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Archive for January, 2014

Snow Angels

Many folks who live in warmer climates probably wonder just how we Minnesotans survive the winters, especially winters as cold as this one has been. We do know how to kick into survival mode, that’s for sure. We are preppers to the extreme. We split and stack wood. We fill our propane tanks to the brim, which will soon cost as much as purchasing a small country. At the end of every fall, I prep my car for winter. Unless I happen to be wearing them because of an early snowstorm, I pack my warmest boots in the back seat of my car, along with a heavy duty winter jacket, scarf, hat, and extra gloves. There is also a blanket and lots of those little hand warmer thingies, which I buy every year, but thankfully, have never had to use. I keep buying them, just in case the older ones won’t work. Since I rarely clean out my car, there are probably 27 of them in there right now. I also heard somewhere that one should keep energy-producing food such as chocolate or nuts in the glove compartment in case you are ever stranded. That sounds to me like the perfect excuse to buy a couple of Snickers bars. My drive to work is a fairly long 16 mile trip every day, and since the car is warm, I prefer to wear a lighter coat and keep the warmer one nearby, just in case. Although my friends and family down south think life in northern Minnesota is akin to living in the desolate wilderness and/or frozen tundra, it is far from that. (Except for the frozen part, of course.) The roads are plowed. There are houses along the way. For at least two or three years, there has actually been cell phone reception for the entire drive. On occasions of slippery roads or whiteout conditions, we often see or hear of someone ending up in the ditch. Sometimes cars just give up the ghost in below zero temperatures and end up stalled on the side of the road. This is where the snow angels come in. Snow angels are those people who stop to help, offering assistance or at least a warm place to wait until the tow truck arrives. Some angels may change a tire, winch your car out themselves, or even drive you home if you need a ride. I know someone who recently had a close call and ended up in the ditch. Thankfully, she was not hurt, but just as important, she was warm and had a tow truck on the way. Since it was too cold to wait outside, she sat in her car. People stopped and checked on her again and again. One snow angel, when finding out she was fine and just waiting for a tow, said, “Well then, I will just wait with you until the truck comes. Just in case.” There he was, sitting in his car at the side of the road on a windy afternoon with the wind chill well below zero. I’m sure he had places to be, like in his own living room in front of a warm fire, but instead, he waited it out beside a stranger, just in case. Knock on wood, I’ve never been stuck or in the ditch, but I’m well prepared in case it ever happens. If there are any snow angels around, they won’t have any trouble finding me. I will probably have opened every one of those handwarmer thingies, generating enough heat to cause a gigantic puddle in the snow-drifted ditch and causing a huge plume of steam to arise from the middle of the frozen tundra which is close to the edge of the desolate wilderness. In other words, just down the road a bit from the Bowstring Store. I’ll be the one eating the Snickers bars from the glove compartment before they melt. It would be a shame to let good chocolate go to waste. Thank you to all the snow angels out there. With people like you around, Minnesota is a warmer place indeed.

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Family Portraits

Many years ago, my mother took a photography class. On the day the class was studying portraits, the instructor passed out pieces of paper and asked everyone to put their names in a hat and he would choose that day’s model. Since Mom hated to have her picture taken, she wrote her name and crumpled up the paper, hoping it would fall to the bottom. The instructor then tossed the names out of the hat, and since hers went the farthest, she was chosen. We heard the story when we cleaned out our parents’ house after my father died. There were many copies of that picture, all on slides, and none too flattering. We threw away most of them at Mom’s direction. As my sister and I were cleaning out the attic that week, we found an oil painting of that same photograph. My father, who was somewhat artistic in a Grandma Moses type of way but most definitely not a portrait artist, had used that photograph to paint a portrait of his wife. My sister and I looked at each other. You know how it is. Sometimes families disagree or perhaps even argue about who should get what. “You take it,” she said, handing it to me. “No. Really. You can have it,” I said, pushing it back. This went back and forth for a several minutes. Neither of us wanted it, but how could we throw away a portrait of my beautiful mother, painted with all the love and devotion my father had to offer? We put it in an old frame and wrapped it up for Mom’s birthday present. She didn’t want it, either. In fact, I think she said something like “Is that horrible thing still around? Get rid of it!” We hid it under the bed in her niece’s home, hoping she would find this wonderful family heirloom and hang it in a place of honor. Mom was her favorite aunt, after all. Instead, she wrapped it in fancy paper and regifted it back to me, so we hung it in my dining room as a joke, right in Mom’s line of vision, and we all had a good laugh. It stayed there until the next Christmas, when my nephew was very surprised to find it wrapped under the tree with his name on it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough room in his suitcase, so in my dining room she stayed, presiding over many family meals and board games. A few years later, my brother-in-law discovered another painting, this one hidden in a dark and dusty corner of our cabin. My father, being totally in love with his first-born (and at the time, only) child, did a portrait in oils of his bald-as-a-bowling-ball blue-eyed baby girl. I really was a cute baby, but my father painted me to look something like a cross between the spawn of Satan and a Conehead. Of course the portrait was framed and hung in the dining room, right in my line of vision. Ver-r-y funny, those relatives of mine. Just yesterday, as I was cleaning out and making room for things following my mother’s death, I thought about putting Mom and her baby Conehead in the attic for future generations to discover, but I changed my mind. Family dinners would just not be the same without them. Someday, perhaps they will hang in my daughter’s dining room and she can tell the stories, but more likely, she’ll wrap them in brightly colored paper and pass them on to some unsuspecting relative who will feel too guilty to throw them away. Families are like that. They love you even if you look like a Conehead and they miss you when you are gone.

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Sawing logs

You’re not going to find a man whose socks don’t get dirty or who doesn’t snore. ~Helen Reddy

Why does it always happen that the spouse who snores the loudest is always the first one to fall asleep? I have heard from several women lately who complain about their husbands’ loud and obnoxious snoring which keeps them awake every night. As a medical professional, I must mention that most snoring, except that which is caused by too much beer and football, cannot be helped. No matter how much you may want to put a pillow over his face at three in the morning, it would neither be fair nor would it be the most practical remedy. Please note that I am not writing this from personal experience. HE doesn’t snore. Just ask him. He will tell you that he definitely doesn’t snore, then will try to get you off the subject by telling you about MY snoring. Don’t listen to him. If one thinks logically, the thundering sounds that wake me up every night must come from Barney the Chihuahua, who sleeps between us except when he’s hogging my side of the bed. The Chihuahua, not the husband. I was researching natural cures for snoring (for a friend, of course, NOT for our house *wink wink*) and there aren’t many. Most involve getting a sleep study followed by wearing a mask over your face or nose which forces air in and somehow through the miracles of modern medicine, prevents snoring. This is probably good for the snorer, but I wonder if it is it just another form of nighttime noise for the snoree? The uncomfortable-looking mouth guard that I found on the internet is probably cheaper at the low price of $29.95 plus shipping and handling costs, but would probably end up on the bedside table along with the package of those little thingies that stick on the nose. I learned that another helpful hint is to sing often and loudly. It is supposed to strengthen one’s throat muscles and open the air passages, which could decrease snoring, and it costs absolutely nothing. Nothing except your spouses sanity, I would guess. Moisturizing the air would be a good solution, but I have yet to find a humidifier that doesn’t sound like the engine of an 18-wheeler warming up on a cold winter’s morning. Keeping a kettle of water on the stove would certainly be a quieter solution to moister air, but involves remembering to refill the kettle before it becomes scorched and stinky and destined for the landfill because the aroma never quite goes away, leaving your afternoon cup of Earl Grey tasting like burnt tennis shoes. (I hope you can learn from my mistakes. There are many.) I encourage all of you to do your own research on the subject and I wish you the best of luck in your quest for a good night’s sleep.

Disclaimer: Since snoring is a touchy subject and can be embarrassing to some, please understand that the snorers in my story are not related to me in any way, nor are they married to my friends or my sister. And yes, I do know that “snoree” is not a word, but it should be.

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Winter whining

I love living somewhere where the seasons change. Who doesn’t love the awakening of spring, fishing or gardening with the sun on your back in the summer, or enjoying the cooler days of fall and the gorgeous colors that come with it? But winter? Winter is definitely NOT my favorite season. Not by a long shot. By the time Christmas is over, I’m ready for spring. Unfortunately, when one lives in northern Minnesota, one must take the good with the bad, and spring will always be a long time coming. I don’t mind snow or cooler temperatures, but there’s quite a difference between cooler and a gazillion degrees below zero. When it gets that cold, I tend to lose my sense of humor and surreptitiously make plans to become an uninvited guest at my cousin’s condo in Arizona. Really, Cousin DeeDee. Don’t be surprised if I show up on your doorstep, suitcase and chickens in hand. The neighbors wouldn’t mind a few chickens hanging around the pool, would they? They do tend to keep the bugs down and the roosters really aren’t that noisy. Being a Farm Woman in the middle of winter is not easy. The chickens need to be fed and cared for no matter what the weather. Heat lamps need to be turned off and on and checked for safety. Yesterday, I spread a few bales of straw in the coop for extra warmth. I know from experience that mice often burrow in the straw and I don’t want one running up my arm like last year. I screeched so loud that the icicles fell off the edge of the roof and sounded like an avalanche. Today, the heated water bowl froze to the ground and the icky old water had to be scooped out by hand. Chickens are not the cleanest animals on the planet. I wiped the dish out with a clean rag which froze solid during the walk back to the house. Now that’s cold. Thankfully, a couple of the old gals are very cooperative and sit on the eggs until I get there so they don’t freeze. Since I don’t have my own feathers, warm winter attire is not an option but a necessity this time of year. If I’m not wearing my heavier winter coat and boots, they’re packed in my car with at least one blanket and a few disposable hand warmers. I hate to complain about the cold so much because usually the coldest days are the most beautiful, with blue skies and sunshine so bright that I often pull out my summer sunglasses. Another good thing about winter is that there are no garden chores to be done, so there is time to read, watch movies, or play computer games with the electric blanket turned on, or maybe that’s just me. Other people like to skate, go ice fishing, ski, or ride their snowmobiles. I prefer inside activities unless the ice fishing house is well heated and I don’t have to use the potty. I think the expression “freezing your buns off” originally came from a Minnesota woman who drank too many hot toddies in the ice house and had to step outside. Writing always cheers me up, and writing about winter has made me feel so much better about it already. Just think, we only have three months to go, if we’re lucky! I might even dare to tell you my favorite part about winter and that would be….when it’s over.

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