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.

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.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

I'm back, and starting year six of blogging

Five years ago today, I wrote my first blog post and sent it into the universe. I'd forgotten until my friend Jayne wrote about her own fifth blogiversary.

Not surprisingly, my first post was about my grandkids. Augie was 29 months and Vi 14 months. We'd gone to a Saints game on a Sunday afternoon and they'd run the bases after the game. There were no comments. I had done nothing to promote my blog, or even to let anyone know of its existence. I only planned to record memories, or maybe to share them with family members.

But then I was curious to see what other people were doing, and soon I was following and commenting on lots of blogs--photography, humor, parenting, grandparenting, daily life of all sorts. Some of those people followed me in return, and commented on what I wrote. Before long I was writing not only about adorable grandkids but about my own ideas and experiences. Having spent a career writing in an institutional voice, I enjoyed exploring my own thoughts and writing in my own voice. And I have loved making new online friends.

For the past eight or nine months I've been writing in "our" voice, a book jointly authored with my husband Peter. It's the 100-year history of a wonderful carousel, including the 26 years we've spent rescuing it from being broken apart and then restoring it and operating it for the public. While I was immersed in the book, I couldn't feed the blog. When the book came out in July, we plunged into full-time event planning and media interviews for the carousel's 100th birthday. At the end of each of those days, we'd fall into a daze in front of the TV.

Our giant birthday party August 9 drew about 1,500 people, and we spent the entire day talking with guests including current and former volunteers, staff, board members, avid riders, and people who bought our book and asked us to sign it. Have I mentioned that both of us are strong introverts? We loved every conversation, but by the end of that 11-hour day we were nearly comatose. I spent the next three days sleeping. 

And that is why, when my life really was full and I should have had a lot to share on my blog, I couldn't do it.

I'm becoming functional again. I've managed to balance my checkbook, clean off part of my desk, get to tap class for the first time in a month, mow the lawn, and seriously weed the garden for the first time all summer. And now I've managed to produce a new blog post. It's not fancy, but it's a start. The first post of my sixth year in blogging.

When I was working I focused on work and deadlines, and too often I forgot to feed my personal growth, relationships, etc. Having those work habits helped us finish all the tasks we needed to complete in time for last week's celebration activities. But both Peter and I are making it a priority to get back to being ourselves. For me, that includes blogging. 


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