Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Little House Journey

So... my mother and I took Little Girl on her very first Little House trip. First of many, I am quite confident. She had a wonderful time!! Now I've been on numerous visits myself, the first ones with family where everything was so new and exciting and I was simply breathless taking it all in, and later ones with various friends where we were always investigating and exploring new things to do, but this time surpassed them all. The standard things, the things that were so exciting those first couple of visits, have become so familiar that I don't know that it would even be worth a trip back just for myself at this point. But seeing everything through Little Girl's eyes, and acquainting her with the stories, brought back the joys, the beauty, the simplicity of the stories themselves.

Who cares if this object belonged to the family? Who cares if that building was originally some building in the books? Who cares that so and so lived there, and so and so homesteaded here? I've certainly been very interested in those things in the past, but this trip was about Little Girl experiencing the books and pioneer life for the first time, and I must say, that enjoyment far surpassed that of any other trip. Well, let me stop rambling, and get on with the events of the trip!!

We flew to Sioux Falls, and after a visit to the zoo, headed up to our Bed and Breakfast in De Smet, South Dakota. It is a restored home that had belonged to Banker Ruth, from the Little House series, and is just two doors down from the Ingalls home the family lived in after Laura's marriage. So that was fun!! Little Girl was very excited about the Murphy Bed in the closet that we pulled down for her. That first night in the B&B, we let Little Girl watch the premiere movie of Little House on the Prairie.

Now, I liked the show as a kid, but I always knew it was very very different from the books. I have no problem with Little Girl watching the show later on, but I really want her to know the BOOKS first. I had bought her the series for Christmas, and wanted my sister to read her at least Big Woods, Prairie, and Plum Creek before we left on this trip, but that didn't happen. When I'm in town, I've read to her, and we finished up Big Woods but that's it. So I decided that since the premiere movie stays relatively close to the book, that would be a good way to get her to experience the stories of Little House on the Prairie a lot faster.

The next morning, Little Girl had a pancake man, like Ma made the children for breakfast on Christmas morning in the Big Woods, only with chocolate chips for the face :o), and after breakfast, we headed on over to the official LIW museum in town. I had made us shirts for the occasion -- Little Girl's had the front cover of Little House on the Prairie where the two girls are looking out the back of the wagon, and it said My First Little House Trip. :o) Mine and Mom's had a pic of the Ingalls family from the De Smet time period (Silver Lake really), dancing to Pa's fiddle, and read: "It is the sweet, simple things of life that are the real ones after all." ~Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So we looked around in the bookstore while we waited for our Surveyors House tour to begin. When we went in, Little Girl was interested in seeing and touching EVERYTHING, and not so interested in listening to the tour guide, who just went ON and ON and ON, telling the ENTIRE HISTORY of the Ingalls family and all of their moves -- you know, "Then they left the Big woods and went to Kansas and bla bla bla, and then they went back to the Big Woods and bla bla bla, then they went to Walnut grove and bla bla bla, then they went to Burr Oak, and then back to Walnut Grove, and then to De Smet... Since Little Girl was so busy exploring, and I was so busy trying to keep her from touching anything she shouldn't, I didn't figure she was paying the least bit of attention, and there was a man there with a baby who wasn't being OVERLY fussy but who was making some little whimpers and cries here and there, and the woman asked him to leave!! So I was terrified she was going to send us out with Little Girl!!

But she didn't, and at long last the talking was over and LG was free to look around. She got to grind wheat in an old coffee grinder like they did in The Long Winter and she enjoyed that.

Our next stop was the Discover Laura center across the road -- an old schoolhouse that the association has put there since the last time we went, for hands-on activities for kids. Little Girl LOVED it there. She did every single activity: she sewed with an old sewing machine, she used a writing guide to write her name with her eyes closed pretending to be blind like Mary, she spelled out her name in Braille by glueing peas in the appropriate circles, she made a covered wagon out of paper, she built cabins with Lincoln Logs, she cooked with the play food on the old-fashioned stove, she gathered toy eggs from beneath stuffed chickens , she tried on several bonnets and aprons and dresses from the dress-up trunk, and she made butter from cream and served it to us on crackers. We were in there for over two hours. Every other family came in, their kid would do one or two things, and in 10-15 minutes they'd be bored and leave. Not LG!!

And apparently she had been listening more than I thought during that Surveyors House tour, as in the school, she sat at the teacher's desk, picked up a book and said, "Now children, I'm going to tell you a story about a girl named Laura, and her Pa, and Ma, and Mary, and Baby Carrie, and Jack, and Black Susan. And they lived in the forest for a bery bery long time, and then they moved to....?" She looked questioningly at me, and I said, "Kansas." She says, "They moved to Kansas. And then they moved to somewhere else, and then they moved to somewhere else, and then they moved to somewhere else, and then they moved to somewhere else. And then Laura got bery old and she went to heaven to live with God and Jesus. The End."

I laughed SO hard, especially because her biography is so accurate!!!! :o)

At long last, she had completed every single activity and was ready to go. A playground was outside the building so she played there for awhile, and then we went to the Ingalls house in town, and toured it. We then went and had a late lunch, and then I took her swimming. There were real frogs in the pool!!

After swimming, we headed back to the B&B and got cleaned up and then it was time to head out to the pageant grounds. We got there right after they opened the grounds so we could get front row seats. There were wagon rides around the prairie while we waited. Little Girl provided a running commentary of the entire pageant. She NEVER stops talking... but at least she was paying attention as she talked, and her comments were hilarious.

Saturday morning, Little Girl wore her prairie dress that Mammaw made her, and she was absolutely gorgeous. After breakfast (LG got a Mickey Mouse pancake today! The B&B owner had made one for her grandson the day before, so LG put in a special request...), we headed out to the Ingalls homestead, visiting first the society's corner of the homestead claim, where Pa's cottonwoods still stand. Then we headed up the hill to the "Ingalls Homestead", which is a huge hands-on experience basically, spread out all over the original Ingalls homestead claim. There are several buildings -- a dugout, a claim shanty, etc. and the entire thing is hands-on, nothing is off-limits or only for viewing. So if you want to lay down on a straw tick, play an old pump organ, play at cooking on the stove, etc., that's all totally fine. And that is Little Girl's idea of a museum!! :o)

She did so many things that day it would be impossible to relate them all. Again, though, she did EVERY SINGLE activity offered, never growing bored or wanting to skip ANYthing, so we were there ALL DAY LONG. She did some laundry, using an old wringer washer. She sewed, she quilted, she braided a rug, she made a button toy and a jumprope and a corncob doll, she ground wheat again, she pumped water, she checked out the outhouse but was NOT impressed (people actually use it...YUCK), she went on a pony cart ride, she drove a team of horses across the prairie to take us all to "school", where she performed beautifully. There were about ten kids present for our school session, most older, about 8-12. The teacher had them line up and had a spelling bee. Those kids could not spell, I think only one or two spelled their words correctly (and they weren't hard words, apron, bonnet, cowboy, etc.) and even those were slow and unsure. Two 3 yr olds were only asked to count to 3, so we were hoping Little Girl, the only other really young child there, would be given a word to spell instead of asked to count to 5 or something dumb like that, because she CAN spell any short vowel word you give her. The teacher asked her name, and then asked her to spell it, which she was able to do at 2 or 3, but at least it was spelling a word instead of counting to 5. Then they had a music lesson. The teacher sang, "My name is Mrs. Nelson" and the children were to try to match her tune and use their own names. A couple of the older girls did a decent job, but most of the kids were totally off-key. We wondered what Little Girl would do. When it came to her turn, the teacher sang, "My name is Mrs. Nelson," and in perfect pitch in her ever so sweet voice, she sang back loudly and clearly, "My name is Little Girl." The entire schoolroom of people awwwwed. :)

Oh, and then there was the barn. I mustn't forget the barn, for upstairs was a box of kittens. How Little Girl loved those kittens. We were there a LOOOONG time.

That evening, the society was holding a free "covered wagon supper". No more details were ever given, and I had been quite eager to see what this would be, thinking it would be a legitimate pioneer style meal. Um, try hot dogs, potato chips, and baked beans. Can't beat free though, so we ate, and then let Little Girl try out every playground in the entire town. :)

Saturday night at the B&B, we let Little Girl watch more Little House: the first part of a Harvest of Friends where the family lives in the dugout and Pa builds the house, then turned it off before they went into the crazy story about Pa stacking those bags and getting hurt, and put in Country Girls, where the girls start school and meet Nellie Oleson. Those two pieces stay fairly close to the books and we figured it would help her get familiar faster with the main events of Plum Creek, in preparation for our visit to Walnut Grove the next day.

Sunday morning, Little Girl got another pancake man, and clothed once more in her prairie dress since she begged to wear it again, we headed off for Walnut Grove. The two hour drive seemed ENDLESS, and we really felt for the Ingalls family riding in a wagon across the empty prairie from early in the morning until late at night -- and that was only from Tracy to Brookings, about HALF the trip we made in two hours...

Walnut Grove has added quite a bit since our last trip too. Most of its stuff was roped off and you just look at it, and LG whizzed right by that stuff, but there was one hands-on room and once again, we spent a LONG time in it. She carried firewood like Laura and Mary, put it in the stove and "cooked" us a meal, tried on numerous hats, played with some old wooden toys including a Noah's Ark like Willie Oleson had in Plum Creek, looked through a stereoscope (very cool, as I always wondered just how they worked!), played us a tune on another pump organ, etc.

After touring all the museum had to offer, we went out to Plum Creek. I couldn't believe it, but Little Girl seriously wanted to wade in the creek. We tried to talk her out of it, but she insisted. She did an excellent job of holding up her dress so it didn't get wet at all, but when she came out, her feet were quite muddy. We had wipes in the car and I tried to clean them off but they just weren't terribly effective. Oh well, our next stop was our hotel, and it was only a few minutes away, so we headed there, and I carried her with her muddy feet straight from the car to the tub. I used soap and a washcloth and scrubbed those feet and still she had some brown spots on her feet when we were finished. I don't know how on earth Ma ever got Laura's and Mary's feet clean!! Perhaps she didn't. :o)

There was a park across the street from the hotel conveniently enough, so after we ate, and stopped by the Wheels Across the Prairie exhibit in Tracy, where Ma and the girls had ridden the train to, from Walnut Grove, I took her to the park. Then we headed off to the pageant. I've always preferred the Walnut Grove pageant to the De Smet one just because the sets are so awesome, it's more professionally done, etc., but I'm changing my mind now. It has a few events from the book, but so much is centered on town life, and church life, and it takes away from the charm of the books, in my opinion. Just act out the book, that's the only play I need to see!!

And so the next morning we traveled home, with a visit to the Creation Museum during our SEVEN HOUR layover. My sister told me that the whole way home from the airport, Little Girl chattered away about leeches and the big crab and Nellie Oleson. :)

Yes, the Little House obsession has effectively spread to the next generation... :)


kittyhox said...

Oh my gosh. I not only want to take my daughter (should I ever have one - I currently have one son) there. I want to go now! Just for myself!

I, too, loved the books and only later watched the shows, which were okay. But they lacked the essence of the books.

I have been to Prince Edward Island, home of LM Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables. I have to have a daughter some day just so I can pass on my love of all things Anne-related.

What a great post!

Rachel said...

Love the tale of your trip! And I, of course, want pictures. Someday I'll take my Piper Maru. It'll be so much fun! Aunt Kitty and her boyfriend will be in town in 2 weeks, and we are all going to the Creation Museum soon though!

Everyday Housewife said...

Thank you so much for relating in such great detail. For those of us who may never get to go, it's like we got to go vicariously through your great presentations.
You guys are too cool!
I just loved it!

Maria said...

Excellent! I want to go too now :o)

And perfect timing of this post as I've *just* finished reading the entire series. Ahh... perfect comfort reading! :o)

A Dusty Frame said...

James and I want to take this trip!

So cool! I want to go to Prince Edward Island too!