Grinding Wheat for The Long Winter


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


The Long Winter


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.

Montana 2010 023

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.


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.


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.


“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.

“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.


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



“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.”

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. 


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.


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 five 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.










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.”


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.”


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.


Got Manners?

Our assignment was to talk about manners,
all because Laura was rude enough to interrupt Mary.

I’m not sure what I think about Emily Post,
but I’m pretty big on manners.

Manners in the 1870’s were different.

My husband and I never agreed with the
“children are to be seen and not heard”
theory at our dinner table.

We welcome our children in the dinner conversation,
but they cannot rule the table.
We love good, respectful, spiritual conversation,
but I have to admit,
laughter is the main characteristic of our family meals.
We love being together.


Not that all family meals have good manners.
Don’t say, “Please pass a roll” because it will literally be passed.
Like a football.
Just don’t tell Pa Ingalls, OK?

In my other, other blog, I blogged about it,
the bad manners, that is.


Yea, thanks for asking,
I have another blog, because with six kids,
two in-laws, one husband, one cat and three grandchildren,
I have so much free time on my hands.


It’s called Momma Mindy’s Moments
and you can follow it  here, if you have free time,
or just want to find out why I wear sticks in my hair,
or what is  Grandpa-Renting.

There’s a great video I made about
my husband’s manners,
but it didn’t migrate to WordPress.

I will link you to Blogger, but iffin ya’
wanna’ follow my other blog,
go to WordPress.
Please and thank you.
Phew!  I almost forgot my manners!

So, I had to teach my daughter manners.
If ya’ watched the above video, you figgered out I was on my own.


The family wasn’t going to be much help.



Studying Manners
Beka pulled these books off the shelf  and stacked them on the table in front of me.
Tears welled up in my eyes.
”Beka, have I ever told you about how the Lord provided these books?”


She smiled, and said no, with a look that told me she knew a big story was coming on.


Just like the Ingalls, I have stories I pass on to my kids.
I have a passion to share with them
the provision of the Lord,
the protection of the Lord and
the power of the Lord.

I don’t want them ever to forget what He’s done for our family.



The story I told Beka goes like this:


Once upon a time were living in Wichita, Kansas, where Daddy was teaching business and math at a private Christian high school.

Packrats, mice, opossums, and brown recluse spiders shared living quarters with us in a single-wide trailer home in the country. One of our neighbors had cows, so when I did dishes, I could look out my window and watch the Hereford cows grazing around a small pond in a treed area. It was beautiful. We were so thrilled to be living in the country.

Our student loan bill took 25% of our salary, the car loan the other 25%.  Over and over I’ve added up the bills and it always comes way over what we made.  We survived because of the Lord. Anything we needed, we relied on the Lord to provide, which was a joy and delight to Daddy and me. It was an exciting, happy time for us to serve the Lord and grow in Him. We were also and happy to have the Lord bless us with  children.

One day I had to drop off Daddy at work and drive to an appointment in a part of Wichita I wasn’t familiar with.  There was around $3 in my wallet, so I planned on stopping at a thrift store if I could find one. Daddy and I had a deal.  If he ever took a dollar to buy a can of pop at work, I could have the change. At the end of each day, I emptied his pockets and squirreled up the change.  The early years, pop was  $.50, so I was guaranteed two shiny quarters on pop day. After two pop days, I only needed a few pennies to cover tax, and I was ready to shop. I could buy three items of clothing for the kids in the $.29 bin.  A dollar had power back in the early 90’s.

I walked around the store, giddy with my $3 shopping power.  I headed back into the children’s department, excited to buy some toys or books for my three little ones.  On the children’s bookshelf was a row of nearly-new, hardcover books by Joy Wilt Berry, a series I had longed for. I picked up the stack and counted the books.  I looked around for a sign with prices, but didn’t find one. I opened my wallet and recounted my money. It seemed doubtful that I could afford all the books, but couldn’t decide which ones to put back.  Since the store was so far away, and we only had one car, I knew I wouldn’t be in that part of town again for a long time.  It would also take a long time to save that much money again. The kids played happily around me while I crouched near the bookshelf.  I prayed.

With uncertainty,   I walked up to the counter and asked the young clerk how much the books were, explaining prices weren’t posted.  She spread the books out on the counter, but didn’t find prices on them.  She counted the books. I can still feel the eternity of waiting while she figured and I prayed. Finally, she looked up and gave me a price.  I had enough to buy ALL the books.  I had more than enough.  I could buy all those books for my precious babies. At that moment the counter was an altar, as I worshipped the Lord for His gracious provision.


For over 20 years, these books have been loved and read by our family.
However, they teach more than just manners and correct behavior.
They preach the glories of Jehovah Jireh, my Provider,
whose grace is sufficient for me.