Grinding Wheat for The Long Winter

The Long Winter

 

The Long Winter was so long, I barely blogged through it.

 

OK, maybe I didn’t blog at all.

I have several posts in the drafts, but didn’t get around to it.

All ten of my homeschool blog readers are missing me, I’m pretty sure.

It was a long, long, long winter. Maybe I didn’t like this book very much because I lived about half my life in North Dakota, where every winter was a long winter.

(My friend, Tandis, is having a Long Winter in Wisconsin.  You can read her funny blog at Life as We Ski It.)

When I had five kids and my husband was a Road Warrior (traveling for business),  I spent the Longest Winter ever on a farmstead out in the country.  We had a record of 117 inches of snow, the interstates shut down 14 times, a record of two days of early spring melting, followed by two days of harsh rain, followed by another freeze, and another thaw, followed by the Red River flood of a lifetime.  The trees and telephone poles were so laden with snow, they snapped off all the way across the eastern border of the state like a stack of dominoes.

At the time, I really didn’t mind.  I was young, strong, loved adventure, and loved being home with my five kids.  Even the weeks when I was stormed in for days alone. As long as we had milk and diapers, we were good. We baked a lot to keep the house toasty and cozy, we read and played. We built forts inside with the extra sheets.  When it warmed up to zero degrees, the kids were allowed to play outside.


(More of Wisconsin snow. I have to tease Tandis, that’s nothing to brag about, they can still see the swing set!)

The snow piled up higher than our swing set, the old-fashioned, big and dangerous kind from a public school.  The kids would climb to the top of the half-circle Quonset, the metal buildings you store combines and tractors in, and slide down the rippled sides. Sometimes I would bundle up, go outside with my kids and sit on this special branch that was high above the swing set and perfectly shaped to sit on.  I’d lean back against the main branch and talk on my cell phone to my homeschooling momma-of-many friend, Kirsti, who lived in town. When the snow melted, my  branch was so high in the air, I couldn’t dream of reaching it with any of the ladders we owned.

Looking back now, I’m amazed at what we survived.

So, reading The Long Winter wasn’t that fun, I don’t see blizzards and starvation as exciting adventures, like I did when I was younger.

The Ingalls, like everyone else in town, were running out of food.  Because they had no flour, they were grinding it in their coffee mill.

I sprang to action.  You know that Amazing Homeschool Mommy moment when the stars line up just right and you have the time, ambition and elements to do something wonderful for school? 

We had one of those moments. It was a rare moment, but we had one.

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I had some hard red spring wheat from North Dakota farmers, Michelle and Matt.  I was visiting my wonderful, amazing and talented sister in law, Susan,  a few summers ago and shared my desire to go all domestic and healthy again, and make my own bread and grind my own flax. She drove me to a friend’s house.  Michelle gave me coffee, welcomed me like a relative, then she and her husband filled an 18 gallon Rubbermaid with wheat. “Cuz that’s just how people from North Dakota are.

I’m on my last smidgeon, I’ve been saving it for something special.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

The Ingalls were experiencing their Long Winter.  The people and the stores were almost out of food. Ma had no flour to bake with, and Banker Ruth bought the last sack of flour for $50.  Pa had the last bag of wheat from the wilder boys’ stock.

p. 193, “It’s a pity there isn’t a grist mill in town,” Pa said.

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p. 194, “We have a mill,” Ma replied.  She reached to the top of the cupboard and took down the coffee mill.

Ma set the little brown wooden box on the table.  The black iron hopper in the top of the mill held half a cupful of the grain.

 

This antique coffee grinder was a gift from another SIL, Nita.  She is the amazing, talented one that knits and tats and once made a baby sweater with one arm.  Seriously!  But I can’t tease too much, because I can’t knit at all.  Check out her blog and see the beautiful sweaters she knit with two arms. She also sells her creations on Etsy.

 

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“The mill gave out its grinding noise.”

It was a hard start, but the adventure was on.  We pretended we were starving.

I’ve really learned that school is more fun and the lessons last in their heart when you DO instead of just READ.  It was a blast trying to grind wheat.

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“Wheat will grind just like coffee,” Ma said.

My grandson loves this coffee grinder, but he puts all kinds of amazing things in it. Read about Bubba’s Coffee Bean Business if ya’ wanna’ see his adorable Pirate Face.

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She looked into the little drawer.  The broken bits of wheat were crushed out flat.

 

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“Can you make bread of that?” Pa asked.

“Of course I can,” Ma replied. “But we must keep the mill grinding if I’m to have enough to make a loaf for dinner.”

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We didn’t have all day to grind with the coffee grinder, so we switched over to the Nutrimill. I bought it from Urban Homemaker. 

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Lame Wheat Grinding Video

Do you hate hearing your own voice?  Listening to this video I was not happy to hear that I STILL sound like I grew up in the Midwest. Oh, fur shur, ya’ know, I’m trying hard tu talk like du dickshunaree, ya’ know, fur Pete’s sake.

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p. 196, The brown bread that Ma had made from the ground wheat was very good. It had a fresh, nutty flavor that seemed almost to take the place of butter.

Coffee grinder on the left.  Electric mill on the right. Not bad for a vintage coffee grinder that isn’t used to grind coffee anymore, huh?

 

 

When the stars line up again for a perfect homeschool day, we plan to make bread from this book by Melissa K. Norris. She has a tutorial on her blog sidebar for a bread you can make in 5 minutes per day.  She also offers some freebies. I’m not Ma Ingalls.  I can’t grind wheat AND make bread all in the same week, let alone the same day.

But for now, we’re just thankful that The Long Winter is over.

All Aboard!

By the Shores of Silver Lake

Out of college, my husband taught in a private Christian school for seven years.  We loved ministering to the high school kids and living in Kansas.  They were formational years to our Christian life. Of course, we often joked that the three best things about teaching were June, July and August, but we loved working with teens the most.

When my husband went into the computer industry, he had the typical vacation schedule with only two weeks off.

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At the same time, he began teaching the Bible every summer for two weeks at  Box T Bible and Saddle Camp run by Florence and Lewellyn Tewksbury in the middle of North Dakota.  We loved the teen ministry and didn’t mind having no time off.  Our ministry together was our family vacation.

However, driving from North Dakota to Montana to visit my parents each year with a car full of little children and no husband was a challenge.  We found help one year when we bought a Disney video and it came with an Amtrak coupon for buy one adult fair, get one child for free.  The baby was free, the middle children were half fare, so we had a deal. 

I  took the train for the first time in my life.

It was an exciting adventure, even if we couldn’t afford the sleeper car, and even if it ended up taking longer than driving.  They placed us in a smaller handicapped room with two seats that faced each other.  I had a cooler of snacks and a huge bag of books and new toys.  My favorite memory was reading Ransom of Red Chief by O.Henry aloud. I think I was more excited than my kids.

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The Ingalls’ didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for taking a train when Ma and the girls moved by train from Plum Creek to Dakota Territory. There were too many unknowns for them.

p. 6  Pa said to Ma, “I’ll go with Docia tomorrow morning…  Nelson’s agreed to haul our stuff to the depot, and you’ll all come out on the train.”

p. 7  “Laura knew, of course, that people did travel on trains.  The trains were often wrecked and the people killed.  She was not exactly afraid, but she was excited.

Ma said in her quiet way, ‘I am sure we will manage nicely with Laura and Carrie to help me.’ ”

 

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p. 16, “Clean and starched and dressed-up, in the morning of a weekday, they sat in a row on the bench in the waiting room while Ma bought the tickets.”

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p. 16, “At the ticket window, Ma carefully counted money out of her pocketbook.”

 

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p. 16, “The two satchels stood on the sunny platform outside the waiting-room door.”

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p. 16, “Traveling on the train cost money.”

p. 30, “She knew now what Pa meant when he spoke of the wonderful times they were living in. There ha never been such wonders in the whole history of the world, Pa said.  Now, in one morning, they had actually traveled a whole week’s journey.”

In the end, Laura, of course, decided it was a thrilling adventure, to the point of wishing her pa was a railroad man.

 

 

For further study about the wonders of the train world:

Northern Pacific Railway Museum

Great Northern Railway History

Friends of the Burlington Northern Railroad

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association

Central Pacific Railroad

Railroad Hall at the Smithsonian (pics)

“…and Mary was blind.”

Shores of Silver Lake

Chapter One

As if the pain was too great, Laura simply tells us:

p. 2 “Far worst of all, the fever had settled in Mary’s eyes, and Mary was blind.

She was able to sit up now, wrapped in quilts in ma’s old hickory rocking chair. All that long time, week after week, when she could still see a little, but less every day, she had never cried. Now she could not see even the brightest light any more. She was still patient and brave.

Her blue eyes were still beautiful, but they did not know what was before them, and Mary herself could never look through them again to tell Laura what she was thinking without saying a word.”

I don’t know about you, but I was amazed. I’ve pitched fits over lesser hardships in life. I often wonder if the Ingalls were really this stoic, or if Laura uses poetic license to write the story the way she wants their family to appear. Either way, the Ingalls continue teach us all how to press on through life’s hardships.

I wouldn’t be so brave if I lost my eyesight.

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We printed out this worksheet with the unlabeled parts of the eye. Used website Kids Health to label the parts of the eye. We read about blindness.

We enjoyed reading about Mary’s ability to cope with her new life challenge.

p. 17 ”Ma, Laura’s fidgeting, too. I can tell she is without seeing.”

Mary is thrilled to tattle on Laura fidgeting, not because she loves to tattle, because she is learning to “see” without eyes.

Later, as they stand in the prairie sunshine, Mary asks Laura if she has her sunbonnet on.

p, 79 “Guiltily Laura pulled up her sunbonnet from where it hung by its strings down her neck. YEs, Mary,” she said.

Mary laughed. “You just now pit it on. I heard you!”

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Another assignment was to read about Fanny Crosby, (link contains beautiful stories of conversions because of her hymns) so we pulled this from my bookshelf to read a chapter a day.

Then, I showed Rebekah how to look up authors in the hymnbooks. She was amazed at how many hymns Fanny had written that she was already familiar with.

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While sewing Pioneer Shirts, we watched this video about Helen Keller. What a captivating movie! I wept as Helen spelled w-a-t-e-r, even though I’ve known the story since I was a little girl and watched this several times.

While talking about blindness, Beka asked the cutest question.

“How do blind people sleep? Do they close their eyes?”

I assumed they did, but still had to Bing it. Yes, they close their eyes to keep them from drying out and to keep them clean.

Then we learned about Anne Sullivan and the Perkins Institute for the Blind. It was exciting to know they are still open and serving people. Their website is a great source of information. Most of my links below are from their site.

I was surprised to learn how Charles Dickens played a part in Helen’s life. After the Kellers read his account of the successful education of deafblind child Laura Bridgman, at Perkins, they contacted the school and asked for help for Helen. Anne Sullivan, a friend of Laura’s, was sent to their home. (The link isn’t working. Type in Anne’s name on the website and scroll down to find her entire biography.)

Click on the link to read an AP article with rare photo of Anne and Helen.

Even though Anne was nearly expelled several times, she graduated. Read her Valedictory Address and rejoice in her gracious encouragement and thanksgiving.

We loved even scrolling through the online store, to see what technology is available today to help the blind. It’s one thing to read about Braille, it’s another to be able to see the tools and the code.

A historic painting of the Perkins campus from the Charles River.

This is a postcard of the Perkins campus from around 1913 and is used with kind permission coutesy of the Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown, Mass.

I love this quote from their website:

“We are not in the education business or the rehabilitation business, or any other business; we are, each of us, in the dignity business.”—Michael L. Wehmeyer, Professor of Special Education

This unit study had a personal impact, my great-grandfather was blind. He lived next door to his daughter, my grandmother, and lived like Mary, with quiet acceptance and determination. A Norwegian immigrant, he had the same pioneer spirit of determination.

He was a tall man, and as a very young girl, always short for my age, his loving voice seemed very far above me. I remember seeing the bottom or his curling mustache and his smile.

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He loved to tease. I was sitting across from him at the small kitchen table and eying the bowl of sugar cubes in the middle of the table. One of the relatives quietly signaled me to take a sugar cube. Of course, I did, feeling sneaky. Then Grandpa with the Mishmash, I couldn’t say mustache, asked me why I was sneaking his sugar cubes. I never understood how he could “see” me. I knew he was blind.

Sometimes I would test him and reach my chubby, dimpled fingers to the dish, sure that just once I could fool him. I never could.

That same visit, my Aunt Hedi, always the instigator of laughter and fun, insisted I give Grandpa directions to his radio on the shelf in the living room so he could turn it on and listen to music. I had a moment of self-importance, being big enough to help.

I walked into the next room and I pointed. Grandpa didn’t move. He reminded me he was blind. I tried again with words. We were center stage in the middle of happy older relatives, who were giggling and coaching.

In final desperation, I reached up on tiptoes, grabbed his large hand and tried to drag him to the radio. He knocked into furniture and laughed and played along. I wasn’t a very good guide, but we made it to the radio.

My Mom shared about her Grandpa with the Mustache.

Grandpa’s blindness kind of slowly snuck up on him. He had a workshop in the basement of the house (next to mom & dad’s) with his turning lathe, coping saw, etc. He worked on many projects, making rolling pins and fixing stuff over the years. He seemed to sense when something wasn’t straight or smooth enough. His touch was pretty good for locating things, and finding his way around. I remember that his sense of hearing improved tremendously as his blindness progressed.”

He had cataracts and possibly also macular degeneration. In those days, (50’s–60’s) they weren’t as capable of dealing with cataracts as they are now. As an example (1966) when I first worked at the hospital in Helena, our cataract patients had to lie flat in bed with bandages over their eyes, window shades drawn, no lights on, and had to use a bed pan. They didn’t get out of bed for about a week, or more. They were given sponge baths and were spoon fed. When I had my first cataract surgery in 2000, I checked in at 6:30 or 7 AM, and was out by 10:30, with dark glasses. We went out to breakfast, then shopped for groceries. It is so different today.”

Today, my Great-Grandpa with the Mishmash’s sight would be restored with a simple out-patient surgery. Like Mary, he figured out how to see with his hands and his ears. He continued to be a kind, patient and serving man until his death. He dealt with his blindness so patiently, I never grew up thinking of it as a handicap. It was just a characteristic of my grandpa.

Now, I “see” his life differently and I admire him even more. It makes me long for one more chance to sit on his lap and twirl his mishmash with my fingers.

And I want one more chance to steal his sugar cubes, because I’m pretty sure, just this one time, I wouldn’t get caught.


What About Those Missing Years?

Shores of Silver Lake

 

As soon as we  cracked open the new Little House book, we had a few surprises. (click on links below to find sites to validate times, places and events)

 

Laura is now a teenager.  There are three missing years, since the Ingalls family only lived in their Plum Creek dugout from 1874-1876.

 

Between reading Shores on Silver Lake and doing research, we discovered some pain in those three years.

1. Ingalls family moved to Iowa and back. While there Pa helped run the Masters Hotel.  (See amazing  photos here. Really amazing photos.)

2. They had a son named Frederick who died. 

3. The family faced Scarlet Fever and Mary lost her sight.

4. Ma and Pa disagreed over moving west for several years.

 

As a wife and mom, my heart ached for Ma. Losing a child would be pain enough, but add in illness and poverty and I can only imagine how Ma was able to keep waking each morning. Some people air their pain like laundry on a clothesline, others hide it away.  But, it never goes away.  In one place I read, Ma was known to have claimed things would have turned out differently if only Frederick had lived. Laura loses a son, as does her daughter, Rose.  The family chooses to say very little about their pain, but we know it goes deep.

 

As a very young mom, I met a dear older woman who was visiting our fellowship and I asked if she had children.  The tears began flowing. She struggled for words to tell me about the death of one of her children.  Even though the death had occurred over 50 years ago, and she wasn’t bitter or angry at the Lord, she still missed that child.

 

My imagination and my experience in life fills in the blanks about these missing years.

 

 

I feel a little annoyed each time Pa decides to move them again, I long for them to settle.  This is the first time you get the idea that Ma actually put her foot down and kept it there for two years.

p. 3  “Pa did not like a country so old and worn out that the hunting was poor.  He wanted to go west.  For two years he had wanted to go west and take a homestead, but Ma did not want to leave the settled country. And there was no money.”

 

 

When a relative showed up offering him a job, Pa made a quick decision to pack the wagon and move to Dakota Territory.

p. 4 “Ma still did not want to go west.”

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Docie had driven her wagon 196 miles to offer Pa a mouth-drooling salary of $50 a month to run her husband’s store. They have another 111 miles to go fro Minnesota to Dakota Territory.

Pa sold his entire farmstead for $200.  He has a chance to make $600 a year, enough to buy three farmsteads.  No wonder he didn’t wait very long to answer. 

p. 6 “I hope it’s for the best, Charles,” Ma replied, “But how –“

“Wait till I tell you!  I’ve got it all figured out,” Pa told her.  I’ll go on with Docia tomorrow morning.  You and the girls stay here till Mary gets well and strong, say a couple of months…you’ll all come out on the train.”

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Ma lifted her foot and Pa left her alone with two small children, one teenager and a newly blind teenager. 

 

 

p. 7  “I am sure we will manage nicely with Laura and Carrie to help me.”

 

With amazing strength of spirit, Ma accepts more change,  loneliness and having to start over again.

 

Repurposed Pioneer Shirt

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Chapter 8

This wasn’t an assignment in the Prairie Primer, but I like to ad lib.  We didn’t want to grow germs and bacteria and disgusting things, but we love sewing and creating to help relive those days.

We read Laura’s description of the shanty camp at Silver Lake.

p. 75 “The teams were coming into camp.  In a long, dark, snakelike line as they came over the prairie, horses plodding side by side in their harness, and men marching, bareheaded and bare-armed, brown-skinned in their striped blue-and-white shirts and gray shirts and plain blue shirts, and all of them were singing the same song.”

It spurred us on to finish a project we’d been planning.

During Christmas vacation, I was minding my own business, blog-hopping and wasting a lot of time, when I found a great tutorial by Whitney at Home Delicious for making a Pioneer Shirt. Since the neighborhood kids know they will be playing “Old Fashioned,” as they call it, when they come over to our home, we like to have clothes available for all ages and sizes.

We immediately dashed out to Value Village to look for men’s button down shirts.

I was shocked that they were $7.  Are you kidding?  I can get new ones at Target for that price on sale or clearance.

We were mighty determined, so kept scanning through the racks until we found one for $3. Of course, all my coupons had recently expired, so I was feeling totally guilty about spending money for items NOT on sale or clearance WITHOUT a coupon. We had to buy some books, too.  (VV gives you a coupon for each donation.)

Then I told myself to build a bridge and get over it because I wasn’t going to put us in the Poor House for one rash purchase.

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Yes, I’m still in my pj’s.  It’s a Monday, the first full day of our first full week after a wonderful holiday break, and I didn’t want to throw myself too fully into the routine, I might throw my back out.

You’ll be happy to know my student was showered and dressed early in the morning, like a good student in the Gifted and Talented Program should be. At this rate, she’ll probably be the Valedictorian, but ya’ never know.

When the 80’s were around, and these shirts were totally in style with the sockless loafers, my little sis Angie called them “C’mere shirts.”  When I asked her why, she showed me the little loop along the back yoke of the shirts.  She said, “See, ya’ pull here and say ‘c’mere!’”

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Of course, we’re multi-tasking, because we’re women.  We’re watching the movie Miracle Worker about Helen Keller, because we’re learning also about blindness.

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Beka cut off the collar of the c’mere shirt.  It won’t unravel.  Using the Ginghers her daddy didn’t use to cut carpeting, snip close to the edge without cutting the band. This is the pair he bought to replace the pair he used to cut carpeting. 

They’re amazing scissors, since they can cut through carpeting.  They’re just not that amazing after you cut through carpeting. Another pair was ruined when an offspring who still hasn’t confessed,  tried to cut a wire coat hanger, ya’ know the old kind that were made out of really thick, nice metal strands?  But, we won’t talk about that pair, either.

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Cut  with your surviving scissors across the placket 8 – 12 inches down from the collar. (That’s the side with the buttons.)   For a smaller shirt we used about 8 inches, just before the fourth button.

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Turn the shirt inside out and put the two seams together to sew. If you’re all fussy, you can iron the seam flat, or just leave it like I did.  It’s just gunna’ be thrown into the dress-up box.

Beka was a little frustrated because her seam wasn’t perfectly straight.  I turned it right side out and showed her it didn’t show. At all.  There are times when we’re sewing that perfection doesn’t matter, just gittin’ ‘er dun matters. This was one of those times. I praised her, showed her how even the crookedest place in the seam DIDN’T show, so she should be satisfied.

I  buttoned the three remaining buttons to line it up correctly.

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I placed the placket over the seam and eased it where I wanted it. I sewed a square pattern with an X in the middle. (This was the only part I sewed.)

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Since we had just cut the placket and sewed it down on the outside, we finished the edge with Fray Check.  It’s kinda’ like fixing a run in your nylons with clear fingernail polish.  It works great on ribbons and other things you wanna’ cut but don’t want them to unravel.

When your Fray Check is older than your child, and it has hardened inside the nozzle, then that said child squeezes and squeezes and squeezes, until it bursts the clump through the nozzle, there could be an accidental SQUIRT and a huge blurb comes out.  Maybe that could happen. If it does happen, reassure that child, again, NO WORRIES, be happy, because Fray Check is our friend.  It dries clear and you can’t see it, but it might be a little stiff.

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Of course, we took the extra buttons off the shirt and saved them for the button jar.  Ya’ never know when we want to make another Button String.

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We weren’t sure about the sleeves and wondered how we could change them to be more pioneery, but at this point, we were content.  It was dun.  D-U-N dun.

Of course, we’ll be on the look-out for some inexpensive shirts, preferably without the front pocket, to make a few more Pioneer Shirts.

If there’s one thing we’re learning through Laura Ingalls’ books, it’s much easier to PLAY pioneer than to LIVE like a pioneer.

‘Cuz if you were a pioneer wearing this shirt, you’d be milking cows, twisting hay for firewood,  breaking sod, making homemade pies, cooking dinner over buffalo pies and all kinds of exciting things.

We just dress-up, read Laura’s books, research pioneery things on our technology and dream about The Old Fashioned Days.

Four Generations of Button Savers

On the Banks of Plum Creek
Chapter 13

Our assignment in the Prairie Primer was to make a button string.

 

“That afternoon, when Carrie was asleep, Ma beckoned Mary and Laura.  Her face was shining with a secret.  They put their heads close to hers, and she told them, They could make a button-string for Carrie’s Christmas! (p.90)

 

Beka and I decided to make the button string for the Carrie doll in our Ingalls family dollhouse. We had to pick out the tiniest buttons from my collection.

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It’s way more enticing to sort my family’s buttons on a Jadeite Jane Ray desert plate. I have some from my Grandma Geneva, from my Mom and I’ve been adding to the collection for years. Rebekah has started collecting buttons, so we have four generations of button saving in our sewing cabinet. Like the women before me, I never cut a shirt into rags before cutting off all the buttons. I used to shove shirts in the “All You Can Fit in a Bag for $1 Sale” at the thrift store just for the buttons. 

Beka and I love fingering through the buttons, sorting and imagining. We can feel the history and the thrill of creation that has passed through the generations.

 

Ma had saved buttons since she was smaller than Laura, and she had buttons her mother had saved when her mother was a little girl. (p. 90)

Mary had one end of the string and Laura had the other.  They picked out the buttons they wanted and strung them on the string.  They held the string out and looked at it, and took off some buttons and put on others.

One day Ma told them that this was the day before Christmas.  They must finish the button-string that day.” (p.91)

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Then quickly, quickly, Laura and Mary finished the button-string. Ma tied the ends together for them. It was a beautiful button-string. (p. 92)

 

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Carrie’s eyes and her mouth were perfectly round when she saw it.  Then she squealed, and grabbed it and squealed again.  She sat on Pa’s knee, looking at her candy and her button-string and wriggling and laughing with joy. (p. 94)

 

For the fire in our fireplace we use a battery operated tea light.  We cut all the extra plastic off and stacked pieces of wood around it.  It keeps the dolls warm on a winter day.  Even though the Ingalls family didn’t have one, we added a small Nativity scene to the mantle to celebrate Christmas.

We love reliving the stories of Laura Ingalls through our dolls. It’s been an amazing way to add the thrill of discovery and creation to our homeschool life. When Beka has a hard time knowing what’s school and what’s play, I know something is going right in our home…..or would that be school?

Picture Perfect Laura

 

Laura Ingalls digs up her own dirt.

She  never portrayed herself as perfect, like some biographers. Those ugly moments of jealousy, hatred and anger were never glazed over, although sometimes justified.

She slapped, sulked, disobeyed and coveted her way through childhood, just like kids from all generations.

Her relationship with her Pa was interesting. She records a lot of disobedience, but not a lot of spanking, although that was the  threat she felt lurking over her head. Ma and Pa kept the kids in line and kept them alive, despite the dangers and temptations in all the various places they lived. Too bad Ma and Pa didn’t write a parenting book!

As a child I related to Laura and never considered her as a naughty child.  Reading through as a mother, I’ve marveled at Ma and Pa’s patience. I’ve wondered if they ever despaired about how she would turn out.   She was the clichéd handful!

We wanted to make Laura picture perfect for our Little House Dollhouse.

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The miniatures that are just plain, paintable metal are much cheaper. (from the Dollhouse Cottage.)

 

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Two coats of gold paint with craft paint we had on hand.

 

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A postcard of the Ingalls family I bought somewhere along the line for educational purposes. Don’t ya’ have a stash of stuff ya’ just KNOW you’ll use someday?  We’ve had this on display all year with other vintage postcards.

 

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Beka photocopied the postcard,  traced around the frame, then cut the picture to fit in the frame, making sure it didn’t go all the way to edge, just to the middle of the frame.

I wanted a pic of Pa and Ma, but Pa and Laura were closest together, so that’s what we used.  The more I thought about it, the more appropriate this was.  I think Pa had a great part in helping the rambunctious Laura grow into the woman we’ve known and loved most of our lives.  He kept her from being a monster child, but never quenched her spirit.

 

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A piece was cut to perfect fit over the picture, to make it look like it was framed in glass.  I love laminating sheets!  They can be expensive, but I used to buy them at Wal-Mart for a reasonable price.  It is clearer than clear Contact paper, but easier than running to an office supply store to have something laminated.

Another piece the size of the whole frame was cut to stick the picture to the frame on the back.  That was Beka’s clever idea!  I love giving kids the freedom to do things their own way, sometimes their way is BETTER than our way. I hadn’t even thought about how we would actually stick the picture to the frame.

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Laura Ingalls –  the Picture Perfect version.

Christmas Cookies on the Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 31

 

Christmas came to Walnut Grove and Laura is surprised it’s Christmas because there’s no snow. I was surprised she didn’t know because in my house the kids ALWAYS know when it’s Christmas, with or without snow.  They count down the days and drive me crazy asking “how many more sleeps until Christmas?”

 

Ma and Pa don’t tell the kids, but they know there’s something going on because they have to take a bath in the middle. of. the. week.  Back then, it was a clear signal that something was up.  Actually, in 1874, Christmas was on a Friday, but Laura didn’t have the Internet back then to verify the details, and she probably didn’t keep every calendar from the previous 50 years.  But, she knew it was NOT bath night. 

 

Laura sees her first Christmas tree in the church and gets a fur cape and muff that is BETTER than Nellie Oleson’s.  Ooh, Laura is so honest about her little mean heart,  isn’t she? I love her for this, and I think that’s why we were drawn to her books as children.  She was naughty just like us! 

 

We wanted Christmas to come to our Little House dollhouse, so we started with Christmas cookies.

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Ma Ingalls had a Norwegian neighbor over and they rolled out little snowmen cookies together over cups of hot coffee.  They talked about storms, grasshoppers, the wheat harvest and naughty children almost drowning in the Plum Creek.  Baby Carrie slept peacefully in the homemade cradle right next to the fireplace.

The white apron on the left was sewn by my mommy years and years ago.  I still love playing with it! I remembering snuggling in bed late at night, listening to the whirr of her Necchi sewing machine, knowing she was stitching together amazing gifts for Christmas.

 

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Beka and I used Sculpey clay and little cookie cutters and punches. This is the same red cutting board we used when drilling and cutting a shelf for the General Store, so it’s getting pretty beat up this year in school. We painted two little wood mugs gray to look like the tin mugs Laura and Mary got for Christmas in Kansas.  We also made them candy canes and the little heart cakes they received in their stockings.   We’re trying to replicate their Christmas celebrations, of course, with some creative embellishment.

 

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We baked our creations in the toaster oven.  We learned the hard way if you overcook them, they turn dark.  OOPS! (see finished  below)

 

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The little cookie cutters from Michaels.

 

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These little punches from the Dollhouse Cottage work great and are very inexpensive.  We discovered it works better to NOT use the plunger.  See the little circles in the middle of our stars? That’s from the plunger. Just roll out the dough, put it on the cookie sheet that is going in the oven,  use the punch to form all the shapes you want, making sure you push all the way through the clay.  You separate the cookies AFTER they’re baked.  The stars were over baked, but supposed to be white. We’re pretending they’re gingerbread.  The cookies on the right were from a tan clay with little red clay circles and cooked to perfection. You can tell I didn’t push the cutter all the way down, there’s still little ridges around my cookies.  But, we’re not perfectionists around here, we’re just happy to get stuff done.

 

After all, Christmas is around the corner and we have so much to do to get ready!

 

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Practice makes perfect.  So does a miniature class at the Dollhouse Cottage. While Beka and I pulled out the first burned batch, we remembered the dollhouse store has $10 miniature workshops the first Saturday of each month and they LOVE having children. As you can see from above, our creations got a little better after spending a few hours crafting with Sandi, the owner.

 

I was so surprised to find the little jars with corks in the jewelry-making department at JoAnn’s. They were two in a package for $1, but came with a little eye screw so you could fill the jars and wear them on a necklace.  We needed candy in our store for the little children.

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And since you might want to really make cookies this year, I will pass on the famous rolled out sugar cookie recipe from my 100% Norwegian Gramma Geneva.

One year the kids and I went over to another family’s house to make rolled out sugar cookies.  She made the dough ahead of time from her family’s recipe.  They were delicious, but there was no nutmeg. What surprised me even more, was how thick she rolled out the sugar cookies.  I was thinking to myself “She’s only going to get about two dozen cookies out of a batch of dough.”

I thought about “the waste” until I almost laughed out loud.  She grew up in a very wealthy family on the East coast,  with  European money gained during WWII.  I grew up in a middle class family, from very poor grandparents, who struggled to stay warm and full during WWII. My relatives rolled sugar cookies almost as thin as paper, trying to get as many cookies from a batch as possible.  My friend’s family grew up with plenty of money, and there was always more flour,sugar and butter in the pantry so they could roll out their cookies as thick as they wanted.

 

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Gramma never frosted her cookies, because they were for dunking in the coffee, but her cookie jar was always full when we came to visit. Her cookie jar has been sitting on my counter for about 15 years, and it’s rarely full.  Sometimes I put in store-bought treats,  but they always taste like guilt.  There’s no better feeling than to fill Gramma’s cookie jar with homemade cookies.

 

When I married in 1986, this recipe became a part of every holiday celebration.  I made hearts for Valentine’s day.  I made trees and stars for Christmas.  When I couldn’t find a football cookie cutter, I smooshed a circle one into the right shape to celebrate the Super Bowl with cookies.   I always frosted and decorated my cookies.

 

Geneva's Sugar Cookies back

This is what I wrote on the back of my recipe card. I’ve made them only a few times since 2005.

Again this year, I’m telling myself, “Maybe this year.”

Maybe this year, they’ll be Gramma’s sugar cookies in the house, not just in the dollhouse.

 

 

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If you still can’t get enough of Laura, here’s a wonderful blog post Christmastime When Laura was Sixteen,  from the blog All Things Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 

The blog,  Laura’s Sweet Memories, provided a recipe for Farmer Boy Carrot Cookies.  Last year, they blogged Laura’s Gingerbread recipe, saying if she hadn’t become famous for her writing, she certainly would have become famous for her gingerbread.

 

If you’re looking for a quick simple recipe, try Laura’s Saucepan Coco Brownies from The Cottonwood Tree, another blogger dedicated to Laura.

 

And if you have time to watch a video, listen to Laura tell her own Christmas stories.

A Good Ol’ Fashioned Thrashing

 

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 8

Not only was Pa lucky enough to buy his dugout and a sowed field from a very clean, handsome Norwegian, Mr. Hanson, he works for another wonderful, good-looking Norwegian, Mr. Nelson. Pa retraces the history of their moves by recalling they lived with Swedes and Germans in Wisconsin, Indians in Kansas and now Norwegians in Minnesota.  But he magnanimously admits, “They’re good neighbours.” Oh, wasn’t that kind of him?  His next comment makes me wonder what he really thought about my people. He says to Ma, ”But I guess our kind of folks is pretty scarce.”  (p. 44) What did he mean by OUR kind of people?

Apparently, Caroline is Scottish, but with Dutch nobility. Charles had a grandmother from the famed Delano family, but I never heard of them until I read Wikipedia, and traced English family back to the Mayflower.  Oh, they were those kind of people.  But, how kind of them to consent to living with Norwegians.Oh, wait, is that why Laura insisted on the old English spellings in her books instead of the new American spellings published by Webster in 1828?

It’s now harvest time, 1874, and Pa can’t start his field until he’s cut Mr. Nelson’s wheat.  He cuts it by hand with a scythe, binds it in bundles and stacks it to dry in the sunshine.  Over and over he swung the blade, cut the wheat, tied it up and stacked it.

 

He worked so hard, he was too tired to fiddle.  For Pa, that’s tired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you watch this video of a teenage girl using a scythe, you’ll wonder why Pa was so tired.  After all, he was a pretty strong pioneer man.

 

Anyhoo, when Pa is done cutting, three men come with a threshing-machine. For a little girl who loves adventure, I can’t believe Laura only described this amazing occasion only by saying she heard “harsh machinery noises” and “when the sun rose chaff flew golden in the wind.” (p. 53.)  Wanna’ hear those noises?  Watch this video from an 1870 thresher. It only had two owners and is now a museum piece.

 

But, that’s it?  That’s all she has to say?  He Pa cuts the fields by hand and instead of thumping on the stalks of wheat by hand to separate the kernels of grain, he has a high tech piece of equipment that saves him days of work.  She wasn’t impressed, but I was.  I love farming.  I dug ya’ up some history and some family pics.

 

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Here’s a pic from my cousin Dean’s family, also of good Norwegian blood.  His mom came from the Peterson family who homesteaded near Bisbee, ND.

 

You wanna see how these old steam threshers work?  Western MN Steam Threshers has their own YouTube channel.  Every year they have a Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag, MN where you can ride an old steam train, and watch old tractors and threshers in action and watch other pioneer demonstrations. 

 

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It’s an annual Labor Day pilgrimage for many, including my cousin Blaine, who provided the great pictures. He also has that good Norwegian blood coursing through his veins.  He works hard and  keeps his house and yard clean, so I’m pretty sure Pa Ingalls wouldn’t mind having him for a neighbor. Wait, neighbour.

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People camp there in the primitive fields, listening to days of “harsh machinery noises.”

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The homesteaders were diligent to make history, these men and women are diligent in preserving history.

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Naughty, naughty Laura.  After the threshers are gone, there’s a huge pile of golden straw.  That’s the stuff left after you cut the grain off, in case ya’ don’t speak farmer.  If you scroll back up to see the old picture and notice the straw stack in the background, you’ll know why Laura was enticed.

Laura and Mary go to that huge pile and slide down over and over until “there was hardly any stack left in the middle of loose heaps of straw.” (p. 53)  Then Laura, like many sneaky kids I’ve known, went into the house and was very, very good.  I learned too late in life, when a child is being exceptionally good, it’s probably bad.  If they’re being very kind, helpful and waiting on you hand and foot, they might be atoning for sins you’ve yet to discover.  Pa fixes the stack, like a good Pa, probably remembering his own childhood shenanigans.

He sternly warns them to not slide down the hay stack again.

Laura obeys.

She just goes to smell the straw. Pa didn’t tell her not to smell.

Then, she climbs the straw.  Pa didn’t tell her not to climb.

She flies down the straw.

She bounces down the straw.

She rolls down the straw.

She even convinces Mary to join in the fun.  After all, Pa only forbid sliding down.

 

When Pa approached the girls after the second day of trampling down his hay stack, Laura describes his attitude as dreadful, stern and terrible.  He raises his voice.  We know that because Laura writes it in all caps.  “DID YOU SLIDE DOWN THE STRAW-STACK?”

According to her childish brain, Laura answers honestly.  “We did not slide, Pa. But we did roll down it.”

 

I was expecting Laura to get a big ol’ fashioned spanking.  She feared a spanking just for fidgeting on the Sabbath.  But this time, she was really, really, really naughty.

 

Instead of thrashing Laura and Mary for flattening what was left after threshing, Pa turns his back to the girls and quakes in the threshold.

 

The girls were thankful to not be throttled, so were thoroughly through with their hay stack thrills.

 

 

More Farming Research:

Southest Old Threshers’ Reunion

National Threshers Association

Midwest Old Threshers Reunion

Introduction to Pioneer Farming

Minnesota History of Agriculture and Farming

Stages of Wheat Growth  (Technical page, but scroll down for a chart with drawing of wheat at each stage.  Also a description of kernel dryness water, milk, soft dough, and hard dough stages.)

 

So, head out and get thrashing on your farming homework.

Drying Fruit For Regularity

 

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 9

“When they came to a plum thicket they set down their big pails. They filled their little pails with plums and emptied them into the big pails till they were full.  Then they carried the big pails back to the roof of the dugout.  On the clean grass Ma spread clean cloths, and Laura and Mary laid the plums on the cloths, to dry in the sun.  Next winter they would have dried plums to eat.”  p. 63

We were to discuss food preservation with our students because Ma and the girls were drying plums. In other words, they were making prunes.  I learned the California Plum Board made a bold name change because they felt prune had a negative image.  Ya’ think?  Anybody else out there suddenly thinking about irregularity?  The FDA approved their name change, so we need to get with the times.  Or rather, get back to the pioneer roots when they were dried plums and not prunes.

When you read the above link about plums, you discover they had great nutritional value.  I wonder if Ma knew this, or if they were busy just trying to make sure they had food for the winter.

Anyhoo, instead of just waxing eloquent about food preservation, I remembered something. Years ago, when I didn’t live in the Apple State of Washington and everybody had apple trees in their yards because we weren’t worried about apple maggots and we rarely paid over $1 per pound for apples, I used to make a lot of dried apples and applesauce.  It was a yearly fall tradition.

Then we moved to the apple state and could no longer afford to cut up apples that cost at least $1 each just to shrivel up in my dehydrator and eat in a few bites.

But, we had a few on sale for $1.67 apples that were getting a little mushy, and Beka had never participated in  the fall tradition, so we pulled out my tools.

 

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An apple peeler/corer is amazing. Of course, it took me awhile to remember how to use it, and I had to tighten the screws before I could get back into that Becky-Home-ecky groove.

 

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Kids tend to be more helpful when cool and/or dangerous tools are involved.

I remembered to not tell Beka this was “school” so she would think it was still fun.  Oh, the mind games we sometimes have to play!

I’ve also been known to use the Tom Sawyer trick, where I really “enjoy” a work project until they ask to help.  Moms can be so devious smart sometimes!

 

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I’ve owned this dehydrator for over two decades, and was a super cheapy one to begin with.  My hubby was a teacher at a private Christian school, so were were living on love and faith. I used coupons and rebates  to buy most personal things for the home.  I had been saving my rebate money for awhile when this went on sale for around $20 at the Pamida store in Valley Center, KS.

I’ll never forget the feeling of walking out of the store with this in my arms.  I felt rich.  I owned a dehydrator. 

You know why the Lord answers prayer and provides for His people?  It evokes praise!  Years later, I look at this cheapy little dehydrator, and I am STILL thankful to the Lord for His provision.

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For many years, we dehydrated apples and pineapples (cans of rings, well drained)  for gifts for other people, so we were able to pass on the blessing. That’s another reason the Lord blesses us, so we will pass on blessing to others.

Drying in my little guy took only about 24 hours, and we quickly ate them all and had to make another batch.  To keep your apples from turning brown, dip them in lemon juice or pineapple juice.  I prefer pineapple juice because of the sweetness.

In The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker, she  gives instructions for drying apples without a dehydrator. You simple slice apples in 1/8 inch disks and slip them onto string or rods.  Hang them in a warm, dry place like a furnace room or sun porch.  She said you can even use curtain rods over a sunny window or a laundry rack near a radiator. (p. 129)  In other words, you use that pioneer spirit to figure out what works best for your living situation.

She said to use fresh, tart apples and to peel them only if the skins are tough.  Hard times calls for different rules.  I always thought it was a great way to not waste apples that were getting mushy because you were going to make them mushy, anyway.

 

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This book by Edward B. Reynolds and Michael Kennedy has added some fun dimension to my passion to learn about the Wild West. (Published by Falcon Publishing, Inc. 2000 in Helena, MT)

 

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This recipe was on p. 83 and was considered a specialty from Utah. I read this and realized why pioneer women were always so tired.  First, this batch is HUGE.  I think she was cooking for a threshing crew.  Next, it would take almost all day. 

This would be my recipe:

Set one good book and a handful of prunes on the couch.
Leave the eggs for breakfast in case you read too late into the night.
Save the sugar for cookies, they taste better.
Sprinkle cinnamon, allspice and cloves on the counter so the house smells good and people who walk in think you’re productive.
Go back to the couch and read the whole book, while nibbling on a few prunes.

 

I have great childhood memories of picking chokecherries, asparagus, currents and rosehips in Montana, then watching my mom busy in the kitchen. There was such a satisfaction in lining the shelves with brightly hued jellies and syrups.

 

Sometimes I feel bad asking my kids to do chores, this generation is much more kid-centric. Some of my kids’ friends don’t have any chores.   Instead of spending our days in tasks for survival, the average modern parents spend their days fulfilling their children with play-dates, various lessons and sports.  These things are good in moderation, but as I read through Little House books, I am once again reminded of the most valuable thing my parents passed onto me.

It wasn’t land.

It wasn’t riches.

It wasn’t valuable family heirlooms.

It was a great work ethic, along with the knowledge and experience to accomplish anything and everything I needed to do as a wife a mother.  I would be a fool to not pass on this most valuable heritage to my own children.

That’s why some days, we cast aside the books and the worksheets, pull out the tools and work together.  I am determined to pass on the most valuable heritage, just like my Mom and Ma Ingalls did.