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!

 

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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.

 

 

 

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. 

A little history about Hermann…

Family grave marker - St Martin's cemetary 1849

This coming Saturday, August 26th, marks the 175th anniversary of Hermann’s founding.  A group of German immigrants who had initially settled in Philadelphia after leaving their homeland felt that staying in the east would compromise their German culture and heritage.  So, in 1836 the German Settlement Society of Philadelphia purchased 11,000 acres here along the Missouri River bluffs to build a little Germany of their very own.  Historians believe the group chose this location because it reminded them of the Rhine Valley.  Some of my own Fehlings’ ancestors showed up not long after, as evidenced by a few weathered tombstones.

            Keep in mind that there wasn’t much in this part of the world at that time.  The Louisiana Purchase had just occurred in 1803, which included Missouri.  This was wild country, and, although today the setting is beautiful with its perch overlooking the river and its hilly streets, 175 years ago it would have been treacherous and rocky land – not the most ideal spot to build a town.  But they left what had to have been relatively better conditions in Philadelphia, and made a life here, growing grapes on the hillsides, making wine to sell, and expanding their farming endeavors into the rich river bottom land.  Undoubtedly, life was challenging.

But, apparently, very few abandoned the dream and returned to Pennsylvania or Germany.  Generation after generation made this area of Missouri home.  I’m proof of that.  I can’t help but be impressed by their toughness and determination.  Is that where I got the moxie to leave everything and everyone I had known and move to Alaska when I was only twenty-two?  If I owe that inner strength to my ancestors, then I am forever grateful.  It is the characteristic I like most about myself, as I know it will always get me through whatever I face.

German School House

As the community celebrates its 175thanniversary this weekend, I can only imagine how proud those first Hermann settlers would be of their town today!  It is still German in so many ways.  Many of the early buildings have been carefully preserved.  The German School House, built in 1871, recently underwent a major renovation through local donations and fundraising events. 

Wineries are thriving, and German-style wines and beers are produced right here and distributed throughout the country.  The German language continues to be taught in the schools as well as German heritage and history courses.  Those early founders can rest easy – their legacy is lived out every day here in Hermann.

If you are visiting Hermann this weekend (August 26-27) there is a full schedule of activities celebrating the town’s 175th anniversary.  Go to www.visithermann.com for more details or click here to view the list of events.  If you think some of your ancestors may have settled in this area, you can do research at the Gasconade County Historical Society and Archives Building located at the corner of 4th and Schiller, right across the street from the Grapevine Guest Suite.

Hermannhof Winery