Friday, September 25, 2009

Vacation Reveries Part 3

As promised, here is part three of my travelogue about vacationing in Grand Forks, North Dakota last month.

In 1997, Grand Forks experienced one of the most devastating floods in U.S. history. The Red River, which incidentally flows north to Lake Winnipeg in Canada, overflowed its banks, forcing 60,000 people from their homes. Flood waters filled the entire city and, to make matters worse, downtown Grand Forks started burning after the flood hit. Because fire trucks could not get through the flooded streets the fire burned out of control, destroying 11 buildings in the process.

Grand Forks has a sister city, East Grand Forks, which is just across the Red River on the Minnesota side. It too was devastated by the flood, with every home in the town under water. Between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the scale of destruction was enormous.

The basement of my sister's home flooded, but not the upper floors. When my dad built the house, he put the electrical junction box/circuit breaker panel in the garage for his own convenience although builders usually put them in the basement. This decision helped my sister and b-i-l very much because they had electricity after the flood, which most people did not have.

During the evacuation, their family got separated. My sister, b-i-l, and niece went to Bismarck to stay with one of our brothers. Their son ended up in Fargo with his very pregnant girlfriend. Her parents ended up in Minnesota. The teen-aged couple delivered their baby in a strange city with not one family member or acquaintance present to help or support them. (Fortunately, that turned out well. The baby is now a good-looking 12-year-old with two very darling little sisters.)

That's the background for telling you about the Greenway. The two towns decided to prevent a similar disaster by protecting the land in the expanded flood plain from development. To this end, they built the Greenway, 2,200 acres of open space developed and maintained for recreation in the heart of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. The Greenway is comprised of several parks, a campground, 2 golf courses, disc golf courses, not to mention more than 20 miles of multi-purpose trails, and shorebank fishing sites.

The campground is very slick. A large area of homes in East Grand Forks disappeared due to the flood, either washing away during it or being torn down after. Those in the flood plain could not be rebuilt, but the streets remained, the driveways remained, the sewer, electric, and gas connections remained - a perfect set up for a campground!

Michael and I decided to check out the Greenway. It is only three blocks east of my old house, so we walked over one morning. My old neighborhood remains about the same as I remember it except that the trees are much bigger and the streets correspondingly shadier. Crossing over to the Greenway, we walked through a small heritage park with historic homes I had never seen before. Apparently they were moved to that spot sometime after I left home in 1968. The wall of the levee rises immediately behind the historic homes. We walked another block to an entrance, which happened to also be the entrance to Lincoln Park golf course.

My most vivid memories of Lincoln Park are tobogganing down its hills in winter. Piled with the accumulated snow of a North Dakota winter and perhaps exaggerated by my tender age, those remembered hills were much taller and steeper than the gentle low hillocks visible to me as we entered the Greenway. Michael had his camera - of course - and we decided to take a little walk on the trail. We turned south so that we would be closer to home when we exited. The thing is, we had no idea how far we would be walking to find an exit. The pathway stretched ahead of us, meandering in lazy curves with a steep hill on our right - the levee itself - and the gentle slope down through trees to the river some distance away on our left.

We walked a long way. Sometimes we saw the rooftops of homes adjacent to the levee. In other places, you would think we were in the country. Periodically we came upon park benches set under trees, an amenity we would be thankful for after we had been walking for a while. A bicyclist passed us on the trail but we saw no one else, perhaps because it was a weekday and people were at work. I started to flag; walking or standing for more than 15 or 20 minutes puts a big strain on my hip and knee joints because of my lupus. Since there didn't seem to be any point in backtracking when we must be coming to an exit, we rested on a bench until I felt ready to keep walking.

The opening in the levee wall appeared at 32nd Avenue. We had entered the Greenway at 23rd Avenue. Nine blocks doesn't seem like such a long walk, but we had started out at 28th Avenue and now had to walk back to it and we had also walked three blocks east of our home base. Altogether we walked twenty-four blocks. I felt relieved when we got back home and I could sit on the sofa and lounge!

Another adventure we took involved driving to the University of North Dakota to see an exhibit at the North Dakota Fine Arts Museum. I had been to UND many times in my childhood because my dad worked on campus. He was assistant director of the state public health laboratory officed there when I was a child and going into his office had been a treat for me. The fellow who was my dad's boss, Mel, always had a piece of chocolate candy for me, the kind wrapped in shiny tinfoil and sometimes a small gift from a trip or something. I don't know why I received these tokens of affection from Mel, but they came with no strings attached and I looked forward to them.

The lab smelled funny, chemical smells and some animal smells. They kept white mice at the lab and periodically we would get to bring a couple of white mice home as pets. The mice scared me. I had been the first person to come upon an unfortunate scene of mouse-cannibalism among our pet mice as a preschooler and I never trusted mice after that.

UND has grown tremendously since my last visit. The English Coulee, a creek that used to be at the far western edge of the campus, now runs through the middle of it. One of the new buildings housed the art museum we were looking for. After a few wrong turns and wrong buildings, we finally found it. We wanted to see a photographic exhibit I had read about on the Internet. The photographer, Chuck Kimmerle, has had a career primarily as a photojournalist and this was his first solo exhibition. The show was named "The Desolate Landscape."

I hate to describe the work because I cannot do it justice. Be sure to follow the link I included above so you can see his work for yourself. Kimmerle photographs with a large format camera. This means that he can get exquisite detail from a long way off. He has photographed North Dakota's endless expanses, winter and summer, in a way that renders them mystical and sacred. The photographs look beautiful on the Internet, but seeing them in person, printed 20-inches by 24-inches, is literally breathtaking. I felt bad that no catalogue of the show had been printed because I wanted to take all the images home with me.

The final "big" adventure of our time in Grand Forks was the visit to Jennifer Patterson's studio in Alvarado, Minnesota. Jennifer owns Quilted in Clay and makes beautiful jewelry in the form of miniature quilts and quilt blocks. I met her at the Houston Quilt Festival last year and purchased the loveliest set of earrings and a matching necklace from her. Recognizing Alvarado, I introduced myself as being from the area. She said I should call her if I came for a visit and that is just what I did.

My parents and sister & b-i-l joined Michael and I on the trip to Alvarado. Jennifer and her husband Bruce actually live outside of town on a lush farmstead. Driving up the last mile or so on a gravel road, we passed an old, weathered building, a grain mill perhaps, overlooking a creek right at our turn into their front yard. As it happens, they own the old building and hope to renovate it into a guest cottage. Another old building they own sits right near their parking area - an old one-room school house.

Their own house is a classic rural Victorian with a welcoming front porch, a friendly dog, and a large and imposing goose. Apparently the dog is totally harmless, but the goose is not! A large truck garden and several trees heavily laden with fruit surround their house. Bruce and Jennifer came outside to meet us and graciously invited us in. We walked through the kitchen where Bruce was putting up plum preserves. The kitchen table had rows and rows of stacked mason jars full of plum jam and the canning kettle boiled away on the stove.

While Bruce went back to his preserves, Jennifer took us into the dining room and showed us a tall stack of plastic bins full of her jewelry. She invited us to go through them and pick out whatever we wanted to buy and pointed out some bins with sale items in them. What a lot of fun we women had going through that jewelry, each piece lovelier than the next. Janet and I quickly found things we liked, but Mother doesn't have pierced ears and thought she wouldn't be able to get any. Fortunately, Jennifer makes clip on as well as pierced earrings, so in the end, all three of us purchased something we liked.

The exquisite detail on such tiny pieces just boggles my mind and I asked Jennifer how she made the jewelry. She was kind enough to show us her studio and demonstrate her technique. Jennifer uses the techniques of millefiori, an ancient and famous glass making tradition and applies them to clay. As you will see when you look at her website, the results in clay are really beautiful. She will be back at the Quilt Festival in Houston in mid-October, so if you are interested, you can see her pieces there.

That is it for adventures in Grand Forks. The rest of my time was spent with my parents and family. Mother gave me more tutoring in quilting techniques and helped me get my current quilt sandwiched together, helped me design the templates for the stitching, and then encouraged me to get started. Quilting a queen-sized bedspread is daunting, but mine is well underway thanks to Mother. Michael went out and photographed several times without me, but I haven't seen the results yet.

When we returned home, we stopped again at my brother and s-i-l's in Omaha for another nice evening of home hospitality. We drove back to Oklahoma City on a Thursday. We had a plan for OKC - to visit the the Fine Arts Museum which happens to stay open late on Thursday nights. That is the final chapter in my vacation saga. I didn't really intend to go on and on like this, but it turned out to be a great vacation and I don't want to leave out any of the good stuff!

So, as soon as I can, but before it turns into October, I will finish up with my tale of the Dale Chihuly glass exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Fine Arts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Vacation Reveries Part 2

I left off my vacation reveries with our time in my hometown, Grand Forks, North Dakota..

After Thomas Wolfe published his novel "You Can't Go Home Again" in 1940, the notion that you can't return to your childhood home because it has changed and you have changed achieved the status of cliche in American culture. Somewhat mangled into "You can never go home again," this adage is well-known and frequently cited. The Google search I conducted a moment ago brought up 47,000 citations for the phrase. But I think you can go home again if you have the right attitude.

Perhaps this feeling stems from the fact that I actually did stay in my childhood house during my vacation. My sister Janet - the only sister I have among six siblings - and her husband Dave - who was in my high school class - purchased my parents' home when my father became chief of laboratory services for the state of North Dakota and moved to Bismarck, the capital. This is not to say that the house remains the same as I remember it.

In their thirty-odd years of occupancy, Janet and Dave have made many wonderful improvements and updates to the house. Nature aided them somewhat in this endeavor by inundating the whole town in 1997 in a terrible flood that forced them to replace outdated equipment, like the old furnace. Other changes they made without catastrophic prompting, like renovating and redesigning the kitchen and creating a master suite out of the old master bedroom and an adjacent bedroom. Everything turned out very well and, oddly, the house retains the same ambiance it had when I lived there as a child.

It has always been a special house. My mother designed it for the needs of her large family and my father built it with the help of my brothers, a carpenter, and the carpenter's helper. It had nothing in common with typical tract homes of the 1950s. I'd venture that its New England saltbox silhouette is still unique in Grand Forks.

One of mother's special touches was a laundry chute from the upstairs bathroom through the first floor bathroom and then into a hamper in the basement bathroom adjacent to her laundry room. We may have carried clean laundry up the stairs, but we never had to carry it down!

Another special touch was in the kitchen. A set of cupboards hung above the dishwasher and sink, like a suspended island between the kitchen and dining room. The doors opened from both sides, so you could set the table in the dining room and unload the dishwasher in the kitchen and put the dishes in the same place. Also, the simple fact that we had three full bathrooms in 1959 was marvelous, but that is the one place where my mother missed the boat.

Four boys and one girl slept in upstairs bedrooms. Being the one girl had its perks, like my own bedroom (with very nice Ethan Allen furnishings because it was the guest room, too). The boys doubled up in two other bedrooms. The final two kids hadn't appeared yet, but when they eventually did, they slept in the extra bedroom downstairs until a few of us older kids grew up and left home, letting them "move up." But the upstairs had one big flaw, especially from my point-of-view - only one bathroom.

Mother had done quite a good job designing that bathroom. The commode and shower/tub had a locking door so you could have privacy without tying up the rest of the facilities. The main area had two sinks and lots of cabinet space for linens and storage. So far so good. But mother could have - dare I say should have? - divided it into two bathrooms, one off my bedroom and one off the hallway for the boys.

I admit I would have loved to have my own private bathroom for selfish reasons, but it was completely justifiable from a guest's standpoint, too. Many, many years later I asked Mother why she hadn't put two bathrooms upstairs. "It never occurred to me that you would need privacy. After all, you were only nine years old when we moved into that house," she told me. I have pictures of myself at that age and, with my flat chest, pigtails, and freckles, I admit young womanhood did not seem to be eminent, so I have to give Mother a pass on this.

Now that you have an idea about my state of mind relative to returning "home," I can move on to our activities. They included long walks on the beautifully-conceived flood plain greenway built after the terrible water disaster in '97, a fabulous photo exhibit at the North Dakota Fine Arts Museum, and a trip to an artist's studio in Alvarado, Minnesota that I had been planning for a long time.

I will move on to the activities, but not tonight. I need to pace myself or I'll be up too late and that will make it hard for me to get to my morning Artist Way group meeting. As the Mouseketeers used to say, "See you real soon!"


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Frankie's Back!!

Our missing kitten, Frankie S. (named for Frank Sinatra because he has big blue eyes) is back in the house. For those of you who don't know about the feral kittens I whispered into the house in June, Frankie and his two sisters lived with us for several weeks while we looked for homes for them. The sisters, Lovie and Little Bit, were adopted by our friends the Crawfords and they have new names to go with their new family. Frankie stayed with us, although it was not intended to be permanent.

Michael decided to take him to our vet for a feline leukemia test. We wanted to let him loose in the house and needed to be sure he wasn't a danger to our other cats. On the way to the car, Frankie discovered that the door of the crate was not latched securely and he made a break! Before Michael could even react, Frankie hit the pavement and bounded across the street.

We've had sightings off and on in the month since then. He regularly came to our house to eat, but we were not able to coax him back inside. This is where having our A/C break down worked out for the best. We have had the windows open to keep the air moving through the house. And Frankie showed up at the window to chat through the screen with Smudge, who is his half brother, soon after we opened them.

When we had the three kittens, they all loved Smudge and wanted cuddle up to him. Smudge took a somewhat dim view of this, possibly because it was three on one, but he seemed happy enough to have visits with Frankie through the screen window. (Perhaps Smudge's recent stay at Coffee and Casey's house while we were gone helped him to be more flexible, too.)

I decided to try to whisper Frankie back in the house. I fed him wet cat food through the back door and I sat near the food bowl when I put kibble out for him. As long as I didn't look at him, Frankie was willing to eat with me two feet away, although he did seem nervous. Michael started talking to him through the screen, too, and he didn't run away.

But Smudge did the whispering this time. We opened our back door a little, Smudge sat just inside the house and said hi to Frankie, and Frankie walked right in for some love. After his tail came inside, I simply closed the door. Voila! Frankie's back.

This should not be confused with "Frankie's happy to be inside." He is anxious about Michael and me, and Trixie is being mean and hissy to him (as she is with Smudge and even Jack sometimes). Jack, being king of the hill, ignores Frankie altogether. Smudge acts pretty nice towards him, though, and it is sweet to see Frankie snuggle up for a head washing from Smudge.

We don't kid ourselves that Frankie is a natural house cat. I doubt that wouldl work with him even if we wanted four cats inside. And I'm afraid he's too set in his ways to get adopted at this point. The plan is this: We will get Frankie neutered at our vet's and have his ear notched like they do for feral cats. Then Frankie can come and go as he pleases and be an outside cat at our house if inside is too scary. By notching his ear, we are certifying that he has been fixed and has had a rabies shot at least once, which should help if he is ever picked up by the authorities.

I like Frankie S. a lot and I am quite happy that Smudge whispered him back into our house. This time, we are going to get him taken care of with no escaping. After he's fixed and healed, we'll give him his freedom if he wants it. I'm fairly certain he will.

The rest of the vacation story will have to wait.