Sunday, December 26, 2021

Ice Fishing in Minnesota

The lakes are all starting to freeze over and the highways and roads are beginning to be dotted with ice houses pulled by trucks, SUV’s and cars setting out to find their spots on the 10,000 Minnesota lakes. It is fun to watch all the variations of ice houses traveling the countryside. 

There are the smaller 1-2 person ones that look more like outhouses you’d find out behind the cabin. In between the small and gigantic ones are the ones that someone made from a camper or maybe a pop-up trailer. Each one was made and decorated to their own styles. They may have Swedish flags or Viking colors of purple and gold. Although this year those Viking colors may be getting repainted. 

And then there are the ice castles tooling down the road being pulled by big ¾ ton trucks. These are the ones that people decided a few years ago should be used for summer camping too. Afterall, you may as well get your money’s worth and use it year round. You will always find several ice castles parked up next to the electricity in a state park campground spot. To me they always look a bit out of place at the campgrounds. They look like they are missing the snow and frozen lake.

No matter the style of ice house a person has, this is the time of year where people will load them up and take them to a lake. They will haul them out on the frozen lake with their vehicle in hopes of getting the best spot on the lake. Many Minnesota lakes will become little individual new towns with roads and streets leading up and down the lake. Some will even have ice houses out on the lake doubling as a bait store or a little grocery store selling snacks and frozen pizzas. A few years ago we were out driving on Mille Lacs lake and found the corners of the new streets with actual street signs.There were several hundred ice houses of various kinds in rows lined up and down these “streets” on the lake. 

Fishing in Minnesota is more or less a rite of passage and most Minnesotans have tried their hand at fishing by the time they are about 8 or 10 years old. Many much earlier in life. Of those who fish the open waters here in Minnesota, there are many Minnesotans that also ice fish. Or at least will give it a try at some point or another in their lives. Many are successful...and then there are those like me.

While I am more of an open water fisherman, I have tried my hand at ice fishing several times over the years. And in all honesty I have yet to find the thrill of ice fishing versus open water fishing. But it could be, for me at least, it was all in the manner and timing of when I did the ice fishing. 

My first attempt at ice fishing was to bring our 12 year old son onto the lake to try ice fishing. Over the years he was my fishing buddy from the time he was about 3 years old. We would take the row boat out and fill the stringers with fish. In his pre-teen years when there were more arguments brewing due to teenage angst, fishing was the one thing we could do together and not have it end in an argument. It was a life saver for those few years as he was finding his way into adulthood. The attempt to go ice fishing ended with the whole family driving the 1 ton van, we called Lucille, out onto the lake and getting stuck in a drift of snow. While my son and I drilled the hole with the cheap KMART hand auger we had, the others were digging the van out of the snow. It was well below zero and there was a good wind blowing from what seemed like all directions.

We got the hole drilled and decided one hole was all we had the energy for. If ever needing an aerobic winter workout, grab a hand ice auger. My son dropped his line and after frostbite hit my cheeks, toes and fingertips, he finally caught a 3 inch perch. The others were all in the van and snuggled up together under blankets while I stood by my son as he caught his perch. He brought it up out of the little 6 inch drilled hole and with excitement threw it back in the water and baited his hook. I was afraid we were in for another long wait for another small fish. Finally when I could no longer feel my hands that were tucked under my armpits for warmth, I suggested we go get some hot chocolate and warm up. And so the first ice fishing expedition ended with all of us in Lucille heading back to land.

That was the beginning of what I consider pure torture fishing. Ice fishing is always freezing cold, a wind blowing in your face no matter which way you turn to get out of it, and a tiny hole where the fish have to come to you versus being able to cast a line multiple times in order to find where the fish are lurking.

I have gone ice fishing out in the open without any ice house and I have also gone out ice fishing in a small portable ice house and also a canvas winter tent with a potbelly stove in it. And guess what? I never caught a fish and I still froze to the point of not feeling my feet or hands. Maybe, just maybe an ice castle would do the trick and make it a fun event. But the way my luck runs with ice fishing, we would be at the only spot on the lake where the fish were not hanging out. 

I must say, I admire people who have great warm ice houses and get out there on the frozen lakes and fish...and actually catch fish. I even envy you because you get to keep fishing while us wimps that only open water fish are on the sidelines hearing the fish stories for the next several months.

At least for now, I will just watch all the ice houses pass by me on the roads and maybe take a day and drive the streets and roads on MIlle Lacs Lake. But even that I will wait on, since the temps have climbed into the 30’s the past week. Right now the ice houses are lined up and waiting to get on the lakes once it refreezes.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Christmas, Covid and Cabin Fever

It is hard to believe that this week is already Christmas week. I feel like I am just getting finished putting the leftover turkey in the freezer from Thanksgiving. But here it is getting almost to the end of December. We have snow on the ground, and temps have already dipped into the below zero readings a few times in the past few weeks. And of course it is dark by 4:30-5:00 pm now. I never quite know what I dislike worst in winter, the extreme cold or the early darkness over everything in the late afternoon. It remains a toss up for me. I do know that the combination of the two does make me a little crazy at times and longing once again for Summer. And knowing it will be a good 5 month wait for warm sunshiny days with more than 7-8 hours of daylight, let’s just say I find it unbearable at times. And those around me sometimes get to feel my restlessness.

There is a term, “Cabin Fever”, many Minnesotans are familiar with. Defined in an article in Medical News Today it states it is  “the psychological symptoms that a person may experience when they are confined to their home for extended periods. Such symptoms may include feelings of restlessness, irritability, and loneliness.” 

Last year’s Covid lockdown during the winter saw many people experiencing cabin fever at rapid rates. But it wasn’t so much the weather keeping people shut in, it was that many things were closed and many people tried to follow guidelines to stay put and not spread the Covid virus. It was a year of Cabin Fever of magnitude proportions for many.

While this year, we are still at odds with Covid and it is rearing its ugly head and running rampant here in the North Country, it is nowhere near the fear level it was last year at this time. Many have been vaccinated and gotten their boosters. And many have had Covid and now have the antibodies in their bloodstream. There are also those who just have decided to take their chances and continue with life as it was pre-Covid. I am not here to judge anyone’s Covid decisions. Me and my Best Half chose the vaccination route for us, while some of the family chose the non-vaccination route and eventually got Covid and now have the immunities in their system. In the beginning it was a topic of hot debate in our household. Having several family members who worked or are working in the medical field gave cause for some intelligent and important conversations on the pros and cons. But, just like trying to convince someone on Facebook to see your opinion and point, so it goes trying to convince others to see things your way in person. It rarely happens. And that is where we have left it in our family. We all have our facts and opinions we live by, but it just may not coincide with the thoughts of those other family members.. And that is OK for now. 

But back to Cabin Fever. Usually around New Year’s day, the tree is taken down, lights and decorations are put away and we are chalking up another Merry Christmas for the books. A week or two will go by pretty uneventfully as the New Year is upon us. And then it happens...4:30 will come and it is night time. It is around -25 below, there is crunchy snow on the ground, and it hits me. I look out the window in the darkness, see the snow on the ground, and feel the cold air coming through the door jam. It’s here...cabin fever. And it takes all I’ve got to drive those restless feelings away. Those desires to take a bike ride, load up the kayak and go fishing, even a longing to mow the lawn and clean the chicken coop wrestles up into this restlessness. I have cabin fever.

Attempts to bundle up and go outside and take a walk or go get the mail are met with snot running into my scarf, my eyelashes frosting up with ice crystals on the ends of them, and my nostrils eventually sticking together because the snot is starting to freeze inside my nose. A walk down to the mailbox is more like moments of survival from a Bear Grylls episode. And 9 times out of 10, I manage to slip and take a dive in the driveway. After 20 minutes outside in -25 below temps and trying to enjoy the outdoors and rid myself of the restlessness, I am ready to go inside and hunker down again. Instead of curbing cabin fever by going outside, it more or less will intensify those feelings of restlessness to do something outdoors. I start to feel like one of our dogs pacing back and forth through the house. Together the 3 of us will aimlessly wear a path walking the length of the house.

This year I am hoping that about the time cabin fever arrives at our house, we will be packing and planning for a road trip South of here. As the Better Half has said, “We will drive as far south as we can and hang a right to Texas.”. This is our first time ever that we will be able to take a winter vacation and not have to be back home in time to go back to work. We can stay as long as we decide to stay South. A whole new concept in our traveling agenda. Here’s hoping there are no new mandates with cross country traveling that will keep us here during cabin fever season. But if it happens, just know this woman will be the one outdoors riding her bike in -25 below weather.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Minnesota Senior Safe Driver Course: Keep 'Er Movin'

Our insurance agent reached out to us several years ago about signing up and taking a Seniors Safe Driver class online. It would save us a few hundred dollars each year in premiums just by taking this 8 hour online course. While it was a great idea, I have to admit, I never signed us up for it. Life was pretty busy with both of us working. And besides it was kind of a reminder we were getting old and soon would be qualifying for all the senior discounts. And we’d become those old people drivers that I always get behind up on the highway going 45 mph. You know the ones that are on their way to the Perkin’s dinner special that starts at 4PM. I didn’t want to identify with that. That was about 10 years ago.

About 2 months ago, our insurance agent, well really the son-in-law of our now semi-retired agent, reached out to us regarding taking the online Senior Driver class. We were once again told we could save money each year with our premiums and it could all be done in 8 hours online. Being retired, I really didn’t have much of an excuse regarding being too busy. While retirement has been extremely busy, it isn’t hard to juggle the schedule around like it used to be when working.

So I went online and signed up and paid the $25 fee to take the class. The content downloaded and I grabbed a mug of tea and sat down to start the class. I figured I could get it done in maybe 3-4 hours just skimming over all the content and taking the quiz. I got my Kindle to finish a book while I sat there, and got my phone so I could text with people. I need to state a disclaimer here: while I am not a distracted driver, I am most definitely a distracted student. I need to be doing a few things at once while being spoken to in a lecture. My A.D.D will kick in full force with anybody or anything talking at me for more than about 15 minutes. 

I sat down and began to open up the course. It was paced out in different sessions, lessons and topics. Each lesson was about 78 screenshots long with a narrator with a voice pleasant enough. Each lesson had to be done in order and a quiz taken before being able to move on to the next session. The course was set up to make sure the person could do nothing else but sit in front of the laptop while it ran. Not only could you not skip ahead or fast forward anything, but you had to hit the next button about every 10-15 seconds to move on or it would just stop and go to a screen saver.

So I seriously could not do anything else without completely stopping and switching back to watching the course and hitting the next button. The first session has taken me about 2 weeks to plow through slowly and finally finish. The session is probably 30 minutes long if done studiously like it is intended. But I had to keep stopping and taking stuff out of the oven, let the dogs outside, straighten out my yarn stash, and let the dogs back in. I lost interest in the first 10 minutes so saved it and closed it for a rainy cold day.

About a week later on a cold snowy day, I pulled up the class on my laptop, I grabbed a mug of tea once again and sat out in the recliner to focus on only the course. I was about 5 minutes into it and had finally finished Session 1. It was time for the quiz for that session. The instructions will tell you that you need to score 100% in order to move on to the next session. That seemed kind of passive aggressive, who has ever heard of needing to score 100% on a quiz? Fortunately I got 100% the first time. I could go on to Session 2. When I first sat down I was hoping to get through at least 3 sessions. 

When I woke up from dozing off and wiped the drool from the corner of my mouth, I realized I had only gotten through 3 pages of Session 2. I went back to the menu to see how many sessions there were total and where I was. I looked at the screen and then did a double take. There were 7 (BEEP) sessions and quizes to go to complete this course. In my brain, I imagined making a 2022 New Year’s Resolution to be done with the course by maybe June. It was going to be well into the new year before making even a dent in this course. 

And then it came to me...My Best Half is now retired. He has extra free time on his hands. I can give him the job of saving us $300 a year just by sitting at the kitchen table and drinking coffee and watching a few videos and powerpoint. I spun it with a little Catholic guilt from my 12 years of Catholic school. I told him how for the past 42 years I have paid the bills and kept the house functioning, even while working for several years. This would be his chance to pitch in with some of the more mundane things that have to be done. A chance to help with the not so glamorous chores of the house. Afterall, he’s retired now.

I may have spun it just right, because he said yes to doing this online course and to get it done in a timely fashion. It was either the little bit of Catholic nun in me or the option of sitting around drinking coffee and doing a job at the kitchen table that got him to agree. Of course I didn’t let him in on the way the course is set up so that you can’t do anything else. So time will tell how well it works for him doing it.

As for me, I am hopefully off the hook. I figure worst case scenario if neither of us can do it, we have one of the grandkids sit at the laptop with a major bowl of ice cream and all the toppings and let them keep hitting the next button until it is time to take the quiz. Somehow we need to get through this course, be it me, my Best Half or the 5 year old grandson. Somehow we need to  “keep ‘er movin’.”

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Time Will Be Our Friend

We made it to December! The long countdown to my Best Half’s retirement has finally happened. He is officially retired. It was an exciting week of clinic parties and cards and hugs and well wishes for a happy life after 38 years at the same company. And one by one all his co-workers jokingly turned him over to me to spend all of our future days together. And I gladly accepted. My Best Half is also my Best Friend that I’ve grown up with. We married when I was 21 and he was 22, over 42 years ago. We literally became adults together, And here we are still together after all these years. I wrote this song a few months ago when he was talking about retiring. I started thinking about how the years have honestly flown by day by day. About how I can see us starting to age some. At first thought it kind of scared me to think of getting older, but then I realized that I need to make time my friend so I don’t freak out about this aging stuff. Because it is definitely not for the faint of heart. Each day together is truly a blessing we get to share. This song is for all of us who have someone, a Best Haf, or a Best Friend. May time be our friend as we grow old and take care of each other.

Too listen to the song go to the Solid Rock Minnesota podcast on Pandora, Amazon, Apple, iHeart radio or any of the many platforms out there. 

Time Will Be Our Friend

Do you think of me sometimes

At the setting of the sun?

I know I think of you

In everything I do 

Time keeps moving on

Will you love me 

When I grow old

Will you still hold my hand?

Will you walk with me into the sunset

And look back on the years gone by?

Well I know we move a little slower

And we hold each other up

All  the years that pass

All the memories filled with love.

As I look into your eyes

And I see the age in your hair

Ill keep loving you in everything I do

And time will be our friend