Thursday, February 26

Val's Vitamin Scarves

Local resident and artist Val Sheekey is one of those women who makes me wonder how does she do it all? "It all" being an eclectic mix of creative, productive and volunteer work. She creates and sells a variety of handcrafts, including stained glass, metal work, and knit pieces. With her husband, Ray, she raises chickens and sheep; they garden; they rent out a rustic little cabin on their riverfront property. And Val is an active volunteer in the community, giving countless hours to VCARS victim's assistance program and the Canadian Mental Heath Association, just to name a few.

It's no surprise, then, that Val brings her sense of community and giving on her travels, too. Ray and Val spend their winters in Mexico but they don't do the tourist beat. Sometimes they pick coffee beans or help an innkeeper prepare and serve dinners; and they give in ways they can.

One of Val's initiatives is to provide vitamins for children and families living in the poor neighbourhoods near the fishing village where she and Ray spend the winter.
Val raises money for the vitamins by knitting and selling scarves here at home. Last year she raised over $800.

Here's an excerpt from an email newsletter Val sends out from San Blas, Mexico:
"Last Thursday I delivered the vitamins. I went with a woman who didn't speak any English. We went into the poorest area of San Blas and it was pretty upsetting. I came home feeling pretty depressed. It felt like such a drop in the bucket. I said to Ray, You know how you complain that our couch is too low? Never do that again. Not one of the houses I saw even had a couch. They didn't even have doors on the houses. I'm thinking about it and trying to come up with a plan to do more."
Jim and I are trying to help by making Val's Vitamin Scarves available for guests to buy here at the inn. Val hand-knits them herself in a variety of gorgeous colours and lengths. They sell for $10 each, with all proceeds going towards the vitamins.

We hope you'll consider taking one home after your next visit to the inn. Not only do they support a good cause, they are beautiful, soft and quintessentially Canadian.

Another tidbit of information about Val and Ray... chances are high you'll meet their cat (actually, Val always refers to him as "Ray's cat") during a winter visit here at Fern Glen Inn. Kitty, aka Titou, graces us with his presence while his people are in the sunny south. He often entertains guests with his tail-chasing antics, but he rules our dog with an iron paw.

Tuesday, February 24

The Many Moods of Winter

Here we are, over three months into winter with very likely another four to five weeks of it still to go, and I am continually amazed at the variety of weather one season can bring. The word 'winter' is clearly an umbrella term that covers all sorts of conditions to suit all sorts of activities and moods.

Take for instance the deep, fluffy powder we get during a cold, snowy spell. Even with snowshoes on we sink knee-deep in it. Or a warmer, snowy spell that leaves every trunk, branch and bough frosted in marshmallowy mounds.

Sometimes the snow floats gently from the sky in big, lazy flakes. Other times it's heavy enough to take down fully grown trees. That's about the same time that we haul out the ladder and Jim climbs up to the roof and shovels some snow off the Coach House.

We even have the occasional,
deceptively-spring-like day of rain, which compresses the snow but doesn't melt it all away. We always look forward to the inevitable re-freeze after a rain shower. The compacted snow hardens into a smooth shell over the land. While this makes snowshoeing somewhat less challenging, it's absolutely perfect for flying down our toboggan hill.

There's something to enjoy with every mood of winter.

Tuesday, February 10

What to Wear for Dog Sledding and other Winter Activities

I like to say there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. There's nothing like a brisk winter day to prove this adage true. If you dress to stay warm and dry, you can have a great time outdoors in just about any weather.

The challenge for many visitors to the near north is knowing what kind of clothing will do the job. The good news is it's not very complicated.

Dog sledding and other winter activities often have you exerting yourself in fluctuating levels of intensity. For instance, when it's your turn to sit in the sled, you can get cold since you're not moving, but when it's your turn to 'mush' you can work up a sweat. Likewise with snowshoeing, tobogganing and winter hiking, you heat up on the uphills but cool down quickly on level ground or when you stop to take photos. For these reasons, try to wear layers that you can easily take off to cool down and put back on to warm up.

If possible, avoid 100% cotton clothes, especially for the layers next to your skin. Because cotton is very absorbent, it will hold moisture when you perspire, making you feel damp, clammy and susceptible to cold. Better choices are wool, silk and synthetic materials designed to wick moisture away from your body.

For the upper body, a good combination of layers is:
  • long sleeve shirt (of two if light)
  • fleece or wool sweater (one that zips up is best so you can unzip it to cool down a bit without taking the whole thing off, but a pull-over will work)
  • winter coat with a water-resistant outer fabric
For the lower body, a good combination of layers is:
  • longjohns or tights made of silk or a wicking synthetic material
  • snow pants (if you don't have snow pants, wear a combination of fleece or warm pants with a top shell that is water- and wind-resistant)
For your feet:
  • wool socks are highly recommended; don't wear 100% cotton socks as your feet will/may sweat which will lead to them getting cold very quickly
  • warm winter boots, ideally ones that go up past your ankle and have an insulation liner inside (go for warmth and functionality over fashion!)
For your head and hands:
  • hat
  • scarf or neck warmer
  • warm gloves; bring mittens to wear over your gloves when you're sitting in the sled
Other stuff you may want with you out on the trail:
  • for dog sledding, you may wish to bring a blanket or an old sleeping bag to sit on or under when riding in the sled
  • a bottle of water or a thermos of tea, light snacks
  • kleenex/tissue (there are no indoor facilities on the trails)
  • sunglasses to cut the snow glare, lint-free cloth
  • don't forget your camera!
One of my favourite stores in Toronto for outdoor gear is Mountain Equipment Co-op. They have a great selection of silk and synthetic long underwear and long-sleeve undershirts, fleece garments and specialized footwear. You can also find plenty of choices at department stores, Canadian Tire, Mark's Work Wearhouse, and any outfitter stores, especially those in and around Huntsville. For boots, if you don't want to get too high-end just yet, you can usually find good value at our local Canadian Tire store.

Don't let my list intimidate you. If all you have is cotton, wear cotton. But if you plan to do some shopping to build up your outdoor-adventure wardrobe, then try to stick with the alternative fabrics I mentioned. And you don't have to rush out and buy everything at once. You can always add a new piece or two every year. Quality gear will last you for years. You can haul out your winter adventure wardrobe when the snow starts flying and enjoy getting outdoors and active no matter what mother nature throws your way!