The Suitcase Lady

History

May 22, 2018, 10:15 pm

I spent the first half of my day today doing a science and art project about elephants with 42 enthusiastic, happy first and second graders. When we finished, the kids went to lunch and I left to pick up groceries. Checking out at Trader Joe’s, I was asked by the young cashier, “And how are you going to spend the rest of your day?”.

I paused a second and then truthfully answered his question. “I’m going to visit two cemeteries”.

The check out person had been schooled to ask the question, but not on how to handle an accurate answer. Seeing how hard he was struggling to find appropriate words, I filled the gap by saying, “I don’t want to forget my family, they were good people”.

Contact with the living did not occur in the two cemeteries I subsequently visited. Despite the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, I saw no one bringing flowers or trimming headstones. Death is not in style in America.

For many decades, especially on this holiday week, I marvel at a piece of insight from the celebrated American novelist, Reynolds Price. He noted that our elderly and deceased family members allow us to reach back and “touch” history. After reading his words, I paid more attention to the dates on our family tombstones.

My grandfather was born in 1864, and though he died before I was born, he gives me a link back to the Civil War. His wife, my grandmother, was born in 1878 and lived a long life. I was fortunate to spend countless hours with her, a woman who lived through Reconstruction, the end of the frontier, the Industrial Revolution, the First World War, a Great Depression, the Second World War and the beginning of the jet age. Learning about history from someone who has lived it beats any secondhand account from a textbook or computer site.

You might not want to spend next weekend wandering around in a cemetery, but you might try seeing how far back you can personally wander in history. It’s mind altering….no drugs needed.

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Chainsaw

May 15, 2018, 9:50 pm

I am now the co-owner of a chainsaw,  an item I never wanted to own. I’ve always considered these tools to be noisy, dangerous and frequently destructive of habitats. The blame for our saw acquisition lies squarely on Mother Nature.

For 22 years we have maintained our home and property with tools that would feel at home in a Little House on the Prairie. My husband enjoys using hand tools, many of which he inherited from his father and grandfather.

Last May, Mother Nature began her rampage and a massive storm tore a dozen trees from our cliff and deposited them in a tangle on the beach. It looked like a giant had been playing pick up sticks. We cleared the mess using hand saws, muscle power and patience.

This year’s surprise was an April blizzard accompanied by 18 foot waves in the lake. Huge chunks of our cliff were washed out, and two mature trees toppled onto the shore. Furious sawing again allowed us to open up the beach.

But the coup de grace happened last Sunday. The day was calm and sunny and I went down for a beach walk. A gigantic tree was completely blocking my way. For a second I was stunned, but quickly figured it out. The cliff is unstable from all the storms, and this was another of nature’s “gotchas”.

When my husband surveyed the situation, his first words were,”We are going to need a chainsaw.”

He spent the evening checking out rental versus purchase options. “I don’t think she’s through throwing trees around yet,” he concluded. We bought the saw on Monday.

B.C. Before Chainsaw – Click the above picture to watch the action!

 

 

A.C. After Chainsaw – Let ‘er rip!

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Paris

May 8, 2018, 9:05 pm

In case you missed seeing “April in Paris” this year, here is a report. I was in Paris this April. Unfortunately, it was not THE Paris, but Paris, Illinois, population 8,837. The Illinois Paris is 165 miles south of Chicago in the heart of the prairie. Like so many other towns in rural America, it is long past its glory days, but evidence of grander, wealthier, more hopeful times can still be seen.

Since Paris is a county seat, it has a courthouse set squarely in the center of town. It’s an architectural jewel. The people who constructed this elegant building between 1891 and 1893 must have been filled with civic pride, a phrase unknown to many Americans now. They also must of had ample tax dollars to spend.

I love taking road trips and seeing our country’s past lurking in historic buildings such as this one. And when I was in Paris, I wondered how many other places in rural America are named Paris. A bit of computer research supplied the answer. You could visit 23 different Parises in 19 states. This includes cities, towns, townships and unincorporated communities. My home state, Wisconsin, has two, a town and a township.

Paris, Texas, is the second largest Paris in the world. The folks there built a wooden replica of the Eiffel Tower topped with a red Stetson cowboy hat. Unfortunately, a tornado blew it all away. A steel replacement was made, however, a rival Paris in Tennessee built a higher one. Paris, Tennessee also prides itself on having the world’s biggest fish fry. Now if that were the world’s largest crepe cook off, I would be hitting the road.

 

 

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Enough

May 1, 2018, 10:09 pm

Last Tuesday, my husband took matters into his own hands. I came home from school on our first 60 degree day and he was in the driveway attacking the remains of the previous week’s blizzard with a large snow shovel. Snow was strategically placed all over the driveway so it could catch the sun’s rays and melt. I believe the strategy he employed is called “divide and conquer.”

Winter in Wisconsin is an endurance contest. It’s not the blizzards that get to us. We’re tough. It is winter’s amazing tenacity that wears us down. There is something obscene about having snow hanging around the last week of April. How lucky I am to have a partner who goes out and attacks it.

While he was out bashing the piles of snow left by our plow guy, I was fighting back in my own way. One of my favorite schools lets me suggest topics that I present to their first and second graders. The teachers and I agreed that a lesson on the artists Pieter Bruegel the Elder and his two sons, Pieter Breughel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder was apropos. While one of Pieter the Elder’s most famous pictures is a frosty scene, Hunters in the Snow, I suggested we focus on his younger son, Jan the Elder, who invented the flower still life genre. I figured we all needed to fill the school walls with glorious blooms à la Jan’s style.

The kids drew and cut out over 150 flowers and helped me glue them all into a gigantic floral  mural. If spring doesn’t come to you, you just have to make your own flowers.

(Also note that this blog is not full of typos. The B family each used a different spelling for their last names and the kids loved that fact.)

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Penguins

April 24, 2018, 8:37 pm

Here is a wonderful piece of news. 1,500,000 penguins have been found. The best part is they were never lost. Unbelievably, no one knew of their existence. How can 1,500,000 anythings stay hidden in this privacy-less age?

The penguins are Adelies. The species was discovered by the French explorer Jules Dumont d’ Urville in 1840, who named them after his wife. Adelies are one of the southernmost birds in the world. They live in the ocean and nest on the Antarctic coastal beaches and adjacent islands.

Scientists thought they had located all the Adelies’ breeding grounds and were convinced that Adelie populations were in serious decline. But then satellite imagery detected masses of guano on a part of Danger Island thought to be penguin free.

A group of scientists decided to check it out despite the fact that they knew Danger Island lived up to its name. The sea expedition had many close calls with treacherous ice but were rewarded by finding a million and a half happy Adelies breeding on the island. A drone was employed to do the head count.

We now can take Adelie extinction off our worry lists. And a good way to celebrate this happy discovery would be to observe National Penguin Day which is tomorrow, April 25. I don’t exactly know how to do this, but perhaps wearing black and white and thinking cool thoughts would suffice…..or eating raw fish.

Here are some penguin facts to ingest:

  • All 18 penguin species live south of the equator. However, the Galapagos Penguins are so close to the equator they can swim across.
  • The largest penguin, the Emperor, can be 4 feet tall and weigh nearly 80 pounds. Think three Thanksgiving turkeys.
  • The smallest penguin is the Little Blue or Fairy Penguin of Australia and New Zealand. It is never more than 16 inches tall and 2 pounds.
  • The fastest penguin swimmer is the Gentoo which can reach speeds of 22 miles per hour.
  • Penguins can drink sea water. Salt is filtered from the blood by special glands and secreted through the nose.
  • Prehistoric penguins lived 35 million years ago and stood 5 feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. That would be a penguin presence.

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