Sunday, April 16, 2023

Beginnings and Endings...for Now

A little over three years ago when I had retired, I decided I wanted to try my hand at podcasting. And I am not sure why I even got that thought in my head, because I never really ever listened to any podcasts. While I had no clue whatsoever on how to go about it, I jumped in and became a closet podcaster. No one knew that I was doing it, not even my Best Half. I decided it was best to not have anyone know, because I just might embarrass myself big time. 

So I opted for making a short 5-10 minute podcast weekly on just whatever popped into my head. While being raised and living in Minnesota all my life, and having family that originated “Up North”, it was bound to be pretty local in content. And being married to a Southerner who was a really hard of hearing guy, there were bound to be some stories there too. And my thought was that before I died I would hand over the link to my podcasts for my family and friends to have a listen…after I had long left this world.

But in reality what happened was that I told my long time friend, The Tootsie Sister, about my working at podcasting. I even gave her the link to it since she was in a few of the stories. I never thought to tell her not to tell anyone. I just figured she would listen and then forget about it. But that is not exactly what happened.

A few weeks after I had shared the link with my friend, she had told her sister about it. And her sister, who is a friend of my cousin, shared the link with her. So word got out to my cousin about the podcast…and the rest is pretty much history. My whole family was made aware of the podcast I was doing thanks to my cousin. They all were fine with me telling stories about the family and actually enjoyed talking about those days. 

One day my friend’s sister, the one who had blabbed to my cousin, texted me and said that the podcast was great, but her other sister who is deaf couldn’t enjoy it. I should turn it into a blog that would mirror the podcast. It was food for thought, because by this time my Best Half was trying to listen to the podcast and couldn’t make out bits and pieces oftentimes. He has always been hard of hearing, but as age hits his ears, he is having more trouble hearing broadcasts. So the blog was born for the hard of hearing and deaf family and friends. And I found out there were several who turned to the blog just as much as the podcast. I guess it’s always good to have choices.

That was over 3 years ago…with just a few people following, mostly family and friends. Over the past 3 years it has grown to many thousand followers from all over the world. People I have never met and probably never will meet. Some who have stayed silent and just listened or read the blog. And some who have commented and connected with me via facebook or email…they are new friends. It was something I never in my wildest dreams ever planned to happen. And with it came an incredible feeling of awesome! 

Who on earth would ever think to listen to what I had to say or stories I had to tell? I am amazed at all of this. Every week for over 3 years there has been a podcast or blog with a story to listen to or read. It has been an awesome journey for me to watch all this unfold. 

But lately I have been thinking about how I would like to not be committed to a weekly podcast/blog. So after a whole lot of thought, I have decided to end the weekly production of the podcast officially today. While I am kind of sad and wondering if this is the right thing to do right now, I have decided that I would like to end the time I put into the podcast and maybe just go out on a good note. Maybe in time I will pick it up again. 

I want to thank each one of you who have checked in every week to listen to the podcast. I have enjoyed each comment and message I have ever received from those who took the time to send one. You have made my world smaller when I have heard from people all over the world who have been listening. It has been one heck of an adventure and journey for me and my Best Half. 

Here is one final song from Monday Morning Music from a Distance. 
In trying to figure out distance recording music with the grand-daughter, here is our attempt. This time she sang solo and then added a few harmony tracks. Then she emailed it back to me and I tried to throw in guitar, ukulele, mandolin, harmonica, and strum stick. It was pretty hard to sync it all together. But as always, it was a fun time with the grand-daughter and making music together. 

This is an old song By Albert E Brumley, written in 1928. He was out picking cotton and singing an old song and then started thinking how it would be nice to fly away from the cotton fields. It was 1929 and there in a cotton field in Alabama he sang “I’ll Fly Away”. And the rest is history, as they say.

So until we are brought together again, many blessings to all of you. 

This is Sue and My Best Half signing off along with the Monday Morning Music gang. 

You can listen to. this podcast and music over on the website

 I'll Fly Away
            Albert E. Brumley

Some glad morning when this life is over
I'll fly away
To a home on God's celestial shore
I'll fly away
I'll fly away, oh, Glory
I'll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by
I'll fly away
Just a few more weary days and then
I'll fly away
To a land where joy shall never end
I'll fly away
I'll fly away, oh, Glory
I'll fly away
When I die, Hallelujah, by and by
I'll fly away

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Winter You're Growing Old

The past few weeks it has continued to be Winter around here in all its glory. Snow, Wind, Cold, Blizzard Warnings and everything else Winter related. And it is April, usually a time of warmer weather, Spring showers and a look forward to Summer. 

I couldn't help but get out my guitar and write a song about this Winter. It is definietely not a love song. But it comes from the heart. You can listen to it over on the podcast. Just go to and scroll down to the podcast episodes. Enjoy

Sung to the tune of Sounds of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel

lyrics: Susan Engström McAuliffe

Hello Winter you were my friend

But I’m tired of seeing you again

You never seem to want to disappear                             

Even though Spring is oh so near

You stay and keep on snowing

And being cold

Winter you’re growing old

Down the driveway I try to go                                                                  

But there’s too much ice, there so much snow

I slip and slide and finally hit the ground

Buried in snow with drifts all around

And I pray someone will find me

Before I freeze

My toes and knees

And in the early morning day                       

I hear the weatherman say                                   

Another storm out West  is coming here

So don’t you put away your snow gear

Because once again you’ll need it              

To fight the snow

Winter you’re growing old

I’m such a fool thinking Spring                                             

When there’s still snow on everything                                    

It seems we never ever see the sun

Will the warmth of Spring ever come

Or is this what climate change is

A big white abyss

Winter you’re growing old

Someday soon it will be Spring                                  

We will sweat and forget everything                                             

It will seem like Winter was never here                       

With mosquitoes buzzing in our ear

And we will long for a cooler days                               

Looking through the haze

Of a never ending Summer

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Lunch With the Tootsie Sister

A few weeks ago I had a chance to meet up with my long-time friend, The Tootsie Sister, as she is known in these podcasts. She is a lifelong friend from my high school days. She is the friend who went to work at the Minnesota State Fair with me as the first women on the crew at the gates taking tickets, way back in 1976. She was my maid of honor when I got married 44 years ago. She is intertwined and connected in my life as much as anyone can be. We are just that close.

While it took more than a month of checking schedules and finding a time we could meet up, we finally were able to get together at Olive Garden for lunch and some time away from everything else in life. A time to catch up on what is going on in our lives. And this time we were meeting as two retired people. My friend has finally retired as of the first of the year.

When we both got out of our cars in the parking lot we bear-hugged each other and walked into the restaurant, both of us chatting a mile a minute as we were walking in. As we followed the greeter to our seat, we were grateful to be put back in a corner booth where we could sit and not have a lot of people and their conversations flowing into ours., and ours into theirs.

Menus glanced at and the typical never-ending salad, soup and breadsticks ordered, we got  comfortable in our booth and ready for a long awaited visit. In looking at my friend, the first thing I noticed was her rested and relaxed appearance compared to the last time we were together. I could tell the past few months of retirement so far had done wonders for her. And as I mentioned it, she agreed how much fun retirement has been so far. 

We chatted about our kids and grandkids, filling each other in on how sometimes they can worry us to the point of great anxiety. And at other times how they can make us want to remember not to interfere in their grown up lives. Even though we had our opinions on how we would do things if we were in the same situations. Just one more conundrum of being a parent to adult children…what’s OK  and what’s off limits. Luckily between us nothing is off limits in our conversations.

But as we chatted we both realized that we have lived through those times already and have come out on the other side, weary at times, but surviving what life threw our way. And here we were 35 years later and now watching our kids go through many of the same struggles we did at that age. Our ways of dealing with life now compared to 35 years ago are…let’s just say…more mellowed. Maybe due to time and wisdom or maybe just due to age and energy levels, I am not sure. Either way, we have learned to pick our battles more efficiently.

Stuffed and content sitting at the booth that day, I took a good look at my friend, The Tootsie Sister, and came to realize how close we are and have stayed through the years. Through high school, weddings, kids, grandkids, our spouses’ health issues, even the inability to see each other very often, she is my old friend. The one who has walked this path of life with me through all that life has dished out good and bad. She is one of those close, old and dear friends that you can’t find in newer friendships. There is a history that travels back decades. There is no need for explanations, we both just have an understanding of each other and where we have been and where we are going. 

That day as we left the Olive Garden, we got in our cars and started to drive off. As I looked in the mirror and saw her driving away, a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton song came on, “You Can’t Make Old Friends”. It is the last song they did together and it tells about their friendship through the years and their history together. 

In it it says, “It’s been you and me since way back when. You can’t make old friends”. And while I have several close friends and am close to those in my family, there are just some things that rang true listening to that song as we drove away that day. We have become old friends through time and life happening and continuing to come our way. And when it is all said and done, it is true…you can’t make old friends…they just grow with time. 

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Celebrate GOOD TIMES...C'MON!

This past week has been filled with days of celebrating reaching the age of 65. And I have to say it has been a great time and so much less trauma on my brain and body than celebrating other birthdays over the years. It kind of amazes me at how celebrating changes over time. I kind of am reminded of several birthdays and the celebrations over the past decades that have brought me to this week’s celebrations.

I remember as a pretty little kid, my mom would have a couple of the neighborhood kids over and we would have hot dogs and chips and birthday cake. The only thing I remember was having to dress up in a party dress, rufflly and lacy like. And no doubt my hair would be all brushed and shiny and wavy with probably some ringlets along the sides. I was the only one in the neighborhood with super curly hair and my mom was a beautician who gave all the other little girls perms right before the Christmas or Easter holiday. I hated that part, but the other girls would come to the house looking the same way. Only they never looked as uncomfortable as I felt. They would have their hair all curled and be in frilly party dresses and black patent leather shoes. Yes I am really dating myself at the moment. But we all looked pretty amazing for the times…I guess.

Once I turned 13 or 14, my mom and my friend down the street got together and planned a surprise party for me. I didn’t have a clue what was happening. I came home one day and there was my friend sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. What the heck? My mom made some excuse as my friend was leaving and I just forgot all about it. 

Imagine my surprise when I came home a week later to a house full of grade school friends yelling surprise! My brother had been instructed to take me out shopping. I never saw that party coming. And to this day I still don’t know how my mom  pulled it off. She was not the best secret keeper in the world. But it was a memorable night for me.

And then there was turning 18. Back then the Minnesota laws for adulthood were 18. So drinking became legal. My 2 best friends at the time were Mike and Bob. We were all now officially 18 and decided to go out to a local bar and drink together. But before that Mike and I had been invited over for a fancy Mexican meal that our friend was giving. She had just returned from Mexico and was excited to share her stories. So we started there first and would meet up after with Bob.

My friend had bought a beautiful copper pitcher while in Mexico and had decided to make lemonade in it to go with the shredded beef tacos. What we didn’t know back then is that the acid from lemons reacts with copper and will get a person sicker than any night out drinking will ever do! Mike and I both drank a couple big glasses of the delicious poison.

We got done eating and Bob showed up and off we went to a bar called the Cabooze. The place was packed and the music loud. The three of us went up and showed our ID’s and each ordered a beer. The intent seriously was not to get drunk, but to just say we finally went out for a drink together legally. There had been many times before that we had drank “illegally” together in our teenage years.

We no sooner got our beers and I started feeling like my stomach was going to explode or worse just keep rising up like a volcano. I didn’t want to say anything to spoil the night, but one look at Mike and I could see he was getting super pale and losing interest in the evening. Meanwhile, Bob was just drinking his beer and watching all the people. I made the comment that I’d be right back and raced off to the bathroom.

I just made it to the bathroom and flung my head over the toilet and heaved what felt like, my entire guts out. I got all clammy and everything sounded far away…like right before a person passes out. I just half stood and half draped myself over the toilet with my head hanging ready to go for round two. 

By the time I was ready to leave the bathroom, I knew it would not be the last time I would be embracing that porcelain Queen of Barf-holding. I ran out of there and ran right into Mike who was coming from the men’s room. We looked at each other and then kind of held on to each other as we made our way back to the bar. There was Bob sitting and drinking his 2nd beer, feeling just fine. He took a look at us and he knew we were on our way out the door. And that was my first recollection of legal drinking with my friends. We both moaned and groaned all the way home and later found out it was the lemonade in a copper pitcher that almost killed us that night.

Birthdays in my 20’s are pretty much a blur. With 4 kids, all ages 5 and under, life was a bit crazy and filled with sliding across the floor barefoot on grapes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. My biggest  celebrations were not forgetting a kid at the park, (although we did forget our youngest in a car seat on the kitchen table as we got in the car to go on a camping trip). Those birthdays are remembered by homemade gifts from little hands and a promise of my Best Half to sit outside the bathroom and field questions from the little ones, while I took a leisurely bath and shaved my legs without needing band-aids afterwards.

Time flew by and by the time I turned 40, the kids were teen-agers and were able to help plan a surprise bash for me over at our friends’ house. I once again didn’t have a clue and was surprised beyond belief when we pulled up to our friends’ house. There were cars all over the place and I figured they were having people over. We were just stopping by to pick something up…or so I thought. 

Imagine my surprise when as we were walking in, I started noticing cars that looked just like our families and friends' cars. Right on down to the bumper stickers. It wasn’t until I walked into the house and saw 30-40 people I knew! That was another huge surprise I will always remember. Entering my 40’s turned out being a good time.

As long as I am scanning birthdays over the decades, I’d be lying if I said turning 60 was fun. While it wasn’t an enlightening or joyous occasion, all I can say is I survived, even with my thoughts of gloom and doom for the first year in my 60’s. I hung on to the thought that my parents died at age 59 and 60 and many memories of their health and deterioration played tapes in my brain. I kind of lived a little in fear of dying.

It wasn’t until I woke up one day and told myself just because they died young doesn’t mean I have to carry on that thing from the family tree. I decided then and there I was going to saw off that branch of the family tree and live my life and try to reach age 92, like my grandma did. And then when that time comes, I will review life and see where I’m at. It truly did make for a better way to think through this aging stuff.

So here I am week one of age 65 and the celebrations are still happening. The day of my birthday I woke up and jumped (or maybe more like hobbled) out of bed to greet the new day! It was not snowing and the sun was even peaking through the clouds.

 What did I do on my birthday? I hung out with my Best Friend and Best Half. We had breakfast together, did some things around the house and he made supper for us. Some would say it was just another day, but it really felt pretty special to me. My Best Half made me the main focus of his day, the kids and grandkids called throughout the day and I had a big bowl of ice cream that night. It was a perfect day for my actual  birthday.

The next few days are plans with a few different friends to meet for lunch. It seems now that we are retired, meeting for lunch on a weekday is so much more appealing than meeting at a crowded place on a weekend. We can grab a quiet seat and sit for a while and catch up. We get to take the path less traveled by the rest of the working world. These are some of my best times with friends. A chance to relive moments past, talk about life now and think about the future. And it’s always a time of some good laughs and possibly a few tears thrown in. 

While so many birthdays have flown by unremembered, there are still a few 
that will go down in the books as some of the best or at least most memorable. I have come to see birthdays  like milepost markers along the path of our lives. But unlike the milepost markers on the paved roads that are pounded into the ground on the side of the road and waiting for us to blast by at a precise time and distance, these markers are left lying by the wayside waiting for us to show up and plant that marker into the ground and hold on to it for a fleeting moment like a prize. I guess I have come to think, it is all about how we approach our milestones. Will it be running, walking, crawling or something else? It’s all up to each one of us how we want to handle our milepost markers.

Right now,for me, I’m going to be hanging out for a bit at milepost marker 65 and taking in the sites.  Have a good week everyone!

Sunday, March 19, 2023

That's An Hour I'll Never Get Back

This past week, once again, we have been forced to change the clocks and “Spring Forward”. And I will be the first to say, I am not a fan of the days and the week that follows. I am not a person who likes change to my daily routine and the first week after we set the clocks back or forward, I am a confused mess trying to go through my daily life. 

I am fortunate that my Best Half takes on the responsibility of setting most of the clocks in the house to reflect the springing forward or falling back of time. He has done this for as long as we have been married. Saturday, the night before the time change, he will go and set all the clocks in the house to the correct time. 

This past week, he continued the tradition and right before he went to bed Saturday, he went around the house and set all the clocks an hour ahead of time. He even set the clock on my side of the bed to reflect the new daylight savings time. That was a first, I must admit. I have usually been left to my own devices to set my bedside clock. And I have to say, many times it has sat at the wrong time for several days before I would get around to remembering to change the time. 

Saturday night we went to bed knowing that as we slept we would somehow magically lose an hour of our lives until Fall when we could reclaim it. It always makes me think to myself, “That’s an hour I’ll never get back”. Or in the case of setting the clocks back in the Fall, “What am I going to do with that extra hour I have been given?”. 

Somewhere in the night I woke up to see what time it was, thinking it must be getting close to my rooster gene time of 5:30. When I looked at my clock I couldn’t focus on the numbers, there were too many numbers staring back at me. I reached for my glasses and then could see the numbers a little better. But they still made no sense to me. My clock read 17:23. What the heck? I turned up the backlight to make sure I was seeing the numbers correctly. Yep 17:23 is what I was still seeing. And then it dawned on me.

Remembering back to my years as a nurse…my clock was reading in military time! I closed my eyes and tried to remember military time, which I was never good at in all the years I was a nurse. I calculated and then re-calculated because according to my brain it was 5:23 PM.

I looked across at the clock on the nightstand on the other side of the bed and it said 5:23. Even with a time change my rooster gene had adjusted and awakened me at the usual time. I was mighty impressed with myself. But I then realized it was really only 4:23 pre-time change. That is a little too early even for me to be waking up. So I dropped my head back on the pillow to see if I could fall back asleep for another hour. Nope it wasn’t going to happen.

So I took my phone and earbuds and listened to an audio book, looked at facebook and listened to my Best Half snore as he slept like it was 4:23 in the morning. Eventually we both were up and going before daylight was peeking in the windows. Just a whole other adjustment to deal with now that we have “sprung ahead”. It is dark when we wake up.

While I love the fact that daylight is increasing once again and the time change will give us much more daylight at the end of the day, that trade off of waking up to darkness is kind of a pain. I mean here I am waking up and it is still dark for a few hours and that makes me feel like it's the middle of the night. My circadian rhythm gets so messed up that first week of time changes. I wind up wanting a nap by mid-morning and falling asleep on the couch at 7 pm, then crawling in bed and feeling wide awake. I am a circadian mess that first week of changing up the clocks by just one hour.

Eventually I do adjust like most people the first week when we set the clocks forward or back. It’s just usually a week of being more tired, a little more cranky at those around me, and finding myself in the vehicles in the driveway trying to figure out how to set those clocks. Each vehicle has a different way to set the clocks and I am usually forced to go sit in a cold car thumbing through each vehicle’s owner’s manual trying to figure it all out. Usually this is not my finest hour. 

But to my surprise this year when I went out to the vehicles the times were all set to show daylight savings time. I guess my Best Half being retired has found himself with time on his hands and willing to set the vehicle’s clocks. One less irritation for me, it even makes up for setting my alarm clock to military time. 

The other day I was thinking how they always say we lose an hour when we set the clocks ahead and gain an hour when we set the clocks back in the Fall. It got me to thinking…that’s an hour I will never get back…at least until Fall when I will live to see an extra hour in my life once again. Each Spring I will be forced to give up an hour of something. And come Fall, I will be given an extra hour to do something with my time. It is just one more of those things in life where the ebb and the flow eventually catch up to each other and create a balance. Just maybe not that first week when we make the changes. That is more like a tornado whirling through my days. Here’s to time changes and balanced circadian rhythms. Have a great week everyone!

Sunday, March 12, 2023

When I'm 65!

This coming week I will hit a milestone in my life. I will turn 65 years old. While some people wouldn’t consider this a huge milestone, I do. For one reason, I have outlived my parents who died when they were 59 and 60. For me to have passed by the age of 59 and 60 I am grateful to be on the other side of those years. Unlike many who may feel their aging, I feel like I can finally take in a deep breath and let out a long exhale. 

I retired a few years ago before I was 65 because I was able to while my Best Half worked another year for his pension and to keep me on his health insurance plan. He really is a great guy and talked me into getting out of a nursing job that was slowly sucking the life out of me at the time. While nursing was a great career for the 25+ years I was in it, the last year working saw so many changes to patient care and the profession itself, I wanted to retire. And that was right before COVID hit. I can’t even imagine working through the COVID times with killer schedules and being in the mix of so much death and fear of bringing COVID home to my family.

The past couple years leading up to age 65 have been quite a journey. And for me the past few years I have had so many thoughts and realizations about entering this chapter in life compared to my younger years. While I’m sure I could think of 65 thoughts and ways to be a better human, here are a few that I have found to be the most important for me over the past year. 

The first would be to keep waking up and getting out of bed every morning like I have plans and things to do. Even if I don’t have one thing planned. I think for me it would be easy to stay there in bed and look at my phone and waste away hours looking at what people are doing in their lives through FaceBook. I seriously spent over an hour looking up how to make sourdough starter one morning. I found out it is still something I won’t be trying anytime soon. I need to start my day, every day, by 7 or 7:30 at the latest. While I am usually awake by 5:30, due to the infamous Rooster Gene, I try to use that time to have some quiet moments to be grateful for having a warm bed, a roof over my head and a snoring Best Half next to me. But I will admit, there are days I would rather stay in bed until long after my wake up hour. 

While lying in bed, there is always some hesitation each morning getting out of bed. After many years of playing sports in my youth and getting injured, lifting many people in and out of bed and off the floor during my nursing days, and just plain wear and tear on the joints and muscles I have been hauling around in this body the past 65 years, there is always pain upon rising in the morning. And for me I have just had to resign myself to the fact that in the morning when I rise, there is some pain and the feeling of getting older until I stretch and get moving.

But I have made a very conscious decision not to let pain from arthritis rule my life from the moment I awake through the whole day. I have learned to adjust to the pain and adapt for the most part to get me through the days without many issues. And worst case scenario…there are a few times here and there Tylenol is my friend.

 The first is my mind-set. If I dwell on the pain, it stays with me and becomes my partner for the day. And not really a partner, more like a ball and chain. So upon rising in the morning, I greet the pain and move on. Both literally and figuratively. I tell my pain thank you for letting me be able to still move and feel the pain and then I stretch, doing Tai Chi. Most of the time this works and I go about the day pretty normal. Of course some of the other things I have done are getting some adaptive devices for the things that have become hard. I now have a jar opener that isn’t my Best Half. It is a little gadget I got online that makes me feel like Wonder Woman when opening jars. 

Another realization for me now that I am rounding the corner to 65 is that I now have adult children that I have different levels of relationships with. With only 1 of the 4 kids living in Minnesota and somewhat close by, I would have to say she probably gets the brunt of her parents and dealing with us. Some days I am sure she is texting her siblings and complaining to them about being here alone with us. And other days I think she may even be grateful for having us close by. We tend to try and see them weekly and see the grandkids and have them over whenever we can. But we try also to not smother them all, maybe a fine line at times.

As for the other 3 kids, we try hard to keep in touch and thankfully there is messenger and video calling. As the grandkids get older and have phones and internet access by themselves, we hear from them often. Sometimes several times a day with the younger ones. And for us we try to answer their texts and messages right away whenever we can.

What I have decided over the past few years since we have had more kids out of state and less in person time, we need to make more of a deliberate effort to be in their lives. And I am sure at times we annoy the heck out of them with our ever loving repeated messages to see how they are, but I have decided that I didn’t raise them all those years to not be in their lives and a little bit of a pain to them. A little guilt about not calling their mom more often isn’t a bad thing. 

And speaking of adult children…having never had parents in our adult lives because our parents died young, I’d like my adult children to know that your parents are both winging it when it comes to being a parent of adult children. Neither one of us has any idea how this role of being parents of adult children is to unfold. There is no road map or directions here, so be patient with us. “We only ask to have a relationship with each of you where we can know you still care about us and love us as much as we love you.”, said your mom with a bit of the Jewish/Catholic guilt I was raised with.

Finally, thinking about turning 65, the one important thing I think that has followed me for years, because it is not an aging thing, is that when I wake up every day,  I need to put on an attitude of gratitude. I have had a great life these first 65 years and I know I will continue to have a great life as long as I don’t play into pity and woe as my body ages, as my mind may slow down a bit and as time marches on. I will continue to tell people I love them as we say good-bye, and I will continue to be just enough of a burden to my kids so that they know I am still here. So bring it on and welcome 65! 

Sunday, March 5, 2023

A Walk To Remember!

Sitting here this morning looking out at yet more snow coming down, I have been given some time to once again reflect. So many thoughts are swirling through my head today. First of course is the question of  “will it ever stop snowing?” We have had well over 16 inches of snow in the past week, and we also have had the joy of freezing rain. Our driveway and road out to the highway is covered and frozen solid with a few inches of thick ice. Every time it melts a bit of the snow it just turns into more ice. It is as good of ice as any hockey rink out there.

Yesterday I volunteered to go get the mail. My Best Half has been doing that and going to the chicken coop daily using the tractor or his 4x4 truck. It’s just that thickly covered with ice these days. The kids and grandkids came by the other day and had to park down on the road and hike in. And one by one they did the banana peel slip and landed on the ground in a heap. I’m glad no one was too badly hurt, and it was a reminder to us that the tractor and truck are going to be our main modes of transportation through the yard and roads until we can see the gravel again.

But yesterday I decided to walk to the mailbox at the end of our driveway. It’s not super far, maybe a half of a block if it was in the City. It should take a couple minutes down and back. But yesterday it took about 10 or 15 minutes to walk that short distance. I started doing the penguin shuffle and though planning to wipe out  I made it to the turn around where it has a slight decline, I started gliding across the ice uncontrollably heading for a snowbank. Luckily I made it to the snowbank on the other side of the turn around and was caught by a crusty and hard packed icy snowdrift. That hurt way less than if I would have nose dived to the ground. I was able to stop myself and regroup and think on where to go for my next path to the mailbox. I was halfway there so figured there was no turning back at this point.

So much of this week we have been once again holed up in the house and doing projects and I will admit it, one day we both took a nap in the afternoon. I still am not sure if that was due to being tired or just plain boredom from being inside so much. Maybe that was my reasoning for walking the gauntlet in the driveway. So on I went. 

I found some slushy ice along the side of the road and took the path less traveled through the pine trees. I figured I could hang on to the branches if I started to go down. But the snow was over a few feet deep in the pines and as I tried to walk, my boot came off, leaving me with a bare foot to try and get back into my boot. After a few tries I got my wet bare foot back in my boot and climbed out of the knee deep snow and headed back towards the road. I reminded myself next time walking outside to put socks on before my boots. My foot was wet and cold and slightly numb.

Once on the road again I inched my way to the mailbox about 10 feet away. I lost my balance and started trying to recover, flapping my arms as if to fly out of the fall. Well, for once in my life I was able to recover and as I was slipping past the mailbox I lunged for it and stood there hugging that big old box as if we were long lost friends.

I stood there a few minutes trying to regroup and build up the courage to make the trek back to the house. I was kind of glad we live on a secluded dirt road where no people had to watch my walk to the mailbox. I looked at the mail and realized that I had spent this whole scary slippery walk  down to the mailbox just to pick up a handful of junk mail and advertising! 

After a few moments mustering up the courage to walk back to the house, I started to head in that direction by way of the other side of the driveway. In calculating the trip back, I realized the other side of the driveway had the trailer, the camper, the kayak trailer, and the sun shining and melting the driveway into more slush than ice. 

So slowly I skated across the driveway and grabbed onto the welcome sign a few feet from the camper. I then made it to the camper and gave it a hug, caressing it and telling it that come Summer we would be spending some time together. I then lurched ahead to the utility trailer parked next to it and stood there for a minute trying to figure out my next steps.

After debating if I wanted to venture into more deep snow, I bypassed the deeper snow where the kayak and trailer were resting. But I did take a second to longingly wish it well through the remainder of Winter. And I promised many trips to the water  with it…come Summer. 

I ventured back on the driveway as I once again approached the turnaround area. But this time I wasn’t sliding downhill. It was a gentle slope upward. I took a few steps and slid back down. So I decided to climb it like a big hill and started zig zagging back and forth as I made it up the small incline. I was feeling a bit cocky about making it across the turnaround. And then realized I was only halfway back to the house.

Focusing back on the rest of the ice road I had to walk, I aimed for the vehicles in the driveway and latched on to the back of the Big van…over to the 4x4…and finally to the minivan door handle. I opened the minivan and just sat down for a minute to gather my nerves. I had made it to the mailbox and back and hadn’t wound up on the ground. Granted my foot was still pretty soaked and cold, but no falls this trip.

As I made my way the last 10 feet into the house I was greeted by the dogs and my Best Half. He asked if there was any good mail. I said no that it was all in the recycling bin and proceeded to take off my boots and jacket. I began to tell him of my adventures on the ice road as we now refer to it. He listened while sipping his coffee and then asked, “Why didn’t you do like I’ve been doing and take the tractor?”. Having no good answer after the near death experience, all I could do was look at him and throw an envelope from the Office of Kansas Tourism at him…that was yesterday’s mail he had sent away for when we had planned the trip South for this week. He set it on the kitchen table and raised his coffee cup up in a toast…here’s to a Spring melt of the ice road and soon to be open water on the lakes for fishing. Until then…I’ll take the tractor down the road. Or better yet, I’ll send my Best Half.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Let's Take a Trip...or Maybe Not

The past two or three weeks we have been planning and getting excited for a few weeks down South somewhere where it is warm and sunny. We spent time cleaning out Hannah Savanna, our traveling van, and looking at maps and figuring places to go and see in the South. 

I even went online and bought a 500 page book that covers all the national parks and monuments in the USA. I never knew there were so many national parks in the US! I looked throughout Florida, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Trying to pick places to see was like when being a kid in a candy store. There are just that many places to see in our country. 

We finally had it narrowed down to the SouthWest part of the country and so I made a list of places we’d be driving by and places not too far out of the way. And there were many. It sure didn’t seem like we’d be at a lack of seeing the sights. And we could take up to 3 weeks before we needed to be back home. And then it happened. 

We started listening to the weather reports closely for where we were planning to go…and it was pretty much one storm after another that was supposed to go through right where we were planning to go. At least for a good part of our time down South. The temps would be in the 30-40 range at night and just in the 40-50’s in the day.

After looking at that and then looking at the Minnesota weather it wasn’t much of a change. Our weather was going to be in the 30-40’s range in the daytime. Enough to at least not feel like we were shut in. 

So once again we sat at the kitchen table weighing the pros and cons of taking a trip South in the next few weeks. And after doing the gas math we made a decision that it wasn’t really worth driving down South to be in similar weather to what we are having right now here in Minnesota. We just sat together at the table shaking our heads and feeling a bit disgusted and dejected.

Trying to justify staying home, I looked at the recent bank account balance and realized over the past week or two we had spent much of the money we were going to use on the trip. 

My driver’s license was due, we had to transfer the title of a recent new used vehicle and we had to pay out the first three months of me starting on Medicare. We also had to pay into state taxes this year and pay the tax guy. Like I said, it was just about what we had allocated for the trip South. 

That realization did help us decide that a trip South isn’t in our plans this Winter. We had planned a Winter trip and then a Summer trip to see the kids and grandkids out West. If we wanted to do that, it was in our best interest to stay in Minnesota until the out West trip in the Summer. 

So here we are still in the winter wonderland of Minnesota and making plans for some cheap day trips around the state. So stay tuned, maybe we’ll be coming to you from someplace else in Minnesota. We dug out the Minnesota map and are making new plans to see maybe some things around Minnesota we haven’t seen before or in a really long time. 

Sunday, February 19, 2023

The Joy is in the Journey

My Best Half and I have had enough of winter, ice and cold. So we decided it is time to take a trip South for a bit to see the sun, go where it is warmer and maybe even feel the ocean or gulf breeze on our faces. And now to figure out the packing for us and two canines. And Also to figure out where to go.

This week we have been looking at extended weather forecasts for the Southern United States. Anywhere from Florida to Arizona. Anywhere where the temps may climb above 50 degrees and there is no snow or ice to slip and slide on. 

We have spent the past few weeks also debating taking the C.O.W. (Cabin On Wheels) or just taking the conversion van that has a bed in the back and some storage under the bed for cooking stuff and backpacks. Are we planning to go and park for a few weeks someplace warm…or are we going to travel cross country and see lots of stuff? That is what it boils down to for deciding. 

After a small discussion about how to travel, we decided the van alone would be fine for heading South. The C.O.W. for us is more of a place to stay and base camp up North. While it is a great little home away from home, it isn’t really needed as much for cross country travels like we do.It was great last year taking it to see some of the family in El Paso and staying for 3 weeks, but this trip we are planning a few days stay here and there. So the plan is to pack up Hannah Savanna ( the conversion van) and hit the road. We are still slightly up in the air, but it seems to be we are leaning to the South West .

So now to plan for packing for a road trip with just the van. A van that we will sleep in and cook out of at times when we are parked. A trip through the cold freezing weather on the way to warmth. And a trip with possible freezing temps on the flip side back. So packing for 2-3 climates is in order, I am thinking. That being said, the packing will need to be compact enough that we can stow everything away and still have room for 200 lbs worth of dogs who like to sprawl out everywhere. 

First thing needed before any packing will be to clean out the van. You see we had to have some part put in it last week and the whole engine cover was taken off to get at the fix. Which meant that the little table and storage area under the table had to be moved to the back of the van. And the nice runners and mats I had positioned to keep snow, salt and mud off the carpet up front also got flung to the back of the van. So before any packing, putting Hannah back together was the first order of business.

While there wasn’t much to clean and put back together, in the 10 degree weather it was to say the least…difficult. The plastic custom cut mats for the driver and passenger seats were just like they were left when they were flung backwards. They were frozen in unique and bizarre shapes. Not even close to how they should be placed around the front floor of the van. 

One of two things would need to happen…bring them all inside to thaw and rush back out to install them before they refroze, or just wrestle with them and get them sort of in place. Then blast the heater when we went to town for gas and press them in place. I chose the latter, only because the van was parked away from the house and I didn’t feel like making 3 trips back and forth to the house. Our driveway is glare ice and I was pretty much convinced I would wipe out on one of those 3 trips back and forth to the house. I don't have much faith in myself to stay in an upright position when walking this winter after 2 previous wipeouts.

So after what seemed like forever and freezing my bare hands trying to “shape” the mats, I finally got them smashed down enough that we could take it and go to the Kwik Trip. By the time we got there the mats were all pliable and put down in place. 

So here it is a few days later and I need to start seriously thinking about getting any of the things we will need for the camping part packed. For the most part I’m thinking of a cookstove and the camp cook kit and 2 mugs. Just enough to boil some water for coffee or tea and maybe heat a quick meal in a kettle. Otherwise most of the foods will be easy stuff I can store and open on the spot. And of course, there will be some eating out at local cafes and places. I always enjoy that part of vacation. Except once when we were in Louisiana and I ordered the Cajun platter.

We were at a local bar and grill in a tiny town way down in South Louisiana along the Gulf. I had always wanted to try local Cajun food and not just the box rice from the stores up here or a chain restaurant . 

When I got my meal, it looked incredible and smelled delicious. On the platter were 3 or 4 different seafood items and some hushpuppies and rice. I dove into the meal and within about 15 seconds, I truly thought my mouth was going to explode. Cajun food down South is nothing like what you would get in Minnesota where we don’t exactly spice our foods with heat. This food burned all the way down my throat and into my stomach, my eyes were tearing up, and I could barely speak. I washed it down with water, which is the wrong thing to do. I should have ordered milk. 

All the while that I was tasting each food item, praying the next wouldn’t be so spicy, my Best Half was thoroughly enjoying his non-Cajun meal watching the entertainment across from him where I was sitting and breathing fire from my mouth. I learned that night, I will never order Cajun food from a local place down South. 

But as usual I have digressed. Back to getting ready to head out on a vacation. I decided making a list before I start packing may be more beneficial being we are probably  traveling through 3 seasons. I will need to pack for temps 0 to 70. And we will mostly be camping in the van. 

I decided to work from the outside in, meaning a list of the stuff we will need for the van and sleeping in it down to the last list of packing our clothes for the change of temps as we drive down and then heading back into Winter. Last year coming back from El Paso we went from 65 above when we left Texas to -11 below when we got to Kansas. It was brutal. We had driven too late to find a place to stay so opted for a truck stop. And our gas furnace did not work. Needless to say, that was the morning we woke up to the 2 dogs burrowed under the sleeping bags with us. The keeping one paw on the ground rule when snuggling went out the minute the temperature went below zero. It definitely was a 2 dog night, they helped keep us warm that night. 

I have come to realize that half the fun and stress of taking a trip in the Winter here in Minnesota is more of an adventure than the actual trip sometimes. The prepping for all kinds of temperatures, and getting the vehicle ready is half the journey. The lists, the digging out stuff to take along “just in case” and the survival packing all play into the bigger picture of the trip. I remember the last lines of a poem I once read that said, “the joy is in the journey, not at the journey’s end”. I guess this holds true oftentimes in life as well as in packing for a Winter trip to who knows where. We may not know where we are going, but we’re making progress to get there. 

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Uncle Sam Doesn't Want Me

Well it is that time of year again when I have to start making the preparations to get our taxes done. You know that time of year that you pray you have kept out enough deductions so that Uncle Sam won’t come a calling and collect money. That day of the year when you hope you can disappoint the government by actually getting something back on the return.

For the past few years we have had a person do our taxes just for my peace of mind. For many years I did our taxes and itemized every little thing I could remember. I would fill in all the forms and millions of lines, add all the W-2’s and stick it all in an envelope or file it online. And then wait…hoping and praying that I filled everything in to the IRS’s satisfaction, hope all calculations were accurate and then pray really hard that I wouldn’t get audited. Because if that happened, well let’s just say I doubt I could argue with the IRS lying in the fetal position sucking my thumb. Because that is the vision I have of me doing taxes and being audited.

A few decades ago when we just had to deal with each of our W-2’s, our mortgage interest, and a few other deductions I did our taxes. One year we had replaced some windows and I put in for the energy credit the government was allowing. 

I read all the instructions on the form from the IRS and plugged in all the numbers and did the calculations. It showed we would receive about $90 extra back on the refund. So I finished all the forms and put 2 stamps on the envelope and sent it off to Provo Utah which is where Minnesota was to send taxes to the IRS back then. Remember this is decades ago with no home internet at all. I am not even sure faxing ability was around yet. It was prehistoric times.

Anyway, I sent the taxes in and then the wait for the refund check would begin. Imagine my surprise when about 3 weeks later I got a letter from the IRS. Thinking it was our refund, I ripped it open, only to find a letter and some blank forms. The letter explained that we were receiving a random audit on our taxes for the year! I found my heart rate picking up pounding in my ears, and I felt like I may puke my guts out. All the TV shows I had ever seen with people getting audited by the IRS were flashing back to me. You know the ones where big rich mob syndicates were under investigation and sitting with their lawyer going over the books. 

After calming down a bit, I went through the forms and paperwork. They were questioning our energy credits and felt we owed them $86.12. Yes 20 plus years later I can remember the amount they wanted. The amount that probably would put me in jail if I didn’t pay. I sat down and filled out the forms they requested and made out a check to the IRS for $86.12. I just wasn’t going to fight it, I figured they were the IRS and I could never beat them. Besides, I liked life on the outside better than I think I would like jail.

I once again mailed out the forms to the IRS in Utah and waited. And then waited some more. After a month, I finally received a letter from the IRS. I figured it was more paperwork to keep me out of jail. But when I opened it there was our refund check and another check for $113.54. The extra check was the energy credit refund.Someone in Utah had done the math once again and looked at the return and decided my calculations had been right after all. The extra $27.42 was interest in the $86.12 I had paid them from the audit. Imagine my surprise to think the IRS actually was honest and returned my money to me.

After that year of doing our taxes, I hated doing them even more than I ever did before. But I kept doing them until the IRA and 401 accounts were set up. And we refinanced the house to lower interest rates. It became a massive amount of extra forms, and calculations. I was about 95% sure I was doing them wrong and we were going to get audited again. We, mostly me, decided it was time to have someone who knew what they were doing handle it.

So a call was made to our financial planner guy who had a tax person on their staff. About a month before tax season we were sent a packet of information they would need to do our taxes. All the forms we would get in the mail, all of our W-2’s, any things we may have paid sales tax on, and so on. Basically all the things I had to gather in the past for taxes, I needed to gather for the tax person. And then drive it over to the office in the next town over which was 20 miles one way. 

So I spent an entire day gathering all the info and forms that arrived in the mail and drove them over to the tax guy. As I was driving over, I started asking myself, “why the heck am I doing this, putting all the info together just so the tax person can plug the numbers into the 1040 forms and the others? And then get paid his cut. 

But then I remembered reading through all the forms and the instruction book they sent from the IRS. And all the new rules and forms. And the amount of time it consumed actually completing the forms. And the chance of getting audited. While I am honest in our tax doings, I sure don’t know much about them. As I drove over, my mind relaxed a bit and I was able to turn in all the info and walk away. Within a week there would be the refund deposited online to our account. 

This week I have started the hunting and gathering of all the needed tax info to drive over to our tax guy. And it never seems to get any easier on my end. It has been about 5 years since we started having someone else do our taxes. And I have to say each year I still question if it is worth having someone else do them when  I am doing all the work gathering the stuff. And for us, I have come to the conclusion it is my way of treating myself to not having to do the forms and then pray I did it correctly, or at least well enough to keep me out of jail. Yeah, it is always a good thing when uncle Sam doesn’t want me. 

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Kwik Trip Conversations

Sitting here this morning looking out my office window, I am watching the flag that’s in the yard whipping in the wind. I just listened to the weather and the temperature is 11 above for the moment. But I am watching as the winds pick up and the thermometer is dropping. Today’s forecast…falling temps into the -17 below range with wind chills in the -35 below range. Even the bird feeders are vacant this morning. It is once again blowing and cold enough to freeze your face in a few minutes if left uncovered when outside.

But, it’s Minnesota and that’s what we do best, talk about the weather. If you live in Minnesota, wherever you go you will always find the topic of the weather being discussed wherever 2 or more are gathered, especially this time of the year. I have often heard that a person can tell another is from Minnesota by the amount of time spent talking about the weather. Not many other places do that, unless there are major storms or changes going through the area. Minnesotans…well we talk about the weather a lot throughout the day throughout all the seasons.

I was up at the Kwik Trip the other day and while I was waiting to pay, I listened in on different conversations as others were waiting in line. Most started out with an exasperated look. You know that look, take a deep breath, shake your head, roll your eyes just a bit, and exhale out through your mouth as you go to stand in line to pay. And as others look at you in understanding, someone will more than likely get the conversation going about the weather. It starts like this…

“Cold enough for ya”
“You betcha”
“Thermometer up town says -20, but it's sittin’ in the sun, so I know it’s colder out at my place.”
“Them winds are pickin’ up too. I heard -40 below windchills today.”
“Well at least the mosquitoes aren’t buzzin’”

And that being said, everyone will nod their head in agreement and go back to facing the cashier as they wait in line. Until the next person gets in line and does the exasperated look. Then the ones in the back of the line will start the conversation all over again. We always welcome those newcomers to Kwik Trip with conversation while waiting in line to pay for the coffee or milk in a bag.

Kwik Trip is one of the best places up town to get the forecast or just chat with others for a few minutes. Conversations are usually light and weather related and they don’t get too in depth so as to scare a person off. In the Summer, while waiting to pay for a box of nightcrawlers for fishing…the conversations usually lead to more conversations about the weather and then fishing. It is a great place to find out what lakes the fish are biting. 

Whether you are a newcomer to entering a Kwik Trip or an old timer who has been gassing up there since they opened a few years ago, you are always welcomed by the crowd inside. So grab yourself a coffee or a pop and stand in line with us for a bit. We’ll see you next time…

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Knit 1, Purl 2...Cabin Fever Has Arrived

Every year around this time, when we are well into Winter, but oh so far from Spring it happens. Cabin fever starts to set in at our house. You know, that feeling like you have been confined to the same space for days, weeks and now months. That feeling that puts you a little more on the edge and cranky side

The dictionary describes cabin fever as ”irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from a long confinement or isolation indoors during the winter.” Some of the words used to describe cabin fever are , “ climbing the walls, seasonal affective disorder or S.A.D. , winter blues”, and my favorite…”temporary insanity” 

While it is not an official diagnosis, Cabin Fever is a real thing that does happen to some people here in the North during the Winter months. And for the most part, we deal with it and get over it either when Spring happens or we decide to bust out and go out often into the elements. Either way, here in Minnesota, most of us survive Cain Fever each year. And as I age, I do have the hope that it sometime will just dissolve without much fanfare and notice by others. I am still waiting for that moment in my life…when I get to the age where I don’t get sucked into cabin fever. But for now, I am entering that season in life for the next few months or so.

I was down in the basement this morning, longingly looking at my E-bike that I so love to ride. It just sat there collecting dust with a pile of dead box elder bugs lying next to it. I for old time's sake sat on my beauty and gripped the handlebars as if to push the throttle and take off down the road for a 20 mile ride. But I just sat there staring out the window at the 4 feet of snow on the ground. So I trudged back upstairs and closed the basement door for what will probably be another 4-5 months. 

Last week I bought a cheap exercise bike off Marketplace so I could at least pretend to bike and keep my legs active working out pedaling to nowhere as I overlook winter from the deck door in the family room. I got it not only for the exercise, but also to keep my legs moving in a longer stride. We have had lots of snow and then some melting and freezing, making it slippery walking outside. I have taken a few dives onto the ground this Winter and to quote my Best Half…”We don’t bounce like we used to”.  

So for most of us walking through parking lots and running down the road to get the mail, we do the “Penguin Shuffle”. If you’re from around here you know what I am describing. That bundle up so you can barely move your upper body and then take tiny shuffling steps as you feel for slippery ice underfoot. You walk about the pace of an overly slow, chunky Penguin. After doing the Penguin Shuffle for a day of errands my legs get really sore from tensing up and not taking a normal stride. I am hoping the stationary bike will do the trick for the next months to keep my legs in shape and free of pain from winter walking. Time will tell.

And last but definitely not least, the endless darkness here from November to about March when we turn the clocks forward ties so much into cabin fever hitting our household. It is darkness when awakening in the morning and darkness by about supper time. That darkness seems to take its toll by ending the day’s activities around 6 pm. Unlike Summer when it is daylight until 10 pm or longer and outdoor activities abound, the Winter months seem to find me flopped out on the couch watching tv every evening. 

To combat complete  vegetation on the couch, I like to knit as I sit there. Along with a knitting machine that will crank out items fast, at night I will take to hand-knitting with needles. Somehow knitting while watching tv doesn't seem as wasteful of my time. I have recently been knitting mittens and socks. My sock drawer is stuffed with warm wool socks (more than I will ever need) and my grandkids here in Minnesota have enough mittens to afford losing some and still have pairs. I have been instructed that no more mittens need to come their way…or hats, or slippers, or socks. 

I have since moved on to using up all the scraps of yarn and making a blanket or maybe a rug. Actually I am not sure what it will be when done as it is all the really bulky yarn someone gave me a few years ago. But none of it matches. There are purple, black, red, stripes and a tweed. I decided last night to just start knitting and see what happens. Yes this is what cabin fever has come to look like at our house. 

This morning as I look out over the yard, watching the birds at the feeder, I realized how bad I have cabin this Winter. I am watching the 5 squirrels who swing from the feeders eating all the bird feed and realize that I have names for all of them. And for the pileated woodpeckers that check in from time to time. And in the early morning hours when I am looking out the window, there are at least 7 rabbits who all go by the name of “Bun-Bun”. They have all become my neighbors this Winter. I have yet to invite them in for peanut butter and bird seed sandwiches, so I think I am ok for now. But in the remote event that anyone hears of that happening…send help. Happy Mid-winter to all my friends in the yard and all you 2-legged humans farther away. Hang in there, we’ve got this!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

From a Distance...Monday Morning Music

As any one of you knows who has been listening and following this podcast or our blog the past couple years, you know I love to make music with my grandkids. Over the past few years I have taught some to play the guitar and the ukulele and even the mandolin and strum stick. While some were living with us we would get together every Monday morning for music time. 

Since everyone moved out, the house has been rather quiet in regards to making music together. The physical distance has been keeping us from making music these days. And I have to say, I miss it terribly. So my grand-daughter in California and I decided to do something about it a few weeks ago. 

While it is way harder than sitting in a room together, we have been sending a song back and forth to each other to add a recording to it. It is our first attempt and it has been quite interesting to say the least. 

Since I am not a music producer it is nowhere near great, but it has fulfilled coping with that sense of loss some of us have had with everyone out of state and unable to make music together. It started with the song and learning it, then recording the guitar and me singing it. After that the file was sent to the grand-daughter to sing along, and extra tracks of mandoline, ukulele, harmonica, and strum stick (much like the sound of a banjo with only 3 strings) were added. 

This song is a very old song called Angel Band, taken from some old Hymnals. It was recorded by Ralph Stanley years ago. This is our long distance version with my grand-daughter, Bonnie, out in California. We enjoyed the facetime together while we figured it out. I Hope you can enjoy the song and process of long distance Monday Morning Music.

You can listen to the recording over on the website:

Angel Band
Jefferson Hascall

My  latest sun is sinking fast      
My race is nearly run
My strongest trials they now have passed
My Triumph now has begun

Oh, come, the angel band
Come and around me, stand
Oh bear me away on your snow white wings
To my immortal home… 
Oh bear my longing heart to Him
Who bled and died for me                              
Whose blood now cleanses all from sin           
And gives me Victory

I’ve almost gained my heavenly Home     
My spirit softly sings         
The Holy Ones behold they come         
and I hear the sound of wings…

Sunday, January 15, 2023

A Clippin' and a Whippin' for Max

Bringing Max Home

This past week I finally got around to giving Max, the 90 lb Labradoodle, a “clipping and a whipping” as we refer to it here. Before any animal rights people get after me, we don’t actually whip our animals. It is just the opposite. Let me explain. 

Max is our 4 year old crazy and loveable mutt. Yes I call him my mutt. He has no fancy papers with his lineage, no crowns of reigning champions in any of his relatives. He is just Max, the mutt. And probably one of the best dogs I’ve ever had in my life. Not only is he a handsome (well at least in the eyes of the beholder) furry and curly haired “designer dog” , he is a supportive and gentle giant of a friend. 

We got Max about 4 years ago from a farm up North of us. They had a litter of Labradoodle pups that were about 10 weeks old. I had contacted the owner and asked if I could come out and see his puppies. So we drove North a bit and came upon a litter of squiggly, furry puppies in all colors. There were cream colored ones, tan ones, and merle looking ones. All with beautiful curly fur and unique colors. They all came bounding out of the house through their “doggie door” and ran over to us. The last one out was a dorky looking black puppy with wiry fur and a white spot on his chest. He ambled up to me and kind of reminded me of that old cartoon character Baby Huey. He was big and goofy looking and oh so attentive to us compared to the other pups. He interested me and so along with the other pups I watched him and how he fit himself in the litter pecking order. He wasn’t really at the top or at the bottom of the pecking order. He just was there amidst the other 8 puppies. But he kept coming over to me and looking up as if to beg me to pick him up. So I knelt down by him to see what he would do. While all the other pups were busy sniffing around or following the mama dog, this pup just sort of hung out and sat by me while I petted him and messed with his head and ears and back legs and rolled him over to scruff his belly. Nothing I did got him excited or scared. He just went along with what I was doing without fear or any hesitation at being handled. He was definitely piquing my interest. Until I asked the price and about fell over in amazement at the cost of a lab/poodle mixed breed dog. While I was expecting to pay for a puppy, I never realized that the designer dogs were going for the same or more than a registered AKC purebred canine. 

Our plan when we were looking for another dog was to train it as a hearing dog for my Best Half. His Australian Shepherd, Rainey at the time was 10 and slowing down a bit. I like to train dogs for a purpose and a job and Rainey was rescued from an Aussie rescue place when she was a pup. She was smart and caught on quickly at how to become the “ears” for my Best Half. By the time she was 2, she was going with him when I couldn’t and warning him of cars coming up behind him and of people calling out his name. She was good at keeping him safe. And my thought was to get a puppy and start training it to follow in Rainey’s paws and become a hearing dog and hopefully the pup would be ready about the time Rainey was ready to retire in a couple years. 

I told the owner of the litter of pups what my intentions were with a new pup and after visiting for a while, we came to a good and affordable price for a pup. The owner of the litter was willing to let me find a pup for a much less and affordable price. But he had to weed out the pups he knew people would pay more money for. The ones basically that were really curly and had color in their coats. So that left 2 little black pups. I watched the two pups a bit longer as they played and wandered around the farm. Eventually I knelt down and gave a squeaky kiss to them both. And only one wiry haired black pup with a white spot on his chest came running and landed in my arms. That pretty much sealed the deal after calling him to me a few more times. And that is how Max came to be with us.

The next few months training Max were pretty interesting. Max came home with us and fit in quite well with the other 2 dogs, Rainey and Zoe. He ran around the farm and field with the other 2 and always came running when we called for him. I took him to obedience classes for a few months to get him around lots of other dogs and commotion and watched him do pretty much anything I would ask of him. But every time I would ask him to sit or stay or go into a down position…well let’s just say, he had to take several seconds to think about it and process it. Kind of like he was checking around to see if there was a better deal out there than what I was asking.Unlike Rainey, who would  use turbo speed to follow directions, Max was quite a bit slower on the uptake. When I would ask him to sit he would appear to weigh his options and then finally sit. While he was and still is an incredibly obedient dog, he always needs to think a few moments before he responds. You see Max’s personality is really laid back and mellow. Not much will rile him. He just like to process his options.

After several months of working with Max to come and sit and go into a down position, his speed just didn’t improve. No amount of treats or praise from us humans could get him moving any faster.  He just pretty much has one speed when it comes to being in working mode…and that is pokey. When he was about 9 months old it became pretty obvious to us that he was not going to be much of a hearing dog for my Best Half. By the time he would notify the human of a car approaching from behind, they would be roadkill. He just didn’t have the speed to make for a good hearing dog. 

Max was an easily trained dog when it came to basic politeness and obedience. He wouldn't ever jump on a person, he wouldn’t bite a soul, and he always manages to be right next to me waiting for a job, any job to make him feel needed. So after realizing he’d be a really poor hearing dog, I needed to find a different job for him. Something to keep his brain sharp, but not anything requiring anything with a fast decision.

I started with a few small things for him to do. Like when I would drop something he would pick it up for me. He wouldn’t immediately bring it to me, but after making a spin around and a dodge from Zoe, he would hand the item to me in my hand. So began his training to help me around the house. He’s been taught to gather the dirty laundry, pick up toys after the grandkids leave, and my favorite…at night when I am on the couch knitting and the ball of yarn falls and rolls on the floor, Max will bring it to me. And I have to say he has gotten much better at taking a direct route back to me than even 6 months ago. He can be sound asleep and if I drop something, he comes running up to help. Not bad for the dog who needs to process his tasks before doing them. He has found his niche in what is expected of him.

Along with picking up stuff for me, he also has become proficient in bracing for me to pull myself off the couch or recliner. I have times when my back and leg will stiffen up and make it really hard to stand up from the chair or couch. I have gotten quite used to calling Max to “Come Brace”. He will plod on over and face me sideways with his legs spread out to take the weight of me holding onto his back as I stand up. He’s gotten very proficient and patient at bracing and assisting. A few weeks ago I was standing on a chair and fell off backwards to the floor, hitting my head and landing on my tailbone. It took me a few seconds lying there to see if anything felt broken. And there stood Max braced and ready, waiting for me to get up. And with him braced and standing there, I managed to literally crawl up his back and stand next to him. He stood there for many seconds until the room stopped spinning. That day, that dog was worth his weight in dog bones.

Max and I have an understanding. We take care of each other. He helps me around the house and I keep him fed and groomed so he doesn’t look like a shaggy mutt that is on the run with no home just waiting for the pound to pick him up.

Every 4 or 5 months Max needs clipping. I started clipping him myself when he was just a pup. And he has always tolerated it well.So well that he just plops down and sleeps through all the brushing and the clippers running over every inch of his body. When it is time for him to roll over to get the other side clipped, I wind up having to lift him and roll him over. No easy job with a 90 lb. dog. He may open his eyes to see what’s happening, but usually he doesn’t even blink as I am grunting and heaving and pulling him to flip over. He becomes completely dead weight from start to finish of his clipping. By the time we are done, almost 2 hours will go by and I am whipped. Yeah he gets the clipping and I get the whipping.