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!

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!

27 years ago today – My Greatest Adventure began

I crossed a threshold.  My life was completely altered, impacted, and enhanced by a single event: I gave birth.  What that has taught me about myself, from biology to personal philosophy, and about the rest of the world by extension, might fill a future book.  Today, I’ll just touch on a few categories.

Biology – I was 21 when I got pregnant, 22 when I gave birth.  I weighed about 105 lbs. starting out and 128 lbs. at delivery.  Baby Sooz weighed 7 lbs. 4 oz.  I had never experienced so much physical change in so short a time, and each new symptom and sign astonished me.   I remember looking at myself in a full length mirror and thinking that I looked like a road map, every vein in bright blue following the landscape of my pregnant body.  Weird!  I read every bit of literature the doctor handed me with utter fascination, and photographs of babies in utero by Lennart Nilsson kept me spellbound for hours.

Family – My mother had given birth just 11 years before me, and that had been the most exciting thing in my life at the time.  I would rush home from school every day to play with the baby.  I read all the baby magazines that came in the weekly diaper service delivery.  At 22, I wanted to be as confident, as devoted, as blissful a mother as I found my own mother to be.   My father helped me pick a name.  I had originally intended to name my first daughter after my sister who had died at 20, but then, the thought of using that name all the time for another person began to seem odd.  Then my father told me that he dreamed about a little girl named Susan, and that name sounded just right with my sister’s name following.  And, of course, she got my husband’s Italian last name to add the exotic touch.  First grandchild on both sides.  Three generations assembled for her baptism.  A whole lot of expectation going on.

Personality – Just after delivery, I was wheeled to the recovery room with the baby in my arms.  The baby.  Susan.  Not my baby, not my daughter, not my family’s latest addition.  Susan.  A person I had just met.  She had a bunch of dark hair on the top of her head.  My husband and I were blonde.  I looked into her completely alert brown eyes and told her, “I love you.”  It was a conscious act of will.  She hadn’t done anything, yet.  I didn’t feel anything, yet.  I was stating my intent for our relationship, for my own benefit.  I don’t think anyone else was paying attention.  I wanted to start things off with a pledge to her, and I wanted to leave room for her to be herself.  I remember being conscious of that position when I spoke to her for the first time.  I love that she has been teaching me about who she is ever since.

As Tenebrous at The Faerie Festival

Education – Showing a young person the world for the first time is an absolute joy – a shared joy, too.  I’ve always loved teaching.  I’ve always loved learning.  To have the opportunity to engage enthusiastically with new experiences day after day is the greatest part of parenting, I think.  Language acquisition, scientific experiment, art, music, dance, games, literature….oh, wow!  The truth is, I was afraid to take her out into the world outside much.  We lived in a rather nasty section of Southern California.  I didn’t feel safe in the neighborhood, so we spent a lot of time indoors, truthfully.  I did take her to my college town a few miles away for outdoor exploration pretty regularly, though.  What I remember is a lot of time together looking at books and that when a friend asked to test her IQ just out of curiosity, her gross motor skill were the only ones that weren’t advanced for her age.  So, she’s not an athlete.  But, man, does she read!

Literature – My father delighted in bringing literature into her life.  When she was able to sound out words of three letters just before her third birthday, he wrote her little stories containing only words of three letters or less.   He sent her cassette tapes of family readings of Dr. Seuss books and various musical selections.  We visited the children’s library every week and took home as much as we could carry.  Very early, it was Richard Scarry for vocabulary, Peter Spier for detailed illustrations to talk about, A.A. Milne for poetry and stories.  Later, I remember going through all of Dr. Seuss and Bill Peet and Chris Van Allsburg and Steven Kellogg and Robert McCloskey because it was quicker to just find their stuff all at once and check out…this was when I had younger kids in tow.  Then the day I knew would come finally did.  She surpassed me.  Her reading speed and voracity and curiosity outstripped mine.  She read Stephen King’s It at the age of 9.  I hadn’t read it, and I didn’t want to read it.  She was on her own.  (Not that she didn’t do that earlier; she probably did.  But this was the one I remembered.)

Psychology – This section would require her approval and collaboration.  Suffice it to say that we have learned a lot together about who we are, who others are, and how to be in relationship.  We have always “gotten along”, though, and shared a remarkable honesty.  As adults, we really enjoy each other’s company and we genuinely like each other.  We stimulate each other in all sorts of ways…like sharing a history that enables us to reference entire concepts and discussions with one or two words.

I think that our first conversation was prophetic:

“I love you.”

*brown eyes alert, gazing back, positive*

Stay tuned for Sunday’s blog, where I’ll probably write about how we celebrated her birthday in Madison the night before….

one of those arm's-length self-portraits she took of us on our road trip to Massachusetts

Parenting On the Dotted Line and Over the Rainbow

Steve & I borrowed a DVD from the library called “Between the Folds”.  It’s a documentary about origami, but not just the decorative, brightly-colored little figures that school kids make.   It’s about science and mathematics and art and exploring the fusion of all those disciplines.  To learn more, click here.  One of the fascinating paper-folders interviewed is Erik Demaine, “an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Called one of the most brilliant scientists in America by Popular Science, he received a MacArthur Genius Fellowship at the age of 22. Demaine’s work combines science and art, geometry, paper folding and computational origami.”  The interview also includes footage of him with his dad, who apparently home-schooled him as a single parent and prepared him to enter college at the age of 12.  These two bear a touching family resemblance of soft-spoken, constantly smiling Geekdom, complete with pony-tails, facial hair and glasses.  It is obvious that they have enjoyed sharing a couple of decades exploring the world with bright-eyed curiosity.

I also happened upon a Mom Blog called RaisingMyRainbow.  Its blurb reads: “Adventures in raising a slightly effeminate, possibly gay, totally fabulous son.”  Her son is 4 years old.  She writes with wit and whimsy and a very open attitude, chronicling how their family navigates what seems to be a mainstream suburban life with an emerging non-mainstream human being.  It seems very honest to me, no agenda, no axe to grind, no added drama, just very loving and willing to engage with what arises.

Super Kids (photo by Joe Griessler)

I am inspired by this kind of parenting, and I want this to be what I pass on to my children.  My own kids are already in their 20s, though.  But I figure it’s never too late to model something positive.  After all, they may be parents themselves some day.  My parenting models were quite limited.  Growing up in the 60s & 70s, I didn’t know one kid whose parents were divorced until I got to High School.  My dad’s own parents were divorced, but he never talked about that.  My best friend’s parents had been divorced from previous marriages, but that didn’t seem to impact their family life when I knew him.  I got the strong impression that there was a ‘right way’ and a ‘wrong way’ to do everything, and the ‘wrong way’ was to be avoided at all costs.  Consequently, I complied and conformed and walked the narrow way.  It wasn’t a bad response, but it wasn’t necessarily the right response or the only reasonable response.  The difficulties with my response became apparent as my circle of awareness widened.  Other people were living other responses.  Do I tolerate, embrace, include or exclude those people?  What if some of those people are my own children?

“There are as many different ways to be a Christian as there are Christians”, my spiritual adviser told me one day.  He was a former Jesuit priest, born in India, married to a former nun, both still very active in the Catholic Church.  I couldn’t have been more astonished.  My father would never have said that.  There are as many different ways to be a parent as there are parents.  Those ways may be judged according to certain values.  To make any kind of distinctions, you really have to look at those values.  Do you value conformity?  Okay, then call it ‘conformity’.  Do you value love?  Okay, then look very closely at what you think ‘love’ is.  Does love punish?  Does love shame?  Does love reject?  Do you value certain beliefs that you respect?  Why do you respect them?  Because someone told you to?  Because they support something you’ve experienced?  There are so many good questions to consider, but it’s hard to find a safe place to consider them.  As a parent, I felt attacked, judged and defensive.  Competition crept into my parenting way too much.  I own those as my issues, but I also believe the suburban environment supported that.  Parental support groups I was in may have effectively reinforced the competition rather than offered support.

Hindsight.  I was 22 when I became a parent.  I didn’t think about a lot of this stuff beforehand.  However, I have four totally fabulous children nevertheless.   I give them credit; I give me and my husband credit; I give the Universe credit.   In general, if I lighten up on my ego, I can avoid creating stuff that’s FUBAR.  Instill wonder, curiosity, creativity.  Play alongside the kids, and step back.  We are all learning and growing up together, folding rainbows into the process.