Back to Wehr

Steve is working at Old World Wisconsin today, but I’m not.  This morning, I had another volunteer stint at the Wehr Nature Center instead.  I led three groups of preschoolers on a nature hunt.  Each child got a colored pipe cleaner wrapped around his/her wrist, and they kept their eyes peeled for that color on our walk.   There were plenty of purple, yellow, white and pink flowers to find. 

The little guy with light blue was a bit sad faced until I told him there was lots of that color to be found, but he’d have to look way up high.  The clouds had dispersed after a night of thunderstorms, and the sky was a beautiful blue, just like the boy’s eyes.   Orange was the most surprising color of all.  The first group saw a pair of Baltimore orioles chasing each other.  I had seen their teardrop-shaped nest on an earlier walk.  The second group saw a butterfly with orange and black wings, probably not a monarch or a viceroy yet, more likely a Red Admiral.  With the third group, I wasn’t able to spot either of those things, but then a discarded orange peel caught my eye.  Maybe not as exciting, but it was orange.  Red came in dark maroon, the prairie trillium and red maple buds.  I heard a cardinal but didn’t see him.  Black and brown was the mud beneath our feet, the tree trunks and black walnuts. Also the logs in the middle of the lake. 

Some of those dark bumps are actually painted turtles.  They wear many colors, but they were too far away to see.  And of course, green…green….green in every shade, every where, overhead, underfoot, and even under water.

It’s so much fun to get down on a three-year old’s level and go exploring.  The world is a wonderful place!  Enjoy it today!


Opening Day

May Day!  The first day of the season for Old World Wisconsin.  We were open to the public as well as conducting school tours.  In the German area, there was only one school of 68 students that came through.  In the Crossroads Village, they had 3 tours with students from 4 schools, one of which was a group of 8th graders from France.  I also had a single adult visitor, an adult couple, and a family with 3 children from Arizona come by.   In other words….PEOPLE.   Real, live people with stories and questions and backgrounds making connections.  This is living history, after all.  And I love it!  I had so much fun with the 3 kids from Arizona who shaped dough and pounded the froe to chop kindling, and smiled and talked the whole time.  They were enjoying themselves, and their parents were snapping pictures and asking questions.  They were learning and engaging in a very comfortable way…they were homeschooling.  I really like the small group interaction involved:  3 adults, 3 kidsVery nice.  Somehow, when it’s a group of 21 kids and 3 chaperones, there’s almost more crowd control going on than learning.   Or so it appears.  I hope they learned something; I hope they were listening and paying attention to more than just their classmates and the instructions the chaperones were giving. 

So all of that went on in about an hour…and I had several more to kill.  The great thing is that I don’t feel any pressure to be super productive the whole time.  I chopped wood and carried water and washed dishes and tended the fire and sewed on my pin cushion and all of that good stuff, but then I sat down on the porch and watched a thirteen-striped ground squirrel scurry around the yard near the woodpile snarfing up dandelion seeds.  Just quietly, listening to the birds.  Minutes went by.  I felt the land around me and thought about the sense of time and energy that a tree feels when it’s “busy” growing.  The woods, the fields, the garden…they are living under the sky at a pace that is so different from us movers and shakers.  They feel the air, the light changes, rain falls, things happen and they respond, but they don’t “react”.  I want to learn more about that way of life.  How long can you “not react”?  It’s like practicing meditation.  Breathe and be.  Light changes, form changes.  Breathe and be.  Everything changes.  Breathe and be.  I think that’s what I’m learning from nature.  I am very happy to be spending more time outdoors.   


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.     

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!

The End of an Exciting Day

For my second day of training at Old World Wisconsin, I got to finally get away from paperwork and training videos and get on site to see the historical buildings where I’ll be a costumed interpreter.  I gotta tell you, I AM SO EXCITED!!!!  My first stop was to see St. Peter’s Catholic Church in the Yankee Village area.   This church was built in 1839 and has a wood stove right smack dab in the middle of the center aisle of the nave.  No bridal procession is gonna get around that sucker!  One of my jobs will be to pull the rope on the carillon to start and end the day.  Swingin’!  I also got to play the pump organ.  I have never even attempted this kind of feat before today.  It was a bit like trying to pat my head and rub my stomach at the same time, as my feet had to keep the bellows going while my fingers worked out the four-part harmony, but I managed to squeeze my way through a verse of Amazing Grace without too much difficulty.  What fun!  After some consideration, I realize that hymn is probably not Catholic, although it may be from the right period.  I still have so much research and learning to do!

I had to cut my time in the Village short and ride up to the German immigrant area to see the place I’ll be working on week days and with school groups.  It’s an 1870s farm with a two-story house, bake house (or summer kitchen), granary, pig barn, regular barn, smoke house and three garden plots.  I will be the interpreter for all these areas.  I will be making bread in the big brick oven (it goes back about 8 feet!), tending the garden, keeping an eye on the pigs so they don’t escape, chopping wood with a mallet and froe, greeting guests and inviting them to interact with the place.  Oh, so much fun going on!  AND, I got fitted for my corset today!  I can hardly stand it!!

Came home to turn my computer on for the first time and saw more than a dozen e-mails.  Then I checked the poetry prompt for the day.   It looks like fun, but frankly, I’m too pooped to poet.  I have so much homework to do, so many questions to answer about the world I am stepping into.  Instead, I will leave you with these sunset shots from our trip to the Mississippi and let you think about settlers moving west into the unknown.  Why is history important… in the big picture?  Why is experience important?  Why is it important to share experiences through stories?

I’m Bein’ Schooled

There’s always more to learn, and I want to be a life-long learner.  Today, it’s history, science, art and poetry! 

In History, my big assignment is to learn about 19th century life in Wisconsin.   That’s right, friends; we got the job!  Steve and I will be working at Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum in the town of Eagle.  We will be costumed interpreter/educators.  Steve will be in the Wagon Shop on Tues/Wed/Sat, and I will be in the 1870s German Schottler homestead on Tues/Thurs and in the 1870s St. Peter’s Church on Sat/Sun.  Training starts on April 16.  I’m sure I’ll be posting more details and photos on that subject in the coming weeks.  The season runs through October.  Thanks for all your encouragement!

We went on a Science field trip yesterday.  My birthday girl, Becca, and the birthday boy, Josh, requested a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago as their gift.  I haven’t taken them there since they were quite little, and now, they are in their 20s.  My oldest, who is on Spring Break from grad school, jumped at the chance to tag along.  I remember visiting with my family as a child in the 70s.  It has changed a lot in some ways, not at all in others.  My perception has probably changed the most.  As a child, I didn’t have any ethical questions about industry.  I certainly do now.  Like, why is it so great to be able to genetically manipulate corn plants so that they have pesticides in their DNA?  Does that make them tastier or healthier?  Why is it so great to be using larger and larger tracts of land to grow only one crop to primarily feed one type of animal that only some humans eat?  Things like that.  After seeing the John Deere side of farming, I’m all the more eager to learn about pioneer models.  On the fun side, how many short Italian Galasso kids will fit in the wheel of a tractor?  I counted three:

Emily's in Miami, otherwise, we might have squeezed her in, too!

Two old favorites in the museum harken back to the days I remember: the chick hatchery and the human body models. 

Hatching must be utterly exhausting. This chick fell asleep on his feet!

The March of Dimes hall of birth defects is defunct, but these are still in the stairwell. A brand new body exhibit takes up the upper balcony.

I’m counting the photos as Art, so now it’s on to Poetry.  It’s day #4 of the NaPoWriMo, and the challenge is to write an epithalamium.  Yup, I had to look it up.  It’s a poem celebrating a wedding, basically.  It’s traditionally written for the bride as she goes to her wedding chamberIt can even be sung…think small cherubic boys and girls throwing rose petals and singing about love, happiness, fertility and all that.  I actually envisioned writing to my 21-year old self and came up with this:

Epithalamium: To Have and To Hold

What will you have, young bride? And what will you hold?

That which spreads before you on the long damask board

Goes beyond the pretty souvenirs, traditional and fecund.

Ecru or ivory, embossed or engraved – this is the chaff.

The seeds in the wind are the weightier fare.

The blossoms tossed up are the days of your youth.

They fall to grasping hands, twist apart and scatter,

And what will you hold?

Planting your preference in calendar rows,

There grow the roots of a living, a life

With offshoots and upsprouts, the tender

Begging for tending, pulling on your exhalations,

Fastening to your breast, having as you give

A tug-of-love like war.

And what will you hold?

In the night beneath dark sheets,

In the crowded arena,

In the frightful, bright hallway,

In hushed canyons of stone,

In the places of secret or public adventure,

This man. Until you are parted by death.

Then what will you hold?

An open space, the shape of him,

The great restraint that won’t cave in…

Until you are parted as well.


School’s out.  Time to run outside and play!

Seize The Day!

It’s Here!


National Poetry Writing Month

Fun for the whole family!  My sister intends to match me, poem for poem, in the comments section of each of my posts.  Mind you, this is NOT a competition.  I have to be very clear about that and remind myself that this is about playing with words, creative collaboration, cleaning my windshield of mud and fear and stuff that gets in the way of my recognition of the wonderful ideas that I, even I, have shining on the horizon.  I remind myself of this several times a day because my older sister is brilliant and has always been better than me at everything.  Of course, that’s entirely my own hangup.  I admit it, and I’m old enough now to face it head on. Right? Right!

I am using a very inclusive definition of “poetry” here.  In other words, I’ve never been a student of poetry, I don’t know form and rules, but as a singer, I like words and rhythm.  As a visual person, I like icons and imagery.  Any formation of symbols that produce an experience can be called poetry in my definition.  Also, it’s understood that any poetry posted here is copyrighted.  If it’s not original, I will site the source. 

I am tickled that this event is starting on a Sunday.  Such creative connotations!  And on April Fool’s Day, just so that we don’t take our creativity too seriously.  I self-published a book of Poems and Parables back in 1997.   This was the first one:

God is a poem

Infinite in meaning

Economical in expression

Clothed in symbol and harmony

A breathing Word

Engaging all perception

Today’s prompt is “Carpe Diem”, with a reference to Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress.  I have to admit that my brain first translated that Latin phrase as something like “Fish Gods”.  You know, Carp Deities.  ‘Fish gods’ sounds like ‘fish guts’.  I was going down that path for a while.  But then, I remembered a conversation I had at breakfast with Steve about childhood development.  We have often referred to ourselves as 3 and 4 year olds.  He’s 3, and I’m 4.  I got a chart of early childhood characteristics at my last teacher training session, and we talked about how the descriptions fit us.  I often feel like we’re trying to get back to those authentic ideas of ourselves and that maybe, eventually, we’ll become infants again and live as though we were not separate at all from the environment.

So all that musing is background.  I began composing my first lines in the bathtub.  Here’s what I penciled in my notebook when I dried off:

My three-year-old comes out to play

With ne’er a thought about the day,

For what is ‘think’ or ‘time’ or ‘how’?

The only thing is ‘this right now’.


My three-year-old, with eye and ear

Stays open’d wide to what is here.

Experience is all, you see.

That three-year-old’s inside of me.

Sniffing a Ponderosa pine in New Mexico. Steve told me it smells like vanilla. I had to find out. I agreed. (photo credit: Steve)

Nature’s Neighborhoods

I completed another training session at the Wehr Nature Center today.  We learned about different habitats from a kindergarten perspective.  Food, Water, Shelter and Space contribute to the supportive habitat that living organisms need.  We talk about the animals and birds who live in the Wetland, Woodland, and Grassland areas surrounding the nature center.  The kids meet the live animals that live in the building and then go out on the trails to explore.  I have so much to learn!  I don’t have any problem imagining the curiosity of the young and the excitement of discovery.  Here’s a sample of what I found today:

Scilla siberica scattered all along the wooded trails by the pond. 

Spring beauty

The wetland wildlife is really interesting to me.  There are beavers and muskrats and mink around, but they don’t pose for pictures very often.  We see their tracks and traces and homes, though.  The turtles do sometimes pose nicely.  They keep their distance by staying in the pond, so they don’t rush away as readily.

Painted turtles looking for warmth

Yesterday, when I didn’t have my camera, we found a baby turtle in the stream bed.  It was only the size of a silver dollar.  Today, though, I found a biggie.  The snapping turtle.  This mud monster has very powerful jaws.  No teeth, but it is reputed to be able to snap a broom handle in half. 

Unfortunately, my camera is just the point and shoot kind with a standard zoom lens.  The snapping turtle looked like a boulder out there on the log, with a painted turtle a respectful distance away.  I looked through my binoculars to convince myself that yes, that was a turtle, with its front legs and head down in the water, keeping its shell balanced.

Kids get a thrill from anything with an “Ewwww!” factor, and skunk cabbage provides the right stuff.  It looks weird, and it stinks.  I broke off a leaf and passed it around.  It’s more earthy and green veggie-smelling than actual skunk spray, but it is reminiscent of that unforgettable odor. 

I had the most fun today with our American Toad, whom we call Savannah.  She has two special tricks: she walks and she eats.  Well, a toad doesn’t hop; it kind of waddles.  And Savannah is FAT.  She also puffs herself out to look more threatening.  Her movement is just comical to me.  She doesn’t see very well, so she has to eat food that is moving.  We feed her live crickets.  I didn’t get a photo of her today, but I did get down on the floor on my belly to watch her, like a 4-year old would.  That picture is in my mind instead. 

If I could have another life, I would choose to be David Attenborough.  The Nature Neighborhoods he got to explore absolutely overwhelm me.  I am in awe of a common toad, and he’s paddling around with platypuses!  Comparisons don’t matter, actually.  Everything is spectacular when you pay attention.