What if Leo Tolstoy met Julia Child?

Ah, that would be interesting! Both were a key part of a lovely autumn day I spent with my fellow museum rat (more fondly known as my wonderful Dad).

We met at The Museum of Russian Art in Minneapolis, which sparked a desire to re-read Mr. Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Then we went to lunch at Wise Acre, where my dad sneakily bought me a copy of Julia’s iconic book. I’m working on cooking my way through it now, and adding some ranting and over-the-top commentary while I’m in the kitchen! Thanks, Dad, for the inspiration!

Meanwhile, Leo and Julia would be impressed with our day of Russian Art and From-Scratch Cuisine!

“Inappropriate for Minnesota”

The Museum is in a former Congregational Church, built in the Spanish Colonial style (think: The Alamo). My favorite quote from an early parishioner:

“That Spanish Mission style was not a Congregational style and it really wasn’t a style appropriate for Minnesota, but it was a style that the Meckels were fond of and the congregation was extremely fond of the Meckels.” Ha!

On a bright sunny, crisp morning, I dawdled outside waiting for my Dad, eager to see his beautiful smile and start our adventure.

Beautiful outdoor decor

There he was! Just a few minutes with him would have made my week perfect. And I got the whole morning and lunch with him!

Bring on the oils

The Museum is very manageable in size, which was refreshing from recent museums where you just can’t see it all in a few hours. We started with the featured exhibit, Nicolai Fechin’s paintings. He had a WIDE range of work, from Russian style with incredible color and brushwork to impressionistic views of the US Southwest (appropriate in this spanish architecture museum, eh?!).

My Dad and I have a shared appreciation for oil paintings. I love how the canvas absorbs some of the paints, the brushes control the details  and I am especially drawn to thick, layered globs (sorry) of rich, deep oil paint on a canvas.

Many of the pieces are portraits. Yet his style is wide ranging — you can see how his style develops.

Some of our favorites:

Aren’t his paintings delightful?!

The second floor of the Museum features various Russian artists’ creations, including some from their growing permanent collection. It was amazing to think many of these artists literally worked while risking their lives. Not so long ago, it was frowned upon for artists in Russia to paint anything except portraits of military leaders. Thankfully, the artists survived, and their amazing creations live on for all of us to enjoy.

A lovely little corner of the second floor had a spotlight exhibit of Religion in Russian Art. There were only a few paintings, but I’m sad I didn’t sneak a photo of the painting of Mary there. As my Dad eloquently explained, we’d never seen her depicted that way. Not all serene and lovely and calm, holding a baby. This portrait shows her strong and determined, in the desert, looking very self-sufficient, smart, talented, confident, strong and maybe even a little feisty.

Wonderful image. And exactly why I so adore my Dad: He’s self-sufficient, smart, talented, confident and strong with exactly the right amount of spice.

Spaseebo balshoye (Russian for “Thank you very much”), Dad! Love you.

1,620 lessons I learned as an election judge

Tuesday was my second general election as an election judge.  I was reminded why I so love U.S. politics–warts, tedious recounts, spoiled ballots and all.

Hopefully one of the few jobs I will have that require wearing a name tag.

The 18-hour day started with long voting lines and ended with our team staying very late (or was it early?) to re-count our precinct’s ballots.

We arrived at 6 and had things set up swiftly. Voters started lining up at 6:30. I first worked the roster table, and from 7 a.m. when polls opened, there was a long, steady line of voters I checked in. I did not look up until 9:41, and it seemed as if 5 minutes had passed. People were friendly, patient, professional and eager to cast their choices. Besides the Presidential race, our state had 2 constitutional amendments on the ballot; our city had a mayor’s race on the line.

I also spent time at the registration table and near the tabulator (ballot box). Our precinct registered more than 200 new voters in one day! There is NOTHING as amazingly patriotic than successfully registering someone to vote. Some highlights of my day at the polls:

– The number of first-time voters. The neighborhood in which I served has many kids in the 18-year-old range. We had a steady stream of first-time voters, marched in by proud moms and dads. We had high school football stars on an approved break from school to vote (we wished ’em good luck at their upcoming state tourney game!). We had young people vouch for each other so they all enjoyed the right to vote. How cool to have your first vote be in a Presidential election year?!

– Teachable times. Several parents and young families had kids in tow. The parents who tugged at my heart explained every step of the process to their kids, pointing out each detail and answering the kids’ questions. These kids will grow up (as I did!) knowing the value, honor and responsibility in researching and casting their votes.

Temper, temper. There were a few people we had to turn away: they just didn’t have the right ID or paperwork to register to vote. It made me sad. Except the young man who swore and kicked back a chair. He made me mad. Our state has a liberal yet comprehensive voter registration system, but there are limits. And rules. Hopefully these people learned and will be eager to vote in 2 years.

– Details count. As we wrapped up, we discovered our ballots did not match our tabulator. So we counted. And re-counted. Tedious, but no one seemed to mind. Every single vote must count, after all. We turned it into a careful but enjoyable extra few hours together (?!)

– iPads rock. After the polls closed, we did tap into watching returns come in. After all, election judges are passionate about the process, and even though we were all from VERY DIFFERENT (you have no idea) views. we all enjoyed watching the results stream in. Then we kept re-counting our own returns.

– Older, new voters – At his request while on a little break, I took a photo of a new US citizen, his wife and their 18-year-old son just outside our polling place. He was so proud, since all 3 of them had just voted their very first time as US Citizens! He hugged me. I cried.

– It ain’t perfect, but we have the best political system in the universe. It allows every single person to feel part of the process — if they so choose. It helps us select our leaders and our rules. To me, it’s fair. To me, it’s a day where we show our best of our best to each other and the world.

On Election Day, I was a proud American. Every other day of the year, I’m a proud American. Now, I’m just sleep-deprived.

Off to sweet dreams of democracy : )