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Sarah’s Wedding and another trip to Minnesota

Posted by joeabbott on August 24, 2014

I just returned from my last planned trip to MN for this year … I don’t often say something like this but *phew*!!

Last fall Suzy and I were back for my 50th birthday, in January I celebrated Naomi’s wedding with her, in April we made it back for a funeral, in June we were with Chelsea at her wedding, and this time Suzy and I were in attendance to see Josh and Sarah exchange vows. It’s been a lot of trips and our travel budget has taken a hit, so it’s time to take a break from the Land of Sky Blue Water but we can always enjoy the memories.

While it’s only been a few hours since I got back (ok … I started this long before I finished it!), I’d enjoy sharing some of those memories with you!

Back when we planned this trip, we added a couple days before the wedding and a few to the end: prior trips were so regimented that we wanted time to just be with family and friends in an unscheduled manner. But, neither Suzy nor I are just-hang-out-and-see-what-happens sorta folks, so we ended up plopping a few things onto the agenda.

Thursday – head to Pipestone

Back in June we’d traveled through Pipestone, MN on our way back to Seattle and had stopped at the Pipestone National Monument after it closed. While the sun was setting, we ran about the Park and were fascinated by what we saw. So, when a trip home was in the cards and we had time, we decided to stop in again while they were open.

Now, it’s about a 200 mile drive so it wasn’t just a whim, but the stone quarries, the rocky bluffs, and the rich Native American traditions all called to us. So, about three hours after we got into our rental car, we were pulling into a hotel for a quiet evening in Pipestone. It was after dark so it was too late to see the Park, but it was on our agenda for the morning!

Friday – rain and Spam

I awoke to rain in middle of the night and in the morning it was still raining. The amount of rain was somewhere between “heavy” and “deluge” but we had packed two umbrellas for just this contingency and were ready to get out to the Park. We arrived at the Visitors’ Center just after they opened and the term “gully washer” was fresh on our mind as we made the short way from our car. Rather than jump right into getting wet, we toured the Center first.

imageWe saw a video on what makes Pipestone National Monument a National Monument: the pipestone itself! The 20+ minute video explained Native stories about the stone, talked about the geology behind it, and told how the area became a National Monument. All were exceptionally interesting. As the rain was still coming down, we continued touring the rest of the facility.

P1060953In talking to a park Ranger, we learned the paths we hadn’t toured our last visit were under construction and couldn’t be traveled, but there were several Native American artists in the Center carving both pipes and figures from the pipestone. The artists were extremely friendly and happy to answer our questions … or, perhaps it was because I recognized one of them from the video and he was playing the role of the star! Regardless, they shared stories, explained what they were doing, and generally made my questions feel welcome.

After that, we looked over a few displayed artifacts, picked up a couple of souvenirs, and were happy to see the rain had tapered off … only to be replaced with high-powered, blow-everything-sideways velocity winds!

Going out with an umbrella was out of the question, unless the question was: how best can you ruin an umbrella? But, to my mind, it was time to go. While I’d love to see the quarries now that I know a bit more, I don’t think those were the conditions I’d most appreciate what I was seeing. So, with Suzy’s hair flying and my pate collecting rain, we raced to the car and headed east to Austin. Austin, MN, that is.

P1060956P1060955Austin, MN is home to the Hormel Foods Corporation and the makers of Spam. A while back when we decided our trips to MN would include more than sitting around the living room of one sibling of mine or another, Suzy picked out a brochure for the Spam Museum and said, “we have to go here”. While it wasn’t necessarily on the A-list, the road from Pipestone, MN to Menomonie, WI (where the wedding would be) could be approximated by going through Austin and the Spam Museum. OK, it adds about 60 miles to the trip but what’s a few dozen miles when you’re going to be putting about 800 miles on the car anyhow?

So we stopped in.P1060960

And what I thought would just be this joke of a stop turned out to be really quite entertaining. While Hormel has fun with the brand and takes a lighthearted approach to the Spam image, Spam has a deep history: it has been used to fuel American fighting forces in world wars, is used to help provide a high protein diet to developing nations, and is selling millions of cans every year! Nowhere in the museum did they address nutrition, but they talked about early advertising, setup dozens of interactive displays, showed how Spam came to be and influenced everything from radio shows to pop culture (think more Monty Python than a reference to unwanted email).

Their gift shop is a marvel. They had balls and cups and shirts and calendars and pins and hats and pencils and paperweights and toys and what seemed like everything, all emblazoned with the yellow and blue Spam logo! And then there was the Spam itself! Not only were you offered warmed samples of the product (complete with pretzel skewer), you could buy as many of the cans of Spam that you might want … for $3 each from the gift shop.P1060965

The people were friendly, the facility was in perfect condition (it actually looked new), and everything was bright and upbeat. While I never thought I’d say this, I will: you should make time to get to Austin, MN and see the Spam Museum. It’s great.


But, the clock was ticking so we headed out (yes, I did get a “vintage” Spam t-shirt … Suzy got a Spam workout jersey!) and made our way to Menomonie, WI where I dropped in on my sister, enjoyed an evening chatting it up with her, her family, and my mother, and generally whiled away an evening as a guest of the after-rehearsal dinner.


Before I get to the wedding day, I will say that every time I’ve given my niece Sarah a hug, it’s felt like the most heartfelt greeting ever. If you could bottle up a sincere “you’re alright and I’m glad we’re sharing this time” kind of vibe, it would feel just like that. I like Sarah a lot and really wish the absolute best for her and Josh in their new life together. But, I’ll stop that odd tangent and get back to the next day …

Saturday – wedding time!

P1070005P1060984We didn’t have to be at the wedding until after 2PM and where Suzy and I usually make the most of our time on the road, I did little of virtue with my morning hours.

We arose and enjoyed a breakfast and, after we finished, my mother came out and we sat with her for a bit longer. And then … well, I went back to the room and took a 2-hour nap while Suzy went to the hotel gym and burned a few calories. I feel a bit the slouch but it also felt great! Then, however, we dressed in our wedding finery and proceeded to the barn in 80+ degree temps and 60+% humidity.

And, yes, I said “barn” … Sarah and Josh were going to have a Barn Weddin’!P1070004

While it may not be the wedding destination for all girls, it was perfect for Sarah. She’s a to-the-bone farm girl and loves everything about the farming life. Which isn’t to say the barn was cow-ready … heck no! It was decked out for weddings; meaning chandeliers, plenty of flowers and decorations, and full of mementos of the young couple.


P1070063Anyhow, the day is mostly a blur of heat, humidity, and so much family fun it’s hard to describe. My brother Jay and I played a game of corn-hole-toss and then we asked the groom to join us atop a bale of hay. Why? Well, why not? And Josh doesn’t know either of us all that well but he was game! Up we clambered for a quick photo, some slaps on the back and then he was back to yakking with his family and friends, and we ours. I have to say, I really enjoyed my time with Josh … for a kid who’s spent all his time on the farm, he had good manners, was composed in every situation I saw him, has a gracious attitude, and the very picture of a happy guy. Welcome to the family, Josh!

Sarah had asked me to say grace before dinner and, at the appropriate time, I bellowed for the attention of 150+ people, asked all to bow their heads, and then mumbled a bit about being thankful for the hard work of farmers everywhere in bringing us the evening’s meal. And then asked all to follow along with a small prayer my family said before every dinner I can remember: Bless us, oh Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen. I have no idea the roots of that prayer or if it belonged to a particular denomination (other than “Christian”), but I heard about 120 of the 150 people in that room recite along with me. It was a bit scary, I was pretty nervous, and I’d do it again in a second. Sarah has cemented a place in my heart for offering me that honor.

But, it was beer and root beer from the keg, popcorn and snacks through the night, games and talking and dancing and all manner of friends both old and new sharing in a wonderful time. The father of the bride setup a small “take your own photo” and provided a number of small props; it seems everyone took some time out to get a few snaps in. That was a lot of fun. Here’s a link to the father of the bride’s memory of that evening … and this one, too.

But, it ended for us at about 10:30PM. The Weddin’ Barn was close to residential houses and they chose to be good neighbors and close down by 11PM … we made an early exit to avoid the crush.

Sunday – a day for relaxing

WP_20140817_002Our Sunday schedule only included “have breakfast with the bride and groom (and all the family)” and “get to Minneapolis”, so we took it easy.

Breakfast was a bit crazy as I’m not often in the presence of children but let me tell you this about farming folks: they gots lotsa chillins scrambling about! And I’m all for a good scramble about the floor, but the crying and screeching and runny noses and all sorts of things that come with children being children … well, I beg apologies for those offended but it should be pretty clear I’ve never been, and have no plans to being, a father. I’m sure I’d change my tune if I had a son or daughter, but toddlers scare the heck out of me; you just never know what will be next.

And dogs … had I mentioned the 9 dogs at my sister’s house or the extra couple that dropped in with their owners? I have a lot to learn from my sister; she raised her eyebrows and gave me “the look” (the look that says, “we have nine dogs here? what’s that all about?”), but she was grace and hospitality itself. A more welcoming, happy host has never been seen. Here’s to you, sis … you’re awesome for making chaos and madness look like it’s just another day!

But, after a farm breakfast and seeing Josh and Sarah open their wedding gifts, my mother, Suzy and I headed west to Minneapolis and the rest of the day.

Of which there was darned little! Suzy and I got to our hotel and unpacked, we met my mother later for dinner out, and then it was back for a good night’s rest. Lots of family and visiting but nice to have a quiet evening with just Suzy and I and some light reading.

Monday – the Landscape Arboretum

P1070085This day was a treat.

We met my mother for some light shopping in the morning (she needed some clothing for travel and a small workout music player that picks up FM stations), we headed to some parks Suzy and I had found for some short walks, and then Mom mentioned dropping in on the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

But first …

I love being back in Minnesota. As we drove along roads adjacent to lakes and woods, I saw a small turtle moving across the road; I passed it by and drove another block before I had to turn around. I drove up to where he was (still hadn’t been run over!), pulled over, and then ran to fetch him and move him to the far side of the road. As I did, several cars passed and the first one that came by rolled their window down. OK, I thought, here it comes …

But, rather than get a scolding for blocking traffic or running around the road, the driver gave me an applause, shouted “good for you”, and sped on.

I’ve said it before: you can leave Minnesota but, if you’ve been there for long enough, the Minnesota will never leave you. Good people.

But let’s get back to that arboretum!

Oh. My. Goodness.


WP_20140818_006What a complete treat! It was probably a bigger deal for Suzy, who could identify and appreciate the plants and the work needed to manage the site, but I was blown away by the size, variety of plants, and quality of everything around! We took a shuttle tour of the 1137 acres and it took well over an hour … then we drove it again so we could get out at all the spots we liked!

We stopped at the Shade Tree Exhibit, the Sculpture Garden, we took in the Shrub Walk, the Maze Garden, the Ornamental Grasses, and finally the Sensory Garden. Just incredible and a beautiful place to while away the day. We will definitely be back to enjoy more of this magnificent place.

But, we’d been out walking about for a long time and so we drove my mother back to her car where we bid one another a fond farewell, Suzy and I took in a meal at a nearby Mexican restaurant, and then we called it a day and turned in. This was a true “vacation day”.

Tuesday – a plane ride west

We normally head home on the early flight, but neither Suzy nor I had a 4AM wake-up in us, so we slept in and were up and about at 7AM. We tried to get a workout in that morning, but a power couple was resolutely working the elliptical runner and treadmill. We soaked our feet for about 45 minutes in the pool and that same couple was still going strong, so we packed up our bags and headed to a nature reserve just outside the Minneapolis-Saint Paul airport for a bit of a walk.

imageThe Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge is about a mile or two at the most from the airport and is a very fine place to visit. While Suzy and I were looking for more variety in our “spot the wildlife” efforts, we did enjoy a good 4-5 mile hike on some muddy trails. We were mostly alone for the majority of our outing, but we did see a couple others on the trail … the benefit of hiking on a Tuesday afternoon.

P1070129Most startlingly, we saw a snake eating a frog! As we were heading back from our outing, we noted all the frogs in one area; we’d seen a few snakes but in this place, frogs were plentiful. Then I heard the brush rustle and we heard the oddest meep-meep-meep sound. We looked closer and, sure enough, a snake (may be a garter snake?) had a frog, butt-first, in his mouth and was slowly working him in. When an animal is in trouble, you’d like to do something, but this was nature doing what nature does in a nature refuge and we didn’t feel empowered to intervene on the part of the frog. And so, we assume, the snake got his meal and we moved on before the meeping stopped. Oddly moving, in a troubling sorta way.

But then we headed to our flight, endured the airtime home, got another bad taxi driver, and were then on our doorstep. Home sweet home.

I will miss my family and Minnesota, but I’m ready to be a “Seattle guy” for a while.

Sorry about the length and thanks for reading. Hope you have as happy a-travels as I’ve enjoyed!


2 Responses to “Sarah’s Wedding and another trip to Minnesota”

  1. momma said

    Oh my. ‘Loved your blog and thanks for including the great photos (Spam museum, Sarah & Josh/wedding – and how’d you guys get up on that hay bale??, and loved the Arboretum photos – it was fun to hear from someone new to it, as it definitely is most beautiful). Had to laugh at the drooling babies and barking dogs – that really was a wild breakfast, even for me who had 6 of my own! And we kind of spread out the animals we had, although there were many, but Laurel takes the credit there for caring for most of them. That snake-and-the-froggy bit was, well, kind of alarming to think about! This certainly was a vacation with a really great diversity of experiences! Thanks for your time here, and for taking me here and there with you – it made the whole long weekend a real pleasure for me. And this is another time that I’d love to print something out to forward to UJ, He loved being kept in the loop. I liked hearing Mandy Petinkin (sp?) on Charlie Rose the other night, who told of how every night before bed he thinks of and names someone dear to him who has “gone on” – he believes that as long as there is one person down here who remembers a loved one who’s moved on, that that person still lives here with us. ‘Like that thought. And one of the envelopes that Sarah and Josh opened after we’d all gone was the last card that UJ ever wrote to any of us. And I know Sarah and Josh will treasure it. When UJ had signed and sealed it (with a generous check), we exchanged looks and were both thinking, I know, that he would be far away when Sarah and Josh were opening it. Many blessings to him.
    Love, Momma

  2. Jay said


    Thanks for letting us in our your travels. It was great to see you and Suzy once again!


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