It’s Been a While!

We are getting back to updating this blog. We’ve been busy writing! And attending LauraPalooza!

Coming in fall 2017: the Pepin, Wisconsin version of Land of Laura (including sub-sites Burr Oak, Iowa and Spring Valley, Minnesota)

Also, a big website update is underway.

Haiku Monday: Little House on the Prairie Museum

Verdigris River

Some snakes down here are poison
Carrie was born here.

This replica cabin on the homesite grounds was built by volunteers in the 1970s.

Indians close by
Boundary lines aren’t that clear
Settlers or squatters?

Creek roars at Christmas
Tin cups, a penny, cookies
Happy little girls

People call “racist”
But reflection of the time
Learn from our mistakes

“Barnum Walks.”

Want a laugh? Have you ever seen the read-alongs over at Beyond Little House? They are timeless. On a personal note, Erin Blakemore and I had a great time posting chapter summaries together. One of our favorites is a summary for “Barnum Walks“—everyone’s favorite chapter in These Happy Golden Years (maybe even the series), because of what takes place in it: Laura’s and Almanzo’s engagement.

We had a lot of fun writing these.

What’s In a Name?

Today I was on Facebook, trying to share a link about an author reading at a bookstore. The bookstore is in a city where a friend of mine, who likes the author too, lives, so I wanted to let her know about it. I clicked the “Share” button for the link, then looked at my options: share in a message, share on my own timeline, share on a friend’s timeline. None of those applied, I thought. I wanted to share it on my friend’s WALL.

Oh, right. There is no more wall. There is now only timeline.

I ultimately made a successful share (on my friend’s TIMELINE), but it reminded me of a Little House issue. Names are big things. When you’re a writer thinking about your audience, you consider names a lot. Names have importance. They help us associate one thing with another–be it a place, an emotion, a person, whatever. Changing names changes our association. In Boston, where I’m from, two event centers, two in Boston and one in the suburbs, have had their names changed more times than I can remember in the past 20 years. But regardless of what they are called now, I will always think of them by their original names: Harborlights, Great Woods, the Boston Garden.

The folks who did such a wonderful job preserving the site at Malone made one misstep, I think. The site was always known as the Almanzo Wilder Farm; to this day, the url remains almanzowilderfarm.com. And that makes sense. Almanzo’s a farmer boy. We read about his ninth and tenth years in the book Farmer Boy, which was all about farming, farming, farming—to a more marked degree than the Little House series en masse.

But while the tagline—boyhood home of Almanzo Wilder—is still the same, the powers that be have in the past few years decided that the homesite is now the “Wilder Homestead.”

The Wilder Homestead?

Now, I’m no expert on the Homestead Act, but I do know it was a west-of-the-Mississippi thing. The Wilder property was never the “Wilder homestead.” But it was, quite plainly, the “Wilder farm.” James Wilder did not have to prove up on a claim, the way Pa did. He was just farming his land, land he already owned.

So why the change? I’ve never asked. And I’ve never made a big deal about it (although now, someone may Google it and find this post—ah well). I don’t want to make a stink or be disrespectful. But I can’t help wondering about their reasoning. Did they think it would sound more like “Ingalls Homestead,” thus increasing their tourist draw? Did they feel left out because all the other homesites—well, the ones in Walnut Grove and De Smet—had homesteads associated with them?

I don’t know.

The Wilder Farmhouse is the only home mentioned in the Little House books that is still standing on its original foundation.

The thing is, fans love Malone. And they love it for what it is. It may be out of the way for the folks who go to the Midwest sites, but it’s not out of the way for East-coasters. And besides, it’s not like the other homesites. On certain days, heck, it may well be my favorite. The lovely red farmhouse is the only home mentioned in the Little House books that’s still standing on its original foundation. No other building—not even in De Smet—can claim such a distinction. The grounds surrounding the farmhouse are gorgeous—lush and green (at least in summer, when I’ve visited), with the only noticeable sound the gentle, non-Dakota winds whispering through the trees. And across the street and down the path is Trout River, still flowing, just as we pictured it when we read Farmer Boy.

It doesn’t need a name change to prove its homesite mettle.

The powers that be can call the homesite in Malone whatever they like. But I’m always going to call it The Wilder Farm.

Haiku Monday: Little House in the Big Woods

One of the Blogathon theme days is a Haiku day. That’s today.

I’ll start with the homesite for the first book: Little House in the Big Woods.

This sign and view is not right in Pepin, Wisconsin, but at a lookout on the way there.

Roasting the pig’s tail
First James, then George, then Grandpa
I like both kinds best

Snow came late this spring
Caroline! There’ll be a dance!
I’ll wear my delaine.

 

Jim Hicks — Physics in Laura’s World

This is Jim Hicks. Retired now, he was a longtime physics teacher at a high school in Illinois.

His students call him “Uncle Jim.”

Jim Hicks, physics teacher, Laurafan, entertainer

Besides being a physics teacher, Jim is a literary traveler. He has written for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Lore, the newsletter of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota. He has written for the Homesteader, the newsletter about Laura’s homesites across the country. He writes about moving through Laura’s world, measuring it, recording it, recreating it. History + literature + science = Jim Hicks.

Six years ago, Jim addressed a ballroom audience in Mankato, Minnesota. For this audience of Little House fans, he reconstructed, in great detail, the trip that Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland (allegedly) took during the hard winter of 1880-1881, the trip that (allegedly) kept the town from starving when blizzards prevented the trains from coming, as described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in The Long Winter. He talked about sled speed. He talked about wheat-sack weight. He talked about friction. He talked about the phases of the moon. And he had that audience absolutely enthralled for a full thirty minutes.

That’s why he’s an award-winning high school teacher.

He’s an award-winning high-school teacher who also happens to be a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books. The audience he spoke to was at LauraPalooza 2010, and in July of 2012, he did the same thing. And then again in 2015.

The next LauraPalooza is in 2017. Will Jim be there? We’ll soon find out!

Making My Little House Art

I’ve spent the last day or so watching, in spurts, Neil Gaiman’s commencement address at the University of the Arts. It’s twenty minutes long, but it was well worth making the time. The speech, which includes a transcript, is being widely shared, and I can see why.

If you want to go watch it, right now, go. Please. I’ll wait.

As a writer, and a freelancer at that, Gaiman’s wry references to the freelancing trenches caught my eye (and ear). But the rest of it—about art and goals and the convergence of the two—was brilliant, too. I reached the end of the speech with two thoughts:

  1. I must share this with my children.
  2. I am doing the right thing with Little House Travel.

Two things Gaiman said struck at my heart.

If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that.

There are certain places, both physical and emotional, where I feel comfortable. The older I get, the clearer this is to me. And some of these places are more “me” than others. It’s not about right or wrong or this or that, it’s about home. To me, when I am at the Little House sites, I feel at home. Not every moment, and not to the point where I want to stay; I happy I live somewhere else. But the rest of the joy is in the return. I love moving within Laura’s world. I loved it the first time I did it over a decade ago, and I’ll love it the next time I do, this summer. Unlike other trips I’ve taken that I simply checked off the list, the Little House sites, as I expressed to Wendy McClure in her book The Wilder Life, are places I always want to return to.

They are also places I want to share. People who love the Little House books want to see where Laura lived, and I want to help these people and their families experience, in as painless a way as possible, the same heartstopping moments I do. Showing people how to travel in Laura’s world and what to see when they go is my way of giving back what Laura has given me.

Make your art. Do the stuff that only you can do.

Laurafans that I know do amazing things, and they do them well. They educate young students on her impact and importance. They dig around in courthouse basements for old documents. They provide more information than you’d ever think possible on her life. They dress in nineteenth-century clothing and help us understand the world she lived in. They talk about the weather in her books. They physically guide groups of people on trips to her homesites.

And me? I write. I parent three children. I love to research, but not necessarily facts or history. My interest is people. So when I write, it’s not enough to me to write about Laura. By connecting her books to real life—today’s real life—I write about her fans and what they value, and what they enjoy, and what about Laura’s world makes them forget to breathe for a moment. No one’s skills and experiences converge in quite this way, because no one else is quite like me. No one can do this the way I can.