Sunday, May 29, 2022

Canine Merry Maids

We have 2 dogs here with us. Zoe, our 6 year old Yellow Lab and Max, our 3 year old Labradoodle. While both are great dogs, each definitely has their own personality and agenda. 

I like dogs and I like training them to do odd jobs for me and feel like they are contributing to the household. Dogs are awesome companions for most any person that is willing to take one in and feed and care for it. Dogs have that unconditional love for their human that in my opinion outshines many people’s love and respect for their fellow humans. 

We have had many dogs over the years and every one had a certain job they did for us. Whether it was doing rounds down at the barn and henhouse or chasing after the kids when they went hiking by the river and out in the woods, all of our dogs learned what they were needed for at a really early age.

I guess over the years there have maybe been favorite dogs we have had. The ones that got a little deeper into our hearts than some of the others. For my Best Half it was definitely, Rainey, his Aussie, that was also his ears for about 10 years. She was a gentle soul that eagerly helped him through parking lots with cars coming up behind him that he couldn’t hear. She was a one in a million dog.

I have had a few dogs that have left their paw print on my heart over the years too, but I have to say, the 2 we have right now are in the top running for best dogs ever. And both couldn’t be further apart in personality and learning.

When I got Zoe 6 years ago, the plan was that she would help me with some of the things that I wasn’t fond of doing, the things that hurt my back. Mostly it was the laundry and picking stuff up off the floor. Being a Lab, she was all about retrieving any and everything she would find. And so I put her retriever brain to work at doing the laundry with me. From the time she was big enough to put her paws up and stand against the washing machine, she was grabbing the dirty laundry from the floor and putting it in the washer. For her it was a never ending game that she loved to do. When the dryer would shut off, she would reach into the dryer and get all the clothes out for me and either give them to me or drop them in the laundry basket. She was like having a Merry Maid at the house, only she just was paid in scruffs and a piece of salami here and there.

She also learned how to open the fridge door and fetch bottled water for me. I had a rope tied to the fridge door and she would put it with her mouth and tug on it until it opened and then grab the bottled water off the shelf. I eventually had to put the kibosh on her fridge skills as she started bringing me the salami for her treat. She was taking it upon herself to surf the fridge for any snack that seemed appealing to her at the moment. And as we all know, there isn’t much a Lab won’t eat.

Zoe still helps with the housework, she will pick up toys left by the grandkids, and every morning will bring us her and Max’s bowl after she eats. But lately, since Rainey is no longer with us, she has taken it upon herself to be at my Best Half’s side all the time. She will sleep on the floor right next to him if he is out at the kitchen table, waiting for him to make a move so she can 

follow him. At night when we are kicked back watching TV, she will place her head on his lap and doze off while he strokes her soft velvety head. They have developed quite a relationship the past few months. 

While never being specifically trained like Rainey was to be a hearing dog, Zoe has picked up where Rainey had left off. At times, I think Rainey and Zoe worked out a deal that Zoe would take over once Rainey was gone from us. It was almost immediately after Rainey was gone that Zoe picked up the job and became a new support for my Best Half. After 6 years of having Zoe more or less as my dog, she decided to join allegiance with my Better Half. A concern we had when Rainey left us was who would be his ears when I wasn’t with him was fixed by Zoe taking on the role. So I am OK with her doing that. She just intuitively knows to alert him when someone is calling his name. Or turn around when there is a car behind them in a parking lot. The same things we had spent teaching Rainey to do. While I could feel a bit sad handing Zoe off to work for someone besides me, I have Max. For good or for bad I have Max.

Max, our 3 year old Labradoodle, came to us when he was about 12 weeks old. I had been looking at Goldendoodles and Labradoodles for a few months and was planning to get one eventually to train as a hearing dog as Rainey was getting older and possibly would be retiring as age was starting to show. The plan was that it would take about 3 years to train a new hearing dog and by that time Rainey would be close to 11 and probably ready to kick back into retirement.

It became pretty clear that after we had Max for about 6 months he was not hearing dog material. For a dog to be a hearing dog, it must be able to react to sounds quickly and consistently. Max had a thought process that seemed to be slow at best when asked to do basic stuff like sit. He would look at you with his head tilted to the side, then look beyond the person making the request to see if there were any better offers out there. After about 5 seconds he would comply and do what was being asked of him. Max is just a really laid-back dog. So much so that even when he is getting clipped and groomed, he will fall asleep and I will have to lift him and move him around like a rag doll in order to get the other side of him clipped. Because of Max’s extreme calmness…or laziness (I haven’t figured out which) we disqualified him as a hearing dog candidate. We figured by the time he saw a car in the parking lot coming his way,and figured out what to do, it would plow the two of them over. Max just doesn’t have the quick decision making ability needed for a hearing dog.

So Zoe is now officially teamed up with my Best Half and they continue to work together with the hearing and her alerting him. And that leaves Max to be teamed up with me as my partner. While he is slow moving to process things in his brain, he is an incredible dog and actually pretty smart. He is about 75 lbs of muscle and has begun bracing his long tall body to help me up off the floor. I call him my “Help, Ive fallen and can’t get up” dog. Whenever I am down on the floor doing something like picking up or rearranging a bottom shelf, Max will stand next to me the whole time waiting for me to pull myself up with him. He is solid and strong and when I put my arm around him he will walk backwards and assist me up to standing. His one command that he doesn’t have to process for any length of time. I just say “brace” And he gets in position. He is constantly by my side. He knows how much I hate picking stuff off the floor because of my back and balance, so he will bring me anything I point to. There may be a few seconds process delay, but he always comes through. So while he would have made a terrible hearing dog, Max is an awesome Merry Maid housekeeper helping around the house with those things that are hard for me to do. He earns his keep right along with Zoe.

While we have always had a few dogs around the house, Max and Zoe seem to be the ones that have found it in themselves to help take care of us. They have unconditional love for both of us, while at the same time bonded to one they want to assist. They are always willing to help us out. Now if I could just get them to team up and do the snowplowing and empty the dishwasher and vacuum.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Minnesota Fishing with My Friend Wayne

Down the dirt road from us we have neighbors that we visit back and forth. They are our friends Karen and Wayne. Over the past few years we have had the chance to get to know one another and share many interests and activities living on the same road for the past 20 years or more.

Last weekend was the fishing opener for us here in the Minnesota North country. It is one of the few things in Spring that offers a glimpse of coming out of a long winter and the beginnings of entering into the mosquito and thunderstorm and tornado days of Summer. While usually around the opener it is cold and rainy or a mix of sleet and snow and some of the more Northern lakes not even having ice out, this opener was an exception to the rule. It actually was warmer than it has been and there were sunny skies. Oftentimes, being that we are close to lakes and can get out on the lakes anytime, we skip the opener and leave it for those that drive up from the Cities and make the trek out to the busy lakes on opening day. 

My Best Half and I had a chance recently to meet up with our friends Karen and Wayne out at one of the lakes around here to do some fishing for some crappies and sunnies the day before the opener. It was a chance to hit a lake before the crowds of pontoons and bass boats came lurking around the fishing piers and shoreline. 

We made plans to meet up at the lake nearby and do some shore fishing and see if we could catch a few fish coming into shallow warmer water to spawn. The plan was to meet around 7:00-8:00 am and spend a little time together. 

We got to the shoreline around 8 and Wayne and Karen had already been there since about 6:30 scoping out the shoreline. Wayne had caught some small stuff. We decided to go and try the actual fishing pier since there was no one there fishing. Everyone was on the shoreline as we had had several inches of rain and the water level was pretty high. And no one wanted to walk through the water to get up on the dock, except for one other person. So Wayne and I schlepped through the water and hopped on the dock while our spouses stayed on shore and visited with each other. Unlike Wayne and me, our spouses aren’t as intense and into fishing as Wayne and I are. 

Once there we casted out our lines and we came upon lots of huge plump fat crappies and sunnies. One by one with each cast the fish were chomping on our hooks. First a few, then a dozen and then pretty soon the bucket was full to the brim with the huge panfish. All around us few were catching the fish like we were. We were enjoying reeling in some big fish. 

This was my first time fishing with Wayne. I like to usually fish alone, often just because I can go where I want and not have to keep a conversation going with another person. It becomes more of a time of a quiet solitude with nature and my surroundings, a chance to re-energize my soul. 

That day out on the dock, I realized fishing with Wayne was like looking in the mirror. His fishing style is much like mine. There was no fancy equipment and tackle that he was changing out every few minutes to try to get that elusive Walleye, there was just him and his simple rod and reel with a hook and bobber, slamming and hauling in fat fish one after another. 

Our conversation on the dock that day was bits and pieces of other fishing memories we shared as kids and places we had fished. Nothing urgent, nothing that even required a response more than a nod or an occasional “yeah”. There was a quiet solitude and friendship there between Wayne and me. A time to just gaze out on the lake and watch our bobbers dancing up and down on the water. A chance to reel in some nice fish. 

It wasn’t too long after setting up on the dock that we had enough fish to call it a successful

morning. It was time to go and walk back into the reality of our day. 

As we were leaving Wayne and Karen loaded up the fish and invited us for a fish fry. I’m not sure it could get any better than that first morning fishing this year. Not only did we catch some nice big fish, but we got invited to the fish fry…and it wouldn’t involve me having to fillet any fish! Or really do any frying of the fish. Talk about a win-win situation. That never happens to me. I always have to fillet them and fry them. And it is a lot of work when you have so many panfish.  

We headed down the road to their house in the evening and were welcomed into their home with the smell of fresh sunnies and crappies in the pan and a feast that left my stomach full and my heart filled to the brim with gratitude for our friends down the dirt road. Here’s to some more great fishing times. Tight lines, everyone!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

We Have A Winner!

Amazon Gift Card Drawing! We Have a Winner!

Thanks everyone who entered the drawing for the Amazon gift card. You are all appreciated. 

And the winner is:

Joan Love Cieminski!

Check your email for the gift card.

It's That Time Again...Cemetery Clean-up Day

It’s that time again for me and my extended family…it is Cemetery Clean-up Day. That time of the year on the first Saturday of May, my family and I will drop everything we may have planned and make the trek Northward. It is time to rake and clean the family cemetery. Yep every year since the early1900’s (or earlier), my family has reported for duty at Bearhead Union Cemetery. When I was a kid, it was my grandparents,parents, aunts and uncles who would rake the pine needles off the grave sites for a few hours. And I am sure back then the cemetery was much smaller than it has expanded to today, as now most of those generations have been laid to rest beneath the pines at Bearhead. When we were kids my cousins and my brothers and I would run around back and forth playing until it was time for the potluck lunch. But for the past several decades, it has been our generation and those after us that are doing the raking. 

After all the raking there is a major potluck lunch that follows, along with the Cemetery annual meeting. Each year, we will get a letter from the president and president’s husband, Cookie and Skip, that lets everyone know the day is set aside and the clean-up, potluck and annual meeting will be happening. The only year it has been canceled was 2020 due to Covid. Not a bad track record for over 100 years of the cemetery’s existence.

The potluck consists of grilled burgers, brats and hot dogs that Cookie and Skip set up, and then all the sides of salads, chips, and desserts imaginable. There is always an ample supply of food for the 80-to over 100 people that show up. We all get our plates of food and sit under the gigantic white pines and then the meeting will begin. It is run pretty formally in a not so formal way. Robert’s Rules of Parliamentary Procedure are followed and the minutes from last year are read and agreed upon and voted on. The new order of business is presented and this usually involves voting for new Board Members. 

While there are several Board Members, with 2 or 3 year terms, I don’t think there has ever been a time when there was a need for Board Members to do anything. Cookie and Skip and a couple of others that live near the cemetery have kept it running and have kept the finances in really good order. So every year, whether they want the job or not, they are voted back into the role of President and Husband of the President. It is the Up North way and it has worked for many generations.

While cemeteries, for many, are a sad place to be, I find much peace and happiness at Bearhead. Yes, many of my family is buried there, and sometimes there may be a new family member that made the trek before the first Saturday in May to go rest under the pines. But each year when we can all come together and honor and celebrate those lives that have gone before us, I always cherish that time together. 

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Catholic Church, Family and Mother's Day

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are moms, who are in the role of mom to someone, or are about to be a mom for the first time. Today is the day set aside for you. Sitting here the day before Mother’s Day, I am thinking back to past days when I was a kid celebrating Mother’s Day. 

When I was a kid, Mother’s day was always spent going to Catholic church, listening to the story of Mary, Jesus’ mom, and her sorrow as a mom when they crucified her son Jesus. As a 10 year old kid, it never did much for me, I just remember sitting there, starving because we had to fast before Communion, and feeling like I was going to puke from the smell of the incense the altar boy’s would give to the priest to swing around in the little incense holder. I was only thinking about the fun to come going to my grandparent’s house with all my cousins and Grandma’s chicken and mashed potatoes and cole slaw. Church seemed to last forever with all the anticipation of what was to come.

But eventually church would end in a benediction and prayer for all the moms and we would be outside, me breathing in all the fresh air I could to relieve my nasal passages of the incense from church. We would all hop in the station wagon and off we would go to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Sunday dinner and a day with all my cousins. We would pull up to the house and you could smell the chicken baking long before you got to the house. Even though it was Mother’s Day, my grandma, my aunts and my mom would do what they always did…work their tails off to get the meal on the table, get everyone fed and then do the clean up of the meal for over 20 people. But then they would sit at the dining room table with coffee and dessert and visit the rest of the time. The women in my family were all about giving, even on Mother’s Day, they were taking care of their families amidst celebrating “their” day.

My mom died when I was 23 and pregnant with our oldest daughter. Mother’s Days after she was gone were spent visiting my grandma and after she was gone it was just having a day where my Best Half took me to Walmart and let me pick out flowers and seeds for the garden. We didn’t have much money, but this was one of my favorite things to do on Mother’s Day. He would patiently push the cart and follow me as I looked at each and every flower in the rows and rows at the store. I would find some packs of flowers and seeds and off we would go home where I would plan and begin to plant a flower garden. After 42 years of marriage, we tend to still make it an annual trip to pick out flowers on or close to Mother’s Day.

When all the kids were little, it was always a fun day on Mother’s Day. The kids would each have some little art project they had made in school especially for Mother’s Day. It would usually be made out of popsicle sticks or yarn or both. And I would find a spot to display each one for as long as it held up with Elmer’s glue and tape.

Life was really busy with 4 kids, especially when they were so close in age,only 5 years apart from the oldest to the youngest. One year as a gift for Mother’s Day, my Best Half gave me the luxury of a hot bath for as long as I wanted without any kids at the door interrupting. He stood guard at the bathroom door for the entire time, fielding questions from the kids, handing out snacks at the door and making sure I got time to have a leisurely bath. Best…Gift…Ever!

As the years flew by and the kids got older, Mother’s Day became usually more of moments rather than an entire day. We would have breakfast and sit and visit for a bit, but eventually the kids would wander off and hang out in their rooms or meet up with their friends. And we would gather back for Sunday supper which usually consisted of what my mom made back when I was a kid, a beef roast with onions, carrots and potatoes around it. A super easy dinner that always got everyone to the table at the same time. No work for me on Mother’s Day and the family all together for a meal. I see now why my mom did that on a lot of Sundays. No work, and everyone showed up. 

Mother’s Days now, with the kids scattered all over the country, aren’t anything what they used to be when they were young. It pretty much consists of a phone call at some point in the day from the kids and grand-kids, or a text if they're at work. With the ones who have kids of their own, it is their day to honor and celebrate the mom of their family. Maybe it will be a trip to the store to buy flowers for the yard or house, maybe it will be a special meal where they all can sit down together and celebrate, or maybe new traditions will arise for each of them. All I know is, after the calls and texts, I will be at the store, with my Best Half following with the shopping cart, picking out my flowers for the yard and garden. And I’ll be throwing the traditional beef roast dinner in the oven. Happy Mother’s Day everyone.

Thanks once again for reading or listening to Solid Rock Minnesota. Don’t forget to go over to our website at and sign up for our drawing for an Amazon gift card. Just let us know your favorite episode of our blog/podcasts and where you are from. The drawing will be held May 15th, so get your name entered by midnight May 15th. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Possums, Trolleys and Fancy Places to Stay

We just got back from Nashville this week after spending a few days with our son who lives there. We got the rental car and headed out early on a Friday morning. Not planning to be in Nashville until Saturday evening, we stayed in the town of Keokuk, Iowa the first night. While we were traveling, I thought I would be all into online booking the motel. And so while we were driving I was searching for an affordable decent motel for a decent price. I found a great one in Keokuk, only $58 a night. They were running a special so it was about half what the other places nearby were charging. Looking at the pictures and reading their description it sounded incredible for the price. It had a heated indoor pool, breakfast buffet and updated rooms. I’m always hesitant to do stuff like book motels, car rentals and such online.

When I booked the car rental online and it was for $385 for the week I was excited we could afford it. When we drove to downtown St Paul to get the rental, and the clerk started ringing us up for the insurance, sales tax, rental tax, and all the things that were not in the online price the total came close to $700 and that wasn’t even the $300 damage deposit ! Talk about sticker shock! I asked what the heck happened to the quote of $385, the clerk said that Expedia online didn’t give us the total costs up front. We canceled the rental and headed towards home figuring for that price it wasn’t any cheaper than taking the minivan. On the way home we stopped at an Enterprise rental and walked in and told them what happened. I asked the guy point blank how much for everything, keys in hand and out the door. Their price was almost half of the other company. So they lead us out to the cars available and let us choose a car. We took the Hyundai Elantra since the gas mileage was the best at 40 mpg. It was actually cheaper to rent the car than take one of ours.

But back to online shopping for a motel room. I had the reservation ready to hit the reserve button, but got hesitant thinking back to the car rental escapade. I sat and re-read the description, looking for loopholes for extra charges. There were none and all of a sudden a flashing warning was on my screen saying: “Book Now, Last Room”. So I hit the non-refundable button and booked our one night stay at the motel in downtown Keokuk, Iowa. 

When we pulled up to the place there was a giant parking lot…with not one car in it. We were across the street from a bail bond place and a few bars up the street. The motel clerk was sitting out on a bench outside on her phone. She looked a little perplexed as we started walking towards the door. She scurried around and went behind the desk and smiled and welcomed us. The entire lobby was stacked floor to ceiling with boxed toilets and plumbing supplies. Where the buffet was located were more boxed toilets. I was getting pretty leery about having hit the non-refundable reserve button. When I asked about the pool, we were informed it was empty with not a drop of water in it, because of construction. When asked about the free breakfast we were told they had a few things they'd put out for breakfast. I was having reminiscent feelings of when I booked the car online. The old bait and switch routine. When I showed the clerk the online pictures and amenities they were supposed to have, she told me they just hadn’t updated their site recently. They were in the middle of bringing the place up to code and remodeling. Being we did the non-refundable booking, we just decided to stay. We just needed to sleep for the night anyway. So we got to our room and it was clean and seemed ok for the night. 

The next morning we found lunch bags with a granola bar, an apple, a bottle of water with a pouch of  lemonade powder taped to it…breakfast. Our continental breakfast compliments of the motel. We got in our car and off we went for a day's drive to Nashville.

Down the road,in Missouri, we found a small town cafe to get an actual breakfast. It was a busy place and everyone knew everyone. So we got the looks from the locals as we entered. We got a table over in the corner with the family of the server. They were having breakfast with mom. We ordered and waited about 45 minutes for our meals. Our waitress, Rhonda, who was the grandma of the kids at the table by us, was making the rounds pouring coffee and of course was visiting with all her neighbors. The food was good and plentiful. I heard the lady behind me ask for a take home box so I figured I’d do the same. When the lady got her box, she and Rhonda started talking about her taking the box to her new neighbor, the possum under her porch. She started telling Rhonda all about the possum who lives under her porch and is so afraid it will “play dead/possum” everytime it sees the lady. When Rhonda brought me my leftover box, I almost gave it to the possum lady for her fearful neighbor, but decided best to move along before Rhonda and her start talking again.

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful and we got to Nashville about 7 in the evening. We picked up our son and headed to get some supper. Our son works in Nashville so knows his way all over the downtown area. We had so much fun after supper looking at the sites. It was almost like being at the state fair with the crowds of people and the noise. Every cafe had live music going, crowds and smells of fried foods or barbecue. We drove around and made our plans of what to see on Sunday morning.

Sunday we had breakfast and set out to see the sites. We had tickets for a trolley that you can jump on and off all over the city.  The driver told us all about the different places and history of places we were going by. So much history in the town and so much music to listen to. 

We had one night, compliments of our son, at the historic Hermitage Hotel. it’s a really really fancy 5 star hotel where they charge about $550 a night. It was kind of fun because when we walked in it was like Ma and Pa Kettle come to the Big City. It was a night of being pampered and eating chocolate covered strawberries and looking out over the Nashville skyline. 

Our last night in Nashville was a quiet night at our son’s apartment. We made dinner and afterward sat around and made music together. I had brought my guitar, my ukulele and my strumstick. The night was filled with bluegrass and the old country gospel music from the area we had visited the past few days. It was an awesome ending to a great short vacation to Nashville. There’s nothing I love more than playing and making music with my family. 

The next morning we were up and on the road home at about 5:30. We had a long ways to go and a short time to get there. A good 14 hour drive home. As usual it was a tearful goodbye for this mama. I have yet to get comfortable with having my kids living across the country from where they were brought up.

The drive home was long and uneventful. No motels to deal with, no cafes with people homing possums under their front porch, just the open road and the long drive back to Minnesota through God forsaken Iowa. We got home where it was 50 degrees colder than Nashville and raining. Exhausted from the 14 hours driving straight through, we got home in the evening,showered and fell into bed, both of us grateful to have made it home…and to have gotten through Iowa. 

Thanks once again for reading or listening to Solid Rock Minnesota. Don’t forget to go over to our website at and sign up for our drawing for an Amazon gift card. Just let us know your favorite episode of our blog/podcasts and where you are from. The drawing will be held May 15th, so get your name entered by midnight May 15th.