Ladytrippers, canoe trip
life in general, outdoor activities, publishing, travel, writing

Want to live longer? Make friends. Women friends.

“I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Yup. They’re beyond precious, my women friends. They’ve reveled in my joys, shared my adventures, and pulled me through my crises. I treasure every single one of them.

Istanbul, rakı
Members of my canoe group, the Ladytrippers, trekked to Istanbul while I lived there. Here we’re toasting their first taste of rakı, the Turkish anise-flavored liqueur.

As I enter this glorious final chapter of my life, I realize how very important friends are. In fact, it’s proven to be one of the factors contributing to long life. A 2006 study of 3000 nurses with breast cancer showed that those with close relationships were four times more likely to survive their cancer than those without close friends. Amazing.

Some friends come and go while others stay with us for years, but it’s clear that one of the best places you can put your energy is into developing and maintaining strong relationships.

I remember a day long ago when a woman I’d only just met came to my door with a fresh-baked breakfast cheescake. When I invited her in, she said, “As soon as I met you, I knew I wanted to be your friend.” Annie’s been my closest friend for 37 years. If you find yourself needing a good friend, try her technique. It sure worked for us.

friends, best friends
Annie and Ann Marie–friends for 37 years so far. Activity abounds in this relationship.

Are you shy? Hesitant to reach out? Give yourself a kick. Anyone can build friendships, but it takes some effort.. It’s never too late.

Revive connections with old schoolmates

If you’re active online, seek out old friends through facebook or Attend a reunion and make a point of renewing contact with someone you enjoy. At my 35th reunion I bonded with Deidre, a former acquaintance who had moved to Germany, and it turned out she and I had more than a high school crush in common. We’ve gotten together countless times between Germany and Turkey, and she’s broadened my life immeasurably.

Deidre and I dressed to celebrate the New Year in Turkey
Santa dancing with us
Deidre dances in the New Year with the Turks.

I also have a childhood friend who decided to organize a reunion of neighborhood playmates. Old bonds were instantly renewed, and the six of us fell into comfortable and caring talks about families, activities, aging, and ourselves. We six gather from around the country every few years to enjoy yet another Oak Knoll retreat.

The six Oak Knoll buddies pose at Sally’s house on our first reunion.
Sherwood reunion
A reunion gathering on Lake Superior’s North Shore (all but me–someone had to take the photo!)


Join a book group…or START one!Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 2.22.06 PM

Retired women have time to read, and we all enjoy re-viewing our lives through literature. My first book group lasted fifteen years, and I actually mourned its passing. We ranged in age from 30 to 70, and the cross-generational sharing created deep connections. I keep in contact with many of these women, and I’ve since joined another book group that is becoming as close as that one was. It takes time to build trust, but it’s a precious commodity worth the effort.


Pull together an activity group

If you like to hike, start a hiking group. If you like to travel, pull together people to share travel tales or even travel together. Ski? Bike? Swim? Whatever activity you enjoy can become the focus of a friendship-building group.

When I was in my 30’s with small children, my friend Susan suggested that we organize a women’s canoe trip. Susan and I were the only experienced canoeists, but our friends soldiered through learning to paddle and portage. Of course, the best part was non-stop talking for four days. After 25 years of wilderness trips with the same incredible women, our bonds are deep. Though our canoeing days are behind us, we still gather for an overnight retreat every year. 

Ladytrippers, canoe trip
The Ladytrippers, my canoe group, after a wet final day. We took a summer canoe trip every year for 25 years. Susan, the organizer, is bottom right.

Start a writing group

Writers often operate in a void, and writer’s groups are a way to connect. Though it may feel risky to to share your writing, there’s a payoff. I’ve found it to be a stimulating and supportive environment. I always leave my writing group filled to the brim. I admire every one of those women, and we celebrate each other’s accomplishments.

writing group
My writing group outside Kari Vick’s studio shop. These women motivate and support one another every month. I love it! (20 years and counting…)

If you’d like to start a writer’s group (or a book group), you might work through your local library. Attend writing conferences and suggest putting together a writers group, either in person or online.

Create a theater group

My parents were part of a play reading group when I was young, and they developed lifelong relationships with the couples who met to share a dinner and read a play every month. Another option is to find a person or group of people to attend theater events together.

Embrace a group at church

Attending church is both healthy and inspirational, and if you are an attender, take another step to involve yourself in a church group: a women’s guild, a governing board, or a discussion group.

Become a volunteer

Every community needs volunteers, and everyone has skills to share. You will surely build relationships through whatever service you take on. Think through what you care most about and offer to volunteer your time for that cause.

Take a class

If you like art, find a course through community education. If you’re interested in nature, find a biology course or project to involve yourself in. Not only will you build friendships, but you will also keep your brain alert and active.

Take Action Today

However you go about building stronger relationships, make a point of reaching out to really know the people you connect with. Ask about their lives, their families, and even their struggles. Be sure, too, to share your own stories. It’s amazing how much support we can offer each other once we open up. Women get it. (And some men do, too.)

color hike
A North Shore fall hike with good friends Annie, Thelma and Jeanne with all our doggie friends.


An earlier version of this article appeared on


outdoor activities, travel

Travel is so Broadening… in 10 ways

I recently returned from three weeks in Turkey. My heart was full, my mind replete with warm memories, and my computer teeming with new photos. The best part, though, was that my travel compatriots now love Turkey as much as I do.

It happens. Traveling to new places broadens who we are.

1. Build and strengthen friendships.

I knew most of the ten people in our tour group, but they didn’t know each other. By the end of our weeks together we were a cohesive, caring clan. Sharing unique experiences is a wonderful way to bond; whether old friends or new, traveling together builds relationships.

We ten--friends forever
You can tell we’re bonded both by our smiles and our “blue clothing” theme. Left to right: Me, Tom Olson, Tony Paulus, Jane Johnson, and Jane Hofkamp (light hair), Sue Nordman, Sally Nankivell, Marnie Paulus, Rondi Olson, and Jini Danfelt–friends all!

2. Challenge yourself

Some of us visit the same places year after year because they’re comfortable That’s fine. However, visiting a country with a different language and culture stretches you. It challenges every part of you—your senses, your palate, your ears, and even your sense of self. Waking to the Call to Prayer, so different from the loon calls of my northwoods home, warmed my heart each morning.

a coffee toast to ballooning
Some of our group took the plunge and hopped on an early morning balloon ride in Cappadocia. Jini toasts them with her morning Java.

3. Expand your knowledge

I was bored with history through school, yet when I visit a foreign country as an adult, I’m fascinated with the sequence of events that brought it to where it is. Turkey’s rich history, both political and religious, continues to spur my desire to learn more. After traveling I always come home eager to devour both historical fiction and non-fiction about the places I’ve seen.

ladies in the Turkish bath
A Turkish bath is DEFINITELY a new cultural experience, and we loved sharing the adventure. L to R: Sally Nankivell, me, Jini Danfelt, Jane Johnson, Rondi Olson

4. Experience new cuisines

Ah, the food! There’s something about new tastes that elivens the palate. From the döner of street vendors to the haute cuisine of the world-renowned Mikla Restaurant, my palate was tickled daily in Turkey. Breakfasts of tomatoes, cucumbers, dried fruit, bread, eggs, and olives greeted me each morning, and I blush to confess that I never left my plate with fewer than 20 olive pits. We experienced the unique cuisines of each region, always preceded by mezes (Turkish appetizers). One favorite dish was the testi kabob, a rich stew baked in a pottery jar that’s brought flaming to the table, then broken with a flourish by an enthusiastic waiter. And of course, the fish was not to be missed—grilled head-on, it required a bit of finesse to separate the flesh from the bones, but we were rewarded with the tantalizing flavors of fresh, light trout or sea bass.

fish lunch on the Galata Bridge
We happily indulged in a fabulous sea bass dinner on Istanbul’s Galata Bridge.

5. Learn about yourself

As you traverse a new country, you can’t help but push the limits of your abilities, both physical and emotional. You may find yourself conquering hills you would never have attempted, or foraging into buildings you might not have explored. You’ll be astonished at how well you can communicate with signs and pantomime. Your confidence increases along with your curiosity as you immerse yourself into new experiences.

We were definitely challenged by the rough terrain as we explored the ruins of Termessos on a mountaintop near Antalya (on the Mediterranean coast).

6. View the world through a new lens

I’m embarrassed that my country is so self-absorbed that we seldom know what’s going on outside our Western World. Shame on us. I love seeing the world through the lens of a different culture, viewing the advances and accomplishments of a smaller country and listening to their perspectives on America.

carpet shop
Nazmi Bey fascinated us all with information about Turkish carpets during our stay at his Bella Hotel in Selçuk.

7. Understand world politics

When I’m overseas I pay much more attention to international politics. Visiting a less-known destination helps dispel the myth that a few countries dominate the world. Each country plays a role, and each faces its own issues. Turkey currently struggles with the ever-increasing power of their president, and they’re beginning to kick back. I loved discussing this issue with the Turks; I have yet to meet anyone happy with the current situation.

Ataturk and me
There’s a major conflict between the liberal Kemalists and the current Islamist government in Turkey. Imagine our surprise at finding this cardboard version of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Turkey’s founder and hero of the liberals) waiting for photo ops in the Antalya Airport. Yup, that’s me beside him.

8. See your position in the world

Travel helps me realize how broad the world is, populated by people with varied lifestyles and experiences. When I volunteered in Ethiopia I was touched by the desperate need of people who still found it in their hearts to smile. In Turkey I was repeatedly helped by people who had no reason to care about my needs. I can’t help but realize my insignificance in this world of 7+ billion people, each one as important as I am. It brings to mind these lyrics from “The Galaxy Song” by Monty Python:

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,

How amazingly unlikely is your birth;

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere out in space,

‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth!

9. Spread the word

Because of your experiences, you’ll share insights and stories with friends. Of course you don’t want to bore them with a grocery list of events, but it’s fun to interject an anecdote about your first experience in a Turkish bath or your awe at the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Your stories can open the world to those less apt to tackle the adventures you’ve enjoyed.

fairy chimney cave hotel
Who wouldn’t be amazed at the Fairy Chimney homes of Cappadocia? This one has been converted into the Kelebek Hotel, probably my favorite hotel in the world (complete with resident pooch.)

And, last but not least, travel helps us…

10. Appreciate home!

I’m always glad to return home; being away makes me more thankful for my life in Minnesota. Though I left warm sunny days behind, I was undaunted at the ice still on our lake. I reveled in time with good friends and dove back into local activities. It’s the life I choose, the home I love, and the wilderness I occasionally leave to explore the world beyond.

You can read more about the Turkey tour on Ann Marie’s Istanbul.

This article first appeared on Sixty and Me:


outdoor activities

A Cheer-me-up Time Trial: BWAM!

It was the brain child of Energizer Bunny Dan Bale, our neighbor, who cajoled his wife Lynette, my husband Jerry and me into “mounting” the Ride of the Century…well, Ride of the Year. Ride of the Month? O.K. Ride of the weekend. It was fun, though: the First Annual BWAM Time Trial (BWAM: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon). A good time was had by all.

BWAM: Ladysmith, WI, Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
BWAM Course Map

The race was held on Saturday, November 12th, and mother nature blessed us with sunshine and relatively warm weather along Wisconsin’s Flambeau River, at least during the race.

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Race Master Dan Bale explains the rules to contestants with the Flambeau River behind him.

Dan and Jerry had laid out a 2.5 mile course through the woods of their adjacent river properties (as well as the nearby college property), a course that included two bridges, a log across the path (with a rubber duckie and a sign reminding racers to “DUCK”), and a skeleton to warn racers of Heartbreak Ridge, a steep curving ridge near the end of the race. Racers completed two laps and were required to ring a bell as they raced by the start/finish line on their first lap as well as at the finish.

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Heidi poses with the skeleton before Heartbreak Ridge

Seventeen racers completed the course, three women and fourteen men. In the women’s race, with a daunting field of three racers, Lisa finished first, surpassing race organizer Lynette Anderson by nearly a minute. Jan turned in a good time until she realized she’d missed one of the loops in the course. Oh, well!

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
The Mighty Women Racers of BWAM!
BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Lynette reaches for the bell at the finish line.

Frank Lowry, a veritable mountain bike animal, took first overall. (Local Boy Makes Good!)

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Frank Lowry, Overall Winner

Jon Lane, a Lakeside Racer from Excelsior, did an endo and face plant at the first bridge yet still finished second overall. Amazing!

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Jon flies through the gate for a photo finish!

The only other mishap was Jerry’s reconditioned mountain bike, which unhinged its seat about a third of the way into the first lap. He limped in carrying the seat, then—undaunted—repaired it and headed out to finish a lap. There were a few mis-steps in the race as well. Jan and John Z. skipped a short loop on one of their laps, and Bruce rode an additional short loop on the college property. He saw Jerry come through and just followed him. Honesty prevailed, though, and disqualified racers still received their awards.

Race timer Ann Marie Mershon (too fearful of the risks of woodland racing to participate as the only Virgin Rider*) was assisted by friends Diane and Tom to produce meticulous records of race times. Kudos to the wonders of iPad technology, which recorded each lap to the hundredth of a second.

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Timer Ann Marie Mershon clearly took the race seriously (assistants Tom and Diane on the deck.
BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Best-Dressed Racer, Micah Wilkes, poses beside his father Jerry, who was oblivious of his impending disaster.

No expenses were spared on this event. In addition to extensive publicity (e-mail and phone calls at a cost of $0), nearly $14 were spent at the local thrift stores on bibs (fashioned from old pillowcases) and fabulous prizes for each participant, ranging from Shawn’s Whoopie Cushion to stuffed animals and beer mugs. The grand winner, Frank Lowry, went home with a giant zucchini that had a first prize trophy embedded in it. Actually, he didn’t go home with it—he left it behind, along with his red jacket. We’re all getting just a little older and a little more forgetful. Life goes on.

And then there was the FOOD! Oh, my—It doesn’t get better than this event. Ever.

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Shad passes Micah on the turn behind Jerry’s pasture.


BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
Ted “Espresso” Siefkes flies past the skeleton toward Heartbreak Ridge on his fat bike.

In case you’re interested, here is a list of the official awards. Times are top secret.


Lisa Siefkes:    1st Place, Women—stuffed Bear in the Woods
Lynette Anderson:    Got Skunked Award—stuffed skunk
Jan Paulsen:    Shaky Memory Award (for missing a loop)—book “Improve Your Memory”

Frank Lowry:    1st Place overall (mountain bike)—giant zucchini with  imbedded trophy
Robert “Legs” Legler:    1st Place on a fat bike—Big Cahuna cigar and beer mug
John “JR” Lane:    Drown Your Sorrows Award (2nd place mountain bike)—beer glass
Shad “Diggit” Prinz:    Drown Your Sorrows Award (2nd place fat bike)—two beer mugs
Micah Wilkes:    Most Interesting Garb (tie-dyed t-shirt)—Hawaiian shirt
Josh Wilkes:    Turtle Award (raced on the heaviest fat bike in the race)—turtles, racing CD
Jerry Wilkes:    Biggest Whiner award (after his seat fell off)—a bottle of wine
Dan Bale:    Energizer Bunny Award—singing and dancing mechanical rabbit
Lake Marshall Bechtell III: Things Will Get Better (3rd place)—Pick Me Up pink water bottle
Bruce Larson: Most Lost Racer Award—orange hunting cap
Ted “Espresso” Siefkes: Miss Congeniality—cowboy mug and squirt gun
Steve “Silver” Knowlton: Happy Birthday Award—stuffed moose with a birthday hat
Shane Klein: Youngest Racer—Whoopie cushion
John Ziemer: Most Relaxed Racer—Pokey (Poker) Hat
Watch your inbox for information about next year’s race, which will be held on either September 16th or October 7th. Time will tell.

  *Virgin Rider: one who has ridden less that 10 times this season.

BWAM race, Ladysmith, Wisconsin: Bale, Wilkes, Anderson, Mershon
After their post-race fits of coughing, racers pose in the afternoon rays: Frank, Shad, Dan, Silver, Legs, and Lake.
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outdoor activities

A Wilderness Escapade

When offered the option between staying home to write or venturing into the BWCAW with good friends last week, it was a no-brainer. At least for me.

BWCA Trip,
Jetty and Ann ready to head out—3 packs and 3 women per canoe.

I love canoeing with women. We chat all day long,  work well as a team, and feel empowered managing tough portages on our own. I took my first canoe trip in eighth grade with a church group through Camp Menogyn, and I assumed only guys could carry the canoes. Life has taught me differently. I’ve done the majority of my canoeing since then with women, and we manage just fine, thank you. On this trip we schlepped our stuff through a total of 20 portages and paddled 18 lakes (actually 9 each way) and who knows how many miles of river, about 40 miles in all—and we’re all in our 50’s and 60’s. I just realized I’m the oldest at 67. In spite of my advanced years I carried my Mad River Explorer across all 20 portages, then hiked back to haul a pack across 16 of them. That’s 36 portages. Not bad for an old girl.

BWCA trip,
My second time through a portage

We headed out on a sunny Tuesday morning, and my pulse raced as we drove up the scenic Sawbill Trail into the wilderness. Into heaven. I am forever thankful to live so close to the Boundary Waters, though I’m a bit embarrassed that I don’t get into it more often. We were six women with six Duluth packs—a lot to squeeze into two canoes. We figured it out.

BWCAW 2016 Kawishiwi trip,
Canoes packed, ready to leave (actually, just finished).

After paddling a little over a mile across Kawishiwi Lake, we forged into a swampy river, which boggled my mind. I loved the peaceful paddle through reeds and lily pads. The water lilies were in full bloom; they like to wait for the end of summer, as we do. Less bugs for us, but I’m not just sure what their logic is.

BWCA 2016 trip,
Water lily on the Kawishiwi

We traveled all morning through a burn, which is devastating yet beautiful in its own way. It breaks my heart, though, to consider how many majestic white pines were lost in the flames.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
Portage through the Pagami Creek burn. Heartbreak, but coming back.

Our first few portages were short, both less than a football field, so the major work was unloading canoes, heaving up our loads, then reloading the canoes at the other end. Three of us went back for a second trip through the portage for the extra packs. Piece of cake for wilderness women!

BWCA trip, Kawishiwi Lake to Fishdance and back,
Ann Russ had boundless energy

Square Lake, more river, then we were stunned to silence by a rare sight as we emerged onto Kawasachong Lake : a swan. Bird experts Ann and Annie weren’t sure whether it was a whistling swan or a trumpeter, but it was awesome. None of us had ever seen a swan in this northern wilderness. We sat in our canoes hidden by the reeds, watching it feed as a young eagle perched on a tree behind it, probably sizing up whether it could manage this large feast. No dice, birdie. Mama and Papa were perched on the lake as well, supervising junior as he strove toward independence. I wonder how long it takes an eagle to fully fledge.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
Our solo Boundary Waters swan

After lunch we faced the 181-rod portage, a little over a half mile. If you’ve ever carried 53 pounds on your shoulders for a half mile, you’ll understand. Luckily, the portage was mostly flat and well-maintained. And sunny, as we were still in the burn. We traveled about three miles in all through a corner of the Pagami Burn, a fire that destroyed 92,000 acres of wilderness in 2011.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
Jetty, Chris and Ann after forging across one of many beaver dams choking the river

Enough of that, though. Highlights of the trip:

Well, the swan. Then Wednesday morning we rose to a dreamy mist on Polly Lake. Magical.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
A morning mist on Polly Lake

We packed up and headed out, stopping at Malberg for lunch on a cliff overlooking a narrow waterway with an armada of 23 mergansers. What a hoot to watch them scurry, dive, flap and finally roost among the rocks. That is, until something startled them to action. Maybe it was us, rousing from our post-lunch doze.

That night our cozy campfire was interrupted when Ann exclaimed, “Look! The Northern Lights! ” We spent the rest of the night on our backs, marveling at the show of shimmering greens and pinks that pulsed through the sky. Oh, my. It’s been years…

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
The Aurora Borealis—Need I say more?

The next day we paddled the Kawishiwi River to Fishdance, where we hoped to see the Native American pictographs. Yup. Amazing. Archeologists have determined that there were inhabitants here 10,000 years ago, but I have no idea how old the pictographs are. Old. My favorites were a canoe with two people in it and a pair of people carrying something, maybe three fish. It looks like a harp. There were also a number of red handprints on the rock. Of course we wondered how many pictographs have been lost over time due to rock flaking off and erosion. We lunched atop the cliff. I just can’t complain, except perhaps that it was a steep climb.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
Fishdance pictographs—clearly a canoe
BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
Fishdance pictographs—how old?

We saw beaver, more eagles, skinny dipped every day, and counted our blessings. Oh, it’s a good life, especially when the bugs are few and the sun resplendent. And the company? Sheer delight.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
An enhanced photo of our spectacular view up the Kawishiwi from our island campground
BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
The daily effort to dry out wet boots.
BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
I wonder if our socks ever dried out.

I’ll work on my books tomorrow. Today I’m reveling in the joy of my boundary waters adventure. As you can see, I wrote about it.

BWCA 2016 Kawishiwi Trip,
Skinny dipping is obligatory in the BWCA. Ah, heaven!