Everything I ever learned about blueberry picking, I learned from …

Blueberry season is over now, but I managed to squeeze in a little last minute blueberry picking a couple weeks ago.  And good sport that he is, hubby agreed to come with so that we could make shorter work of those end-of-the-season slim pickings.

I say good sport because we were both required to pick blueberries with our moms as kids and it was (for both of us) anything but the idyllic Blueberries for Sal type of experience with ninety Blueberries For Saldegrees and Mom wanting to fill yet another  bucket. No, it’s hot. Sticky. Mosquito-y. Booooooring.

Let’s just say when I turned twelve and was designated Official Blueberry Picking babysitter for my brother and cousin and I could stay home—even with a seven-year-old and a two-year-old—I was thrilled. I was never. picking. blueberries. again.

But when the time came, I loved reading Blueberries For Sal to my littles all those years ago. The classic is the story of a young girl and her mother, and a baby bear cub and her mother, who are all four of them out on the same mission: finding blueberries. Because of that book, the memory I cherish about blueberry picking now comes from that one story which (in true McCloskey fashion) elicits a longing for a time and place I’ve never even experienced.

Blueberry picking
A perfect summer’s day

I learned everything I ever needed to know about blueberries from Robert McCloskey. “Kerplink kerplank kerplunk” became the sound blueberries always made in my kitchen. I’d even measure them out in my stainless mixing bowl so the kids (and I!) could hear the real deal. I once shocked my husband when on a lakeshore hike I bent down and popped some wild blueberries in my mouth. “You just can’t go eating berries in the woods without knowing what they are!” he said, alarmed. Oh, but I did know what the berries were—I had looked at those pictures in Blueberries For Sal over and over again.

Raspberry picking
A delight!

Now truth be told, the ten pound box at the farmer’s market did me just fine for many years. And then I got all nostalgic. (Maybe it’s an age thing.)  My daughter and I went raspberry picking. I survived! And then I returned to pick blueberries—not so bad at all. Much more like the Blueberries For Sal now that I was a sentimental old gal.

How life changes us.  A walk through the raspberry canes with my daughter and grandson is a delight, and blueberry picking on a Saturday morning is the perfect way to start a summer’s day.

Kerplink. Kerplank. Kerplunk.

Destination: Little House In the Big Woods, Part 2


While my reason for visiting Pepin was really to check off a Little House site from my bucket list, I was charmed by the village itself and  the surrounding area. Driving in on US 61, I turned onto the Great River Road and drove alongside the bluffs, overlooking the Upper Mississippi. Known as the Driftless Area, this region escaped the glaciers of the last ice age and is characterized by high wooded bluffs, deep river valleys, and, of course, the mighty Mississippi. I had no idea.


Pepin itself was already a place for settlers to trade during the nineteenth century. Remember when Pa tramped off seven miles into town one day from the Ingalls’ house in the Big Woods? That town was Pepin.  Settlers who trapped all winter sold their pelts during the early months of spring, and the river gave traders a route for selling those furs. The surrounding countryside, once those Big Woods, is now farmland.

Downtown PepinToday Pepin itself seems to be centered on the Laura attractions and Lake Pepin. The marina was hopping the day I arrived, and it looked like every slip was taken. Brochures for sailing and kayaking trips, as well as guided fishing expeditions were stacked at every cash register, it seemed, and I’m guessing the outdoor adventure industry is a lot more lucrative than the Laura connection. Outside of the harbor area (which was “prettified” nicely), Pepin resembled most other small towns (pop. 837) in rural America.

I stayed at A Summer Place Inn on Main Street just two blocks up from the lake. Owner Nancy greeted me at the door and took me to my room. Nancy was the perfect B&B owner for my tastes: she gave me a suggestion for dinner and directions to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (just a block and a half away), told me what time coffee and pastries would be set out in the mornA Summer Place Inning, and otherwise left me on my own. The room was cozy, clean, and decorated in pretty typical (but tasteful) B&B fashion. (Check out Ruth’s Room on A Summer Place’s website for a photo.) The cottage garden around the lawn of A Summer Place was sweet as sweet could be—bordered, of course (!), by a white pIMG_2112icket fence.

Nancy’s dinner suggestion was Harbor View Café and I’d go back in a New York Wisconsin minute. No menus, just their famous chalkboard! I started with a craft beer (spilled a bit because my hubby wasn’t there to pour it correctly for me), and ordered black bean fritters over a warm kale salad. It was served with a timbale of rice which was delicious, but really not needed. Dessert was the chocolate buttercream pie I mentioned here.

This trip was quickly thrown together, but I’d love to return to Wisconsin and take in more along the gorgeous Mississippi—talk about God’s country.

Next time: maybe kayaking?!

Destination: Little House In the Big Woods, Part I

I have long wanted to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House sites scattered around the Midwest and decided this summer was the time to start with a quick trip to Pepin, Wisconsin—which also, coincidentally enough, is the closest to my West Michigan home.

One thing you should know about Little House Wayside, as the Little House In the Big Woods site is known, is that it’s in the middle of nowhere. Another thing you should know about this part of Wisconsin is that it’s Little House Waysidegorgeous. This post will be about the Laura connection, my next about Pepin.

I started planning my visit by reading parts of Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Life. McClure tried out all things Wilder from the Little House books, like grinding her own wheat and mixing up sourdough starter and churning butter. She also traveled to a number of the Little House sites. In some ways, her trip to Pepin was much like mine—quick and thrown together at the last minute. But McClure traveled to Pepin on a dreary March day, and I visited in August. So while she noted bare trees, gray skies, and Lake Pepin iced over, I saw lush green everywhere, brilliant blue sky, and sailboats dotting the lake.

Little House WaysideAnd maybe because I read as much as I could about this Little House site before I visited, I wasn’t disappointed. I expected a reproduction cabin circa 1978. I expected the small, we-did-it-ourselves kind of museum. Laura, after all, was only five when she lived in the Big Woods, so she certainly didn’t leave a mark on Pepin, and the Ingalls family didn’t either.  I don’t think I was quite as  disillusioned disappointed as McClure seemed to be after her visit to Pepin.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum might better be called an interpretive center. Its recent expansion includes four rooms: a model kitchen, a room filled with household items from the era, a school room, and a room that houses a play area for small children and a covered wagon. There’s also a bookstore with the requisite Christmas tree ornaments, calico bonnets, coloring books, and postcards. I toured the rooms in fairly short order (no kids begging for a Little House book; no little ones to drag away from the play kitchen!) and wasn’t disappointed. I purchased a book (what else?!) titled Becoming Becoming Laura Ingalls WilderLaura Ingalls Wilder about the writer Laura—only two chapters are devoted to her childhood and courting years. Most of the book is about the adult Laura and her writing career. Can’t wait to start reading.

The collection of artifacts is impressive for such a small place, but the only items having any personal connection to Laura are a quilt from her teacher in the Big Woods and a donated quilt that had once belonged to Wilder. The docent explained that the entire museum is pretty much the efforts of a local artist couple who does the collecting, displays, and signage—and their love of All Things Laura shows. I wondered, however, what the efforts of an enthusiastic historian from a nearby university might add to the museum. What a great Master’s project for a budding curator.

The Little House Wayside is seven miles out of town on Country Route CC. It’s a beautiful drive through the winding roads of Wisconsin farm country. The Big Woods have made way for corn and beans. While the roads aren’t canopied by old growth forest, plenty of woods are left so that if you squint out the farm fields, you can almost imagine the miles and miles of forest that was just being tamed in the mid-nineteenth century.

My biggest surprise were the hills. Known as the Driftless Area, this part of Wisconsin remained untouched by glaciers during the last ice age. The gorgeous landscape is one of rolling hills and rocky bluffs, which I don’t remember being mentioned at all in Little House In the Big Woods. Pa, remember, walked the seven miles to town (Pepin) to sell the furs he had collected trapping all winter and I’m guessing the hike was made quite a bit longer in order to go around those hills.

The cabin itself is surrounded by cornfields. Built in 1978 it is an unfurnished replica of the Little House: a main room, small store room, and the loft. When I read the Little House books, I always wanted to sleep in tPioneerhat loft—and when I saw it, I still thought the same! Even though far from the fire, I’m guessing that loft was pretty snug and warm with the heat rising to the top of the cabin.

One of my school’s-out-for-the-summer gifts to myself was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. The book, published by South Dakota Historical Society Press, is the definitive book for readers who enjoyed the Little House books as children and want to read what is basically Wilder’s first draft of those books.

The night before I visited the sites in Pepin, I read the chapter “Wisconsin, 1871-1874” from Pioneer Girl. Sitting in a cozy B & B, the sun was setting over the river which was just visible from my window. Trains rumbled by every so often. A sprinkler hit the side of the house in perfect swish swish rhythm. I had chocolate buttercream pie left over from dinner and a stack of books by my side … a perfect way to end a long day of travel and get ready for a day visiting the Little House Wayside.

July gifts and graces

July joy darea scrappy black cat ♥ restoring order ♥ put-together & stylin’ ♥ morning prayer ♥ Miss Anna Pie ♥ baby on the move ♥ vote ♥ Fr. John ♥ fresh raspberries & cherries ♥ blue sky smilin’ at me ♥ this old dog ♥ laughing family ♥ try a new approach ♥ mid-life ♥ life’s work vs. life’s love ♥ stepping in ♥ homemade strawberry jam ♥ iced tea ♥ I never promised you a rose garden ♥ meadow blooming ♥ summer sun ♥ memories of a happy lab ♥ garden stepping stones ♥ garden haiku boulders ♥ weeping willow ♥ kitchen blinds ♥ detach ♥ soften ♥ singing with baby ♥ old hymns remembered ♥ soft molasses cookies ♥ this is my symphony ♥ just a glimpse ♥ summer dusk ♥ a tough old broad ♥ drifting away ♥ under my heart ♥ retirement in sight ♥ snapping green beans ♥ newly dripped coffee ♥ tussy mussy from the meadow ♥ my corner ♥ headspace ♥ new kids new year just around the corner ♥ morning sunshine ♥ my inventory ♥ making sense ♥ garden magic ♥ Raffi radio ♥ squeals of delight ♥ making it right ♥ standing on my own two feet ♥ life’s disappointments

* thanks to Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare 

Of dollhouses and books

The Miniaturist (review)
Jessie Burton

When I was growing up I had a cardboard doll house that was over four feet tall—it was identical to this one.

You’d think, cardboard—ugh. But it was incredibly sturdy and I treated it like the prized possession it was. The original house came with some cardboard furnishings, but I didn’t use those for long because my nana gifted me Petite Princess dollhouse furniture that was incredible. The sofa had real satin cushions, the fireplace came with teeny logs and brass andirons, the antique-style phone had a little thread cord, the brocade chair had a winged back. Gorgeous.Rummer

I moved nearly every year as a child and each move brought a new house, new school, new friends—but that doll house was a constant. I sat for hours and hours in front of it creating a world within my world—as any good reader would do. (And any book that involved dollhouses was also a sure hit; I especially like stories by Rummer Godden like Little Plum, The Doll’s House, Holly and Ivy–now all included in a more recent paperback titled The Fairy Doll.)

So the hook for me to read Jessie Burton’s novel The Miniaturist was the miniatures. But the fascinating story about sixteenth century Amsterdam kept me reading long into the night. Nella Oortman arrives in the city after a rather hasty marriage to a wealthy merchant in the Dutch East India Company. Johannes Brandt was older and kept a surprising distance from his beautiful young wife. Nella is confused—her mother had prepared her for her wedding night, she dreamed of the babies to come … but Johannes takes no interest in Nella as a wife. Instead, she is left alone to navigate her relationship with her controlling sister-in-law Marin while Johannes spends long hours working and traveling.

MiniAs something of a consolation prize, he has an incredible wedding present made to keep Nella occupied: a tall cabinet re-made into a replica of their home. Along with what is essentially a doll’s house, Johannes provides Nella with a line of credit so she can furnish it. Nella hires a miniaturist and commissions a few pieces–a betrothal cup, lute, and marzipan, but is chilled when the unknown craftsman includes extra items that are miniature duplicates of objects in their home.

Nella becomes even more frightened when the miniaturist continues to send items that seem to indicate he (or she) knows more about the Brandt household than is prudent; Nella gradually learns that certain secrets might best remain hidden. And as Nella begins to discover more about the Brandt family and their magnificent house, she begins to understand her own strength and purpose, as well.

The Miniaturist is a peek inside a time and place I knew little about and a cautionary—yet hopeful—tale about a young woman coming into her own.