“…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.


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?

Layout of The Prairie Primer

The Prairie Primer was published in 1993 by Margie Gray when she discovered a lack in homeschooling curriculum.

She filled a huge void.

Gray defines her book as a “Literature Based Unit Studies for Grades 3-6 Utilizing the “Little House” Series.

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I heard about this curriculum years ago,  when an acquaintance used it with great enthusiasm and success.  At the end of the school year, she and her daughters took a field trip and visited as many places featured as possible. They read, cut, colored, crafted and cooked their way through school.

I wanted to be that kind of homeschool mommy when I grew up.

At that stage of my life, I always had a baby in the womb and usually one on the hip, so doing anything other than traditional worksheets was out of the question.

It might be debatable about whether I’m grown up, but my kids have, and I feel the liberty to branch out and try a new homeschool approach.
(read the WHY here)

(click on any pic to enlarge)

Weekly Planning Guide

The book is so organized, it makes me wonder what Margie’s linen closet looks like.

Her towels are probably neatly folded, and I’m sure she knows how to fold a fitted sheet.

I added removable tabs on the edge for each week.

Weekly Planning Guide p. 2

For a list-maker, a weekly planning guide for EACH week is awesome.

It gets even better.

Daily Assignment Page
There’s a DAILY list of things to do.

So, all nine books are divided into weeks and days.

The whole year is planned out for you.

If I had known this was so user friendly, I might not have put it off for so long.

Little House in the Big Woods Journal

For each book in the series, we’ll be using a softbound journal, the cheap kind that are usually under a dollar.

We copied the cover of the book and my daughter Mod Podged it on. We called it “crafts” for the day.

Spiral bound notebooks are messy, the pages fall out, the wire unspirals
and puts holes in clothes, and they don’t stack well.

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Since there are so many activities listed for each day, you choose what you want to do. To make sure my daughter isn’t sitting around waiting for me to tell her what to do, I write daily assignments she can do on her own in the journal.

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We made binders for storing all the projects, writing and worksheets, with tabbed dividers for each book.

What kinda’ homeschool mommy do you wanna’ be when you grow up?

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I’m finally the Prairie Momma I dreamed about.

Someone pinch me, please, before I wake up.