Monday, November 3, 2014

Casting spells and eating candy

At Halloween we've taken to leaving the lights off and not buying candy. We do, however, enjoy the holiday through the grandkids.

The girl who loves pink and princesses and rainbows and unicorns went totally in the other direction, dressing as the evil Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter stories. Abby converted Vi's black flower-girl dress into a fabulous take on the movie costume worn by Helena Bonham Carter. Eric made an appropriately crooked wand, and Vi added just the right sense of drama, casting spells at every opportunity. (She went as the red dragon Smaug for two years, so this was not too surprising.)

In the movies, Bellatrix has on her arm a "dark mark" that identifies her as a follower of He Who Shall Not Be Named. We knew Vi's arms would need to be covered for warmth, so I drew the dark mark in silver glitter glue on the black trick-or-treat bag I made for her. Just before I finished it, Vi said she hoped the skull wouldn't frighten little children, and she wondered about changing the skull to a heart. I told her I thought the snake was the scariest part, and we decided to stick with the original. But I gotta love her combination of scary wizardry and real-life concern.

Augie planned his Ninja outfit months ago, and he was eager to assemble it so we helped. It begins with black sweat pants and hoodie he can wear any day, plus a balaklava (winter head covering) that he could close down so only his eyes showed. At a second-hand shop we found soft black "Ninja shoes" ideal for moving stealthily. Eric made him a long sword and Grandma Anita made a scabbard. Augie's new best friend dressed as Pokemon--a bright contrast to the all-in-black Augie and Vi.

When the kids finished trick-or-treating, they handed out candy at their house, literally jumping with delight. And since they turn over most of their collected candy to the Switch Witch, who in turn gives them a toy, they were more than willing to share a handful of Butterfingers and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups with Grandma.

I used to buy bags of "fun-size" candy and we'd eat a lot of it before the big night even arrived. Peter stopped eating candy many months ago, and I've mostly cut back to one dark-chocolate truffle a day. But I did splurge just before Halloween with a "trick-or-treat" malt from Snuffy's, a St. Paul 50s-style hamburger and ice cream shop. This malt had Snickers, Butterfingers, and Reese's Pieces mixed in! I ate about half, then took the rest home, stashed it in the freezer. and made it last two more days. So yes, I still celebrate Halloween. If only I could cast a spell and make sugar a nutritious thing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dragon, moose and other wildlife

What could be better than a crisp autumn day when the leaves are turning and the sun is both cheerful and warming? And what better way to celebrate such a day than to get out of the house for a half-planned, half-spontaneous adventure!

Too big for the carousel, the moose welcomes visitors.
On Thursday Peter and I dropped the kids at school and then drove south toward Kellogg, Minnesota. Our target was Lark Toys, a family-owned enterprise that includes an enormous toy store, a museum of old toys, and, best of all, a wonderfully inventive hand-carved wooden carousel.

Baby goldfish swims after its parent.
Lark Toys began modestly about 40 years ago when Donn and Sarah Kreofsky, who had made and sold a few wooden toys at art fairs, found their line increasingly popular with retailers.  Facing enormous demand, they decided to open their own shop, and built it into the nation's largest independent toy store. Donn decided to create the ultimate wooden toy, a carousel. He drew the figures and roughed out the wood, and he enlisted a couple of talented local artisans to carve them and apply stain, rather than paint. The effect is charming. Our last visit was in the early 1990s, when the figures were on display in the studio awaiting a carousel platform.

I rode the deer; I hope ViMae will ride the dragon (above) soon!
This week I rode the carousel for the first time. The gears and cranks need adjusting, but the figures are clever and playful and the workmanship is gorgeous. I am usually partial to antique carousels, not new ones. But this one is exceptional, and as someone pointed out when I posted about it on Facebook, we must hope that one day it, too, will be an antique! 

The place is now owned and operated by another family, and it includes miniature golf, several llamas, a small cafe, and other delights that make it a destination much of the year.

Five eagles too injured to live in the wild live at the center.
About 15 minutes from Lark Toys is the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. It's right on the Mississippi River, at a spot where the water stays open all winter, so eagles gather by the hundreds. Even now, when only a few eagles native to the area can be spotted rising on the updrafts near the river, the center draws dozens of folks to its hourly presentations on these amazing birds. Lots of displays and activities are great for adults and kids alike. I hope to go back during winter months some year, but I'm glad we went when we did. It was a great way to spend a beautiful fall day together with my hubby.

Note: This dragon was my blog's header while this story about the Lark Carousel was posted.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Carousel Odyssey, part 1

Eleven carousels in four days. I rode them, photographed them, discussed them, and in a few cases fell in love with them.

The occasion: the National Carousel Association convention, this year centered in New York City. Peter and I have been involved for 26 years with this group, which works to keep antique carousels operating. But this was my first convention, joining more than 200 carousel aficionados to visit selected antique carousels. The schedule is always packed, and long bus rides are inevitable. (Not a fan of bus rides, Peter stayed home.)

The most spectacular setting, by far, was Jane's Carousel in Brooklyn, virtually in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Riders enjoy spectacular views of the East River and Manhattan (see above and the header).

Jane Walentas, for whom the 1922 carousel is now named, is not the idle rich dowager I'd imagined her to be. An artist married to a real estate developer, she rescued the carousel at a 1984 auction in Youngstown, Ohio. Then she spent 26 years restoring it so her husband could make it the crown jewel of a revived Brooklyn area known as DUMBO--Down Under the Manhattan-Brooklyn Overpass. And it's beautiful. She has used subtle colors the original painter would have used--the same man who painted all the horses on the carousel we operate at Como Park. Jane's Carousel is a younger sister to ours, both built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company.

Remember this media image from Hurricane Sandy? Jane's Carousel looked like a fragile gem about to be swept away. But its acrylic jewel-box building held, the carousel was undamaged, and its lights stayed on--a solitary beacon through the storm. I was excited to visit this carousel but I didn't know whether I was going to like its unusually modern home. In fact it's perfect. If you're ever in the neighborhood, be sure to stop by. And you can see more at Jane's Carousel website.

I'll be back in a few days with a couple of  other very special carousels from this journey. I leave you with this shot, from Jane's site, of the overhead rounding boards. All the scenery paintings are original; Jane restored them by removing layers of old, darkened varnish.

Note: when this post first ran, it was accompanied by this photo, cropped and used as a header. 


Sunday, September 7, 2014

September transitions

I love the fall, but the first hint of its approach always makes me think it's coming too soon, that it can't be the end of summer yet. On top of that, this late August-early September period brings other, more personal transitions.

Mom in 1937, athletic and single
For starters, this time of year puts me in mind of my parents, who for many years annually celebrated a raft of early-September birthdays among friends and neighbors with a party that featured lutefisk (that horrendous dish that my mother wouldn't touch) and Swedish meatballs. Happily, one of those friends celebrated her 103rd birthday Friday! Dad would have turned 99 last Thursday, September 4, and Mom would have been 98 today. Their anniversary was August 31, which also turned out to be the day we buried her 34 years ago. My brother Bruce died of a heart attack eight years ago on September 15. Grieving for them is not as sharply painful as it once was, but it seems to drain a lot of energy over a period of a week or two.

Mom, Dad, me, 1946
Then, too, it's always a let-down when Saint Paul Saints minor-league baseball season ends, closing out a big chunk of our social life for the year. But about 10 days ago the team played its last game ever at Midway Stadium, where we've spent 22 memorable seasons. The final game at the old park was surreal and sad.

A new upscale ballpark is being built downtown, in an inconvenient location we fear will not succeed. Worst, there are no provisions for tailgating. The Saints offered a distinctive baseball experience which relied heavily on the camaraderie of sharing food in the parking lot before every game. Current fans overwhelmingly preferred a new park on the existing grounds, but owners and the mayor decided they could find new fans downtown. Time will tell. We are buying season tickets for 2015 and hoping for the best. Last week we were the last to leave the stadium along with Chris and Wendy, who for 22 years have sat two seats away from us. Wendy sobbed the entire night, big tears rolling down her face. 

Dad in 2000, surprised at his own longevity
Meanwhile we are back to our school-year routine, with two adorable grandkids turning up every morning at 6:45 for breakfast and all the fun we can squeeze in before we drop them at school for their 8:30 start. As much as we enjoy them, it will not surprise you if I say I'm having a little trouble adjusting to the early schedule. 

For many months, as we scrambled to finish the book and prepare for the carousel's 100th birthday and do media interviews, we promised ourselves that by mid-August the rush would be over. Certainly, I thought, by early September I'd be rested up and ready to go. I'm not feeling that way, and I'm a little frustrated with that. But this is the start of a new week and I'm promising myself that while naps are still okay (and even decadently wonderful) I need to get moving. There are web sites to update, books to sell, gardens to tend, tap moves to practice, family members with whom to celebrate life.


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