Tag Archives: Life

Travel Tuesday: Nyberg Park sculpture garden

coffee cup sculpture

If ever you find yourself with a few minutes to spare in west central Minnesota on a sunny day, you must make time for a stop at Nyberg Park in Vining, Minnesota. The season is nigh!

nyberg park sign

Welcome to Nyberg Park. Please sign our guestbook.

Vining is home to 78 residents (according to the last census) and the finest sculpture garden you’ll ever see in such a small town. Nyberg Park is located unapologetically next door to the Big Foot Gas & Grocery on Highway 210 (you’ll see from where the gas station derives its name in a minute; let’s just say it’s not another Sasquatch reference).

self portrait sculpture

Artist’s self-portrait, I’m guessing. (Nyberg calls it “Shop Helper.”)

kenneth nyberg sigThe park gets its name from the sculptor who created the huge, whimsical sculptures found throughout Vining and Otter Tail County. The material of choice for Kenneth Nyberg, a welder and former construction foreman, is scrap metal that he hauls from job sites to his workshop. Some pieces are painted and some are left to rust. He enjoys playing with scale, and the results are strange and beautiful, like The Foot.

big foot sculpture

The foot is 12 feet high and weighs 1,200 pounds.

deer sculpture

You would not be surprised to find a deer in Ottertail County, though filling this one with lead won’t do a hunter any good. But how about an alien? Would that surprise you?

alien sculpture

This place is a head scratcher if ever there was one.

dad with cowboy

Both my dad and The Cowboy are friendly guys.

Nyberg Park, where everyday items become art, is a fun place to visit and collect selfies, for sure.

watermelon

How about a slice of watermelon?

knife and fork

Who’s leading?

pliers sculpture

Look out, roach! You’re in for it!

Still not sure where Vining is? Nyberg helps with a map.

earth with vining

Begin on planet Earth and proceed until you see a sign.

See the signage? Here’s a closeup.

vining up close

You are here.

When my parents and I visited the park one fine June day two years ago, we stopped at the nearby Vining Grill and dined on the sort of delicacies one finds in Central Minnesota: Fried Klub (a Norwegian potato dumpling) with eggs and choice of meat and, for dessert, Rhubarb Custard Pie. Served on china.

strawberry rhubard pie

Now’s that’s a fine specimen.

Absolutely worth the stop.

Spring, nothing beats it

spring tulips

If ever there was a symbol of spring, it’s tulips.

Welcome, First Day of Spring. We’ve been longing for you.

Depending on how you slice it, today is the first day of spring. The vernal equinox occurred at 4:58 p.m. yesterday, so yesterday might qualify but only as the first evening of spring. Today, oh, we have a full day!

Spring is my favorite season.

I love how it sounds and smells and feels.

Birds are chirping, and frogs are gallooping.

The air smells fresh and watery. My nose hairs aren’t crispy cold, and I no longer have to smell exhaust fumes while my car warms up.

Spring feels spongy like a melting bog — the earth is forgiving again.

And spring is colorful! The sky is blue, not gray! Well, today is gray, but even the clouds are not so imposing–I see sunlight burning through. The ground is green, not white! There are birds with orange breasts (!), and golden sunrises begin each day.

The snow here in Southern Wisconsin isn’t quite gone, but the melting ice drifts are few and far between. I’m not quite ready for sandals, but I put away my down coat and mittens. Even more bold, screaming children in T-shirts are tearing around the playground across the street.

Welcome, Spring. How I have missed thee.

Whatever will be, will be; or whatever was, was; forget about it

When I read recently in Amy Poehler’s memoir Yes Please that one of the acts her improv troupe performed began with asking an audience member about his day and then acting out how his dreams might look, I thought that made sense. My dreams are mostly nonsensical recombinations of my day. I only wish Amy Poehler was involved because I might laugh more in my sleep.

Instead, I woke up (I typed work up first — how Freudian) the other morning in a cold sweat. Actually, it was a hot sweat. A tiny hot flash. I had been dreaming about being editor in chief of the University Chronicle, which I was once, 30 years ago when I was a fifth-year senior at college. In my dream, I had completely missed publishing the first issue of the fall term. I was in charge, and I missed the reporters meeting, I missed editing any of the stories, I missed laying out the pages. Everything. Poof. Just forgot. I showed up for the second issue, suddenly mortified I had blanked on the first issue. This is terrible, absolutely terrible, I thought. I blew it completely.

I vaguely recall the ads were still published. That’s how it was in the newspaper biz at the time. The news side had nothing to do with selling or creating ads. I would just show up on the appointed afternoon, and the ads would be designed and placed on the pages. Big white holes between the ads would be waiting for our stellar news copy to fill them.

The ads must go on. Without or without the news, I guess. (Sort of like my Facebook newsfeed some days.)

Where did that flashback come from? I’ve read that dreams like that are metaphors for one’s current life. When I was editor of the college paper, there was a lot of deadline pressure and a lot of stress managing people (they mostly managed themselves, let’s be honest, but I was stressed about it in any case). Something about my current life had my subconscious reliving that pressure and stress. And failing miserably, I guess, since I missed an entire issue of the paper.

My life is a less pressure packed nowadays. Or maybe I’m just more accepting about my ability to control anything. But I guess I need to bring my subconscious up to speed.

Note to subconscious: You’re not as important as you might think. Whatever you miss that seems so urgent and earth-shattering is probably not that important either.

Que sera sera.

Grandma turns 104 today

Centenarians are rare. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there were just 53,364 people 100 or older living in the United States. Nine years later, nearly all of them have left this earthly plain. A new, and probably larger group of centenarians has replaced them. In the period 1980 to 2010, the centenarian population experienced a larger percentage increase than did the total population, meaning more Americans than ever are living to this triple-digit age.

I found these and other facts in Centenarians: 2010, a publication of the U.S. Census, and I bothered to look them up in honor of my grandmother, who turns 104 today.

Me and Grandma

Me and Grandma two years ago during a visit a few weeks after her birthday. Note the scarf: Always fashion conscious.

One-hundred-and-four! Can you imagine? Even she can’t imagine. She has said more than once she doesn’t know why she has lived this long.

As a white woman living these past four years in an elder care facility in north-central Minnesota, Grandma typifies what a centenarian looks like in the United States; 82.8 percent of American centenarians are female, and 82.5 percent of centenarians were white. Almost unbelievably, about a third of centenarians live alone in their household; the rest live with others in the household, in a nursing home or in other group quarters.

Minnesota is No. 10 among states with the highest number of centenarians as a percentage of the population, at least back in 2010. The states with the most as a percentage of the population? North Dakota is No. 1, South Dakota is No. 2, Iowa is No. 3 and Nebraska is No. 4. Go Midwest! The states with the most in raw numbers? Not surprisingly, it’s some of the states with the highest overall populations: California, New York and Florida.

When Grandma turned 100, I wrote a blog post with 100 pieces of trivia about her and her life (click here to read it). In summary, she’s a 100% German American farmer’s wife with four children and a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. She’s got a great sense of humor, is a gracious host and has just enough vanity to have kept her in good shape for ten and half decades. The most impressive fact about her this time of year is that she has lived through 104 Minnesota winters; other Minnesotans impressed with their own toughness might tell you frozen storage is why she’s lived so long.

I exchanged letters with Grandma for many years, and I inherited 25 years worth of her daily diaries. She rarely wrote anything emotional or introspective. Mostly, she stuck to the transactional events of her day. Here’s an example from her diary 10 years ago when she turned 94:

Happy Birthday to myself. Woke up in plenty of time to go to church; rode with [a friend] Harley. Got home at 9:20 so took a nap as we left for [daughter] Mary’s at 12 for my birthday party. Very nice. All three [grand]babies born in ’08 were there. … Big gifts. Was home again at 6:30. Was hyper so couldn’t relax but really tired when I went to bed. [Son] Bob called from Hawaii to wish me a happy birthday.

Not sure what “big gifts” meant, but I’m guessing it was gourmet jams, stationery and postage stamps. This sort of encapsulates her formula for longevity: Spirituality, lots of sleep including a daily nap, loving family and gratitude.

Happy birthday, dear Grandma!

# # #

In observance of Ash Wednesday, I was asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Check out my entries on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Tomorrow, I write about repentance–or the lack of it–on my Monica Lee author blog.

Bearing witness

Is this heaven

If you think meditation requires sitting cross-legged and chanting “Om,” you might be surprised to learn that’s only one way to practice meditation. Dozens of contemplative practices exist including everything from sitting in silence to dance and many acts in between. One of them is bearing witness, defined by Jules Shuzen Harris as “acknowledging that something exists or is true.” He suggests the Buddhist perspective of bearing witness “is to embrace both the joy and the suffering we encounter.”

For the past six months or so, I have been participating in a meditation practice with a small group of women at a nearby church. Last month, we met in my church (that is, my house, which used to be a church). After we rang the church bell, we meditated to the sound of bells. It was lovely.

But today I’m thinking of bearing witness as a meditation because I did so earlier this week when I spent a few minutes in silence holding a dying man’s hand. Without getting into the sticky HIPAA details of who this man is and whether or not he is actually dying, let’s just stipulate we all are dying. But we’re not all breathing with a ventilator in the critical care unit of a hospital. This man was. If you’re a more hopeful sort, you might argue this man was recovering, not dying. To-may-to, to-mah-to. Unless you’re a baby, we’re all in some state of disintegration.

This experience has clung to my consciousness like Pig-pen’s dust cloud, not in a haunting way but in a solemn, reverential way; it seems appropriate with the observance today of Ash Wednesday, which I associate with one’s path to death and resurrection. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. For dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.”

In between the hullabaloo of a number of visitors checking on this man’s well-being and the nurse washing his face and pressing various buttons on his monitors and intravenous drips, I was left alone in the room with him for about 20 minutes. Cell phones were not allowed in the ward. Food wasn’t permitted. There wasn’t a TV in the room. Only the man, carefully arranged in a hospital bed, and an array of machinery. Instead of seeking a distraction, I paid attention to the moment.

I took the man’s hand and was surprised to find it warmer than my own. I held it gently because he was so frail.

I considered singing a lullaby, but he is hearing impaired and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be heard by anyone else or that I could remember whole verses. So I sat in silence listening to the ventilator do its work.

Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out.

Every breath is a miracle if you think about it, but it was even more special in this setting. This is exactly what one might do to center one’s mind during meditation, only one would be concentrating on one’s own breath instead of someone else’s.

Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out.

Though mostly unconscious, it was clear this man was suffering. Occasionally, he would open his mouth and grimace. But he would also sometimes turn his head and smile. There was small but real joy in these fleeting moments. He was warm. He was breathing. He was alive. Life, being a gift, should be celebrated even in the midst of pain, I believe. Sitting there with him, this is what I bore witness to.

Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out. Air in. Breath out.

I did not consider the future. I have the luxury of being emotionally separated enough from the man that his state did not disturb or worry me. I was in no position to help the situation or control it or even speak words of comfort (he couldn’t hear me anyway and with a tracheotomy, he couldn’t speak either so conversation was not an option). I could just be. Holding his hand. And bearing witness. See him in the moment instead his past mistakes or all the machines in the present or what the future might hold.

According to Harris, bearing witness has psychological and spiritual benefits for the bearer: “It enables us to connect with a place of real empathy. It also provides a kind of catharsis, a release from our emotional reactions of pity, shame, or fear. Spiritually, bearing witness invokes a sense of interconnectedness, of oneness, a direct realization of the wholeness of life.”

I felt these benefits while sitting with this man. For a few minutes, I let go of my shame and pity, and in bearing witness to his joy and suffering, I felt fortunate. My private moments in that room were a blessing to him, I hope, and to me. It’s not every day one observes so intimately the process of living and dying.

# # #

In observance of Ash Wednesday, I’m asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, a throwback with a lighter perspective.

A less selfish first question than ‘How did he die?’

Ash Wednesday dandelion

I firmly believe that practice of reading obituaries is more about the reader than the dead.

When I heard Luke Perry died yesterday, my first thought was not about him or his family. It was about me.

“Only 52? I’m 52! How did he die? Stroke? What causes strokes? High blood pressure? High cholesterol? Diabetes? Obesity? Smoking? OK, I’m good. I don’t have any of those. Oh, too bad about Luke Perry. Well, I didn’t watch ‘Beverly Hills, 90210′ anyway.”

I’m just being honest. If you’re 52, this is what you thought, too. Unless you watched “90210,” in which case you thought, “Oh, another piece of my youth. Dead.” It wasn’t about Luke Perry. It was about your own youth. Or its demise. Or your health problems caused you to think, “Uh-oh.” Again, it was all about you.

I can’t quite believe all the news coverage Luke Perry is getting about his death. Poor Margot Kidder. I didn’t know she died last year until I saw the Oscars’ “In Memoriam” tribute, and then I had to look it up: The 1978 “Superman” star died by suicide on May 13. Three weeks later, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade took their own lives, and everyone was talking about the epidemic of suicide. But Kidder’s cause of death wasn’t announced until August, so maybe that’s why I missed it. And, she was 69. Not so uncommon to die at 69 as at 52.

All too often, the first question someone asks when they hear of a death—whether its a celebrity or a relative—is, “How did he die?” What’s really being asked is “Could I die like that?”

A less selfish first question, after you offer condolences or at least consider the dead’s loved ones, would be “How did he live?” Being interested in what the deceased person offered the world, instead of the odds of whether I’ll leave this earthly plain in a similar way, would have been a more gracious and generous way to receive the news of Luke Perry’s death.

I’m going to blame my journalism background here. I once wrote obituaries for a living, and just about every obituary begins the same way, “Claim-to-fame So-And-So, age, died day of week of a cause of death”: “‘Beverly Hills, 90210’ heartthrob Luke Perry, 52, died Monday of a massive stroke.” How someone dies is a necessary fact in a complete report of death.

Pragmatism. My excuse for rudeness.

Still, in the future, I’m going to try to ask “How did he live?” before I ask “How did he die?”

# # #

In observance of Ash Wednesday tomorrow, I’m asking big questions about life and death this week on Minnesota Transplant. Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a six-week season during which Christians focus on the life and, in particular, the death of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, bearing witness.

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.