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?

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Lessons from Colored Beads

 

In Little House on the Prairie, Pa took Mary and Laura on a walk down the trail near their to the abandoned Indian camp.  The girls were delighted to explore, but I’m pretty sure Laura was pretending she was an Indian princess.

When they first settled in the area, It amazed me that apparently Pa didn’t know the trail was active.  Aren’t homesteaders supposed to know all that good stuff about tracking, footprints, and Indian trails? Maybe he just wanted the land, so he told the family it was old.  Maybe he didn’t know.  But, after living there awhile, the Indians had sadly  moved off their land, and Pa was free to explore the area.

They saw holes left by tent poles and charcoal remains of fire pits.  Pa read the tracks of large moccasins, small moccasins, bare toes, rabbits, birds and wolves for his two little girls. He had them examine the bones around the fire to determine that the women had cooked rabbit for dinner.  A homeschooling father in all his glory, turning an adventure into an education.

When Laura finds a blue bead, the educational moment ceased, and a treasure hunt began. Living in such simplicity, those beads were a prize. I wonder if Laura dreamed of that moment for years to come, the thrill of bending over to pick up yet another bit of brightly colored glass.  When they were through, Pa tied Laura’s beads in one corner of his handkerchief and Mary’s in another.  Since the girls rarely owned anything of their own, I loved Pa’s wisdom in keeping them separate.  At home they unwrapped them to show Ma.

Laura remembered, “The beads were even prettier than they had been in the Indian camp.” (p. 179)

What happened next I still have a hard time sorting through in my mind.  Mary, the Good Daughter, gives her beads to Baby Carrie.  Laura felt the pressure to be good and gives her treasure away, too. They strung all the beads together into a necklace for a baby. When the baby began pulling at the strand, Ma put it away in the trunk for when she grew up. For the rest of her life, Laura felt naughty for wanting those beads.

I don’t understand why Ma didn’t stress sharing, instead of just giving.  The girls had so little, and the beads brought no joy to the baby.  She deprived two girls of a joy that would have brightened their prairie life by giving a treasure to someone incapable of enjoying it.

The assignment  for the prairie primer was to make a beaded necklace. Like Ma, I’ve made some mistakes in parenting, micro-managing projects has been one of them.  A type A person, I like things done correctly, on schedule, and according to directions.  I like to tell them exactly how to do it.

It took me awhile to realize nurturing creativity is just as important as nurturing the ability to follow directions.

For this project, I said, “Make a beaded necklace.” I let Rebekah know what types of beads I had and the types of beading I could teach her.  I offered to run to the craft store if she wanted to learn something more complicated.

She went for the simple plastic pony beads and yarn.  I didn’t say anything.  Ya’ know, I sure don’t want her to write a book about her disappointing bead experience years from now.

 

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I was  surprised  to see her book propped open in the tub of beads.  When I asked why, she said, “I only want to use the colors that Mary and Laura found.”

 

Yea, she totally owned that project.

 

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She’s learning to multi-task, a necessary skill for a woman.

 

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It was beautiful, it was simple, and it was done according to her standards. I was happy she finished.  She had fun creating. Years from now, when she reads Little House on the Prairie with her kids, and they get to the part of Laura’s bad bead memories, I hope she speaks of her beaded necklace and her mother with fondness.

Meet My Ingalls Family

When I revealed the teepee Beka and I made during our study of the Plains Indians, I also revealed something unusual about myself ~
I LEARN BY PLAYING and
I TEACH BY PLAYING.

It started out innocently enough when I began to homeschool. Since I learn by seeing and doing,  that was the way I taught. I bought more games and manipulatives  at garage sales and thrift stores than we use.

We had many dress-ups on hand to make history come alive with costumes and props.

It’s more fun to read when you can play along, so when I found Berenstain Bear Puppets at a thrift store they had to come home with us. Any character toy from our books were snatched up for our reading units. It can add a little excitement to reading, can help kids sit still and can help them understand the story better when they are playing along.

When Curious George got a paper route, I sewed a teeny, tiny yellow shoulder bag for our 4 inch  friend.  My kindergarten son and  I cut and folded our newspaper into tiny newspapers for the bag. While I read, he acted out all the mischief with the stuffed monkey. For once, my son was allowed to make a mess by flinging newspapers around the room.

I purchased a colonial cardboard dollhouse and one for the Underground Railroad. Duplos, Barbies and Skipper were brought into the living room for math lessons. (click on links to read previous posts from my previous homeschool blog.)

So, with no Ingalls family dolls to be purchased anywhere, we had to get creative. My favorite childhood dolls are the Sunshine Family, a 1970’s hippie family that threw clay pots and sewed leather purses and sold them out of their pickup camper.   Steve and Stephie  eventually opened a craft store and moved to a farm. They had an adorable baby in a lace-trimmed yellow sleeper named ”Baby Sweets.”  Later on, she grew up and a son was added to the family.

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At the beginning of the year, the Sunshine Family took on a new persona in our home, Ma and Pa Ingalls. We added a dark-haired Kelly doll as Laura, and a small American Girl doll as Mary. Baby Sweets became Baby Carrie.

They moved into an apple crate, and as we read about their different adventures, we scour the house and yard for the appropriate props.

Didja’ notice the little blue and white figurine on the mantle? It’s a little wooden figure I found in Amsterdam for €.50, which is close to $.50. Yea, I’m a big spender when I travel.
We found a violin for  Pa in the Barbie stuff and a family Bible.

Ma’s knitting needles are two stick pins with white heads, poked into a tiny ball of thin yarn I rolled up.

I still have the pattern my Mom bought to sew the  Sunshine Family new clothes,  so our family will look even more like the Ingalls family after we sew prairie clothes.

Trying to fit five dolls into a crate emphasized the tightness of quarters the Ingalls family always lived in. The girls never had their own rooms, they had only a few books, one doll each, and until Mr. Edwards met Santa Claus, they shared a drinking cup.  As we peer into the little dollhouse we marvel that they were happy and content with their sparse lives. 

But there is so much work to do for a homesteading family, so Beka and I still need to cut stumps for chairs, stack up firewood for the winter,  make a red and white tablecloth, make some fake food, cut out paper dolls and craft to our hearts content to fill up the Little House on the Prairie.

Meanwhile, the Ingalls family has moved ton the banks of Plum Creek, and I am racking my brains about building a dugout home.

Should I use clay, paper mache’, (spell check says this should be macho!) or create a mud/glue recipe? If it weren’t the rainy season, I might dig one out in our yard. Should I make it for the Sunshine Family or make something smaller and create a clothespin family? Any ideas from you creative people out there?  Anyone?  Anyone?

But, what a better way to really imagine life for the Ingalls family in their new home in Minnesota, than to have dirt under our fingernails.

‘Cuz ya’ know by now, in our homeschool, we’re gunna’  PLAY TO LEARN.

Snow Candy is Better Than No Candy

As a young bride, I received the bestest gift in the world. 

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I was thrilled  because even though I’d cooked most of my life,
I  wasn’t a great cook.  I wasn’t even a good cook.

Back then, I’d marvel at other women’s cookbooks, with their wrinkled, splattered pages, and marvel at the longevity of their marriages and their culinary skills.

Now I know the truth, a splattered, tattered cookbook doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good cook.

It could just mean you’ve spilled a lot on your cookbook.

One thing I have mastered is candy making. I don’t make a variety, but I can make
hard candy, caramel, and fudge. I also dip a lot of junk in chocolate and white chocolate. But, now that I’m thinking about it, I guess that doesn’t really make me a master candy maker.

But, I do know the stages of candy making.

When we were kids, my little brother Allan was always the adventurer, the one to figure out stuff. In a clearance bin at the Capital Hill Mall in Helena, MT,  he found a little vial of apricot flavoring. He was told it was flavoring for homemade candy.

He figured the $.25 to buy the flavoring to make a batch of candy, would give him a higher yield than buying $.25 worth of candy.

So, he opened my mom’s cookbook, found a recipe and made apricot hard candy.

We’ve been making hard candy ever since.

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I diligently typed this out with an old fashioned typewriter I musta’ borrowed  and glued it on the very back page.

I’ve trusted this chart over any candy thermometer I ever purchased.

Here’s a great website that explains how to do the cold water candy test.
They recommend using a candy thermometer and the cold water test while you’re making candy.

Candy making is simple.  You boil a sugar mixture until it’s the right stage.
Then you eat it.

Icing or glaze is cooked to thread stage.

Fudge is cooked to soft ball stage.

Divinity is cooked to firm ball stage.

Caramel is cooked to hard ball stage.

Toffee  and salt water taffy are cooked to soft crack stage.

Lollipops and peanut brittle are cooked to hard crack stage.

The longer you cook it, the harder it gets.
Easy Peasy.

Ma Ingalls  made molasses candy for her kids. I can imagine her dropping little bits of the candy into a bowl of cold water, explaining the stages to her girls.  I
can also imagine their impatience. It takes a LONG time to make candy.

We found the recipe for Snow Candy on a website by HarperCollins for Children.
They have a lot of valuable resources for Little House on the Prairie series,
including the recipes, quizzes, teacher resources and biographies. 

Since I am such an expert candy maker, I thought this would be a cinch.

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How hard could it be?  Two ingredients, a kettle, something to stir with and some snow.

That’s right.  I needed snow.  The sun was shining, I was dreaming about sun bathing, but  I needed snow.

I live in a place, FINALLY, after decades in North Dakota, where there is almost no snow.

Since I grew up with the survivalist mentality of Make-Do-or-Do-Without, I knew I could conquer this.

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With our little Igloo, we made snow.

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With my cookbook propped open to teach Rebekah the candy stages, we began our Candy Making Quest.

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However, as soon as she dumped in the two ingredients, she bailed.

She was playing Bananagrams on the dining room  table, ”because I’m practicing Spelling, Mom.”

I was going to say something, then realized we were really following Little House protocol.

Ma made the candy, the kids waited impatiently.

So, with all the pioneer spirit I could muster, I stirred and stirred and stirred, calling her over when I was dropping stuff in the water.

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Then I stirred some more.

Notice how cleverly I magneted the recipe to my stove?

Notice how I didn’t clean off the counters for that perfect blog picture?

Notice the double chin I don’t know how to Photoshop off?

Yea, so this is the real deal, here folks.

No “I have the perfect life” fake bloggy stuff for me.

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If ya’ happen to be stirring and stirring, and your rubber spatula is getting smaller and smaller, ya’ better take out  a wooden spoon to stir until you can go out  and buy a new spatula.

Candy making is challenging on those things, and I  have the proud claim to fame that I’ve melted a Pampered Chef spatula while making candy. This one is from one of those expensive cooking stores.

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Remember my bragging about my candy making skills? This thick stuff was hard to test.

At the end I wait for the candy to speak to me, because when  it’s at the hard crack stage it will literally crack in the water.  I usually yell at the kids, “Be quiet!  Be quiet!  I can’t hear my candy!”

The molasses candy wasn’t cracking a lot, but it was starting to smell burnt.

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We pulled it off the burner and  tried swirling designs on our “snow” like Laura and Mary.

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Yea, so big deal.  No fancy designs that would be worth writing about in my memoire.

I poured the rest in a buttered pan.  As it cooled, we began playing with it.

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OK, so we had a few shining moments. The ribbon candy is kinda’ cute.

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Just don’t leave your utensils in the pan with the candy, like I did.

How did it taste, you wonder?

If you like molasses, you would like this candy. If you hadn’t had sugar or sweets for a year, like Laura and Mary who are thrilled to get one piece of candy on the rare occasion Pa goes to town, you would like this candy.

But, if you’ve eaten Laffy Taffy or a Jolly Rancher, you’ll be thankful you weren’t a pioneer child.

So, to not leave you hanging on the verge of disappointment, I’m gunna’ give ya’ a freebie.

My favorite candy recipe.

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It’s amazing.  I always thought it was interesting that there is no added flavoring, but it really is butterscotch.

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It’s delicious, I promise.

And it will REALLY make you thankful you aren’t a pioneer kid
who’d never seen a town and had to be content crunching on molasses candy.