Making New Friends

During training for my new job at Old World Wisconsin, I was introduced to many new friends.   On the last day of training, I took some pictures.  Here are some portraits and brief bios about my new co-workers.

This is Bear and Ted, out in their favorite pasture next to the 1860 Schultz farm.  They are a magnificent team of oxen.  Bear is on the left, with a brass horn cap on his left horn.  (“Bear left” is how I remember which one he is.)  This is so that when he is yoked to his buddy Ted, he doesn’t gore him by accident.  Each of them weighs about a ton (2,000 pounds)They like to be rubbed under their chins, but they will drool on you.  I’ve been told that I will now enjoy good luck because Bear drooled on me.   I like how this photo reminds me of the drawings for the book Ferdinand by Robert Lawson.

This is Ted with Bear behind.  (Okay, I couldn’t stop myself.)  They are clever escape artists, but also well behaved.  They managed to bump up against the logs that cross the fence opening in such a way that they worked them free from their supports.  They carefully stepped over them and went out to the garden in front of the homestead and helped themselves to the red cabbage growing there.  Then, they went back into their pasture.  The next morning, the staff looked at the obviously nibbled produce and the huge hoof prints in the garden and thought, “Oh no!  The oxen are loose!”  But there were Bear and Ted, looking innocent as can be from the pasture enclosure.  But then they checked the gate, which these guys failed to close behind themselves, and their guilt was confirmed.  I give them credit for sticking to the garden paths and returning home by themselves.  


This is a close up of Ted.  He’s a good worker, slow and steady.  He pulls carts and plows and isn’t as skittish as a horse.  You can hook up a cart to the team and go into town, but it’ll take you a while.  They can run as fast as 30 miles an hour, but not for long.   You can’t saddle them up and ride them because their spines form a peaked roof that’s uncomfortable for the rider (and probably for the animal as well).  Sometimes a farmer would put a child on the ox’s back for a short time, just for fun.  They are very docile, and these guys respond to commands like “Gee” and “Haw” and “Whoa” and “Get up” and “Back up” very cooperatively.  They kick to the side instead of straight back, so when you walk beside them, you want to be in front of their back legs.  So, that’s Bear and Ted.  Here’s another team member.  We call her Queen.

She and Quincy make up our team of Percherons.  Stud horses were brought over from Europe in the mid 19th century and bred with local mares to improve the stock of draft horses for heavy farm work.  I don’t know the pedigree of Queen and Quincy, but I imagine they’re crossbreeds.  What non-profit museum could afford purebreds?  They do a lot of wagon hauling in the harvest season, I think.  Kids love to see them, but they’re massive and a tad dangerous.  We have some quite elderly horses who provide the petting and photo opportunities for visitors with less risk.   Steve put his apple core in Queen’s feed box just about 20 minutes before I snapped this photo.  That may be why she’s giving me such a benevolent look.

This is Lily.  She and her paddock mate Daisy (who was known last year as Thelma) are over in the Koepsell farm, where they are installing a new exhibit called Life on the Farm.  They’re erecting a petting barn for baby animals, and Lily will be used for milking after she’s calved.  Oh, yes.  She’s pregnant.  Look in her eyes and you can see the fatigue and determination of a heavily laden mother-to-be, can’t you?  She will be producing milk for our dairy demonstrations: cream separation, butter churning, cheese-making and such.  I am hoping to get the opportunity to milk her.  I used to milk goats at a camp when I was in college, and I really enjoyed it.  We milk by hand at OWW, of course.  It seems like a very intimate way to get to know another working mother.  Perhaps it will produce a beautiful friendship.  

  The pigs who will be in the piggery over in my area haven’t been moved onto the site yet.  One sow just gave birth to a litter of 7 about two weeks ago, and another is about to drop her litter any day.  The piglets are still too young and the weather too cool, but I will get a batch in a few weeks, I imagine.  I’ve been instructed to name them things like “Bacon” and “Hammie” if anyone asks.  Hog butchering is one of our autumn events. 

I am very excited about working with these creatures.  I want to be more aware of my anthropocentric mindset and challenge myself to think outside of that box.  I wonder about the relationships we have with animals and the domination that we assume in those relationships.  I expect that there is a lot more to discover than what we are used to or instructed to consider.     

Home and Hearth 2

I love my daughter.  I love having her visit, and I love how we slip into a comfortable companionship around making meals, talking, laughing, reminiscing and being outside.  I love feeling that we are genuine with each other.  It wasn’t always this way, of course, especially not when she was a teenager and I was an anxious mother.  Ah, but it’s wonderful to mature. 

I wonder how my relationship with my children would be different if my husband were still alive.  Would we act as advisers?  Would we be cheerleaders?  Would we be judgmental?  Would we be willing to share our mistakes and successes?  Would we be anxious?  Would we be distant? 

I guess I feel like I can be more transparent, perhaps as if hindsight had opened up a window.  I am able to offer my marriage as an example without feeling like I am betraying any confidence. 


  I suppose we learn by watching someone else’s example…and then rolling up our sleeves and doing it our own way.  How did your parents influence the way you deal with money?  or the way you communicate with your partner?  or the way you take care of your health?  When did their example stop influencing you? 

My children are like embers from the fire my husband and I ignited. Our fire is extinguished; they’ve gone on to light their own blaze in the world.  I hope they will be warmed and comforted by their own energy.



Home and Hearth

I’m anticipating the arrival of my middle daughter for a sleep over visit.  I have done the dishes, swept and mopped the kitchen floor, changed the sheets and made the bed.  My 21st century house is maybe about 75 years old.  The houses I help keep up at my Old World Wisconsin job are about 135 years old.  What remains constant about hospitality?  The desire to provide a degree of comfort out of respect for another person.  The pride of being able to offer, no matter how humble, an invitation to share what you have with another person, be it space, warmth, food, shelter, peace or love.  “For it is in giving that you shall receive.”


I am enjoying a sense of maturity in my ideas about homemaking, a sense of seasoning.  As a young wife and mother, I was extremely anxious about entertaining.  I felt that everyone who walked through my front door was judging me.  I was sure that I wasn’t doing things the “right” way and that everyone could tell that I was faking being a “good” mother.  I hardly ever had the sense that people who visited me were actually interested in enjoying time with me.  I suppose you could just label that “low self-esteem”.  So what does self-esteem have to do with hospitality?  Perhaps it’s simply that until you esteem yourself, it’s hard to know how to esteem someone else, or until you know how to be comfortable in your own skin, it’s hard to know how to help another person be comfortable in his or hers.  That’s what I want to be able to offer my guests: a place where they can be at peace with themselves, with me, and with their surroundings.  A place to experience welcome and contentment —  home and hearth.     

Old School

“Please excuse Priscilla’s absence from the blogosphere yesterday.  Her make-up work will be completed on time.”  Signed by my mother.  Do I need an excuse?  I was tired.  The week of training is now complete.  We are ready to open on May 1st.  Here are some shots to whet your appetite; I promise that I will be posting more anecdotes and photos from my new job at Old World Wisconsin.  Imagine filling up your tank with gasoline while dressed in 19th century clothing…and then going inside and asking to use the rest room.  Imagine stopping by the post office on your way home from work dressed like this as well.  Yes, we did these things.  So far no one has asked for an explanation.  In the case of the Postal employees, they know us really well and we’ve been talking about this for weeks.  They were thrilled.  As for the gas station, it was one in the same town, so I’m sure they’re used to costumed customers.  Oh, I should tell you that I’ve decided to drop the poetry challenge.  I really enjoyed the challenge when I had more free time, now it seems like an obligation that I don’t want to fulfill.  So, thanks for the good time, NaPoWriMo, but I’m moving on!

This one's for Helen because she wanted to see my corset!

Me & Steve in full garb. I have a different outfit for weekends when I am in the village church. This is my farm wife costume.

This is the bake house or summer kitchen where I will be teaching kids to knead dough while talking to them about life on the farm.

More to come, friends.  I now need to spend some time cleaning my 21st century house in preparation for a visit from my middle daughter tomorrow!

Field Trips

Today was another great day of training at Old World Wisconsin.  School groups are coming tomorrow!  Today I learned how to use a wood burning stove.  I made a fire in both the stove and the bake oven and made coffee and creamed bratwurst on the stove.  The rest of the crew from the German area came over for lunch bringing fried potatoes and caramelized turnips to complete our lunch.  It was so satisfying to play hostess knowing that I’m beginning to truly feel at home in that way of life.  I offered tin cups of hot coffee to the menfolk, and chairs to the most senior members of the group.  I swept the floor after everyone left, did the dishes, and then had about an hour completely on my own to read up on the history of the buildings and to begin to darn some wool socks.   When I returned to the training facility at the end of the day, my costumes were ready for me to try on.  I have one for my role in the farmhouse and one for my role as the organist at the Catholic Church in the village.  I get to wear a hooped bustle and a fancy hat with a hatpin for that one! 

I feel like I’m being paid to cook over a campfire…I usually have to pay for that privilege!  I need to practice up on my school group presentation for tomorrow.  No poetry tonight, sorry!

Inheriting a Homestead

I spent several hours today in the homestead that I will demonstrate and interpret for visitors to Old World Wisconsin.  Tomorrow I will learn to light a fire in the cookstove and the bake oven and actually cook something.   The house and land was purchased by Adam Schottler, an immigrant from southern Germany who had a larger farm nearby.  He rented the house out until his son Matthias was married, and then he gave his son and daughter-in-law the property.   The Wisconsin Historical Society acquired the house and a few other buildings from the period, and assembled them together to form a homestead for the museum.  The restoration date targeted is 1875.  At that time, Matthias and Caroline Schottler had 2 children.  They had 11 children total during their marriage.  Here’s a photo that shows the zigzag fence, the granary and pig pen, the barn, the summer kitchen (or bake house), and behind it, the house.  The granary, summer kitchen, and house are all one behind the other in this photo, so you can’t see much of them.  The wooden crossbar frame standing outside is for butchering hogs (which we’ll do in the fall).  The green field in the background is planted with ryeI am supposedly going to help make a rye straw basket, and to raise dough in it for rye bread, which I will bake in the bake kitchen oven…an oven that holds 24 loaves at a time!


I will also be busying myself chopping wood and gardening in order to prepare food in that summer kitchen.  Today I saw rhubarb and asparagus and currents and thyme and sage and rosemary and lemon balm and dill and horseradish already growing in the garden.  All of this produce is to be used on site during the season.  I don’t get to take any home, but I do get to help use it.  I have been wanting to learn more about how to “live off the land” for a while now, and this is going to be a great introduction, I think. 

Right now I’m learning all kinds of logistics to interpreting this area for school groups beginning a week from today, but I think of the feel of the sun on my cheeks and the 13-stripe ground squirrel that peeked into the kitchen today, and I imagine moments that I will have simply soaking up the homesteading life, pondering the way of a woman who worked hard, raised 11 children, and knew the land around her intimately.   What will I learn from her?  What appreciation and meaning will take root inside me?  Gratitude, a sense of life rooted and grounded, a hope for my own children to live honestly in the simple abundance of the earth?  It’s a connection that I’m eager to explore.

I apologize for leaving out a poetry challenge for today, but I am too sunburned and tired to concentrate on that today.  Tomorrow I have another early day out at the site.   I am looking forward to sleep!  And to getting my costume….more to come!

Dodging Art

What an amazing day!  Training at Old World Wisconsin included visits to the Animal Barn, the Garden curator, and the Collections curator.  I met two oxen, each weighing a ton, and stroked their noses and chins.  I was introduced to three horses who are each in their 90s in “people years”.  I saw a sow who had given birth for the first time just this week and her seven pink little piglets.   Oh, how their little faces captivated me (and made me wish I’d brought my camera)!  I visited a greenhouse full of tiny sprouting seeds which will become food and decor to an entire community, a future rooted in the present and informed by the past.  I browsed through shelves of antique artifacts that illustrate the lives and time of people whose stories encompass miles of external and internal territory.  So much to take in, visually, mentally, physically and spiritually!  I came home to my usual tasks of dinner and chores and a phone call from my darling youngest…and now I’m sitting at my computer and entering this century of technology for the first time today.  It feels kinda weird!  I can only imagine how this feeling will intensify as I spend more time in the Old World. 

I have one more week of the poetry challenge from NaPoWriMo to complete, and already I can tell that it’s not going to be easy to be in the mood to concentrate on composing verse each day after training!  Still, I hope to have a little time to dabble in the word pond.  Today’s prompt is to write an “ekphrastic” poem, a graphic description of a work of art.  “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is a famous one.  I went through some art photos that I had collected for a game I invented, and this one caught my eye.  It’s a self-portrait by Van Gogh.  Here’s the picture and the poem, and then I think I’ll call it a day here in the 21st century and get ready to go back 150 years again tomorrow!

Freckled, wistful world

Speckled, swirling molecules

Boundaries camouflaged

Fits and bits punctuating disappearance

Addled, dappled, sparks in the dark

Furtive sideways glance to the canvas

Back to dabbing, daubing, repetition

Poking at the flat reality

Testing the surface, then

Bouncing off again

Happy Earth Day, Earthlings!

The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 and marks what some consider the birth of the Environmental Movement.   Of course, cultures throughout history have celebrated and appreciated the earth according to their particular perspectives.  Harvest festivals, rain rituals, volcano appeasement, fertility festivals, river ceremonies…I can think of many ways that humans have venerated the earth.  Since 1990, when the Earth Day campaign went global, we’ve focused on the planet as a whole.   We are the ones who have seen it (at least in pictures) as a whole from outer space, and I think we are realizing more and more how our relationship to the Earth is effecting that picture.  Large scale weather patterns, extinction rates, pollution and population are just some of the issues that are “going big” in our consciousness.   This is all very well, and at the same time, each of us has a particular and specific and local intimacy with Earth that should never be overlooked.

NaPoWriMo is acknowledging Earth Day with its prompt to write a poem about a plant.  I have so many favorite Earth/Nature/Flower/Animal poems already dear to my heart that I’m having a hard time being original, so I think I’m just going to share a few favorites with you here instead.  The first one is a lullaby that my mother used to sing to me.  I have no idea of its origin.  I just hear Mom sing:

White coral bells upon a slender stalk,

Lilies of the valley deck my garden walk.

Oh! Don’t you wish that you could hear them ring?

That will happen only when the faeries sing!

Here’s one I wrote back in March as I looked at my lilac bush:

When will the buds appear this year?

When will the lilac be full in bloom?

When will that perfume make fair the air?

When will that purple bedeck my room?

Soon, oh, soon; let it be soon!

I’ve been wearing lilac oil from a little vial that Jim bought me when we were on Mackinac Island years ago.  A few drops on my neck assures me that the fragrance of my favorite flower will not fade too quickly from my consciousness. 

I took a walk yesterday to photograph some of my local earth miracles.  May I present:

White tail deer

Bleeding heart

Red Admiral butterfly

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinth

And to represent the hippie protesters and the environmental movement, I have to share one of my favorite earth songs.  Nanci Griffith, “From A Distance” (written by Julie Gold).  Socks with sandals, passion and integrity.  She moves me.

Love our planet, today and every day.  Treat her and all life with respect.  Please.

Cultural Awareness

I am about to venture out into the retail world in search of shoes that might pass as reminiscent of the 1870s.  Having come up empty yesterday at two Goodwill shops, I’m not sure if I will be successful.  It’s interesting taking stock of what’s out there in the resale stores.  This is the stuff that people give away…and other people buy.  It’s not marketed; it’s not about status or brand.  It’s about filling a need with something serviceable.  I would do all my shopping at a resale place if I could.  That’s probably why my kids call me “cheap”.  I don’t get the whole “status and style” idea.  I just want to get the job done.  I’m not trying to fit into a competitive culture of consumerism.  My “work outfit” for my new job will be a reproduction of 19th century pioneer clothing.  My “work outfit” for my last job was jeans and a T-shirt with the latest musical production logo on it.  I guess I have a different idea of dressing for success. 

One of Steve’s favorite fables is The Emperor’s New Clothes.  He often sees himself as the little boy at the side of the parade who looks on in bafflement at what everyone else is celebrating and asks, “Why are we doing this?”  He sometimes talks about it as being the one who points out the elephant in the room, that glaring awkwardness that no one wants to mention.  He’s not judgmental about it, he just wants to discuss it, bring it out into the open, make everyone aware of it.  He’s not cynical or sarcastic, he’s genuinely curious.  We don’t have a TV, but we do watch basketball games online that often include commercials.  Those ads bring up a lot of questions.  Why do we sell what we sell the way that we do?  Why is sex and violence so prevalent?  And stereotypes?  Why do we think having a good time is so important?  What do we really think is important?  And why?  Why?  What is the Big Idea?  Everything comes down to that level, that three year old inside who stands watching and asks, “Why?” 

It’s a really good question, I think, and one that I have been trained not to ask.  “Theirs not to reason why/ theirs but to do and die.” The military motto, President Bush’s command to go out and spend money rather than debate economic policy, my father’s and the Church’s instructions on being obedient…there are so many examples of hushing up that 3-year-old.  I admit that there are times when it’s useful to forgo the philosophical and act decisively and immediately, but shouldn’t we return to the subject eventually and periodically to keep our motivation clear?  There are members of society who are watchdogs to our conscience, in a way, and I very much respect them for their courage and thank them for the questions that I forget to ask.  I am more characteristically concerned with “How?”  I want to do things lovingly, primarily; efficiently, much of the time; and as correctly as possible.   That may say a lot about how effective my indoctrination into Judeo-Christian thought was.  

Intentionally asking both questions and fashioning a life around the answers we find deep in our experience is the focus of our Saturday Summit (what we call our “relationship discussions”).    The poetry prompt I found today on NaPoWriMo’s site challenged me to write a hay(na)ku, which is a recent poetic invention.  It’s simply 6 words in three lines of ascending (or descending) measure.   One word, two words, three words (any number of syllables) or vice versa.  We can link several together as well, we’re told.  So, here is my hay(na)ku series and a few photos. 


Keeps asking,

What is important?”


How –

Am I

A good person?”



Are for

Shaping my character.

How now, brown cow?

Why?  Just…why?

Traveling Mercies

Today’s poetry writing prompt is to write a travel poem about getting from Point A to Point B.  I took this with me as I walked with Steve to meet his mom for breakfast at a cafe on North Avenue.  Here’s what I came up with:

Suburban sidewalk, cement sanitation

Fighting blight from untidy dandelions

Writhing, withered stems polluted, poisoned

Preventing spreading superfluous seeds


Muddy raindrop crater-pocked parkway

Mini helicopter maples, twin neon confetti

Mossy black trunks, petal-splashed branches

Tinny worm smell, saturated iris-limp toilet paper


Hiking boots treading asphalt pathways

Longing for the purity beneath.


Yesterday’s rain has left a distinct damp chill over everything.  I miss the golden sunMy mood is slow and overcast as well, but I think I’ve had an epiphany in the recent “relationship talks” we’ve been having.  A serious and positive epiphany, too complicated to explain.  I never knew that shock and denial could last four years and then drop in an instant.  I feel like a snail without her shell.  Perfect for crawling about a rain-soaked environment.