Sunday, June 13, 2021

Is It Hot Enough for Ya?

Minnesotans love to talk about the weather. If ever you are at a loss for words when speaking to a MInnesotan, the weather will always be the thing that will get a conversation going...with anyone...friends, family, and even complete strangers.

For the past 11 days or so, Summer has hit Minnesota full force and somewhat unexpectedly. For most of us, we had just put away our red plaid flannel shirts in exchange for T-shirts and flip-flops. We were just getting acclimated to the start of Summer outdoor sports too.

Three weeks ago was the start of Summer soccer for the grandkids. In Minnesota, because of such a short season for outdoor sports, games are always played no matter what the weather. Except if there is lightning. Games are called off or postponed if there is any lightning nearby. As a precaution that someone could be hit by lightning the fields are cleared. But otherwise the game will go on, in light rain, rain storms and all out monsoon downpours. Just not lightning. But a new rule was put into effect 3 weeks ago.

Three weeks ago a few of the grandkids that are in a soccer league had their game cancelled. Due to lightning? Nope,it was 34 degrees and snowing. Yes, the end of May and snow was coming down. A league first? Not really. Over the years we have had snow in every month except July. In July we are pretty much guaranteed no snow. Just tornadoes and maybe a flash flood here and there. 

But, back to the instant Summer we have been experiencing the past 11 days. It has been in the upper 90’s-100 degrees without any evening temperatures below about 85. The weather station here at Hillbilly Holler sends me messages whenever the temperature goes above 99. It will also include the “feels like'' heat index temperature in the message. Several times daily, messages are dinging on my phone to let me know that the temp is 100, 101, 102.5 and the heat index is 115-125 degrees. I at first thought I maybe had the report plugged into Tucson or El Paso, places we have been frequently, but nope it was here at Hillbilly Holler.

Not only has Minnesota been experiencing really hot weather, but with over 10,000 lakes that we brag about, we have a lot of humidity to go with the high temps. It truly resembles a traditional Sauna we are all familiar with in the winter time. But there is no snow to jump into and roll around in to cool off. Imagine temps around 100 degrees and dew points in the 70’s. A tropical island... no, just Minnesota in the Summer. No Palm trees, just pine trees and birch trees and mosquitoes to suck the very blood right out of you.

The instant tropical Summer weather in Minnesota after a long cold winter is welcomed...the first day or two. And then it happens, the reality that it is just plain freaking hot and super humid sets in. Minnesota nice becomes a little more challenging and sometimes downright hard to maintain. The heat just does something to a Minnesotan at the Kwik Trip when holding the door for all of those entering. You open the door and feel that blast of 70 degree air inside and you long to just barge in front of everyone and go to the cold. For as long as you can tolerate it a person will hold the door open and let others in, until finally between the scalding metal door handle you are holding and the sun blazing down, you do it...the worst most un-Minnesota thing butt in front of someone and walk in, leaving the door opening job to some other poor baking soul.

Once inside the Kwik Trip, you or someone near you will start the conversation with “Is it hot enough for ya?” and the standard answer will be “Yah you betcha, if we don’t get some rain purdy soon, the corn’s gonna wilt”. And that is the jest of the conversation, usually taking place by the frozen foods with the cooler doors open and both of you standing almost inside the frozen food section. As you head for the door on your way back out into the heat, you can hear the worker at the Kwik Trip yell out ”See you next time”. You give a wave and now have to face the blast of a hot wall of heat as you exit. After you let the next 10 people in the door, you exit to your vehicle and sit for a few minutes drying off all the sweat on you from that 150 foot walk. As everyone here says, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.”

Minnesota good-byes also take on a different element of timing during tropical Minnesota summers. We are well known for our long and extended good-byes here in the North Country. A person can announce their intent to leave and only after several more conversations, a few more cans of pop will an actual exit plan evolve. While typically a Minnesota good-bye, once announced, can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a full hour or more, in hot and humid weather it can be shortened to 20 minutes or less.

You may announce you are getting ready to leave, and have maybe another lemonade or pop, but once the door opens it is full steam ahead. You won’t stand by the door with it open letting all the heat into the house winding up your conversation. The door is opened and the walk to the car begins. It is not a lingering and chatty walk. In the Minnesota heat and humidity it becomes a very intentional walk to get safely to the vehicle. Once at the car, windows are all lowered and the air conditioning is turned on and the air begins to circulate. For a few minutes small talk will be made about the heat and the next chance of rain. Promises to get together soon when the weather is nicer are made and the customary caution statement of , “watch out for deer” is made and the Minnesota good-bye has just been cut down to under 20 minutes. And you all will have only a small amount of guilt that you will feel for having said your hasty good-byes. But oh well, there is always next time to have an official Minnesota good-bye, maybe the weather will be more cooperative. And besides there’s always text messaging from the passenger to you while on the road traveling home. A kind of Minnesota good-bye sequel.

Stay cool and safe everyone during this hot spell here in the North Country. Go have a pop and take it easy.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Monday Morning Music/ The Baptism of Jesse Taylor

For the past 9 months or so, we have had Monday Morning Music lessons and singing with the grandkids. It started with a few wanting to learn guitar and then ukulele. And it grew with everyone getting together with their instruments and “jamming” whenever we are together. 

As time has gone by we now have a banjo player, a mandolin player, some learning the dulcimer, another learning harmonica and the two 15 year old girls learning the fiddle. Or according to them, learning the violin. I guess that seems more dignified. But with the music we do, I can only say the violin will become the fiddle in our world.

I really give them all credit for wanting to learn more instruments and sticking with the instruments they started out with. There’s something about music that bonds our  family together. We can get silly, get serious and just have a good time making music. This is one proud grandma when it comes to those kids.

Recently we were given some new instruments for the family music time. Thanks to my friend Stephanie, for the percussion instruments, it has kept the little guys included and out of mischief while we play. We are still working on keeping a beat.  And also thanks to Mike and Angie for the nice guitar and the dulcimer and all the tutorial books and music to get us started. I say us because I am learning right along with them how to play the dulcimer. SInce Monday Morning music started, I have learned to play ukulele, harmonica (sort of), and mandolin. I have not been able to master the banjo, but maybe in the future the grandson can teach me.

The song they did on today’s podcast is called “The Baptism of Jesse Taylor”. It is one of their favorites. They like the storyline, the fact that they can get rowdy doing it and cut loose. Here are the words. There is some good bass in the song, so go over to the podcast and crank it up and “feel” it.


The Baptism of Jesse Taylor

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Among the local taverns, there'll be a slack in business

'Cause Jesse's drinkin' came before the groceries and the rent

Among the local women, there'll be a slack in cheatin'

'Cause Jesse won't be be steppin' out again

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

The scars on Jesse's knuckles are more than just respected

The county courthouse records tell all there is to tell

The pockets of the gamblers will soon miss Jesse's money

And the black eye of the law will soon be well

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Well, from now on Nancy Taylor can proudly speak to neighbors

And tell how much Jesse took up with little Jim

Now Jimmy's got a daddy and Jesse's got a family

And Franklin County's got a lot more man

They baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Yes, they baptized Jesse Taylor in Cedar Creek last Sunday

Jesus gained a soul and Satan lost a good right arm

They all cried, "Hallelujah", when Jesse's head went under

'Cause this time he went under for the Lord

Yeah, this time he went under for the Lord

Written by Sanger D. Shafer

Sunday, May 30, 2021

A Closet Podcaster Outed

It’s been a little over a year since starting a weekly podcast.It was just me, my laptop and a cheap microphone holed up in a back room of the house where no one would know what I was doing. I thought I’d take a little time and look back on the past year, because for me it has been pretty amazing.

About the time I was ready to retire, I started thinking of stuff I would now be able to do with my time. I wanted to do something fun and maybe even a little challenging. Afterall, I’d be no longer employed and I’d have ample time on my hands. I’d be able to do all the stuff that occupied my brain between triaging patients at work and listening to their concerns and issues.

Things like kayaking and fishing more, camping in the minivan,having a better garden and growing more tomatoes and less weeds. And probably the one thing I was looking forward to the most was getting a chance to sit and play my guitar and get better at it. Just being able to sit down uninterrupted and play music sounded so good. I was looking forward to it. But becoming a podcaster and having a weekly podcast was never ever in the plan. I didn’t even listen to podcasts. I had tried several times and about 30 minutes into a podcast, I would turn it off with brain fatigue. As an old wise friend of mine, Bill, once said, “The brain can only tolerate what the butt can absorb”. I have about a 15 minute attention limit when it comes to listening to people speak. After that my brain wanders to fishing, kayaking and camping. The poor priests and pastors who have wasted their sermons with me in the pews.

Well, I retired in the month of October, just as we were going into late Fall/ early Winter here in the North country. Kayaking, fishing and camping were put on the back burner. Gardening was just a dream 6 months away. That left me and my guitar together for a much needed chance to get reacquainted. 

Out of the grandkids desire to learn to play guitar, Monday Morning Music sessions were born. A few wanted to learn guitar and a few wanted to learn ukulele. I bought myself a ukulele and learned right along with the uke players. And the others learned guitar. There was no music theory, no reading notes, and no rules that forced anyone to come on Monday mornings. The only rules were, come with your instrument tuned and have fun. We printed up music with the chords for different songs and they learned to strum and sing along. Within a few weeks they were sounding pretty good. It’s been a fun time for all of us and many of the kids have started playing other instruments like the banjo, piano, accordion, violin, dulcimer, and mandolin. Several people have been generous and given the kids guitars and percussion things and even a dulcimer. It’s been fun to add new instruments to our Monday mornings. I tend to get a little emotional when I see all the grandkids together playing and singing. Playing music is a passion of mine that is getting passed down through the generations. I am so grateful for their love of playing  music.

Shortly after retiring, Covid hit and the pandemic was underway. Life outside the home pretty much was non-existent for the past year. I was at home and pretty much not going anywhere. Boredom was setting in and I was spending time on my laptop just looking up different stuff that was interesting. You know, recipes, best lures for catching walleye, how to build a chicken coop. While I was online, I came across how to start your own internet radio station. It kind of intrigued me and I started looking at how to do it. I soon realized that doing that was costly and while I don’t have a terrible voice, I am not DJ material. My older Minnesota local woman’s voice is probably not great listening material. And I don’t even like to speak to an audience. So the thought of a radio station was a pretty fleeting moment.

But one day as I was texting my niece, Katie, as I had gotten in the habit of doing since retiring, I mentioned my crazy thoughts of starting an internet radio station. But I went on to explain all the reasons to not do it. And then we started talking about podcasts. They were free and set up anyway you wanted to do it. She encouraged me to try it, just for the heck of it. Afterall, what did I have to lose…? The more we chatted about it, the more I thought about it and finally looked into it. I downloaded a podcast app to try. It was so much easier looking than radio stations. I sat there at the computer and hit record and pretty much stuttering came out of my mouth. What the heck was I supposed to record? I finally jotted down a few things and sat down and recorded old Minnesota local woman’s voice. I texted my niece, Katie, and told her what I had done and made her promise not to tell a soul. I had just taken the first step in becoming a podcaster. A closet podcaster with an audience of one...just me. I decided it would just be Monday Morning Music with the grandkids and maybe every so often a story here and there. But I told no one. Not even my Best Half.

A few months went by and I found myself telling more stories than music. It was hard to get all the kids together and all tuned up and then record their music. I have referred to that as about as easy as herding a roomful of cats. So stories happened more frequently. 

There is a statistical report with the podcast that will tell you how many people are listening, from what states and countries. After about two weeks it was getting quite interesting. Texting my niece one day I said, “Not trying to sound prideful, but the stats are really amazing to me.”. There were over 200 listeners from several states and also Canada and England. I never realized that people would actually find and listen to the podcast. I was amazed as I still remained a closet podcaster. It was one thing with strangers listening in, but way too scary to have family and friends listen in. Katie was the only one who knew of the podcast and the stats coming in. She was sworn to secrecy.

A few months went by and I did a podcast about my life-long friend titled “The Tootsie Sisters”. I decided I wanted to share it with just her as it was a story about our friendship and crazy things we did as kids. She was so excited to listen to it and before I could say keep it private, she shared it with her sisters and several friends. And they began listening to the podcast. I was a little freaked out that the podcast closet door was cracked open a bit. 

And then it happened. I received a text from one of my cousins, asking how long I had been doing a podcast? I froze for a few seconds. How did she find out and how much time did I have before she told the whole family and they all knew about it? I do believe being a closet drunk is way easier than being a closet podcaster in this family. It had turned out my other cousin had heard from my friend’s sister and she outed me to the family.

Well the decision had been made for me I guess. I had become an outed podcaster in a matter of a few minutes. I received texts from family members. All had started listening...aunts, cousins, siblings, nieces, nephews, and even some of my own kids. There was no turning back now. Before word got to him, I went over to the kitchen table and sat down across from my Best Half and told him what I had done. And as always, he is my biggest cheerleader and tells EVERYONE he meets up with about the podcast. Yeah, I have been thoroughly outed and now it is official, I am a podcaster.

Who knows where this will lead as time goes on. It has gotten bigger than I ever imagined would happen. The podcast is now out on many platforms and has been listened to in 26 countries and 45 states and close to 2000 listeners. For whatever reason, North and South Dakota, Oklahoma, Delaware and Rhode Island remain the only states that aren’t represented with listeners. It has been fun to watch the stats, but honestly I can say never did I think it would grow like it has been. Not in my wildest dreams...not from this closet podcaster. Thank you everyone who has listened and subscribed and is following, you’ve been supportive sharing the Solid Rock Minnesota podcast. Since you have outed me, it is growing each day. 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Waiting In a Minnesota Line

Recently I had to renew our tabs for the big conversion van and the camping trailer we pull behind the van when we travel. With Covid rules still in place at the Department of Motor Vehicles (or the DMV as it is affectionately known), I decided I would give the online renewal a try. I was remembering back to a few months ago in January when we needed tabs for the vehicles and the experience I had. 

It was just a few degrees above zero and the winds were howling making it feel like about -25 below zero. Because only 5 customers were allowed at a time in the DMV office, the rest had to wait outside out on the sidewalk.

It was a typical Minnesota wait in a line of about 25 people. Everyone maintained their 6 foot of distance. Maintaining a 6 foot distance has never been an issue for many Minnesotans. In fact when the 6 foot rule came out, many were asking if that was far enough away as that is about the normal distance a fellow Minnesotan will maintain with another native Minnesotan. 

Most of us in line were dressed in layers, like they were going to go to a pond hockey tournament after they took care of their DMV business. They were in layers, scarves, choppers, holding their cup of coffee from the Kwik Trip with both hands. There were young newlyweds waiting to get their name changes and address changes on their licenses. There were a couple of older guys in bib overalls and red plaid earflap hats waiting together to transfer a title for a truck. There were active military people there getting things in order before they deployed overseas. And there were the rest of us, garden variety people, who needed current tabs for our vehicles. 

How did I know all this? Well after everyone joined in chatting about the cold snap coming and the current Minnesota weather for 30 minutes, it just got more personal and everyone shared their reasons for being out there on the sidewalk waiting. By the time it was my turn to go into the building, that only allowed 5 people at a time, not only did I know the week’s weather, but I had learned much about each person out on the sidewalk waiting in line. I knew what church they went to, or why they didn’t attend church. I knew what restaurant they planned to go to the minute the Covid restrictions were lifted, I knew the names and ages of their kids. And I even learned what had been the hardest adjustments the newlyweds had been facing.

I can honestly say that waiting in a long line in frigid temperatures let everyone’s guard down in regards to sharing their lives with strangers. Some even were talking politics and what their political stands were. Kind of unheard of topics for strangers to discuss here in the land of the Stoic Swedes. It was just plain crazy all that was shared so freely. It had to be the cold numbing of the brain that caused everyone to let down their Scandinavian guard.

Well fast forward to Spring and once again I had to go to the DMV to renew tabs that can’t be done online. The thought alone of having to go stand in line was putting me into a pretty crabby mood even before I got out of bed. As I was lying there, I decided to make my mind up that I was going to get up and prepare to stand in line for 2 hours or more. I would get there at 8:30 before they even opened at 9 and be the first one in line to get my tabs. I was going to just “git ‘er done”. I had more important stuff to do than spend an entire morning in line.

I decided to do the Cub Scout thing and be prepared for anything. So I got up, premedicated with Tylenol for the arthritis in my back and leg, dressed in warm clothes. I had done my duty and listened to the morning weather report. It was calling for a cool morning and warming up later in the day. So dress for winter and be able to peel off layers in case I was still there after the sun started warming up the sidewalks and town. Even though we are into the month of May, it has snowed in June here over the years. My clothes consisted of layers of t-shirt, hooded sweatshirt, jeans, shoes and socks. I had a snack packed with 2 girl scout cookies and my hot chocolate in a mug to sip on the ride down to the DMV. As the crow flies the DMV is about 6 miles directly South of us. But as the road goes, it is more like a 23 mile drive through windy roads along many lakes.

So off I went, to the DMV office. I pulled up at 8:20 AM only to find a line had already formed. Yep, 40 minutes before they were to open and there were 10 people in front of me that had the same idea. So much for being first to get in and out right away. 

I took my place in line, said good morning to those in line with me and staying the Minnesota 8 feet away. I dug out my phone to look at stuff and try to avoid conversation. I just really wanted to stay warm, stand in line silently and wait my turn. Luckily the line started out with mostly guys around me, probably feeling the same way. They had their phones out too, but didn’t look all that involved in what they were doing. Pretty soon more people started coming. By 8:55 the line strung all the way down the block. I looked and sure enough the chatter was beginning. First the weather was discussed for several minutes. Then several talked about how a few months ago they stood out on the sidewallk freezing. 

And then it happened... a guy who had weathered the cold winter line like I had a few months ago, lifted his jeans leg up to show his flannel long john’s he was wearing. Everyone laughed uncomfortably as he did. I think they were thinking like me, “we hardly know you. Keep your pants leg down, please”.

To my surprise, the conversation ended as fast as it was building up when that man showed God and all of us in line his “long john underwear”. He had crossed the  line of personal sharing with the display of his blue checked long johns. It wasn’t so cold as to have frozen our brain cells, we were all in our Minnesota right minds. And the stoic Swedes that we all are knew better than to advance the topic. It was getting way too personal. At that moment everyone started reaching for their phones and browsing them again. Within an hour of arriving, It was my turn to enter the DMV and take care of my business. I went in, sat in a chair waiting with 3 others. We gave each other a quick glance and then stared straight ahead uncomfortably waiting our turn. There are just certain things in Minnesota a person doesn't discuss with a stranger, and underwear is one of them. The aftermath can last for months.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

To Mask or Not to Mask (it is now up to you)

This past week the CDC decided that masking is no longer necessary both outdoors and indoors. At least for those who have been fully vaccinated against the Covid virus. Finally it  seems that there is a light at the end of the long tunnel...and maybe this time it isn’t a train heading straight for us on the same track. It actually sounded hopeful.

It was interesting to listen to the news and all the feedback from average Americans after the announcement was made. It has been well over a year ago  that we were asked to wear masks covering our mouth and nose. While there is much excitement about it, there also is a sense of leeriness at the same time. While all  those interviewed were hopeful, it seemed many were also expressing fear of shedding their masks. And I guess I am right along there with all of them.

I mean I’ve been covering my mouth and nose for over a year, everywhere I go. I’ve got my various fits and styles of masks all over the minivan, Jeep and the Best Half’s truck. And even extras in my purse in case I forget to bring one from the vehicle into the store with me. I have black ones, colorful ones, even red plaid ones like most everyone else around here. I have multi colored ones to fit whatever color sweatshirt I am wearing. I have my favorites and the ones I will force myself to wear if all the good ones are in the wash. We have a small tin container in the house next to the cell phones charging that is full of masks to grab when heading out.

Those simple face coverings have become a part of my identity over the past 15 months. And I have to believe this may be true for many others. While maybe you couldn’t see my entire face and expressions, the mask oftentimes could help you figure out a little bit more about my personality. For instance, red plaid-it’s me, typical Scandinavian Minnesotan don’t cha know. The black mask...stay clear and no one gets hurt. I am just getting stuff done and don’t want anything standing in my way, including a conversation about the weather. And since being fully vaccinated, I have resorted to the thin gaiters that serve no purpose for keeping germs from coming in or going out. But they have let me make the best of a situation, on when in a store, around my neck when not needed. And I never misplace them like the mask. And best of all, after the masking is over, they serve many useful purposes when kayaking and fishing.

I was lying in bed last night contemplating what it will be like not having to wear a mask and not having to social distance. While the social distancing probably won’t change much for most Minnesotans, because we like our distance, the unmasking I believe will have some impact on all of us. I think unmasking will happen slowly here in Minnesota. Kind of like after a long hard and cold winter, putting on a bathing suit. That feeling of kind of, sort of being exposed and naked to all those around looking at you. 

After 15 months of no one seeing your face in public, you will be seen. I have been working with new people the past year and right now if I met them without their mask on, I would not know them. I have never seen the lower part of their face. It has taught me to read body language way more than I ever knew I was capable. When the masks come off, we will see facial expressions, smiles, frowns, grimaces, anger. We will be able to read others emotions through their facial expressions. And for those hard of hearing or deaf people, we will be able to once again read lips and facial expressions and know without a doubt what is being communicated. For that reason alone I feel like my guard can be let down some once we are all unmasked.

But that being said, I also have a little anxiety that has set in. Yeah it is great we are getting out of this big pandemic mess we have been in, but how will we know if all the unmasked people are truly and fully vaccinated? I mean basically we are all going to be on the honor system. How has that worked in past experiences? I have to say I am not holding out much hope on that plan. People will do what they want to do at this point. But I guess it really isn’t of my concern any longer. I am protected, I won’t give another the virus and I have done what I think is the right thing to do as far as being a part of this world. And those that choose to be unmasked and unvaccinated will just be taking their chances, maybe little riskier chances than others, but as herd immunity kicks in maybe finally we can get back to a more normal way of living, except now we all have the experience of living through a pandemic. Here is hoping to never having to live through another.