Thursday, April 29, 2010

Coco Dreams of Space

UNLIKE MANY PEOPLE WHO ARE in love with outerspace, such as Niel DeGrasse Tyson of Nova Science Now, I have trouble pinpointing exactly when my love affair with the cosmos began.

The incalculable enormity of the universe has always simultaneously calmed me into deep thought and frightened me. I would say this has been the case for me at least since grade school -- the days when we were all taught those amazing facts about the speed of light, how hot the sun really is, how big Jupiter is in relation to Earth, and weightlessness. To discuss the massive measurements of space while at the same time not being able to really comprehend it, has always been part of why the subject is so enjoyable for me.

When you get right down to it, what would it mean to be lost in space, in total silence, to float about with absolutely no mechanism to return? How strange would it be to find yourself in such a frightening circumstance and simultaneously be viewing, in person, the spectacular displays that the universe has to offer? It seems absolutely heartbreaking and fascinating all at the same time.

I compare it to learning about the human body -- we learn about it all through school, see the parts that humans are made of illustrated in books and even on screen. But until I went to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota and saw the minuscule hammer that bobs about in our eardrums, it just really wasn't real to me. Of course I knew about it, even knew what it looked like. But until I saw the real thing, the fragile nature of it, it just wasn't totally comprehensible. And just knowing simply that it's the real thing changed how I saw it. (I loved the Body Worlds exhibit. It was one of the most historic events I've witnessed. Just stunning.)

This is why I have such an intense desire to go into space. I want to actually feel and see outer-space for myself. In the year 2010, this is now an attainable dream thanks to Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

I've become a regular viewer of NASA TV and never get over the fact that I can pop open my computer and watch astronauts working on the International Space Station. I remember the first time I watched and didn't quite know what I was seeing right away. I couldn't really get my bearings, but slowly I began to see movement in the foreground and picked out an astronaut working beneath a panel, and soon, while listening to the scratchy radio communications from ground control to the astronaut, I saw the backdrop. It was Earth. I can't imagine what it must be like for an astronaut to get so involved with working on the space station, only to take a short break to stretch their shoulders and look up and see an entire planet spinning under them. I've been hooked on NASA tv ever since, and now follow several astronauts on Twitter. The future is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

Within the last couple of years, my love has grown into a bit of an obsession and it seems I don't go a day without looking up at the sky, day or night, to wonder what it's like to float in space. I would love to know the sensation of bouncing around on the moon. That may not be a realistic dream to have yet, but in the year 2010, going into space is. I wear my meteorite ring every day, but I'd like to go out and see where it came from.

I want to go into space.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Lark Toys in Kellogg, Minnesota

IN 2009 MY MINNESOTA WANDERLUST directed me to Lark Toys, located 95 miles south of Minneapolis on historic U.S. Route 61 in Kellogg, Minnesota.

After years of selling their wooden toys at craft and art fairs, Sarah and Donn Kreofsky founded the Lark Toy factory in 1983. Shortly thereafter, they opened a small store which they eventually expanded to make room for other unique toys and books, in addition to their own handcrafted wooden toys.
Unicorn prototype

Since the addition of their retail space, Lark Toys has grown into an even bigger spot for fun. There is now a toy museum, an 18-hole putt-putt course, and even a healthy dose of amusement park with a stunning one-of-a-kind carousel.

With so many items to ogle, it's difficult to pick one or two favorite elements at Lark Toys; though I was especially fond of the toy train chugging along the perimeter of the store at ceiling-height -- disappearing into tunnels and traversing various rooms. The stand-out attraction, however, is the one-of-a-kind, fully-functional carousel designed by Donn Kreofsky. According to Lark Toys' website, "In 1988, Donn began to design a carousel, 'the largest toy I could make,' he says."

For just $1, kids and adults alike are welcome to hop on a giant goldfish, chicken, otter, or even a pig (if you don't mind sharing the seat with a gnome) for a few go-arounds. Also from their website, "Over a period of nine years, Tim Monson (LARK’s head toymaker) blocked-up the wood; Bill Stark (a local artisan) carved the animals; and LARK artist Mary Eversman hand-stained them. Many visitors had the opportunity to watch the carousel in process. Finally, in 1997, it was ready to begin delighting riders from around the world."

The carousel is housed in the Lark Toys building for year-round use. It is a masterful centerpiece in a space naturally lit by large windows. There are wooden tables and chairs around the merry-go-round, too. Lark Toys has its own cafe that serves picnic fare like sandwiches, hot dogs, ice-cream, and even gourmet fudge made fresh on the spot. It's easy to spend the better half of a day here, so make time to have lunch and be merry.

WANT TO VISIT LARK TOYS? HERE are hours and directions.

Click here to see my entire Lark Toys photo set on Flickr.