Laura Ingalls Wilder at 150…

Today, 7 February 2017, is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday, and celebrations are happening all year. My love for this iconic, and, at times enigmatic, figure is deep and complex and not something I’m very good at expressing in ways that make sense to most non-LIW fans out there. But my people know. The fans, the scholars, the literary critics, the educators, the historians–oh, especially my fellow historians, YOU get it–these people understand what those who have little if any familiarity with our Flutterbudget do not. And that’s fine.

But today is a big deal. 150 years since Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls brought forth her second child in a tiny cabin in Pepin, Wisconsin. This humble birth began what is now the worldwide phenomenon of Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, who is the embodiment of that great myth of the person of obscurity, rising from what seems to be the most mundane and ordinary of beginnings, passing a childhood and youth (and, in Laura’s case, much of her adulthood, too) riddled with struggle and misfortune, only to persevere, excel and become wildly successful against the odds. In Laura’s case, she did it as a relatively poor woman with relatively little education and relatively little opportunity all while at a relatively advanced age.

Gives a person a lot to think about.

I’m enjoying seeing how far her reach has influenced others and how many people come up with innovative observations. I dare say I have little in the way of innovation and this tomboy with ten thumbs doesn’t craft, so the best you’ll get from me is a pan of gingerbread with chocolate frosting. Maybe.

Meanwhile, the snarky part of me can’t wait to see how many bloggers and journalists will misattribute tv show dialogue to her wisdom* and, more importantly, how many people are really, REALLY confused by all of this information because they thought the show was documentary** and/or in current production.

In any case, I have LIW to thank for inspiring my adoration of history, research, museums, Dakota roadtrips, ancient cemeteries, abandoned homesteads, antique schoolbooks, and rag dolls with hand-drawn faces. Not to mention corseted karaoke with a diverse selection of like-minded Laurati. So, hats off to Laura!  (And bottoms up, if you’re inclined.) I’d love to hear how you’re celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Sesquicentennial in your life, whether today, this week, this year, or on whatever timeline suits you!

*I’m looking at you, Anyone Considering the use of “Home is the Nicest Word There Is” in your thinkpiece. Seriously, People. Laura never, ever, said that. Not once. She didn’t write it either. It’s scripted dialogue from tv, written almost two decades after she died. Say it with me: “Laura. Never. Said. That.”

**Trust me. It happens. At least once, at almost every public program I present. 😉

Once more, with feeling: #LauraNeverSaidThat

#IPromise

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“Be a Decent Human Being.”

Rex Huppke has an excellent weekly column at the Chicago Tribune. I read it yesterday, as I do every Monday. I’ve been reading it since it began a few years back, and his words never fail to resonate. After over two decades of working with the public, and often in large corporate-structure retail-and-service-industry positions, most of which had far more in common politically with the dreaded Dilbert-style cubicle farm than many of you may realize, I can tell you quite frankly that Rex knows of what he speaks. People need to be treated like, well, people. If more bosses/managers/supervisors took his theories to heart, a lot more people would love their jobs. 

And it is SO SIMPLE. 

Rex’s philosophy, in 5 words? “Be a Decent Human Being.” His column, I Just Work Here, focuses upon best strategies to navigate all manner of workplace interactions, and his advice has this nifty feature wherein it always translates well to everyday life. Rex offers a self-deprecating sense of humor which alternates with self-aggrandizement, tongue squarely planted in cheek.

This deft combination makes me grin with each new installment; I honestly look forward to reading his take on whatever aspect of workplace politics or “can you believe there are still people who need to be told this?” which he elects to discuss in a given week. And, while he certainly has no idea who I am, his column has become such a fixture of my routine that I feel confident in declaring he’s not some self-absorbed business guru with a byline, but, rather, the 21st century counterpart to another favorite writer of mine: Laura Ingalls Wilder. And because of that, it seems perfectly logical that I think of him as some long-lost college buddy from that class that time, who I haven’t talked to in ages but would seek out at the reunion if I even bothered to go. My buddy Rex, you remember… 

Wait, what? What does this MBA-type business column guy have to do with…did you say, Laura Ingalls Wilder? 

Yes. Yes I did.

What does my imaginary buddy Rex have to do with Laura, you say? Well, nothing. And, everything.

You see, Rex Huppke is the kind of writer who talks to his readers like, well, people. And he relates to them in everyday terms, discussing everyday issues, with honesty, humor, and solid intentions to make a positive impact on the lives of those people. As someone who has spent a good three quarters of her life learning anything and everything I can find about the multi-faceted Mrs. Wilder, to the point where I now spend much of my professional life in a newish-to-me career presenting educational first-person interpretation programs as the author whose friends knew her as Bessie, I am of the conviction that she–Laura– did much the same in her own work, nay, in her life, as the humble Rex does today.  

How so, you say? Let’s see…

Laura took bad situations and turned them into experiences, learning what she could and striving for better. She did a lot of tough, down-in-the-trenches work. She knew better than to count her chickens or rest on her laurels, even if she did occasionally express herself in cliché. She did her best to help, and to inspire, others. Whether writing a poultry column for the St. Louis Star, or penning a quick note home to her beloved Manly, describing the wonders she witnessed at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition while visiting with their daughter, the up-and-coming Rose Wilder Lane, Laura had meaningful thoughts to share, and was known to share freely when she felt it mattered. Laura took education seriously, so much so that she sometimes sounded apologetic for never having been “graduated from anything.” Yet, she was so self-educated that she became known locally as an active clubwoman who read voraciously and encouraged her neighbors to share their intellectual persuits in the Eastern Star, the Athenians, and “Justamere” Club. On a regional level, her farm columns for the Missouri Ruralist offered tips on progressive farming and housekeeping as well as underscoring civic duty and fostering tolerance of one’s adversaries. Eventually, her mildly fictionalized series of children’s books became a fixture in homes and classrooms across the country–and are translated and enjoyed in dozens of languages around the world.

But all of this homespun goodness can be boiled down to a pretty simple philosophy and approach to one’s inner life and outer responsibilities. Do your work, but find joy in simple pleasures. Do everything to the best of your ability, but don’t be afraid of failure. Stand up for what you think is right, but allow yourself to feel empathy for others, even if you disagree. In short, Rex and Laura offer the same message, albeit in different contexts and different centuries: Be a Decent Human Being. And any person with a philosophy like that is well worth knowing. Or, at least, admiring publicly for a moment.

Find Rex Huppke’s work here:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/chinews-ask-rex-huppke-i-just-work-20130507-staff.html

https://www.facebook.com/RexWorksHere

Twitter: @RexWorksHere

 

Happy 148th to Laura Ingalls Wilder, with Love from Google!

Google is honoring our favorite Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, with a Google Doodle all her own. Tomorrow, 7 February 2015, is the 148th anniversary of the birth of Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, born at Pepin, Wisconsin. Happy birthday, Laura! With love…

http://doodles.wordofsearch.com/2015/02/laura-ingalls-wilders-148th-birthday.html?m=1

A Puritan Hero

Just discovered this blog, courtesy of a share by my friend and Alcott scholar, Kristi Martin, who brought Amy Belding Brown to my attention with this link. Kristi and I both work in Concord and greatly admire what is known as Orchard House, the home built by the subject of this piece, John Hoar, and which would later be home to Louisa May Alcott as she penned Little Women.

I love antique houses, women’s history, and stories of rebellious colonists of New England in the days before notions of antidisestablishmentarianism took hold. This one combines them all!

Collisions

Orchard House snowAbout a decade ago, I worked for a few years at the Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts.  Best known as the home of Louisa May Alcott and the place where she wrote the classic novel, Little Women, the house has an impressive history of its own.  When I was there the 300-year-old building, renovated by Bronson Alcott in the 1850’s, was in the midst of a massive preservation project, so I had the opportunity to see, up-close, some of the details of the colonial construction.  Ever since, I’ve been fascinated not just by how historical houses are decorated, but how they’re constructed.

At that time, I was finishing work on my novel, Mr. Emerson’s Wife, about the Transcendental circle in19th century Concord.  Little did I know that a few years later, I’d encounter the house again, as I researched a 17th-century Concord lawyer for my new novel,

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