Got ‘Minnesota Nice’? Ya Darn Tootin’

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by Bob Sparrow


I had the pleasure last week of traveling to Minnesota for the celebration of Warren & Phyllis Barnes’ (Linda’s parents)70th wedding anniversary. Yes, 70th!! Just to put that in perspective, they were married between the surrender of Germany and the surrender of Japan during World War II; and so it was on June 15, 1945 that Warren surrendered to Phyllis. Most of you young ‘whippersnappers’ reading this weren’t even born yet. The anniversary celebration took place in the city of Rochester, which, as home to the Mayo Clinic, has a lot of big city amenities, but has still retained its small town, rural charm.

Warren and Phyllis are a treasure. Warren, who is 91, has an easy smile and while he may have lost a step or two, he still has a vice-like handshake, thanks to 20 years of milking cows on their family-owned dairy farm. Phyllis, who just turned 89 last Friday, is as sweet and sharp as ever and stays up on family news on her iPad Facebook account. On the evening of our arrival she prepared, unassisted, a delicious chicken casserole, corn and fruit salad dinner for eight – their three children and we significant others . . . OK, maybe we’re not that significant.  I learned a couple of things about a Minnesota home-cooked meal, 1) you WILL have seconds of everything, or you’ll insult the cook, and 2) you WILL save room for desert. IMN Nice2 happily made room for Phyllis’ homemade, blue-ribbon rhubarb and/or apple pie . . . ala mode, of course. The dinner conversation moved from reminiscing about the old one-room schoolhouse (called the‘Cigar Box’) that the kids all attended to Phyllis’ wheeler-dealer grandfather, ‘John Mac’, to a discussion of what is‘Minnesota Nice’?

I learned that Wikipedia actually has a definition for ‘Minnesota Nice’: the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered’, but I wanted to ask several Minnesotan family members what they thought it meant.Denise Cobb, grand daughter to the honored couple, offered an example where she was called ‘Connie’ by a fellow worker, but initially was too afraid to tell him he was calling her by the wrong name and then after several weeks of being ‘Connie’, was too embarrassed to tell him that he’d been calling her the wrong name all this time. Denise’s husband Gene, leaned over to me and said, “Minnesota nice is about how long it takes for people to say good-bye, just watch. From the time a Minnesotan says they’re leaving to the time they actually leave is probably somewhere around 40 minutes. People will follow you to the door, follow you to your car and still be talking to you as you’re pulling out of their driveway. You’re not really gone until you are in your car several miles down the road.” I checked that theory out over the course of my time there – he’s absolutely right.

HubbellHousePhyllis’ birthday dinner on Friday took place about 15 miles from Rochester in the bucolic town of Mantorville at the historic Hubbell House, a restaurant that’s been in continuous operation since 1854. Their guest list includes a variety of celebrities from Ulysses S. Grant to Mickey Mantle, so we know they’ve served alcohol throughout their entire history.

Barnes family

The ‘family only’ anniversary celebration on Saturday was in the community room at Warren & Phyllis’ senior apartment complex. They weren’t all in attendance, but their extended family now consists of: 3 children, 12 grand children, 27 great grand children, 2 great, great grand children. I was able to corner Phyllis for a few minutes to ask her the secret to a 70-year marriage. She seemed kind of surprised by the question, like she wasn’t really keeping a secret, but she smiled and said, “Always kiss and make up before you go to bed.” It has been clear to me for many years that their ‘secret’ is in their positive attitudes; they always seem to find the best in people and believe that good things will come their way – and they have. They have nurtured a great family, they have their health and they still laugh a lot.

On the airplane ride back home, I felt very fortunate to be part of this amazing family and realized that while I still couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I had just personally experienced ‘Minnesota Nice’.


By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Senior Citizen porn

Senior Citizen porn


I am not a good cook.  Never have been.  But I yearn to be great.  I watch the Food Network  with great enthusiasm.  I imagine myself twirling around in the kitchen, dazzling my friends with my expertise, amazing them with my magnificent meals.  If watching TV magically translated into an actual skill, I would be stir-frying, sauteing and braising everything to a turn.  I’ve observed so many baking episodes that I should be rolling out fondant and spinning sugar roses on a daily basis.  But alas, my intellectual understanding of food and my ability to produce edible meals somehow are at odds.  In all fairness, I’ve not killed anyone yet but as you will read, I’ve come darn close.


My Gournet Main Course

My Gourmet Main Course

I should have known that cooking was not going to be my strong suit back in 1972, when I was living in my first apartment.  At the time I was dating a lawyer who took me to very nice restaurants.  Back in those days (I think it was the Paleozoic era), men always picked up the bill.  So occasionally, the woman was expected to host a home-cooked meal.  It was a great system.  After a couple of months I just couldn’t mooch one more meal from this man, so I worked up the courage to host him for dinner.  I decided on a Mexican theme.  I decorated with colorful flowers and planned out the menu; I think I even threw a red sash around my waist thinking it would add a certain je ne sais quoi to the evening.  As if a red sash was going to make up for canned tamales. Yep – the prep for my main course consisted of me reaching into the tool drawer, pulling out an old screw-type can opener, and dumping the tamales in a pan.  I think I may have served canned Mexican rice too.  Shortly after we finished eating this tour-de-force of can opening, my date asked if I had an Alka-Seltzer.  I did not.  So he suggested (rather kindly as I think back on it) that we go out for an after dinner drink at the local pub.  Only he didn’t have a drink – he ordered club soda.  Not surprisingly, I never saw him again.  And I was so naive that it was years later before it dawned on me I had caused him to suffer from heart burn, indigestion and God only knows what other type of gastrointestinal disorder.

Fast-forward 43 years to last month when I experienced the Triple Crown of cooking disasters. First, we were invited to a pot luck where I volunteered to bring a chicken dish.  I consulted my Ina Garten cookbook, How Easy Is That?, because I was definitely looking for easy.  I selected the Lemon Chicken that required boneless chicken breasts with the skin left on.  Not wanting to cut open an artery while de-boning a chicken breast, I purchased de-boned chicken breasts from our local gourmet market for approximately the price of a Porsche.  The recipe says to simply put the chicken in the lemon sauce and bake it, whereupon the skin is supposed to “crisp up”.  As the time approached for us to leave, I peeked in the oven.  No crisping.  I panicked and turned up the heat.  Still nothing.  Finally, we had to leave for the party so I pulled the dish out of the oven.   The end result looked like islands of fat floating in lemons.  I’ve seen better looking skin in a nursing home.  I secretly told everyone that someone else brought that horrid chicken dish.

Mine looked NOTHING like this

Mine looked NOTHING like this

Next I decided to bake my husband’s favorite dessert for his birthday – Pineapple Upside Down cake.  He is on a restricted-fat diet so I found a recipe that used applesauce and club soda as substitutes for anything that actually tastes good.  When the baking time was up I took it out of the oven only to discover that it resembled a yellow Frisbee.  Actually, that comparison might be insulting to the Frisbee.  One of my good friends, who is a fabulous cook, told me that next time I should make a full-fat version and just serve a smaller piece.  Hmmmm…a smaller piece of cake.  Not something usually in my wheelhouse.

The third disaster occurred last weekend when I tried to make up for the birthday cake disaster by fixing an angel food cake.  In fact, I went a step further and found Ms. Garten’s Lemon Angel Food cake recipe.  Perfect!  My husband loves lemons and the cake is naturally fat-free.  The recipe couldn’t have been further from my canned tamales in terms of effort.  The flour, sugar and salt had to be sifted FIVE times.  Finally – it was in the oven and I hovered over it like a mongoose watching a snake.  It rose beautifully.  When I took it out of the oven it was high and crispy (if only my chicken skin had looked that good).  I inverted it on the counter and went into my office to relax while it cooled.  Ten minutes later my husband walked in and said “Honey, I think your cake fell”.  I assured him that an angel food cake is supposed to be upside down while it cools.  To which he replied, “No, it actually has fallen.”  I raced into the kitchen.  Sure enough, my angel food cake was a steaming heap of molten mess, having made a huge splat when it hit the counter.  Pure unadulterated pride kept me from taking a picture of it.  Instead, I did what any reasonable person would do – I threw it in the garbage and poured myself a glass of wine.

I’m going to start watching The Wine Network.  All that’s necessary for success is to select a bottle of wine, open and pour.  Now, how easy is that?



A Cup of Coffee and a Newspaper

by Bob Sparrow


The news is mostly about ‘self’!

I read in the newspaper last week . . . yes, I still read a newspaper; I realize I’m in the minority, as both newspaper sales and newspaper advertising revenue are falling like a prom dress. If you ask the younger generation where they get their news they will invariably tell you ‘on line’, but all I see is faces buried in their phones while ‘tweeting’, ‘liking’, ‘Instagraming’ or posing for ‘selfies’. Their ‘news’, I suspect, comes more from ‘You Tube’ than the ‘Boob Tube’. Which means, they may not really care that much about the news – which I understand as it is mostly depressing.

Call me sentimental, but I like knowing that the Orange County Register staff worked late into the night to gather the registernews, print it and deliver it to my driveway before I get up the next morning.   I do understand that newspaper news is a day old, but do I really need the up-to-the-minute scoop on what the Kardashians are doing or what political figure bashed what political figure today? It’s not like someone is going to ask me to weigh in on our Middle East policy. Do we even have a Middle East policy? Besides, can you line the bottom of your birdcage with your computer? Can you roll up your iPad and admonish your dog? Can you get a fire going by lighting your cell phone? I think not!

I stare into my computer at work, I’m glued to my laptop when I’m writing or perusing social media and I read books on my iPad; my eyes are thankful for the respite from the bright glare of electronic devices and welcome the act of sitting down with a cup of coffee, relaxing and reading the morning news, smug in the knowledge that my newspaper isn’t going to ‘crash’, ‘freeze’ or ‘lose its connection’.


This is NOT a health drink!

A cup of coffee! That’s what I started to write about before I so rudely interrupted myself with this newspaper rant. Coffee’s history is quite the opposite of newspaper history; sales are increasing as well as prices, especially for that ‘Venti Half-Caf Caramel White Chocolate Mocha Cookie Frappuccino Latte with a shot of Espresso. Again, I know I’m in the minority here, but I still like a plain cup of coffee and as I started to say, I read in the newspaper last week that coffee, which has had a mercurial reputation, is now once again, good for you!  The article I was reading was from New York Times writer, Aaron E. Carroll, and he, like many of us, grew up in a time when our parents drank coffee, but told us not to because it would stunt our growth. For the most part we believed them and didn’t drink coffee until we thought we were tall enough. We’d see midgets, jockeys and the Seven Dwarfs and think, ‘coffee drinkers’.

Carroll sites numerous studies that show the benefits to coffee drinkers; lower rate of virtually all cardiovascular disease, lower risk of liver cancer and lower risk of prostate and breast cancer. For those who already have liver disease, coffee is associated with decreased progression to cirrhosis. Coffee intake was associated with lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, lower cognitive decline and a potential protective effect against Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee (all these studies refer to ‘black’ coffee, no sugar or cream, but can be caffeinated or decaffeinated) was associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Pretty impressive I think! But we don’t drink coffee as a ‘health drink’, although a regular brewed coffee has 5 or fewermug calories and no fat or carbohydrates; we drink it because it taste good and perhaps because we’re hooked on caffeine and need that ‘legal stimulant’ to kick-start our day.

OK, give your eyes a rest, you’ve been staring at your computer long enough, turn it off (Oops, first ‘share’ this blog with a coffee lover you know, it will make them feel better about this morning’s cup of coffee), grab a newspaper and another cup of coffee and relax, that is if coffee doesn’t give you the jitters or make you run to the bathroom. Hey, nothing is perfect!