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.

Christmas 047 - Copy

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

 

Christmas 048

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

 

Christmas 049

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.

 

Christmas 056

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.

 

Christmas 083

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.

Christmas 061

Laura Ingalls –  the Picture Perfect version.

Advertisements

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.

christmas cookies 013

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.

 

Christmas 063

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.

 

Christmas 089

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

 

christmas cookies 006

The little cookie cutters from Michaels.

 

christmas cookies 023

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!

 

store 002

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.

Geneva's Sugar Cookies1

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.

 

gramma's cookie jar 002

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.

 

 

**************

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.

 

306103_3845353939605_493545704_n[1]

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. 

 

DSCN2237

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.

DSCN2239

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

DSCN2240

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

DSCN2244

 

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.