Keeping Cool – Old Style

We haven’t had rain in a few weeks, and things at Old World Wisconsin (the outdoor living history museum where I work) are very hot and dry.  We closed down to a skeleton crew on Thursday because the heat index was over 100 degrees.  Only 25 visitors came the entire day.  I worked both yesterday and today, and now I have my swollen ankles propped up on the couch.  I don’t have air conditioning at home, either, but I do have a ceiling fan and a strategic plan to keep the house cool.  That plan involves making it as dark and cave-like as possible.  Here are some other tips for surviving the heat:

  • cheat on the number of petticoats you wear  (I went down to only one, but I don’t think anyone knew).

  • hide a wet dishcloth under your skirts or drape one around your neck.

  • plunge your hands and wrists into cold water from the pump.

  • skip the corset, if you dare (I haven’t tried this yet).

  • move as little as possible.  This means I opt for sewing over playing the pump organ.

  • drink lots of water and stay in the shade (well, that’s obvious).

  • take a cue from the oxen, Ted & Bear, and get a friend to lick your ears.  Strategic evaporation, you know.

Hmm.  That sounds rather interesting….I think I’ll go find out what Steve is up to.  ‘Bye!


The Ketola family were Finnish immigrants who settled in Wisconsin just before the turn of the 20th century.  Their daughter had scoliosis and was mostly bedridden from the age of 20 until her death at age 40.  When her parents died (in their 90s!), her brothers took care of her.  They bought her a parlor piano and set it up in her bedroom so that they could keep up a public appearance of humble simplicity by closing the door when visitors came.  It wouldn’t do to have the neighbors think they’d squandered their earnings on such a luxury!  The brothers never married and lived in the house without electricity or plumbing well into the 1960s.  They had electricity in the barn, though, for milking. 

Your family, your bed, and your musicThat sounds like a nice retreat to me!  Healing wishes to all….

The Root of the Issue

I love this fence.  It’s made from the roots of trees that were cleared to make farms.  It’s in the Finnish area of Old World Wisconsin.  I wish I had photographed it earlier in the season before the roadside weeds grew so tall.

Tomorrow, I have a day off, and I’m looking forward to being able to spend some time with some issues that have surfaced (again) in my inner life.  Grief is always there; I had another dream with Jim in it that made me wake in tears.  Existential angst is there; today, I found myself embroidering “Alle Menschen ist der Grasse” on my sample cloth.  And the differences between me and my partner Steve are always there.  I had a vision of this a few days ago where I saw him as an archaeologist in a deep quest for something, sweeping away at an artifact to remove bits of dust and reveal some very important discovery.  I saw myself as a widow who had lost everything, sitting among shards of broken glass, saying, “Oooh, sparkly!” to whichever bit caught her attention.  To be honest, I attribute some of this mood to the hormonal cycle that still influences every month.  However, cycles are natural, and to be brought back to a place of regular introspection is a good thing, I think.  Anyway, I may have something more poetic and cohesive to say about the meaning of life….later.

Spinning Yarns

I took this picture yesterday at Old World Wisconsin.  This is Rachel, one of my colleagues, at the spinning wheel in the Kvaale house.  Rachel is over 6 feet tall, and it’s a wonder she hasn’t given herself a concussion every day as she passes from this room into the kitchen.  The doorway is probably only 5 and a half feet tall. 

The Norwegian immigrants knew how to stay warm – a very useful skill in Wisconsin winters, too.

VIP Tour

Late in the afternoon yesterday, some VIPs came to tour Old World Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, they arrived only an hour before closing and didn’t have ample opportunity to view the 575 acres and 50 buildings that comprise this living history museum.  So today, my day off, I took them back to the site and gave them a personal tour.  I also secured for them a copy of the historical gardening book that our expert, Marcia Carmichael, published last year.  Putting Down Roots: Gardening Insights from Wisconsin’s Early Settler’s includes historical references, tools and plot layouts, produce recipes from each ethnic area, and a lot of other wonderful information and sumptuous photographs of the meticulously researched and maintained gardens.  I know this couple is beginning to practice organic gardening, and they are eager to learn all they can.  In addition to that, the young man is a carpenter, and was thrilled to see the craftsmanship on the original structures.  They were able to get some behind-the-scenes photos and detailed descriptions of the building methods of the 19th century.  Each of the interpreters in the various houses were in fine form, communicating information and interest  in a very friendly and professional manner.  The weather was perfect for our visit, and we skipped the tram rides and walked the entire circuit of trails through the site.  It was an altogether delightful tour, and I enjoyed seeing parts of the museum that hadn’t been included in my training schedule.  I consider it a privilege to have been invited to host this marvelous young couple.  Who were they?  My daughter, Rebecca, and her boyfriend Joe. 

In the sauna at the Finnish Ketola farm

One of the friendly faces on the tour


Midsummer Magic

We’re closing the museum early tonight.  Bands with modern sound equipment, street vendors with FOOD, and other period inappropriate shenanigans will materialize in the Village for a midsummer festival (and fund-raiser).  Staff members get to mingle, eat, drink, and dance for free!  Guess where I’m going to be after hours!  Here’s a link to show you more.

Spacious Skies

I spent the day in the 19th century, working at Old World Wisconsin, so naturally, I wasn’t allowed to be wandering around with a camera.  I have to admit, though, I did square off my fingers to imagine a few frames.  The sky today was absolutely breathtaking.  Big cumulus clouds with flat, gray bottoms were floating around as if on parade.   Looking up outside St. Peter’s church, with its 1839 bell tower and cross silhouetted against these clouds was like looking at a catalog of “INSPIRATIONAL”.  I remembered back to the days when I was living in Los Angeles County, CA, feeling as if I would suffocate any minute.  To look across the atmosphere to the horizon was like looking into a thick bean soup.  Even looking straight up would remind you of watery hot cocoa.  I longed to escape the valley and take off for clearer skies.  I thought I could simply ascend the mountains and be in a brighter, cleaner, more natural world, but it wasn’t that easy.  Everything is Owned in California.  There is hardly any open land.  We did get an invitation one weekend to house-sit for a retired couple who lived on Mt. Baldy.  Their home was beautiful, furnished with antiques, quiet, nestled away from the highway in the pine trees.  It was good enough.  I took our nine-month old daughter in the baby backpack, my Canon AE-1, and left the smoggy valley behind.  There is a photograph from that weekend etched in my mind.  I’ve got on my beloved hiking boots, Susan is smiling in the pack on my back, my skinny legs are striding over a boulder.  I was in the throes of postpartum depression; I weighed 98 pounds, and I was nursing.  My husband’s buddies called me “Tits on a Stick” behind my back.  I was struggling for survival.

Some years after that, I was living in suburban Illinois, and the skies opened up over the prairie.  I would wander out to open land while the kids were in school and get lost in the clouds.  I remember September 11, 2001, as a clear, sunny, perfect sky day.  I spent the afternoon out in the prairie after having saturated myself in the news that morning.  I look to the sky when I am confused.  Back in the heyday of my Christian spiritual journey, I wrote this poem:

The Sky


Did I ever thank you for the sky

spread far around like an open field

piled high with moods and structures,

a playground for my soul?


This space above bids my thoughts expand

to climb the heights of an anvil-cloud

and teeter on the edge of a dazzling glare

or slide down the shafts of the sun,


To swim to the center of its lonely blue

Where I find no mist to hide me,

and lie exposed to the western wind

like a mountain braced for sunrise.


Or clad in the shroud of brooding gray,

it coaxes me to musings

far removed from the minutiae

that chains me to my life.


I search for light and openness

to shadow the bonds of earth,

exploring the vault of heaven

for its meaning and its truth.


Thanks for this cathedral speaking glory through its art.

Thank you for these eyes admitting You into my heart.