Here’s to Friday, Friday, Friday

Big week here at Minnesota Transplant’s house. I wrapped up a huge project and delivered it to the client this week. A weight the size of Utah has been lifted from my shoulders. I hardly know what to do with myself now.

Here’s wishing you an awesome, unencumbered weekend, too.

Friday blog item

Stories of place

Many of the stories we tell are stories about places. Sure, they’re stories about courage or sorrow or fun or work, but those circumstances usually occur in a distinctive place and well-told stories illuminate those places.

I’ve read a number of fascinating books this year that use place as main characters, and today I’m sharing a little bit of my own attempt of telling a story about a place.

Example No. 1 comes from a historical story about constructing a train to Key West, Florida:

“It’s an osprey’s-eye view here at Mile Marker 84, out over the patchwork-colored seas. Splashes of cobalt, turquoise, amber, beige, and gray alternate, then fall away to deeper blue and steel, and off toward a pale horizon where sky and water meet at a juncture that’s almost seamless on the brightest days. The variations of color have to do with the time of day, the cloud configuration, the nature of the sand or grass on the sea bottom, and the shifting depths of the water itself surrounding the Keys, which can range from a few inches to a few feet, and then plunge several fathoms and back again in an eye-blink.”

~ Les Standiford in Last Train to Paradise: Henry Flagler and the Spectacular Rise and Fall of the Railroad that Crossed an Ocean

Example No. 2 comes from a memoir set (mostly) in Kansas. The author’s descriptions of the state disabused me of my assumptions that Kansas was flat and boring (an opinion I have of North Dakota, mostly because I spent so much of my childhood viewing the landscape from the back seat of the car my parents drove from our house in Minnesota to my grandfather’s house in western North Dakota):

“Halfway between Denver and the Kansas border, I could still see the snow cap of Pike’s Peak hovering ghostlike in my side mirror. Otherwise, nothing but smooth grasslands defined the circular horizon. The land lifted and fell gently, meandering along dry streambeds. Two pearlescent cloud wings stretched toward us from our destination, where morning rimmed the earth in turquoise.”

~Julene Bair in The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning

Example No. 3 comes from the memoir I’m currently reading (and very sad to see coming to an end). Apparently, everyone in the world but me has read this one (seeing as it was in Oprah’s book club and made into a movie with Reese Witherspoon before I got to it). Better late than never, I love the author’s descriptions of her hike along the Pacific Crest Trail:

“Somber and elated, I walked in the cool air, the sun glimmering through the trees, bright against the snow, even though I had my sunglasses on. As omnipresent as the snow was, I also sensed its waning, melting imperceptibly by the minute all around me. It seemed as alive in its dying as a hive of bees was in its life. Sometimes I passed places where I heard a gurgling, as if a stream ran beneath the snow, impossible to see. Other times it fell in great wet heaps from the branches of trees.”

~ Cheryl Strayed in Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Example No. 4: I attempted to use place as a character in my own memoir:

“While tulips bloom and snow is rare in other places in March, it’s just another month of winter in central Minnesota. Even for Minnesota, March 2002 was unseasonably cold and snowy. More than 3 inches of snow fell the weekend before Steve’s trial, muffling everything outside the house. … The landscape was dirty white as Steve and I drove in relative silence down Highway 10 to the well-appointed courthouse in Elk River.”

~ Monica Lee in The Percussionist’s Wife: A Memoir of Sex, Crime & Betrayal

So with those magnificent works (or at least the first three) as my inspiration, I’ve been turning over in my mind how to describe my hometown in north Central Minnesota in a compelling way. Here’s a start:

Wadena was a farm town that grew up at the intersection of Highways 10 and 71, roads which barely supported two lanes of traffic let alone four. It was, quite literally, set in the neck of the woods, straddling Minnesota’s three ecoregions: a tallgrass prairie to the west and south bordered a forest of pine trees to the north mingling with a forest of deciduous trees to the southeast.

Like the ecology of the town itself, the back yard of the house in the heart of Wadena where I grew up had three distinctive features: a box elder tree, a pine tree and a sprawling garden planted with neat rows of lettuce, carrots, peas and potatoes. The trees became hubs for kid activity. The knobby box elder tree was designed for climbing, and the children who lived in the house before us constructed a bench of sorts in the fork of the tree. Eventually, the bench became a tree house, an obvious shack in the naked winter but a cozy hideaway tucked among the leaves in the green summer. For me, the towering pine tree was an irritant, its boughs intruding on the sidewalk between the house and the detached garage, but for my little brother, the sandy soil shaded by pine boughs was Nirvana. He spent entire summers excavating, building and rerouting Tonka Truck roadways beneath that tree.

Where the sidewalk ends

Monica Lee:

Times, they are a changin’. I’m reblogging this post from 2010 in which I lament the sorry state of the housing development east of my home. It’s still as great a place to run as it was five years ago because there is next to no traffic, but slowly, slowly, I’m beginning to see activity. The condos which have stood empty since the day I moved here eight years ago have gotten new landscaping recently. A dash closer to home in the subdivision that would be considered mine, at least three new houses have been built in the past six months and I spied foundations for two more. So maybe there’s hope for the housing market here after all.

Originally posted on Minnesota Transplant:

Theoretically, it’s better for your joints to run on the ground than to run on the street. And theoretically, concrete is the worst.

But still, when there’s a sidewalk around, that’s what I’m running on. It’s usually flatter than both the ground and the road, and I’m not exactly sure-footed.

Today, I ran on a number of brand new sidewalks. They’re so brand new, I could be the very first person to traverse them.

Sadly, I might be the only person to set foot on them anytime soon.

See, there’s this lonely housing development to the east of ours. It’s a testament to the sorry state of U.S. housing industry. The whole thing was obviously planned when the economy was flush. Between the developer and the village, they agreed to install blocks and blocks of beautifully paved streets, curb and gutter, sidewalks and street lights — wonderous things just waiting for…

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God in the closet

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with Thy free spirit.

~ Psalm 51:10-12

Any good church-going Missouri Synod Lutheran recognizes those verses as the offertory in the Sunday liturgy.

Beyond being a preface for passing the envelope plate, they also are among the top returns in a Google search for “prayer of renewal.”

A quick look in my study Bible describes Psalm 51 as “a lament, the most famous of the seven Penitential Psalms, [a prayer] for the removal of the personal and social disorders that sin has brought.”

I think it came to mind today because I was cleaning my clothes closet, an indication of my own disorder. The closet is not yet good enough to show off in a stellar After picture, as is my wont, but it’s better. The overflowing closet itself is a symbol of abundance and the blessings I’ve been bestowed; the process of organizing it, a symbol of renewal.

My study Bible goes on to say of Psalm 51, “[Verses 11-19] seek something more profound than wiping the slate clean; nearness to God, living by the spirit of God.”

It’s rather nice to think of a common household task like cleaning one’s closets as bringing one closer to God.

Does this work of art make my front door look like a lush?

Oh, my god, has it been three years already?!

Yes, it’s been three years since we painted the dining room (and the living room and the kitchen).

Wow.

Time flies when you’re … um … not painting every wall on the main floor of your house.

In any case, when I showed off the before-and-after pictures of the dining room following that transformation, I left out the north wall, which has looked pretty much like this for three years:

entry way before

A little naked. It’s an expanse deserving of something dramatic, so my Beloved and I have looked for that Something Dramatic for a while now (I still can’t believe it’s been three years of dithering–I could have had a Mona Lisa commissioned, painted and paid for in that time). For a while, we were looking for something gnarly (as in literally gnarled) or possibly a unique piece of driftwood.

No dice.

This week, my Beloved painted the front door. What possessed him to do this, I don’t know, but I can attest it was not me who put it on his Honey Do list. It used to be a sort of tired pine green. Now it’s a lovely shade of Pinot Noir.

He apparently also got tired of waiting for the perfect Something Dramatic to show up unbidden at our front door so he went trolling on the internet to find something to adorn the spot above the church bench. He found Something Dramatic, and it arrived at our front door today:

entry way after

I think it’s cool. If you stare at it long enough, it feels like you’re traveling through the galaxy in hyperdrive.

Hey, wine has an other worldly lure. Maybe we should have gone with Pinot Noir three years ago.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.

Close-up view from the edge of the universe.

An argument for summer reading

I’m way behind on my reading goal for the year (63 books, remember?!) so instead of writing a proper post, I’m going to go read and leave you with this quote:

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

~ Oscar Wilde

Stop and smell the lilacs on the way

lilacs vert

Few flowers have the power to capture my attention like lilacs. It’s their scent, I’m sure. As I was running around town yesterday morning, I literally stopped to smell the lilacs on the way.

My sense of smell is not exactly exacting. Sure, I can smell strong odors, but nuances elude me. Roses? Pretty. But their fragrance is weak.

There’s nothing nuanced about the scent of lilacs. Their heady perfume pervades even a hypnotic run. I’ve jogged by this home at least a hundred times, but I don’t recall ever seeing lilacs there. Obviously, I was exercising elsewhere in past late Mays.

Clearly, I have a thing for lilacs. I’ve waxed nostalgic for them more than once on this blog (201020112013). I’m always transported to the house I consider my childhood home, where a phalanx of lilacs grew in the alleyway, sweetly scenting the garbage cans for a few weeks every year.

I didn’t have my iPhone with me on my run yesterday, so I went back today on a soggy Saturday morning to capture this image.

The lilacs still smelled fragrant.

lilacs with saying