#Pieperfest14: Decorah, Iowa

Downtown Decorah. Yes, there is a stoplight.
Downtown Decorah. Yes, there is a stoplight.

We continued our tour of cousins and drove from Des Moines to Decorah—after a stop in Bondurant to find Auntie J’s old home place, then north on I-35 and then across the state to the northeast corner in driving rain. We arrived later than we expected and a little emotionally wrung out from navigating in the rain and on unfamiliar roads. We checked into the historic hotel right on main street and then met our cousins and their friends for happy hour.

We had a very happy hour trying locally brewed beer and sharing stories with cousins Terri and Chuck and their friends Darrel and Betty. We then got the windshield tour of Decorah including Luther College, where many of the buildings were designed by Uncle Jack Thompson (now deceased).

We went for another big meal at McCaffrey’s Dolce Vita restaurant. Jeanette and I were beginning to feel like pigs being fattened for bacon and chops. I am going to have to figure out how to navigate the caloric landmines before I visit again.

Decorah takes great pride in their Nordic heritage. The high school mascot is the Vikings and the highlight on the summer calendar is Nordic Days. My cousins Terri and Chuck have a gem of a gift shop specializing in Norwegian gifts called Vanberia.

The next morning we met Terri and Chuck for breakfast (more bacon) at the hotel restaurant, Restauration, a spin off the name of the boat that brought the first Norwegian immigrants to America. Jeanette joined them for a quick trip to the cemetery to honor loved ones and I stayed behind to handle some memos and other work.

We met up and went shopping. Jeanette found a dress shop she really liked and I found the Blue Heron Knittery. We each made additional contributions to the local economy.

A wonderful gem of a museum on the Norwegian immigration experience.
A wonderful gem of a museum on the Norwegian immigration experience.

We said our goodbyes and then checked out the Norwegian-American museum. Vesterheim is an excellent small museum that focuses on the story of the Norwegian emigration to the USA. I also took a photo of main street (at top of post) as we got ready to leave town because it was heartwarming to see an intact small town not ravaged by edge of town Walmarts or strip malls.

Beautiful ceramic flowers made by artists in Bergen make up the special exhibit on the main floor.
Beautiful ceramic flowers made by artists in Bergen make up the special exhibit on the main floor.

A real whirlwind trip, we then drove back to Des Moines and on to Stuart.

#Pieperfest14: Why Iowa?

My aunt Jeanette and I are in Iowa to visit the land of our fathers. I have not been to Iowa in over 40 years. And Jeanette has not been back since 1969. The cousins have been out to visit California in between and kept up regular Christmas card correspondence with Auntie.

Stuart, Iowa
Pieper gathering in Stuart: Cousins, cousins and more cousins

So we are on a family adventure., hence Pieper-fest. We flew to Des Moines (via Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines). Our itinerary includes Decorah, Bondurant, and Stuart. We are also going to find the Bridges of Madison County.

I am excited to get to know my cousins better and to experience large family gatherings. We are a small nucleus centered in Sonoma County, California. My mom is an only child and much younger than her cousins and my 2 aunties have small families too.

My dad is missing in action. We do not know his whereabouts in heaven or on earth. So going to Iowa also stirs up a lot of other feelings—some are quite stressful. I know his choices have nothing to do with me and yet I do sometimes feel really pissed off at him for cutting us out of his life. I can say “his loss” for missing out on his terrific grandchildren’s lives, still it does not paper over the hurt. My cousin Paul went right to the heart of the subject and I found it easier to talk about than expected.

This trip is about connecting and reclaiming the Positive in Pieper. I met up with Lori, Annette and Kathy in June at Auntie J’s. I am quickly learning that all seven of Marvin and Ailene’s children are jokesters. I have already colluded on pulling legs.

We have eaten more carbs in a few days than we have in a month at home (it is all delicious: cheesy potatoes, corn, macaroni and cheese). We have seen beautiful sunsets, old fashioned windmills, corn and soybeans ready to harvest and more.

The best part of Iowa is the people. My cousins are lovely and funny people. And every stranger we have met so far has been outrageously friendly. We stopped in Bondurant to see Auntie Jeanette’s childhood home and the current occupants were not home. Their beautiful white German shepherd let us leave a note and the homeowners called us later that day. They were excited to talk to Jeanette and learn more about the farm. Auntie J was really moved.

Watch for upcoming posts on Decorah and Stuart. We are having a terrific adventure.

#Pieperfest14: Flying through Las Vegas

American Julie and Auntie J on Southwest
American Julie and Auntie J on Southwest Airlines

I love Southwest Airlines. The staff uses humor exceptionally well. Case in point, on this very flight the steward joked that those of us in “coach” can grab our peanuts from the aisle (as he let them slide down during take-off), only people in first class would have them handed to them—those in the first row where he could reach. Everyone laughed and some people grabbed the peanuts. (Of course they brought everyone peanuts once we leveled off)

Flying through Las Vegas always gives me some trepidation. Once I showed up with an “A” pass (Southwest boards in groups and seating is first come, first serve) on a Sunday morning flying to Washington DC through Vegas. They started pre-boarding and practically everyone in the terminal got on! There was a group of very senior seniors on their way for 24 hours of fun and (rightfully) they got preferential treatment. I ended up in a middle seat!

Flying into Las Vegas is generally better than flying out of Vegas. A plane full of “losers” and people who have too much to drink and no sleep is not much fun. Plus you do get a higher percentage of infrequent flyers on a flight that touches Vegas. (My aunt confesses to white knuckling it.)

You cannot beat the convenience of flying through Las Vegas on Southwest if you are traveling to the Midwest. My Auntie J and I are going to Des Moines, Iowa to visit family.

I know some people thrill at just the name “Las Vegas.” Not me. I have come here many times for work and I do not enjoy gambling. I am less than enthralled that so much of the seating space in the terminal waiting area is given over to slot machines. It makes a good joke photo though, don’t chya think?

Will I be able to drag Auntie J away from the slots when they board our Southwest Flight?
Will I be able to drag Auntie J away from the slots when they board our Southwest Flight?