Destination: Walnut Grove & Plum Creek

sod house
Soddie with sod roof

My goal was De Smet–850 long miles from home–where I’d visit Little Town on the PrairieThe Long Winter, and By the Shores of Silver Lake sites. But I sure couldn’t travel that far without a stop along the way to the banks of Plum Creek. The small town of Walnut Grove, namesake of the TV home of the Ingalls family, is just a few miles from Plum Creek, so I figured a stop at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Gift Store was in order. Except for the fact that TV actors visit Walnut Grove each year for the Wilder Pageant, Walnut Grove doesn’t offer much to LIW fans. Wilder herself only mentioned the town in passing; the family’s home in the area was at Plum Creek. This little town’s fame is totally reliant on the television show.

soddie with windows
Walls like concrete

The emphasis is on ‘gift store’ at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and Gift Store. This museum was similar to the one on my trip to the Little House in the Big Woods last summer–a lot of books, dolls, and souvenirs for sale, but not much actual Ingalls’ memorabilia. (But of course I did buy two books!) One room housed story boards floor to ceiling, illustrating the family’s journey with photos and explanation of the period, along with excerpts from Wilder’s books. There was a binder of photocopied articles Wilder wrote when she and Almanzo settled in Missouri. A buffalo coat like Pa wore. But other than that? Only a place setting of dishes, a sewing basket, and two balls of crochet thread actually belonged to Wilder. My favorite (and most authentically museum-worthy) display was a few original sketches and paintings by Garth Williams that became the illustrations fans of the books know and love so well.  The originals are surprisingly small–some only 3″ X 3″!

The other room in the museum itself was dedicated to the TV series–magazines, photos, autographs–but that really isn’t my connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder and I admit I barely looked at it. The museum site also has a few other exhibits representing the time period: a chapel, a “Grandma’s House” (which focused on all things housekeeping), and a school room.There was also a sod house on the museum grounds, but it couldn’t compare to the display of sod houses (or soddies as they’re lovingly referred to) on the McCone family prairie grass farm in Sanborn.

I actually visited the Sod House on the Prairie (which is a private venture) first since it was on the way into town. The family has built replicas of different styles of sod houses–a dug out, a sod house with plastered walls and wood floors, a rough soddie with dirt floors and hay roof–and furnished them accordingly. It is a labor of love–and the re-creations gave me an idea of what life would have been like in prairie homes. One word: dirt. Dirt everywhere. Even the display cards in each soddie were covered with gritty grime … and bird poop. So when you look at Garth Williams’ endearing renderings of Laura frolicking on the banks of Plum Creek with the cozy little sod house tucked into the hill like a Hobbit house, just remember: dirt.

on the banks of plum creek
Plum Creek

Even though Plum Creek is just a creek (!) and the “remains” of the Ingalls’ dugout is only a depression in the bank, the site is surrounded by restored prairie that is home to birds and snakes and foxes (oh, my!) that makes a lovely little hike. (Bring bug spray!) In all honesty, I’d skip Walnut Grove and just drive through Plum Creek for a quick walk to stretch your legs and maybe a wade in the creek.

It was those times when I walked on Ingalls’ land and listened to the tall grass rustle, maybe catching sight of a thrush on the wing, that I felt Laura’s legacy. And that’s what I came for.

Writing Wednesday: Packing

She clutched Richie’s hand, held on, it seemed, for dear life. She pleaded. He tried to smooth her still fingers, then patted them reassuringly.

“You ARE home, Momo.”  

“No–I’ve got to go home. Now. Help me, honey–where did they put my clothes? Trudy needs me.”Grandma

So he lugged her suitcase from the top shelf of the closet and they packed.  She folded the blue nightie and tried to ball her socks, but her hands fumbled the stretchy cotton.  

“Here, let me,” he said.

“I saw the horse again last night. Right out there,” she pointed towards the window. “He slept under the tree.”  Richie started with “There’s no … ” but stopped himself.  

On top went the yellow sweater and last of all her underbroekes, she called them. Her hands patted everything down and tucked in the edges. Those same hands that had tucked in four-year-olds and pushed back hair test for fever with the back of her hand. Those hands whose fingers wrinkled prune-like after canning forty quarts of tomatoes. The hands that lifted the trailer hitch to the car to take the kids camping.

“Let’s sit a minute before we go, Grandma” and he patted the spot next to him on the bed, then reached again for her hand–the hand he held onto for dear life.

Write now with Writer

Last year I started using my Chromebook for most things webbish. I liked the quick and easy access to the internet–and since I don’t do anything fancy like Writer Google app gaming or film editing, a Chromebook can meet just about all my screen needs. Recently, I started attending a Writing Circle at a local studio and was a little worried when I arrived sans paper–but with my Chromebook!–only to find out that there was no wifi.

Thankfully, the studio owner had the solution: Writer. Available in the Chrome Web Store or at the Writer website, the app is billed as an Internet typewriter that is “the coolest … distraction-free writing tool around.” And it is.

Flintstones computer
www.yourememberthat.com

I was a bit put off at first by the outdated retro green on black screen, but that was easily changed in settings to the more boring standard look of any other word processing tool. Now truth be told, when I have access to wifi, I’ll use Google docs. (I mean, it’s a Chromebook, right?!)

But the biggest boon for me is that Writer is also functional off-line. Mind you, I have no idea how this works–my mind sees technology working a little like those tiny behind-the-screens dinosaurs in The Flintstones. I figure there must be a little critter or two carving my words on the Writer screen.

But it works like a dream, so I don’t care how. Writer is available as a free app, but I paid to get the premium for (wait for it!) five dollars a month. After I’ve typed off-line, I save the document and export it to Google Drive when I reach wifi again. I’ve had only one minor glitch and when I emailed tech support, I got an email within an hour or two offering some solutions.

The app is the project of web developer John Watson, who also has some pretty cool projects linked on his Google+ profile. According to his About page, John, God bless him, still uses Oxford commas.

How could I not love the app?!

S: Silas Marner (A-Z Blogging Challenge)

Today is day 19 of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.  The challenge began with A on April 1 and continues the alphabet throughout the
month, except on Sundays. My theme for the month will be this blog’s tagline: life, books, and all things bookish, so you can expect a little bit of this ‘n that. I’m still reading, though, and I’ll add reviews whenever possible. Thirty days of blogging is a huge commitment for me, but I’m looking forward to meeting and greeting new blog friends.
Today’s words: Silas Marner

I love George Eliot. I love her life story. She was a free thinker, in and out of the Church until she settled on her own understanding of spirituality. She was a woman of independent means–maybe not by choice, but by her wit and intelligence. She loved openly and passionately, even when her choices meant she was rejected from polite society. She was anything but attractive–but possessed great beauty.

George EliotI love the seemingly quaint moral tales she writes about life in the English countryside in the 19th century, all of which reveal some sort of illicit love and characters who lived on the margins of society–and about how they created (or tried to, anyway) the life they longed for. Adam Bede with Heddy’s forbidden love, unwanted pregnancy, and near-death; Mill on the Floss with Maggie’s love for the hunchback Phillip and that last dying embrace; Middlemarch with Dorothea’s ill-fated marriage and unrequited love.

And of course, Silas Marner, that near-sighted, hunched “old man” (who was actually, if you count the years, only 40-something!) who was brought into the warm embrace of village life when a baby, quite literally, shows up on his doorstep. A cast of characters who are as dear to me as the people who have passed in and out of my own life. Those nasty, haughty Cass boys, the ones you love to hate–Godfrey, who though he appears all heart in his life with Nancy, lived a lie; Eppie, the golden child I always picture as Shirley Temple. And Dolly Winthrup. Gosh, I love that woman and her malapropisms.

It’s a novel about betrayal and the truest of loves. It’s about burying oneself in work or working as an outpouring of love. It’s shutting down and opening up, turning within or reaching out. It’s about connection to each other.

And it all turns around that bent little man with bleary eyes who shields his heart so it can never be broken again–Silas Marner.

Taking the plunge

It was the first week of January, that time of new beginnings and fresh starts, when each year I look at the blank pages of a crisp new planner and think of all that I could fill it with: travels to far away places, appointments to beautify the winter-drab, trips to the gym to sculpt and tone. Except that I knew none of that would really fill my days.

Laura Ritchie@Flickr.com
Laura Ritchie@Flickr.com

So instead, I decided to slough off a few habits that no longer served me. Get out of the same-old same-old rut. Stretch myself a bit. An online class by Brene Brown. More time in meditation. Line dancing (I know, right?!) And sign up for a writing workshop. Mind you, it sounded great on the website. Sit around the table. Listen to others’ writing. Practice the craft. Share what I’ve written. (Actually, the first three sound just dandy, but the last, not so much.)

It would be intimidating, I knew, for the me who would rather snuggle on the sofa with a book, browse this week’s New Yorker, watch some YouTube videos, nest at home on these cold February evenings. But I felt the fear and did it anyway. (Thanks, Susan Jeffers!)

Now I’d done this once before, and thought I knew the drill: write a new piece each week or so, bring enough copies for the entire workshop, listen to the critique–it’s excruciating, intimidating, sometimes beneficial, but definitely not for the faint of heart.

This workshop follows the Amherst Writers and Artists Method, which was a different approach altogether. The AWA is an affirming and non-threatening practice in which anyone who writes is a writer and where it’s a given that everyone is born to create. All writing is treated as fiction, even though we’re invited to write “from memory or imagination.” Workshop writers offer only positive comments: what resonates with you? what will you remember? We write in 10, 15, 20 minutes chunks, always after given some prompt: “it was the first time; blue; what matters … ”

It helps, too, that the studio space and the workshop facilitator are a delight. Stuffed easy chairs, ottomans, sofas. Lamplight and bookshelves. Not a conference table or florescent light bulb in sight. And our workshop leader, Emily? She is a sweet young woman, willow-like and graceful, with what I suspect is a wise, old soul. She is gentle and encouraging. But above all, she’s a confident and skillful writer who knows her stuff.

If you want to grow as a writer, or even if you’ve only ever considered writing, this workshop just might bring you the same satisfaction it has brought me.

(Psssst … I’ve already signed up for April.)