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. 

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Random Thoughts at 3 AM

We have a joke in my extended family that most of us have a “Rooster Gene. It is that one thing we inherited from our grandpa that gets us up at 5 AM sharp every morning without ever setting an alarm. While it is a useful tool to pull out of the genetic toolbox, there are times when it could better be kept in the toolbox, or better yet left out of the toolbox and misplaced somewhere in the garage with the other tools that randomly disappear.

It has always served me well when the kids were little and got up at 6 or 7 every morning. I would be up and ready to dive into their day with them. And when I worked the day shift in nursing, I could walk in all ready for whatever catastrophe awaited. I had already a few hours under my belt as patients were just coming to life. 

While, when I was younger, it never mattered what time I went to sleep at night, that rooster gene would be crowing in my head at 5 AM telling me it was time to face the day. And for the most part I could rise to the occasion and not drag around too much from lack of sleep from going to bed really late. 

But fast forward to life in my 60’s. I always thought that with retirement would come sleeping more than the 6 hours I am used to. I figured I could go to bed later and wake up later in the mornings. But after 3 years of retirement not much has changed in my rooster gene genetics. 6 hours is still the most I can sleep. If I were to sleep longer than that, I can only hope my Best Half would check in on me to make sure I was still breathing. 

Lately, I find myself going to bed later and by the time I quiet the ear chirping by listening to some music or an audio book, it is well close to midnight or sometimes later. And as I am drifting off to sleep I think to myself, I can sleep in and get up whenever I want in the morning. Afterall, I’m retired and have no early morning plans. And then it happens.

After sleeping soundly for about 3 or 4 hours, I will partially wake up and random thoughts and plans for the upcoming day will pop into my brain. Things like…Do I need to fill the bird feeders when I get up…how can I keep the squirrels from hanging on the bird feeders upside down…they need to eat too,,,I should make them a feeder…I probably should make out the grocery list for the upcoming couple of weeks…and my constant thought at that hour in the middle of night…Max really needs a bath and needs to be clipped and I need to remember to plug in the rechargeable dog clippers.

As I lie there, my list of what to do with the upcoming day grows. And pretty soon I am looking at the clock regretting being awake at this ungodly hour. Should I try and fall back asleep for 2 or 3 more hours or should I just not fight it and get up and do stuff around the house that is getting put on my mental list? Filling bird feeders in the darkness doesn’t seem like a good idea though.

 Usually I try to close my eyes and fall back asleep until 5 AM. And usually it will work. I will sleep another few hours and wake up almost ready to greet the day. I do have to say it is hard to get out of bed when it is still dark outside and the house is cold because we turned the furnace down to 62 degrees for sleeping. But then the old saying from the nuns from my days in Catholic schools blasts through my brain…”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. Yikes, I’m up, dressed and ready to face the day. Thank you Sister Francis Therese.

Once out of bed, I will do a few things around the house. Things like empty the dishwasher, straighten up the family room and my favorite…rewind a ball of yarn from Max’s overnight wrestling match with it. I swear that canine has some cat in his DNA. Once those things are done, I will eat breakfast and face the day ahead. And 9 times out of 10, it will not consist of accomplishing the things that were on my mental list during the sleepless night. I discover more than enough other things I need to get done. Whoever said retirement is a time for extra time on their hands was wrong. Since being retired my days are full of endless things to get done. And yes some of them are even fun things. But I don’t think there has been any extra hours in the day since retiring. I really don’t know how we found enough time in the day when we were working jobs along with the other life things needed to get done. 

I often wonder what it is like to not have that rooster gene flowing through the bloodlines? What would it be like to sleep a constant 8 hours each night? To dream dreams and not wake up and make mental lists of things to get done? How would it feel to get up at 8 or 9 AM instead of 5AM? I know there are people who do that, my Best Half can be one of them at times. But he has acquired the roster gene by default being married into this family. I may never know and I guess I am ok with that.

For those who can sleep all night and even sleep 8 hours at a time, what is the trick or secret? Feel free to message me any time of the day or night. I will probably get back to you at whatever time of day or night it is. Sweet dreams everyone.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Happy New Year 2023

Happy New Year everyone1 And welcome to the beginning of season 3 for Solid Rock Minnesota. Little did I know that 2 years ago when I launched the first podcast ever, it would still be going and people would still be listening all over the world. I am amazed as well as feeling a little overwhelmed at doing a weekly podcast and blog. For the past few months I have pondered the idea of ending the podcast and blog…. and to be honest, I am still pondering that idea. But for this moment, I have decided to at least start season 3 and see where we all wind up. But enough of that for now.

I can not believe we are here in 2023 already. New Year’s eve was spent reflecting back on the past year of all the events that have happened. But really the reminiscing for me went all the way back to the new year of 2000. The beginning of a new century!

Do you remember when the end of 1999 was nearing and all the newscasts and worries were about how coming into a new century was going to make the world explode and implode? How the stock market would crash? How all the computers in the world would mess up and not know how to change from 1999 to 2000? How Banking systems would be shut down? I remember staying up until midnight that year to see if any of that stuff happened. And remember what happened…pretty much nothing.

Well at least on the global side not much happened. But for me, personally, it was well into February of 2000 before I could correctly write the date on a check. I was always starting out writing 19 in the date instead of 2000. Most of the checks I wrote back then had crossed out and initialed dates. I know I am not the only one who had that trouble back then. But of course that was 23 years ago when we were all still writing out checks and paying our bills by postal mail.

Nowadays, I can’t really remember the last time I have had to write a check for something. Most of the time I pay by debit card or if by the crazy chance I have cash, I will dig out the money. But so often when I pay by cash I am forced to help the cashier give the correct change back if the cash register does not notify the worker of the amount owed back in change. And even sometimes then I will have to show them how to count back money. Hopefully I am not sounding like an old duffer, but I hope the school system is still teaching money exchange and correct change without the use of calculators and computer systems. It’s bad enough they have taken away learning cursive. Cursive is such a creative way to personalize your identity on paper. I guess I am sounding like an old duffer.

But I have digressed. New Year’s Eve 2022 was pretty uneventful for us. For the most part, the past decade of New Year’s eves have been met with maybe broiling a steak or making homemade pizza and watching TV or a movie. And about 10 PM I wake up off the couch and head to bed. It has been a few years since making it past midnight. So we usually do a Happy New Year 10 pm toast and head to bed. Neither one of us have ever much wanted to be out on the road or out partying on New Year’s Eve, so the party life has eluded us come New Year’s Eve.

This past year, though, has left me remembering all the moments that have been planted in my memory bank. Over the past year we have celebrated the retirement of my Best Half, have had some awesome travels to see some of the kids and grandkids out of state, and have some awesome stories to tell about those travels. As we always tell the grandkids when we are together, “we’re always making memories”. And the last thing to note over this past year…I now have more grandchildren taller than me than are shorter than me. A weird observation you think? But it is just another realization, for me, how fast time is flying by. Last Spring I was taller or even up in height with a handful of the grandkids in the 11-14 age group. And now for the most part they are towering over me. It is a weird sensation when we don’t see them for a while and then when we do, I am looking up at them.

What will this year bring? NewYear’s Day always starts with renewed ambition and promises to be better than last year. To be a better person, to live a better healthy life. We can only hope.

I am hoping for some new travels this year and getting out in the kayaks and boat more often at different lakes and maybe some rivers around Minnesota. Every year that is one of my hopes and ambitions.  And some years are better than others. I guess life will continue to be a game of chance with a little roulette spinning around us.

Not ever knowing what the future will bring can be unsettling at times for me, until I take the time to just ground myself and be present in the moment I am currently in. As I sit here right now I am  watching the birdfeeder and all the critters chowing down in preparation for an upcoming winter storm. How do they know to prepare in advance? That is one advantage maybe that they have that I have not been given. But I guess not knowing the future may be better for this human than stressing over the upcoming “storms”. As I am sure there will be some to ride out along the way in 2023.

But for now, I am focused on another year ending and a new one beginning. Here’s to hoping we can all find strength and comfort in being in the present moment and not looking too far behind or too far out there in the future. Today, this day, is the one we need to hold close and enjoy. Happy New Year everyone!