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.

 

 

 

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/.

Monet had the right idea…

Earlier this week, one of my old high school friends, Anne, and I took a day for ourselves and drove in to St. Louis to see a presentation at the Missouri Botanical Garden about the garden’s collection of water lilies.  The program was a collaboration between the botanical garden and the St. Louis Art Museum which will be featuring an exhibit in the fall of Monet’s huge water lily panels. Water Lilies by Claude Monet, 1915

Monet prolifically painted what was around him in nature, but in my opinion, he seemed rather fixated on the water lilies in his pond.  I read that he did around 250 paintings of this plant.  Granted, water lilies do make for a pretty scene, but wouldn’t it become a boring subject after a while?  I tried to push that notion out of my mind – after all, I don’t have to understand how Monet thought in order to enjoy his paintings.  I tend to spend a lot of time trying to figure out why people do what they do.  Well, anyway, Anne and I had a great day – a perfect outing to satisfy a couple of small-town girls’ craving for some culture.

Anne was the perfect companion for this trip.  She and I were art students together at one time – we studied under the guidance of Linda Heck, long-time art teacher at Hermann High School.  I think we both took every art class that Mrs. Heck offered, and she did a great job of tapping into everyone’s creative interests – finding mediums and projects that would appeal to us.  She got us outside as often as she could, to paint or draw, stressing the “plein air” style, meaning “in the open air”.  Mrs. Heck has since retired, but continues to be busy with her own art, and it appears that the countryside around Hermann is still her favorite subject matter.

When I moved back here to Hermann, one of my concerns was what I would be missing out on – I had lived here before, I’ve seen all there is to see around here.  Wouldn’t I be missing out on other places, other scenery, other experiences if I decided to come home again?  

Monet seemed quite content with what was right outside his door – in fact he saw it, literally, in new light every day.  It never seemed to bore him. He was continually excited about what his own garden offered, and obviously he felt no need to look elsewhere for inspiration:  “Suddenly I had the revelation of how magical my pond is. I took up my palette. Since that time I have scarcely had any other model.” Claude Monet.

Coming home again to Hermann has made me appreciate the special beauty that this part of the Midwest has to offer.  It hasn’t been the sudden revelation that Monet had when looking at his pond – the appreciation of where I grew up has been a slower realization for me.  But, when I watch a muskrat swim across my own pond, or catch the scent of grass in the air being cut by a farmer for hay, it reinforces that I am right where I want to be – for now.

A Missouri hay field

 

Even Van Gogh would envy this sunflower found along a country road...

For those visiting Hermann, you’ll find Linda Heck’s artwork at the Kunstlerhaus Art Gallery and Pottery Shop on 1st Street.  This gallery is one of the best additions to Hermann during the time I was away.  There are many talented artists in this area, and you’ll find much of their work under one roof here – everything from oil paintings to metal art to hand-designed jewelry and textiles. 

You can go home again…

Growing up in rural Missouri, I daydreamed about my escape, as kids do the world over.  We always think there is something better out there.  In high school my best friend, Candi, and I would spend our study hall hour drawing up the floor plans of our future homes – hers, a rustic lodge in the Colorado mountains – mine, an apartment in Manhattan.  I wanted to work in fashion, and I would flip through the same Vogue magazines until the pages fell out, looking for inspiration as I sketched my “fall collection”.  We planned to always get our families together for holidays.  Candi was to have a son named Logan (which she did).  I would have a daughter named Willow…that maternal instinct to procreate and nurture never kicked in, and so I ended up with a black lab-mix named Callie.

            My friend Candi never found that home in Colorado, but she tries to get out of these hot Midwest summers by going to Michigan.  And although I have visited New York City a few times since I left high school, I ended up on the other end of the spectrum…in Alaska.  I went there to work with a college roommate following graduation, met my husband, Mick, that summer, and made it my home for over twenty years.  At the time we met Mick lived in a one-room log cabin at the head of a bay along the ocean.  The cabin had no electricity – he read by oil lamps.  There was no running water – he carried water from the creek and heated it on the stove for bathing and doing dishes.  Needless to say, there was no toilet, just an outhouse.  And yes, I moved in!  Which is proof positive that when in love, you are capable of doing extraordinary things.  Mick and I eventually moved into a beautiful log home with endless ocean and mountain views, watched grizzly bears from our living room window, and lived a life that for most is only a dream. 

            Our years in Alaska are worthy of their own blog, but this blog is about “life after Alaska”.  Everything runs its course, and for us, it was time to move on to the next chapter.  Mick had retired from his job on the Alaska State Ferry System.  He had also just had a pacemaker/defibrillator implant, and I was afraid that one more winter of shoveling snow might just do him in.  So I quit my job, and we found a buyer for our home, reluctantly turning over the keys.  And, on a wintry January night, with snow falling thickly, we loaded the last of our things, and our dog, Callie, into the back of the Jeep, said our good-byes to friends at the ferry terminal, and boarded the ferry bound for Washington State. 

            We had been talking about moving back to my hometown of Hermann, Missouri.  Mick was sure he could be happy there – small town life with low-key tourism – maybe we would buy a B&B.  From past visits he had fallen in love with the countryside around Hermann – the rolling hills, views of the Missouri River, the sound of car wheels on gravel roads – he already had the Lucinda Williams’ tunes going through his head – now he just needed the setting to fit the soundtrack.  Besides, winters in Missouri would be a cakewalk after all those years in Alaska.

            I was not as easily convinced that I was ready to go back to Hermann.  After spending my childhood dreaming about the life I would build outside of my rural upbringing, I had succeeded in doing it.  I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel and go home yet! I was sure we could find a nice community, other than Hermann, to call home.  So, when we drove off the ferry in Bellingham, Washington, we started driving south along the West Coast to see where we wanted to live next…first Oregon, then California.  We started heading east through Arizona, New Mexico, and before I knew it we were in Missouri in the midst of one of those famous February ice storms.  A few more hours down the road, and there we were, driving into Hermann, with Mick grinning ear-to-ear.

            Before the end of that first day back in Hermann, we had signed a contract to purchase the Grapevine Guest Suite, and by the end of the week, we had found a house and acreage in the country to call home.  I can’t say the adjustment was easy for me.  Suddenly I was back in the heartland of conservative politics, where you can still find people who have never traveled outside of the state, and avocadoes are considered exotic cuisine.

             Initially I viewed this move as a backward step in my life, but now I see it as more of a rejuvenating respite.  Whether I’m at a church picnic or watching a Friday night high school football game, or listening to the retired farmers complaining about the price of fuel at the local cafe, the scene hasn’t changed much in the twenty-some years that I’ve been away, and that’s okay.  It’s actually reassuring in a way.  You see, my time back home has shown me that self-fulfillment doesn’t necessarily come from traveling the world and having new experiences.  Those times are just icing on the cake.  Having a fulfilling life is, first, about feeling content in your own surroundings and enjoying the people and places right around you – and small towns are full of folks doing just that.

            As you read this blog, whether you are already familiar with historic Hermann, Missouri, or you are planning an upcoming visit here, I hope my reflections on life and happenings in this area of the Midwest will inspire you to return again and again, or maybe to even make it your own home some day.