2011- in review

Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Ah, 2011. A year that was good to me, that kicked me around, that in the end felt just a bit static. Onward to 2012 and all it may hold, I say. But for now, here's a look back at all that was 2011.

January: I shared beauty tips and explain how to get the perfect blowout.

February: We all know there are lions and tigers and bears out in the woods. (Okay, maybe just bears.) But back in February, I could have sworn things of more magical nature were lurking out there too.

March: Birthday month. Which always seems to evoke worry. And where there's worry, there's plenty of cathartic knitting. 

Winter 2011 knitting project

April: The garden began. I got some nice recognition for my writing. (Hooray!)

May: I managed a quick getaway to Chicago with my friend Sarah before heading back to full time work at the museum. 
At a White Sox/Twins game

June: Juggled the "back to work" balancing act. 


I caught a fish!
Crafting weekend came north!

August: I decided to put everything I saw into jars.  I mean, everything.

September: While the garden grew and grew, the forest decided to catch on fire.

Wedding apparel!
October: I found writing encouragement in an unexpected place and explained the cyclical nature of seasonal employment.
Smokey Bear Jack-O-Lantern happened

November: A month filled with bounty of venison.

December: There was a murder, ice, and a bit of Christmas cheer.
The murder scene
What was your favorite 2011 memory? Share it in the comments below.

Note: I'm still caught up in holiday hoopla. I'll be back in earnest come January 2nd. Until, then, a happiest new year to all of you! Cheers to 2012!
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Holidays Done Right

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Solstice everyone! Not sure we're going to get any sunlight today on this shortest day of the year, but it does look like a very blue sky is trying to peep out from behind some dramatic grey, purple, and pink clouds. Today we have just over 8 hours of daylight; about 9.5 hours of visible light. Although we will start gaining daylight by just seconds starting tomorrow, it's always nice to make it over the hump.

After I get a few more hours of work in today, I'll be hitting the hot and dusty (or should I say, the curvy and icy) and heading into town for the night. Tomorrow, I'll accompany my parents to Chicagoland, where we'll be spending a week with my paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We'll be meeting up with my brother and his girlfriend while we're down there as well. On the return trip, I'll be dropped off for another crafting extravaganza. I won't be back to the cabin until the new year!

Andy is understandable somewhat miffed by all of this, but someone's got to stay home to watch the cabin and make some money. ;) And before you feel too bad for Andy, keep in mind that his mom'll be up to spend the holiday with him and he has family gatherings to attend. He will be fine. I think.. . . There is plenty of food in the freezer, so hopefully he won't spend too many nights eating his bachelor standby: cold refried beans smeared on an unheated tortilla.

There have been lots of posts on the blogsphere lately about trying to find Christmas tree, so I thought I'd focus this post on some of the positive aspects of the holidays. Here are a few things I'm glad I've done so far this holiday season:

Bought local gifts. I always have good intentions of buying my presents locally. Then when push comes to shove, I inevitably end up buying all my presents from Amazon. (It's so easy!) But this past Friday, I spent some time downtown and finished up my Christmas shopping in town. Not all my presents were bought locally, mind you, but it did feel good to know that some of my Christmas dollars were going to cycle right back through my community.  

Made holiday cookies in limited quantities. Everyone loves a treat. But ubiquitous Christmas cookies just tend to make people ill, and eventually, after all that sugar's worn off, downright grumpy. This year's Christmas cookie baking has been limited to the cookie baking extravaganza with my mom's family (and the majority of those cookies were donated to a community cookie sale) and one batch of Danish puff. My waistline thanks me.

Stayed focused.  This holiday season, I kept my head down and kept working. I banked hours, I got things done ahead of time. It really wasn't fun. But it means that I can leave for the next week and a half and not worry about not working. I've earned my holiday this year and won't experience a dip in income over the holidays. *whew!*

Family time. I have not spent a Christmas with my father's family since 2005. My grandparents are in their 80s. That means Christmases to come are probably finite. Since I am able to, it feels like the right thing to spend the holidays with them. 

Come what may. Earlier in the month, I just wasn't feeling the Christmas cheer.But rather than let the calendar dictate my feelings, I waited to go through the Christmas decorations until I was actually interested in rooting through the box and decorating the cabin. We got the tree later than usual, but we were both ready to have a tree by the time it did go up. The holidays have unfolded naturally which made it all a little less stressful. Now I'm ready (I think!) to be full of cheer and goodwill to men.

What things are you glad you did this holiday season?
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O' Christmas Tree

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We finally got our Christmas tree this weekend. I'd like to tell you how we tramped out into the woods on Saturday morning through the freshly fallen snow in search of the perfect tree. How we paused to make snow angels. How we hemmed and hawed over which tree to bring home. How a spontaneous snowball fight broke out.

In truth, we looked at exactly one tree - which from a distance looked pretty but ended up being a spruce tree and spruce trees, in my honest opinion, smell like cat piss - before settling on the balsam fir that's currently in the living room. The entire process of getting out of the truck, selecting the tree, chopping down the tree, and throwing it into the pick up bed took approximately 4 minutes.

I explained to Andy that our Christmas tree reconnaissance was going to look kind of half-assed on the blog. "Hey, we got an awesome tree," he said.

It's true.

This year we opted for a vertical, slim tree, rather than a short and squat tree. The slender tree takes up no more space than the chair that was sitting in its place. It's nice to have the twinkly lights and sparkle of the tree without having the tree take over the room. We aren't constantly bumping into tree branches and that seems to be keeping the ubiquitous balsam needles at bay as well, at least for now.

I have no desire to having a "matchy" or "elegant" Christmas tree. My mismatch of ornaments and Christmas decorations come from all sorts of stages in my life. We don't have a whole lot of homemade ornaments, which I suppose is indicative of the fact that we have no children (our own or nieces or nephews) in our lives. We have just a handful of homemade decorations:

My aunt made this little bell out of a teeny flower pot back in 1994. I know that, because "Ada '94" is written on the top of it. For a while, my aunt painted flower pots of all sizes to sell for supplemental income. The small business never really took off. I wonder where she'd go with an Etsy account . . .

Here's a "Tantalizer" circa 1970 via 2011 New Year's Crafting weekend. It is hideous. Therefore, I chose to display it as prominently as possible.
The vast majority of ornaments on the tree are mine. But Andy made this painted globe back in the day. The picture doesn't do it justice, but it really is quite pretty.

The most ornaments on the tree are Hallmark ornaments. That's because my grandmother is a Hallmark fanatic - we're talking like Hallmark Club card holding fanatic. It just isn't Christmas until you've gotten this year's ornament from Gramma.

As you might guess, through the last 25 Christmases, I've amassed quite a collection. These are some of my favorites:

Madame Alexander Irish Dancer. I got this either the Christmas before or the Christmas after I spent a semester in western Ireland.
I'm not sure when I got this little angel, but she reminds me so much of all the Sunday school Christmas pageants I was in. In fact, when you press her halo, she recites a Bible verse my mother said I once read during a pageant. I don't remember.

I got this little suitcase the Christmas during my six months living and working in London. My real life suitcase is almost identical to this ornament, right down to all the bulges!
This isn't a Hallmark ornament - it came from Harrod's Christmas World display. I picked it up during my time in London. Harrod's is well known for its teddy bears so a Christmas tree ornament that featured a teddy bear and the Harrod's green doorman outfit was just too much to resist.

Andy's declared this year's tree the prettiest Christmas tree that's ever been in the cabin. I've only seen two Christmas trees in the cabin - this year's and last year's- but if those are indeed the only two trees that have graced the cabin's living space then yes, I totally agree. Prettiest Christmas tree ever.

Is your Christmas tree up? What are some of your favorite ornaments? 

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Broken Snow Globe

Monday, December 19, 2011

In the days leading up to the Christmas holiday, the very time of the year when we're told to be of good cheer and spread peace on earth, the snow globe our little community supposedly exists in broke. On Thursday afternoon, there was a shooting at the local courthouse. The shooting comes as a stark contrast to how our community projects itself to the world. Nestled between deep forest and the shores of the Lake Superior, our community is marketed shamelessly as "the nearest slice of heaven", the idyllic community where you can escape the stress, bustle, and madness of your everyday existence.

But for the last few days, our small community has been an epicenter of madness. Within moments of the shooting, the area news crews were in transient to town. Just three hours after the shooting, googling "Cook County courthouse shooting" resulted in 156 news stories. For a county with just over 5000 year-round residents, 156 of anything is a lot.

In a nutshell, here's what happened: On Monday last week, the local courthouse began a jury trial of a man accused of criminal sexual conduct against three teenage girls. The county attorney was prosecuting. The charges were first made back in 2006 and 2007, but because the accused first entered into an Alford plea which he then retracted, the trial finally happened some 4-5 years after the fact. On Thursday, shortly after 4 p.m., the jury found him guilty. 

This is when the questions begin. Did the accused have the gun when the verdict was read? Did he go out to his vehicle when he was getting his supposed "breath of air" after the verdict was read and retrieve the weapon then? We don't know.

We do know that shortly after the verdict was read, the accused (and now suspect) shoot both a subpoenaed witness and the county attorney. In the ensuing struggle to restrain the man, a few others were bruised and injured. The man was eventually placed in custody. Everyone is expected to make a full recovery. 

Although it appears the event was saved from the true tragedy of death, this is still a traumatic event that will have far reaching effects. No doubt, this will effect victims of the original case, the accused/shooter, the shooting victims, and anyone in anyway involved with the aftermath of shooting. Beyond those immediately affected will be the family and friends of those involved. Ripples of this event will be felt through the entire community. I suspect many courthouse employees will struggle to return to work tomorrow, the first day the courthouse will be open since the shooting.

In this small community, everyone's paths crisscross and tangle. As evidence of just how close knit our community is, my uncle was called for jury duty for this trial but was not sat because of upcoming medical procedures he needs to attend to.

Now that the details of what exactly happened have been hammered out, I believe the community will long be stuck on these questions: How could this happen here? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?

Violence springs from many places: oppression, depression, desperation, madness, just to name a few. A dialogue focused only on pointing fingers will get us nowhere if we're to make progress with understanding this crime. Should there have been metal detectors in the courthouse? Probably.  Could the case have been handled in a way that reduced the bad feelings that sprang forth? Maybe. Probably not. 

We can't change the violence that happened. But we owe it to everyone in the community to enter into a dialogue about our community's attitude towards violence. We can no longer cover our ears and act as though bad things don't occur here. Violence does occur here.

This snow globe's not going to be glued back together anytime soon. For now, we must stride boldly out of the broken bubble to work towards changing the courthouse's safety precautions, better educating our community about the realities of violence, and taking care of all those hurt and affected by last week's event.

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On Being Calm

Thursday, December 15, 2011
Things have been hectic around here lately. Here's part of the reason for the slight madness: my Star Trib article which went live online yesterday afternoon and is in today's paper in the Taste section. Check it out; even if my fish lineage is kind of shady as one commenter so kindly pointed out.

I've just survived another deadline week. Actually, it was more like a deadline fortnight this go 'round. But I can't fall into my usual post-deadline protocol. (Aka, slack off until the next assignments roll in.) While I did sigh a big sigh of relief when the last assignment went flying out of my outbox yesterday morning, there's still plenty to do  I'm headed out of town next week for the holidays and won't be back for a week and a half. That long absence means blog posts and commentaries need to be written ahead of time and some work hours need to be banked.

I'm often told how calm I look. I'm not quite sure where this misinterpretation springs from, but you know the whole thing about not judging a book by its front cover. I think that's what's going on here.

I may look serene on the outside (Really? Really?) but inside I'm more often than not a pile of nerves. I like to put my head down on my pillow at night and stew for a good half hour on all the things I need to get done. I think it's a family trait. Perhaps because we're a rather quiet bunch (at least when in public) we're mistaken for being cool, calm and collected. Only we know we're really stressed out nut jobs with high blood pressure issues.

So while it is a weight off my shoulders to have those articles written and invoices in the mail (Maybe there will be Christmas in Whoville after all. . .;) the fact that I no longer have deadlines hovering over my head like a piano means I can turn my scrambling thoughts to such things as: actually buying Christmas presents, putting up the decorations, packing, and maybe writing one blog post this month that's filled with coherent thoughts. (Haha.) 

Maybe, just maybe, one of these days, I'll feel . . . calm: cool, calm, and collected.

I'll get back to you in January on that.

Anyone else tasting that holiday stress yet?
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Wordless Wednesday: Cabin Fever?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I'd say there's no explanation, but perhaps the fact that we're rapidly approaching the shortest day of the year is explanation enough.

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Elves, elves, everywhere!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011
I have further excuse for giving "Holiday Season 2011"  a squinty, slightly cynical "grain of salt" once over.

At the annual cookie bake this past Friday, my mom lent me a copy of David Sedaris's Holidays on Ice. The collection includes Sedaris's now infamous "Santaland Diaries," which chronicles the Christmas season he spent working at Macy's, along with several other holiday essays and short stories. 

Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you live in a cabin in the middle of the woods, far removed from the onslaught of CHRISTMAS! that television and other media spew out at America from about November 1st onward, reading David Sedaris is going to give you a slightly skewed perspective on the whole holiday season. Rather than focusing on the warm fuzziness that's meant to bond us all during these snowy, present filled days, Sedaris tends to highlight the strange (and often strained) absurdity that really makes the holidays a universal experience.  He is snarky, irreverent, and often downright ridiculous.

Since posting last week about this holiday season taking a little longer than usual to kick in for me, I've found many others who are feeling a little low on the Christmas cheer meter so far. (We must not be singing loud enough!) This most wonderful time of the year can bring about a lot of unique stress - presents and subsequent money worries, get-togethers, winter driving, balancing family time and work obligations - that doesn't happen any other time of the year. Keeping hold of the reigns of the holiday season is tricky, exhausting, and sometimes, just downright impossible.

So I posted the line from Elf that pays homage to "Santaland Diaries" on Facebook to see if anyone else was feeling rather Crumpet-ish. (Crumpet was Sedaris's elf name.)

Instead this happened:

An honest to goodness Elf quote off.

It reminds me of, what I personally think, is the wisest part of Sedaris's "Santaland Diaries", the part when he acknowledges just how alike all humans are:

All of the adults ask for a Gold Card or a BMW and they rock with laughter, thinking they are the first person brazen enough to request such pleasures.

Santa says, I'll see what I can do.

All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I'm afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.

But being alike isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, when it comes to Elf quote-offs, it can be downright comforting. 

What's your favorite holiday reading material? What's your favorite holiday movie? 
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Skating Through Life

Monday, December 12, 2011
Remember how I went on and on about how unusual it is to get good skating conditions around here? Disregard.

The center of the lake had been steadily freezing over last week and when Andy and I set out across the moon-soaked nightscape on Friday evening to investigate the ice's progress, we found a good 4 inches of ice out there. The MN DNR says 4" is safe for people and that's good enough for me! While I may skate on 1.5 inches in the bay, when ice is the only thing between me and a 70 ft drop to the bottom of the lake, I like to play by the rules. 

Christmas may come once a year, but skating conditions like this come about once a decade. This weekend's skating totally rivals skating on the Grand Marais harbor when I was six.
There's something wrong with Andy's skates

When we were out on the very clear ice, I said to Andy, "Wouldn't be crazy if we saw a fish?" So far I've found two. On a Saturday, I screeched to a halt when I spied a crappy lying on its side under the ice. Yes, a crappie. Then yesterday, I found this cisco. Andy acts like you see fish all the time like this, but I don't think so.

Truly, it was a weekend full of things to marvel at. One of those times, when you take a minute to pause and think, wow, this is pretty darn incredible, how lucky am I?

What did you get up to this weekend?
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Eggnog Pancakes: A Tutorial

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Things are feeling a little more festive around here lately. Still no tree or decorations up, but after Andy and I spent a good portion of yesterday reclaiming the kitchen, living room, and bathroom from the ever encroaching clutter and filth, I'm actually able to envision how a tree just might fit into the cabin.

I realized one reason it's been hard to think of Christmas as being just around the corner is the fact that we've been firmly rooted in "deer season" for so very long now. On Thursday night, we finally finished making venison sausage - a double batch of chorizo and like a quadruple batch of wild rice sausage, which I think is this year's winner in the sausage taste test. Now that the chest freezer is filled with 60+ lbs of processed venison, I can officially take off my butcher hat and pull on my Santa hat.

So we're making little steps towards the holiday season. One giant leap towards downright festiveness came when I made a batch of these yesterday morning:

That's right, eggnog pancakes. Mmmm, noggy goodness. I've mentioned these pancakes before, back in the blog's infancy, but good things are worth repeating and this time I'm actually going to show you how to make them.

Before you all go eggnog hating on me, let me say,  I'm not a huge eggnog fan either. A small glass of it once a year is plenty for me. However, I really enjoy the faint eggnogy, nutmegy flavor the eggnog gives these pancakes. Of course, adding eggnog to pancakes makes these probably the most ridiculously fattening holiday treat you could cook up. (But see, I used light eggnog - health food!)

Eggnog Pancakes

1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
3/4 cup eggnog (you can use light)
1/4 - 1/2 cup milk
3 Tbsp melted butter

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, eggnog, 1/4 cup milk, and butter. Combine dry and wet ingredients until just blended. Be carefully not to overmix: some lumps may remain- don't worry about them!  If batter seems too thick, add more milk until desired consistency is achieved. (I prefer my pancakes quite thin, so I end up adding the whole 1/2 cup of milk.) Drop batter in large spoonfuls on heated, grease griddle. Cook until bubbles form and bottom is golden brown, then flip. Cook on other side until golden brown. Serve warm with real maple syrup. Merry Christmas! 

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Ding-Dong Merrily

Wednesday, December 7, 2011
There's eggnog in the fridge and a Christmas card on the shelf. 
There are presents in the making and budgets to be kept. 
Yet despite the cold, the darkness and the snow,
this Advent season is quickly ticking by and I've nothing to show. 

Lately, the blogosphere has been filled with merry posts about holiday decorating, holiday baking, and kids in Santa hats. It's lovely and it's fun, but it's making me feel like this:

Because this is how far I've got with my holiday decorating so far:
1) Open closet door
2) Pull down holiday decoration container
3) Shut closet door.
4) Open container.
5) Throw autumn/Halloween decorations into container.
6) Walk away.

And mind you, this happened a week ago. I have not walked back yet. The container is still sitting there in the corner, although I did move it farther out of sight this morning so I'd stop feeling so guilty about it.

It was pretty common place during my childhood for our Christmas tree and decorations to go up the day after Thanksgiving. However, Andy prefers we wait a little longer than that and considering the finite amount of space in the cabin and  my finite tolerance for Christmas trees weeping balsam needles all over the floor, the wait makes sense. So maybe a tree this weekend. Maybe.

To be honest, things are kind of a beautiful disaster at the moment. I'm up to my ears in deadlines and freelance projects. The house is such a disgusting pit that we try to intercept any visitors (namely, the UPS man) on the deck before they can catch a glimpse inside. We are still processing that frackin' deer.  (Don't worry, it's been frozen, we're just in the midst of round 2 of the sausage making.)

And my attempt to call off Christmas? Foiled. Foiled completely, my friends. After making my very mature and very important announcements that I was not doing presents nor Christmas cards this year, (Sorry guys. Sorry USPS) Andy started dogearing catalogs (I'm taking creative license with this fact) and then just this evening suggested that perhaps we should . . . send Christmas cards this year.

I'm off to get myself one strong glass of eggnog . . .  

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Murderous Good Fun

Monday, December 5, 2011
As seems to be the norm anymore, we spent the weekend away from the cabin. On Friday morning, we all schlepped south to the metro. Andy had family gatherings to attend. I had a murder planned for Saturday night.

Since college graduation (which she did a year ahead of schedule because she's obnoxious like that), my friend Sarah's been working some pretty crazy hours as a public accountant. We're talking 70-80 hour work weeks on average and if that's not cause enough to go mildly homicidal, I'm not sure what is. We all know the true test of friendship, right? A friend helps you move. A good friend helps you move a body.

But back in April, right before we took on the Windy City together, Sarah got a new job, one with "I can still lead a human life" hours. So in celebration of all sorts of things - birthdays, friends and time to enjoy both - Sarah decided to throw a murder mystery dinner party before the holidays really set in.

When I've tried to explain what a "mystery in a box" dinner party was over the last couple months, I've been greeted with a lot of blank stares.  For whatever reason, despite never having attended such a party, I was familiar with the concept. Too much time spent reading mail-order catalogs as a child, I guess. If you're not familiar, the basic premise is that all the dinner guests play characters who have all been at the scene of murder which happened right before the game begins. All the characters have a motive for killing the imaginary murder victim, but only one character's actually committed the crime. Over the course of the dinner, clues are revealed until finally the (predetermined) murderer is discovered. It's like a live action game of Clue.

If you've seen Sarah's house, you know she has a bit of a passion for Asian decor. Naturally, she selected a murder mystery set in 1910 Hong Kong.  This was a great idea for several reasons. It requires very little decoration other than popping together and stringing some paper lanterns. Also, Chinese food is easy to produce in mass quantities. It did however mean that we - Sarah, her high school friend Kristen, and I - spent all of Saturday morning constructing a kimono for Sarah. (We mixed and matched Asian cultures a bit - the night ended with a cake shaped like sushi which another friend brought and was delicious.)

Two signs a party's bound to succeed? Sake and drink umbrellas.

Dinner table set for twelve guests.
A break between rounds.
The happy hostesses.
I found my dress on etsy. It's kimono inspired, but in no way Hong Kong 1910 - more Thailand 2011, I'd say. But hey, if I'm going to shell out my hard-earned money, it's going to be on something I'm going to wear again. I know Sarah feels the same way. Pretty sure she's going to be a geisha for like the next ten Halloweens.

In the end, I wasn't the actual character who committed the murder (whew!) and a pretty fantastic time was had by all. All our prep work in the kitchen in the early afternoon really paid off when it came to get the dinner courses out and although no one took the game to seriously (case in point, one of the guys did the entire game in a German accent when a Chinese accent alluded him) everyone played along and enjoyed the ridiculousness of it all. Murder's never been so fun. 

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Ice, ice baby

Thursday, December 1, 2011
There are some days that you wait for all year long. Days you wait all year for even though sometimes those days never come.

This time of year, when temperatures are really cooling down and we're settling into the winter months, we hold our breath, wondering if this will be the year we'll be able to skate on the frozen lake.

Ice is finicky stuff. While it's guaranteed that at some point soon the lake will completely freeze over, transforming our backyard into a highway for snowmobilers, skiers, and ice fisherman, how that ice - which in some spots will be two-three feet thick by the end of winter -- will form is determined by the weather.

Just because there's ice doesn't mean there's skating. If it snows while the ice is forming, the snow pushes the ice down, allowing lake water to come up over the ice and creating slush which freezes into bumpy, yucky, un-skateable stuff. If the wind blows while the ice is forming, it can push the ice up on itself and create ridges. Again, not great for skating. When it comes right down with it, smooth, skatable ice is a pretty rare occasion.

But we haven't gotten any snow since Saturday's six inches and as the temperatures drop lower and lower with little to no wind, things are looking pretty promising for skating this year. In fact, last night Andy and I ventured out on the bay. There's still open water outside of the bay and there was just about an inch and a half near the shore: enough to support us as long as we didn't stand too close together. (Ideally you want at least three inches of ice before going out on it. . . Do as I say, not as I do ;)

I stayed very close to shore when I was skating: only going out so far that I would only fall up to my waist if I were to go through. If the snow stays at bay, we could be skating on the entire lake by the end of the weekend. How cool would it be to skating on the same territory we were boating on just a couple months ago?

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