Living the Life

Little House on the Prairie 001

Chapter 10

The assignment:
split wood.

I’m thinking this Prairie Primer curriculum is way
than filling out worksheets.
(Yea, funner is a word now.)

Our family does split wood, we just learned to work where the neighbors can’t see.


Of course, you might not know, I’m married to a Minnesota boy, ya’ know,
a hunting, fishing, lumberjack kinda’ guy.
He now works in an office and dresses up during the day.
I call him the Redneck Executive.


But, he started chopping firewood in about the 4th or 5th grade,
and got his first chainsaw at 12.
When you heat with wood, it’s kinda’ necessary to cut firewood.
It’s free heat, if you have a source of fallen timber.


I grew up with a Dad and three brothers,
and we also heated our home with firewood.

Our sons have grown up cutting firewood,
although our fireplace now is for ambiance,
not a primary heat source.

When we first moved into this neighborhood,
a concerned neighbor actually came to the door.
”Did you know your sons are using an axe?”
We obviously weren’t in Minnesota anymore.

How do you answer that without sounding sarcastic?

”Yea, you kinda’ have to use an axe to chop firewood.”

Trust me. 

I love my kids, and I hate blood,
so we practice safety standards. 


sunshine family 243

This is the part of our yard I have named
The Redneck Grill.

We watch movies here.

All kinds of food has been grilled and devoured here.

school stuff 182

Of course, this is where I chopped the firewood.

My wonderful son, Jon, had already split the logs,
so I just had so split it into kindling.

Rebekah wanted to try, but being the good Mom I am, I said NO.

I actually didn’t want to share the axe.

It was kinda fun.

school stuff 185

She gathered other kindling from the yard,
looking for dry twigs,
as her Momma told her.


school stuff 194

I wasn’t a Girl Scout,
so we didn’t use a flint
or even matches.

Rebekah was a little intimidated,
so we used this thing we call a Clicky Stick.

school stuff 196
Aw, fire.

No matter how many times you start a fire,
it’s always magical, isn’t it?


school stuff 197

She gradually added larger pieces of wood,
until she had a nice bed of coals.

You can see why we had bricks in the fire pit, to hold up the grill.

Doesn’t homemade soup for lunch sound delicious?

school stuff 201

Doesn’t fresh bread just sound delicious?


school stuff 207

The round load of bread above is the store bought, this is how our bread turned out.

Beka had this idea to make buns in muffin pans.
I knew it wouldn’t work,
but I also knew she needed to learn that for herself.

So, we baked break in the muffin pan.
It was burned on the bottom and raw on the top.

However, the round loaf of bread  that enticed her in the store,
because she thought it looked Little Housey,
gave us something to eat while we burned the other bread.


school stuff 214

We came up with a new plan, our griddle. 
We used butter, lotsa butter, and it was so good.


school stuff 220
Before you think I am totally amazing,
look at my ingredients.
Yea, Safeway made our homemade soup.
The bread was from a can you smack against the counter,
and the butter wasn’t homemade,
lthough we made butter once.


I knew I wanted to teach Beka to start a fire and cook over it,
but I knew I didn’t have enough time to cook from scratch.

Hey, moms can’t be totally amazing
EVERY DAY of their lives!

Sometimes you just gotta’ loosen your standards
and enjoy the moment as you can.

It I had aimed for homemade perfection,
we wouldn’t have had these wonderful moments.

school stuff 221

I do love making coffee over an open fire,
and watching that vintage glass knob for brown bubbles.

Sitting and sipping is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.
Our school work was done, while I stared at the flames,
and sipped way more coffee than I should have.

Oh, along with constantly chopping more firewood and stoking the fire.

school stuff 241

This is how your coffee looks if it’s sitting too close to the fire you’re stoking.


school stuff 234

Remembering something she’d read in another Laura Ingalls book,
Beka gathered some dry leaves.


school stuff 236

Pa had the girls twist hay into tight bundles when they ran out of firewood.


school stuff 242
Then she decided to harvest the basil,
because in Chapter 7 we discussed using herbs.


school stuff 247
She made little bundles that she hung to dry.

We spent the whole afternoon tending the fire and enjoying the last warmth of fall.
At the end of the day,
we knew a little more what the Ingalls family felt like.

Our fingernails were outlined with fine lines of dirt,
our hair was windblown and smoky,
our clothes had smudges of ash and dirt.
We could NOT imagine climbing into bed as dirty as we were.

My mom, daughter of Norwegian immigrants in North Dakota,
lived in a home without running water when she was very young.
She’s described to my kids the Saturday bath ritual.
We can’t fathom taking a bath only once a week.

Beka wore her long skirt all day and discovered what a hindrance
it was to all the duties of the day.

I think she was especially saddened to learn the
”children are to be seen and not heard” rule.
As the youngest in family with six kids,
she has grown up with a table full of
parents and siblings interacting with love, respect and laughter.

While we sat around the fire and chatted,
and as she shared her views with me,
I was again reminded that by nurturing a child’s heart,
you give them liberty to express it with you.

sunshine family 231

After the success of our fire pit day,
we tried again when granddaughter, Brookelyn, came over.


sunshine family 232

She loves playing The Olden Days!


sunshine family 235

While Brookie tended the soup,
Beka finished the churning.
Being a pioneer woman is so much work!


sunshine family 239

Brookie can even cook over a fake fire.
I love how they rigged the roasting sticks for a tripod. 
Their creativity just explodes at times.


Reading books can put you in another world,
but living their adventures adds to the senses.

Beka and Brookelyn will never again read about cooking over a fire,
without  feeling the burn of smoke in their eyes and
the grime on their hands,
hearing the crackle of cedar,
and the tasting ash in everything they ate.

For those last few precious warm fall days,
we were the Ingalls family.


A Corn Cob Doll Is Not One of Our Favorite Things

My girls have always loved dolls, probably because I love dolls.

I love dishes and tea sets and fake food of all sizes and kinds. Sometimes I buy toys just for me.


I was slightly disappointed when my kids grew up and didn’t want toys for Christmas. They wanted boring stuff like clothes and technology.

Sometimes, we bought our teenagers toys, anyway. We want them to always have a spirit of youthfulness and to be able to laugh and have fun.

Just because you’re 18 doesn’t mean you’re too old for a crazy, laughing Elmo doll. Yes, my husband did buy that for Bethany when she turned 18, and yes she did love it. She loved her other presents better, probably, but will always have that amazing memory of getting the coveted and popular Elmo doll, for her 18th birthday.

We began our Corn Cob Doll lesson by discussing Our Favorite Things.

The girls narrowed it down to one doll for a picture.

Prairie School pics 077

The good thing about kids growing up and not wanting toys anymore
is they have kids who want toys.

This is a pic of the lovely Brookelyn with her favorite dolly. (Her mommy is my oldest daughter.) She is such a good mommy to her dolly.

Prairie School pics 078

This is the baby of the family, Rebekah, but don’t call her that, with her favorite baby.

It was a gift from a dear friend, Romance,  because she loves toys, too, and thought all the little girls in her life needed a dolly that ate real food, pooped and peed.

Yes, Baby Alive poops and pees. Brilliant marketing strategy.

The little packets of food and little packages of diapers are outrageously expensive, but outrageously fun.

Beka has to use cloth diapers some of the time. We eventually will learn to make our own baby food. After all, she grew up on homemade baby food, it’s good enough for her dolly, too. 

I can’t fathom Laura playing with a Corn Cob Doll.

I can’t fathom Ma not making her a rag doll sooner.

Sometimes I have a hard time walking a mile in their lace-up shoes.

We weren’t sure if we were supposed to dry the cob with the corn on or off.

We opted for eating the corn off.


Corn Cob Dolls 003

The first time I bought corn, I forgot it in the fridge. When we remembered to cook it, we forgot to save the cobs. I bought more. I was determined to finish the project.

We shucked the corn.

I boiled it.

Corn Cob Dolls 028

We ate it.

Corn Cob Dolls 030

Grandbaby Maddelyn loved the corn and gnawed and gnawed and gnawed.

She reminded me of my Aunt Hedi, the family record holder for eating 12 cobs of corn at a family reunion.

Aunty might have some serious competition soon.

Since the corn cobs weren’t dry, we decided to make a different kinda’ doll.

Corn Cob Dolls 015

We used large beads, dowels and chenille stems, although I have called them pipe cleaners my entire life.

Corn Cob Dolls 024

We added the corn husks and just tied it on.

Corn Cob Dolls 026

We thought corn silk would make adorable hair.

They were pretty cute, until they shriveled up and looked ridiculous. It might work better to dry the husks flat in books, then try gluing them on the dowels.


(If you want to make authentic corn husk dolls, check out Native American Life Living Art.)

Corn Cob Dolls 036

I scraped the rest of the corn off the cob, hoping it would dry sooner.

Corn Cob Dolls 037

I left these on the counter, clearly marked, of course.

They didn’t dry well, so I tried something else.

Enjoying Fall Outside 028

I twisted wire around them and hung them outside to dry.

I forgot about squirrels.

I brought the only cob in the house, put it on the counter, and forgot about the children.

Thinking they were “helping me” they threw it out. (Now you know why I labeled the cobs the first time.)

After digging through the garbage bags, yes, we did that, I’m a mighty determined woman, we found the lone Survivor.

Enjoying Fall Outside 032T

There ya’ go. 

The cob that survived the Squirrel Attack
and the Kitchen Cleaning Frenzy.

Enjoying Fall Outside 039

Beka is clearly excited about the long-awaited day.


I’m going to play with a corncob.

I can hardly wait.


Enjoying Fall Outside 035

Trying to make it a little more enticing, she picked out a favorite vintage handkerchief.

We WERE going to finish this project.

Enjoying Fall Outside 041

It wasn’t fun.
We couldn’t even pretend it was fun.

The instructions were to play with this doll only for one day.

After school we were running an errand and Beka wanted to bring a doll. I reminded her of her assignment, and asked if she would bring the Corn Cob Doll.

The look on her face let me know it would be a humiliation beyond comprehension, ya’ know the kinda’ family tale of woe the kids repeat behind your back for generations to come.

“You think that’s bad, how about the time Mom made me bring a Corn Cob Doll everywhere I went?  I am scarred for life.”

We left the Corn Cob Doll and grabbed Baby Alive. The cob ended up back in the garbage can. I should have given it back to the squirrel, he would have appreciated it.

Weeks of planning, preparation and it was
for Corn Cob Dolls.

Even though the dolls were failure, the lesson wasn’t.

How can you NOT be thankful for the bountiful blessings we have when staring into the face of one pathetic corn cob that is compost/garbage to us,  but a toy to a previous generation?

How can you not admire little Laura who tried really hard to play with her pathetic doll and be thankful and not jealous of Mary?

If the essence of thankfulness
burns into Rebekah’s heart and mind,
the project won’t have a

Bladder Up!

It never fails.

We’ll be sitting at a baseball game, like an All American family, and my hubby will embarrass me.

He never yells, ”Batter up!”

He has to yell, ”Bladder up!”

After 26 years of marriage, I am still madly in love with this guy, but still don’t think this is funny. Nor is the fact that he only has about three jokes, and none of them make me laugh.

Good thing he’s so stinkin’ cute.

The Ingalls girls were so hard up for toys, they were thrilled to play with a blown up pig’s bladder after helping their Ma and Pa butcher.

That’s what this generation would say.

Was anybody else totally disgusted by this? My daughter, Beka, and I tried to talk through this. We discussed how they had almost NO toys. They had almost no friends. Work was a daily part of their life. Surely, if we were in their shoes, we’d be thrilled with a bladder balloon, too?


I dunno.

Maybe Laura didn’t understand anatomy at her age, and that her toy used to have urine in it.

No matter how much I love Little House, I wasn’t going to buy a pig’s bladder.

Instead of visiting the butcher, we went to a party store.

Little House 006

I pondered for awhile, then asked Beka what color looked the most like a pig’s bladder,
silk white, silk ivory or milky white.

With slight pre-teen annoyance she answered,  “I don’t know, Mom, I’ve never seen a pig’s bladder before.”

Yea, DUH, I knew that.

Prairie School pics 106

We opted for Silk Ivory.

Prairie School pics 107

My adorable granddaughter, Brookelyn, joined us for this educational activity.

Prairie School pics 109

So did her our neighbor, Norah,  the daughter of Kelly-Across-the-Street featured occasionally in my Momma Mindy’s Moments blog.

It makes it extra fun to come to Gwamma’s house AND have a best friend across the street.

Prairie School pics 112
Plus, it adds life to our Gifted and Talented Class with only one student.

Prairie School pics 117

We popped a few and lost a few over the fence.

Prairie School pics 120

Volleyball didn’t quite work out and neither did catch.

It  wasn’t a long-lasting thrill.

Maybe our kids have too many toys to be thrilled by a balloon.

Maybe a balloon isn’t that fun.

Maybe Laura made it seem so fun so butchers for the next 100 years would be selling bladders.

Maybe if you’d never owned a ball in your life, it would have been a blast.

It’s really, really hard to walk a mile in Laura’s shoes, and be thankful for the bladder entertainment, so it makes her writings even more special.

But maybe our activity wasn’t that special because we didn’t have Dad yelling,

Prairie School pics 114

“Bladder up!”

Everything’s Better With Butter



Ma Ingalls followed this simple rule:

Wash on Monday
Iron on Tuesday
Mend on Wednesday
Churn on Thursday
Clean on Friday
Bake on Saturday
Rest on Sunday.

I’ve always done laundry on Monday,
I try to iron on Tuesday,
my mending piles up higher than Wednesday,
and for the first time in my life,
I churned on Thursday.

Laura liked churning and baking days best.
I can understand baking day,
but not churning day.

Churning Butter

This is one of Garth Williams’ beautiful illustrations,
he certainly added delight to my childhood.
He illustrated about 100 children’s books,
you’ll recognize many of the titles.

We bought the full-color collector’s edition,
and were thrilled.
It’s a treasure you’ll want to add to your collection.

(This is page 31 published 2004 by HarperCollins to show you the beauty.)


Prairie School pics 013

I kinda’ cheated.  We saw a butter churn like the Ingalls’ at an antique store,
but I was too stingy thrifty to pay that much for one lesson.

This “modern” churn was a gift from a relative years ago.

It was displayed in my kitchen when an older friend walked and said,
”I remember when we got one of those!  It made making butter so much easier.”

Their family felt so high-tech by having one of the first updated churns in their
tiny Minnesotan farm community.

Prairie School pics 026

It was supposed to be so simple, just pour in the cream and turn the handle.

We used two baby food jars half full of cream to involve everyone.

My granddaughter, Brookelyn, loved to
shake, shake, shake,
shake, shake, shake,
shake her butter.

Well, for the first ten minutes, anyway.

Prairie School pics 028

The sun was shining, the fall day was gorgeous, so we had to work outside.

A checkered tablecloth helped set the prairie mood.

Prairie School pics 038

A prairie skirt also helped set the mood for butter making.

Prairie School pics 042

In a short time, it was already thickening.

We were excited.

Prairie School pics 048

A little while later, butter chunks started appearing.


Prairie School pics 053

It was so exciting, our neighbor Laura came to join the fun.

She also grew up reading the Little House books,
so was happy to join in our little educational activity.

Prairie School pics 054

Half an hour later, we’re still churning.


Prairie School pics 060

It wasn’t so exciting after awhile, so Ma Mindy helped churn
while the girls ran and played.

No prairie skirt for this woman,
I tried that once, and it didn’t fit.
We don’t have a corset like Ma wore in our dress-up bin.
I wear a gut-sucking tank top,
but I wouldn’t be laced in a corset for anything.


Prairie School pics 064

Beka’s wardrobe change helped build enthusiasm again.


Prairie School pics 068

We were still churning, but it seems we lost progress, instead of gaining.

It’s looked more like whipped cream again instead of butter.

I didn’t know if it was the warm weather,
over churning or under churning.
I do know we were getting a little tired of the adventure.

About 15 minutes of cranking later,
(about hour and a half all together)
we called it “whipped butter” and quit churning.

We were wondering why Laura thought churning was so fun.

Prairie School pics 086

Maybe for this reason.

Homemade biscuits were waiting in the oven, thanks to my oldest daughter, Jana.


Prairie School pics 091

She made butter in her kindergarten class years ago,
so was happy her daughter, Brookelyn,
was a participant in our butter festivities.

Prairie School pics 088

The two baby food jars made butter easily,
the kids just shook and shook and it was done more quickly than the large churn.

It’s an easy way to include a lot of kids in the activity if your group is large.

Prairie School pics 093

I loved having three generations of women making butter
and munching down hot bread with butter and honey.


But, I was so tired from churning in the hot sun,
it was hard to have ambition to clean on Friday.

I certainly don’t bake on Saturday, it’s a family day,
so I just rested on Friday
and rested on Saturday
and rested on Sunday.

After all, I’m Momma Mindy, not Ma Ingalls.