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March 13, 2021

March 11 - The Beginning AND the End?

 March 11, 2020

The World Health Organization declared the fast spreading coronavirus outbreak a pandemic and the world changed overnight. It has been a long year and an especially long winter but perhaps the end is in sight?

March 11, 2021

Interesting that exactly one year later Bob and I received the second of our Moderna vaccines which we are hoping is our ticket to a "somewhat" more normal life. 

Last month we got our first jab and were given appointments for four weeks later for the next shot. A mid-March blizzard is always a possibility so it was a relief to have a sunny day in the mid-40's to make the half hour drive to the small pharmacy where our vaccine was waiting. The drive was not without a little bit of excitement, however. Bob had to make a couple of quick stops. First, to avoid hitting a pheasant that flew up in front of our car and then to avoid hitting (or being hit) by four deer darting across the highway. Definitely gets your heart pumping!

Pulling up in front of the tiny drugstore on main street I couldn't help but think what a different experience we were having compared to those in a big city going to a mass vaccination site. Just as the first time, the pharmacy was pretty much empty and in less than 10 minutes we both had our shots.


Shortly after we took our seats for the 15-minute post vaccine waiting period, some acquaintances came in for their vaccines. Visiting with them made the time fly by and then we were back on the road headed home.


The 15-minute waiting period following the vaccine.


Bob suffered a bit yesterday with side effects of his vaccine...achy muscles, low grade fever and tiredness. My only symptom was a pretty sore arm with a red rash around the injection site. Today both of us are feeling pretty good so the effects were short-lived.

Now to look ahead...

In exactly TWO weeks, our son and grandkids are coming for a visit. Other than a couple of brief outdoor visits last summer, this will be the first time in over a year that we have been together. AND...shortly after they leave our other son and grandkids are coming during their spring break to stay for a few days. Yippee!

I have no idea when traveling may be a part of our lives again, but I am starting to dream "just a bit." For now spending time with family and "maybe" eating at a restaurant will seem pretty exciting to us!


February 15, 2021

V-Day

I have been on a treasure hunt recently and a few days ago I struck gold! Yes...my persistence paid off and I was able to score two much coveted appointments for our covid vaccines!



Initially I thought our health care provider would be our route to the vaccine, and had resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be a long time before our turn came. The clinic was starting with the oldest age group of patients and then slowly working their way down. When I called, they were only making appointments for those in their 80's. Since Bob and I are at the bottom of the 65+ age group it was going to be forever before we got our call.

Several weeks ago Minnesota opened nine community pilot sites scattered around the state where they were going to be giving shots to those over 65 and also educators. Bob and I were both ready on the first day when the phone lines opened up and repeatedly called...like over 100 times each! At the same time, I also tried to log in to the website using a computer and ipad simultaneously. Nothing. The few calls that did connect were answered with a recording saying the phone lines were all busy. The website pretty much crashed. After a couple of hours I gave up.

Later in the day I checked the website one more time and it looked like appointments were available at one of the sites about 60 miles away. I quickly started trying, but at the end of the process I received a message saying all appointments had been filled and we had been placed on a waiting list. Frustrating, but it gave us a tiny glimmer of hope.

After only two weeks, the state decided to close all but three of the pilot sites (in Minneapolis, Duluth and Rochester) all of which are over 3 hours away from us. New sign-ups were not being accepted and a lottery would be held to choose names from the waiting list. All of the sites were too far to drive in winter weather even if our names did get picked from the hundreds of thousands on the waiting list.

This past week I happened to read that a limited supply of vaccine was being sent out to some of the smaller pharmacies in the state. I called several places listed on the state "Find My Vaccine" website but the best I could do was get put on waiting lists with hundreds of other people. 

Later in the morning I happened to look at the state website one more time and realized that a new pharmacy chain had been added. I went on the pharmacy website and found a location 30 miles from us and began trying to book an appointment. Many times I almost made it through the process only to get a pop-up that said the time slot had been filled. 

I wasn't about to give up however and eventually I was able to set up an appointment for myself. What a relief to see an email confirmation come through saying that my vaccine was scheduled in just 2 days! I had to repeat the process repeatedly but was able to get Bob's appointment booked as well, just10 minutes after mine!

The interesting twist to the story is that around 5 pm that evening I got a call from one of the other pharmacies that had put us on a waiting list. They had available appointments! I declined, but immediately called my neighbor who then called some of her friends. So the time and frustration I spent resulted in vaccines for all five of us!

Much of our weather this winter has been warmer than normal. But...as we headed north for our appointment, the thermometer reading was headed south. The temperature never got above zero and snow was falling lightly and blowing across the highway, reducing visibility in some places.

A snowy drive to get our vaccines.


Getting the vaccine couldn't have been easier. No other customers were in the tiny, small-town pharmacy when we arrived and within a few minutes both of us had gotten our shots. We sat on folding chairs in the cold-remedy aisle for 15 minutes afterwards and then we were free to go. Our only other stop was at a gas station to add air to our tires. Due to the extreme cold, the "check tire" light had come on.

Bob dealt with a sore arm for a couple of days afterwards. I felt a bit tired, but that was it. Now we wait. The booster to our Moderna vaccine is already scheduled in four weeks...almost a year to the day when a state of emergency was first declared in Minnesota due to the pandemic.

Who knows what the future holds in terms of this virus. Besides the variants being reported from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, today the news is reporting even more variants emerging that have started here in the U.S. At the same time, however, case numbers are dropping drastically.

Right now I am not overly optimistic that international travel will be normal anytime in the near future. But I am hopeful that now we can be comfortable seeing family again and maybe even take some road trips. A little light at the end of a very long tunnel.

January 18, 2021

January Jottings


In my last post I alluded to the fact that Minnesota has been experiencing a relative mild winter. That is only partly true. Temperatures have been trending above normal, but a few days ago we got hit with our second major blizzard in less than a month. 

On the prairie there is nothing to block the wind so when it starts to blow, it really blows. A few inches of snow with winds gusting 50 to 60 mph and everything shuts down. With zero visibility, travel becomes impossible and the plows don’t even attempt to clear the roads or highways until things settle down. Such is life in the upper Midwest. 


Before I retired, a snowstorm meant my school would close...sometimes for a full day or days, other times it would be a late start or early out. Kids (and teachers alike) would anxiously listen to weather announcements on TV and radio to see if their district would be on the “Close Line.”     Being forced to stay home, a snow day was like a gift of free time that could be spent as one desired...reading a book, watching a movie, baking cookies, etc. This most recent blizzard made me realize how much my life during this pandemic has felt like one perpetual snow day after another. But now instead of a quiet day to be savored and enjoyed, It feels like a prison sentence. I have to keep reminding myself of how fortunate I really am. I have the luxury of staying home and staying safe when so many others don’t. Just human nature to want what we can’t have I suppose. 


With all of this “at-home-time”, squirrel watching has become a daily activity. Bob built a feeder this winter and we have it mounted on the deck outside of our family room. I have a perfect view from my desk and have been keeping my camera at the ready. Here are some photos of our regular lunch patrons: 


The squirrels in our neighborhood are becoming obese.

This poor guy has a sore tail. Eewww.

Even during the blizzard the regular customers showed up at the buffet.



Shortly after seeing some activity by our bushes the other day, I looked out and saw this guy land in our plum tree. From a little googling, I believe he is a Cooper’s Hawk. It wasn’t the first time we have spotted hawks hunting in our neighborhood, but I had never seen one with red eyes. Apparently this is a characteristic of a mature hawk, the juveniles have yellow colored eyes. 


Cooper's Hawk

And the wildlife photo that most excited me from this past week...an owl! This little guy was sitting in a neighbor’s tree and was so well camouflaged that I would have never spotted him if a friend hadn’t pointed him out. 




The worst of our winter is still to come, but it is nice to realize that our days are getting longer. This time of year, the sun has moved so far south that I can watch the sun setting over the lake from my kitchen window. On most nights I enjoy the view from indoors, but every now and then the show is so spectacular that I just have to bundle up and walk down to the shoreline to take it all in. How amazing!



I love how the clouds are reflected in the open water along the shoreline.





January 10, 2021

Winter Walks

Welcome 2021. 

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years have come and gone and with very little fanfare in our house. After making the decision to be cautious and not spend time with family during the holidays, it was hard to get excited about any type of celebrating. Very little decorating took place and I couldn't even bring myself to listen to Christmas music this year. 

I have been worried that surviving a long, cold Minnesota winter was going to be especially difficult this year. But God has been gracious. Outside of an intense, pre-Christmas blizzard, our autumn and early winter have been relatively mild. Not t-shirt and green grass kind of mild, but temps have stayed in the positive range and we have very little snow. It took some bundling up, but we actually were able to ride the 7-mile bike trail around our lake a few times in December!

On a sunny day this past week we took a drive across the state line to the state of Iowa. On my All Trails app, I had found a promising looking hike in the Okoboji Lakes area. Part of the Iowa Great Lakes bike trail, this portion followed a path between Minnewashta and Lower Gar Lakes. 

I had hoped that the snow would have been cleared from the trail (as it is here on our bike trail) but that wasn't the case. It appeared that the trail is used for snowmobiling in winter so it made sense to keep it snow covered. The snow was packed hard and wasn't too bad for walking, even without boots. With the sunshine and temps in the upper 30's, we were quite comfortable.

The trail began in a small picnic area where we parked our car. The trail followed the shoreline and across a bridge between the two lakes. We saw a few fishermen had set up their ice houses on the lake.





The trail was only 1.6 miles long out and back, but for most of it we felt as if we were walking through a remote forest. A marker along the trail explained that the area was the homestead of the Henderson family in the mid-1800's. Prior to that it had been a Native America campsite.




Long winter shadows.



Perhaps we will return in the summer with our bikes.


We were unsure...was this a BLUE birdhouse or a birdhouse for BLUE BIRDS? 😉


By mid-afternoon the sun is sinking low in the sky.



The trail ended at a city street where we turned around and retraced our steps back the way we came.

It felt good to be outdoors and visit someplace new. In "normal times" I would spend an hour everyday at water aerobics in the warm YMCA pool, but usually avoid walking outdoors when the weather is too cold or windy. This winter I am learning that I really need to get outside, both for my mental and physical health. Bob is more disciplined and walks everyday regardless of the conditions, even in blizzards! Lately he has been spending time snowshoeing on the golf course.

There is still a lot of winter left here in our part of the country so we shall see how I cope with the coming months!



 




October 17, 2020

Palisades & Pipestone Revisited

Bob was disappointed that we hadn’t stopped by Palisades State Park after visiting nearby Good Earth State Park a few days earlier. When we saw the weather forecast was looking half way decent (at least for the earlier part of the day) he suggested we pack our lunch and go. 

The park was quite busy to the point we even had to wait in line to enter.  With the combined visits to Custer, Good Earth and now Palisades State Parks we will be breaking even on the cost of the South Dakota state park annual pass we purchased for $36 in the Black Hills. (Otherwise we would have paid: Custer-$20; other parks-$8 each for individual visits). The pass doesn’t expire until next May so perhaps we will have a chance to use it again in the spring. 

I won’t go into too much detail since I did a previous post and video from our visit in June. We started by going down the trail and steep steps to walk along the river bank at the base of the cliffs. A secluded picnic table at the top of the hill gave us a nice place to have our lunch afterwards. While we were eating, a long line of antique and classic cars drove by...most likely a car club out to enjoy a get-together at the park.  

From lower trail.


Bob standing next to "Balancing Rock"

Our remaining time at the park was spent on the opposite side of the river. After a little exploring, I found a nice rock to park on while Bob went off exploring. With so many people scrambling on the rocks in the river and on the rock faces, I fully expected to see some falls or splashes but everyone stayed safe. 

Without me realizing it, Bob climbed up King Rock and had this view from above.
(Glad I didn't find out until he was safely back down!)


Looking back across the river to Balancing Rock (see above photo where Bob was standing near the top of the rock.)
The steps were the ones we went down to get to the lower trail.


As the afternoon progressed, the blue skies and sunshine switched to clouds, wind and a dramatic drop in temperature. We moved our car the short distance from the King & Queen trailhead to park next to the 1906 historical bridge. We walked a short trail at the top of the bluff and then walked out onto the bridge to see the view down the river.


View looking down the river.


For the 2nd time that afternoon we encountered this couple taking photos in the park.
Bob asked permission to take her photo, but refrained from asking too many questions! 😲


A wooly worm...a sign of a harsh winter?

The smart thing to do would have been to head home once the weather changed. But thinking this could be our last outing of the year we wanted to stretch out the day a little longer and drove on to Pipestone National Monument. It was raining ever so lightly when we arrived, but we each had a rain jacket and decided we wouldn't let a little moisture stop us.

The visitor center was still closed due to Covid (as it was when we stopped here earlier in the summer). With the nasty weather, we walked the mile-long trail in record time!! The waterfall which had been fast-flowing before was now much smaller. (First photo below was in early June.)


As we reached the end of the trail, we could hear a pounding noise and Bob realized it was a group of guys quarrying the pipestone (catlinite.) I grabbed the car keys and went to get warm while he headed over to where they were working. Only Native Americans are able to get a permit to quarry the stone and there is a 10-year waiting list for the annual permits. Quarrying is labor-intensive and may take days, weeks, months, or years to reach the pipestone layer. Bob was quite excited to have had the chance to watch and visit with the guys as they worked.

Quarrying for catlinite (rock used to make Native American pipes.)

At the entrance into the monument we had noticed a VERY LARGE peace pipe on display and stopped to get a photo as we were leaving. 

World's Largest Peace Pipe

Before we could get back into the car, a guy pulled up behind us and said "Want to hear the story behind the pipe?" Turns out the man was Bud Johnson who had built the pipe! The world's largest peace pipe began with a vision shared by three spiritual people and was featured in the May 2008 issue of Reader's Digest. You can also read about it HERE.



Bud Johnson telling us the history of the world's largest peace pipe.

Stopping at Pipestone was an afterthought and did not even seem like a good idea once the weather had gotten worse. But Bob having a chance to witness the quarrying of pipestone and then meeting Bud Johnson turned out to be a day that couldn't have been planned but yet brought what I like to call "souvenir memories"!! 😉 Our visit to Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii was another such day with a chance meeting that we will always remember.

Note: It is a week later that I am getting this blog post online and this is what our yard looks like. At least 4" of new snow but our trees still have green leaves!  😥  A clash of two seasons for sure. Praying that there will still be some decent weather before winter sets in for good.