Stabbing the Haggis in Duluth

The stabbing of the Haggis.

Long-time readers of my blog may recall that I identify with my Scottish heritage. I had a chance to celebrate that recently by attending Robert Burns Night, which was organized by the Duluth Scottish Heritage Association (DSHA).

Robert Burns is a well-know historic Scottish poet. If you’ve ever sung Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, you have him to thank. His birthday is recognized on January 25 by Scots, rather in the tradition of Christ’s birth on December 25 by parts of the world, if you’ll permit me a bit of sacrilege.

Scottish dancing lassies doing the sword dance.

The celebration was held at a historic club downtown. This was not my first Robert Burns Night. My mother took me to one held at the university many years ago. Then last year, Russ and I ordered a takeout Robert Burns dinner from the club since there was no gathering due to the pandemic. That “dinner” fed us for four days! It featured neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), haggis (more about that later), black pudding (blood sausage), Scotch eggs (hard-boiled eggs wrapped in sausage meat, breaded and fried), and trifle for dessert (a decadent concoction of cake cubes layered between berries, pears, and vanilla pudding mixed with whipped cream).

Attendance was larger than usual for Burns Night this year because it was the first time in three years it had been held in person. One-hundred-and-sixty of us gathered in kilts and clan scarves to listen to bagpipes and watch Scottish dancers.

After that came the formal part of the program, which included 4 toasts of scotch: One to “the immortal memory of Robert Burns,” one to the president, one to the king, and one in Gaelic.

Then came the star of the show, the Haggis. This traditional dish takes minced sheep heart, liver, and lungs, and mixes it with oatmeal, suet and spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander, plus salt, pepper and stock. The mixture is boiled in a bag, usually made from a sheep’s stomach.  We love it. I’d say it tastes like a chunky beef barley stew.

The Haggis is paraded into the hall by the chef and a whisky bearer, led by a piper in formality that would border on the absurd if it weren’t Robert Burns Night. Once the Haggis was settled up front, one of the DSHA members recited Burns’s “Address to the Haggis,” which involved stabbing it with a large knife and inhaling its pungent vapors.

Make way for the Haggis!

After that, a local reverend offered grace and a piper in the rafters played “Amazing Grace.” Then we dispersed to seven clan rooms. Each featured different foods to sample and memorabilia specific to each clan. One room featured scotch. I was disappointed at the lack of trifle this year, but our enterprising friends found dessert bars on a different floor.

After much eating and conversation, a ceilidh dance was held in a large lounge room. Even though I’ve been to a ceilidh before, it wasn’t until that night that I learned (from overhearing a conversation) that ceilidh means “party” or “social visit.” We danced and listened to Scottish music performed by a live band.

We were sated and pleasantly tired from dancing once the evening ended. We felt like we’d been on a trip to Scotland without leaving the comfort of our own city. If you ever have the chance to attend Robert Burns Night, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s a spectacle, indeed.

Connecting Through Writing

I once planted poems throughout my town (Duluth, MN) when I contributed to a Local Free Poetry project. Our poet laureate at the time scattered hard copies of poems by local poets in area businesses. I submitted four poems. One of them was entitled, “Perfunctory Kisses.” The short (8-line) poem detailed how I dislike kisses that don’t mean anything. I might want to publish it somewhere in the future, so I won’t share the whole thing here, but just let me say that the first line is: Perfunctory kisses suck.

I know, not exactly subtle, but I like my poetry to be accessible. 😊

Last summer, I received an email through my author website from a woman who lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She said my poem captivated her when she found it. She used it as a reading at her recent wedding – her groom read it to her before they exchanged vows.

“Your short poem offered a sharp and punchy contrast to some of the more traditional readings of the ceremony,” she said. “We heard gasps of delight as the first line was read aloud. Let’s say, it was well received, as we knew it would be.” She ended with, “Thanks for your contribution to making our ceremony unique and memorable.”

Receiving her note made my day, my year! I’m tickled and honored that my poem landed on fertile ground and was used in such a personal way.

After my book launch this winter for “Meander North,” I heard from our friend, Sailor Dave, who connected with one of the stories I read about bunnies. Unlike with my poem, you can read this one because the book is made up from posts from this blog. (Seeing Rabbits) It explores the thought that rabbits might be guardians of our sleep.

Dave lives in a tiny house at a local marina. He said, “I wanted to tell you that I had a “pandemic bunny” living under my house last winter, too. When listening to Marie read the story, I was anticipating a dark turn, with Russ finding a great “New York Times” rabbit stew recipe that he was dying to try. Of course, it took a more spiritual turn and I found myself wondering if my rabbit would return. I did leave veggies out now and then. And there were baby bunnies in the spring. After our last snow, I spotted fresh bunny tracks around the house. My guardian bunny has returned! Probably under the house right now, waiting for me to go to sleep.”

Then there was a note I received through my website right after Christmas. A reader from Marshall, Minnesota, thanked me for writing my first novel, “Eye of the Wolf,” which deals with the wolves on Isle Royale National Park. He said it was, “An enjoyable foray into their lives and possibilities.”

Since my novel is rather old now (12 years), I asked him where he found it and he said it was in the library there. I let him know that there’s a sequel (“Plover Landing”), which he also ended up reading, and appreciated. I planted those copies in the town when I participated in a local arts board event years ago. So nice to learn they also found fertile ground!

I love these connections and I love it when readers take the time to send me their comments.

Russ and I were just listening to the latest episode of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” show. Author George Saunders (“Lincoln in the Bardo”) was on it. During his interview he offered this thought on how to define a literary work: “Anything that connects people in a way that’s deeper than the usual way – habitual way we connect. That can be seen as literature.”

I’d also posit that literature connects through space and time. The good books will resonate into the future and across geography. I’m not really saying that my writing is great literature, but I’m always trying and am heartened by these little successes.

Morning Fog

A morning fog descended upon our cabin deep in the north woods, outlining the barren trees with frost. The birds stilled. The sun pushed through, a white disc more like the moon. I walked the wide road, a witness.

Ringing in the New Year in an Historic Inn

The Rittenhouse Inn, Bayfield, Wisconsin.

For the end of 2022, Russ and I meandered over to Bayfield, Wisconsin, to stay at the Rittenhouse Inn. If you’ve ever been to Bayfield, you’ve seen the place: a huge maroon-red mansion on the left side of the main street as you head toward Lake Superior in this northern town.

This was Russ’s first stay at the inn and my fourth, but it had been years since I’d been there. For my birthday last spring, Russ gave me the choice of two local trips, and this was the one I chose. So, we combined two occasions into one: my birthday and New Year’s Eve.

Built in 1890, the Rittenhouse is a Queen Anne Victorian home. It’s one of three properties in Bayfield owned by Mary and Jerry Phillips. But it was the first one they purchased, back in 1973. Check out their website (link in the first sentence of this post) to learn more.

The Christmas tree at the Rittenhouse Inn.

We checked in on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve and had just enough time to change into clothing befitting a six-course dinner at the Inn’s Landmark Restaurant, which is on the first floor of the inn. Our room was on the third floor in Suite #10. This was originally the home’s ballroom. I got a glimpse of it during a tour on one of my first stays at the inn and was impressed by its spaciousness, double-sided fireplace, and view of the lake. I vowed to stay there one day.

Descending the floors on the stunning cherry staircase in my emerald-green velvet dress, I felt like I belonged to the place. Russ looked dapper in his khakis and pressed blue and white shirt. We were seated by the hostess in one of three rooms used for dining. There’s a green room, a red room, and a blue. We were shown to the red room, which features ornate wallpaper, lavish holiday decorations, and a fireplace. Actually, all the dining rooms feature that, just in different colors!

The special New Year’s dinner featured an appetizer (I had mussels in cream sauce), soup (I had oyster soup – sense a theme here?), salad (kale and pomegranate in the shape of a wreath), a palate cleanser of cranberry sorbet, main course (champagne chicken), and dessert (crème brulee with whipped cream and blueberries). It also included a champagne cocktail with a sugar cube in the bottom of the glass and an orange peel curlicue.

The meal was exquisite. Although the portions were reasonable, I’m not used to that much food anymore and have since sworn off all multi-course dinners! But it made for a memorable and tasty evening.

Afterward, we retired to our room and played a rousing game of Mexican Train Dominoes (I won, as usual). We brought our own bottle of champagne and Chombard liqueur (raspberry). We mixed them together and rang in the New Year.

Some things have changed about the inn since my last stay. For instance, they no longer use real wood in their fireplaces. Instead, they offer those fake logs you can buy at the grocery store, which are easy to light. This was disappointing – I wanted the crackle of a real fire – but it was better than an electric fireplace.

The fireplace in our suite.

They also no longer recite the menu orally. This was a thing on my first visit in the 1990s. The waiters, who all seemed trained in voice or drama, would recite the menu options from memory, adding luscious words and embellishments – so many that it felt like you had eaten a meal by the time they completed voicing the options. That left a lasting impression on me and I discovered the instigator of that past practice was still working at the inn. We met him the next morning at breakfast (which is included in the cost of your room). His name is Lance and he’s worked at the inn since 1974, just a year after it opened.

When I bemoaned the lack of an oral menu, he admitted that the recitation was one of his schemes. I didn’t get to ask him what stopped the practice, but I suppose it was hard to keep up over time, especially if new hires didn’t have talents in those areas.

Not much was stirring in Bayfield on New Year’s Day. Russ and I walked down the main street (Rittenhouse Ave.) and only found one store open, besides the grocery store and coffee shop. But that one store was enough, because I found a birthday present for a friend of mine who was born on January 2. What an awful time to have a birthday! Everyone is “presented” out by then from Christmas. But this year, I revived my present-finding skills quickly, and acquired something I think my friend would like.

The inn’s restaurant was not going to be serving dinner that evening, and we were staying another night, so we asked around and found out which other places in town would be open. We had two options to choose from: a bar and a bistro. We chose the bistro.

But before dinner, we exercised off some of our six-course dinner and scrumptious breakfast calories by cross-country skiing at Mt. Ashawabay Ski Area just outside of town. Besides downhill runs, the ski area offers 40K of ski trails. Because I’m recovering from a broken ankle, we stuck to the easy trails. They were perfect, although the tracks were a bit icy and I could have used a warmer (sticker) wax. But we made of the best of it for 1-1/2 hrs, and I did not reinjure my ankle.

We skipped lunch, so were hungry once we returned to Bayfield. We ate at the bistro and spent our evening curled up by the (fake log) fireplace, reading. Heavenly! The next morning, we had another lovely Rittenhouse Inn breakfast and then headed home to Duluth.

I felt fortunate to have finally stayed in Suite #10 and to spend such a peaceful New Year’s in elegant surroundings. The Rittenhouse or one of its other properties are definitely the pinnacle of places to stay in Bayfield, should you ever have the chance.

The Bayfield waterfront, decorated for the season.

The Top Meanders of 2022

Mmmm, bison potroast from Owamni Restaurant.

Well, the tenth year of “Marie’s Meanderings” is wrapping up. I made up for a lack of meandering during the pandemic with many more travel posts than in the past few previous years. That made for fewer musings than usual and more practical information. So, it’s not surprising that this year’s most popular posts feature outings that Russ and I took. One was to the homestead of my father’s side of the family in central Minnesota, the other to a popular cross-county ski trail in northern Wisconsin, and the last to a new restaurant in Minneapolis.

Drumroll, please! Here are the top posts for 2022:

  1. A Family Tradition Returns – My father’s ancestors emigrated from Germany to Minnesota in the mid-1800s. Every two years, the descendants all gather in the town near the family farm for a picnic. This story is about the picnic and the family history. Several of my relatives helped with facts and photos, and they shared the post among the family, which I suspect accounts for its popularity.

  2. Superior Skiing – Chronicles our first cross-country ski outing in the Superior Municipal Forest. This city forest is one of the largest in the country and sports trails perfect for all levels of skiers. This post got shared among local skiers via social media, which accounts for its popularity.

  3. Owamni Restaurant: Celebrating Native American Cuisine – Russ and I were lucky enough to snag a chair (well, actually two chairs) for dinner at Owamni, a Minneapolis restaurant run by Chef Sean Sherman who wrote the “Sioux Chef” cookbook. This unique eatery specializes in precolonization food – natural foods that Natives ate before European colonization of the U.S.

Thank you for meandering with me for yet another year. I plan to keep writing whenever something of interest happens or meanders into my head. I’m working on getting a fiction book published, so my posts might be fewer than usual until I make headway with that, and then there’s this long fiction story I need to finish . . . but I will not abandon my blog!

Meander North with me

My and your favorite posts from the first nine years of this blog have been published in my book, “Meander North.” My 101-year-old aunt just read it and approves! She’s read a lot of books in her life, so her opinion counts. 🙂

You can purchase the book from Itasca Books. Just click on this link.

One of my writer friends wrote a thoughtful review of the book, in case my aunt isn’t enough to convince you.

St. Martin Island – the Finale

We are experiencing a blizzard right now in Minnesota. This seems like a good time to wrap up my posts about our wonderful, warm St. Martin Island trip. (To see previous ones about Loterie Farm, Fort Amsterdam, or Topper’s Rhum Distillery, please click on the embedded links.)

Cooling off in the ocean at the end of a trail ride at Seaside Nature Park in St. Martin.

Another memorable outing we did was a visit to the Seaside Nature Park for a horseback ride. Although this former plantation is a nature park, ironically, you have to pass through one of the islands power plants to get there — a rather disconcerting experience. Plus, Google Maps will misdirect you to a road that is not finished yet. We found our way by asking a guy along the road who happened to know. I would suggest calling the park for directions beforehand.

Once we arrived at the rustic reserve, we were introduced to our horses, who were all named after musicians. My horse was named Prince, then there was Electra, Madonna, and Freddie (Mercury). The park offers sunset champagne rides (2 hours) and just regular daytime trail rides (1 hour). After a butt-wrenching experience years ago in Puerto Rico riding a horse for two hours, I decided it was wiser for us to just do the one-hour ride for our inexperienced butts. It was just the right amount of time.

Our horses plodded along steep cliff faces with spectacular ocean views. Some of the horses were not too fond of each other, but we quickly learned which ones needed to avoid each other. A highlight was the end, where we rode our horses into the ocean to cool off after the ride. They enjoyed the saltwater dip so much, they groaned with each step! That was something to hear.

The water rose higher than we were expecting during this part of the ride. I thought maybe our calves would get wet, but we went deep enough that our butts (and saddles) got wet. I almost floated off my horse at one point, so a tip would be to bring towels along in the car so that you can use them to sit on for your car ride back to wherever you are staying.

Our guide took photos of us with my phone. I was glad my phone did not fall into the ocean! It was a memorable experience. We all walked sort of funny for a few steps after we got off our horses, but no lasting damage was done to our physiques.

I’ll share the last of my “good” images below and some other tips to help you navigate St. Martin that we learned along the way.

Pro Tips:

  • If you’re driving and someone blinks their headlights at you, that means “go ahead.” They are either letting you turn in front of them or some other friendly move.
  • If you happen to stay at the Divi Resort in Little Bay, a great place to snorkel is near the pelican nesting area. Currently, there’s a houseboat there and some buoys that mark a place where people (used to? Currently?) do those Sea Trek dive helmet excursions. The fish there are used to getting fed and will swarm around you near that site, even if you have nothing to feed them. We also saw a sea turtle and an octopus on our way from the resort to the buoys.
  • Iguanas will bite if they think your toe is food. Beware!

The infinity pool at Divi Little Bay Resort
Marie makes a rare appearance (twice) in her own blog. This is at Fort Amsterdam.
Sunset on Little Bay. Image by Garrett Maron.

Loterie Farm: Rustic Paradise

The view from Chewbaca Point on Loterie Farm, St. Martin.

Continuing my posts about the isle of St. Martin, I offer this one about Loterie Farm, a private nature reserve on the French side of the island. This was my second time at the farm, but a first for my traveling companions.

The Jungle Room

The other time I was there, I was initiated into ziplining. The farm has a course that takes you through the surrounding trees and hillsides. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the resident monkeys as you glide along. But since I’d already been there, done that, I and two others from our group decided to explore the farm’s hiking trails.

I admit to not doing much research on the trails beforehand. But I should have clued into the strenuousness of the hike from the switchbacks on the map, which we paid $10 for. (I advise just accessing the map on your phone from the farm’s website if you have coverage). The receptionist’s questions about whether we were wearing adequate footwear also should have been a big hint.

We each grabbed a cane stalk hiking stick from a box near the trailhead, which we were thankful for later. We took the short (60-minute) hike to a spring and then up to Chewbaca View Point.

The hike to the spring was easy, although the spring was not flowing when we were there in November. Then the trail headed up a mountain. There were parts where we Elders were scrambling over boulders, clinging to handholds as best we could. This is where we were very thankful for the hiking sticks.

But, the view from Chewbaca Point was worth it. We could see all the way to the ocean and many of the towns in between. We rested there and rehydrated. (Bring water!) The temps were about 85 degrees (F) and my tank top was totally soaked in sweat from the climb.

From the point, the trail descends back to the farm whence we came. Erosion caused gullies and tricky footing, but we went slow, and everyone made it back to the trailhead without mishap. Along the way, numerous green moths fluttered around us, making us feel like we were in a Disney movie or something.

The best mojito ever!

I should also mention that before our hike, we ate lunch at the farm’s Jungle Room Restaurant. It’s up among the treetops and features cozy couches for large groups and an area for sit-down dinners. The food was exquisite the first time I was there, and we certainly had a repeat performance. I had one of their poke bowls and Russ had the cajun Mahi Mahi salad (see image). Both were delectable, plus my mojito with fresh mint was the best I’ve ever had.

After our hike, we contemplated a plunge in the farm’s Jungle Pool, but we would have only had an hour to enjoy it, and the price tag didn’t seem worth it. So, we hung out at the bar while waiting for the rest of our crew to return from their activities. I ended up having one of their nonalcoholic mixed drinks – I think it had mango in it. So refreshing!

I find it ironic that I was able to complete our hike intact because when I returned home, I ended up breaking my ankle doing a simple side-shuffle exercise during a kickboxing workout. So, I sit here in my ankle boot, envious of my past flexibility and prowess on this adventure. Oh well. Go figure!

The cajun Mahi Mahi salad.