It probably will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I enjoy reading the books by Maud Hart Lovelace that feature her childhood self, Betsy Ray.
Lovelace wrote about her childhood in Mankato, Minn., thinly disguised as a community called Deep Valley, and her friendships with two other girls that became lifelong friends. The first book, Betsy-Tacy, shows readers how Betsy met Tacy, the five-year-old across the street from her house, and their epic friendship. The pair could see each other from their bedroom windows, and send messages.
I recently brought my storytelling students to the former homes of Lovelace and Tacy’s true-life counterpart, Frances Kenney. Both homes have been lovingly restored by the Betsy-Tacy Society. While I’ve visited them several times, with this private tour, I finally had a chance to peek out Tacy’s window to see Betsy’s house across the street.
I admit I geeked out a little. I’ve been focusing on experiences and how they can inspire us to be creative, to seek stories, and to tell them. In this instance, I had an opportunity to stand in Tacy’s shoes, peek out her window, and see her best friend’s window across the street. I definitely felt inspired, and I took the picture that represents this post. I found that experience to be immediately applicable to the overall lesson of the class; my glee in the moment could be reflected in the grins of my students.
The Betsy-Tacy houses will open for the season with a party honoring Betsy’s birthday: April 14. While the upstairs portion of the Tacy house is not normally open to the public, the lower floor houses family artifacts and a gift shop, and it’s a gathering place for those looking to tour Betsy’s house across the street. Other sites mentioned in the Betsy-Tacy books can be found all over Mankato, and a handy QR code on Tacy’s front porch will unlock a tour. you can follow on your phone.
One of the particular challenges of investigating the past lies in the lack of evidence. This semester, I’m teaching a class in experiential storytelling that focuses on investigating lost stories and local history, and we’re uncovering some really interesting stories.
One of the first steps took us to the Marilyn J. Lass Center for Minnesota Studies on our Minnesota State University, Mankato campus. The archivists there showed students a wide variety of primary source materials, including diaries and personal papers, that form the basis for additional research or storytelling. Students found everything from cookbooks to community histories of soldiers from the first Great War, and each emerged from that session with three great ideas for future stories. Our archivists/librarians also demonstrated several databases available through the campus that provide information, images, and other resources for storytelling.
Our next trip took us to the Blue Earth County Historical Society, which hosts a wide variety of primary source materials that students found inspirational. One student was particularly taken in by a diary of a soldier from Mankato who served in World War II. I can’t wait to see what he does with it.
I, too, have been inspired. The challenge of seeking lost history, as I noted earlier, is a lack of evidence. Period newspapers only cover stories of interest to those who were producing and reading the paper. In some cases, that can lead to total ignorance about some people in the population. Women’s history, black history, indigenous history, and other overlooked history must be gleaned from the “margins”, or the absence of their stories in such public records. As regular readers of this blog know, much of my own research has investigated farm women’s history, in particular. That interest forced me to seek alternate sources, including a single farm woman’s magazine and oral history, to try and uncover their stories in the U.S. Midwest in the 20th century.
Primary sources such as those that start in archives, however, can lead investigators to new pieces of history that have rarely been uncovered. One item I was delighted to discover at the historical society was a meticulously collected series of “social notes” for communities surrounding Mankato, including communities that no longer exist. I plan to dig more deeply into these notes to see if they can shed light on those who lived in such lost communities, and into the character of those communities.
The class has a great deal more to do. We plan field trips to the Minnesota Treaty Center, as well as other sites related to the Dakota War of 1862, and we plan trips to “lost” Mankato sites such as old Front Street and Victorian homes. Along the way, we work to ask these questions: Whose story is told here? Whose story is missing? Where can that story be found? If it can’t be found, what have we lost?
We’re also investigating memory. Of the stories we find told, who told them? Why? And what compelled the original storyteller to preserve it?
Examining these questions will help us all become better storytellers as we uncover lost stories.
Sometimes, I think my husband prefers the leftovers from Thanksgiving to the meal itself.
Sometimes, I don’t blame him.
My favorite post Thanksgiving meal is a slab of perfectly moist roast turkey breast on a fresh, buttered roll. There’s something about that combination that makes me utterly happy. This year, I made a fresh cranberry sauce for the first time, and that hint of tartness with the fresh turkey also made me utterly happy. In fact, we dipped fresh apple and pear slices into the warm sauce as an appetizer this year, and we generally agreed that we’ll have to try that again.
However, the day after Thanksgiving, the “leftover” meal of choice is turkey soup.
This starts by breaking down the leftover turkey carcass from the day before. At this point, the carcass should have been carved away, leaving bones with minimal meat attached. This year, I roasted a turkey breast rather than an entire bird, and it just fit into my 12-quart pot.
For this recipe, you will need:
1 leftover turkey carcass, carefully chilled after carving
Two to three cups of leftover veggie tray vegetables: carrots, celery, and green pepper slices are my favorites.
1 cup of diced yellow onion
Two bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1 t. dried thyme (more or less to taste)
1/2 t. granulated garlic or equivalent fresh chopped garlic
Leftover roast turkey, 1-2 cups diced
Egg noodles or rice
Put the carcass in the stock pot, and cover with cold water. Set on the stove to bring to a boil over medium heat. Add your chopped veggies and seasonings. Cover, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, back the temperature down to low and simmer for at least two hours. At that point, remove the bones from the stock. Taste. Add two to three bullion cubes to boost the stock if necessary, and salt and pepper to taste. Dice any leftover turkey slices to add to the pot. Bring back to a boil, then add noodles or rice. Cook until the noodles or rice are done, then serve.
It usually yields enough to serve for a couple of meals. We serve one immediately, then I bag the rest in a one-gallon Ziplock freezer bag to transfer straight to the freezer for another meal later.
I have the opportunity tomorrow to discuss historical fiction with a panel at the Deep Valley Book Festival. This virtual event is free, and I recommend it for anyone interested in writing or in engaging with writers and book lovers.
The panels include a talk from keynote speaker and author Cindy Wilson, who will discuss the process of bringing the Hard Winter of 1880-1881 to fiction form in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. Wilson is the author of The Beautiful Snow.
Other panels will focus on the process of bringing a book to publication, connecting writers to readers, and writing with humor and creativity.
It promises to be the perfect way to stave off early March cabin fever. I really look forward to it. If you want to join us, click the link above to go directly to the schedule and register for the sessions you want to see for free.
My favorite sugar cookie is incredibly easy to make. It’s based on a recipe in the original Betty Crocker Cooky Book, and I remember my grandmother making them regularly when I was a child. One thing I like best about it is its reliance on good quality vegetable oil, rather than butter, as a source of fat.
It’s also easily adaptable. Swap out the extracts and stir in different flavorings to get different, and tasty, results. For the batch I made Sunday, I added a tablespoon of sprinkles to the batter to get a confetti look.
1. Set oven to 400 degrees.
2. Whip two eggs in a medium mixing bowl with a fork.
3. Using the same fork, beat in 2/3 cup good quality vegetable oil and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
4. Beat in 3/4 cup granulated sugar.
5. In a separate bowl, mix 2 cups all-purpose flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
6. Stir dry ingredients into wet.
7. Drop by teaspoon onto a parchment-lined baking tray. Press flat, preferably with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.
8. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are a delicate brown.
My family and I decided we wanted a beach to visit for our family vacation this summer, and we chose to take the road trip to St. Ignace, Mich., and the beaches of Lakes Huron and Michigan. We also took the ferry across the lake from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw) offers a unique opportunity to visit a place that is steeped in history and fun. A vacation destination for more than a century, the Island provides the experience of a place with no motorized vehicles. All transportation on the island, except for emergency services, takes place via horse or bicycle.
Two ferry companies take passengers out to the Island from St. Ignace on one side of the Mackinac Bridge and from Mackinaw City on the other side of the Bridge, Shepler’s and Star Line. Our hotel in St. Ignace, Cedar Hill Lodge, offered discounted tickets and shuttle service to Shepler’s, so that’s the ferry we went with. Both companies offer the same services at reasonable prices.
When we arrived, we made our way from the Shepler’s dock down the main street to the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour company, across from the Star Line dock. We wanted to see everything, and the tours are a great place to start, especially if you have some kind of mobility issue. Our driver, Kiki, introduced us all to our horses, Mona and Judy, to start the tour, and provided commentary as she took us on the first leg of the tour from down town, down the historic second street where the original fur traders’ homes can still be seen and visited, and out past the Grand Hotel to the stables and butterfly conservatory. From there, we took the second leg of the tour, behind a team of three hours and a new driver, through the State Park, to Arch Rock and Fort Mackinac.
My six-year-olds loved riding behind the horses, went into raptures over the butterfly conservatory, and ran all over grounds of the fort, which offers daily demonstrations of military life in the 19th century as well as a tea room, children’s play space, and living museum. Its history is connected with Fort Michilimackinac, which originally existed on the mainland in Mackinaw City and now has been largely reconstructed in its original location there. We were all fascinated by the living history the forts represented.
On the island, we walked down the bluff from the Fort to the main street again after lunch in the tea room, and browsed the shops, buying ice cream and fudge to take home. We watched fudgemakers in the windows along main street, dodged bicycles, and took a ferry back to St. Ignace late in the afternoon.
The next day, we drove over the five-mile Mackinac Bridge to visit Mackinaw City and Fort Michilimackinac, and there, we enjoyed leaning about the fort through the costumed presenters, and about its archaeology from the working archaeologists on site. They’re currently digging the site of a fur trader’s home, and they have been for about nine years. The on-site archaeologist said they’ll keep digging until they find nothing else to pull out of the soil, and that the cellars appeared to be used as storage facilities, so there’s lots to find.
As a side note, it’s possible to buy tickets to both forts at one time; I wasn’t sure we were going to make it to the mainland fort so I only purchased Fort Mackinac tickets the day we were there. However, when we did get the opportunity to go to the mainland fort the next day, we were able to pay only the difference between the two kinds of tickets at Michilimackinac, which saved us some money.
Fort Michililmackinac also has a large playground and access to a beach on the Lake Michigan side of the strait, and our girls were able to run off some energy before rain threatened. We headed back across the bridge to find pasties for lunch. We ended up at a St. Ignace staple: Lehto’s Pasties. This storefront has been around for more than fifty years, and it offers outdoor seating. The pasties are twelve ounces, pastry stuffed with steak, potatoes, onion, and rutabaga in a hand pie that’s perfect for lunch. We got three for the four of us, plus beverages, and headed down to the American Legion beach in St. Ignace to eat and collect rocks .
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, and our only regret is we couldn’t stay longer.
If you go: Make sure to check out everything you’d like to see in advance and budget accordingly. While nothing was unreasonably priced, everything did cost something. The ferry and the carriage tour were the most expensive parts of the trip, but they were utterly worth it. Also, pay attention to COVID restrictions; we masked up at indoor spaces for safety’s sake.
Most people think of the Green bay Packers when they think of Green Bay, Wis. But not everything in Titletown has to do with the Packers. I recently took my young children there for a long weekend visit with family, and we found plenty of things to do that didn’t have anything to do with football.
That said, if you are a football fan, you’ll want to visit the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. I’ve been there a few times now, and I’ve been to a game at Lambeau Field, as well, several years ago. Green Bay is probably best known for its affiliation with the Packers, and as a lifelong Packer fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. However, families who aren’t into football will enjoy the Zoo and Bay Beach. While we didn’t go this time, my cousins tell me the Children’s Museum and the Wildlife Sanctuary also are a lot of fun.
Our first day in Green Bay, we went to the NEW Zoo and Adventure Park. The Zoo still requires masks for some exhibits, such as feeding the giraffes, but everything is open to air and many folks didn’t bother with masks outside of those specified areas. We started our day there in the farm area, which features some animals for petting. While feeding stations were closed, we were able to see, talk to, and enjoy several different farm animals, including sheep and alpacas. We walked the loop there, and came back to an entrance that took us past African lions and up into the park proper. We waited in line to feed the giraffes, masked up, and then waited some more when our giraffe decided she wanted a drink of water between feedings.
We saw many different animals as we wandered through the rest of the zoo, and the children with us really liked trying to stretch their arms out to match the painted wingspans of the many birds featured there. The Zoo has big signs with the wings painted to be outstretched, and we spent some time trying to see how long our arms are in comparison. The oldest child with us, Clare, had a “wingspan” the same size as a snowy owl. I almost had the wingspan of an American bald eagle.
After a stop for a reasonably priced lunch in the center of the zoo and a walk around the Northwoods loop to see the moose, we finished our stay with an extended viewing of the penguins and a trip through the gift shop.
Bay Beach offers rides, concessions, and a very nice playground, all set right next to the bay of Green Bay. While the day we went was hot, the breeze off the water made the shady spots tolerable, and quick access to snow cones and water made it possible for us to stay for longer than we originally intended. The park boasts several different rides for people of all ages, and it includes a substantial selection of just-for-kids rides that C and A adored. The park, which is run by City of Green Bay, offers tickets for rides priced at 25 cents each; each ride is between one and four tickets. The children’s rides each took one ticket. We were able to ride all of the rides twice–and our favorites three times–at that price.
We also enjoyed a train ride by the bay, and we had lunch in the pavilion, which is a beautiful building, once a dance hall still pressed into service for receptions and events, that houses an air-conditioned dining area. We ate excellent cheeseburgers on bakery buns and shared cheese fries to go with our bottled water, and spent less than $15 for the three of us to eat. Frankly, I’ve gotten used to higher-priced concessions in the Twin Cities that don’t taste as good as these did, and I was very impressed with the quality of food and service.
We also spent some time in the excellent playground attached to the park, which was, thankfully, shaded.
It was a great weekend away, and the first we’ve had since our last trip to Rocky Ridge Farm in Missouri in March, 2020. We’re looking forward to exploring more this summer. Stay well, everyone.
If you go, plan ahead. While everything seems to be open again this summer, some sites are requiring advanced reservations and tickets to ensure a contactless form of crowd control. This wasn’t the case at Bay Beach, but the Zoo required advanced tickets. Double-check the web site of the place you plan to visit in advance to see what their restrictions are for a smooth experience.
I’ve been thinking deeply about race as it relates to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her works, lately, and I’ve made some observations that I’d like to share.
For those who don’t know, Wilder wrote the wildly popular Little House series of children’s books upon which the television show, Little House on the Prairie, was based. Recently, PBS aired a new documentary biography about Wilder, and I was pleased to see that it paid attention to the controversy surrounding the books, which have episodes of racism. In fact, the argument could be made that the entire series is racist, though it’s most evident and apparent in Little House on the Prairie, the book that tells the story of the Ingalls’ squatting on land in the Osage Diminished Reserve in Kansas and their subsequent departure from it.
However, the rest of the series isn’t exempt; negative references to Native Americans as well as the story of a performance in blackface by characters in the books also highlight the problematic nature of the works, which led to the American Library Association removing Wilder’s name from one of its major awards in 2018.
As an historian, I have said, and I will continue to say, that I think it’s important that the books continue to be studied and discussed, despite their flaws, and the discussion does need to be more encompassing than race. These books remain one of the few series that provides historians and others a feminine perspective on the pioneers’ movement West in the nineteenth century. Wilder gives women and girls in that story voice, and suppressing her work would also wrongly suppress that voice.
The challenge, of course, is that many want to suppress the painful truths of history. As someone put it to me recently, “Why can’t we just ‘get over it’?” My answer then, as now, is that we can’t just “get over” trauma, either personal or collective. The collective trauma of Native Americans being driven away from their homes and forced in many cases to suppress their cultural identities by white authority isn’t something the people are going to get over. The collective trauma of being dehumanized, thought “other,” enslaved, and demonized in popular culture isn’t something any Black person is likely to get over.
These peoples still deal with the remnants and ripple effects of these traumas every day.
When PBS aired the Wilder special, I Tweeted as I watched. At one point, someone on air said the books provided “emotional comfort food.” I retweeted the statement because that’s what the books are for me, too: emotional comfort food that reminded me as a girl that I had value and that my story and my voice meant something. Yet, not all responded positively to my retweet. One clearly said, “Not for me.” And that’s not only valid, it’s worth broader discussion.
My last observation is this: As a girl, I never noticed the books had racist overtones, and that is, in part, because I was a regular and avid watcher of the Little House on the Prairie television series, which expanded on the fictional Laura’s story. In that series, a number of respected African-American characters dealt with a variety of issues on race; the disability of Mary Ingalls was highlighted, and the show paid special attention to inclusion and diversity. I think my perceptions of how the books treated race was softened by simultaneous viewing of the television show.
We have a long ways to go in these discussions. I think it’s more than OK for those of us to have enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s works as “emotional comfort food” to continue to do so. But we need to remember, too, that her works aren’t inclusive, and for some, could be outright damaging. Don’t expect anyone to “get over it.”
I don’t even know how old this pot is. It’s a roaster. Big enough for a 20 pound turkey. Big enough for a family feast of fried chicken at the Fourth of July. Big enough to feed crowd.
This one belonged to my grandma Elsie. My childhood surfaces every time I bring it out, memories of this very pan filled to the brim with whatever she was serving to the crowd in her kitchen when we visited. Thanksgiving was always at Grandma’s, even after she downsized, left the farm, moved into a trailer, and then to an apartment in town. Often, more than 50 of us—family and extended family alike—gathered in the community room in her building for Thanksgiving dinner.
We’d have at least two turkeys. The menu also reflected the whims of whomever was bringing sides. There was always mashed potatoes, and gravy, and stuffing. My mother’s baked beans, sometimes sweet corn, and sweet potatoes speckled with marshmallows sat at the table next to occasional treats brought by cousins who lived further afield than rural Wisconsin.
We ate. We gossiped. We played games of all kinds. We’d have a cribbage tournament sometimes. Other times we’d find the Macy’s parade on the little TV in the corner, followed by whatever football game was playing. (Bonus points for days when the Packers played the Lions.)
This year looks a little different. None of us are traveling, to keep us all safe. This pan is out in my kitchen, ready for the turkey, which I fully expect my small family will be eating for the next week. I have lots of little treats for us to nibble on over the course of the day, and the parade is already on. We’ll connect with other family members later today over the phone. And as we give thanks, we’ll remember we have food, we have shelter, and we have love.