On The Road to the Little House

May 7, 2019

Perhaps more than any other books I’ve ever read, this series captured my young imagination and inspired me to want to write and record my world.

The first “Little House” book was published in 1932. Six more followed over the next decade and Laura Ingalls Wilder was propelled from a farmer’s wife to one of the most beloved children’s book authors in history.

As a child I was entranced by the thought of living in a cabin in the big woods of Wisconsin, or in a dugout carved into the banks of Plum Creek in Minnesota, or in a claim shanty on the wind swept prairies of South Dakota. What adventures awaited!

I’ve had as a goal to visit the many homestead sites. In September 2013 I, along with my 20 year old daughter, went to Mansfield, Missouri, and toured the museum and also the house where Laura lived as an adult. This past week was round two as the hubby and I meandered from Wisconsin to South Dakota and traced a portion of the Ingalls family pioneer journey.

The takeaway for me as an adult – considering it from the perspective of a wife and mother – is how very difficult it was, especially for Laura’s mother, Caroline.


A cold day in late April at the Little House In The Big Woods

20190501_133037.jpg20190501_133141.jpgOur first stop was in Wisconsin. Although the Ingalls’ cabin is long gone, those who preserved the sites have erected faithful reproductions of the original structures. The little house in Wisconsin was certainly that: little. The main room was no bigger than a small bedroom by today’s standards. For the pioneers, this room was kitchen, dining room, living room, and laundry room (at least half the year). The entire family slept in a room the size of a closet.


The doorway of the dugout is approximately where the author is standing. (Above) What the inside of the dugout may have looked like. (right)


It was the next ‘house’, however, that really gave me pause. Laura’s family purchased a farm near Walnut Grove, Minnesota… but there was no ‘house.’ Instead the family lived for some months in a ten by twelve room dug out of a bank above a creek. The actual dugout collapsed years ago, but a reproduction exists in South Dakota. When I walked in to that room I was struck by two things in particular. The first was the smell. It was a combination of earth, mold and dampness. It was depressing and dark. As Laura describes life in the dugout she tells how her mother whitewashed the dirt walls and floor with  a lime mixture. I imagine the lime served several purposes including pest control and to brighten the room. How hard it must have been for Caroline Ingalls to cook, clean, and care for her children in that tiny, tiny space.

In South Dakota the Ingalls family had to, once again, start from scratch. It was not hard to imagine how alone and desolate Caroline must have felt as one of the first pioneers in DeSmet. Their homestead was 160 acres – one quarter mile square – and it was a half mile south of the town. There were no neighbors, just the wildlife which called the prairie home. The Ingalls claim shanty was just that: a shanty. Unlike the cabin in Pepin, their home was a tiny one room building with the beds for a family of six in every corner, a stove in the center, and a few chairs and a table. The thin walls not much protection against the persistent winds and cold. Over time the shanty was expanded to include 2 small bedrooms and 12 by 16 living room.


A reproduction of the claim shanty after 2 additions. The last addition is the 12 x 16 section on the left.

What resilience these people possessed!

When we stopped at the Ingalls homestead near DeSmet, the woman who owns and runs the property came by to speak to us. I said to her I suspected when the Ingalls family arrived there that Caroline told Charles she was done moving and carving out homes in the wilderness. Our hostess confirmed my supposition. Laura’s parents lived the rest of their lives in that community, eventually moving to a proper house in the town eight years after their arrival.

20190505_115005.jpgIt is impossible to truly capture each of these places on paper. But Laura Ingalls Wilder’s narrative description of each location comes close. I felt as if her spirit was there with us in South Dakota, especially, as I mapped out some travels to the spots she describes in her books.

It was at Lake Henry when the magic occurred. The hubby and I noticed the water in a nearby slough was roiling. Upon closer examination we discovered hundreds of fish flopping and thrashing about! We walked close to the spectacle, mesmerized by the yellow perch which spawn this time of year once the water raises to a certain temperature. From there we meandered across the back-roads, and observed white tailed deer, a muskrat which waddled across the road, and hundreds of birds: pelicans, herons, eagles, hawks, geese, and all variety of smaller ones.

We were reluctant to leave but how very glad we were able to experience a tiny portion of the pioneer’s journey.

So which of the three would have been the best? Probably the cabin in Wisconsin. But I am thankful for modern amenities: electricity, running water, flushing toilets, refrigeration, automobiles, and airplanes. What a blessed era in which to live.

A few links. First is to my blog article from February 7, 2017 about Laura Ingalls Wilder:

And some links to the various historical sites:

I know everyone would be disappointed if there was not at least one link to the Infallible Wikipedia:

… Blackberry Pie

Rubus Armeniacus

August 28, 2018

For those of us who love the results, putting up with nasty scratches and purple fingers is but a small price to pay for the culinary delights one experiences.

And for those who have ever found this invader in their yard or garden there are mixed emotions surrounding it.

I am talking of probably the most ubiquitous plant of the Pacific Northwest, the Rubus Armeniacus. More commonly known as the Himalayan Blackberry.himalayan blackberry

Like a number of other things, the Himalayan was a transplant to the area. The species originated in Armenia and Northern Iran. And we can thank – or blame – famed horticulturist Luther Burbank for its introduction to the PNW.

It all began in 1901 when 10 acres of land was purchased for the Boys Parental School on the north end of Mercer Island. The school focused on providing support for boys who needed extra structure in their lives. According to the information on Luther Burbank Park:

“The name of the Boys Parental School was changed to Luther Burbank School in 1931. Luther Burbank Park is named after the famous horticulturist born March 7, 1849 in Massachusetts. Burbank pioneered the hybridization of plans and ‘grafting’ trees, and is credited with creating the baking potato and many flowers. He also created the Himalaya blackberry – loved by some for its luscious fruit, despised by others for its invasiveness. Ironically, many of Luther Burbank Park’s delicate native vegetation are choked with Himalaya blackberry bushes. Burbank passed away in 1926. The State of Washington took over in 1957, and moved the school operations to Echo Glen near Preston in 1966.”

While I would disagree that Burbank ‘created’ the Himalayan Blackberry, it was his fault that the plant got a foothold here.

Its success, in a little over 100 years, is impressive. From Mercer Island it spread everywhere on the west side of the Cascades, often choking out its native counterpart, the Pacific Blackberry.

I found this information on the Himalayan, from the Infallible Wikipedia, especially telling:

“The species was introduced to Europe in 1835 and to Australia and North America in 1885. It was valued for its fruit, similar to that of common blackberries (Rubus fruticosus and allies) but larger and sweeter, making it a more attractive species for both domestic and commercial fruit production. The cultivars ‘Himalayan Giant’ and ‘Theodore Reimers’ are particularly commonly planted.

Rubus armeniacus soon escaped from cultivation and has become an invasive species in most of the temperate world. Because it is so hard to contain, it quickly got out of control, with birds and other animals eating the fruit and then spreading the seeds.”

While I don’t recall ever dealing with blackberry plants in Yakima, my first memory of the plant was as a young teen while on vacation with my parents and sister to the Long Beach peninsula. My mother organized an outing to go pick berries which were found in abundance along the roads. We were collecting berries and, apparently, the lady whose property on which were picking took exception. She sicced her dogs on us! No one got bit but we were more careful about where we picked after that.

I learned to make blackberry pie the year after I was first married. Since my hubby’s birthday is the third week of August, it always coincides with blackberry harvest. And his favorite type of pie is blackberry. We bought our first house in West Seattle and the blackberries were one of many out of control things at that property.

Each of the three summers we were there, at the end of the harvest, we pruned them back. Each year I picked enough for the fresh pies as well as plenty to freeze and then bag for future use, something I continue to do, always finding a patch near where we live.

It was in February – the second year in West Seattle – that I decided to make a blackberry pie from some of the frozen berries. Being a CPA, my hubby was in the midst of tax season and had to work most Saturdays. To reward him I spent a fair portion of the day cooking homemade lasagna and the pie.

Dinner – my brother was there that night too – was a hit. The lasagna was delicious, the garlic French bread savory, and the green salad with fresh tomatoes and green onions a delight.

And then it was time for the pièce de résistance. I proudly carried the blackberry pie to the dining room where the two guys oohed and aahed over it. I cut three large wedges, served up with vanilla ice cream, and handed each their piece.


Before taking a bite of the pie, I looked over at my brother who was just kinda pushing his piece around on his plate and not eating. Weird. So I sliced off a forkful of mine and popped it in my mouth… and spit it out. I glanced down to the end of the table and my husband’s face told the story. His lips were pursed in a tight ‘o’ formation and his head was pulled back in surprise, his eyes wide.

I started to laugh… and could not stop. It was one of a half dozen times in my life where I laughed until I cried. Soon the guys were laughing too, all of us wiping the tears from our cheeks.

When the hilarity died down, I did what any self-respecting cook would do. I retrieved the sugar bowl from the kitchen and we passed it around, lifting the crust and sprinkling generous amounts on the cooked berries.

I surmised what, exactly, had occurred. When I pulled the berries from the freezer and put them in a bowl to thaw there was an excess of liquid. Seeing the berries look like they should for pie filling, I simply forgot to add the sweetener.

C&HSugar. Always remember to put sugar in your pies. And remember to be careful where you go to pick your berries. Mom said.

A couple links for your education:

…Grumpy Old Men

Get off my lawn!

August 21, 2018

get-off-my-lawnThis sentiment is most associated with a crotchety old man who, in a moment of exasperation, yells at the kids in his neighborhood.

And who can blame him, really? Those pesky kids can be as irritating and destructive as any unwanted vermin, especially when they decide his yard is the best place for a game of football.

In defense of the old guy, however, it’s not like his life is easy. No doubt he has a sore back, a nagging wife, and requires a daily afternoon nap (or two). Welcome to the world of senior citizens.

But rest assured, older Americans, today is your lucky day. Although we have no idea what inspired the day, it was proclaimed as such by President Ronald Regan that the event be celebrated on August 21st each year.

The Infallible Wikipedia is silent in regards to this important holiday. But on the National Day Calendar the following is shared:

“This day was created as a day to support, honor and show appreciation to our seniors and to recognize their achievements. Their valuable contributions to our communities create better places to live.

Take time today to spend with seniors you know, and listen to their stories of wisdom and experience, gain from their hard-earned knowledge.

‘For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute. We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older — places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance, and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.’

~ President Ronald Reagan – August 19, 1988 Proclamation 5847”

Getting older is an interesting process. And then that day arrives when you are offered your first senior discount! What an event! There you are, your $200 stack of Nordstrom’s finest piled on the checkout counter and the salesperson smiles at you then confidentially asks if you qualify for a senior discount. Of course, she intones, she really can’t tell but wants to save you thirty dollars… so you cave and admit you are eligible.

That is, of course, the way it happens the first time, right?

Well, not exactly. Here’s the real story.

I’ve just picked up a couple loaves of bread and a package of English Muffins at the Franz Bakery outlet. My purchase comes to three bucks and change. I’m counting out the bills and riffling through my coins looking for the exact amount when it happens.

“Are you old enough for a senior discount?”

Mortification overwhelms me. Do I look like I’m a senior? Oh. My. Gawd. I calculate what the ‘discount’ would be and realize it’s 30 cents. Thirty freaking cents.

franz kirkland

I look up at the clerk, smile and say, “Sorry, no.” Then grab the bread and scurry out the door. It wasn’t quite how I imagined my first time would be.

Since then (It was just last week, wink wink!) I’ve learned to embrace the whole Senior thing and enjoy the inevitable ‘No! You don’t look 60 comments’ I get. Of course I also embrace the philosophy of ‘Youth through chemicals’ and have discovered ways to mask the more obnoxious signs of aging. Clairol is your friend!

2017-Senior-Pass-Annual-Front-1_1.jpgA few days ago, my hubby informed me that the next time we visit a National Park he will be eligible to purchase the “America The Beautiful” pass – a one time purchase admitting him to the NP’s for the rest of his life. Now that’s a Senior Discount worth admitting your age.

So, those of you over a certain age, go out and celebrate National Senior Citizen’s day and be sure to ask for your damn discount.

… The Astor Street Opry Company

Shanghaied In Astoria

August 7, 2018

Shanghaiing or crimping: the practice of kidnapping people to serve as sailors by using  trickery, intimidation, or violence.  A crimp is someone who uses these methods to conscript a person against their will. A related term, press gang, refers specifically to impressment practices in Great Britain’s Royal Navy.

shanghaied1.jpgNow, while I have not been kidnapped in the form of shanghaiing, I did enjoy being in Astoria this past weekend and watching a performance of “Shanghaied In Astoria” – a musical melodrama now in its 35th season.

It’s good old fashioned, politically incorrect fun with over the top characters and toe tapping tunes. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“Shanghaied In Astoria is a musical melodrama that is performed by the Astor Street Opry Company every summer in Astoria, Oregon. It has run since 1984, and has been attended by over 55,000 people. Traditionally the play is performed three days a week from July to September. (snip)

The story is set in 1904 Astoria around the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival. The Norwegian hero, Eric Olson, must rescue his sweetheart Miss Virginia Sweet from Max Krooke, her ward.”


Sneak Not Snake

A couple of sturdy women with the character Sneak. He knocked it out of the park!

I’ve attended the play five times now and can sing along with the cast. In fact, I even participated in a walk on role a couple of summers ago.

During intermission of each performance (the past four years at the least) they sell auction tickets for baskets.
The first year I bought tickets to be entered in a drawing for a walk on part. I won the honor of getting to play the part of the sheriff! I was given a badge, a play gun, and had one line: “Stop Krooke you crook!”
When I attended with my sister, niece and her fiance the next year, I once again purchased tickets and, once again, won the role of the sheriff!
Having done it the previous year, I didn’t want to do it again so I offered it to the members of my group but no one (not even my niece’s now husband who, ironically, is a police officer) wanted the role. So I gave it to a guy sitting next to me. He was thrilled!
Due to some family circumstances I was unable to attend last year, but we did make it this year. But, alas, they were not raffling off the role of the sheriff so I bought tickets for one of the baskets and… won.
Sturdy women.jpgSo I have a 100 percent success rate for raffles at Shanghaied. What’s not to like?
If you are ever visiting Long Beach or Astoria in the summer, it’s a fun evening of tossing popcorn at the villains, booing, hissing and cheering the hero (Sweet but Dumb!)
And be sure to enter the raffle drawing – who knows you might just get your big break on the stage!
A few links:
The Astor Street Opry Company:
A brief explanation on Wikipedia (of course):
And a video from a few years ago about the production:

… A Mountain Climbing Grandma

July 24, 2018

There are times in life when a real life story comes along that is so wonderful, you just have to share it. This is one of those stories.

Hulda crooks Mount fuji.jpgIt was on July 24, 1987 when 91 year old Hulda Crooks of California successfully scaled 12,388 foot tall Mount Fuji. She was the oldest woman to ever summit that mountain.

In fact, she was affectionately called Grandma Whitney due to the fact that she had climbed Mount Whitney – at 14,495 feet it’s the tallest mountain in the continental United States – twenty three times… all after the age of 65!

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

Mount Whitney peaks“In 1990, Day Needle, one of the peaks in the Whitney area was, by an Act of Congress, renamed Crooks Peak in her honor.  On July 24, 1987, at the age of 91, she became the oldest woman to complete the ascent of Mt. Fuji in Japan. She hiked the entire 212 mile John Muir Trail in the high Sierras, completing the hike in segments over five years.

Hulda Crooks was a long-time resident of Loma Linda, California and a Seventh-day Adventist. She often spent time with children in the community, encouraging them to appreciate nature and stay active. In 1991 Loma Linda dedicated a park at the base of the south hills as Hulda Crooks Park.

‘Early to bed and early to rise. Out jogging about 5:30am. Jog a mile and walk it back briskly. It takes me 12 minutes to jog the mile and 15 minutes to walk it. Do some upper trunk exercises, work in the yard, and walk to the market, and work.’ — Hulda Crooks describing life at 80

According to Congressman Jerry Lewis (R California), one of her hiking companions,

Hulda crooks hiking‘No mountain was ever too high for this gentle giant. With a twinkle in her eye, and purpose in her step, Grandma Whitney showed the world that mental, physical and spiritual health is attainable at any age.’”

This remarkable woman lived to the age of 101. Even more remarkable is that she did NOT start climbing mountains until she was 66 years old.

In the obituary for her from Loma Linda University it said, “She held eight world records for women over the age of 80 including Senior Olympic events in marathon and road races. In addition she climbed a total of 86 different Southern California peaks, each over 5,000 feet between 1977 and 1983. When Mrs. Crooks spoke about the advantage of a good diet, proper exercise, and a positive mental attitude, she was speaking from experience. It was during a period of poor health while a student at Loma Linda that she changed her lifestyle. During her retirement years, she would give up to a dozen talks a month on health and physical fitness. She would walk up to 100 miles each month to stay in shape.”

Back in 1997 there was a movie released which featured a heroine named Rose. The movie: Titanic.

For those unfamiliar with the plot line: Rich girl, Rose, meets poor boy, Jack, and they fall in love. Both are passengers on the Titanic but, due to societal pressures, it’s a hidden love affair. When the boat hits an iceberg, their love – and pretty much everyone on board – is doomed. In the final moments of the movie, we see Jack succumb to the frigid waters of the north Atlantic. But his ultimate sacrifice saves Rose.

It always struck me, as we got the briefest of glimpses into Rose’s life after Jack, that the real gift he gave her was the understanding that life is to be lived to its fullest. She promised him to live her life that way – and she did.

Which is why Hulda’s story is so inspiring. No matter what your passion might be, go out and pursue it! For me it’s writing novels. Haven’t published a single one. Yet. But I’ve completed five and am halfway through number six. And I have no shortage of ideas and plots for seven, eight, nine, and ten.

Now, climbing a mountain? Not on my bucket list. Or riding a horse now that you mention it.

For years my sister, Susan, and I have spent anywhere from two weeks to a few days each summer at Long Beach, Washington. It all started in the summer of 1991 when, with her then two year old daughter and my one and half year old son in tow, we made our first ‘girls’ trek. Over the years our activities changed depending on the age and interests of the kids. Sometime in the early to mid-2000’s her two daughters decided they wanted to ride horses. In Long Beach there are a couple of outfits where you can sign up for a guide led trot to the beach.  The first year we opted for the half hour ride. This consisted of riding a horse with an attitude in a single file line over bumpy, sandy terrain to the beach. Once at the beach the horses were allowed to fight with each other and trot a little bit horse ride views long beachbefore the whole pack turned around and went back.

The next year the girls’ wanted a longer ride so we opted for the hour and half adventure. Which just meant more time doing exactly the same thing as the previous year. The only real difference was that I walked like a chafed cowboy for two days instead of one.

When the third year rolled around I had made a decision. The night before the proposed ride I said to my sister, “So here’s the deal. I’m not going horseback riding this year. In fact, I’m never going horseback riding ever again. Tomorrow morning my plan is to put the girls on those horses then wave goodbye. After that I’m driving to Laurie’s Homestead Café and having breakfast. If you want to go on the horses, then that’s fine, but I’d love to have you join me for breakfast.”Girls with horses 2008.jpg

So if you are ever in Long Beach, Laurie’s has the BEST hash browns.*  Which my sister found out that fateful morning when we marked horseback riding off our bucket list along with climb a volcano. I’ll leave that activity to the Hulda Crook’s of this world.Laurie's breakfast

After all, I can always tap into my imagination if I need a new adventure.

And, of course, a few links:

Two scenes from Titanic:

And if you’re on the peninsula:

* With the continued shutdowns from the COVID19 Pandemic I am unsure as to the status of Laurie’s Homestead cafe. I will check it out next time I’m in Long Beach and provide and update here.

… Coca Cola

July 10, 2018

things go better with cokeIt is a slogan all Americans of a certain age are familiar with: Things Go Better With Coke. Except for in 1985 when there was a brief period in time when the world shook on its axis and consumers rebelled against  what was branded as “New Coke.”

The controversy began in April that year when Coca Cola replaced the original formula with the new version in an effort to regain some of its lost market share to Pepsi.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“By 1985, Coca-Cola had been losing market share to diet soft drinks and non-cola beverages for many years. Consumers who were purchasing regular colas seemed to prefer the sweeter taste of rival Pepsi-Cola, as Coca-Cola learned in conducting blind taste tests. However, the American public’s reaction to the change was negative, even hostile, and the new cola was considered a major failure. The company reintroduced Coke’s original formula within three months of New Coke’s debut, rebranded as ‘Coca-Cola Classic’, and this resulted in a significant gain in sales. This led to speculation by some that the introduction of the New Coke formula was just a marketing ploy to stimulate sales of original Coca-Cola; however, the company has maintained that it was a genuine attempt to replace the original product.”

New Coke was out and Classic Coke was back on July 10, 1985.

The history of the soft drink is, primarily, a tribute to marketing and also the use of corporate profits to acquire multiple business lines. Although its current rank on the Fortune 500 is at 87 (down from 64 in 2017), it will celebrate 100 years as a publicly traded company in September 1919.

For me, as a child, there really were only three choices in ‘soda’ or ‘pop’ as we called it: Coke, 7-Up, and Root Beer. Root Beer was a special treat as we occasionally drove to the A&W drive in and got a frosty mug of the treat, sometimes as a float. And I was never a big fan of 7-Up.

But Saturday nights always involved getting to drink Coke while we ate popcorn and played a game my parent’s called ‘DeVore Rummy.’

rummy handThe game was six hands of cards where you collected, first, two groups of three cards; then a group and a run of four (all the same suit); then two runs. After the halfway point, things got more difficult with needing to acquire two groups and a run, then two runs and a group and, finally, two groups AND two runs plus you had to lay your entire hand down – with no leftovers –  to win the round.

I have several distinct memories of playing the game. First, as a seven year old, tossing down my cards in frustration as I lost (yet again) and stomping away from the table in tears.

Then, as a teenager, not understanding that family game night was an important event, designed to keep us at home and provide an excuse for our friends as to why we were not out partying like so many were.

By the time those teen years rolled around, as the youngest of four, I was frequently the only child still around on Saturday nights; when in 9th and 10th grade, my friend Pam was fixture at our house. We  added Pinochle to the mix as she and I both wanted to learn so many a night that was what was on the menu instead of Rummy.

But the other things never changed. I can still see my dad, standing at the avocado green electric stove, a large aluminum pan with a wooden handle in front of him. He’d cover the bottom of the pan with vegetable oil and, when he deemed the oil hot enough, put in three popcorn kernels and covered the pan with an aluminum pie plate. I have no idea what happened to the original lid and it had been gone for as long as I could remember.

We’d wait for the telltale pop-pop-pop as the kernels would bounce up against the aluminum pan. It was then he would add the rest of the kernels. Soon, with our heaping bowls of salted and buttered popcorn, and the always present glass of Coke, we’d gather round the dining room table for the games.aluminum pot

Over the years I grew to love the event – whether with my own parents, siblings, husband, kids, nieces, in-laws – for the wonderful gathering it is. And I no longer stomp from the room but instead, win or lose, value the time spent with family. And I always make sure there’s a bottle of Coke (or Diet Coke) in the fridge for those who want it.

For more information about New Coke:

And for the exhaustive history of the company:

I cannot find the exact rummy game we played, so it must have been a family variation, but here’s a link to a variety of such games:


May 29, 2018

On Wisconsin!

The state of Wisconsin was formed on May 29, 1848, making it the 30th state in the union.

According to the Infallible Wikipedia:

wisconsin flag“Between 1840 and 1850, Wisconsin’s non-Indian population had swollen from 31,000 to 305,000. Over a third of residents (110,500) were foreign born, including 38,000 Germans, 28,000 British immigrants from England, Scotland, and Wales, and 21,000 Irish. Another third (103,000) were Yankees from New England and western New York state. Only about 63,000 residents in 1850 had been born in Wisconsin.”

By now I imagine everyone is wondering why the heck I’m writing about Wisconsin. It can be summed up in one word: mosquitoes.

mosquito 2When I think about visiting Wisconsin, mostly I remember a frightening encounter in the fall of 1980 with a squadron of hungry mosquitoes. Before we get to that, however, let’s talk about how many mosquitoes there are in Wisconsin. A quick internet search reveals that 56 different species have been found in the state and mosquito season starts in early May, reaching its peak during the hottest months of the year. Additionally, mosquitoes thrive when there’s water nearby and, like its neighbor Minnesota, there are a bunch of lakes. Over 15,000 according to one source I found which totals up to 11,000 square miles of water in the state!

So you put together water and heat and the mosquitoes are piling in to the moving vans, hurrying to Wisconsin. Now I know that there are those of you from a couple other places who say your mosquitoes are worse. I’ll give that to some of the southern states, especially Florida. And, for sheer volume of mosquitoes, I doubt any state can compete with Alaska, and their famous mosquito clouds. But Wisconsin’s mosquitoes are bad as evidenced by businesses with names such as Mosquito Squad, Mosquito Xscape, and Mosquito Minus. The outbreak is so noticeable that people joke about the mosquito being the state bird…state bird wisconsin

Which brings us back to September 1980. A week and half earlier, on August 30th, I said “I do” and my newly minted hubby and I ventured across the United States from Washington State via Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and then to Illinois to visit his sister and her family. After a few days there we headed north to Wisconsin to indulge the new bride in one of her favorite pastimes: geneaology.

It was in 1848, the year of statehood, when the DeVore family arrived in Hebron, Wisconsin, just 52 miles west of Milwaukee and Lake Superior. I knew my great-great grandfather Hartley was there as I had found the family in the 1850 census. But more information was needed, however, as I had come to the conclusion that the DeVore family had been dropped into Wisconsin by space aliens as I could not find where the family had been before.

hebron cemeteryIt was a nice September day but by the time we arrived at the cemetery it was sunset. I don’t recall how we knew where, exactly, the family was buried but I do know we parked on a road and walked past several rows of headstones before we came to the DeVore clan. I was busy taking photos – there were about a half dozen ancestors there – when we heard ‘the’ sound: the unmistakable whine of a million tiny wings beating their way through the air toward us, their target.

We slapped at them, shooed them, and brushed them off. But the assault was relentless. Rather than be lifted up and carried away by an army of flying monkey sized insects, we did the only reasonable thing to do: we ran to the car, diving into our seats, slamming the doors behind us to stop the attack, our genealogy forays finished for the evening.mosquito

The next day was spent talking with some locals and getting to see the inside of one of the family ancestral homes and meeting a shirttail relative who gave me a copy of a photo of my great-great grandparents. But we had learned our lesson. When the sun was about to set we were safely inside, away from the penetrating proboscis of the persistent pests.

As for the genealogy, I confirmed – about 10 years ago – that my DeVore’s are not space aliens (well, except for my brother perhaps) but were part of the Yankee group which arrived from Western New York.hartley devore grave marker

So happy 170th statehood day, Wisconsin! And you can keep your mosquitoes…

For more information about Wisconsin:

And for the mosquito:

And, finally, if you are interested in tracing your family, I would suggest you go to the world connect project. Unfortunately, it’s currently unavailable online. But I’m happy to talk genealogy. Who knows, we just might be related!

…Olympic Champion Apolo Ohno

… and his amazing dad

May 22, 2018

“If I have given my all and still do not win, I haven’t lost. Others might remember winning or losing; I remember the journey.”

ohno goldWhat is amazing to me about the person who said this is that, at the time, he was one of the youngest athletes to win an Olympic Gold medal. The individual? Apolo Ohno.

May 22 marks the American short track speed skating champion’s 36th birthday. He has won 2 Olympic Gold, 2 Silver, and 4 Bronze medals.

From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“He has been the face of short track in the United States since winning his medals at the 2002 Winter Olympics. At the age of 14, he became the youngest U.S. national champion in 1997 and was the reigning champion from 2001–2009, winning the title a total of 12 times. In December 1999, he became the youngest skater to win a World Cup event title, and became the first American to win a World Cup overall title in 2001, which he won again in 2003 and 2005. He won his first overall World Championship title at the 2008 championships.

Ohno’s accolades and accomplishments include being the United States Olympic Committee‘s Male Athlete of the Month in October 2003 and March 2008, the U.S. Speedskating’s Athlete of the Year for 2003, and was a 2002, 2003 and 2006 finalist for the Sullivan Award, which recognizes the best amateur athlete in the United States. Since gaining recognition through his sport, Ohno has worked as a motivational speaker, philanthropist, started a nutritional supplement business called 8 Zone, and in 2007, competed on and won the reality TV show Dancing with the Stars. Ohno later became host of a revival of Minute to Win It on Game Show Network and served as a commentator for NBC‘s coverage of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.”

I think the thing which has set Ohno apart is his attitude and it was that, I believe, which made me a fan of his from the moment I saw him skate in the 2002 Olympic Games. As his story was told I could see that there were two heroes: Apolo and his father, Yuki.ohno yuki

Despite being a single dad struggling to raise his son solo, I imagine Yuki woke up every day and evaluated what exactly his child needed to be successful in life. Worried about Apolo being a latchkey kid without direction, Yuki got Apolo involved in sports.

As one reads between the lines, it becomes clear the path was not one of instant success or without bumps. Apolo faltered more than once but his father never gave up, finding new ways to direct his son.

What the world saw when this young man emerged on the world stage was an incredibly humble individual with wisdom way beyond his years. I contribute much of that to his father’s singular focus on his son’s character development.

I’m including the Wikipedia article, but also a link to his quotes.

…Jake The Alligator Man

Happy Birthday!

August 1, 2017

Happy Birthday to that northwest icon, symbol of blatant commercialism, and

Jake the Alligator Man

Long Beach, Washington’s most famous resident: Jake the Alligator Man

resident of Long Beach… Jake the Alligator Man!

How fun it was, on August 1, 2014, to be at Long Beach and join in the parade for Jake’s 75th birthday, be given free cupcakes and really celebrate this once in a lifetime event.

Or not. As it turns out the town of Long Beach celebrates Jake’s 75th birthday EVERY year and has been doing so for the past 11 years. So maybe it’s really Jake’s 86th birthday? Call me cynical but I’m starting to think that this is all a ploy for tourists to spend more money on Jake gear and at local motels and restaurants.

And his birthday is not always on August First but seems to coincide with whichever date the first Saturday in August might fall.

Jake’s murky beginnings are just that, murky. What we do know is that Jake was purchased in 1967 for $750 from an antique dealer. He has ‘lived’ at Marsh’s Free Museum ever since.

Jake with creepy doll

Jake The Alligator Man inspecting the Creepy Dolls.

Sandy Meets Jake.jpg

Sandy The Creepy Doll inspecting Jake.

I feel pretty certain that I probably saw Jake that first year as my family spent many a summer on the Peninsula. Shopping at Marsh’s during a Long Beach visit is a must. Although Jake was once relegated to a dusty corner along with the two-headed calf and the shrunken head, he now has a whole display area with a variety of t-shirts, bumper stickers, posters, key chains and glassware dedicated to the Gatorman. And Creepy Dolls like him also.

The Infallible Wikipedia has done a poor job of telling the whole history of Jake.  What’s up with that?

So I will skip them this week and instead share the article which catapulted Jake into legend status back in 2008 when the World Weekly News published an article titled “Manigator Found.”

“MIAMI, Florida — The discovery of a bizarre half-human, half-alligator in the Florida Everglades has flabbergasted scientists who say the creature is alive, at least moderately intelligent and possibly even a distant ancestor of modern man!

That’s the world from paleontologist Dr. Paul Ledbrader, who studied the creature in his laboratory for almost three hours before state wildlife officials seized the 5-foot, 11-inch, 180-pound beast and airlifted it to a research facility just west of Miami.

Nobody at the state wildlife commission is talking. But Dr. Ledbrader says the U.S. Forest Service sent no fewer than five experts to the facility to study the reptile in the hope of determining exactly where it came from — and what it might be.

‘I know what it isn’t — and that’s an ordinary alligator,’ said Dr. Ledbrader.”

To read more of their amazing discovery, click here:

Be sure to make plans to attend Jake’s 12th annual 75th birthday party in 2018:

*2020 Update!*

Sadly, Jake’s birthday celebration – scheduled for Saturday, August 1st – was cancelled. But that did not stop Mr. Gator from donning a birthday hat, a couple feather boas, and celebrating with friends and fans who might happen to stop by his house. Of course, HE was NOT socially distancing but this friend was.  Perhaps next year. Be sure to mark your calendars for August 7, 2021. It’ll be a party.


2021 Update – Jake’s birthday celebration has been cancelled for this year. Man, poor Jake is not feeling the love these days.

As American as Mother’s Day…

 …and Apple Pie!

May 9, 2017

As American as apple pie and motherhood… is the celebration each year of mother’s everywhere. It was on May 9, 1914, that President Woodrow Wilson
signed a proclamation which designated the second Sunday in May as the day
to show ‘love and reverence for the Mother’s of our country” who had lost
sons in war. The proclamation decreed that the American Flag be displayed on
government bumothers day imageildings!

Of course the intent of the original holiday has long since been hijacked by commercialization. I doubt Anna Jarvis – the woman who pushed for the
proclamation –envisioned today’s celebration.

The modern American efforts can be traced to May 9, 1905, the day Jarvis’ mother died. Distraught by her loss, Anna committed herself to continue her
mother’s work.

From the infallible Wikipedia:

“In 1868,  Ann Jarvis, mother of Anna Jarvis, created a committee to establish a ‘Mother’s Friendship Day’, the purpose of which was ‘to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.’ (The senior)
Jarvis – who had previously organized ‘Mother’s Day Work Clubs’ to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments undergoing a typhoid outbreak – wanted to expand this into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the celebration became popular. Her daughter, who became almost obsessed with her, would continue her mother’s efforts.”

The idea caught on, and with the passage of the proclamation in Congress, soon people were purchasing cards and flowers for Mom and taking her to dinner. Jarvis was appalled by this and spent the rest of her life fighting against what Mother’s Day had become:mothers day anna jarvis

“She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace while protesting against the commercialization of Mother’s Day, and she finally said that she ‘…wished she would have never started the day because it became so out of
control …’”

Anna Jarvis lost that battle. Today Mother’s Day is the third most popular day to send greeting cards (eclipsed only by Christmas and Valentine’s Day). It’s estimated that $18.6 BILLION will be spent this year. Approximately 87
percent of all consumers will participate and spend, on average, $152.

So, if you want to honor the Mom’s in your life the traditional way, forgo the commercial cards and just write a note, don’t take her to dinner but do take her to church, give her a carnation and fly the American Flag… and, men, be prepared to sleep on the couch.

For more interesting facts about Mother’s Day: