Sunday, April 25, 2021

Riots,Roundabouts and Minnesota Nice

Art by Audra Tracy (my talented niece)

With all that is going on in Minnesota these days, it’s had me sort of pondering the phrase “Minnesota Nice”. There’s been protests, rioting,and we've pretty much made the nightly national news over the past several weeks. I’m not sure that is something that is worth wanting to brag about. But it is what it is.  We’ve had nightly curfews down in the Cities due to civil unrest regarding the George Floyd trial and now another officer involved shooting just a few weeks ago of a 20 year old man. It has really put Minnesota on the world map. And honestly it really sucks to be this popular over such awful events. 

And while all of the unrest is real and emotions and feelings are running hot, the other day I just needed to take a break from all of that, if even just for a little bit. So I headed out to find some “Minnesota Nice” uptown. While Minnesota Nice is not a really kind thing to say about a fellow Minnesotan, it sometimes can just be the break needed during stressful times. Minnesota Nice can turn comical at times. And for me, that is just what I needed.

Wikipedia actually has a pretty accurate description of Minnesota Nice.It describes Minnesota Nice “as a cultural stereotype applied to the behavior of people from Minnesota implying residents are unusually courteous, reserved, mild-mannered and passive-aggressive. The phrase also implies polite friendliness, an aversion to open confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a direct fuss or stand out, apparent emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.” That definition pretty much nails it.

So now that you have an understanding of the definition of Minnesota Nice, let me describe it to you as I ventured up town for gas and some groceries. All was fine until I neared the edge of town where the new roundabout was put in a few months ago. I personally am not a fan of roundabouts just because they can get a little confusing with high traffic. It goes along with freeway ramp merging that some people struggle with. This roundabout will maybe see 20 cars every 5 minutes if that. The day I was going through there was a traffic jam with about 4 cars in the roundabout. As I approached and was going to stop for the car coming towards me in the roundabout, the driver in that car also stopped to let me in. And there were 3 other cars stopping behind her. We were all stopped, no one was upset, no horns honking at the driver to get moving. I waved the driver on and she waved me on...I waved her on again and she waved me on again. We were at a Minnesota impasse. As I started to just go so we could break up the traffic mess before more cars came, the driver started to move forward also at the same time. 

So again I stopped to let them all through and to complete their circle in the roundabout. It really was the right thing to do...if only the driver would let me wait. Finally a semi driver was coming up behind me and showing no indication of slowing down or stopping so I just jumped into the circle and led the parade out of the roundabout up to the 4 way stop. Yep you guessed it...there were 2 other cars at the 4 way stop. And so we started the process all over again of who should go first through the intersection. We all started waving everyone else on until the semi truck got there and honked his horn and threw his arms up in the air. We all inched out at the same time and we all stopped. I finally had the guts to make my left turn before anyone moved again. I felt so exposed, so vulnerable...everyone was looking at me and probably thinking “Wow she has some nerve. Must not be from around here”.

By the time I got to the gas station I was a might frazzled from all of the Minnesota Nice that had just happened. I pulled up to the pump and waited for the clerk at the checkout to tell me to come inside to pay when I was done. When she turned the pump on, she greeted me with a hearty good morning over the PA for God and anyone within a ½ mile to hear. And if that wasn’t enough, she went on to describe the incredible blueberry muffins they had inside and I should make sure to pick up a box. 

I finished filling up my minivan and went inside. As I entered the store, I was greeted by several clerks that were stocking shelves. Each one reminded me of the great blueberry muffins that were just over on the counter by the checkout. I wasn't needing muffins, I had had breakfast and didn’t want to clutter the counter with a box of muffins we may not eat before they got moldy.

When I got to the check out with my 2 boxes of blueberry muffins, the clerk greeted me Minnesota style by discussing the weather for the day. The clerk and I discussed the pros and cons of all the rain we have had. It is better than snow this time of year and we do need the moisture since there is a fire ban on. If ever at a loss for a conversation with a native Minnesotan just bring up the weather. It  will get you miles of conversation. Well, I gathered up my muffins and headed out, but not before hearing her say “Have a great day, see you next time”.

I got in my minivan, carefully set the stack of muffins on the seat and proceeded to go home. I played it smart on the way home. I took the back roads so I didn’t have to deal with the roundabout again. I don’t think I could take any more decisions about who goes first in a roundabout.

I got home and unloaded my boxes of muffins and turned on the news. And there we were again...Minnesota making national headlines. The verdict was in regarding George Floyd. Former police officer Derrick Chauvin was found guilty of all 3 offenses. He was led away to jail in handcuffs. As I was watching that, the news panned across the streets near where George took his last breath. And there I saw it…no protesting, no rioting...just a bunch of people hugging and crying after hearing the verdict almost a year after the incident happened. 

Yes we are kind, courteous, reserved, mild-mannered and we can be kind of passive-aggressive at times. We can be polite, friendly, have an aversion to open confrontation, or a tendency toward understatement, and maybe have a disinclination to make a direct fuss or stand out. 

But today I watched as my fellow Minnesotans showed their true colors from their hearts in hopes of making this a better place for all of us to live.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ice Out!

It has been a long winter. The snow started in October and we have had about 6 months of winter. We have had a few warm days that have managed to thaw the lakes. And joy of joys, it is ice out here in parts of Minnesota! For those that may not know the term “Ice Out’, it is when the lakes thaw and the ice is off the lakes. It is a day that many look forward to and some even place bets on what date it will happen.

During the winter I watched as the lakes became thick with ice. That thickness turned the lakes into roadways for ATV's, snowmobiles and trucks to negotiate a path to an ice house or a favorite fishing spot. Over time the lakes became dotted with ice houses, vehicles and left over trash from some of the more irresponsible ones that would come out to fish or party in their ice house and leave behind their garbage.

While all of this activity prevails above the lake, beneath it, is business as usual. The only way that anyone would know there is life beneath the thick ice would be to drill a hole through the few feet of thick ice to have a peak beneath where you are standing. To do this with an auger that is not powered is a very slow process. But once a hole is made, it is incredible to see the life that is beneath the cold frozen barrier of the ice.

Today I drove by one of the many lakes in the area that is now open water. I could see the white caps as the winds ripped across from one end of shoreline to another. And I began to see the many items that have washed up on shore from the winter. In time, volunteers and the DNR will gather all of the garbage and haul it away.

Once the ice is completely out and the sunshine warms the water, I will launching my kayak and take to paddling. On a calm day, what a vantage point I will have sitting so close to the water in the kayak. I will be privy to look deep within the pristine water and see the new signs of Spring; tadpoles, sunfish and maybe even a walleye.

Today, watching the thawing and ice out on the lakes, I hope that deep within I can also thaw my heart and have it melt all the negative things that can build up over a long winter of darkness and cold. Just like the clear pristine calm lake after ice out, let my heart have that melted, pristine calmness on the water to paddle on in life.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Mrs. Auntie Jo, The Legend

There is one aunt left in our family. It is my Dad’s baby sister, my Aunt Jo. She is about 85 now and has been the matriarch of our family since our grandma died about 25 years ago. To me she is affectionately called Mrs. Auntie Jo. 

When I was about 11, my mom got cancer and was in the hospital and then out and undergoing radiation and stuff as an 11 year old kid, I, knew nothing about. The only thing I remember was that I would spend my summer vacation days at my aunt BC’s or Mrs. Auntie Jo’s. Either place was a great day as both ran a daycare out of their homes and there were cousins and other kids to play with.

The days at Mrs. Auntie Jo’s were filled with running and playing with all my cousins and their friends who lived in the neighborhood. While my cousins would call her Mom, the neighbor kids would all call her Mrs. Retter. Back in those days you always called your elders Mr or Mrs. To this day I call all my friends’ parents Mr or Mrs. Old habits die hard.

Everyone had a name for my aunt and so I decided that I would call her Mrs. Auntie Jo since she wasn’t my mom, but she was taking care of me like I was going to her day care. Yep Mrs. Auntie Jo it was. Well that name stuck with her and to this day, 55 years later she is still my Mrs. Auntie Jo. And she still answers to it and signs her cards to me, `` Love, Mrs. Auntie Jo”. Those were some of the best times ever as a kid. She would take us to the park for picnics, have homemade cookies and treats for snacks, much of what I was missing at the time with my mom being sick and my dad working and taking her to radiation every day. Mrs. Auntie Jo kept my life normal through what could have been a pretty scary time for an 11 year old kid.

When my mom got better, I didn’t see Mrs. Auntie Jo daily, but there still were all the family functions and get-togethers. Life and time marched on. She and my uncle Rich were there for all the milestones, graduation, my wedding, the birth of all 4 of our kids, the graduations and weddings of all our kids.  My parents died when I was in my early 20’s and Mrs. Auntie Jo was there to help fill that enormous gap of my parents being gone. 

As time went on, my uncle Rich was struck with Alzhemer’s. He was only in his late 50’s when the changes started and within a few years he had full blown Alzhiemers. Mrs. Auntie Jo stayed home and cared for him better than any institution could have. Every day for several years, she was by his side caring for him. I remember her wearing wrist braces on her arms. When I asked how she hurt herself, she laughed and said , “Your uncle Rich grips a little harder these days”. She wore them to prevent getting hurt when uncle Rich didn't want to do something and would squeeze her arm. 

The funniest thing ever was how Mrs. Auntie Jo got my uncle Rich to quit smoking after decades of daily smoking. She was afraid he would catch something on fire with his Alzhiemers affecting his thinking. So she replaced the pack of cigarettes he carried in his shirt pocket with some Dum Dum lollipops. Uncle Rich would out of habit reach to his pocket for a cigarette. And there would be a sucker waiting for him. Each and every time he was amazed it was there. He had quite a sweet tooth so that sweet sucker did the trick. She once in a while would remind him he never smoked. She had a way of making him believe he never smoked, he just ate lollipops that were in his shirt pocket.

TIme has passed, and Mrs. Auntie Jo has outlived her husband, parents and 2 brothers and her youngest daughter. She is the last of the generation that goes before me and my siblings and cousins. She is our matriarch and the keeper of the stories from the past. They are always good stories of her growing up years when she was a kid on the farm. Of time spent with her grandparents. Of her pet pig that lived in the house on the farm. Of living in San Francisco when she was 18 and Uncle Rich was in the service..  

While last year my sister-in-law and I would take Mrs. Auntie Jo out for lunch, it became necessary to meet at her house and eat there. So once a month my brother, sister-in-law, a few of my cousins and me and my best half get together for lunch over at Mrs. Auntie Jo’s house.  

Word got out and pretty soon more people have been coming to her house on those days. Covid locked her up in her house for most of the past year. But she now has gotten her second vaccination. She has more of a “bring it on” attitude these days. The monthly lunch has become pretty special for all of us because we get to see Mrs. Auntie Jo. We all bring some kind of food and we have a great time. We get there, visit with everyone, hear some stories from Mrs. Auntie Jo, get caught up on all the family news and then eat. It is always fun to sit around the table and visit. Mrs. Auntie Jo, our matriarch and keeper of the stories and connection to the past and where we come from....

Mrs. Auntie Jo, the legend.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter, Passover and The Hatch

Three weeks ago I decided that I was going to try my hand at hatching some of our chicken’s eggs. I got an incubator and set to work at figuring out what I needed to do. The incubator was pretty easy to operate and not much fussing over turning the eggs and keeping the temperature at a constant 99.5 degrees and humidity at 45-55%. This incubator did it all. So it pretty much was a matter of gathering 22 eggs and putting them in the incubator. 

The first few days I was quite OCD about making sure the temp was constant and the humidity set to perfect. And that the egg turner was doing its job. And each time I checked, all was good. So it was just a matter of waiting to see if I got chicks in two more weeks. The instructions kept saying to not mess with them no matter what, which of course made me feel like I should be checking them and holding them to a bright light to look inside. Dang it was hard to wait….and wait...and... wait.

On day 18, 3 days before they were expected to hatch, I was supposed to do a lockdown of the incubator. That is turn the egg turner off, increase putting water in the tray so the humidity would go to 65-75% now. The anticipation was starting to become a little overwhelming. But I did exactly what I was instructed to do. It was only another 3 days after all.

Every morning for those 3 days I sat on the piano bench and just would stare at the incubator hoping to see movement or hear chirping….anything to show that new life was in there. That the past 2 ½ weeks had paid off. And every time the same old thing...just the motor humming and the temp and humidity numbers flashing. A mama hen can’t possibly put this much thought into hatching her eggs. Any time I ever see one of our hens get setting on eggs, she looks like she is gazing off into the distance, or napping. Me, I kept hearing the old Carly Simon tune, “Anticipation”, playing in my brain.

Day 21 finally arrived and I woke up expecting to see an incubator full to the brim of baby chicks. There was nothing, not even an egg looking like a chick maybe was pecking its way out of the shell. The whole day was just me sitting by the incubator hoping to watch an egg hatch, and nothing. Hours passed and nothing. I went to bed with no eggs ready to hatch, but as I was turning out the light, I heard it..a chirp from within. But since I had to work early in the morning, I went to bed instead of staying awake to watch.

Morning arrived and there it was...a flailing wet, ugly little tiny black chick staring out at me from inside the incubator. There was this new life chirping loudly, and calling to all the other chicks in their eggs to come out and celebrate their new life. I went to work with instructions to the grandkids to keep an eye on the incubator and no matter what, don't open the incubator. I made them criss cross their hearts and promise that they wouldn't open it. I went to work. A few hours went by and I got a text with a picture of more new chicks. There now were 5 and then 6 . By the time I got home there were 7 chicks all different colors. They were dry and hopping all over and chirping really loud. Time to take them out of the incubator and put them in there brooder….which for the next two weeks until it warms up, was in my knitting room.

Thinking all the other eggs were maybe not fertilized, I was ready to take down the incubator. As I was doing it, I heard a faint chirp and a hole the size of a BB. There was another chick going to hatch. I left it and went to bed. About 2:30 this morning I got up and went to look at the egg. Nothing had changed ,the same size hole, a sporadic little faint chirping. I watched for a bit and then did what you are not supposed to do, I opened the incubator and picked up the egg to listen for pecking or chirping. I heard chirping and as I went to set the egg down, it cracked more and the chick was trying to get out. It had to work so hard to make a small hole, it was struggling to get out. It finally fell out of the shell and flailed about alone in the incubator. Out of that struggle came new life. 

Eggs are oval in shape, no beginning and no end. Out of that egg that has been developing and growing will come a new and transformed life, completely different than what it was. Easter is about new life for Christians as a result of the belief in Christ’s resurrection. Passover is about a people being set free from Egypt, also the beginning of a new free life. Each year around this time, many celebrate their spiritual traditions. This year for me, watching those little flailing wet ugly floppy chicks hatch out of their old shells and become fluffy little chicks cruising around self sufficient in their brooder has kind of given me a new outlook and insight into our Easter and Passover traditions.

This is Sue from Solid Rock Minnesota wishing you all a happy and safe Easter and Passover.