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.


Alice Through My Lens

Blue eyes.  That was one thing that made her unique among 4 sisters.  She had our father’s eyes.   She was the shortest among us; I believe I grew to have at least a half an inch over her.  But that took a while.  Since she was 3 years older, I trailed behind her most of my life.  I definitely didn’t mind following in her footsteps.  I adored her.  She was the sweet sister, the kind one, the one who loved children and animals and had friends.  She somehow spanned the gap between being a nerd and being popular.  Not that she wasn’t picked on early in grade school.  We all were, and she was very sensitive to it.  When she was 10, she ran away from a boy who was chasing her down the sidewalk.  He caught up to her and managed to grab the back of her coat hood. He yanked her down hard, and she fell backwards onto the sidewalk, hitting her head and fracturing her skull.  The boy was sent to military school, and Alice recovered amid cards and gifts and angels surrounding her bed. 

She started dating first among us, though she wasn’t the oldest.  I wanted to learn how this “boyfriend” business worked, so I watched her very closely, sometimes through the living room drapery while she was on the porch kissing her date goodnight.  She modeled how to be affectionate in the midst of a distinctly cerebral family, shy about demonstrating emotion.  She gave me my first pet name: Golden Girl or Goldie, and then the one that stuck in my family, PG or sometimes Peej.  By the time I was 16, we were very close friends as well as sisters.  She invited me to spend Spring Break with her at college, and enjoyed “showing me off”.  She told me that the boys were noticing me and that she’d need to protect me.  I was thrilled!

Alice and Mike in Los Gatos, summer 1979

We spent that summer at home together in CaliforniaI introduced her to my new boyfriend, who eventually became my husband.   She begged our parents to allow me to be her passenger on a road trip back to campus at the end of the summer.  She had just bought a car, and although I couldn’t drive, I could keep her company, sing with her along the way, and be her companion.  The road trip was a travel adventure flavored with freedom, sisterly love, and the sense of confidence and brand new responsibility.  We flopped the first night in a fleabag motel in the same bed.  She woke earlier than I and told me as I roused and stretched how sweet I looked cuddling the stuffed bunny my boyfriend had bought me.  Then we stayed with her friends in Colorado.  Our next day’s journey was to go through the heartland of the country and hopefully, if we made good time, get to Chicago for the night.  We never made it.

Nebraska is flat and boring.  We’d been driving for 6 hours.  I was reclined and dozing when we began to drift off the fast lane, going 80 mph.  Alice over-corrected, and we flipped.  She had disconnected her shoulder strap, and flopped around, hitting her head on pavement through the open windowHer fragile, gentle head, with two blue eyes.  She was dead by the time we came to rest in the ditch.

Life is an experience, a journey of unexpected and unimagined happening, a verb in motion, not a noun.  Alice was in motion, at 20, and may be even now…somewhere, in some form.  I still taste her sweetness floating near me from time to time. 

Three of four sisters, Christmas 1978

You Know It’s Summer When…

  • You go to punch out at the time clock after work and there’s a bowl of freezer pops and a scissors beside the machine.

  • You’re too hot to cook, so you end up at the local Mexican restaurant drinking a frozen margarita in your Indian print drawstring skirt and sandals.

  •   It’s a race to see who can get down to wearing next to nothing as soon as you get inside the house.

  • You’ve got all the windows open after the sun goes down, and you can hear dog-walkers chatting together on the sidewalk every 5 minutes.

  • The squeaky ceiling fan becomes your bedtime lullaby.

  • The thunderstorm that’s predicted for 2 a.m. gives you that secret thrill that you look forward to in your dreams.

Sweet summer night, my friends.  Tomorrow when it’s cooler, I’ll tell you a story about my sister. 

Be Cool!

Even though the calendar says that summer is still officially 2 days away, I beg to differ.  It’s 94 degrees F and humid here in Wisconsin.  Let’s just call it summer already!  At work, folks are already bringing in treats like ice cream sandwiches, freezer pops and a keg of root beer with a cooler of vanilla ice cream for making floats.  People stand around talking about the heat, which, frankly, doesn’t improve anything.  We work at an outdoor living history museum; we don’t have air conditioning, just like people for centuries didn’t have air conditioning.  I don’t have air conditioning in my 21st century home, either.  It’s not that big a deal!  Slow down, strip down, get wet, make a breeze, and evaporation will happen eventually.  And while you’re waiting, silent and still, be amazed at how much life is thriving around you!  Summertime!!