North Shore Life | December and New Beginnings

Since moving to Minnesota’s North Shore I’ve had people ask what it’s really like to live here year-round. In this month-by-month journal, I take you through the full year to give you a glimpse of What it’s Really Like.

Greetings, Northern ones.

This has been a year. I think that goes without saying.

We’ve all felt the joys and sorrows of a year where it felt like the earth was moving beneath our feet. I don’t know anyone who’s come out of this year unchanged, who hasn’t had some of their share of sorrows and struggles.

I also don’t know anyone who hasn’t grown and strengthened magnificently this year.

Brule River, MN
Brule River, Judge C.R. Magney State Park

This has been a huge year of change in my writing life. I started writing for a local magazine and have been a steady contributer there for a year. I’ve been learning a lot about writing and blogging, and am looking forward to applying that knowledge in 2019.

2018 was also Northern Word’s best year to date, which is all due to you! Thank you for your continued readership and thoughtful comments. It’s connecting with you guys that means everything. <3

Moving to Grand Marais

December on the North Shore

December came with dark skies, warm temperatures, and concluded with a massive two-foot snowfall, the likes of which I haven’t seen in eight years.

I felt a certain kinship with the darkness of this December. Cook County–with its proximity to Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters Wilderness–has some of the darkest skies around (heck, we’re even home to our own Dark Skies Festival). In December, when the sun sets just after 4 p.m., that darkness is felt acutely.

Moving to Northern Minnesota

This year, though, the darkness didn’t bother me. In fact, the soft light during the day and being driven indoors at night was something I cherished, the dawn of winter at the solstice was something I treasured.

We need the play and carefree love of summer. But we also need the mystery and depth and beauty of winter.

This setting of snow-drenched pines, sled dogs, wood stoves, and northern lights is the place I love and have always longed for. The Lake mist that billow miles into the sky, Orion shining from the heavens, and a silence of such depth it shocks people who haven’t been here: this is what I’m made of. This is my home.

Gunflint Trail Winter
My daily drive

I get asked if the winters up here are miserable. It’s only miserable if you make it that way. If you want it to be magic, darling, it’s pure magic.

The magic is why I’ve chosen to live here. It’s why I’ve chosen to set my upcoming books here. It’s everything that we need in life: a power that connects us to the most necessary things and heals us from the draining distractions.

New Year, New Word

In the tradition of choosing a word for the year, last year I chose the word wolves. Somewhat abstract, somewhat searching, my word culminated in actually seeing a wolf toward the end of the year. But more importantly, they symbolize the North, and hardiness, and the ability to withstand wind and hail and chill and still come out fighting in the end.

I needed their ethereal, fighting spirit last year.

This year, my word is fearless. It wasn’t so much a conscience choice as an inevitability. The word popped into my head, and didn’t leave. It chose me, so to speak.

It embodies the concepts of being fearless in life.

Being fearless in my writing.

Being fearless in my desire to travel again.

Being fearless in the necessity to build a more whole and healthy life.

2019 is a time for ambition, for chance, for trying. For being fearless.

2019-01-04 (1)

Changes Coming to NorthernWords

As part of a growing effort to work on my writing, 2019 will be bringing some changes to NorthernWords. As I focus more on my writing and traveling, this will continue to be the home for my literary and deliberate living ventures.

You may notice an email newsletter beginning, which will include more personal updates to my most devoted readers.

Keep your eyes peeled for potential videos as well (more on that later!).

Meanwhile, while I’ve written in the past about spiritual topics, that won’t be as much of a focus here anymore. My faith-based writings can be found on Nomadic GraceI may update that from time to time this year, so follow that blog if you wish to stay tuned with my faith journey. Otherwise, stick around for talk about books, travel, and wilderness living.

Lake Superior ice

December Book Love

What have I been reading during these long nights? Check out this month’s book recommendations:


No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty

Ever head of NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month was started by Chris Baty, and this book details his process for completing a novel in a month. It’s a fun and funny guide to the month of mad drafting, and would be helpful for first-timers and those wishing to get back into their writing habit alike. His casual tone is quite accessible and makes writing a novel seem less daunting.

Includes an entire page on the wonders of coffee.


The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader is a quietly powerful little book which observes the character of Michael Berg. As a teenager, Michael had a relationship with Hanna Schmitz. Later as a college student, he comes across Hanna in a courtroom as she is being tried for war crimes committed when she was a guard at Auschwitz.

The writing style is simple and beautiful: there are few characters and there’s little direct dialogue. I appreciated how this book gently explored the relationship between ignorance and violence.


Woman of the Boundary Waters by Justine Kerfoot

Somewhat of a legend in northern Minnesota, Justine Kerfoot wrote this memoir about moving to the end of the Gunflint Trail after college to help with her mother’s resort, the Gunflint Lodge. She ended up staying in the area for her entire life, learning everything there is to know about the wilderness, survival, and running a business in a remote and sometimes harsh area.

I loved this book because it showed how the Gunflint Region has evolved through the years, from the time when there was still a fur trade, to the first party-line telephones coming to the Gunflint, and onward.

I loved reading about Kerfoot’s adventures, such as the time she and a friend went on a multi-day dogsled trip to visit a friend on another lake, camping out in small huts and withstanding freezing temperatures. Or reading about the time she shot a moose, or how they built their own cabins.

For someone who loves both learning about this area and reading about strong, competent, and independent women, this one was a winner.


That’s all for now, folks. I wish you all a powerful beginning to the new year!

What are you hoping to accomplish this year? Have you picked a word for 2019?


14 thoughts on “North Shore Life | December and New Beginnings

  1. The picture of your daily drive gave me the heebee-jeebees, as I don’t consider myself a courageous winter-time driver. But, I understand your desire to be connected to the most necessary things and stay away from the things that drain. Time spent in nature seems “real” to me, more real than the world of my day-job, if that makes sense.

    1. That makes perfect sense, and I hope you can enjoy some quality nature time this week.

      While I don’t think twice about driving in the snow, Lake Superior loves to make freezing rain, and still find it harrowing to drive in that!

  2. I enjoyed your pics and descriptions of winter in northern Minnesota. It takes me back to past Winters in Montana where people share a kinship with others living in the northern latitudes. I like your use of the word fearless, a strong and inspiring word. This year I am focusing on three words: faith, family, and health. I hope that I remain fearless in staying focused on these three compasses in my life.

    1. Those are all great things to focus on! I’m glad you liked the pictures, and you’re right that winter does inspire that camaraderie among people who experience its power. Thank you!

  3. After thinking about it, my word for this year is “joyful”. I read that happiness depends on circumstances, but joy can be found even in not-so-good circumstances. (This is for Rae.)

  4. I loved reading your experience of living on the north shore, especially in winter! My wife and I hope to move up there (because the magic) so I’m eager for any transplant experiences like yours. 🙂

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