Advice Involves a Lot of Give and Take 

Most of us, at times, appreciate free advice and there’s no shortage of it. 

I’m not talking about that annoying cousin or neighbor who knows everything and is only too happy to expound on your every question, right or wrong.

I’m talking about advice columns, which seem to appear everywhere. Every daily newspaper used to have a column or two that provided advice on everything from love and etiquette to investing, home and car maintenance, gardening, cooking and more. While some newspapers still carry them, many are now online.

I remember two that the Republican-Eagle carried many years ago. One was “Helen Help Us!” and the other was a doctor advice column called something like “Ask the Doctor.” When the doctor column stopped appearing, even the news staff noticed and asked about it. The doctor had died.

Twin Advisors

Advice columnists for “Dear Abby” and “Ann Landers” were twin sisters from Sioux City, Iowa. Neither of them were actually named Abby or Ann. It’s an interesting story worth researching. I wonder if they gave each other advice.

Advice columns can provide useful information such as when to trim trees or how to handle an icky relative. The expert tries to sound knowledgeable but points to other sources as backup. I wonder how many of the experts just find answers on the internet. Maybe the writer submits the question to an artificial intelligence program like ChatGPT and uses the generated answers.

People used to clip and save newspaper advice columns that they liked or needed to reference later. You’d see them on refrigerators with the hope that someone in the household that needed that advice might read them. Now, most of us just search the internet for advice. The hard part is determining if the advice is accurate and believable. You’re on your own there. Check multiple sources.

So, what does it take to write an advice column? Well, none of us is an expert sitting on a mountain top wisely answering every question. You’d need to focus your advice on an area you know very well that others don’t.

Local Advice

What would be a good advice column that people around here could relate to? I can imagine one. How about a column called “Hey, Norb!”?

Hey, Norb!

I just moved to Minnesota from Arizona and don’t know anything about snow other than the snowballs we made when we drove through the mountains. It’s especially exciting to know that the snow season lasts six months. I heard that driving in a snowstorm is especially fun. Do you need a special license for that? I know I need a snow shovel but what else?

– Happy Doug in Wanamingo

Dear Happy Doug:

You haven’t passed your MST (Minnesota Survival Test), have you? If you had, you would know the answers to your questions.

You see, Happy Doug, snow is serious business in Minnesota. First, you need to shovel right after each snowfall before it gets packed down. For a large area like your driveway, you’ll want to invest in a snowblower. You’ll need a snowblower license for that.

After about the 10th snowfall, often by Christmas, you’ll run out of space along your sidewalks. That’s when you push it out into the street so the snowplow can push it onto the neighbor’s yard.

Good luck. For further information, read Jalmer Iverson’s “Handy Book for New Minnesotans,” available at most border crossings. Be sure it’s at least the 2010 edition because that’s when he started including traffic tips like “Using the Zipper Merge” and “What a full stop really means in Minnesota.”

Hey, Norb:

My little brother “Blinky” is five and is a real pain. He copies just about everything I do. He always wants to play with matches just because I do. But he’s not old enough to be careful with them like me.

He takes my money if I leave it out. He says he learned that from me when I take loose change Mom and Dad leave around. But I don’t do that every day! And he tells on me for little things like shoveling our dog Beany’s poop onto the next yard. Mom won’t let me kill him. I heard you had to be 18 to do that. What can I do about him?

– Going Crazy in Zumbrota

Dear Going Crazy:

You should be happy that Blinky wants to do the same things you do. He’s learning and you’re a good teacher. Let him tag along next time you think up a teachable moment. Show him how to do other things like rolling your dad’s old tires down the street or making a slingshot to kill birds and break stuff. He’ll catch on. You can get further ideas from the kids in the older grades. Just be careful not to get him in trouble or you’ll get blamed.

Hey, Norb!

What are some cool Minnesota inventions I can brag about to my relatives from other parts of the country?

– Proud in Peterson

Dear Proud:

There are numerous Minnesota inventions you can brag about but you want to mention significant ones such as the pop-up toaster (Stillwater), the steel-toed boot (Red Wing) and water skiing (Lake City). There’s also the refrigerated truck, snowmobiles and Scotch Tape. Check the internet for more.

Don’t forget to mention the Bundt pan and My Pillow.