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.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Deutsche Post


Yeah. That's me, practicing my rusty German. I began my high-school language studies with lofty aspirations - namely, Honors Latin I. Which was followed up by its breathtaking, thrill-a-minute sequel, Honors Latin II, Decline Harder. Despite the white-knuckle Ablative-O-Rama that that class was, I dropped the Latin pursuit and switched to German. See? I can't even nerd consistently.

Now, my German teacher, upon hearing my surname, was thrilled to have me join the group. He seemed to believe that I had German in my very soul, that I'd be spouting forth jewels of Teutonic poetry in no time. The man was a singer (and not a bad one, either), and he'd sing out my last name to demonstrate the sound of "o" without its common umlaut tophat. I didn't have the heart to tell him that my name's really shortened Polish. Or that I was taking German for far more shady purposes than a search for my ancestry.

You see, I was powerless against the umlauts.

No, I kid. I initially took German because I was preparing to spend a year in the Netherlands. I had a keen desire to avoid the "dumb, unworldly American" tag, so I hoped to get a small grip on a language that might be a bit useful. Since Dutch is a derivation of German, I also thought it couldn't hurt to get my hooks into the basic sentence structure and pronunciation. So, German it was. And, upon my return to American shores, I continued the German, throughout the rest of High School and into college. Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), I'm pretty decent with Dutch to this day, but my German? Ha! Beer steins and German Shepherds the world over snicker in my wake. It's that bad.

At any rate, I've been ruminating about Deutsch since I made a hotel reservation in New Ulm, Minnesota for the first night of my trip. It looks like such a nifty little town, and I'm incredibly drawn to it for some reason. I'd like to say that it's my interest in German coming full circle, but I suspect I'm especially attracted by the brewery and the promise of Bratwurst und Wienerschnitzel. And there's a Glockenspiel! Who could resist a Glockenspiel?! Not me, I'll tell you that much.

So the first two days of my adventure are shaping up pretty nicely. I'll be in Minneapolis rather early Wednesday morning. I'll grab my rental car, and trek to the Spam Museum. After an informative afternoon of canned meat product and kitsch, I'll scoot on over to New Ulm, where I'll spend the first night of my journey. I'd like to spend most of Thursday bumming around New Ulm, and then I'll head westward to the next night's reservations in Tracy, Minnesota.

And Tracy, my friends, is where the Little House Odyssey begins. Wunderschön!


Days until trip: 49
Money saved: $460.00


Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Today Show ... With A Little Navel-Gaving.

Alert! Alert! I've just discovered that some members of the Little House on the Prairie cast will be featured on the Today Show tomorrow morning.

I have *ahem* already set my alarm to make sure that I'm awake on the day that is generally my catch-up-on-elusive-sleep day. I mean, it's Little House! Sure, it was a feel-good 70's adaptation of the series of books, but I'm not going to claim that it had no influence on me and my Little House obsession, because, well ... it did. Big time. I watched that series with alarming fidelity, even when presented with such unpalatable (and out-of-the-blue) topics as mime rapes and blind school fires.

The thing is, after having read a number of biographies of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I think she'd be mortified. About the television series, mostly - I mean, come on ... she'd be aflame in shame at the misrepresentations! But, most importantly, I think her basic sense of privacy and decency would be violated by her fans' scrutiny into her personal life. Granted, Laura was kind and responsive to her readers and fans, and she did appreciate them, but I see her as a woman with an incredible sense of dignity. She shared her life's experience in her books to some degree, but we've sort of of run with it and added all sorts of sentimental filigrees . The long-running TV series completely convoluted her relationship with Almanzo, never mind the major changes (both physical and psychological) to her family.

I'd always related to Laura throughout my childhood, and I'd thought I would as an adult. To be honest, though, I hardly think she'd approve of me. Sure, I'm independent. I value education, and I'm an avid reader and researcher. I've got a strong work ethic, and I pride myself on my ability to be pretty self-sufficient, to do without when needs must, to be able to survive and save on a minimal budget. Still, though .. I'm weak, whiny, self-centered. I frequently feel sorry for myself. I'm vain, on occasion. And I willingly share my thoughts and experiences, both good and bad, on this very blog and others. I can't imagine she'd respect that.

Recently, I've read Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder. Surprisingly, I found the family dynamic familiar; however, I realized (with a shock!) that it's a pretty spot-on analysis of the relationship that I shared with my now-deceased mother. I was amazed to find that I related, to an unnerving degree, to Rose. Previously, I hadn't felt either way about Rose Wilder Lane, but I could completely subscribe to her relations with her strong, self-confident mother - her overwhelming love for the woman (both as a person and as a parent), her frustration at their differences and the inevitable comparisons, shame concerning her repeated bouts with severe depression, personal disappointment about her diffused sense of direction. I really hadn't expected my paradigm to shift in such a way, but it has.

I'd always wished that I could have met Laura. Now I'm wishing that I could've met Rose, too.

*cue Little House theme music* Anyway, though, I'll be checking out the Today Show tomorrow morning. If nothing else, Alison Arngrim's a gal I really respect for a thousand reasons, and - dammit - I've got a personal attachment to Nels and Harriet! And some friends (you know who you are, ladies) might just get into a mud-wrestling match over Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder on the show). Really ... who could pass that up?


Thursday, May 03, 2007

We've Got The Punc(tuation), Gotta Have That Punc(tuation). Yeah.

I don't speak any Spanish, whatsoever. Okay ... I lie. I know a few random words from childhood viewings of Sesame Street. If I find myself in Spain and in dire need of an apple, I'm set. If I feel the need to alert someone in Mexico that a door is open, I'm golden. Other than that? Nada.

The thing I really like about Spanish is the punctuation. ¿The punctuation? Yep, that's right - the punctuation. If a statement starts with a question mark or exclamation point, there can be no doubt as to where the sentence is heading. Since I don't like surprises, this appeals to me. ¡Fantastic!

(Yes, I did look up instructions on how to make these punctuation marks. Better yet, I made a little cheat sheet. Because I am just that cool.)

The best one of all is the exclamation point. In addition to indicating what's to follow, it seems to amplify the statement, somehow. Next to "¡dynamite!", a plain old "dynamite!" just looks like a cherry bomb. Why, oh why, don't we use this method in English? ¿Why? I mean, we're unafraid to incorporate a random "pronto" or "sayonara" into our dialogue, so what's wrong with a little rearranged exclamation point? ¡Seriously!

Days until trip: 70
Money Saved: $440.00


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

You Can't Do Without It - It's Electric!


Yep. I went there. I quoted the most awful song known to mankind, ever. What would drive an otherwise (marginally) sane person to mention that heinous song, never mind Google the godawful lyrics? Well, only one thing ... a snowstorm. Let me take you on a party ride, indeed.

Just two weeks ago (!), we were walloped by a nor'easter to the tune of more than fourteen inches of heavy, wet snow. Oddly enough, spots just a few miles away got an inch or two. But not me. Nosiree. The snow fell fast and hard, and as the afternoon progressed, power began to fail all over the area. We held out until about four or so, then the juice stopped flowing at my Dad's house. I wasn't sure if this was caused by downed wires or the old car-vs.-pole thing, but the only sensible course of action was to proceed directly to the local bar. So we did. Since the bar is just a few blocks away, I figured it was pretty likely that the place would also be sans power, and I was right.

What I didn't expect, however, was how different the usual watering hole would be without electricity. No televisions. No jukebox. Not even the ambient noise of the heating system or the ice machine. Just quite a few patrons, chatting amiably by the light of a few candles and the waning daylight that shone through the windows. It was positively surreal. Fun, but surreal.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when a friend posted about having had no power - for days! - on a messageboard that I frequent. She hadn't posted for a while, and just as we were about to send out a search party, she resurfaced with harrowing tales of a multi-day power loss. Now there's a gal who could handle life of the prairie. I was pissing and moaning after a few hours, especially once the novelty (not to mention my buzz) wore off.

I keep thinking of The Long Winter. If you've never read it, give it a shot, even if you're not a Little House kind of person. It's an interesting read. I liked it as a kid, but when I checked it out again as an adult, I was blown away by how long and awful that winter really was, and how close the people in DeSmet came to outright starvation. Because no trains could make it through, there was nothing to burn for heat except twisted chunks of hay. And nothing to eat but ground-up seed wheat made into brown bread. For months. Months! Jeez, I was upset that I couldn't microwave some popcorn that snowy afternoon. Makes ya' think.

Days until trip: 72
Money saved: $425.00