Staff Blog

As 2009 draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions. What is a tradition? Do you have to keep doing it just because you always have? How do traditions get started? 
While I was visiting my family in Michigan over Christmas, we decided to visit Frederik Meijer Gardens, a favorite Grand Rapids attraction, to see the beautiful “Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World” exhibit. More than 40 trees and displays representing the holiday traditions of countries, ethnicities and religions dotted the hallways, each inviting the visitor to explore a new holiday tradition from somewhere outside their own world. Some sparkled with intricate glass ornaments and elaborate embellishments, while some were so familiar, with colored lights and homemade ornaments, that I could imagine them in my own living room.
The first possible tradition I encountered was the blizzard. The last time we visited this exhibit as a family was also during a blizzard. Have we now made it a tradition to brave the inclement weather in the spirit of Christmas around the world? Should we try to keep up this tradition? It seems dangerous, albeit likely considering the high possibility we will, regardless of our own wills, encounter a blizzard on Christmas weekend in Michigan. 
The second tradition I encountered has to do with oranges. My sister and I never knew why our mother would always put oranges in our stockings—until we got to the Netherlands tree. Nestled between blue and white Delftware ornaments and handpainted wooden shoes were oranges galore. Our Dutch mother, it turns out, put oranges in our stockings because her Dutch mother put oranges in her children’s stockings, and her mother’s Dutch mother put oranges in her children’s stockings, and so on. A tradition is born.
Be it oranges, blizzards, orange blizzards (Dairy Queen, anyone?)—traditions are unique, and meaningful, and I believe they come and go with time. Maybe I’ll put oranges in my children’s stockings someday, or maybe I’ll realize that kids like regular candy much more. It’s fun to try something new and see if you like it enough to make it a tradition. Here a few ideas for the coming year:
o Gather your (adult) family members or friends and sign up for a night of Hearthside Suppers. The Conner House in winter is magical, cozy and perfectly quaint. If your experience is anything like mine was, you’ll want to come back year after year.
o Try out a Prairie Tykes class with your 2-5 year old. I often notice many of the same families when I stop in to the different classes, a tell-tale sign of a tradition-worthy experience.
o Come see our baby animals on opening weekend for our outdoor areas, March 27 and 28. No matter how hard the winter was or how restless the kids are getting, baby animals are a momentary panacea.
Whatever you choose, we invite you into the new year with us and hope you’ll see it as an opportunity to explore, discover and experience the world around you in new and exciting ways.   
Posted: 12/28/2009 4:54:00 PM by Kimberly Coon | with 0 comments

by Aili McGill

On Thursday, April 2nd, we opened the historic grounds for the 2009 season. I must admit that a part of me was happy that we didn’t open on April 1st, as we have in many years, because that just seems to be tempting fate. I mean, so many factors have to come together just perfectly for us to have a successful Opening Weekend, and there’s just no reason for us to allow ourselves to be compared to April Fools.

Anyway, for those of you who don’t get to see Conner Prairie’s outdoor experiences during the bleak midwinter, I have to tell you that it can be a very melancholy scene. The aged historic buildings stand empty, their windows dark and lifeless, and their exteriors, no matter how brightly painted, seemed muted and grayed amongst the lifeless tree trunks and frozen, barren ground. It’s just not the same around here without guests – it’s like the very spirit of the place is absent when we’re empty – our reason for being eludes us.

Now, that’s not to say that there’s no activity around here in the winter. Quite the contrary. Most of the management staff spend the winter busily scurrying around in our offices, trying as hard as we can to plan new programs, revitalize old ones, and raise the bar a little higher for guest experiences in the coming season. And, of course, our maintenance staff spends much of the winter repairing, painting, roofing, siding, and constructing. This past winter, the tradesman, along with several devoted and talented volunteers, fully furnished the inside of the new Carpenter’s Shop in Prairietown, while completely reconfiguring the site that now features the Gregory family, and both locations are now 3-dimensional works of art.

And, of course, our livestock are still around – on any given day you can walk outside and hear Grayson testily protesting his duties as chief security guard for our sheep and goats, or our roosters crowing proudly about their own existence.

And yet, it’s all just a little too quiet – a little too somber and empty.

But that silence ended last Thursday, when we flung open the gates and more than 800 guests came to ring in the New Year.

I, as an Assistant General Manager of Guest Experiences, couldn’t fully suppress my jitters about Opening Day. We spent the two weeks prior to Opening Day training new staff, updating veteran staff, cleaning and supplying all the buildings, primping our new experiences, and triple-checking our to-do lists. But what if we missed something?! What if our interpreters oversleep?! What if none of the baby lambs are born in time?! What if we don’t have enough firewood at each post?! What if no one remembered to sharpen the tomahawks?!!!

But then I took a deep breath, and remembered that we have over a hundred very talented front-line staff members who know just what to do when they encounter a little hiccup. And I walked outside into the beautiful, warm sunshine and saw the lush, green grass, the bright yellow daffodils, the light green haze starting to show on even the tallest tree branches, and I knew that it was going to be a perfect day. I saw the young red-headed Tunis lambs bounding through the pasture, with Grayson keeping a careful watch over them, and could already smell the wood smoke curling up above the cabins. And then I heard it – the inspiring, exciting sound that had been missing for months: the tinkling, bell-like peal of laughter of a little girl, and the corresponding rolling chuckle of her father. And I smiled, knowing that our reason for being had returned. Our guests are back – bring on the Spring!

Posted: 4/8/2009 12:03:20 AM by | with 0 comments

A behind the scenes look at Opening Weekend.

To see more photographs of Opening Weekend, check out our Facebook Fan Page.

Posted: 4/6/2009 11:57:59 PM by | with 0 comments

One of the most exciting things about spring, at Conner Prairie and elsewhere, is fresh food growing in the garden! Who doesn't love the first bowl of fresh strawberries or blueberries each year?!

Now, I'll admit that I've always hated peas, asparagus, and lima beans. But when I first tasted them fresh from the Liberty Corner garden, I quickly realized that what I was eating out of a can or from a frozen bag were not actually peas or limas - blech!. I was so naive - EVERYTHING tastes better fresh from the garden.

My favorite thing, the food I look forward to most in the early spring is a fresh-from-the-oven rhubarb pie! Mmmmm!

I was just recently reading that seed companies all over the country are reporting between 20 and 30% higher sales - people want to spend less on food these days, they want to eat fresh, and it feels so good to grow your own food! The Indy Star just had an article giving tips for starting your own garden. And now is the best time to start - from now until mid-May, you can get great results that you can take to the kitchen!

At Conner Prairie, we have SEVEN fully-functional gardens in the historic areas. Opening Day is Thursday, April 2. And over the next few weeks, anybody is more than welcome to come and help start the season by taking part in planting the gardens.

Here's the garden plan for 1886 Liberty Corner:

Liberty Corner garden plan


What are you growing in your garden? What are your favorite spring foods fresh from the garden?

Posted: 3/30/2009 11:54:09 PM by | with 0 comments

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