Thursday, May 26, 2016

AAR: A Country Ramble

Three years ago, I discovered this adorable bed and breakfast in the Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin - a reproduction of an 1840s stagecoach inn, faithfully decorated with antique beds and furnishings (with all the modern conveniences of plumbing, electricity and HVAC). It seemed purpose-built for a semi-immersion event. My mind churned it over for a year and some change before I figured out exactly what I wanted to do. And last week, my dream event came true - portraying pleasure travelers at an inn, going "rambling" during the day and enjoying the lovely inn at night, with a small group of friends who were specially invited.

The Gentleman Friend (aka Mr. Watkins) and I set off on Thursday and arrived at the inn on Thursday evening. The event was to start on Friday afternoon, but we wanted to make sure we had everything set up logistically. We took the opportunity on Friday to go scout out trails - we'd never been in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, so we needed to make sure the trail was accessible to everyone in the group, was interesting enough to keep everyone entertained, and was manageable in cage crinolines and leather-soled shoes. We were lucky - we stopped at the forest headquarters to grab maps and pay for our permit, and we got a hot tip from the ranger about a likely option just down the road. It turned out to have everything we wanted. This was an auspicious beginning! We celebrated with a Tex Mex lunch.

Everyone arrived in the afternoon - a group of several friends from across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. We had a brief meeting, went out for dinner as a group, then settled into our comfortable rooms for the night.

We woke up in 1860. Walking downstairs to the first floor in my wrapper, I discovered Mr. W. already awake and reading in the tap room. He had seen some of the other guests coming down for coffee and tea, but no one was around yet. The morning paper had arrived with plenty of interesting news and advertisements. Slowly, the rest of the guests filtered down for breakfast - cinnamon toast with syrup and jam, berries and cream, and local sausages. The newspapers had arrived, and the innkeeper was full of her own local tidbits - the train was delayed, she informed us. Thankfully, none of us had planned to leave that day. Conversation at breakfast revolved around getting to know one other - who we were, where we had come from, and what our travel plans were. I told our fellow guests, Mr. and Mrs. Warren, that I was visiting with my friend, Mrs. Middleton, and my sister, Mrs. Chapin, on our way to the resorts further north. Mr. W. was there as our escort. The Warrens were in between visits to their two sons, one of whom resides in Madison and the other in Milwaukee.

After breakfast, we retired to our rooms to change for the day. Once we were dressed (several of us in sporting outfits, with walking staffs), we set out to see the countryside. There was a nearby rock outcrop, known to the locals as Brady's Rocks, which we wished to see. We began first by walking across some tall-grass prairies - the sun was warm, but there was a nice breeze to mitigate that. We climbed a hill to see the view over the countryside, with its ridges and "kettles". Some of us stayed at the overlook, and the rest valiantly pressed on into the woods, to see Brady's Rocks, which were quite picturesque tucked back in the woods.

Back at the inn, we had a leisurely lunch on the porch. Some of us retired to rest (as they were traveling for their health, after all) and some of us sat on the porch. Mrs. Pestel read several stories to us, and Mrs. Lucking filled us in on the latest story in Harper's, The Woman in White. The rest of us sewed, or simply lounged about and enjoyed the peaceful afternoon.

In the evening we all sat down for a rustic but hearty dinner, with a delicious custard and raspberry preserves for dessert. Major Lucking offered a few toasts during the dinner. Afterwards we retired to the parlor for a relaxed evening. Some of the ladies played cards, while others read or knitted. Mr. Ackeret, Mr. Watkins and Major Lucking played an old board game, Every Man To His Station, which left them, according to Mr. Ackeret, needing to reconsider their life choices. The moral of the game was, apparently, a bit hazy, since every action required a forfeit.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. The newspapers waiting in the parlor provided interesting conversation about the Democratic Convention and the unprecedented split in the party. As we finished our breakfast (a delicious egg pie), we discussed our departure and where we would be headed next - some of us were headed home, some on to other adventures.

All in all, it was a fabulous event, and everything I wanted. We were able to achieve some experiences that few people get to have, like 1860s hiking, and the opportunity to experience pleasure travel. This event encompassed so much of what I want to achieve in mid-19th century events - finding opportunities in our own backyard to focus on being civilians and discovering through experimentation just what it was like to live in the mid-19th century, separate from the military. For these types of events, all you need is friends who want the same thing and are willing to have fun and work toward an immersive environment.

Have some pictures! They're slightly less terrible than usual!



As a note: the inn where we stayed is Eagle Centre House in Eagle, Wisconsin, between Madison and Milwaukee. It's a really gorgeous place, with a lovely innkeeper who deserves every single shout out I can give.

It's me! With a new dress that miraculously got done and FIT!
The elusive Gentleman Friend, in his 1860s clothes. It was his first event, and we almost killed him, but he survived, despite pictorial evidence. Better yet - he said he'd do it again!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

There and Back Again (or, maybe I'm crazy)

It's that time of year when I re-emerge and give all sorts of excuses about where I've been! Here's a list of all the things that happened in the last year:

May: I went to the reenactment of President Lincoln's funeral in Springfield. It was a long drive to get there, and it was very warm, but I'm so glad I went. It was a meaningful experience that moved me to tears as I came to understand the grief experienced by the nation in 1865. I also became CSPAN-famous.

June/July: I got a new job! I switched from being an instructional designer for a retail corporation to a senior instructional designer for a healthcare organization. It's a step up and I really enjoy the company I work for and the team I work with. In the midst of all that, I was prepping and planning for...

August: Being civilian coordinator for a massive reenactment at Fort Snelling as we reenacted the return of the Second Minnesota to St. Paul in 1865. I spent the majority of my time in 2015 planning this thing, and it was absolutely worth it. The experience was incredible and one I won't forget any time soon.

It was also really hot out. My curlicues and glistening face prove it. It will become a theme during the rest of the year.

September: I moved! Just down the hall in the same apartment building, but moving is moving. I now have my own sewing space, and a greater appreciation for all the fabric I own. It takes up a lot of space and is heavy to lug, even if it's just down the hallway.

A week later...

October: I went to a small, private reenactment in Illinois. I might be crazy, but this event is important to me and I made it happen. It was also too hot, but it was a peaceful time hanging out with friends and sleeping in my home-away-from-home dogtrot.

November, December and January were the busy times at the new job, and the holidays, and getting ready for other stuff like...

February: My reenacting group's annual formal ball! Pictured elsewhere on this site in other years, it was a lovely time as usual. It was even more special because I brought The Gentleman Friend to the Friday night sociable. It was his first time dressing up, and he looked pretty snazzy if I do say so myself.

And there was an extra day in February, so we took advantage of that by getting engaged! It is very exciting and we're both very pleased with ourselves. We bought each other rings, and I am pretty much in love with mine - it is an antique from England, almandine garnet with seed pearls.

We will need to find a new pseudonym for him, because soon he won't just be The Gentleman Friend!

But, there was no time to rest, because the next day was...

March, and it was time for me to present at the Civilian Symposium in Harrisburg! It was truly an honor to be on this year's faculty, and to present with Jessica Craig on planning civilian-focused, history-heavy events. And of course, I got to make a dress - the tradition at the Symposium is that all the faculty get a length of the same fabric (dress length for women, vest length for men, usually two different fabrics) and told to make a garment from it. I decided to try something different and do 1840s. It was such a fun and unique experience, and I hope to be able to do it again soon!

And that, gentle readers, brings us up to date. I am currently working in Pittsburgh for the week (and sincerely, Pittsburgh is both a charming and a weird place, with its hills and its friendly people and its salads with french fries on top) but I am ready to get back home and start on some new adventures! I am hosting an immersion event in May, I have some commissions keeping me busy, and then there's this wedding coming up...but I hope to be able to tell you all about it here!