Tag Archives: Family

Travel Tuesday: Sculpture parks

 

St. Louis 003

“The Way” by Alexander Liberman at Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Mo.

Summer is the season to visit a sculpture park wherever you may find it.

Sculpture parks, sometimes referred to as sculpture gardens, offer art fans the opportunity to interact with art and nature. For me, sculpture — found object or otherwise — is more interesting than any two-dimensional art like drawing or painting and if I can enjoy it while enjoying a stroll in the sunshine, all the better. Sculpture parks are a great destination for families because they appeal to all generations.

After writing about Nyberg Park sculpture garden in central Minnesota recently, I was reminded of a visit to the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis a decade ago.

It is an intellectually stimulating and beautiful place that you should visit if you ever get a chance. It’s an outdoor sculpture garden with all sorts of interesting sculptures made of wood, iron, steel girders and even dirt (I would have thought a sculpture made of dirt would be landscaping but apparently not).

Lots of different kinds of people were there when I was, not just art aficionados: Kids flying kites, women walking dogs, lovers enjoying the art (or each other, I’m not sure), siblings arguing about which direction to take at the fork in the road in the woods.

Like many sculpture parks, Laumeier’s was free. Can’t beat free!

If you’re interested in working a visit to a sculpture garden into your next vacation or family weekend, check out the worldwide list of sculpture parks on Wikipedia. The list is segmented by country and state. Many of the listings are hot-linked to the park’s own website so you can get all the details.

Enjoy some art and fresh air this summer.

 

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Thanks for being my unbiological brother

My Beloved and I called our brother-in-law at 7 o’clock this morning to sing him happy birthday.

He didn’t answer. He might have been sleeping or working or fishing or just ignoring us (but I don’t think so–we’re excellent singers).

He’s the type of guy who makes May 30 worth celebrating. I love him almost as much as my sister does. He likes catsup by the gallon, a good deal, Apple stock, the Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Vikings (for which we forgive him) and a good boat ride (which might mean a relaxing putt-putt around the lake or a raucous one dragging water skiers behind).

He’s an excellent pilot, a great dad, a capable remodeler and the voice of reason in most conversations.

Here’s to deserving brothers-in-law!

 

The passing of an age

If you’ve followed Minnesota Transplant for any length of time, you knew I had a centenarian grandmother.

She was my father’s mother, and I say “was” because she died earlier this month. She was 104.

I needed some time to process her death, not because it hit me hard—who can profess surprise about the death of a 104-year-old?—but because I really wanted to write about her thoughtfully and in a way that honors her.

She was a tiny person physically, but she loomed large in her family in part because of her longevity. I have clear, vivid memories of her because I knew her when I was an adult, a middle-aged adult. We were pen pals for decades, and as a fan of the written word, I now am the proud recipient of many of her diaries.

grandma with her cake

When Grandma was 96 (and still living on her own and cooking for herself), she brought the dessert for our family Easter celebration, an elegant looker made from a recipe she’d found in a newspaper.

She was an incredible hostess, and I am honored to have inherited one of her sets of china and a set of flatware. Yes, she believed “lunch” required china cups and saucers, and no one spent any amount of time with her without being offered something to eat. No meal was complete without pickled beets or sweet pickles. And cookies, even if she served another more elaborate dessert. Cookies on the side.

I also inherited her vanity, but I do not consider it a deadly sin. I believe part of the reason she lasted as long as she did is because she took care of her human vessel. She cared about how she looked, and an interest in fashion was part of that interest. I once went shoe shopping with her when she was 100. She accented her outfits by wearing bracelets and scarves right up ’til the very end.

Grandma had a great sense of humor, and one of her favorite holidays was April Fool’s Day. She was also an avid gardener, which is no mean feat in north central Minnesota where the growing season is eight weeks long (I kid, but not much).

But more than any of these character traits and interests, Grandma was faithful. An ardent Christian, she believed with a capital B. Her week revolved around going to worship services until she moved into assisted living four years ago. That faith is what got her through the volume of grief only a 104-year-old experiences. She was a widow for 42 years (she never remarried). Her daughter-in-law who lived two doors down for decades lost a battle to cancer. Two of her grandchildren died young. Her sisters. Her brothers. Her youngest son died two years ago. So many friends and neighbors got to the finish line before she did.

She also lost her hearing, which I think was a difficult thing for someone as social as she was. It happened relatively early in her life; I don’t even remember my grandmother without hearing aids. In the end she was so profoundly deaf, it was easier to get your point across with a white board than to yell. Her eyesight was failing, too, and in recent years she began using a wheelchair more than her own legs. Aging is not for the faint-hearted, quite literally.

Before Grandma died, she planned her funeral, writing down many details so we would get it right. (Among the details she did not dictate, we draped one of her handmade quilts over her coffin instead of a spray of flowers; she was an avid quilter for many years and it was beautiful. And her family, not Grandma, selected the wild rice hotdish for the funeral luncheon, but I found that a perfect choice for a Central Minnesota funeral.) For some reason, Grandma designated me to read one of the Bible readings at the service. Apparently, I had brought my public speaking skills to her attention in more than one postal missive I sent to her. Unlike some of my cousins who probably would not have wanted the burden, I was flattered to do it. When I looked up the verses before the service, I thought they was perfect for Grandma.

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

~ Philippians 1:21-24

Grandma lived so long she came to wonder whether God had forgotten her or flat out didn’t want her. The pastor at her funeral said her most persistent question was “Why am I still here?” The tone he parroted made her sound like she was cross examining him in a court of law.

Her reason for being is probably as varied as the people who knew her. For me, she was a role model for aging gracefully, if not always cheerfully. It’s hard to get old, but she persevered because she believed in a higher purpose.

Fortunately for all of us and her, too, Grandma died in her sleep. God wanted her after all, He just didn’t want her going out in a blaze of IV tubes and pain meds so He waited out that strong heart of hers.

I’m not sad Grandma died. She lived a good life, and she died a good death. I will miss her, to be sure, but leaving this earthly plain is what she wanted so I’m happy for her. Her send-off was oddly celebratory for a funeral, but perfectly pitched for someone who lived 104 years in God’s grace.

Sometimes the experiment fails

My Beloved asked me today if I’d still cook if we win the lottery tonight (yes, we have our ticket for a chance to win three-quarters of a billion dollars in tonight’s Powerball lottery, do you?).

I said yes.

He scoffed.

We’d already discussed hiring a chef. And a butler. And a full-time masseuse. This is what one dreams of when one holds a $2 lottery ticket that has not yet proven worthless.

“I like to cook,” I said. “At least somebody else would clean up the kitchen.”

I am an experimental cook. Just like Mom. We like to tinker with recipes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Comme ci comme ça.

A few weeks ago, I worked up what I thought was a great idea: Ham & Cheese Manicotti.

Back story: My mother-in-law likes ham and cheese. A lot. I’ve actually seen her eat ham and cheese something-or-other (omelet, sandwich, casserole) three times in one day. For some people, it’s chocolate. For her, it’s ham and cheese. Then not long ago, when I was crawling around in her pantry looking for a box of Zip-locks, I noticed she had not one, not two but three boxes of manicotti hidden in there. So, she likes manicotti a lot, too! What if I created a recipe that married her favorites: Ham & Cheese Manicotti? I’d win her undying affection! I’d be her golden daughter-in-law! (True confession: She’s already quite fond of me. And I, of her. I thought she’d appreciate Ham & Cheese Manicotti; it would be a way to show my love.)

ham and cheese manicotti

Ham & Cheese Manicotti. Experiment with your own recipe.

So I worked up a recipe that included canned ham (no, not deviled ham–canned ham, like canned tuna), swiss and ricotta cheeses, and bottled alfredo sauce. I whipped it up and tested it out on my Beloved, hoping for a good report so I could make it sometime when I entertained my mother-in-law.

My Beloved hated it. Especially the canned ham. He vowed never to eat it again, even if I changed up the recipe to use regular ham, chopped.

Ever hear of the maxim that eternity is defined by a ham and two people? Well, it’s also defined by seven leftover ham & cheese manicotti and one person. I don’t even like pasta all that much. I ate that stuff for a week, and I still threw away two manicotti. (It wasn’t that bad, for the record. Just too much of a good thing. Or, at least, too much of a so-so thing.)

So here’s to experimental cooking. Sometimes it works, and you have dinner. And sometimes it doesn’t, and you have a story.

Here’s hoping I do better with tonight’s lottery numbers. Cheers!

 

 

Memories of my brother

Not a January 17th can pass without me thinking of my little brother.

Curt died 20 years ago today in a car accident during a blizzard. I suggested to my sister we should do something significant and showy to remember him on this milestone day, and she said, “I don’t want to memorialize his death. I would rather remember his life.”

She made a valid point, so I will not be doing a Facebook fundraiser or lighting a trail of luminaries or visiting his grave (it’s too blasted cold to be visiting graves in Minnesota this time of year anyway).

Instead, I will remember his sweetness and light.

I was six years his senior, and alas, I did not get to know my little brother very well as an adult. I had other priorities at the time. Those other interests now seem dim and self-important, but that pretty much summarizes me at that time in my life—dim and self-important. What can I say? I was 32, and I thought I knew it all. At least now I understand how uninformed I really am.

But other people with better perspective who knew him well offered beautiful eulogies at the time of his passing. There was a newspaper story about his death in the local paper, and one of his friends said, “He was kind.” The copyeditor ended up using that quote as the headline, and it seemed like—still seems like—the best thing anyone would ever want to have said about them once they’re gone: “He was kind.” We should have put it on his headstone. The whole world could use more kindness.

Several months before he died, I found out he spent his last dollar bailing a friend out of jail, and at the time I thought that was just stupid. But really, it was evidence of his kindness. And after he died, my parents found a movie ticket stub on his grave; we learned a friend with whom he shared a love of movies had left it there, and he was missing Curt profoundly. That’s the thing a kind friend does—he makes a bright spot in your week by going to the movies with you and debating their relative quality afterwards when no one else will.

My Beloved would have loved my brother, but he came along too late to have the pleasure. More importantly, my brother would have loved him and his “go big or go home” approach to life. But the truth is, my brother probably would have loved anyone I loved; he and my ex-husband got along famously, and if Curt had anything bad to say about the guy I ended up leaving, he kept it to himself. That’s how Curt was. He looked for the best in people and found it, even if it was a little hard for other people to see.

Curt was built that way, full of compassion for bugs and animals and people, from the very beginning. When he was 9, he made me, his mostly inattentive teenage sister who was only interested in cute boys her own age, a Valentine. I ran across it not long ago in my Judy Blume diary from the time, and it made me laugh because it showed his sweetness and his sense of humor. Who needs rhyme in a “roses are red” verse when you’re getting straight to the heart of the holiday?

curt valentine's card

Isn’t that sweet? (And in pretty good condition for being 40 years old; they don’t make construction paper like that anymore!).

That was Curt. Full of love and laughter and willing to share it. The world is a little bit emptier for not having him in it the past 20 years. I miss him.

Halloween 1978

Minnesota Transplant as an artist, her sister as Raggedy Ann and her brother as Superman at Halloween in 1978. Superman was kind, too.

Throwback Thursday: What baling hay teaches

Going back to school reminds Minnesota Wonderer of her uncle who’s worked in education for the better part of his career. September reminds me of harvest time, too (I no longer have a garden but I drive by those fields of bounty). So today’s Throwback Thursday post, first published Aug. 9, 2012, pays homage to both my uncle and a harvest. It’s one of my favorites. Enjoy.

What a perfect haystack means

Symbols remind us of what’s important. A wedding ring symbolizes a commitment. A lushly green, well-watered lawn symbolizes suburban perfection. A signed baseball symbolizes a brush with fame.

For my uncle, a perfect haystack symbolizes a summer’s work.

stacked hay final

A meaningful stack of North Dakota hay, circa 1965.

I recently found a black-and-white picture of the haystack in my uncle’s collection of personal photos.

“You’ve had this photo for 40-some years,” I said. “There must be a reason you kept it so long.”

“That hay stack represented a finished job,” Uncle Lee said. “I don’t get many ‘finished jobs’ in my line of work now.”

Nowadays, making hay is highly mechanized. Round bales, created by a machine, dot the rural landscape around the little town where I live on the outskirts of Chicago.

But a century ago, hay was cut with scythes and moved with pitchforks, and haystacks shaped like little houses were fixtures of the Midwestern landscape. Square balers mechanized the process in the 1940s. As the farming industry moved to a more corporate operation in recent years, large round bales have become more common.

The biggest advantage of small square bales like those handled by my uncle is that they can be moved by one person without a lot of machinery.

Square hay bales must be stacked in such a way as to shed moisture and prevent rotting. My uncle estimates his haystack probably had 2,000 square bales in it.

“I probably handled those bales six times each,” he said. “That’s why I was in such great shape! The knees wore out of my blue jeans from hiking up those bales. I could throw them like you couldn’t believe.”

As the saying goes, you make hay while the sun shines. One has to cut it, rake it and bale it first. “Dad [my grandfather] had a brand new baler at the time,” Uncle Lee remembers. “Then I’d go out and put ’em in six packs — that’s the first time I handled ’em. Then I’d pick ’em up and throw ’em on the hay wagon (that’s two), then stack ’em again on the wagon (three), bring ’em home, throw ’em down (there’s four, right?), then stack them like you see here in the picture.”

The stack in that picture symbolized a whole summer of work.

“Wait, that’s five times, I think,” I said.

“Then in the winter time, you have to feed the cattle – I had to throw the bales on the ground for the cows.”

Six.

“I like everything about cattle,” said Uncle Lee, who grew up and made hay in the western plains of North Dakota. “I enjoyed that part of farming. I didn’t like seeding or combining, but one of my favorite times of year was when we moved the cattle to summer pasture. All winter, they were cooped up in the barnyards, but in spring we moved them to the open fields. They were like little kids! They’d kick up their heels and hit their heads together, they were so happy.

“I still like cattle.”

Early on, Uncle Lee left farming because there was no money in it and embarked on a career in education. He started out as a social studies teacher. He worked his way into school administrationthe top of the stack, so to speak—favoring smaller school districts.

“That’s probably why I prefer rural districts,” Uncle Lee said. “North Dakota built my foundation. It was a hard place to make a living: It’s got a short growing season. It’s colder than hell. Sometimes it doesn’t rain. It can be a very lonely, lonely place.”

But he learned what hard work can accomplish.

And the picture of his haystack symbolizes it.

The joke, er, goat’s on you

April Fools’ Day is a major holiday on my father’s side of the family. My 102-year-old grandmother used to love playing April Fool’s jokes, and my dad loves to tease people.

I inherited 20-some years of my grandmother’s diaries when she moved into a nursing home two years ago, so I dug through her April 1st entries in search of proof of her foolishness. Among entries about lunch, ironing, quilting and visitors, she rarely failed to note it was April Fools’ Day, though in 1998 when 7 inches of snow fell and 2009 when 11-12 inches fell, the weather trumped all fun.

I should mention that Grandma lives in north central Minnesota, where winter is six months long if it’s a day.

In the ’80s, April Fools’ Day was mentioned frequently with her brother-in-law’s birthday.

1985: “April Fools’ Day and Odin’s birthday. We celebrated his birthday with the neighbors coming, too. It was a very nice afternoon.”

In other years, she only mentioned who she fooled, not how. In 1986, it was my cousin Cheri (Grandma’s oldest grandchild). In 1991 and 1993, it was her friend Clarine. In 1992: “It was quiet although I did fool a few after church when we were having soup.” In 2004, she mentions she fooled her niece, Virginia.

In 1996, the lack of fooling got noted: “Cloudy cool day. I didn’t do any April fooling.”

But when Grandma does bother to go into detail about the day’s foolishness, I just have to chuckle.

1991: “April Fools’ … Was a nice day. The New Horizon had a goat they would deliver for $10. Mary called to have one delivered to both Jim & Wally. They blame me for telling Mary.”

Mary is my Aunt Mary, and Jim and Wally are her brothers, two of Grandma’s three sons. Uncle Wally passed away last year, but this joke reminds me of his sense of humor (and is proof of the foolishness on this side of the family!). He and Grandma exchanged pranks regularly:

1994: “April Fools’. I fooled Wally with a letter. It makes me happy. I did get him!”

1995: “April Fools’. Wally planned to fool me so I locked the garage door. He was here but couldn’t get in.”

1997: “April Fools’ Day. I never fooled anyone. Wally came when I was gone and put the bench on top of the car.”

 

For me, I think April Fool’s jokes are most funny when they’re played on someone else. When someone pulls a joke on me, well, not so much.

Researchers have found apes laugh, dogs laugh and babies laugh before they learn any other language. Laughter is pretty much the same across languages, and it has the same cadence for everyone — if you “ha, ha, ha” too fast or too slow, it’s panting or, er, something else.

So, laughter is like sleep. We all do it instinctively, and no one really knows why. Maybe it’s God’s joke. In any case, a good laugh is good for the soul, which may explain Grandma’s longevity.

May your day be filled with laughter.