It's 9:00 a.m Saturday December 23rd and the rental van is finally loaded. We are lucky and have enough room left to stuff Alan into the rear seat. He has his Gameboy and new games at the ready so the only thing he cares about is that he has enough room to sit down. That is about all the room that is left. We opened about half of the gifts last night so that we wouldn't have to carry them with us. It is a good thing. Amber, and Gwen's mom, Artilla, have staked out a claim on the center seat. Gwen is riding shotgun and Marshall is at the wheel.
As we leave Maple Grove the roads are wet with melted salty snow. All the vehicles on the road are turning that beautiful shade of Minnesota grey. We are carrying extra wiper fluid, good to 25 below zero without freezing, to keep the windshield clean. Marshall just loves driving under these conditions. Clean the windshield, peer through the slush until you can't see, clean the windshield, repeat. We go east, cross the Mississippi River, turn north up Interstate Highway 35 and then east on highway 8 headed for Taylor's Falls on the St. Croix River.
We cross into Wisconsin, the land of cheese, and the roads are dry with light fluffy snow falling. The view is beautiful. Evergreens coated in snow. Deadfall coated in snow. Fields full of snow. Everything is a glitter. Gwen tells me she loves me. We drive along leisurely and enjoy the sights. In Ladysmith we stop for a lunch of pizza, soup, and salad. Eastward into north/central Wisconsin we go.
The snow is getting deeper now. We are looking for River Road and Palmquist Farm. We are checking out every sign. Obviously we need better spotters because we manage to miss the road. We stop at a desolate gas station and ask directions. A local is headed back that direction and offers to lead our lost butts back to the correct road. He tells us that when he turns south we should turn north. We do as instructed and try and figure out how in the heck we missed all those signs saying "River Road" and "Palmquist Farm". Oh well, we are on the right track now. We turn into the farm and Gwen tells me she really loves me now.
This is a working farm with horses, cows and tourists. I'm sure that the horses and cows are much easier to deal with than we tourists are. We check in with our Finnish hosts, Jim and Helen Palmquist and go down to our "cabin". I'm going back home and pack. So what if it's a four hour commute. I'm moving in. What a beautiful cabin. Pine ceilings, natural wood staircases, a huge fireplace, and a loft. This place is great! This is the Maki house and you couldn't ask for anything more. What rustic charm this place has. Gwen says she loves me more.
Artilla and Gwen come in from checking the place out. Artilla is dressed in black from head to toe and all you can see is her eyes. Marshall tells her that she looks like some kind of ninja or something. She retorts that if she had a gun she might just take to robbing the place. The snow makes Artilla feisty.
We go to the dining room for a dinner of walleye, beef ribs, potatoes, sugar peas, tossed salad, milk, coffee and more. They feed you like kings and queens here and you don't even have to clean up after your self. Gwen and Artilla both love Marshall. There are three other families here, too. We retire to the cabin for some cards, reading and fireplace watching. We are not bothered with TV's or radios; it is nice and quiet except for the crackle of the fireplace. We head for bed. Marshall cracks the bedroom window to cool things down.
Sunday morning, Christmas eve, we wake up at 7:00 and stoke the fire. Gwen threw on a log or two during the night so we still have coals. It's a dang good thing because we have no matches and none of us smoke anymore. It's a cool, crisp 5 degrees outside. We head for the dining room and have a breakfast of oven pancakes, 7 grain cereal, yogurt, sausage, homemade bread and more.
Alan and Marshall decide to brave the wilds and tackle some cross-country skiing. Alan has been once before on a school field trip. Marshall has done a fair amount of downhill skiing in Wyoming, Montana and Canada but he has never tried cross-country skiing. Jim took us out and set us up with gear. At the farm they have an agricultural program where kids from Europe come and work at the farm for a year and then take a 6 month course at the University of Minnesota. Helen lines up Yelena, a girl from Slovokia, to go with us and give us some pointers. She has been in the states for two months but speaks very good English. She did and excellent job of teaching Marshall the basics of cross-country. We did 2-3 miles through the woods. It was really quiet and peaceful except for some heavy breathing going on. Alan was off in a flash and the other two only caught up with him twice. He stopped and waited then. An hour of skiing is hard on the old guy, considering that he is a computer jockey and hasn't gotten out much in the last 6 months. We finish off with a trek over the sled hill and believe it or not Marshall makes it down without busting his butt. Yelena was great. She brought us back in one piece and a fair bit wiser.
Artilla and Gwen had gone into Tomahawk to run a few errands. We messed around for a bit and then headed up for lunch. Beef barley soup, sandwiches on homemade bread with homemade mustard, hot apple cider and cookies. Jim and Helen are both gracious hosts and make the lunch a real pleasure.
Alan and Marshall head off to flounder around on skis a bit more while Gwen and Artilla try out some snow shoeing. Amber is running around with a pair of twin girls her age. They are Katie and Olivia from St. Louis and the three of them manage to entertain themselves quite well. What is nice about the farm is that you don't have to worry about the kids because everyone watches out for them and you are a heck of a long way from anywhere. After playing for a while we rest a bit.
Then it's sleigh time! Jack and George, 2 beautiful Belgian work horses, pull a wooden open sleigh with 2 young men from Hungary at the reigns. This is where these guys get to practice there English. They are a blast and more than eager any kind of conversation. In a 2 horse open sleigh we head out across the fields for the woods. It is cold! The wind is blowing a bit but we are sitting in hay and covered with blankets and animal hides and we are bundled up nice and snug.
This is a dream that Artilla has had since she was a little girl, a long, long time ago. We all snuggle in and enjoy the ride. We glide through the woods on a wonderful ride. We come out the other side, pass through a gate and cross another field. We stop here and feed the deer. They are everywhere! Amber wants to know if we can come back here next year. I guess she is enjoying herself even though she is curled up in Poppa Marshall's armpit trying to stay warm. There are troughs and the guys pour them full of feed. There are several really pretty bucks mixed in but they are really skittish. We enjoy the show and take some photos. We then head further into the woods until we reach the buffalo, or should I say bison? Just as we reach them a bald eagle flew off across the way. What a sight! It is getting colder out so we head back through the woods and across the fields. What a great ride. We went in and played some more cards and waited for more food. Gwen, Artilla and Amber love Marshall.
We had a traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner of Norwegian meatballs, baked cod, rutabagas, cucumber salad, green salad and more. There is plentiful milk, water and coffee at each meal. We had dessert and then headed back to the cabin. Along the way I could see Orion laying on his side low in the eastern sky. There was not a cloud in the sky.
We got back to the cabin and finished off the gifts. This way the kids could play with their goodies and would be ready to go out and play in the morning. There were toys for the kids, bird feeders for Marshall and Artilla, and a decorative lamp for Gwen. There were also bracelets for all of the ladies. We kicked back, played cards, read and died. Gwen tells Marshall she is falling in love with him all over again.
Christmas morning we wake to a brisk 26 below zero. Of course no one knows this until we get to breakfast because that's where all the thermometers are and also all the links to the outside world. By breakfast time it is up to a mere 14 below. As we walk to breakfast Artilla comments that it fells warmer today than it did yesterday. I think that the lack of wind has something to do with that. She will not believe that it is 14 below until we show her the thermometer. Suddenly she's cold! We pig out on fruit, muffins, eggs and bacon mixed, blueberry crisp and more.
Amber decides that she needs to see what this skiing stuff is all about and we get her outfitted. You need to know that Amber is 9 and is not the most enthusiastic outdoorsman that you will ever met. In fact she and Poppa Marshall came to an understanding several years ago. He doesn't ask her to go hiking with him, he instead asks her if she would like to go for a walk. Even a looonnnggggg walk is ok but hiking is out. Marshall and Amber haven't been hiking since but they have sure covered some ground! Poppa Marshall then takes her and Alan on a 3 plus mile jaunt through the woods while Artilla and Gwen opt for the snow shoes again. Amber is amazing. She is a real trooper and doesn't complain too much. THAT was highly unusual. She was actually enjoying herself. Alan is a natural and is now running on his skis! He runs up steep hills just so he can ski back down again. He is having a ball. Alan loves Poppa Marshall. I can't wait to get him out west on some downhill skis and some real "hills". We get back in about and hour and a half.
Gwen and Artilla had braved the great north woods. No, they did not find Paul Bunyan. He was over in Bemidji, MinneSnowta. They came in shortly after we did and they are in hysterical laughter. It seems that Artilla fell in the snow and Gwen wouldn't help her up until she got a picture. In fact she didn't even ask if her mom was ok or not. She told to stay there until she got a picture. Then when she was trying to help Artilla up, down too so they were both wallowing around in the snow trying to get up. help Artilla That would have been a sight to see! Gwen and Artilla love Marshall. We then had to go eat more food. This was getting to be a real chore. I don't think that I'm up to it but I give it a try. Fresh bread, sloppy Joes, sliced cheese, sliced apples, molasses cookies, potato soup and, oh God, more. I think I'll go find a quiet place to lay down and die. A snow bank might be nice. They tell me that freezing to death is very peaceful.
Now Gwen wants to go skiing so we get her outfitted and head out. Marshall thinks they are trying to kill him for the insurance money so they can stay here forever. Gwen does well and we ski out a mile and a half or so and turn around. She is not ready for the big hills. Gwen does great but I do manage to get too far back on my skis once and fall flat on my back. The only problem with that is that my skis are under me and your feet are strapped in and nothing gives. The ankles take a bit of a beating since they can't come out of the shoes but they manage to hold up even though they are a bit sore. Ouch! We get back in one piece and Marshall decides that Alan and he need to try a little snow shoeing.
Gwen and Artilla join in and we find some knee deep stuff to blaze a trail through. It's rough on the first guy, easier on the second and the back guys have a nice packed trail to walk on. We get some pictures down by an old barn and head back. It's time for showers and a little rest. We hang out and wait for more food. I'm beginning to know how Pavlov's dog felt. Ham, turkey, potatoes, peas and carrots, and more.
Amber, Katie and Olivia go night skiing. There is a nice trail that is lit up with Christmas lights. The girls go round and round and round. The old folks, and yes, Marshall is feeling older by the minute, watch the fireplace, play some cards and suffer none too quietly. Amber and the girls from St. Louis decide they want to get up early and go skiing tomorrow before breakfast. Amazing!
They actually all get up this morning and go skiing before breakfast. We have created ski monsters. We chow down on Finnish pancakes, sausage, fruit, cereal, and more. We pack up the van with the snow gently falling and roll it back to the Twin Cities; a perfect way to end a Christmas trip. Everybody loves Marshall!
~ The End ~