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, 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!


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

S&M (aka Sundry & Miscellany. Gotcha!)

Folks, I'll have you know that I reserved my seat for the Walnut Grove pageant back in January. I did this for several reasons, mainly because my eyesight is terrible. And I'm very short. I got it into my head that I'd get shuttled to the back of the audience and Carmen Miranda, with signature headdress, would be seated directly in front of me. More reasonably, I figured it might behoove me to get even some little expenses out of the way beforehand. I have, in my possession, one reserved ticket. Seat #5, in fact. In the red section. It may be my one shining moment of VIP-ness.

I was checking out the Walnut Grove pageant page, and I discovered that there are Pageant Suppers. Of course, I imagined a heartwarming scene of friendly folks sitting down to break bread together - something akin to the New England Suppers mentioned in the Little House books. I suppose, though, that it's highly likely that the supper will be more like the High School spaghetti dinner fund raisers that occur around here every spring. You know the drill: echoey cafeteria, decent food, a constant stream of diners. I guess, though, that I won't know until I get there. Either way, I think it's a great idea.

I'll be attending the Pageant Supper scheduled for Friday. I even checked out the menu. Hot beef? Hot turkey? Decisions, decisions. At the moment, I'm leaning toward beef, but it's a wild card.

The whole phenomenon put a rather interesting notion into my head. I know that there's a Little League/Boy Scout/church fundraiser nearly every weekend in the small town where I grew up, not to mention several events during the week. I began to wonder if the same wasn't true in these little towns, especially during the height of the Little House tourism season. I mean, if I were a church group in need of funds, I'd try to strike while the iron is hot.

I foraged around the internet, hoping to find information in local newspapers, but no dice. I think I'll still take a gander once I'm there. I like the idea of an inexpensive dinner that supports local organizations. Believe me, I spent years shilling cookies, and I hated every minute of it. If I can spare the members of a Girl Scout troop the same horrific fate? I'm all over that.

I had an odd dream last night. I dreamt that my trip was really part of a modern-day Homestead Act. However, instead of claiming vast acreage for farming, prospective homesteaders had to live in those little sample rooms at Ikea for a set amount of time in order to own one (we discussed Ikea/small living on one of my messageboards, so I guess that prompted this particular notion). Anyway, I was camped out in a room that seemed to have a secret space attached to the back of it, so I was excited that I'd claimed a particularly choice spot. I was a little concerned about the open plan of Ikea and the lack of privacy that my place afforded. My Mom then showed up with a plaid shower curtain and Harley, my cat. She helped me hang the curtain over the "open" wall, and laughingly told me that Harley really wasn't dead, he just wanted to live at Ikea.

So do we all, Harley, so do we all. It's my idea of Heaven, too, buddy.

I've been staging a few un-dress rehearsals lately. And, no, it's not as exciting as it sounds. Perhaps I'd be more in line to call it drying trial runs, but that's simply too much of a tongue twister. To my delight, I've found that most of my favorite clothing air dries overnight, if not within hours. It's appearing more and more possible that I could travel with nothing but one carry-on bag. In light of the recent instances of terrorism in Great Britain, I wouldn't be surprised if there are some pretty strict guidelines implemented for U.S. air travel. It would behoove me, I think, to have very little with me.

Oh, did I mention that I hate to fly? I do. I really, really do. Somehow, the fact that I'll have to actually board some (likely small) aircraft was something I've been busy not thinking about. I haven't been airborne since a trip to Florida five years ago. I remember thinking it was odd that US Airways would list the type of plane for the second leg of my trip (Pittsburgh to Tampa) but not the first (Scranton to Pittsburgh). Stranger still, we got to the airport, checked our bags, got through security ... and noticed that there was no plane in sight by the gate. I looked out of the plate glass windows, scanning the tarmac, but no plane. A little bit later, we were directed to step out of the building, go around a corner, and there it was: the smallest, shakiest-looking propeller plane that I'd ever seen. I'm convinced that they hid it around the corner so that people like me wouldn't see it and panic.

So take heed, Avoca International (hee!) Airport ... I'm on to your little tricks. I'm wise to the old hide-the-plane maneuver.

Days until trip: 8
Money saved: $435.00

Labels: ,