Sunday, 31 December 2006

The Gifts of The Season

As I look outside, just after Christmas, I realize what a huge gift it is to have even a small amount of snow. Most of the state survived the brown Christmas (although some were grumpy, I've been told), while we are blessed with just enough to make it white outside my window. Six to seven inches of snow looks and feels like a lot when there is none everywhere else. Some folks have taken the skis out, and have gone on the Lonely Lake trail, or some of the other trails. While it isn't the best skiing, it is still skiing---it is being out there on those two boards, sliding and moving along. That is good.

Sledding, too, has been possible. Our hill doesn't require much snow, as it is nicely clear of rocks and roots. Addie actually started the sledding season a couple of weeks ago, pulling out her favorite Torpedo, and carving a run down the hill. More folks have been sledding since then, and now it is nicely packed, and lots of fun.

Saturday night, we went to Okontoe and had a sleigh ride, another gift of the season of winter. Just enough snow for the Belgian horses and sleigh, just enough cold weather to keep that snow from melting and crusting up, and more than enough stars for us to enjoy in the sky while we glided along. Songs and carols filled the night as our able drivers steered the horses along the lantern-lit trail. Afterwards, it was time for the wonderful hot chocolate that only the Patten family can make that good, served inside their warm, cozy log cabin. Rosy cheeks, steaming cocoa, and lots of laughs and chatter filled the room.

On Christmas Eve morning, a Sunday this year, Greg, Paul, Addie and I were driving in to church. Four miles from home, two deer ran across the trail in front of us. This is a very common sight now, as the deer seem to have spread out their territory. But another animal sighting just a bit further along was a new one for me. Two otters were beginning to make their way across the road, until we came along and interrupted them. The first one continued on its way, leaping and hopping, as they do, then wiggled its way up the hill on the other side. The second one was scared back a bit, and stayed put. I like to think that the two caught up to each other a few minutes after we passed. The only water in the area was from the two swamps on either side of the road. Loon Lake was the nearest "big water", so I surmised that the pair was on a holiday sojourn to visit someone.

Early on Christmas morning, Greg went out the back door to retrieve something from his truck. He was greeted by our neighborhood fox, who had come by for his own gift. We had left out some food destined for the compost pile, and the fox wasn't content to wait for it to get there. Instead, he was helping himself to it, right from the stainless steel bowl. This fox is quite tame, and he must have thought that we had put out a dish full of food just for him. Greg said that he looked like he was trying to take the whole bowl away with him to stash somewhere. Not wanting to lose our bowl, Greg brought it inside to loosen up the remaining frozen food to toss back out to the fox. Mr. (or Mrs.?) Fox patiently waited until he tossed the chunk out the door, happily scooped it up in its mouth and headed off into the woods.

Finally, a long awaited moment arrived-----the lake froze Christmas night, and we think that it may stay frozen this time. A few days ago, it was ice-covered in the morning, with what seemed to be a fragile and tentative covering. It held until the next morning, when the wind came up and tore it to pieces, opening up a large lead on the Canadian side, and clearing all of the ice at the west end of the lake. The temperatures were climbing and the wind was blowing, so no ice was forming. That night, though, the thermometer started to head in the right direction, the wind calmed, and the lake started to make those wonderful ice-making noises---groans, squeaks, and grunts. In the morning, we could see that the open water was again covered, and we are hopeful that it will stay that way, and make more ice. Greg ventured down near shore, and he thought that it looked to be about two inches. We'll listen for more sounds tonight, and if it continues to talk to us, it may mean that we could try some ice skating after more cold days and nights. We are always very cautious, however, when it comes to being out on the ice. We wait and wait and wait until we are satisfied that the ice is thick enough and safe enough.

The best gift this season? Celebrating Grandma Peggy's 94th birthday, a few days before Christmas. Grandma has been living in the Care Center in Grand Marais, for a little over a year now. It is a wonderful place to live, with many caring staff members, ongoing activities, and plenty of action. During the day, Grandma's favorite spot to be is in the main room, sitting in an easy chair next to the aviary. As she has all her life wherever she lived, Grandma enjoys watching the birds, and saying hello to all of the folks who pass by. We are all blessed to have Peggy.

We would like to wish everyone a very Happy New Year. May this new year bring good health and hope to all. Thank you for all that you do for us and for being a part of our lives.

Thursday, 28 December 2006


Fresh air and exercise were the order of the day today. Get the kids out before they drive me totally insane. After all we haven't been out for a while. "We went out on Christmas Eve," they cried. Well that was ages ago!

So we got out the Jarrold Exmoor walks book to see where we haven't been before. Walk No 1 - Parracombe. That's not too far away, Blackmoor Gate, turn towards Lynmouth then left for about a mile. The book said 'short easy walk, some farm lanes may be muddy.' No worries, it's a nice day and a little bit of mud never hurt anyone.

Well for a mile and a half of the walk we were having a great time. The sun was shining, sheep were frolicking in the fields, the paths were easy to follow and only a little bit squishy underfoot, there were even a few tiny streams to wade through.

Then we hit the path from hell. Mud almost up to our knees and no other way through. We tried climbing the top of the hedge but that only got us so far. Children wailed, got stuck, fell down, became entangled in prickly brambles and had to be carried. But fear not, by the time we'd reached the hole in the hedge which let us into the adjacent field we were all laughing about it; which was a good job because the farmer in the farm at the end of the lane was laughing even harder when we got there.

Just to give you an idea - this was the last photo I took before my camera battery gave out. We had fun but this a walk best attempted in the summer.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

Christmas House

Christmas wouldn't be complete without a visit to this house. Somewhere in between Bickington and Instow on the old Barnstaple road this house is now so famous and so popular around here that the police put cones along the roads nearby to stop people parking in front of it. When we arrived there were already at least thirty people stood around. The photo really doesn't do it justice.

At the back of his house (I'm sorry I don't know the man's name) his garage is also as well decorated and full of animated snowmen, Father Christmas's and reindeer. People who visit are encouraged to donate money, all of which goes to charity - usually the Devon Air Ambulance. In the last four years he has raised over �16,000.

My children were fascinated and didn't want to leave. The only thing that eventually got them home was the thought of checking the NORAD website to see whereabouts Santa had got to. As I write he is currently in Italy - nearly here!

Pizza Hut

After our walk we went straight to Pizza Hut in Barnstaple. This is the third year in a row on Christmas Eve. It seems to be turning into a tradition. My motto is - keep them out of the house for as long as possible. Plus if I don't have to cook I don't have to clean afterwards either. The service is fairly crap but we were in no rush. The food was acceptable and they didn't moan too much when I said 'no ice cream' so that was a bonus.

Baggy Point

Travel through Croyde and out the other side and you will find directions to Baggy Point. A narrow country lane takes you to the National Trust car park and from there you can follow the signs to a path that takes you along the very edge of the cliff for 1 mile to the aforementioned point.

It was a bracing walk today and the fear of loosing one or more children off the edge of the cliff into the freezing seas far below was a much more effective hangover cure than the traditional hair of the dog. The walk is circular and coming back we took the route that was less hazardous, across the hills.

I have spent many hours at Baggy watching my husband and others climb the cliff. I've even had a go myself. It's a beautiful place, but you might prefer it when the skies are bluer and the sun more than just a distant memory.

The Park Hotel

It's party time! We came here last night for a lovely three course meal and some dancing afterwards, but there are plenty of places around to chose from. This is owned by the Brends, and there are four other Brend hotels in North Devon. The food was very yummy, the disco good fun, and it set Christmas weekend off just right.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Atlantic Village

It's been a while since I've had anything to report. When winter hits North Devon we tend to hide indoors. Plus the looming presence of Christmas forces the inevitability of hitting the shops and drives everything else from the mind (or at least one as tiny as mine!) So today I dragged my three children around Atlantic Village, a small outlet centre just outside Bideford on the A39.

There are really only a handful of shops, but if these are the shops you like then it's worth coming here to get the discount off the high street prices. There are several clothes and lingere shops - Select, Pilot, Kangeroo Poo, Salt Rock, to name but a few. There are also camping type shops, a toyshop, a bookshop, and - this is quite important - a Cadbury's shop!!! There are a few cafe's too. At the moment there is an ice rink, although only plastic ice, not the sort of ice you can actually go fast on.

Tagged on to the side of the Atlantic Village is an attration for children called Atlantis. A rather tempting looking pirate ship is the first thing you see on approaching the complex. But the last time we attempted to go in it was rather expensive, and we ended up not bothering. They charge prices comparable with the Big Sheep, which is only just down the road, for something which is only a fraction of the size.

So in conclusion, go for the cheap shopping, but if you want to entertain the kids, the Big Sheep is better. I bought a last few bits and pieces this afternoon and have now nearly finished! Yippee! When do the Sales start?

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

A Rare New Year's Eve Vacancy

Though I try not to advertise too much on my blog, I am making an exception today. I wanted to let you know that we have a rare opening for New Year's Eve this year. I say "rare", because someone once told me that they heard that if you wanted to get in to Heston's on that particular holiday, you had to wait for somebody to die! Most fortunately, that is not the case this time. Rather, our longtime friends and guests, Eric and Caroline, have moved on to new adventures in Washington, and won't be joining us this year. They have been coming up for over twenty years! It is very hard to say good-bye, and we will definitely miss them around our table.

As a result, we have an opening in our cabin Tamarack. It is a three-bedroom cabin with full kitchen, bath, and fireplace/woodstove in the living room. It is one of our vintage cabins, because we think that it was built in the late 1920's. It is a log cabin in the wonderful old tradition.
Speaking of traditions, we are planning a community dinner on New Year's Eve, here at the lodge. Greek food, a la Northwoods style, is on the menu, and we invite all of our cabin folks to join us as our guests. Most likely the bread oven will be fired up to help us out in the cooking tasks. After dinner, we will have some various musical events here in the lodge, and we usually have a bonfire at midnight. It is a wonderful evening, and you are welcome to join us for all or part of it.
Call us with any questions that you might have. We are asking for a three-night minimum for that weekend. We look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, 3 December 2006

Instant Winter---Just Add Snow

Wooo--hooo! Six and a half inches of snow...and suddenly it's winter! We rose early yesterday morning to make the drive down the Trail for the annual Northwoods Fiber Arts Holiday Sale. Addie and I were scheduled to run the project table, and we both had a few items that we wanted to put into the sale. It was snowing lightly when we left at 7:30, and about two inches were already on the ground. It continued to snow, and by the time we reached the Lullaby Creek area, things were getting pretty thick on the road. Two plows passed us, headed up the trail, so I knew that I would have better driving on the way home. It took us an hour and twenty-five minutes to make it in, and by then it was snowing really hard. I was bummed, because it looked like it must be lake effect snow, and I figured that we probably weren't getting the same at home.

The sale went well, despite the fact that it continued to snow all day. I saw a few trail folks, and Barb Young from Boundary Country Trekking told me that they had received several inches on Poplar Lake. My hopes rose a bit, and once we were finished with our errands, we headed up the big hill. It was just like driving into a snow globe. I told the kids that it felt like someone had shaken up our little globe, and plop, a bunch of snow kept falling (like way more than those globes can ever hold!). The driving was still soupy, as the plows were done and back to town before the snow quit. It continued to snow after we got home, and now everything is white and fresh, and the tree branches are laden. I love instant winter. I especially love instant winter when it isn't in the forecast, and even after we have three inches on the ground, they are still predicting flurries and one inch.

The temperature this morning was about 4 degrees when I got up. The lake was again steaming, as it had a few days ago. Magnetic Lake is frozen, and one of the bays at the west end of the lake is frozen, also. The cold temperatures that are predicted for the upcoming week should go a long way toward continuing the cool down process necessary for the lake to freeze. Both Greg and I could hear ice-making noises the other day, so it is coming along.

On Wednesday, Greg and I were gingerly driving in to Grand Marais to take care of errands. I say gingerly, because on Tuesday, we had had a spell of rain, with the temp hovering right around thirty-two. He was driving, and keeping a close eye on the road right in front of the car. I happened to look up from my knitting just at the right moment, and further ahead on the trail, I saw an animal cross the road that I couldn't immediately identify. But my mind quickly put the clues together---longer back legs than front legs, no tail---and I realized that it was a lynx. Greg slowed down when we got to the crossing spot, but the lynx must have blended in immediately, because we couldn't see any sign of it.

Now that winter is back, we hope to be hearing and seeing the wolves again soon. I saw one cross the road last week near Poplar Lake. That was exciting, but not nearly as much as seeing them here on Gunflint Lake. I'll be writing again about our encounters with them, so stay tuned.