To the jenth power ...

I read the books. I watched the show. I unflinchingly wore a sunbonnet to second grade. What started as a childhood obsession has developed into .. well, an adult obsession. I'm going to visit some of the sites depicted in the Little House series of books. Go west, (not-so-) young woman, indeed.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Three Cheers For Beer!

I love the smell of barley and hops in the morning. Don't you?

Since the centerpiece of my plans for Thursday was a trip to the Schell Brewery, and said brewery was near my hotel, I stopped there first in order to see what was what. I checked in at the brewery museum, where I learned that tours would be conducted at 2:30 and 4:00 pm. So I bought my ticket in advance, and spent the morning taking a self-(and pamphlet-) guided walking tour of New Ulm.

Before I knew it, it was T-minus one hour until tour time! I got there early, parked my car and wandered around the grounds of the Schell mansion. I took in the impressive gardens and wondered who, exactly, maintained them - they were pretty extensive and very carefully arranged. As I got near the mansion itself, I spied a little sign on the front door. Of course, my curiosity got the best of me and marched up the stone steps only to find out that the sign read: 'This is a private residence. Please respect our privacy. Thank you.'


So I skulked* back down the steps, feeling like an ass. I could picture the inhabitants watching me from behind the curtains, giving me the stink-eye, and wishing me ill. I can't tell you if this was the case or not, though, because I already felt intrusive enough that I didn't dare sneak a glance back.

(*It may seem to the reader that I've done an inordinate amount of skulking in New Ulm. Skulking down the Hermann Monument, skulking around the Schell Mansion, et cetera. Indeed, it might be more skulking than the average person manages in a year. But me? I frequently get myself into situations that involve either a speedy getaway or skulking. Or both. So, you see, I'm a very seasoned and efficient skulker.)

I did hear a startling yelp, however, but I soon realized that it was a peacock and not, as I'd feared, a pissed-off mansion dweller. My curiosity piqued, I wandered around until I found the owner of those dulcet tones (Yes. That is sarcasm, in case you haven't ever heard a peacock). Indeed, there were a few peacocks wandering around. There was also a pretty nifty Victorian aviary alongside the mansion; you can see it in the photo (it's that little round tower).

Since I still had a little time to kill, I wandered back to my car to have the little snack that I'd brought along. As I sat on the open tailgate of the car munching on Cheez-its, one of the peacocks wandered over to see what I was up to. I held out a cracker, and he took it! And another! And another! Pretty cool.

Not so cool, however, was the faithful friendship that had blossomed - my feathered friend followed me back up the path to the brewery museum. He was only thwarted when a glimpse of himself reflected in the hubcap of a parked car distracted him. So .... you guessed it, I skulked once again, speedily this time. And I thanked my lucky stars that peacocks, apparently, are narcissists.

The tour was great. Most importantly, though, I learned that nobody was currently in residence in the mansion. Whew! All that shame for nothing.

It goes without saying, I think, that the highlight of the tour was the beer tasting. It was pretty good beer, and especially nice to have on a hot afternoon. I tried a number of varieties, especially the Fire Brick. I thought to myself: Self, you have got to get some of this back home. And, eventually, I did - but that's a story for another day.

Since I'd seen everything I'd wanted to see in New Ulm, I wrapped up the beer tasting and got on Route 14 west, on the way to Walnut Grove. It took a little longer than I'd planned because, well ... there's a saying that you borrow beer? Folks, I'm here to tell you that this is true, even for small amounts of the stuff.
Next stop: The Ingalls Odyssey Begins!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

As I Live And Breathe ...

... because, contrary to all evidence, I do! Good God, I've been MIA for a while.

I'd like to say that I can blame my disappearance on work. Or the pressing concerns of my thrill-a-minute daily life. Or even hard-core athletic training. My all-encompassing preparations for an upcoming Space Shuttle launch. The white-knuckle adventures of my skydiving outing. Something. But ... no. I'm far too pedestrian for any of that. I simply felt overwhelmed. And a little blue.

The irony of it all is that I've got about five drafts ready to go. They've been gathering dust since mid-July. I suppose I ought to thank my lucky stars that I'm not a child-birthing sort of person. I just know I'd gestate for something like 11 months because I'd be so indecisive about how, exactly, labor should proceed. Then I'd be ashamed it was taking me so long, so I'd dither for another few weeks.

In other words, I suck. And I'm the Queen of fits-and-starts. But we all knew that.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Oh Hells! Bells ...

This, people, was my Waterloo. Observe the nifty wrought iron staircase. Note that it rapidly climbs to quite a height.

This staircase challenged me, and I had to cry "uncle", I'm sorry to say.

On the first day of my trip, I got my rental car and drove a few hours to my reserved room in New Ulm, Minnesota. After checking in and getting a quick shower, I set out to see the sights. One of these attractions is the Hermann Monument, a memorial to the large German population of New Ulm and to their many contributions. It's pretty nicely situated atop a hill, overlooking the town, and surrounded by a really beatiful park that's studded with picnic pavilions.

Since I was feeling full of bravado (and traces of the adrenaline I'd mustered to board two planes that morning), I decided that I'd cough up the admission fee and climb to the top. Paralyzing fear of heights? Pfft! I was an adventurer. A bold player on the prairie stage! I wouldn't let a little thing like open, wrought-iron steps hold me back. Not me. Nosiree!

And with this attitude, I got pretty far. About three-quarters of the way up, in fact.

Then? The inevitable happened. The triple whammy of plunging stomach, jelly knees, and wavery tunnel vision laid me low. Or, well, high. I paused, afraid to go any farther and terrified to go back down. What to do, what to do. I had visions of a frantic rescue by the New Ulm fire company - I could picture them rolling up with a ladder truck, in full gear, and having to pluck me from those stairs like a kitten from a tree. Oh! The shame!

Fortunately, nobody else had ventured up the monument, and I was there by myself. In fact, the only people around were a large picnicking group in a pavilion to one side of the tower. So I did what any poised, dignified adult would do: I ass-crawled down a few steps. Some small molecule of shame made me turn around and walk (sort of) as the stairs curved me into the line of vision of the picnic people, but the instant I was no longer visible to them I was right back on my hindquarters. Then up again, looking somewhat pulled together. Then down. Using this method, I got myself back on the ground.

Yes. I know. I'm a woman of courage and class.

I wandered back into the town proper. It was rather late in the afternoon, and I hoped to get a chance to catch the glockenspiel in action. I checked it out, and I was just on time for the 5:00 demo. I sat down on a bench, and waited for it to do its thing. Which it soon did.

Bells began to ring, and a door on the side of it opened up to reveal figurines. They slowly rotated as the bells chimed away. A Native American. Pioneers. A beer guy lifting a wooden barrel. They rotated. And chimed. And rotated some some. I rushed to take pictures, but I shouldn't have knocked myself out, because that glock spieled for a good fifteen minutes. I sat back down for the last few minutes, and, suddenly, I noticed that the random melodious chiming had turned into "The Happy Wanderer". I found it oddly touching, but that may just have been sheer exhastion rearing its ugly head at that point.

And I was tired, completely wiped out. I'd been going since 4:00 am. So I grabbed a quick dinner and retreated to my hotel room. I called a few friends and family to let them know all was well, spent a little time on my journal, and hit the sack. The remaining Teutonic charms of New Ulm would just have to wait until the next day.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Prairie Pictures

New Ulm, MN slideshow

Walnut Grove, MN slideshow

De Smet, SD slideshow

Well, it's a start. I've got many, many more photos, but these really are the highlights. The titles on the pictures are pretty self-explanatory. There are a number of items from my visit to New Ulm, a really fun detour that had absolutely nothing to do with Little House on the Prairie. But there was a brewery! And a glockenspiel!

Stay tuned. Check back. I'll be reposting many of these photos with thrilling, white-knuckle explanations. You'll laugh. You'll cry. It'll be better than Cats!

Or, well, you know ... at the very least, it will be a good time-killer for a long afternoon at work. There's always that.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Weather, Channeled.

Again, I've stalked and captured a computer complete with internet connection. Really, I impress myself with my innate cunning and my deft lasso skills. Kidding. Actually, I had to wait a few hours for the computer at the hotel to free up, and this process involved much muttering and gnashing of teeth. At any rate, here I am.

There's a rainstorm rolling through right now, but no lightning or thunder. We were under a tornado warning this afternoon, a fact that's likely a common occurrence to prairie folk but was rather unnerving to me. As I headed eastward on Route 14, I kept imagining a tornado coming out of nowhere and sweeping both me and my rental PT Cruiser away. So I'd spend one moment wondering if I'd look like Miss Gulch as the storm whisked me aloft, and the next wondering how I'd explain tornado damage to the high-strung fella at the rental car company. Perhaps I could combine the two and use my best Miss Gulch face to subdue him. I may still try that, funnel cloud or no funnel cloud.

I saw the coolest thing on Friday night. I'd expected the Walnut Grove pageant to be the highlight of the evening, and it very nearly was; however, as I drove back to my hotel afterwards, I saw lightning in the distance. Now, it hadn't occurred to me that lightning on the prairie would be any different that Northeastern Pennsylvania lightning, but, really, it is. The stuff I saw was so far away that I could see its path both upwards and down to the ground. When it struck, a patch of the sky became luminous with shades of yellow and grey. Except for random Dead show backdrops in my crazier days, I'd never seen anything like it. It was absolutely hypnotic. Add the fact that it was too far away for me to hear the thunder, and it was outright surreal.

Coming out here, I was all set to immerse myself into the Little House stuff. I even expected a certain amount of emotion at seeing so many of the places and details from the books. What I really hadn't expected, however, were the little things about this part of the world that have made me understand Laura's love of the prairie. I hadn't known, hadn't appreciated, how spot-on so many of her descriptions are, even one hundred and twenty years later. The lightning was the most striking (har!) example, but I also noticed it in the way the sun shines on the waving grasses and in the feel and sound of the wind. I didn't expect it, and there's no way I could have prepared for it, really. It was a delightful surprise.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

So Speaketh The Leaf Thief

I managed to wrangle a computer, so I thought I'd give a quick update.

Right now, I'm in De Smet. It's been amazing. I toured the Ingalls home, the Surveyors' House, the school and I visited both the Ingalls and the Wilder homestead sites. I just got back to the hotel from the De Smet pageant. It's all been incredible, but the most moving part of the trip, for me, has been the chance to see the cottonwood trees that were planted by the Ingalls family. I stopped by early this morning, and while I was there, I took a few leaves. I couldn't help myself - I was kind of blown away that these trees were the very ones mentioned in the books. Yep. You got that right ... I've sunk to the level of leaf thief. Foliage felon.

And worse? I returned to the scene of the crime ... I just had to see the trees and the surrounding prairie at sunset. I did refrain from stealing more leaves this time, though.

My time in Walnut Grove was also incredible. I think the best part was my visit to the dugout site. Because of the hour time difference and its interesting effects on my circadian rhythms, I was up early enough to be able to visit the site when nobody else was around. It was awfully nice to be able to check it out in solitude, to have time to poke around at my leisure. It was the first time I'd really gotten a chance to walk around on the actual prairie.

I've managed to write something like fifty pages of notes, information, and impressions. Never fear, though - I won't bore you with every little tidbit here in the next few weeks. Okay, I lie. I'll probably bore you a tiny bit, but I'll try not to. And hey - there's pictures to accompany my ramblings. Better yet, I was unafraid to make a total ass of myself, so I made small movies with my digital camera. I even narrated some, which drew interesting looks from passerby. Heh.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Twenty-four Hours To Go ... I Wanna Be Sedated

At this time tomorrow, I'll be in the air between Detroit and Minneapolis.

I've been thinking like this for the past few days. A week from now, I'll be doing this. Three days from today, I'll be doing that. Of course, I picture myself full of poise and grace in all circumstances, but I'm sure it won't be entirely the case; when my plane is preparing to land at this time tomorrow, I'll probably be gut-rollingly nervous. There may even be a touch of the Philadelphia effect going on. I'll be worried that I'll get lost in the airport, worried that there's a mistake and there'll be no rental cars left for me, worried that I'll have problems driving out of Minneapolis. Because, you know, I think I might cease to exist if I didn't have something to worry about.

Here's the thing, though: most people travel. Some of them do it all the time! I don't, really. It's not that I don't want to, I just ... don't. Because of money. Because of time. Work. Distance. I keep telling myself, "Someday, I'll go here. I'll check out that." But the day never seems to come because I don't really believe that I can do it. That, my friends, is the most important part of this trip, methinks. But it's also the scariest part - what if that little part of my brain that doubts is, well, spot-on? I guess we'll see, right? Right.

I'm packed. I did, indeed, manage to get my stuff into a tiny little bag that's unquestionably small enough to be a carry-on.

After a bad set of circumstances, I'd been really, really concerned about money. Between sudden, costly car repairs in early June and the vet bills and subsequent deaths of two pets (and cremation ain't cheap, folks!), I am completely serious when I say that I was concerned that I might spend a night or two camping out in my rental car. But then a funny thing happened. I'd switched auto insurance, and the company I'd left immediately reimbursed me the remainder of the term I'd paid. Then I got a long-forgotten rebate check in the mail. When I called about a tiny dividend check I hadn't recieved, I found that the unreceived checks - individually less than $50 - had piled up over the last few quarters, and I was mailed the sum of $147.20. All told, something like six hundred dollars showed up unexpectedly.

Sure, $600. is small potatoes. But I'm not wealthy, so it made a huge difference to me. I mean, I live comfortably within a budget, but (like many) all it takes is a car repair or injury to put me in hot water. So I'm grateful about the odd confluence of cashola. It's a nifty little counterbalance to my self-doubt - like the universe is giving me a thumbs-up.

I've taken so long to write this that, well, at this time tomorrow? I'll be landing in Minneapolis. Wish me luck!