, our moment of tranquil appreciation of Fish Point’s beauty was interrupted by some approaching rumbles of thunder. By the time we made it back to the trail in the woods, the sky to the west was growing dark, hastening my steps.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further....

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further….

When we got back to our bikes, it was still sunny. I slipped a rain cover over my back pannier and we headed back to town. It was extremely weird because to the north, it was partly sunny and did not look like it would rain; looking back to the south, it was dark.

We decided to go check out the Pelee Island Heritage Museum which is located in the old townhall. The museum is only one room, but displays and artifacts fill ever available space not used for walking paths. It would take hours to read it all, but I did enjoy reading about Lake Erie shipwrecks, the draining of Pelee’s marshes, and the founding of the township. And, uh-oh, I started getting that feeling that I get when I read about the Erie Canal–that thirst for more information as I try to imagine what it must have been like or even what life is like now on the island. When I find myself fascinated by places, and I start digging into research, it almost always manifests itself into an idea for a story… So far, I’ve got ideas for novels that take place in Ancient Rome, along the Erie Canal, and now this… I will file it away for future use!

For the evening, we planned to attend an outdoor concert that I read about when we were planning the trip. After a lunch, we rode over tot he quarry where they were having the event. The quarry is located across the street from the winery–a small non-descript driveway leads down to this natural amplitheatre. I loved the location right away. Tucked below the ground level of the surrounding area, it felt like a tiny little hide away.

Concert in the quarry.

Concert in the quarry.

It seems we were probably the only tourists at the event, which made me feel a little out-of-place, but everyone was welcoming and nice. It was kind of neat to listen to the pleasantries and chatter exchanged between the locals. I felt a little out-of-place, but stuck to my seat and observed. I thought about how cool it would be to live on this island, at least in the summer.

Before the show began, a local woman read some poetry she’d written. I gathered from her poetry that she was an American who grew up in Michigan, lived some time in Columbus, Ohio, where she’d been a high school English teacher and now she was living on the island (at least part time) with her husband and a beloved dog. With all the For Sale signs up around the island, her story was not helping me to cease from daydreaming about buying a house on the island. (Crow and I did check out the prices of some of the places at board posted outside the local real estate office. Just for fun. Some of the places were more affordable than you would think…)

The jazz ensemble started up shortly after and I was immediately impressed. There was one man who played a saxophone–one of my favorite instruments–and some Japanese version of a soprano saxophone that he was careful to state was not actually a saxophone… I’m not good with remembering the names of thing like this…. He said it was a challenging instrument to play which is what lead him to learn to play it.

Master saxophonist mid-performance.

Master saxophonist, mid-performance.

The music was great. But all the while, I could see dark clouds circling the quarry with some. I kept hoping it would pass over. The storm hit at the last part of the last song. The saxophonist powered through the rest of the song to complete it so that we were not left wanting. I was kind of left wanting, though, because an encore might have been nice.

People started ducking under umbrellas and packing their stuff away. The rain started to pound harder. Crow and I ran to the overhang of the “dollhouse”–as the locals called it–the one and only structure, used for storage, at the quarry.

The aftermath of the storm was unsettling as it turned Lake Erie into a raging sea. We rode back to the West Dock before going back to the campground to view the craziness. A brisk, forceful wind was now coming from the north. We stopped to take some pictures and video. It was a little off-putting, to say the least, and I wondered vaguely if this were anything like how a hurricane might feel (to much lesser degree, of course).

Here is just a few of the many awesome pictures I got:

The sun sets over a raging sea.

The sun sets over a raging sea.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

The static sound of angry waters was the background soundtrack for the remainder of our stay. It was kind of eerie (no pun intended).

As we rode back to the campground, we noticed downed tree limbs in yards and on the side of the road. The storm had been short but vigorous. Apparently, several households had also lost power, we learned later. Not a problem for two campers, however.

When we returned to camp, we decided to use the firewood we’d purchased on Friday but had never gotten around to using. We’d stashed it underneath the picnic table for protection, but of course, it still got wet. Crow spent awhile trying to start the fire using paper but he couldn’t get it to catch to the damp firewood.

One of our neighbors had a raging fire going so Crow walked over and asked to warm a few pieces of our wood in theirs. With some additional coaxing once we returned our own fire pit, Crow was able to get a nice warm fire going.

The clouds had moved off and, for the first time since our arrival, I could see the stars. I quickly identified the arm of the Milky Way, which I have not seen in way too long of a time. I’d forgot how beautiful it was. I wish I could still easily identify the location of other celestial objects. I wanted to show Crow the Andromeda Galaxy, which is very visible in a dark sky, but I couldn’t recall where to look. Oh how easily a person forgets things!

We both walked away from the fire to get a better view of the sky, when, to our surprise, we both saw a meteor! And then another! Within a few minutes of each other. So cool. Another thing I miss about dark skies — the frequency of meteors, not necessarily associated to a particular shower (but this might have been a Perseid). We continued to watch and saw a few more.

After working so hard to get a fire going, we went to bed before the fire died down. We wanted to make sure we would get camp broken down with enough time to hit the bakery for breakfast before the 1pm ferry (and we are both not morning people).

Monday

Total miles biked: 11.05

Even though we’d been there for three nights, we hadn’t had a chance to do everything we would have liked. Next time, for example, we would like to rent kayakes 9whichs is an option on the island). We never got a chance to lay out on the beach either. But I suppose the great thing about a vacation is that you don’t “have” to do anything. Crow and I travel well together because we, for the most part, play it by ear.

So we packed up our gear and moved out to enjoy the rest of our morning and early noon on the island. It was a bit chilly–the storm had cooled things down–and the waves still rolled and crashed on the shore. We had breakfast at the only place in town we had not yet patronized–the bakery–and we dawdled there for awhile, sitting inside (I warmed myself with a coffee).

We then headed towards the dock, stopping to take some final photographs.

The Stone Man

The Stone Man

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

Perry's Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee's west shore.

Perry’s Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee’s west shore.

No trip is complete without stopping at the local liquor store for souvenirs before you leave! Because that’s how we roll. Literally.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

It was sad to leave. But we decided we’d make a once a year trip of going to Pelee Island. It’s a great escape from it all. I was even forced to put my cell phone in airplane mode to avoid paying the absorbent roaming charges for data. So I even went off the grid for four days. It was kind of nice. I’d almost forgotten that it doesn’t feel that weird to be disconnected from the world. No wi-fi to speak of on the island either. It may my last place to escape from technology!

Like Being a Kid Again

On the street where I grew up, there was a lines of trees that seemed we called The Woods and an empty field beyond that we called The Baja. Motorized dirt bikes made tracks through The Woods and Baja, leaving behind a narrow dirt path. We used to take our bikes onto these paths, riding through the trees, even up and down some little bumps. We didn’t wear helmets back then (who did?). My bike was a single speed Schwinn with a banana seat. I also used to jump homemade ramps we made in our driveways.

Youth and fearlessness go hand-in-hand. I never gave these activities a second thought.  Years later, as an adult, I took a bike to these dirt paths through woods again–“singletrack”–at my then-boyfriend now husband’s prodding. Not entirely surprisingly, I found this activity to be utterly frightening. I could envision all the accidents I could have a bit too well. In fact, the second time I went out, I tried to ride through a huge dip in a trail, panicked halfway through it, found myself heading for a tree, and then I bailed off the bike, resulting in a skinned knee and a bruised confidence.

But I kept at it anyway. If all these people I knew–including my husband–found this activity fun, it must be and I was determined to figure it out. People kept telling me that since I enjoyed the thrill of downhill skiing, surely I would love to mountain bike too. I didn’t immediately see the connection between these two activities since I’m not entirely sure I downhill ski for the thrill so much as for the pure enjoyment of winter’s beauty. But I guess if I wasn’t looking for thrill, and just into the enjoyment of nature part, I’d be a cross-country skier.

It wasn’t until my first ride on my new mountain bike yesterday that I fully got the connection between the two sports. In downhill skiing, I’m actively thinking about the next turn I need to make and scanning for dangers ahead that I might need to avoid (e.g., snowboarders, other skiers, moguls, sudden changes in pitch). I do enjoy the nature and the beauty of the outdoors and I’m actively also aware of the sound of my skis on the snow, the smell of trees or wet snow, and the tingling cold on my cheeks. When I’m at the top of a mountain (out west) or hill (here in the east), I take in the scenery. As I’m going down a slope, I notice the changes in altitude, the new scenes revealed. There are times when skiing an easier run out west that I’ve felt like I was dancing on the snow.

As with downhill skiing, mountain biking requires being fully present. I have to look ahead on the trail to anticipate my next move, whether it be a sharp turn, an upcoming bridge, a fast downhill, a sharp uphill, roots or rocks. Unlike road biking, you cannot just zone out. At the same time, I notice the sights and smells of the world around me. When we went mountain biking at Dead Horse State Park near Moab on our honeymoon, I marveled at the wide-open rocky landscape and the view of the Canyonlands. When I mountain bike in Ohio, I notice the smell of pine trees and the blurred shades of green leaves.

I had a rough start to mountain biking and I thought I would never like it. But yesterday, finally, with my new bike (a Scott Genius 740, by the way) and 9 miles on the new Bedford (Cleveland Metroparks) mountain bike trail, I really finally–and excitingly–enjoyed it. The new Bedford trail is so good for beginners with nothing very technical and small loops that bring you back to the paved bike-n-hike trail if you feel the need to bail at any point (which I didn’t!). The Mars Quarry trail is probably the hardest and even though it is the only section that had spots where I had to walk, I felt I could eventually grow into being able to get through it. Mars Quarry is probably the most scenic trail, though, if you stop to take it in. (And why would you be in a hurry on bike through the woods?)

I feel like a little kid again, bumping along the dirt paths of The Baja. Except now I have full suspension and bigger tires. I’m looking forward to new adventures in mountain biking. At least on the trail, there are no cars and angry motorists…

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Mars Quarry Trail heading down.

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Me at Mars Quarry Trailhead. Taken cuz… hello, MARS!

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Starting off on the Bedford mountain bike trail. So excited to be on my new bike!

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Crow at Mars Quarry.

 

The Money Pit

Oh my god. I’ve massively forgotten about this blog. I’ve neglected it for so long that I fear no one is reading it or even checking any more. But my life has been crazy the last several months. And this isn’t the typical “Oh, she got married so now she’s happy and has nothing interesting to say anymore” deal. I haven’t had time to do any writing. Any. None. Not even my novel. Sadly. Or letters to my pen pals Sarah and Mr. Kincaid (my high school English teacher with whom I’ve been corresponding since I graduated high school).

Our house has become the Money Pit in a big, big way. First, it was the plague of mice. We–that is to say my cat, Nicki–found one mouse climbing out of a space underneath the master bathroom cabinet. We set out some traps and caught 18 overnight. We broke down and called Orkin to assist, which put us on an overly-priced plan where they basically set glue traps and poison out, which we could have done on our own for much less. But we panicked, having never been plagued with mice before.

Then, came the Great Flood in May. The storm that came through and wreaked havoc on the Cuyahoga Valley and most of the surrounding area, turned a leaking problem we were aware of in the basement into a much more serious problem. During the storm, a literal waterfall formed on the hill behind our house, dumping into the walls of our basement. A hole formed on the wall out of which spouted water like a fountain. While we were finding buckets, the basement filled to our ankles with water and then sewage as our septic tank backed up into the basement as well. The storm rain had flooded the side of the yard where our septic tank is, filling the tank from its access points. Of course, the sewage water had nowhere else to go but back through the pipes and into our basement.

When all was said and done, there was 16″ of water and sewage in our basement. We tried to rescue some of the stuff on the floor as the water quickly filled but we did not get to everything. We had a room filled with items in Rubbermaid tubs, since we knew that we had a problem with water in the basement, and the tubs were on boards held by bricks about 6 inches off the floor.

Throughout the night, I could hear crashing noises. The Rubbermaid tubs had become buoyant, since the water was higher than our makeshift shelves, and they tipped. The next morning, after we had drained the basement with an extra sump pump, that room was filled with tipped tubs. A lot of our personal items were damaged. It was a mess.

It’s taken us weeks to clean up the basement as well as go through all the damaged items. We’ve had to rip out all the dry wall (we found black mold in several places, some of it could be older than this flood) and some of the lumber in the walls. We removed the vinyl floor (which contained asbestos and had to be removed while damp) and we’re still cleaning up the glue goo (which also has to be wet because it may also contain asbestos). Our basement looks like a war zone.

I’ve tried really hard to not hate my house for all the financial stress and problems it’s caused us since we bought it. There have been many issues–heating oil costs over the winter, new windows it desperately needed, a leak in the water line. And, on top of everything, our upstairs refrigerator quit working that same week. I feel like the honeymoon period with this house is over and I no longer see it as I once did. Now it feels like a burden sucking the life out of me. We’ve had to cancel our vacation for this year. I’m not going to meet the deadline to complete my novel by October 31st. I’m just so depressed.

But then, this past weekend we took the time out to go to Canal Park to see the Akron Rubber Ducks play. The towpath, which is not even a mile from our house, goes directly to downtown Akron. So we took our bikes down to the park and met my parents there. It’s only 10 miles from our house and a very enjoyable ride through the woods, away from all the roads and craziness of traffic, until you get to Akron. It was such a beautiful day and I had to remind myself that was the reason why living in the valley is so great: all the access to resources we have. The weekly farmer’s market is only 2 miles from our house, also a bike ride away. A new nano-brewery opened up in the Merrimen Valley, just a few miles from our house as well. I could spend the whole summer down here and never have to leave.

I keep thinking that one day Crow and I will get this house all fixed and perfect. And then it will be a happy place to be. I try to remind myself that all that house needs is a little TLC. It is in an ideal location with an admittedly beautiful yard. We have bird feeders and every day I see all these colorful birds of many kinds. I see hummingbirds at the feeder I made for them all the time. Every night, we hear owls and coyotes. We have a huge garden. This place could be paradise.

I just hate having to sacrifice a lot of my time to get the house to that perfect place. I’m not someone who enjoys fixing things up. I’ve found a love of gardening and flowers since moving here, but I still have no desire to do any construction. My motto in life has always been, “Why do it yourself if you can pay someone else to do it.” Except, well, there’s not always the money to pay someone else to do it.

People always tell me that I will have time for writing my novel later. As a widow, I have a really hard time accepting this comment. I know that I’m alive today. So whatever I want to do today should be done TODAY. I could get Alzheimer’s  (my grandma had it) and then I won’t have the capacity to tell my stories. There are a lot of random accidents that could occur. You just don’t know. So it makes no sense to me to ever put something on your list of things to do when you retire because you just don’t know that you will live long enough to get there. I’m not being fatalistic; I’m being realistic.

Ever since I lost Mike, my life has been filled with a very urgent need to fulfill my dreams. If I want to go somewhere, I just go. No time like the present! I’m young now and I’m healthy. Live for the moment!

The house just feels like a waste of my time and energy, even though I know it’s an investment for the future of my and Crow’s life together. I’m impatient. I can’t wait. I want to go places, see things, experience life, and then I want to write it all down. I don’t have time for fixing up a house full of problems.

I guess the lesson learned here is that you should buy something huge like a house with your logic instead of your emotion. The house seemed so perfect for us, located right along a road used frequently by cyclists and in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we love so much. It had the screened in porch I’d always dreamed of having. Sadly, both Crow and I admit that had we known we would have this many problems with the house, we’d have not bought it. Hindsight is always 20/20. We had some warning signs, though, of the problems we have had and we should have listened. But like star-struck lovers, we overlooked the glaring issues because we fell in love with the idea instead of the reality…

Avoidance

Writing-wise, it’s been a tough winter. It probably started with my second attempt at NaNoWriMo which completely failed. I gave up sometime during the middle of the month, and then spent the rest of the month hating myself as I read the success stories of my fellow Akronites. Then, I got swept into the craziness of the holiday season and I allowed myself to forget about writing for awhile. I picked up some books and completed probably more novels over a span of two months than I have in a single year recently. I told myself this was okay–it was research, trying to understand my craft better.

I kept trying to reset. I said that January 1st, I would start writing. The month of January came and went. Now it’s almost the end of February and I still haven’t started writing again. I’ve pretty much dropped out of my writing group. I start to pick up one of my novels and I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I’ve got a severe case of self-doubt surrounding me right now. I heard someone say recently that writer’s block is just allowing yourself to give into your self-doubt and fears. I totally agree with this. When you let go of the doubt and the feeling that what you are doing is ridiculous and meaningless or stupid, it’s a lot easier to write. It’s when we second-guess ourselves that the creative juices stop flowing.

I know this and yet I still can’t bring myself to write. I’ve avoided this blog (having nothing really interesting to say anyway), I’ve avoided personal journaling. I’ve spent a great deal of time distracting myself with binge-watching various television series. I’m feeling down in the dumps the way I felt several winters ago when I binge-watched all seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I keep calling it a funk. But in truth, it’s a full-blown depression.

I’m having a lot of trouble staying fully in the moment of just about everything I’m doing. I’m always thinking that instead of what I’m doing, I should be writing. The writing guilt follows me everywhere. But when I have the time and the option to write, I avoid it. I sit down to look at my work and all those doubts come rolling back in. I feel like a failure. Well, I am a failure because I’ve failed to do anything in the last couple months. I’ve failed before I’ve even done a single thing.

I feel the weight of time on my shoulders. I’m turning 39 this March and I know that’s young. I never used to have a problem with age. I used to say that it was just a number and no big deal. Yet the thought of me turning 40 is freaking me out. I don’t think 40 is old. I just feel like it’s an awful long time to have lived and not done what I set out to do.

My journals stretching the last 10 years are filled with the same desperate plea. Why can’t I write? Why don’t I have time to write? Why am I so afraid to write?

It’s frustrating because I know that when I’m in the zone, I’m so in love with my writing. When I let go of the fears and the self-doubt, I get high off of the pleasure of putting together a good story.

I think joining the writing group was too soon. Because they were so critical of my writing–of everyone’s writing–my growth as a writer is stunted because I don’t feel uninhibited enough to just write. Now instead of writing what comes from my heart, I hear twenty voices in my head picking apart every sentence. Yes, I know a writer needs to face criticism. But I think that I need to complete something first, uninhibited and without the fear of critical commentary, before I can face an audience with what I’ve done.

With all this avoidance, it sounds as if I don’t like to write. I do like to write. I love to write. I just don’t love myself or believe in my abilities enough right now to get anywhere. Ironically, the only way to start loving myself and believing in my abilities is to actually start writing. To push past this wall of self-loathing and just write.

Well, I did pick up this blog entry so I guess that’s a start.

I guess I aim for March 1st and try to reset again. The last year until 40. It’s now or give up the dream forever because if I haven’t moved in all these years, I have to wonder if I ever will. Maybe I just like to talk about writing and pretend that it’s my salvation from a career I’ve never loved. I don’t know. But I feel like this is the year that I have to prove to myself that I’m really the writer I think that I am or move on to something else. I’ve still got a lot of years left and I need to find my bliss in something I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s not writing. Maybe it’s something I don’t even know I have the ability to do yet.

Only time will tell.

And we’re off…

I’ve already signed up for Calvin’s Challenge again this year… I guess I like the punishment. Last year, I nearly quit as I was recovering from the flu. I still felt sick and could barely stomach to eat anything.

Yet, I got onto my bike and rode 70 miles, half of which was in the wind, and I felt pretty horrible most of the time. At the half way point of the second 50 mile loop, I stopped for about an hour at the rest area. I forced myself to eat and I sat out the sweats and sick feeling in my stomach. I almost asked to be sagged out.

Then my friend Sue came along and I spent some more time at the rest stop with her. By the time she was ready to go, I felt much better. I figured I could at least finish the loop because it was all with the wind, meaning I wouldn’t have to do much work to propel myself forward. As I rode, I felt gradually better. By the time I got back to the starting spot at the school, I felt like I could continue the ride.

And so I did with the 7 mile loops. I completed 12 hours with 120 miles. And somehow won a silver medal for my efforts (only two women competing in my age category). I feel I deserved something after completing the ride with the flu.

Anyway, I’m subjecting myself to that torture again. What are the chances of getting the flu a second time? (I guess I should go get my flu shot!) I’d like to beat my previous best of 154 miles… 160 would make me happy… We’ll see.

Also, Crow and I both signed up for the MS 150 in Holland, Michigan (a ride we enjoyed in 2012) on June 7-8th. (I had started a blog entry about our 2012 adventure, but I never finished it… I might post what I have later this week… )

So, I’m of course looking for donations… The money goes to MS research and assisting those people in need of assistance in handling MS. This has always been a very important cause for me as my grandpa H had MS.

We will be doing the MS 150 on our brand NEW tandem! We ordered our tandem in December and expect to get it soon. We will probably do a lot of rides this summer on our new wheels. We can’t wait to take it everywhere with us!

Crow and I may do TOSRV on the tandem, in fact. But we’ve decided to be weather weenies and wait to see what the outlook is for that weekend. Thank goodness some rides still have day-of registration.

Having no wedding to take up all of our time, I think we’ll be ramping up our cycling this summer. Also, I’m in the market for a mountain bike… Stay tuned for my adventures trying to ride a bike on a dirt trail through the woods!

Thoughts on a Second Wedding

I always thought that when I got married again, it would be less of a fancy affair. I envisioned I’d get married on New Year’s Eve in some bustling city somewhere far enough away that only my closest family would attend. Or perhaps I’d get married quietly at some winery in California. For awhile, when the Star Trek Experience exhibit still existed in Las Vegas, I imagined getting married on the Enterprise bridge. (When they removed that exhibit in 2008, I was honestly a bit sad that I would never get to live that particular fantasy out.)

Of course, it took me a long time, and lots of grief to live, before I would even entertain the idea of getting married again. The day Mike died, I swore myself to celibacy–a living monument, if you will, to the love Mike and I shared. I even swore I’d never even change my last name from his last name. Part of grief is a resistance to change. Perhaps because change happens so quickly all at once, you find yourself wanting to hang onto the little bits of your life that you have left to try to grasp some sense of normalcy in a world that has suddenly turned 180 degrees from normal.

You couldn’t have told me then that I would change my mind about these proclamations. I would have argued with you vigorously. I would have argued with myself just as strongly. At the beginning of the journey through grief, I couldn’t see past the fog that blocked my path to entertain any ideas about the future and other people’s thoughts on the matter felt like an affront.

Not surprising, as I worked myself through the grief, I had little changes of heart. As a single woman again, I slowly let go of the habits of a life shared with Mike–little things at first, like buying a different laundry detergent. Then I picked up my own hobbies–bicycling, skiing–and I threw myself into them. After wading into the water of change, I took the plunge and did something I never thought I would do: I changed my last name back to my maiden name (for many reasons I don’t need to go into at the moment).

The last tendril of “grief belief” I held onto was my conviction that I needed to have a much more subdued wedding. I was afraid that I would compare my second wedding to the first. I wanted them to be nothing like each other so that a comparison would not even exist in my mind. Would the first wedding eclipse the second? Or would the second wedding eclipse the first? Worst yet, would my guests–those who had been at both weddings–make comparisons? Having gone through a wedding before, would I would feel odd or some kind of gloomy sense of deju vu?

I don’t know why, but I lived in fear of the answers to these questions.

When Crow and I got engaged, we started to discuss what we wanted from a wedding and it became immediately clear that he wanted to have a ceremony in front of his family and friends. He imagined more like 50-60 people; however, numbers that low are impossible with the size of my family. It was all or nothing–a wedding with friends and my multitude of extended family, or we eloped. In the end, we decided to go full-tilt wedding. And I realized that I actually wanted that too. Even though I was getting married a second time, I felt–just as I did with Mike–like I wanted to declare my love before everyone I knew. I wanted the ceremony and the celebration. Not only was I in love, but I was in love again. That seemed like such a miraculous thing, finding true love twice in my life.

In the process of planning our wedding, and moreso on the wedding day, I realized my fears about comparing one wedding to the other were unfounded. I learned that just as you can’t compare two relationships to each other, one wedding–even if the bride is the same–cannot compare to another. When done right–with both people involved in the planning–a wedding reflects the overall personality of the couple. My first wedding was emblematic of Mike and me; my second wedding, Crow and me. Each wedding stands alone in my head as separate events.

Contrary to my fears, I woke up the morning of the wedding with butterflies in my stomach but, at the same time, a sense of calm. I think I experienced the same feelings the first time I got married because one thing was for certain both times: I have always felt I’d picked the right guy.

My pre-ceremony preparations were enjoyed with the same four girls I’d chosen as my bridesmaids the first time I got married–Melissa, Diane, Angy, and Sarah–and it didn’t feel awkward like I had thought it would. There was a certain comforting constancy in the fact that the four girls I considered my closest friends at 26 were still my closest friends at 38. Though Crow and I limited ourselves to three groomsmen and three bridesmaids, I still managed to find a special job for Sarah so that she could be a part of the special day; she would read The Apache Marriage Blessing at the end of our ceremony.

It was such a beautiful day. The sun shined brightly after a week of incessant rain and floods. I was excited, not melancholy, nor did I experience the feared deju vu. The experience of marrying Crow was a new one and I had no thoughts of previous weddings or the life I’d once had on that special day with him. It was our moment together in time, completely separate from anything else, just as our future together soon would be.

I’ve wondered why I still haven’t been able to get rid of the dress from my first wedding. When I boxed up my second wedding dress, I put it in the closet next to the first. Both dresses represent a different part of my life. I’m someone who hangs onto momentos. I still have my first engagement ring/wedding band set too. Over the years, I even thought I’d do something with that first wedding band set–take the diamond and create a necklace or another ring or something. But just like with the dress, I never had the heart to follow through.

I was shocked when my happily married coworker said that she sold her dress to a consignment shop when she returned from the honeymoon. She obviously finds no attachments to these things. I wondered if there was some flaw in my personality that makes me cling to physical things like this. But I guess I’m just not ready purge myself of all momentos from my past. Maybe I never will be. I think it’s okay, though, because I do not let these items drag me back to the past. Rather, they just serve as tags of the events that constitute my life.

Welcome to Woodbury

My grandma E used to decorate the interior of her house for Christmas. Among her many decorations were Christmas villages and dolls that ice skated on mirrors. She had the foamy white padding to simulate snow. Every available surface of her living room contained some sort of scene.

When I was a kid, I just enjoyed staring at the little tiny lit houses, imagining what it would be like to walk amidst that village and go into the little houses and shops. I used to play with the ice skaters, moving them around the mirror, until my grandma caught me. (How could a child resist?)

A Christmas village is a bit too much fun for someone with an imagination. Even as an adult, I could make up the whole story of a miniature little Christmas village as I spend time staring at it. So I was really thrilled when Crow decided to start building a little Christmas village of our own. Of course, I said. That’s exactly what I’d like!

Last year, Crow’s mom paint us two little ceramic buildings for our village: a church and a house. On our second annual trip to Frankenmuth on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we bought a set of lamp posts, a set of trees with blinky blue and white lights, a figurine of carolers, and a figurine of a lady feeding two cats from a large bucket. (The town must have cats, after all!)

We could have bought more, but our wedding, honeymoon, and the tandem bicycle we ordered put us on a tight budget this year. We decided we would slowly build our village. Afterall, Crow had already hinted to his mom that she should help us expand our village by painting us another set of buildings as a Christmas present.

We did pick up some “snow” and some sparky stuff to add to the “snow” to make it look more like real snow.

The picture below shows our small little village at the start of Christmas 2013.

Woodbury's humble beginnings.

Woodbury’s humble beginnings.

On Christmas Day when we opened gifts, I was delighted that Crow’s mom did paint us three more buildings: a bakery, a diner, and barn! We were so thrilled! The level of detail she did on the painting was magnificent (the roof of one of the buildings had alternating colors for shingles).

But that wasn’t the end! Oh, no, his mother had yet another surprise for us. She gave us her Christmas village! We were both so surprised and happy for this generous gift. So yesterday we went through the box of Christmas village she gave us to see what she had… and we got 9 more buildings (a school, another church, a mill, two more houses, a toy store, a train station, and two barns) plus more people, cats, dogs, and farm animals for our little village.

It’s still the Christmas season until New Year’s. We don’t take down any of our decorations until after New Year’s. So we decided to set everything out, arranging the buildings into a logical order and positioning the people. And that’s when I decided that we should all the town Woodbury (Woodville was already taken–it’s a city in Northeast Ohio) after our last name.

Downtown Woodbury, now complete with commerce, carolers, shoppers, and Santa.

Downtown Woodbury, now complete with commerce, carolers, shoppers, and Santa.

Downtown Woodbury now features a diner, a bakery, a toy store, and the Westbury Lutheran Church. I decided it was a Lutheran church since Crow was raised mostly in the Lutheran church and he needed to be represented. Besides, what Midwestern town doesn’t include a Lutheran church? Even Lake Wobagon has one and Garrison Keillor is always going on about those Lutherans. I guess in a way it’s an ode to grandma E since she too was Lutheran.

Instead of feeding the poor, however, the lady out in front of the church is feeding the cats. (You might note that she was also in the same position originally from the earlier picture.) I added a black cat from Crow’s mom’s village set next to the church, looking on, unsure about whether or not he wants to approach the woman to also get some food. I figured he’s a shy cat like the many barn kitties at Crow’s mom’s house.

Woodbury Northside: home to the mayor and wealthier residents.

Woodbury Northside: home to the mayor and wealthier residents.

The Woodbury Northside is the home of the elite residents of the town. We decided that the white fancy house is home to the mayor. Crow said that the other house with the side porch is our home in Woodbury, but that house seems maybe a bit too fancy for my tastes, although it does have a very cool front porch along the side of the door. The barn would be ours as well. The mayor doesn’t have time to take care of farm animals. The train station is probably a little out of place in this section of town but we stuck it there for now. I guess the sound of train traffic doesn’t bother us any since there are no tracks. A lady is sitting outside, however, waiting for the train that will never come. I see an opportunity for improvement in Woodbury’s future.

Woodbury Midtown: The school, the mill, and the UU Church of Woodbury.

Woodbury Midtown: The school, the mill, and the UU Church of Woodbury.

I decided the second church–which contains no visible symbols of a faith–was the UU Church of Woodbury. Crow pointed out that this building could be a town hall, but I decided that it needed to be a UU church. I want Woodbury to be somewhat progressive. The school, I decided, is also a Montessori school. I’m a huge fan of Montessori education and really wish I’d had a chance to experience it myself.

The mill, yeah, needs some water. It seems kind of useless without a nearby source so perhaps in the future we will have to find a mirror to represent water.

I love the children building the snowman.

Woodbury Southside: A work in progress.

Woodbury Southside: A work in progress.

Woodbury Southside contains the house from our original set of structures and the new barn we received this year. Farm animals from Crow’s mom’s set makes the scene complete. I especially love the figurine of the dog and dog house.

Crow and I plan to buy some bridges and some walkways and such on our annual visit to Frankenmuth next year. It’s exciting to design a build this village. Each year, we can add more things to it and build it up. We plan to put lights underneath each building as well so that the buildings look more lively. I can stare at this little town and dream away, as I already have, imagining the lives of these people like I did when I was younger. I will definitely have to find a pair of ice skaters and make a mirror-pond for them to skate on as well.

It’s exciting that both Crow and I find enjoyment out of creating a little miniature town like this. Also, we have a general love of decorating for the holidays, especially Christmas. Like last year, we have a tree in every room of the house (though I never did get around to setting up the one in the bedroom, shame on me). We have our live tree in our living room–a Douglas fir this year–and our pop culture tree in the library.

2013 Wood Christmas Tree. (Note the plane flying just below the star.)

2013 Wood Christmas Tree. (Note the plane flying just below the star.)

2013 Wood Christmas Tree at another angle.

2013 Wood Christmas Tree at another angle.

And our pop culture tree with all the fun ornaments.

And our pop culture tree with all the fun ornaments.

It was a nice Christmas in Woodbury, our first year celebrating the holiday as a married couple. Right before Christmas, we gave ourselves the best Christmas present a couple like us could get: we ordered our tandem bicycle! We look forward to many future adventures riding it, especially on some self-contained bike tours. It was a big investment but one we will appreciate for years to come.

New ornaments we purchased in Frankenmuth. The Like to Bike ornament was a gift from Crow's mom.

New ornaments we purchased in Frankenmuth. The Like to Bike ornament was a gift from Crow’s mom.

I got some incredibly cute gifts from Crow including a teddy bear (I named him Allen) and a Marvin The Martian winter hat. Who says you can’t have fun at 38? (One of my favorite gifts from Crow last year was a cat blanket that has a cat face on the hood and two places for you to put your hands to move the paws. Yeah, it’s made for kids but it’s warm and cuddly and I use it around the house all the time. Plus, it is black and white–the colors of my cat Nicki.)

Gifts no Martian can do without.

Gifts no Martian can do without.

The hat is already a hit. I wore it yesterday when we hiked with our bike club in the morning and I got a ton of compliments on it. I wore it while we ran errands and people commented on it as much the Santa purse I carry around during this time of year (which I got on our 2012 visit to Frankenmuth). We signed up at a new gym and the lady at the front desk even insisted I keep it on for my ID photo. I’m so glad that people appreciate my out-of-the-box style… It often reminds me how fun it is to be an adult–where people appreciate individuality–as opposed to high school where everyone is forced to fit in. I love that I can be myself these days and receive complements rather than insults.

Anyway, this Christmas season seemed to fly by. I think it had to do with Thanksgiving being so late in the month. But I had fun and we accomplished everything we set out to do. We 10 different kinds of cookies this year and I’m proud to say that I finally got press cookies to work. I also used the rolling pin I got last year to make springerle cookies–they came out great and both tasted and looked good! We had a week of 6 parties in a row and I attended all but one because I had a 24-hour flu (or something) that made me feel miserable for a bit.

We’ve had a great year and I’m looking forward to what 2014 brings…