A taste of summer…

Rising early on a Saturday morning during a weekend getaway to Hermann may not be your first choice of things to do, but it might be worth it to pick up some fresh-baked cinnamon rolls at the local Farmers Market.  Held each week at the Hofgarten, at First and Gutenberg, on both Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons, this market offers a little bit of this and that…

This Saturday morning the offerings included homemade blueberry bagels, a variety of breads, fresh and dried chili peppers ~ jalapeno, serrano, and even habanero ~ pie pumpkins, fresh chickens ready to roast for Sunday dinner, and a beautiful display of zinnias in a rainbow of colors from the Windy Hill Cut Flower Farm.  Our neighbor, Margie, was there with her jars of honey from her own Triple Creek Farm.  Margie, a photographer/beekeeper, lends an artistic flair to her products, using some unique glass vessels to store the honey – like high-end accessories found in a gourmet kitchen.

Personally, I have absolutely no tendency to grow anything, so I truly admire folks who do.  Growing up south of Hermann, my parents grew just about anything under the sun ~ and in central Missouri, you can grow a lot.  From potatoes to tomatoes, okra to asparagus, concord grapes to gooseberries, they grew it.  Having been children during the Depression, I think growing your own food supply provided a sense of security for them.  Needless to say, during the summer months there was always something to pick or can or freeze or pickle or juice or preserve ~ and I disliked every moment of it!  I looked forward to the day when I was grown up, had a job, and could go to the grocery store and buy what I wanted.  And my sentiment hasn’t changed.  So, thank you to all of you who toil in your own gardens, pack up your produce on an early Saturday morning and take it to the farmers markets, so I can enjoy a taste of summer without going through all that effort!

Just a note ~ during the summer months, following the Farmers’ Market, there is live music each Saturday afternoon at the Hofgarten.  For more information, go to the Hermann Farm site:  http://www.hermannfarm.com/Events/UpcomingEvents/default.asp

Another year, another project…

The last time I sat and wrote on this blog was shortly after the new year.  Reading my last post, it seems as though I was feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of looking for employment in a less than favorable environment, not to mention taking on a renovation project of a run-down building.  Why settle for some lightweight new year’s resolution, such as losing a few pounds or reading more books?  My husband and I approached 2012 with the attitude that at the end of the year, we would really have some accomplishments to look back on. We blindly followed the philosophy that “the happiest people are those who are too busy to notice whether they are or not” ~ William Feather.  And so, we got ourselves busy…

Within 2 months of finishing my MBA I received three job offers, and I decided to take a position with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, managing grant funds in the special education section.  Working in a government job is certainly a different pace for me – things move slower and processes take longer – but I’m adjusting.  It didn’t take me long to adjust to the beautiful view of the capitol building and the Missouri River from our office – I have to admit, that view helped me in my decision to take this job, not to mention the warm and friendly people with which I work. 

So, with a steady paycheck coming in again, I was able to cross one task off my list…now, on to the real job – our new project in Hermann.  Since having purchased the Grapevine Guest Suite when we first moved back here from Alaska in 2008, we couldn’t have asked for better business.  We’ve gotten so many return guests over the past few years, and we have often thought if we only had another place…well, now we do!  Right before Christmas, while driving through town one day, we noticed a realtor’s sign in the window of an old brick building that we had always admired – it looked like the perfect size for a guest house and the location was ideal – the Hermannhof Winery, the Tin Mill Brewery, the Festhall, the riverfront park, etc,  just within a block or two.  So, after a phone call to the realtor, a walk-through with a carpenter and electrician, and a fairly low-ball offer even for a foreclosed property, we had the soon-to-be “Grapevine Guest House and Cottage”. Image

Image              After doing our first walk-through, we realized that although the property needed a lot of help to make it livable again, it had more to offer than originally thought.  First of all, there was a separate two room and one bath cottage behind the main building – “The Cottage” part of the Grapevine Guest House and Cottage.  We tackled that to begin with – the man who built the house in the mid-1800s, Joseph Kessler, was a cabinet maker and furniture dealer, and apparently there was also a candle and soap manufacturing business on the premises.  It’s easy to see how the cottage may have been utilized for this business, or as a summer kitchen to keep the heat out of the main house when cooking. Image After replacing subfloors, adding new bathroom fixtures (we did keep the old claw-foot bath tub), painting every surface, etc, etc. we welcomed our first guests in April, and it has been booked every weekend since. Image

The main house came with original oak sliding doors, a brick fireplace, a fairly updated kitchen, three bedrooms and three bathrooms, and a whole lot of purple paint!  It also had some rotten floor joists, a missing toilet, and leaky windows to name a few items. With me at work, this has definitely been Mick’s project, and he has spent endless hours on it, and I think that, for the most part, it has been a labor of love for him.  Is Mick handy with a hammer or wrench, noooooo.  But he has great vision, and can direct others very well!  About 10 years ago, my high school friend, after also returning home to Hermann, met and married a very talented carpenter named Tom, and I’m so happy she did!  Tom’s skills and patience have been a godsend for us, and I didn’t mind it all when Mick came home one day and announced he was officially having a “bromance” with Tom.  I told him that he couldn’t have picked a nicer guy.

“Before”

Image

“After”

One of the most humorous moments in this whole venture was when I discovered that in addition to our bathrooms at home, I am now the proud owner of a total of eight, yes, count them, eight toilets – quite a feat for a girl who spent 15 years living in a log cabin in Alaska with only an outhouse!

The “Guest House” portion of the Grapevine Guest House and Cottage is slated for completion in a few weeks, and we already have a couple of reservations for Oktoberfest.  It will be the perfect spot for friends traveling to Hermann together, for girls’ getaway weekends, and for family members in town for a wedding, as Hermann has become a popular wedding destination.  Just as with our original Grapevine Guest Suite, we’re offering visitors complete privacy while still being just steps away from all Hermann has to offer. 

We’re now more than halfway through 2012, and although I started out the year, as my positive, ‘glass is always full’,  husband likes to say, ‘appropriately worried’, the journey has been good – and yes, a little tiring – but so satisfying as we see our plans come to fruition.  So, come and visit Hermann – we’ve got room for you!

 

Simple pleasures…

I think I chose the right time to move back home to Missouri ~ cold winters seem to be a thing of the past.  This year’s winter doesn’t even deserve to be called a winter.  It certainly doesn’t compare to the winters of my childhood when we had numerous snow days home from school, and my mom and I would walk the mile to Sloan’s store at Swiss (the precursor to the Swiss Meat & Sausage Co) where I always wanted, of all things on a cold day, a Fudgsicle.  It’s early January, and we are having spring weather with a high of 62 degrees today – this is either global warming at its finest, or a karmic force rewarding me for enduring the twenty-three snowy, gloomy winters I spent in Alaska!

My daily walk today turned into a stroll.  Normally I like to get my heartbeat up, and feel a little winded by the time I’m done, but today I just wanted to savor the warm sun and spend as much time outside as I could – maybe to avoid things I need to do and address.  My mind is full of thoughts and concerns as we go into the New Year – I’ve finished my MBA degree and now it’s time to find new employment – a task that seems both exciting and intimidating at the same time.  My husband, Mick, and I just purchased a foreclosed historic property in Hermann – an old brick building, circa 1850 – that we plan to renovate for additional visitor lodging along with our Grapevine Guest Suite cottage.  This, too, seems to be a challenging, as well as motivating, prospect.  Our plate is quite full of unrealized goals as we go into 2012, and when I wake in the mornings, I’m not sure whether to jump out of bed with enthusiasm or bury my head under the covers!

Recently I read a book titled Rules of Civility in which a single young woman named Katey, in the late 1930s, finds herself struggling at times to find her way in the world.  Katey relies on the only words of wisdom her father ever provided to her – regardless of how daunting the circumstances were for him, he knew that as long as when he woke each morning and he still looked forward to his first cup of coffee, then he could make it through any day.  “When a person loses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane, she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger” ~ Amor Towles. 

That line in the book resonated with me to the point that I had to write it down and keep it as a reminder.  For Katey, the main character, the pleasure came from reading Dickens.  For myself, at least today, my pleasure came from an ordinary walk on an uncommonly beautiful winter day.  Our neighbor’s dog, Sophie, joined me which forced me to slow down even more as she sniffed out her own mundane pleasures along the road. 

Our neighbor dog, Sophie, joining me on my walk.

Taking my time, and letting my mind drift away from some of my self-imposed pressures actually energized me.  It was anything but a waste of time.  As long as something as simple as a walk along a country road, watching a dog chase a squirrel up a tree, continues to bring me pleasure, well, then I think I’m ready to tackle whatever the year brings…Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

Winter is the time for home…

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.  ~Edith Sitwell

Although Thanksgiving Day here in Hermann was a warm and sunny sixty-five degrees – in fact, by the time the turkey was done, the house was so warm we had all the windows open – we know that winter is on its way.  Our friends in Haines, Alaska, where my husband and I lived for over twenty years, have already had over eight feet of snow, with more on the way.  Needless to say, Mick and I agreed that this Thanksgiving we were thankful that we didn’t have to shovel snow!

Here in mid-Missouri, winter is coming slowly, and we are offered the luxury of easing into another season, rather than having it hit us in the face.  There are still a few leaves stubbornly clinging to the Bradford pear trees.  All the fallen oak and maple leaves have already turned brown and, for the most part, have blown or been raked away, but the pear tree leaves fall in shades of yellow and burgundy, and some still green, piling up in kaleidoscopic patterns of color – one last shot of autumn. 

Every few days we get a new party of Canadian geese landing on the lake in our back yard.  We call them “lay-overs” – a brief respite in their journey to a warmer clime.  We usually hear them coming in at night, honking their arrival, and I always wonder how they find us in the dark – I imagine an AAA-approved route for geese that points out designated safe zones for overnight stops.  Right now we have close to two dozen on the lake – possibly an extended family Thanksgiving break?  While we ate our holiday dinner in the sunroom overlooking the lake, the geese glided smugly on the water, almost as though they knew our main course was turkey, and that they were safe to relax and enjoy this beautiful day.

No mention of Black Friday here in Hermann – this weekend does usher in the holiday season, of course, but not with midnight shopping and marketing-induced buying frenzy.  The only line in which you’ll find yourself is to get into the popular Christmas music concert at St. Martin’s Church at Starkenburg.  Local musicians and singers, including a bell choir, provide this concert free of charge each year, and it has become a greatly anticipated family event over the Thanksgiving break.  Even with both afternoon and evening concerts, every seat gets filled, and you’ll see an overflow standing outside the church doors, listening in.

Father Christmas

For Hermann residents and visitors, this weekend is more about simple small-town traditions and spending time with family and friends.  The annual Lantern Parade takes place Saturday evening with Father Christmas (our friend, Terry) leading the way as families carrying lighted lanterns start the season, just as they did hundreds of years ago in Germany, culminating at the amphitheatre with hot chocolate and caroling.  This is how childhood memories are made.  And I guarantee that these moments last much longer than any pleasure derived from the latest X-box game.  

There’s no doubt that winter brings colder weather and shorter days, making us seek comfort close to home…winter is the time for home.

 The Christmas season is a great time to visit Hermann with the entire family, and you can finish off your holiday shopping with a few bottles of local wines!  For a full holiday schedule:  http://www.visithermann.com/special_events/christmas_schedule.htm.

 

 

 

Perfect pairings…

This weekend the Hermann Wine Trail, an association of seven wineries along the Missouri River Valley, is holding its Holiday Fare Wine Trail.  As a start to the holiday season, visitors to Hermann can spend time at each of these wineries over a two-day period sampling holiday dishes paired with local wines.  You might try a slice of ham with an apricot and cranberry sauce, and wash it down with a glass of Vignoles.  Or maybe snack on some pumpkin spice cookies with a mug of mulled Hermannsberger

Next month, during the second weekend of December, the Just Say Cheese! Wine Trail takes place.  This time around each winery will feature a different cheese dish that goes together, tastefully, with one of their wines.  Reading the menu made my mouth water – I was especially happy to see a four-cheese smoked macaroni and cheese paired up with a hearty red wine.  It’s good to know my favorite comfort food has been elevated to gourmet standards!

Hermannhof Winery

Regardless of the theme of the wine trail or the selected offerings, the underlying idea is to get lovers of food and wine (and really, who of us doesn’t fall into that category??) to think about unusual pairings of both.  It’s a concerted effort by the Hermann vintners to move people away from the old rule that red goes with beef and white with fish – end of story.  I like to think of our wine trails as gastronomic therapy – assisting those who may be stuck in a ‘steak-with-Merlot’ rut to really see the world of possibilities available to them! 

 Naturally, when we consider pairing things up, we think of things that coordinate, that appear to be the perfect fit, that were designed to go together.  What comes to mind? Well, shoes that match your purse, complementary colors like red and green at Christmas, pizza and beer, Bogart and Bacall, Thanksgiving and roasted turkey.  Even online dating services, a multi-million dollar industry, have been built on the concept of finding the perfect match.  But, do we spend too much time assuming things should be a certain way?  Sometimes that which seems “perfect” remains elusive, and what is simply “right” for us may be in front of our eyes. 

Coming home to Hermann, my hometown, after years of living in Alaska seemed far from being the perfect location for me.  Granted, my time in the north was up.   After more than twenty years, the weather and the isolation had tarnished the perfect image I had of Alaska, but was returning to small town life in the Midwest the best choice?  I spent the last three years trying to determine the answer.  Returning home can be confusing at times – people don’t always understand where I’ve been, or what I’ve experienced, or how those years away have shaped the person I am now.  I’m not the same as when I left, and at times it seems overwhelmingly apparent to me.  But, you know what?  I’m the only one who seems to notice – I am still just another hometown girl to everyone else.  Hermann might not be the perfect match for me, but for now, it’s the right place for me. 

Hermann vineyards

My husband, Mick, and I just returned from a walk in the bottoms, near our home, savoring what may be one of the last warm days of the year.  The bottoms are the acres of low farm land along the river.  Here the bottom land sits between the river and the railroad tracks, and overlooking both, perched on a bluff, is the Bias Winery, one of the seven stops along the Hermann Wine Trail.  We made a short pit stop at the winery, just to see if they were having a busy weekend, and indeed, they were.  Now, if your image of a winery is more along the lines of a grand Napa Valley estate, right out of Falcon Crest, complete with terraces and arched cellars, then the Bias Winery will shake that image.  This small family-owned operation is more about casual, laid-back charm – picnic tables, cats sunning themselves, hayrides, and annual barbeque cook-offs.  Oh, and their mascot is a gnome called Gruhlke – apparently he holds the secret formula for the microbrews which are also produced there.  This might not be the perfect winery envisioned, but for the visitors at Bias Winery, enjoying this warm November weather and relaxing in the homey atmosphere, it was the right place to be today.  Just like wine, it’s all a matter of taste.

 There are five wine trails held throughout the year, but by far the most popular is the Chocolate Wine Trail which takes place the third weekend of February.  Tickets sell out early for this one – for more information, visit http://hermannwinetrail.com/.

An unplanned detour…

Our community of Hermann lies 80 miles west of St. Louis and 180 miles east of Kansas City.  Amtrak also makes two daily stops in Hermann, in either direction.  So, for the most part, the majority of visitors coming to Hermann, as well as staying with us at our guest house, the Grapevine Guest Suite, are from these urban areas.  It’s an easy trek to make, especially for a weekend getaway, as the drive time commitment is fairly minimal.  And for those wanting to start their vacation earlier, boarding the train and heading to the lounge car for drinks can make the trip even shorter and sweeter! We’ll even be there to pick you up and drive you to the Grapevine when you disembark.

We do welcome the occasional guests who decide to take the “detour” off of I-70 and discover Hermann.  Maybe they saw the signs along the highway promoting all of the wineries in the area, or they read an article in Midwest magazine lauding Hermann’s German heritage.  Regardless, these visitors from Washington State, Georgia, Arizona, to name a few, are always happy they took the twenty minute drive from the highway, winding down into the Missouri River valley, crossing the bridge into this picturesque town.  Taking a self-imposed detour is usually far from a waste of time – whether it’s a few minutes or a day or two, the experiences gained can be so fulfilling. 

While my husband and I were visiting County Donegal in Ireland last month, I fell in love with some paintings I saw in a hotel lobby in the village of Ardara.  The artist was named Stephen Bennett, and the paintings were representations of everyday life in the Irish countryside – farmers putting up hay, old men sitting outside their thatched-roof cottages, musicians gathered around a table in a pub.  These are fairly common themes among Irish artists, but these paintings were so bold – strong strokes and vibrant colors that really set them apart. 

The next morning, as we’re driving out of Ardara, following the coastline, I saw a sign saying “Stephen Bennett Studio Gallery – Turn Here”, and so, we made our first detour of the day.  When we got to his studio there was a small note on the door asking visitors to knock at their home, and so I knocked.  No response, and so I knocked again.  Stephen’s wife, Bernie, came to the door, apologizing for not hearing us.  She was doing laundry, and apparently she needs a new washing machine – when it’s in the spin cycle, it’s so loud that she figures it will just lift off one day and go through the roof.  She unlocked the studio for us, and before long Stephen appeared, letting Bernie get back to her jet-fueled wash.

Stephen was not what I was expecting.  His artwork is so bold and energetic, almost loud in the use of colors and style.  Stephen is just the opposite – soft-spoken and with a gentle demeanor, he is warm and understated.  He told us that his father had been born in Ardara, but left for London where Stephen was born.  After college, Stephen spent 18 years living in London and working for ad agencies as an illustrator, but his dream was always to return to Ireland.  So, fearing for his sanity after working too many years in a highly-competitive and stressful job, he also took a detour.  His detour took him back to his father’s birthplace, and it turned out to be a permanent one.

In his studio, he and I found common ground in our admiration of Toulouse Lautrec, the French painter who so well captured the nightlife and seedy underworld of late-nineteenth century Paris.  He felt inspired by Lautrec when he moved back to Donegal, painting the ‘loyal patrons’ of the local pubs.  He and my husband, Mick discovered they both had a love for public radio – Mick was the consummate volunteer at our public station in Alaska, spinning a variety of different shows whenever he could.  Stephen does a regular Sunday afternoon program featuring country music and gospel. 

I finally settled on one of Stephen’s limited edition prints called “In the Hayfield”, a painting of a man striding through a field, hayfork in hand, with a small boy running from behind, trying to keep up.  The image spoke to me because while it was a scene from Ireland, it could have easily been a field here in Missouri, today, tomorrow, or a hundred years in the past.  It seemed timeless in its content. 

Source:  www.stephenbennett.net

Stephen invited us in to his spacious home while he ran my credit card.  While sitting in their living room with a beautiful view of the inlet, his young son, also Stephen (home from school with a sore throat), came in with his new puppy, Hero, to say hello.  With Hero crawling all over us, we got a tour of their personal gallery – a touching set of family portraits painted by Stephen, including one of his father shortly before he passed away.  Stephen even pulled out a set of blueprints, showing us the plans to expand his studio.   If we hadn’t left when we did, we might still be there – they truly welcomed complete strangers into their home with warmth you rarely find from people you’ve known for years.

That little detour certainly wasn’t on our agenda, and we didn’t get as far up the coast that day as originally planned, but our time with Stephen and his family turned out to be the most memorable part of the trip for me.  It just goes to show that sometimes a detour is anything but a waste of time.       

The view from Stephen's living room

Finding Ireland…

Sometimes life gets in the way of doing things you really enjoy, like writing this blog.  I took a hiatus lately as I finished up two more courses for my MBA, but what actually kept me away from this blog the longest was a recent trip with my husband, Mick, to Ireland.  This was our second time to visit Ireland, and we totally committed ourselves to being travelers, and not tourists, this time around.  I think we succeeded…

Basically, it was just me, Mick, our rental car, a map of Ireland, and no reservations.  We spent our time in the farmland and along the north coast of Northern Ireland, where Scotland is only 15 miles away, and on the rugged and isolated west coast of County Donegal.  We specifically chose these areas knowing they would be well-off the beaten track, especially in October, but we were continually surprised at just how close we were to possibly some of the last vestiges of true Ireland.  We would drive for miles through peat bogs with ditches dug, chunks of peat cut out and stored in large wood crates along the road.  The peat still serves as a major source of fuel for many of the country’s residents, and when we would pass through villages, the pungent odor of it from the chimneys would always make me sneeze. 

Sperrin Mtns

We cut across the Sperrin Mountains in central Northern Ireland and felt as though we passed through a time warp, but back in time.  Distant farmhouses, fields of sheep bordered with hedge fences, and stone churches made it hard to determine the exact year.  It could have easily been 1711 as 2011.  Occasionally we would meet a farmer on his four-wheeler with a sheep dog sitting on the back, and we’d be brought back to the present. 

In parts of County Donegal the Irish language is still the dominant spoken language, and all of the road signs are in Irish.  Let’s just say it is not an easily interpreted language, and as the navigator in our little travel party, I often had doubts as to whether we were on the right road.  Stopping at small stores, looking for confirmation, the locals would speak English to us, but with each other, only Irish.  It looks strange in writing, but sounds very strange when spoken – it’s not refined, but rough and ancient sounding.  It’s a language that perfectly fits this wild part of the country, and it seems fitting that it has survived along with those speaking it – resilient people who have chosen to sustain their original spoken word and a way of life not so different from their ancestors in this remote part of Ireland.

Donegal Coast

In the small coastal village of Bunbeg, we managed to find the Bunbeg House Guesthouse open down at the boat pier.  Apparently the place is bustling and overrun with tourists and vacationers from Belfast and Dublin in the summer – there was an enormous number of empty “holiday” homes dotting the beaches – but on this October evening, we were the only guests to take one of their ten rooms.  The next morning, the proprietor, Jean and her husband, Andy, fixed us the usual and huge Irish “fry” for breakfast.  Andy then had to run the kids to school, but Jean chatted with us, obviously happy to have the hectic summer behind her.  We asked if they try to get away to possibly Spain or Portugal during the winter as a respite from their busy season.  Jean said no, that they actually relished the quiet winters in Ireland and having time to be a family together.  She said that the older they get the more they enjoy the simple things in life.

Enjoying the simple things in life…that truly summed up our time in Ireland, not to mention why we’ve chosen to make the area of Hermann our home.  On this trip we weren’t looking for a boisterous pub scene or trying to tour castles with hundreds of other visitors.  We were trying to see Ireland as it’s really lived, now and in the past.  Finding a lack of change, a certain sense of timelessness, just as Hermann portrays, can be very rewarding in your travels.

You know you’re back in Hermann…

Recently I noticed a discussion between some Hermannites on Facebook regarding how you know you’re from Hermann when…you remember Saturday night dances at the Knights of Columbus Hall, or you find someone passed out in your front yard on a Sunday morning during Oktoberfest.

Well, I knew I was back in Hermann when one day, shortly after moving back here from Alaska, I decided I wanted to make chicken curry for dinner.  I headed to one of the grocery stores in town to pick up a couple cans of coconut milk, a jar of red curry paste, and cilantro.  In our small town in Alaska, these items were staples you could always find on the store shelves.  People are travelers in Alaska.  You might run into someone on Main Street that you hadn’t seen for a while, and learn that they just spent a month bicycling through China or had trekked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Most people there have pretty evolved taste buds, and the local stores cater to that.

But, back to Hermann…with a hankering for curry, I decided my best bet was the grocery aisle labeled “ethnic foods”.  No coconut milk and no curry paste, but I did find some of that yellow curry powder in the spice aisle. I had forgotten that in this part of the Midwest, ethnic food refers to refried beans and canned water chestnuts.  Lasagna is made with cottage cheese, not ricotta, and the local Mexican restaurant’s specialty is a taco bar.  I can still picture my husband, Mick, taking his first bite of dinner that night, looking up at me, and saying, rather diplomatically, “This doesn’t taste like the curry you usually make”!

And so, if you can’t beat them, join them…which means fried catfish at the VFW on Friday nights, Jello salads, and chicken-fried steak – Mick’s new favorite.  But one traditional German dish has become very sophisticated during the time I was away, and that is bratwurst.  Brats were something we usually saw during festival weekends, smothered in sauerkraut.  They were really just basic links of pork sausage, seasoned with salt and pepper.  Today’s brats have taken on a gourmet twist – you can find sun-dried tomato brats, mushroom & Swiss cheese brats, brats with dried cherries, even brats made with buffalo meat.  My friend, Ralph, makes his own with apple pie filling and a little bit of cinnamon – absolutely delicious!  And, although I didn’t realize that athletic teams had “official meats”, a locally-made bratwurst from the Swiss Meat & Sausage Co. has become the “official bratwurst” of the Mizzou athletics. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in Hermann this weekend, September 23 & 24, you can get a taste of some of the best bratwurst and BBQ at the annual BarBQ and Brats Festival held in the city park.  You will see some serious cooking going on here – it’s a Kansas City BarBQ Society-sanctioned event.  There are also backyard chef competitions, a beer and wine garden, and live entertainment throughout the weekend. 

 

For more information about this weekend’s BBQ & Brats festival, click here.  And, now you can find everything for your brat fix right in downtown Hermann.  The Hermann Wurst Haus is open on 1st Street, producing sausages in a smokehouse in the back of the business.  You can find German potato salad, soups and micro-brews at the deli counter.  And if you want to try your hand at making your own brats, the business plans to offer sausage making classes this winter. 

Heaven under our feet…

Henry David Thoreau said that heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.  I am not a religious person, although I was raised in the Catholic church to be one.  I had my first communion at St. George Parish here in Hermann.  The group photo shows a collection of shiny little faces, the girls in white dresses and veils, the boys in white shirts and ties – our hands clasped seriously in prayer.  About 10 years later, we were all confirmed together, but we don’t appear quite so serious this time – too many other things occupying the minds of teenagers. 

Even through college I managed to get to mass almost every Sunday.  Then I went to Alaska, took one look at all the incredible raw beauty that hits you from every angle, taking your breath away, and I realized that maybe heaven is already here on earth.  At that point, organized religion seemed, well, just too organized for me.  It became clear to me that what I experienced around me, whether in nature or from the good I saw in other people, provided a much more spiritual connection than anything I could find in a physical church. 

Be that as it may, one of the most spiritual places I have ever encountered is right here near Hermann, and yes, it does include a church.  Northeast of Hermann, across the Missouri River, is the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows at Starkenburg.  Germans settled in Starkenburg in 1847, including some of my own ancestors.  The area includes St. Martin’s Church, the chapel, a grotto, the Stations of the Cross winding through the trees, and other historical features.  My father’s father had a store just up the road in the early 1930’s, one of his many attempts at entrepreneurship.  There is a B&B on the site now,  Les Lavandes, an oddly French name for such a staunchly German area.  I would say my dad’s fondest childhood memories were his years living in Starkenburg, and roaming the church grounds, illicitly shooting squirrels.  Both he and my mother are buried there.

 

It’s not quite accurate to call Starkenburg a religious site, because it is so much more than that.  Calling it a religious experience may steer some folks away from visiting it.  Simply put, Starkenburg’s spirituality is tangible.  You feel it around you – it has a calming effect on your being.  You can believe in anything, or nothing at all, and the place just takes you in without any needed explanation. 

The grounds at the Lady of Our Sorrows Shrine at Starkenburg are always open for meditation, a walk, or a picnic lunch under the trees.  St. Martin’s Church, the museum, and the Chapel are open until dusk each day.  Pilgrimages are held twice a year with a large German meal and mass at the outdoor alter (3rd Sunday in May and the 2nd Sunday in September).  From Hermann, go north on Hwy 19; turn left on Hwy 94 for 4 miles through the village of Rhineland; turn right on P for 2 miles – you’ll see the steeples through the trees. 

School days…

It’s good to see the school bus once again passing our house each morning. Thoughts of riding the bus do not actually bring back the fondest of school day memories for me.  When you grow up in a rural setting, you are certain to spend a majority of your young life on a school bus, but seeing that yellow blur each morning does stir up the nervous energy of first days – anticipating new classrooms, new teachers, new experiences. 

Starting grad school at this stage in my life still brought on that same nervous energy.  I could barely eat lunch the day I headed out for my first evening class on campus.  Would I fit in, would I seem old, what if the professor was younger than me??  Thankfully, he had at least ten years on me, but going back to school at age 44 is a surreal experience, to say the least.  I have t-shirts older than some of my classmates.

The advantage of being an older student is that you already come equipped with some knowledge of life.   Let’s face it, you can’t know much about life until you’ve lived it for a while. Over time you develop a sense of who you are, but I think a lot of that gets determined early on, indirectly picking up our values from home and school.

At the time I entered grade school in 1970, the Hermann school district had three outlying elementary schools for 1st through 6th grades.  These schools were in different rural areas of the school district.  I guess the intention was to keep the younger kids closer to home, eliminating the long bus rides to town.  I attended the Swiss School, named for a tiny community south of Hermann.  We had four classrooms and three teachers for six grades – each teacher taught two grades in one room, and the fourth room was used for the traveling music and art teachers who came once a week. 

Was it the finest primary education I could have received?  Probably not.  We learned the basics – there were no advanced classes for some of us over-achievers.  I read early, and I read quickly.  When Mrs. Scheer noticed, in first grade, that I kept skipping ahead in our reading books, she let me sit in the back of class to read what I wanted while she taught the rest.  No remedial courses either.  The multiplication tables came slowly to me, but that fell to my mom who got me on track with nightly sessions of flash cards.  If any of us had any particular musical talent, it probably went unnoticed.  A music teacher came through once a week, but generally we just sang songs, although I do remember a very young teacher around 1976 teaching us to do “The Hustle”! 

We may not have passed today’s No Child Left Behind program, but we learned a wealth of intangible qualities that have gotten me far in my life.  We learned respect early on, and how to work independently – when one grade was being taught, those of us on the other side of the classroom knew to quietly do our own work.   We learned how to recognize our strengths, and not worry too much about the weaknesses.  I was never very athletic – I wasn’t the kid who was the last to be picked for the games at recess, I was the one left standing.  No one gave me a hard time about it – and I didn’t dwell on it.  I knew that I wouldn’t be the top choice, and that was okay.  We learned to be accepting – bullying or picking on someone was not an option.  And we learned to have fun.  I know there are schools where personal achievement and competition are stressed above all else.  Our teachers gave us the essentials, but they never forgot to let us be kids.  We put on silly Christmas plays, we read Charlotte’s Web every day after lunch, we had hot dog roasts and cake walks at the first PTA meeting each fall.  In other words, we learned how to appreciate the simple things in life…

The community of Swiss is still on the map – just 13 miles south of Hermann on Hwy 19 – and it’s worth the drive. The Swiss Meats and Sausage Co. is located there.  This family-owned business has greatly evolved from the country store where we picked up bread and milk when I was a kid.  Housed in a great log structure, Swiss Meats has become famous for its sausages and smoked meats – it’s even been featured on the Food Network.  And save some room for an excellent burger across the highway at the Silver Dollar.  People come for miles to have a steak on Saturday night, but get there early, or you will have a long wait.