Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Casper, Wyoming July 29....continued

Historic Becker Farm at Emigrant Gap is a beautiful 160-acre working grass/alfalfa hay farm that was established in 1922 and that operates today much as it did 80 years ago. It is located close to the Oregon, California and Mormon trails and abundant wildlife such as antelope, deer, foxes, and eagles. The farm is now a tranquil homestead for the Beckers who are in the process of making it their own. Our hostess was Kathy Becker

For the first part of the visit, Kathy introduced us to Bruce Berst. Bruce’s ancestors were also Germans who immigrated to Russia
and ultimately to the United States.

Bruce is also a military historian who reenacts battles and was dressed in full infantry uniform. He has appeared as an extra in the movie Gettysburg and earned entry into invitation only battle reenactment events. Bruce shared with us many details of the lives of soldiers of the Civil War era including:
-The uniform is made of wool and extremely uncomfortable in warm weather,
_The hat was fashioned after Napoleon’s army, as was the bayonet of the rifle which was virtually useless when fighting Indians.
_The rations were minimal and tasteless at best, spoiled and rotten at worst.
_Tents were too small and resulted in dog fights over limited sleeping space. Called dog tents in the late 1800s, the minimalist shelter was the forerunner of our modern term “pup” tents.

For more details on Bruce’s volunteer living history reenactment group based in Casper Wyoming, check out

Next, the Silhouettes of the West made up of Kathy Becker, her daughter Hannah, her friend Donna and the marvelous bass player whose name I missed, performed a number of songs. It was a thoroughly relaxing and entertaining afternoon.

For dinner, I walked my usual jaunt to downtown Casper and chose dinner at The Jazz Spot. My waiter, Gary, also works at the Parkway Plaza so he was familiar with the convention. I have eaten at a number of good restaurants here, but the Jazz Spot is my favorite. Good food, good music, plus they have Leinie on tap. What more could a Wisconsin girl ask for?

As I update my blog, it is already 9:47 p.m. on July 30.
Today was so full and I have more and more to write,
but it may not be posted until tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Casper, Wyoming July 29

To say I'm enjoying my visit to Casper is a complete understatement. Let's recap from where I left off yesterday.

I met great folks at the committee meeting on Monday and learned much about the group's operation. The entire family history process is a learning event. I pretend I am a sponge and try to soak up every tidbit of information.

After the meeting, I trekked the few blocks to downtown Casper again. The walk is just the exercise I need. I wanted to explore another restaurant, but realized at 3:35 p.m. that The Dark Knight started at 3:50 p.m. at the America Theatre. The charm of the old downtown theatre overtook me and I bought a ticket and headed in.

The theatre lobby was basic, but as I entered the screening room, it suddenly went high tech. The sound system was outstanding and I would have believed I was at a Beatles concert as I heard John Lennon's voice clear and loud. (No young girls screams interfered with the acoustics). The stadium seating was unexpected yet welcome. I grabbed a seat dead center about a 1/3 of the way back from the screen. Next song was Revolution. Did they know I was coming? I love this music. I tried not to tap my feet to the beat but I felt like a little kid who could not sit still. Third song was Back in the USSR. They must have known I was there, or at least that a thousand or so German Russians were in town. The fourth song was While My Guitar Gently Weeps, a favorite of my daughter Ashley, who could not attend the convention with me this year since school started today. The concert concluded with A Day in the Life and at the crescendo ending the curtains opened wider and the previews started. The previews are entertainment, too, and since I rarely see movies in theaters, I welcomed the Brendan Fraser Mummy preview.
Then the main event. The Dark Knight film so captivated my attention I find it difficult to describe all of my emotions. All of the actors and Maggie were phenomenal. Isn't great acting what it is all about?

I've enjoyed Christian Bale's career since Empire of the Sun, I loved Newsies, and his portrayal of Batman is clean and authentic. Who can quibble about Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman in supporting roles? Who can question Aaron Eckhart's presence on the screen? Yet, Heath Ledger's performance defies comparison. Did Jack Nicholson actually perform the role of The Joker? Heath makes us forget about Jack, and Jack is top notch. I fear violence as entertainment, yet I could not take my eyes off Heath Ledger's Joker. Heath's legacy role will undoubtably be this one. Yet, I prefer to remember him in Ten Things I hate about you or The Patriot. I would not want to be the actor to take on the role of the Joker in the future. The comparison would be too daunting. I encourage everyone to see this movie because you have to see it to believe.

With emotions in a tangle, yet pleased for the movie's success, I headed over to The World Famous Wonder Bar for dinner. If Ernest Hemingway recommended it, why not give it a try? Originally, customers could bring their horses into the bar. Last night, I didn't see any. Of course, I was only drinking the lemonade. The Wonder Bar eeks of history. From the turn of the century pictures on the walls, to the old wooden floors, to the beautiful brick walls, and gorgeous wooden bar, it lives up to its name. Two pictures were next to the booth at which I sat. One showed Center St. at the turn of the century, the other was a picture of the America theatre in 1922. How weird is that? The menu had outstanding choices. I ordered the BBQ salmon and smashers and savored both.
This was just what I needed to close out my second day in Casper.
For more details, visit their web site at

This morning I awoke, headed to another committee meeting resumed my role as a sponge. This afternoon I will tour Historic Becker Farm. More to come tomorrow from Casper.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Casper, Wyoming July 28

As I sip my coffee in my hotel room, I reflect on yesterday and anticipate today. I ate great oriental chicken salad at Saffords Grub & Pub. I discovered the pub during my walk through downtown Casper.

I love to photograph the older architecture with so much character. The builders created such beauty without the sophisticated tools we have today. It certainly demonstrates a labor of love.

I also discovered some wonderful sculpture during my walk. Artistic talent abounds in Casper. In particular, I liked one of the smaller sculptures entitled Empty Saddle by George Walbye. My father loved cowboys and the West and I know he would love Chris's work. Empty Saddle appropriately epitomizes why so many of the German Russian descendents gather in Casper this week. For details on George's work, visit any of the links below:

Much more to come on my visits over the next few days. Today I need to register for the conference, and attend a meeting or two. Also, need to look for a few internet friends who may well be distant relatives. Much more to come this week from Casper.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I've arrived promptly in Casper Wyoming...

I arrived promptly on schedule in Casper, Wyoming after two quick flights on Delta airlines. My trip flight included great views of the Grand Canyon and the Great Salt Lake. Bob Asay, shuttle driver for the The Parkway Plaza Hotel , was right on time to drive me from the airport to the hotel.

The Parkway Plaza will be a wonderful site for the AHSGR/GRHS combined convention. Anticipation fills the air as some early arrivals like myself check in. Display tables and conference rooms are primed for set up. And, while I prepare myself for the week ahead, I explored the fitness center and sauna. Alas, as I unpack I realize I left behind the precious cord which connects my laptop to my digital camera.

Again, shuttle driver Bob comes to my rescue. By 1 p.m. he was ready to drive me to the local OfficeMax. He gave me the quick downtown tour on our way there so I located the Wonder Bar and the Nicolaysen Art Museum. When we arrived at OfficeMax, one of the employees jumped into service to help me find the right cable. And, within minutes, Bob and I were back on our way to the hotel.

I love the efficiency one discovers in small towns. This promptness thing could be contagious.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Almost on my way to Casper....

The AHSGR and GRHS historical conferences meet in Casper, Wyoming next week. That mean I have one more work day before I begin to pack and prepare in earnest for historical research, meetings with friends, and perhaps a bit of solitude to work on my writing and editing. I have a full week planned and will keep you up to date on my experiences from Sunday through Sunday.

If you are anywhere near Casper, you need to visit the Parkway Plaza and learn about family history. It just may spark a whole new adventure for you.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

The family history of love...

I mentioned Friday I planned to read The History of Love by Nicole Krauss this weekend. I recommend the book to everyone. Krauss is a fabulous writer and I can't believe I didn't know about her before last week. About half way through the book, I realized how much family history played into the story line. And since there is a rain delay before Federer and Nadal take the court, I must share this tidbit.

At a certain point in the story, one of the characters, Alma Singer, befriends a Russian. Her mother responds, "Just Russian?" Alma doesn't understand until her mother explains.

"It's just that you for example, are one-quarter Russian, one-quarter Hungarian, one-quarter Polish and one-quarter German."

Fairly clean isn't it? Just wait. The story continues.

"Actually," she said, "you could say you're three quarters Polish and one-quarter Hungarian, since Bubbe's parents were from Poland before they moved to Nuremberg, and Grandma Sasha's town was originally in Belarus, or White Russia, before it become part of Poland."

In a few moments, her mother realizes something else. "I suppose you could also say you're three-quarters Polish and one-quarter Czech, because the town Zeyde came from was in Hungary before 1918, and in Czechoslovakia after, although the Hungarian continued to consider themselves Hungarian, and briefly even became Hungarian again during World War II. Of course, you could always say you're half Polish, one-quarter Hungarian, and one-quarter English, since Grandpa Simon left Poland and move to London when he was nine."

Her mother goes on to create 16 different pie charts which accurately reflects their ancestry. Alma reviews the charts and answers "I'M AMERICAN!" To which her brother responds, "No, you're not. You're Jewish." (pg. 85-87).

Ancestry and religion can be confusing. Perspective is everything. My own background is 100% German Russian, yet people I meet struggle to understand how my family lived in Russia for over 200 years and could not be Russian.

Then, the religious aspect affects ancestry, too. My father's side was Catholic, my mother's side Lutheran. With all of the religious issues in the world today, this difference seems minimal. However, religious concerns are part of what prompted my ancestors to move from the Germanic states in the 1760's. And, where did they move from? Now the land is part of Luxembourg and Germany, near the Moselle Lorraine region. From my limited study of the region, I can easily remember four major transitions in power and that does include the two World Wars.

Perspective is everything when understanding family history. It is a tangled maze of information to understand. It still behooves us to try to understand, because as I stated in earlier blogs, it is the story of how you became you. And, that is extremely worthwhile to discover.
This book offers inspiration for more things than family history. Check it out for yourself at

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Fourth of July! And...on being cognizant...

OK, before 7:10 a.m I used the word "cognizant" and my children laughed at me. I love using words like "cognizant" although my favorite all time word is "incognito." More on this later.

So, happy 4th of July to all! I love this weekend because of the history and the wonderful family memories I associate with it. The fun of this holiday is not to simply experience it, but to be cognizant of the deepest meanings. I reflect on the following as I plan to celebrate on the 4th:

-David McCullough is one of my all time favorite authors. I recently read "The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914." In the past, I have enjoyed "
The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. To savor early America, his books 1776 and John Adams are the best. Check out his site at if you need inspiration.

-Flags displayed at the entrance of my subdivision always spark a wonderful patriotic pride that nothing else can. One of these days I promise to take a picture for my blog.

-Tennis is also part of my holiday indulgence. Growing up in Wisconsin, you could count on a rainy holiday weekend to spend indoors watching Wimbledon. This tradition continues in Arizona as the afternoon sun keeps one indoors. The history of Wimbledon combined with the memory of meeting Boris Becker at the Waldorf Astoria during his pre-poker prime all flood back to me each year. I love to reflect on Borg, Graf and all of the players as I build a new history with my children. And, of course, I will venture out on the court myself before the sun blazes the hardcourt.

-After tennis, family movie time will include my latest Disney DVD addition of The Sword and the Stone. I remember when the movie first hit the big screen. I cherish the original board game. I love it. Camelot, Arthur and Merlin. My good friend Mitzi Kleidon would enjoy it, too. Visit
for Mitzi's take on the wonderful Rexcalibur.

-Three days to catch up on reading, editing and drawing...for all of my projects. My two latest books are The History of Love by Nicole Krauss and Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku. These are two unusual books for me the first lent to me by my good friend Steve White, and the second being a challenge to myself to try to understand the latest in science. As an editor, I continue to work on my friend Andy Kroneberger's book A Man called Andreas. And, last but not least, the sequel to Maggie Visits Grandpa beckons me to draw at least a couple more pictures.

-And, in between it all, some laughter. Perhaps tears, as a good friend plans to replace my garbage disposal. The promise of chili and a few beers was the attraction to solve my sink problem.

-However, the best quote of the day in my house, the now famous words of my daughter, Ashley who said, "I google my name every day." Just to keep up with who you are and to be cognizant of how you are perceived is a full time endeavor. Of course, if you want to be incognito this holiday weekend....go for it.