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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Simple Twist of ... Plates? Or: Our Heroine Soothes Her Impatience With Dinnerware

I'll huff, and I'll puff, and ..... dammitI'moutof patiencewhere'smygoddamsunbonnet?! Grrr.


As you can probably guess, I've not yet received my bonnet. The slow trickle of travel brochures also seems to have ground to a halt. I got information from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society (yay!) and from the South Dakota Department of Tourism (many thanks!). That's all. What I want to know is this: who the hell does Minnesota think it is? Denying me. Playing hard to get. Pulling some sort of mystery act. Sheesh.

I was so disappointed and heartbroken that I built myself a sod house in my backyard and subsisted entirely on radishes and my own bitter tears. Nah - I lie. In all honesty, my computer decided to act up, and I've had no internet access for nearly a week. I suppose the timing wasn't too bad, as I've really not had much to report. Besides, I used the down time to indulge my passion for Fiestaware and visited the nearest outlet ... not once, but twice! Ole! Heh.

Days until trip: 314
Money saved: $240.00

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Friday, August 25, 2006

A La Carte

No sunbonnet yet. Also, no more travel brochures. *sigh*

Lately, I've been thinking about doing things solo. I've gotten adept at going places alone in the last few years. Mainly, it's because I've been with a guy who really doesn't like to do much. In addition, I'm at an age where most of my friends have recently become moms, so they're far less available. As a result, I've begun to get rather comfortable with going to the movies alone or going out to eat by myself. I've become good at it.

I know. I'm treating solitude as a skill. You know what? I think it is.

We all do stuff by ourselves; tasks like grocery shopping and walking the dog are often done without accompaniment, and nobody thinks twice about it. Still, some other things are really group activities, and, initially, it feels strange to go it alone. The first time I went to the movies by myself, it was to see Immortal Beloved; I lucked out that time, because I found a theatre full of other chicks like me whose boyfriends/husbands had no interest in a historical romance about Beethoven. In fact, I met a few of the other moviegoers before the film started, and we had a good time making small talk and joking around. Since then, I've occasionally gone to see several films by myself, the most recent being The Devil Wears Prada. I kinda like going to the movies by myself, actually.

Still, I wonder - what is it that makes me feel a little odd the first time I try something sans accompaniment? Is it that I'm afraid that there's an unspoken indication that nobody likes me enough to come along? I know that this isn't the case, and - really - why should I care what any strangers might think? Odd. Maybe it's just me ... a lack of confidence or something.

I do wonder, though, if there isn't a widespread fear of being alone - the sheer number of people on cell phones sometimes makes me sure of it. For example, if I felt strange about waiting for a table alone at a restaurant, the simple act of conversing publicly on my phone would be a social signal that, indeed, I'm a vital and beloved person. It would also keep me from truly being alone, because I'd still be interacting with someone in my social circle - know what I mean?

Ah well. Just my thinks.

Since I'm already wildly off my usual topics, I'd like to mention that the downgrade of Pluto from planet status is rather sad. Poor Pluto! I composed a lament (sorry, Billy Joel!) ...

Always a Planet
( Always a Woman)

You made no big stinks, if you did I just missed 'em
A small number nine in a big solar system
Just doing your thing, unencumbered and free -
You may be downgraded,
But you're always a planet to me

You're just rocks and ice, so I know you won't melt
As you rotate around next to the Kuiper belt
A victim of the whims of astronomy -
Remember, dear Pluto -
You're always a planet to me

Oh - they're rescinded your name
You're a planet no more
Just some lump in the fog
Oh - if I call out your name
I guess that it now refers
To some dumb Disney dog

Another concern that is leaving me speechless:
My Very Educated Mother Just Sent Us No Pizzas!
That mnemonic trick's now an antiquity -
But, pizza aside,
You are always a planet to me.

Days until trip: 319
Money saved: $210.00


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Woman Corned ...

I really, really want to make some, uh, corny jokes about today's discovery, but I'll try to restrain myself: The Corn Palace. How cool is that?

Unfortunately, the building is actually constructed of concrete (the outside is completely covered/decorated in maize). When I saw the pictures of it in my brochures, my heart leapt at the possibility that it might be a whole building made entirely of corn. Sure, go ahead and tell me that such a thing would be structurally impossible (never mind unhygenic), but that reality would fall on deaf ears. I mean, the physics of Tinker Toys is beyond me.

This thing of beauty is in Mitchell, South Dakota. Which is, according to my shaky calculations, is about 70 miles from De Smet. I'd really like to check it out.

A friend of mine helped me to concoct a crazy scheme. It all began when I decided that I wanted to add a picture of myself to this blog. Since I really don't photograph well, I asked her to help me get a picture that wouldn't scare puppies and small children. We joked about it, drank a little wine, and then decided that any photo really ought to show me wearing a sunbonnet, all bad-ass prairie-style. Then we took it a step farther: maybe we ought to begin a small collection of pictures in which I sport one. I mean, pictures are pictures, but who could resist pics of some random gal in a bonnet? Of course, the notion evolved into the idea that there ought to be a sort of introductory travelogue that shows me in my natural environment wearing it: in the supermarket, near various Scranton landmarks, at my jobs ... you get the picture (heh). After all, Ma in the Little House books was always on Laura's case to wear hers, why shoud I be any different? The evening culminated with the online order of a red sunbonnet. So we'll see where that goes.

So, kids, what have we learned today? Well, that there's a Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Oh - and that Jen has no shame. To the chagrin of ZZ Top:

Red Sunbonnet
(Cheap Sunglasses)

When you want to journey westward and have a little fun,
The first thing to consider is protection from the sun
Ma'd call you "dark as an injun" if you didn't get right on it
And order yourself a red sunbonnet
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah!

You can bust that bonnet out and make random photo ops
Wear it to the vet when the dog goes for his shots
On forays to the bank, as you make some deposits -
You'll knock the tellers out with a red sunbonnet
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah!

Wear that prairie sucker as you check into hotels
Wear it on the plane, and in the rental car as well
What subtlety you have? Methinks now's the time to pawn it:
Every photo's better with a red sunbonnet
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Oh yeah!

Days until trip: 322
Money saved: $197.00


Monday, August 21, 2006

Oh! Prairie! My love ... holds on, holds on.

But you shoulda' been gone -
Long ago, far away
You shoulda' been gone
After Mr. Sunshine had his say ...

Grrr. Brr. Bleh. My delight at receiving information about my trip has been dampened. Somebody thinks my idea to roam the prairie is stupid. Somebody got outright mean about making fun of it. But that's okay in the end, I guess. Somebody just won't get any ice cream. Heh.

Among the treasures which did arrive this weekend, I got a rather large highway map of South Dakota. Which, I suppose, is a good thing, considering that no local bookstore had any information whatsoever about the region. There were books about Ohio. There were plenty of guides detailing Chicago. And then .... nothing. If I didn't know better, I'd assume that there's some sort of vast chasm between the Midwest and Vegas. It just surprised me, somehow, that there was nothing to be had about, say, Mount Rushmore. Not even so much as a flimsy map in the so-called travel section! Sheesh.

My car has requested that I mention its delight that I finally, finally emptied out all the change from its various nooks and crannies (read: drink holders). Twelve bucks! Who knew?

Days until trip: 323
Money Saved: $197.00


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mail Call

The goodies have begun to arrive! I received packets from both the Laura Ingalls Memorial Society and the South Dakota board of tourism. I'm a happy girl.

Send Me Some Crap
(Live and let Die)

When you are planing a trip to the prairie -
At first, you think .. hey, whenever stuff comes ...
(you once were zen, you once were zen, you once were zen)
But in this South Dakota mindset that I'm nursing -
Impatience gets a bad rap -
Send me my crap!
Send me my crap!
Send me my crap!

Why blow a cork anyway?
It's almost a year away!
I guess I need to feel
Like the whole thing's going to be real -

I used to be very laid back
(at least, I think; at least, I think; at least, I think)
But in my ever-changing plans to see the prairie
My patience cannot endure-
Send my travel brochres!
Travel brochures!
Travel brochures!
Travel brochures!

Days until trip:325
Money saved: $185.00


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Plains, Planes & Automobiles

Wow - this page sure is green, innit? I try to tell myself that I chose this template because it carries faint echoes of Wright's Prairie style of architecture/embellishment. To be honest, however, I chose it simply because it was a different pattern that that used on the blogs of friends (I am a rugged individualist! I am!). I also find light print on a dark background a little tough on the peepers, so this template was the default choice. If nothing else, it's very, eh ... green. Ah well. I suppose there are worse things.

Again, with the airlines. I keep filling in theoretical flight dates to come up with inexpensive flights. I'm finding that my best choice may be to fly from Allentown, PA to Minneapolis. So far, I've found a roundtrip airfare for $334.00. Since my magic 8-ball won't reveal what the airfares will be when I book my flight (Dammit! I keep getting "try again"), I'm going to budget $500.00. I asked my brother if he'd be willing to drive me to the airport so that I can avoid paying for long-term parking there. He looked at me blanky for a moment, then said he'd really have to check his schedule. Heh. Wise-ass, that one.

The car rentals are a bit sticky, but the most inexpensive estimate I could find was $19.95/day for a compact/economy car. I recall from past rentals that there are all sorts of fun charges, taxes, subcharges, excises and a papal dispensation involved. For my rough budget, I'm assuming $30.00/day, so that's $210.00 for seven days. I'll figure a gas budget once I've got more of a real itinerary.

Thus far:
$500.00 for airfare
$210.00 for car rental
... which creates a grand total of $710.00. Whee! Math is fun!

I think I'd like to shoot for the week of July 11- July 18. Of course, the plans may change as I look into different attractions, but I'm going to use that week (Wednesday - Wednesday) as my ideal time frame.

Now if only the US Postal Service would bring me all my prairie goodies. I just know that my postman is holding out on me. I'll bet he's hoarding the "Discover South Dakota!" and "Minnesota: Magic and Memories" brochure packets; I mean, they've got to be riveting white-knuckle reading for anyone lucky enough to get their mitts on 'em, right? Right.

Here's a little ditty (with my sincerest apologies to Paul Simon ... and Julio):

Roaming Spinster Loose on the Prairie
(Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard)

Some July night, I'll catch the cheapest flight that'll take me to Minnesota
I'll see what's what, watch a pageant or such, and then go on to South Dakota
In a rental car, in rental car
In a rental car, 'cause it's kinda far
My boyfriend sighs, then he rolls his eyes
Every time my trip gets mentioned
He might tut-tut or declare me nuts ...
It won't sway my prairie intentions.

I'm on my way, though not sure where I'm going
I'm on my way, I'm saving some cash, mostly jars of change
Goodbye Scranton - Queen of the Rust Belt
Roaming spinster out on the prairie
Roaming spinster out on the prairie

It'll take me a year to get my ass in gear
And rack up some legal tender
So I'll blather and blog these inane monologues
It's a crazy prairie bender!
Well, I'm on my way, but not sure where I'm going
I'm on my way, I might even wear a sunbonnet!
Goodbye Scranton - Queen of the Rust Belt
There'll be a roaming spinster loose on the prairie
Another roaming spinster loose on the prairie

Days until trip: 327
Amount saved: $161.00


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I'll take "Southern Minnesota" for $200, Alex ...

I made a few more calls to gather information for my trip today. If I play my cards right, I could get to check out Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The Ingalls family spent time in the area, some of it living in a dugout - literally, a home made from a cave dug into a hillside (<- preposition-palooza). Now, I've managed to live in some crappy-assed apartments in my time, but, sheesh. I suspect this'll put manners on me. The original Ingalls dugout has collapsed (not on the family, of course .. well, at least, not entirely), but the site and surrounding area have been preserved. Like De Smet, the town of Walnut Grove presents a pageant during several July weekends each summer.

Yes. I said pageant. To be honest, I'm rather enthralled by the notion. I suspect it's more of a play, since it seems to include dialogue and doesn't appear to take place behind a scrim curtain that sweeps back during a stirring eight-part rendition of Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, revealing a crystal-clear scene of a manger in Bethlehem and .... yeah. My Catholic roots are showing. Then again, maybe the pageant does include such a moving crescendo - I guess I'll only know if I see it in person. And, truth be told, who am I to define "pageant"?! So here's my thinks: fly into Minneapolis mid-week. Drive to Walnut Grove, MN. Spend Wednesday through Friday there. Check out pageant on Friday evening. Get the show on the road to De Smet on Saturday afternoon. Catch De Smet pageant on Saturday or Sunday evening. Can I express my glee at the very mention of Walnut Grove? I mean, this was the town in which the Little House on the Prairie TV series was set. Sure, television's prairie was mountainous and surprisingly snow-less (aka California), but - come on! There's a definite '70s cheese factor involved here. I loved that show. In fact, I still do.

I received payback on a small loan I'd given last week - $50.00. I've also got a small can of change to deposit. Since neither have been put in the bank yet, my cash remains the same.

Days until trip: 320-350
Cash saved: $100.00


Monday, August 14, 2006

Westward Ho!

Or should that be .... Westward, 'ho?

You see, I'm a gal with a dream. I don't want to find a cure for cancer. I could care less about amassing a fortune. Eternal youth and ravishing beauty aren't really high on my list of priorities. My dream? To go to South Dakota. Specifically, I want to go to De Smet, South Dakota.

I'll pause here while you snicker and chortle. Go ahead, it's okay. I'm quickly getting used to that reaction. My boyfriend reacted splendidly: "Well, Jen, most normal people save and plan to go to places like Cancun. South Dakota? My ass." Still, I'm undeterred.

I decided that today's as good a day as any to start a little record of my adventure. I opened a savings account this morning to finance my trip so I'm already $100. into this. I spent the last few days contacting various Departments of Tourism and requesting information. I've used hypothetical dates on various travel sites to come up with flight and car rental rates (Dance, Hotwire! Dance!).

You see, I was hooked on the Little House books as a child. I recently bought the entire series as an adult and reread them. Man, those things are like crack! I mean, you think to yourself: Okay. I'll just sample a little Farmer Boy for fun, just to see what it's like. The next thing you know, you're pale and shaking as you crawl into Borders to pick up a copy of By the Banks of Plum Creek. You know you've hit bottom when you forgo the light bill so that you can get your crazy paws on These Happy Golden Years.

Okay. I exaggerate. But only a little.

At any rate, I reread the series in its entirety and thought to myself, "Self, wouldn't it be really cool to check out some of these places that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about?" Just for fun, I googled around a bit, and I found out that I can, indeed, visit the Ingalls homestead. In fact, I can camp on it! Suddenly, it occurred to me that I really could go there. I mean, there's no reason why I couldn't - I'm a single, childless, 35-year-old woman (spinster), and my responsibilities are few. Sure, I'll need to pack up my (obligatory, since I'm a spinster) cats and ship 'em to a kennel, but aside from that ....

So I've begun to save. Tomorrow, I'm cashing in my change jars and adding that to my total. I'm planning on going in July, 2007, and I'm planning on going alone. In fact, I somehow think it's important that I do go alone - (upcoming navel-gazing in 3 ..2 ..1 ..) I keep meaning to do things in my life that are important to me, and I keep letting things get in my way. Things like disapproving boyfriends, procrastination, and self-doubt rear their ugly heads, and as a result, I let myself miss out on so much. I just want to sort of even up the ledger, you know? Bravely do something simply because I want to and because I'm able to do it myself. (/navel-gazing)

At any rate, here's a little haiku summary *snerk*:

Crazy as it seems,
I dream of South Dakota
I'll go there next year

Bright lights of Scranton
So long! This spinster's going
To see some prairie

Days until trip: between 321 - 351 (methinks)
Cash saved: $100.00