All Aboard!

By the Shores of Silver Lake

Out of college, my husband taught in a private Christian school for seven years.  We loved ministering to the high school kids and living in Kansas.  They were formational years to our Christian life. Of course, we often joked that the three best things about teaching were June, July and August, but we loved working with teens the most.

When my husband went into the computer industry, he had the typical vacation schedule with only two weeks off.

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At the same time, he began teaching the Bible every summer for two weeks at  Box T Bible and Saddle Camp run by Florence and Lewellyn Tewksbury in the middle of North Dakota.  We loved the teen ministry and didn’t mind having no time off.  Our ministry together was our family vacation.

However, driving from North Dakota to Montana to visit my parents each year with a car full of little children and no husband was a challenge.  We found help one year when we bought a Disney video and it came with an Amtrak coupon for buy one adult fair, get one child for free.  The baby was free, the middle children were half fare, so we had a deal. 

I  took the train for the first time in my life.

It was an exciting adventure, even if we couldn’t afford the sleeper car, and even if it ended up taking longer than driving.  They placed us in a smaller handicapped room with two seats that faced each other.  I had a cooler of snacks and a huge bag of books and new toys.  My favorite memory was reading Ransom of Red Chief by O.Henry aloud. I think I was more excited than my kids.

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The Ingalls’ didn’t quite share my enthusiasm for taking a train when Ma and the girls moved by train from Plum Creek to Dakota Territory. There were too many unknowns for them.

p. 6  Pa said to Ma, “I’ll go with Docia tomorrow morning…  Nelson’s agreed to haul our stuff to the depot, and you’ll all come out on the train.”

p. 7  “Laura knew, of course, that people did travel on trains.  The trains were often wrecked and the people killed.  She was not exactly afraid, but she was excited.

Ma said in her quiet way, ‘I am sure we will manage nicely with Laura and Carrie to help me.’ ”

 

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p. 16, “Clean and starched and dressed-up, in the morning of a weekday, they sat in a row on the bench in the waiting room while Ma bought the tickets.”

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p. 16, “At the ticket window, Ma carefully counted money out of her pocketbook.”

 

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p. 16, “The two satchels stood on the sunny platform outside the waiting-room door.”

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p. 16, “Traveling on the train cost money.”

p. 30, “She knew now what Pa meant when he spoke of the wonderful times they were living in. There ha never been such wonders in the whole history of the world, Pa said.  Now, in one morning, they had actually traveled a whole week’s journey.”

In the end, Laura, of course, decided it was a thrilling adventure, to the point of wishing her pa was a railroad man.

 

 

For further study about the wonders of the train world:

Northern Pacific Railway Museum

Great Northern Railway History

Friends of the Burlington Northern Railroad

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association

Central Pacific Railroad

Railroad Hall at the Smithsonian (pics)

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“…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.


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.”

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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.”

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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.

 

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?

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.

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

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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Laura Ingalls –  the Picture Perfect version.

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.

 

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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. 

 

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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.

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

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

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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.

Drying Fruit For Regularity

 

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 9

“When they came to a plum thicket they set down their big pails. They filled their little pails with plums and emptied them into the big pails till they were full.  Then they carried the big pails back to the roof of the dugout.  On the clean grass Ma spread clean cloths, and Laura and Mary laid the plums on the cloths, to dry in the sun.  Next winter they would have dried plums to eat.”  p. 63

We were to discuss food preservation with our students because Ma and the girls were drying plums. In other words, they were making prunes.  I learned the California Plum Board made a bold name change because they felt prune had a negative image.  Ya’ think?  Anybody else out there suddenly thinking about irregularity?  The FDA approved their name change, so we need to get with the times.  Or rather, get back to the pioneer roots when they were dried plums and not prunes.

When you read the above link about plums, you discover they had great nutritional value.  I wonder if Ma knew this, or if they were busy just trying to make sure they had food for the winter.

Anyhoo, instead of just waxing eloquent about food preservation, I remembered something. Years ago, when I didn’t live in the Apple State of Washington and everybody had apple trees in their yards because we weren’t worried about apple maggots and we rarely paid over $1 per pound for apples, I used to make a lot of dried apples and applesauce.  It was a yearly fall tradition.

Then we moved to the apple state and could no longer afford to cut up apples that cost at least $1 each just to shrivel up in my dehydrator and eat in a few bites.

But, we had a few on sale for $1.67 apples that were getting a little mushy, and Beka had never participated in  the fall tradition, so we pulled out my tools.

 

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An apple peeler/corer is amazing. Of course, it took me awhile to remember how to use it, and I had to tighten the screws before I could get back into that Becky-Home-ecky groove.

 

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Kids tend to be more helpful when cool and/or dangerous tools are involved.

I remembered to not tell Beka this was “school” so she would think it was still fun.  Oh, the mind games we sometimes have to play!

I’ve also been known to use the Tom Sawyer trick, where I really “enjoy” a work project until they ask to help.  Moms can be so devious smart sometimes!

 

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I’ve owned this dehydrator for over two decades, and was a super cheapy one to begin with.  My hubby was a teacher at a private Christian school, so were were living on love and faith. I used coupons and rebates  to buy most personal things for the home.  I had been saving my rebate money for awhile when this went on sale for around $20 at the Pamida store in Valley Center, KS.

I’ll never forget the feeling of walking out of the store with this in my arms.  I felt rich.  I owned a dehydrator. 

You know why the Lord answers prayer and provides for His people?  It evokes praise!  Years later, I look at this cheapy little dehydrator, and I am STILL thankful to the Lord for His provision.

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For many years, we dehydrated apples and pineapples (cans of rings, well drained)  for gifts for other people, so we were able to pass on the blessing. That’s another reason the Lord blesses us, so we will pass on blessing to others.

Drying in my little guy took only about 24 hours, and we quickly ate them all and had to make another batch.  To keep your apples from turning brown, dip them in lemon juice or pineapple juice.  I prefer pineapple juice because of the sweetness.

In The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker, she  gives instructions for drying apples without a dehydrator. You simple slice apples in 1/8 inch disks and slip them onto string or rods.  Hang them in a warm, dry place like a furnace room or sun porch.  She said you can even use curtain rods over a sunny window or a laundry rack near a radiator. (p. 129)  In other words, you use that pioneer spirit to figure out what works best for your living situation.

She said to use fresh, tart apples and to peel them only if the skins are tough.  Hard times calls for different rules.  I always thought it was a great way to not waste apples that were getting mushy because you were going to make them mushy, anyway.

 

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This book by Edward B. Reynolds and Michael Kennedy has added some fun dimension to my passion to learn about the Wild West. (Published by Falcon Publishing, Inc. 2000 in Helena, MT)

 

plum pudding

This recipe was on p. 83 and was considered a specialty from Utah. I read this and realized why pioneer women were always so tired.  First, this batch is HUGE.  I think she was cooking for a threshing crew.  Next, it would take almost all day. 

This would be my recipe:

Set one good book and a handful of prunes on the couch.
Leave the eggs for breakfast in case you read too late into the night.
Save the sugar for cookies, they taste better.
Sprinkle cinnamon, allspice and cloves on the counter so the house smells good and people who walk in think you’re productive.
Go back to the couch and read the whole book, while nibbling on a few prunes.

 

I have great childhood memories of picking chokecherries, asparagus, currents and rosehips in Montana, then watching my mom busy in the kitchen. There was such a satisfaction in lining the shelves with brightly hued jellies and syrups.

 

Sometimes I feel bad asking my kids to do chores, this generation is much more kid-centric. Some of my kids’ friends don’t have any chores.   Instead of spending our days in tasks for survival, the average modern parents spend their days fulfilling their children with play-dates, various lessons and sports.  These things are good in moderation, but as I read through Little House books, I am once again reminded of the most valuable thing my parents passed onto me.

It wasn’t land.

It wasn’t riches.

It wasn’t valuable family heirlooms.

It was a great work ethic, along with the knowledge and experience to accomplish anything and everything I needed to do as a wife a mother.  I would be a fool to not pass on this most valuable heritage to my own children.

That’s why some days, we cast aside the books and the worksheets, pull out the tools and work together.  I am determined to pass on the most valuable heritage, just like my Mom and Ma Ingalls did.

Water not from Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek 

It was gunna’ be a simple experiment.  Ya’ know, no special equipment, no special safety gear, just grab some pond water, sterilize it and drink it.  Well, Mrs. Gray didn’t say to drink it, but I was gunna’ be all pioneer and such. We were gunna’ show y’all that we city-slickers have survival skills, just like the Ingalls family.

 

I sent Beka to the crick (that’s Montanan for creek, in case ya’ didn’t know) next door with a canning jar and the obligatory warning about falling in, hitting her head and drowning.  Ya’ know, those things a mother says to make herself feel better.  I wonder if Ma said those same things to Laura and Mary when they were sent to fetch the water?

 

 

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Done deal. 

 

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Beka knows the routine by now.  Didn’t want anyone to drink our “fresh spring water” before it was properly sterilized.

 

 

We set it in a winder (Kansan for window) for a few days.   We looked up a few things on water, so we could be all scientific and scholarly.  One site said an average person uses ten gallons of water per day.  Only ten gallons?  Either that was a 75 year old statistic from the bathe in the gray washtub days, or our family isn’t average.  Another site said that a shower uses 5-7 gallons per minute.  That sounded more accurate. Do any of you have those kids that will soak in the shower until you bang on the door? 

 

In the Olden Days, when I was a kid, we had  well water. When our three minutes of shower time was up, someone (usually Dad)  might turn on the hot water in another room to turn the shower to icy blasts, and the shower would be over.  Of course, it wasn’t about the bill in those days, it was about running out of water. With eight people sharing one bathroom and one tank full of hot water on a school morning, Dad had to regulate.  He was making sure everyone got a little hot water.

Beka and I discussed this and I tried to stress the importance of not wasting water, even if we had plenty. I thought the intent look on her face indicated compliance and agreement.  Her addition to the conversation indicated otherwise.

“Mom, I think we should invent waterproof books so people can read in the shower when you want to relax in the shower and your mom is nagging you to do school.”

 

Well said. 

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On Friday when we had time to finished up allotted projects, the procrastinated things Mrs. Gray knew we’d all have piled up,we poured it into a kettle

 

 

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and began watching for those tiny bubbles that tells you bacteria, germs,  and parasites  are slowly dying.

I had Beka take all the pictures because I am teaching her how to upload and edit pictures. It also makes the assignments a little more exciting for her to be on the other end of the lens.

 

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I assumed Beka knew what was going on without me actually telling her, so when I told her to boil it for 5 minutes, she poured the water in the kettle and set the timer for 5 minutes.  Good girl, following directions.  Bad mommy, giving poor directions.  We discussed the stages water goes through before it is considered “boiling” and kept watching the kettle.  Beka will never be one of those brides who can’t boil water.  I think I could pat myself on the back right now.

 

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Yes, a watched pot does boil faster with the lid on.

 

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Now THAT’S boiling and THAT’S when you set the timer.  We learned to sterilize water at sea level you boil five minutes, the higher the altitude the longer you need to boil the water because the water doesn’t get as hot as is does at sea level.   Cooking at higher altitudes always takes longer.  Hmm.  Fargo, ND is only 274 feet above sea level, but I’m pretty sure that’s why I burn so much stuff, I never adjusted to the change in altitude when I moved to Seattle eight years ago.  That has to be it.

 

Livestrong has a great article about purifying water for backpacking, discussing filters and water purification tablets.  We were getting cold feet about drinking our sterilized water, and I tried to psyche us both up by talking about Hurricane Sandy and the people that needed to boil their water.  I think Beka was secretly wishing she could send them our water, so I came up with a compromise.  We would boil it for just a few more minutes to make it extra clean and refreshing.  Remember my vintage yellow timer? 

 

 

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Well, we didn’t.  We didn’t remember the water, either, and went off to sew.  OK, so the lesson about sterilizing water didn’t work but the lesson about watching a pot did.  The truth of that saying is a pot that isn’t watched will either boil over or boil dry. The School of Hard Knocks is sometimes more educational that Learning by the Books. I found myself thinking, “Phew, she probably won’t do that more than one or two more times in her life.” 

Bet she’ll stock up on purification tablets, too, if she ever moves into hurricane country.

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.

Hand Over Hand Survival

Little House on the Prairie 001

Chapter 12

*****

Born with two older brothers and one younger brother, I was destined to be a tomboy. The “Little Girls” as we called them, the last two siblings born, were close in age and heart.

From an early age, I learned to throw like a boy, wrestle like a boy and work like a boy. OK, I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was, but I did get sent to the principal’s office once for beating up a bully on the playground.

I also threw a bully off the bus in high school for tormenting my little sisters. He coulda’ whooped my behind, but he had a momma’ who woulda’ whopped his,
so he conceded and the war was over.

I definitely related to Laura way better than Mary
as a child, and even more as an adult.

Whenever I read history about settling the west I was convinced I was born in the wrong generation. That is, until we spent one day cooking over an open fire, I kinda’ changed my mind in a hurry.

Women had it rough back then, working hard in SKIRTS. Long skirts with ridiculous undergarments. I know I would have been the rebel who wore
her brother’s clothes.

However, I still like to imagine life back then, and have loved the hands-on curriculum we’re using this year.


In Chapter 12 of Little House on the Prairie, Mr. Scott is passed out in the bottom of the well they’re digging because he didn’t test the air for poisonous gas.
Silly man.

It’s the first time we see Ma reacting strongly to danger.  She’s usually calm and collected.

“I don’t want a well,” Ma sobbed.  “It isn’t worth it. I won’t have you running such risks!”
(p. 157)

She was willing to go without water rather than risk her husband’s life.

 

Pa went down to rescue the neighbor anyway and had to climb out

hand

over

hand

with the rope while holding his breath.

Our assignment:  try to climb hand over hand.

See, I told ya’ the curriculum was hands-on!


We headed over to the neighbor’s swing set to test our skills. Like the Ingalls,  we have good neighbors.

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All dressed up in prairie finery, Beka tried.

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Beka’s climbing would be more proficient, I’m sure, if someone was dying, not dying of laughter. 

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Beka’s friend, Amanda, partner in pioneer adventures for the day, also was a good sport about rope climbing.

 

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Since I won several blue ribbons for rope climbing, back in elementary school, folks, not the Olympics, I had to try.

Afterall, I’m almost 50 and always feel like I have something to prove.

Remembering how quickly I used to climb to the top of the gym, I attacked the rope with gusto.

At the top, I would sway  above the mat, watching the scared kids below, their eyes sparkling in admiration and bask in my moment of glory. 

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I’ve definitely lost my touch.

Really lost my touch. I was swaying, and eyes were sparkling, but with hysterical laughter, not admiration. I proved that at least I have my memories.

But, if someone I loved, or someone I needed for survival, like one of my only neighbors, were dying at the bottom of a well, would I be able to save them?

The reality of what the Ingalls family lived through touches me more as an adult than it did as a child.

As a child, I was filled with dreams of fun and adventure.
As an adult, I see how their lives were constantly in danger.

Hand over hand, they clung to the rope of survival, and always managed to pull themselves to safety.