Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Following the American Legion's lead this Memorial Day

There is an American Legion Post in the area that I cover for work. I usually take a few moments to think about the people who have served on Memorial Day, but do little publicly. This year, I went to cover the events and my daughter came with me. I hadn't expected to have so many of the mixed feelings that I did. This has been compounded by memories of my own service, my husband's and learning more of my father's.

The post did memorials and wreath laying at four cemeteries. At one, they joined a civil war reenactment group for the brief service. Unless they are civil war buffs, many do not realize that Minnesota lost so many soldiers during the Civil War. A month shy of its anniversary, Minnesota had not yet celebrated its third year of statehood when it was first to answer the call and offer troops to President Lincoln. Southeastern Minnesota was one of the more populated areas on the frontier and many men volunteered from the area. Though there are not many, there are civil war veterans buried here.

Minnesotans fought in many battles of the war; on July 2, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg, the First Minnesota kept back the Confederates at Cemetery Ridge--probably saving the battlefield. During the bloodiest battle of the war, 82 percent of the units men died or were wounded. Out of 262 men, only 47 survived. The unit suffered the highest casualty rate of the entire war.

I have an incredibly hard time with military stuff. While reading names of veterans at the first cemetery, both my daughter and I noted that the first name read--determined alphabetically, happened to be that of a woman. When so many women are not acknowledged as veterans, it really moved me. Sadly, women have been hurt in ways many choose to not understand.

The pastor of the last ceremony read things from Sherman describing war for the hell that it is. It is tremendously difficult for me to hear so many glorify war--something routinely done especially on days around veteran's holidays. He recognized the families that also serve. I fought the tears when they came. I served during the Gulf War and my husband served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Military life is really hard on kids--how few people realize just how much. I am very grateful for the morning--it was a true blessing to spend the day with the Legion. Members of the post have been asking if we want to join them, perhaps the time has finally come.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Hill Grandeur on Summit Avenue

Sunday afternoon, we went to the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul after our failure at the Minnesota Children's Museum. This kids and I have been here more than once to discuss the industrial revolution and the importance of rail for American expansionism. However, John usually does not get to come with us. I had considered doing this Saturday afternoon while waiting for my daughter's zoo training to finish, but we burned some more energy off instead.

The James J. Hill house has 36,000 square feet of room in the building. No longer a private home, it is a museum owned by the Minnesota Historical Society. The beautiful sandstone home displays two shades of stone. The Archdiocese attempted to clean the stone when the building was in its possession--though they stopped when they realized the stone was being damaged by its attempts. The home overlooks St. Paul, and is impressive from both the font and the back.

The home had a school room, a boiler room, a naturally lit art gallery, an enormous two story pipe organ and a grand staircase. The area at the bottom served as a ballroom when special doors to the front were opened when the family entertained. The house also had a shower in each male bedroom--considered a form of massage at the time and a hybrid of gas and electric lights--considered innovations at the time it was built in 1891. Hill also made sure the structure used steel as its structure rather than wood, to help in fire proofing efforts. This steel is still visible above the art gallery. Also visible is Carnegie's stamp on the steel beams. Mrs. Hill did not entertain in the home again after her husband's death in 1916. It is a marvelous place to visit--though the envy drained from me quickly when the guide stated that it cost $19,000 to heat it two years ago before energy prices sky rocketed. Still a grand place to visit.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One last visit to the Children's Museum

It has been quite a while since my family has gone to the Minnesota Children's Museum. We always loved it there--it is definitely the best and the biggest one we have ever been in. Visitors can spend hours in the multi-floor museum. The last time we went, it was winter and the newest addition--a rooftop play area was closed for the season. It was something we always wanted to do. The museum has had funding to allow people to attend the museum the third Thursday of each month at no cost because of a grant from Target.

This past Sunday was beautiful outside and I thought it would be a perfect day to drive up there. We immediately went upstairs to the rooftop. It was a very cool area where kids could play; however, it was not what we had thought it was and was designed for much younger children. We looked around, snapped a few pictures and went downstairs.

The ant hill is a climbing and exploring area that has been in the museum for years. My daughter even remarked about how that was always her favorite part. We thought about playing one last time, but decided against it. Sadly, children grow up--and mine have definitely outgrown the Children's Museum. I am glad we went and saw the rooftop since we were curious, but we really only spent about 15 minutes or so in the museum. We decided it was a much better idea to find something else to do. My consolation for my kids growing up is that we get to do the things we used to not be able to. I was relieved that we only paid for parking in their ramp that day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Climbing adventure peak

After the boys ran at Como, we still had some time before their sister was done at the zoo. We decided to go to Edinborough Park in Edina. The indoor park has a pool, a gym with scooters and a inflatable bouncing gym--but we go for the climbing gym named Adventure Peak. We only go a couple times a year, but each time we have gone has been a great time.

It never takes long for the boys to get lost inside of it. I climb a little with them, but I don't last nearly as long as the kids do. Saturday was extra nice because it was the first time that my husband got to go with us.

Weekdays are definitely less crowded. At first I thought we may have made a horrible mistake when I saw how many people were there. It turned out that it wasn't too bad. We seemed to find a nice time between the morning rush and the birthday party kids who came in after eating. It was nice to get in at a good time.

We have been amazed at the number of things that have been added the past couple years. Since each of our visits are so far apart from each other, we notice the things that they add and it has grown. There are a bunch of indoor parks in the Twin Cities--but Adventure Peak would be really hard to beat.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Running in the park: Kids marathon

Saturday was a busy day for us. After dropping my daughter off at the zoo for training, we went to Como Park in St. Paul to do the Medtronic kids marathon. This is 3rd annual run; my boys have run in all of them so far. The run is to help encourage children to develop healthier habits. My boys ran with their older sister the first two years. I loved watching them. They have the choice of running a half mile, a mile or--added this year, two miles.

I can't believe it. Last year was hot. I am not a fan of the high temperatures. However, this year--it was a bit nippy. We got registered right before they ran and they ran quickly. I was surprised when they were finished. My older boy got his medal right away. My youngest was a little behind him.

After, we went to say hi to Shelly and Harry. My youngest got challenged to a race. There is a bag lunch--nothing fancy a jelly sandwich. Well, I get the jelly sandwich--the kids always get PB&J. Since it was so chilly, we ate in the car and I got to smell their peanut butter while I choked down the jelly. I really loathe the combination so smelling their sandwich while eating jelly really got to me. My boys thought it was hysterical. Such a short moment, but the boys seemed proud of themselves. I was happy they did it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fire: the odd tool of Prairie Restoration

Native Americans used fire to control and help the prairie. As this area became settled, fire was controlled at all costs. This control was for good reason-the Moose Lake and Hinkley fires were the best known of all the fires in Minnesota history. However, fire was a reality and it motivated changes that were not necessarily best for our prairies. Now, groups focus on safely burning areas that will encourage the prairie to come back and thrive.

We learned of Pheasants Forever's efforts because my children were to help in 4-H. As part of their project, my kids are revisiting the burn site to watch how the field recovers. My husband is really the only person that eventually helped because of conflicting commitments. He helped by maintaining the wet line outside the burn perimeter. This is most important when the burners are first igniting the fuel, but the water is also used at various times throughout the burn and at the end when making sure all fire is completely extinguished.

Many of the burners have training in the fire control. They take it through the Department of Natural Resources. For some larger fields, they may plow a perimeter that will help control it--but the plow line is no substitute of labor intensive observation. They work in two teams and create a ring of fire and will join on the other side.

When the two teams meet, it takes an incredibly short amount of time for the fire to flare up, cosuming all available fuel. In one burn I went on as a reporter, the flare up created intense heat and burned out in less than a minute. Another site that was six acres in size, burned eleven minutes from start to finish. Eleven minutes! The sheer terror that a fire could bring to the settlers or anyone with an out of control fire is easily understandable. It also brings new light to the Native American's practice of burning. With regular prescribed fires, not only does it open up space for new plants, it removes the dead debris that increases the risk of unintentional or more dangerous fires. Though it is hard to beleive, this blackened field will become a lush, green carpet of new foliage in a very short time. I can't wait to post photos!

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Day at the Fitzgerald with Ballet Minnesota and the Minnesota Dance Festival

May 8th, the kids and I went to the Fitzgerald Theater in Downtown St. Paul to watch the school performance of Minnesota Dance Festival. Dances included selections of LaBayadere and Beethoven's 9th symphony. It was wonderful to watch--we really enjoyed it. We have gone twice before and seen selections of Swan Lake. I am torn. We have really enjoyed the performances. However, we experienced repeated problems trying to just sign up for the event and I don't think we will be going again. It seems silly to spend as much time as I did when I can just order tickets to the Ordway performances without the hassle and drama. Ordway tickets are less expensive too. Seems like switching is a win-win situation.

The Fitz is a wonderful historic theater. We were even lucky enough to be able to sit whereever we wanted because the theater wasn't that full. The smaller groups were told they could sit upstairs and we did. Initially we sat in normal seats, but then we were allowed to move to the boxes. What a cool experience sitting in the private area was. It is kind of surprising to see the stage so closely. I am especially grateful to have had it if we really don't go back next year.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Paper marbling and journal making at the Center for Book Arts

On Friday, May 2nd, my kids had the opportunity to take two more classes at the Minnesota Center for the Book Arts. We discovered the center changes it exhibits. This exhibit intrigued us, our favorite piece was a water color picturing a cute polar bear holding the earth on its shoulders. Sadly, it was standing on a small, melting ice cube with smoking city stacks spewing pollution.

That day they took both a paper marbling class and making a hardcover journal. They first took marbeling and made some prints and hung them up to dry. We learned that the most basic print is the stone pattern. They were able to also make other patterns that build on that basic pattern using metal combs. It was very cool. Finally, they were shown how they can use a chopstick and make their own designs.

The papers were placed into the paper press after they had dried completely. This allowed the paper to lie flat. When the paper was marbled--it is really a unique way of painting the paper and the paper got very wet in the process. As it dried, it curled.

During the second class in the afternoon, the kids made a hard covered journal. It was very similar to the soft cover book they had made a few months ago. They started by covering chipboard with the specialty papers they had. Then they made a signature--the eight pages that are sewn together to form the interior and then glued it to the covers. We really enjoyed the day and really look forward to the other two classes that we have signed up for that will be held next month.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Hiking with the NSTT

When we finished the hiking club walks at the Minnesota State Parks, I was truly sad. I had enjoyed being there and really liked that we spent time together as a family doing something good for us. I was really upset over trying to figure out what to do with us now that our mission had been completed. Right near the end, I heard of a hike that they were doing up north and we made plans to attend. We were drawn in immediately. I liked that we could work on new awards with the American Volkssport Association and meet some new people. The particular club we are involved with is the North Star Trail Travelers--they do events at the our state parks.

It was even better because we have spent so much time in our parks and we had gotten to know them. Each time we learn something new. It is great. Even our dog loves the hikes. I think it is amazing that there have been times we have hiked so much we have actually worn him out--as a part husky--they have endurance that just doesn't seem to quit.

At the end, we get to gather our pin for doing the hike. This year's award banner is a boot. We earned a pileated woodpecker and dream catcher pin for our hike and our work at the Sakatah State Park April 25th. It was a nice hike and we had a great time. There haven't been a lot of kids at the events, but I think that may be changing. These events fit so nicely in my homeschooling philosophy--that our generations are so interconnected and that it is sad that so often our youth is detached from our elders in our culture. However, this is a wonderful and I so love it. My only sadness that our next event is so far away because the organizers need breaks too. I guess I will have to find events at other clubs to keep me busy until then.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The cookie monster would be jealous: preparing for the hog roast

Wow, time flies when the modem breaks and you get busy! We have had some great fun the past few weeks.

Last Friday my kids helped make cookies for the county's 4-H fundraiser. This is an event that is planned all year and takes three days of actual cooking and work to pull off. Friday was the beginning of the cooking preparations for the hog roast. The roast serves about a thousand people Sunday. The kids helped to prepare the sheets for baking.

They also helped remove the cookies from the sheets, stack them up and place tables and chairs out for the people to eat at. The Lions donate their use of the building and kitchen. This is pretty much an all day affair. We got to break at noon and share a meal with the cooks who have been doing this for years and years. The women there were incredibly nice and I really think we got the best job of all. So many others were working at clearing tables and doing dishes among all those people...we had a nice slow pace and were rewarded with very yummy cookies!

All in all, while we enjoyed the day and had a great time, we were still very tired. The kids helped set up the tables, chairs and prepare 1080 cookies. We had tables and tables of cookies and even when stacked, we had tables of them! Right before we left, they had a chance to have some fun and take a break with the other homeschooler that helped out that day. What a great time we had helping the county make about $20,000 that day.