I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!

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Friday
Jul032015

The Road to Minneapolis

 

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We set out immediately after breakfast for what was going to be a fairly long drive to Minneapolis.  We’d identified a couple of highlights along our route however and we hoped that these would prove interesting enough to avoid any use of Roadside America!

 

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The Wisconsin countryside continued in the lush, green style and a callout alerted me to this particularly pretty quilt barn.  Isn’t that a fine apple tree block?

 

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Shortly afterwards, as I was craning my neck to catch a first glimpse of the great Mississippi River, we followed a signpost to “Lock and Dam #5A”, to what Mary described as “some kind of water operation, I expect”.

 

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There didn’t appear to be much to see, apart from boys’ stuff – statistics about the dam and the lock and…

 

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a huge train with two engines all fired up and ready but for the moment, just puttering there with a couple of miles of wagons behind them.  Every so often, there’d be a whoosh of air as the brakes were released but for now, these engines were going nowhere.

But just in case, we didn’t walk over the crossing but used the underpass, as recommended.

 

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Our reward was an unimpeded view of the dam.

 

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And a huge, but dead, dragonfly on the steps – the wingspan was easily four inches and those lace wings were so pretty.

 

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Time to move on, driving alongside the railroad and passing several stationary trains, each one a mile or more long.  Why none were moving, we had no idea, but someone was glad to see them and have a small diversion from the straight road ahead.

 

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Not quite a quilt on this barn but interesting nevertheless.

 

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Another dam.

 

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More straight road, through the big woods.  Can you guess where we are heading?

 

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I must say, the signs didn’t bode well, but here we were in Pepin, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the nearest town to the “Little House in the Big Woods”, the first book in the series Mary and I have been enjoying recently.

 

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Actually, there’s not a great deal here, since the books were written many years after Laura and her family moved away from Pepin, taking their belongings with them.  But the town features in the first book and clearly, the place of her birth warrants some commemoration.

 

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I’m just not sure this does her justice, however.

 

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Perhaps it’s a “work in progress”?  This information panel suggests that someone is working on some changes.

 

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But I think that post it notes are possibly not the most visitor friendly way of imparting information – and of course, none of these things are original or particularly historically accurate.

 

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Oh my.  Here’s hoping that changes are afoot and that someone can do something better here, sooner rather than later. 

 

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Having said that, I’m not sure the exhibits at the train museum are that great either!

 

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Anyway, here we are by the historic marker, a little further along the road.

 

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Where a clearer, more attractive information board summarised the life of Pepin’s famous daughter and gave directions to the Little House Wayside, about seven miles from here.

 

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It’s along the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, needless to say.

 

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The historic marker and the cabin are situated on the land owned by Charles Ingalls, but it’s not the original cabin and it’s not necessarily in the exact place either.

 

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But hey, it’s a Little House in the Big Woods!

 

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Yes, of course we went inside to take a look – and to try to remember how it was described in the book.  We both recalled how the family had gone into Pepin just before Christmas to choose presents from the General Store – that would have been quite a journey.

 

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And as we drove back towards the river – which opens out to become Lake Pepin here – we drove through the Big Woods again and recalled the words of one of the guides at Old World Wisconsin the other day: She explained how settlers would be dropped off in a patch of native woodland like this with an axe and a spade and just have to manage.  First, a well to be dug.  Then the trees to be cleared and the stumps taken out before seeds could be sown for the first crops.  All of that needed to be done if they were to survive the first year.  And those big woods were not neatly planted rows of tall conifers, but these smallish, scrubby deciduous trees and bushes which were so dense it’s impossible to walk amongst or between them.

They must have been tough souls.

 

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We are nothing of the kind and we were getting hungry.  The information board in Pepin had suggested that Stockholm, the next town along the road could be a good bet for something to eat, so we parked up and went in search of a bakery or similar.

We spotted another Statue of Liberty too!

 

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My hero’s eyes were elsewhere though…the magic word, PIE!

 

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Looks promising…

 

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The Stockholm Pie and General Store was perfect!  Great sandwiches for two of us and a chicken pot pie for the driver.  Delicious.

What a lucky find!

 

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Stockholm was a cute kind of place, with blue bicycles to borrow, free of charge (we didn’t) and a real community feel.  We stepped inside one of the other stores to browse and received a recommendation for a shop/gallery in the next town.

 

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Cultural Cloth was right up my alley and there were some really interesting pieces in there.  My favourite was a crochet/beadwork necklace from Turkey – but at $169 it wasn’t an impulse purchase, sadly.

 

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What joys there are to be found along America’s Byways!  We love it!

 

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A short time later, we were crossing the river and I was getting out my camera to try to snap the next sign – I nearly got it!

Welcome to Minnesota.  No “ker-ching” until our feet touch the ground though Winking smile

 

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The skyline of St Paul passed by – or rather, we passed by the skyline.

 

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And eventually, finally!  We arrived in Minneapolis.

 

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Ker-ching!!!   US State #40 for my hero and I!

 

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On our way to find some dinner this evening we found no roller skating waitresses, but we did find Mary Tyler Moore throwing her beret in the air outside Macys.  We missed the fun of the drive-in diner, but actually, the margaritas in the Mexican restaurant we chose made up for it in some way Winking smile

Thursday
Jul022015

At the Drive-In Diner

 

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Dinner tonight was a Shrimp Supper at Rudy’s.  Mary and my hero had their favourite Root Beer Floats whilst I settled for a chocolate malt, all accompanied by exactly the right music.  We loved it.

So?

 

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If you followed the link then you’ll already know, Rudy’s is a drive in diner and though we chose to eat inside so we could watch the whole operation, we could have driven up to one of the parking bays and had our food delivered to our car window

 

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by one of the super skilled roller skating waitresses!

 

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Just as we were leaving, a car nearby placed their order and one of the team sprang into action with a tray laden with food, drinks on one shoulder and an ice cream held in her other hand.  She sped across to the car to deliver the order in super fast time.

 

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First delivery was the ice cream!

 

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Then, the tray was fixed to the open window so that hungry people could access their food from a kind of shelf/table.  Shortly before leaving, they’d summon the waitress by means of a call button and she’d skate out again to collect the tray and any rubbish before they drove away.

What fun!  (the food was good, too!)

 

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Our hotel tonight is not quite our usual style.

 

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But it has a great view of the U Haul depot!

Who says we don’t travel in style?

Thursday
Jul022015

Going West

 

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Heading west from Madison this morning I responded as quickly as I could to the call “quilt barn!”  Sure enough, there it was….gone.

 

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We were driving towards LaCrosse and made a short stop at an Historical Marker, just to see what it was all about.  In this case, it was commemorating John Appleby, the inventor of the knotter on the grain binder.

 

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See?  Of course, you know all about why the badger’s there now as well, don’t you?

 

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We were almost at our destination by then: Spring Green, Wisconsin.  This is where Frank Lloyd Wright’s family lived, where he grew up and where he returned to build his own home, Taliesin.

 

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We’d booked a tour of the house before we left home and assembled in the Visitor Centre in good time to join the group for the shuttle ride up the hill to the house.

 

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It was a beautiful morning, just perfect for being here.

 

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We were very lucky indeed to have a great guide in Andy, who explained all the background to the site and told us the story of Frank, his wife, his mistress and the murder…

Read about it here

So this is Taliesin 3, because another fire in 1925, caused by faulty wiring, destroyed much of the living quarters once more, so the structure we see today is the third iteration of the building.

 

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Andy explained all of this in detail and pointed out other significant features such as the house across the valley which FLW built for his sister (thank you, zoom lens on my camera!)

 

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He went on the explain some of the fundamental principles of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, including the theory that buildings should look as if they have grown from the earth.  Perhaps you’ll recall other FLW visits we’ve made, to Taliesin West, to Oak Park in Chicago and most recently, to the Martin House in Buffalo last year?  What Andy was telling us resonated and we knew exactly what he meant.

 

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As usual, there were no photos allowed indoors, so I’ll continue with the pictures I took outside and outline the points Andy made about FLW’s work and which I found fascinating.

First of all, upon entering the visitor centre this morning, we all ducked our heads because the ceiling felt so low.  Actually, there was no need to duck, for it was high enough for us to walk in comfortably, but Andy explained this architectural device as we came across the exact same feature in the hallway of the house and studio:  “Architectural Compression and Expansion”.  By reducing the height of an area (“compression”), one can be encouraged to keep moving into the open area beyond (the “expansion”), which means that the architect is able to manipulate the behaviour of the users of his designs and FLW did this particularly effectively.

 

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Another of FLW’s design features is the hidden front door.  I remembered this from the Martin House last year and the same was true for Taliesin.  In fact, Andy took us around to the rear of the building, because he wanted us to see FLW’s favourite view.  Before we reached there however, we walked around the old stable block, now used by architecture students of the FLW Foundation which is based both here and at Taliesin West in Arizona.

 

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FLW’s favourite view of his home was this one, from the rear driveway because of the varied roof shapes visible from this point.  I can’t say I share his favourite, but then that’s probably because I can’t appreciate the finer details of roof structures!

 

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Asymmetry was another common feature and this house was a shining example of that.  No room was symmetrical in any respect, though Andy explained that the house had been an ongoing experiment for the architect to try out new ideas and things changed frequently. Certainly his preference for open space living was clear here, as one room led to another with only a few closed in spaces – bedrooms, generally.  The “rooms” were divided by compression spaces – low ceiling areas with shelving above or a narrow walkway with no door,  opening out to a larger, loftier space.

 

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One thing we have noticed at all the FLW properties we’ve visited is the planting in the gardens.  Here, just like all the others, the borders were beautiful.  Deep, almost black hollyhocks alongside white lilies and spikes of blue flowers I didn’t recognise, all in lavish clumps.  I’d love to recreate something similar at home.

 

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One last thing we’d noticed before leaving the house: Here, we had been viewing FLW’s own home and not a project built for a client.  The finish was something altogether different because not only was he always making changes and trying out new ideas, the extensive budget of a wealthy client wasn’t available to him.  So some aspects were far less than perfect and in the last room we viewed, the Garden Room, the window frame left almost an inch of fresh air where it didn’t fit properly.  Fascinating.

 

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On our way again, then, towards LaCrosse, our overnight stop, past thousands of stars and stripes set out in readiness for Independence Day.

 

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I ended the day in the same way as I set out – a quick snap through the windscreen, of this cute Amish family walking home along the road and in particular, the toddler all dressed up exactly like her Mummy, complete with jacket and bonnet.

Dinner plans tonight sound fun.  I might be back with another post later!

Wednesday
Jul012015

A Capitol day

 

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Whenever we are in a state capital, we like to visit the capitol.  Here in Madison, the Capitol stands high above the surroundings and dominates the city centre and we looked forward to taking a look inside.

 

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The first tour was at 10am so after breakfast we walked the few blocks from our hotel and found the step-free entrance.  The Capitol is built around a central lobby and has four wings aligned to the compass points and is set in a square of lawn in the centre of the city.  In the old days, Capitol Square was a bustling, busy commercial place but now it’s set amongst bank, insurance companies and suchlike and the area bustles no longer, except for the office workers of course.

 

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Inside, it’s as grand as any capitol we’ve seen.  Walls and floors of different colours and varieties of marble, each one sourced from a different part of the world and costing a fortune.

 

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Standing in the central lobby, high above our heads was the dome with the central painting of Wisconsin and her handmaidens.

 

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A little lower down, on each of the four sides there’s a richly coloured mosaic depicting Liberty..

 

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Government,

 

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Legislation

 

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and Justice.  They set the tone for the whole place, being very much in the style of the early 1900s – and very much to my taste, too.

 

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We began the tour in the Governor’s Meeting Room.  Well, I’m not sure how frequently the Governor holds meetings in this room but if I were he, I’d take every opportunity.  Beautiful paintings on every wall and the ceiling too, again in the style of the early 1900s.

 

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I really liked this painting, which hangs behind the Governor’s chair.  Sadly, all of them are dark and the light wasn’t so good either – not the best for photography.  But there’s a website with, hopefully, better images.

 

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Leaving the Governor’s meeting room, we passed the bronze of the State Animal – the Badger with the very shiny nose, resulting from the custom of rubbing it for good luck.

 

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Our tour continued through meeting rooms, lavishly built of marble and with stunning frescoes just beneath the ceiling.  I especially liked this one which was so much of its time, depicting steamships, the railroad, early motor cars and very faintly in the sky, one of the new fangled flying machines.

 

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I liked this small vignette too.  There’s so much Native American heritage here, most obviously for us in the form of the place names. 

 

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Who should we come across next but Chief OshKosh on trial for murder, illustrating an incident in the state history, recorded in a painting high up there on the wall of the Supreme Court.

 

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The tour continued through both houses before returning to the central hall, giving us a chance to take a few more photographs and to try to find the step free exit – hopefully in a direction which would lead us to a coffee shop!

 

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Ta Dah!!  The bonus was it happened to be Cafe Colectivo, the same brand as we’d enjoyed at the Mud Creek Cafe the other day.  Mmmm.

 

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A short walk away was the Wisconsin History Museum, where we learned a little more about the State and became a little more aware of the wider landscape, particularly up north by the canadian border.  Brrrrr!

 

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We also learned a little more about what’s made in Wisconsin.  Bicycles!  Also, there’s paper packaging, beer and Harley Davidson motorbikes.  There’s probably many, many other things but there’s one which just keeps coming to the top of the list.

 

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Cows.  Well, yes…

 

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Milk.

Of course.

Cheese!

 

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Thankfully, just down the street was Fromagination where a cheese sandwich was exactly what we needed for lunch.

 

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Delicious!

Tuesday
Jun302015

Fresh air and fun

 

We left Milwaukee this morning and headed west.

 

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We had a fairly short day’s drive and had earmarked one potentially interesting spot along the way.  Old World Wisconsin is an open air museum; a collection of reconstructed buildings from all corners of the state.  It all sounded pretty interesting except for one aspect.

The costumed interpreters/re-enactors.

I know, they are there to enhance the experience, to add authenticity and to add some historical perspective to the exhibits.  But they are frequently prissy, precious and frankly, we are inclined to find them embarrassing, especially if they insist on staying in character.

 

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As we left the car and walked over to the entrance, a uniformed chap greeted us enthusiastically, handed over a map and then explained what was what.  Just when we thought he’d finished, he thought of some other helpful information to share and some ten minutes later, we escaped to go and get our tickets.

They talk a lot in Wisconsin.

Everyone we’ve met has been super-friendly, super-helpful and this chap was typical of others we’d come across – he was simply doing his job and doing it very well, of course.

 

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His recommendation was that we should go straight to the German farm area, where there were some tiny piglets to see and a couple of interesting houses.  We took the shuttle service and rode past some really lovely buildings, very attractively presented with beautiful gardens around them.  This blue lupins look stunning in front of the grey wooden farmhouse, don’t you agree?

 

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The collection of German farm buildings were set around a field of barley, waving beautifully in the breeze.  I can’t recall the last time I walked through a barley field – I’d forgotten how lovely it is!

 

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A warm welcome awaited us as we approached the house and several interpreters were busy in the garden and the house.  We were so thrilled when they spoke normally – none of the precious re-enactment stuff here!  Our fears were gone – we really enjoyed chatting to these intelligent, incredibly knowledgeable people and learned so much about the lives of the early settlers as we did.

 

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We all admired the beautiful fencing around the property – authenticity and impeccable maintenance extended to every corner.

 

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We also loved that in every house, there was some activity.   Here, in the first German home, a loom was set up and as it was cranked into action, we chatted about the meagre possessions of the family.  In every case, the house was rebuilt as the original owners had left it and staged for a specific year.  Here, the owners had emigrated from Pomerania bringing only the minimum of “stuff” with them.  All the the wooden parts had been replaced upon arrival and in the case of things such as this loom, built from scratch.  The fibre was linen, processed from flax grown in the fields and spun into thread, ready for weaving.

 

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But much as we were interested to hear about the linen, the family and their home, we really wanted to see the piglets!

 

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So, off we went, over to the other German buildings – built by another family from Pomerania – and onwards.

 

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Everywhere we looked, there was another lovely vignette, a photo opportunity and a scene worthy of a magazine spread.

 

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The second German home had been built as a kind of showhouse, a fine example of what the master carpenter owner could create for his customers.  As a result, it was rather more elaborate than the first and clearly, the family owning it were far more prosperous.

 

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The log cabin quilt was lovely and clearly, the lady of the house was a skilled needlewoman.

 

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Evidence was in another room, alongside a treadle operated sewing machine and a collection of notions on the table nearby.  The quotation on the paper there was taken from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The House on Plum Creek” and the scene was indeed resonant of some of the stories in that book.

 

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Across the way was the master carpenter’s workshop, where a craftsman was demonstrating the manufacture of wooden pegs for use in construction.  Yes, of course we accepted his invitation to have a go ourselves.

 

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Next stop was the Danish farm, where a woman had cooked a few rather strange looking recipes in a simple kitchen.  Buttermilk soup looked horrible with lumps of fat (?butter) floating in a grey liquid.  No thanks!

 

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The Raspberry School was another great experience – named after the location it had originally stood, in Raspberry Bay.  The schoolmistress was delightful and explained sweetly how life would have been for both children and teacher.  Mary took her punishment well – a couple of minutes standing with her nose to the blackboard!

 

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And so we went.  To the Norwegian home, where wool was being spun, dyed and knitted and where pancakes were being prepared.

 

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Everywhere we went, we stopped to take another photo, to admire the flowers set alongside the grey planked walls and to reflect on the stories we’d just been told.

 

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Oh, and if it looks as if we were the only ones there – it’s true!  Well, at least until lunchtime, the only other folks we came across was one family with a few young children who were enjoying the freedom as much as we were.  So, we felt we had the whole place to ourselves – wonderful.

 

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After a bite to eat in the cafe, we settled ourselves in the theatre for a performance of Caroline Ingall’s memoir – a one-hander lasting about half an hour, telling the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s mother’s experiences.  Very clever, professionally acted and of course, to the fangirls among us, incredibly interesting.

 

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There remained just one or two buildings to see, including the blacksmiths, the shoemakers and the general store.  Here was a remarkable selection of dress fabric which drew my eye so that I didn’t notice the hairpieces at first.

 

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A short, sharp shower sent people scurrying indoors and we were glad we’d left the collection of buildings closest to the car park till last.

 

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Thankfully, the sun came out again as we made our way over to the shuttle stop to return to the car park.

 

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Our final interaction was as charming as the first – whether we were chatting about the amazing woodburning stoves in each house or the joy of wearing a corset (!) the enthusiasm and genuine delight shared by every single member of the staff here made our visit one to remember.

If ever you find yourself in Wisconsin, this is the place to visit.  Oh, and don’t come on a weekend with everyone else, will you?  Wait until Monday and have the place to yourself!

 

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Tonight, we’re in Madison, the vibrant and rather attractive state capital of Wisconsin.  As I sit and type, the sky is lit by flashes of lightning, there are loud claps of thunder and it’s pouring with rain outside.  The weather seems to move through quickly here, so here’s hoping it will have gone by the morning.