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.

 

Christmas Cookies on the Plum Creek

On the Banks of Plum Creek

Chapter 31

 

Christmas came to Walnut Grove and Laura is surprised it’s Christmas because there’s no snow. I was surprised she didn’t know because in my house the kids ALWAYS know when it’s Christmas, with or without snow.  They count down the days and drive me crazy asking “how many more sleeps until Christmas?”

 

Ma and Pa don’t tell the kids, but they know there’s something going on because they have to take a bath in the middle. of. the. week.  Back then, it was a clear signal that something was up.  Actually, in 1874, Christmas was on a Friday, but Laura didn’t have the Internet back then to verify the details, and she probably didn’t keep every calendar from the previous 50 years.  But, she knew it was NOT bath night. 

 

Laura sees her first Christmas tree in the church and gets a fur cape and muff that is BETTER than Nellie Oleson’s.  Ooh, Laura is so honest about her little mean heart,  isn’t she? I love her for this, and I think that’s why we were drawn to her books as children.  She was naughty just like us! 

 

We wanted Christmas to come to our Little House dollhouse, so we started with Christmas cookies.

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Ma Ingalls had a Norwegian neighbor over and they rolled out little snowmen cookies together over cups of hot coffee.  They talked about storms, grasshoppers, the wheat harvest and naughty children almost drowning in the Plum Creek.  Baby Carrie slept peacefully in the homemade cradle right next to the fireplace.

The white apron on the left was sewn by my mommy years and years ago.  I still love playing with it! I remembering snuggling in bed late at night, listening to the whirr of her Necchi sewing machine, knowing she was stitching together amazing gifts for Christmas.

 

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Beka and I used Sculpey clay and little cookie cutters and punches. This is the same red cutting board we used when drilling and cutting a shelf for the General Store, so it’s getting pretty beat up this year in school. We painted two little wood mugs gray to look like the tin mugs Laura and Mary got for Christmas in Kansas.  We also made them candy canes and the little heart cakes they received in their stockings.   We’re trying to replicate their Christmas celebrations, of course, with some creative embellishment.

 

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We baked our creations in the toaster oven.  We learned the hard way if you overcook them, they turn dark.  OOPS! (see finished  below)

 

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The little cookie cutters from Michaels.

 

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These little punches from the Dollhouse Cottage work great and are very inexpensive.  We discovered it works better to NOT use the plunger.  See the little circles in the middle of our stars? That’s from the plunger. Just roll out the dough, put it on the cookie sheet that is going in the oven,  use the punch to form all the shapes you want, making sure you push all the way through the clay.  You separate the cookies AFTER they’re baked.  The stars were over baked, but supposed to be white. We’re pretending they’re gingerbread.  The cookies on the right were from a tan clay with little red clay circles and cooked to perfection. You can tell I didn’t push the cutter all the way down, there’s still little ridges around my cookies.  But, we’re not perfectionists around here, we’re just happy to get stuff done.

 

After all, Christmas is around the corner and we have so much to do to get ready!

 

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Practice makes perfect.  So does a miniature class at the Dollhouse Cottage. While Beka and I pulled out the first burned batch, we remembered the dollhouse store has $10 miniature workshops the first Saturday of each month and they LOVE having children. As you can see from above, our creations got a little better after spending a few hours crafting with Sandi, the owner.

 

I was so surprised to find the little jars with corks in the jewelry-making department at JoAnn’s. They were two in a package for $1, but came with a little eye screw so you could fill the jars and wear them on a necklace.  We needed candy in our store for the little children.

Geneva's Sugar Cookies1

And since you might want to really make cookies this year, I will pass on the famous rolled out sugar cookie recipe from my 100% Norwegian Gramma Geneva.

One year the kids and I went over to another family’s house to make rolled out sugar cookies.  She made the dough ahead of time from her family’s recipe.  They were delicious, but there was no nutmeg. What surprised me even more, was how thick she rolled out the sugar cookies.  I was thinking to myself “She’s only going to get about two dozen cookies out of a batch of dough.”

I thought about “the waste” until I almost laughed out loud.  She grew up in a very wealthy family on the East coast,  with  European money gained during WWII.  I grew up in a middle class family, from very poor grandparents, who struggled to stay warm and full during WWII. My relatives rolled sugar cookies almost as thin as paper, trying to get as many cookies from a batch as possible.  My friend’s family grew up with plenty of money, and there was always more flour,sugar and butter in the pantry so they could roll out their cookies as thick as they wanted.

 

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Gramma never frosted her cookies, because they were for dunking in the coffee, but her cookie jar was always full when we came to visit. Her cookie jar has been sitting on my counter for about 15 years, and it’s rarely full.  Sometimes I put in store-bought treats,  but they always taste like guilt.  There’s no better feeling than to fill Gramma’s cookie jar with homemade cookies.

 

When I married in 1986, this recipe became a part of every holiday celebration.  I made hearts for Valentine’s day.  I made trees and stars for Christmas.  When I couldn’t find a football cookie cutter, I smooshed a circle one into the right shape to celebrate the Super Bowl with cookies.   I always frosted and decorated my cookies.

 

Geneva's Sugar Cookies back

This is what I wrote on the back of my recipe card. I’ve made them only a few times since 2005.

Again this year, I’m telling myself, “Maybe this year.”

Maybe this year, they’ll be Gramma’s sugar cookies in the house, not just in the dollhouse.

 

 

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If you still can’t get enough of Laura, here’s a wonderful blog post Christmastime When Laura was Sixteen,  from the blog All Things Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 

The blog,  Laura’s Sweet Memories, provided a recipe for Farmer Boy Carrot Cookies.  Last year, they blogged Laura’s Gingerbread recipe, saying if she hadn’t become famous for her writing, she certainly would have become famous for her gingerbread.

 

If you’re looking for a quick simple recipe, try Laura’s Saucepan Coco Brownies from The Cottonwood Tree, another blogger dedicated to Laura.

 

And if you have time to watch a video, listen to Laura tell her own Christmas stories.

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.

Pa Saves the Bacon!

In Chapter One Pa heard squeals in the middle of the night,
so like a man of that time, grabbed his gun and headed out the door.
With no neighbors nearby, he probably ran out in his union suit.
At least it wasn’t whitie-tidies.
As my daughter would say, “eewwwwwww, that’s totally gross.”

A big black bear is trying to grab their pig,
Pa shoots and misses, but assures the family-

Saved the Bacon with red

(Little House in the Big Woods, Scholastic Book Services, 1974)

Of course, I had to look up what that meant.
It wasn’t even in the curriculum.
I’m just snoopy like that.
Maybe curious.
I just gotta’ know stuff.

I went to my first source.
Dictionary.com says the term “save one’s bacon” is an informal idiom.

 

They define it as “ to allow one to accomplish a desired end; spare one from injury or loss.”

Their example sentence:
Quick thinking saved our bacon.

 

They further state:
At the time it was first recorded, in 1654, bacon was a prized commodity,
so perhaps saving one’s bacon was tantamount to keeping something precious.

When you’re teaching, do you end up on an educational bunny trail?
You just can’t help but stop and teach about something else that came up
when you were supposed to be teaching about something else?

We did an IDIOM bunny trail.

Back to Dictionary.com to find the definition of an idiom.

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I love using Dictionary.com, my favorite online school resource.

They also pronounce the words for you.

I have always been an avid reader, but for the past 25 years I’ve been around primarily people
who begin life with no vocabulary, move into limited vocabulary, and when they have a
vocabulary suitable for adult conversation, they move out or get jobs or find other ways to be
away from Mommy all day.

So, I know words, I don’t know how to say them.
When I’m around grown-ups, I sometimes ask them if I am pronouncing a word correctly,
because I’ve never SPOKEN it I’ve only READ it.

Like genre.
I had to ask someone in my writers group how to pronounce this word.
If you’re proud, you don’t learn.
The opposite of proud is embarrassed.  I often embarrass myself.

Then I went to find a list of other idioms to share.
Idiom Site is a great source, even they don’t have “save the bacon.”

Then I moved onto Bing Images, with my filter set to “strict.”
You have to check back often to update your preference,
I don’t know why it won’t save
your setting forever and ever and ever and ever.
They should.

I realized America is obsessed with bacon.

People eat bacon for meals, snacks, and for deserts.

There are  bacon t-shirts, candles, crafts, air fresheners and candles.

We’ve gone hog wild for the stuff sliced usually so thin
your in-laws will never come back.

Just look at this bacon pie.
A man lover’s pie from
Comfort Food From Louisiana.
That’s some pig!
 

Back to the idiom.
In Pa’s case it wasn’t an idiom, it was the true encounter.

Did Pa use the idiom in context for humor?

We’ll never know.
But we know, he saved the bacon, and for that,
America is truly grateful.

In Chapter Two,
Pa saves another pig’s bacon from a bear,
Pa saves his bacon by shooting the bear,
then saves his family’s bacon by feasting on bacon and bear.

Here we learn that
bears go better with bacon.

And now, you’ve followed my exciting adventure on an
idiom bacon trail.

Teaching Tip:
Curiosity doesn’t kill the cat, it saves the bacon.
Go with your gut, explore and learn along the way.
Unintentional learning sometimes sticks better
than intentional learning.

Layout of The Prairie Primer

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

She filled a huge void.

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

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

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

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

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

(click on any pic to enlarge)

Weekly Planning Guide

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

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

I added removable tabs on the edge for each week.

Weekly Planning Guide p. 2

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

It gets even better.

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

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

The whole year is planned out for you.

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

Little House in the Big Woods Journal

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

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

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

Rust Assignment 001

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

Summer 2012 217

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

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

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I’m finally the Prairie Momma I dreamed about.

Someone pinch me, please, before I wake up.

Jack Frost Isn’t Nipping at My Nose

Today we are experiencing a beautiful September day,
it’s nearly 80 degrees.

I type the full word because I can’t find the symbol on my keyboard.

We’re inside trying to finish up school, and I am watching the clock tick away.

I’m patient and rambunctious in the morning, but by the afternoon I am usually
ready to put the books away and get outside!
But, I stay on task because,
afterall,
I am the teacher.

Do you hear that noise in the distance?
The sun is calling me outside….
I keep telling him “Later, Dude, I am totally busy!”
but he isn’t listening.

Today I’m thankful Jack Frost only visited us through books and the Internet.
I love me some sunshine.

Little House in the Big Woods

Here’s a history of Jack Frost, complete with movie blurbs.
I wouldn’t watch all the movies, but the history and the graphics are adorable.

Of ocurse, there’s always Wikipedia’s version of Jack Frost.

Click the link to get your own Jack Frost coloring page.

We decided to make it a free-for-all in art, and I let Beka go
crazy with construction paper, glitter and glue.

Of course, there’s no clean-up if you are outside on the deck.

What do you do if you want to imitate Laura’s fun with the frost and the thimble, but you live in a place where there is never frost on your windows?

You get creative.

This is a gold charger, usually only making it’s appearance around the holidays.
They kinda’ creep me out because John the Baptist’s head was served
on a charger, but that is a silly rabbit trail.

I filled the center with sugar and found two thimbles.

We tried to imagine shapes they could have made.
Beka made the Olympic rings,
but pretty sure Laura had never seen them.

I like to give my kids freedom to create,
and I am always thrilled with the outcome.

I still have a painful childhood memory of being told to color
my star red or green, when I really wanted to color it purple,
my favorite color.

Of course, my grumpy teacher didn’t tell me we were making
a Christmas present for our parents, school had just started,
and I thought the purple star looked amazing,
until the candle we later made was placed on top.

Speaking of creative kids,
this was the first thing she created in the sugar.

Pretty clever, huh?

So, Jack Frost was here, now he’s gone,
and we’re heading to the beach to finish that last subject.

‘Cuz, ya’ gotta finish your school, right?

Prairie Primer is Prime Way to Begin New Year

I’ve been a mommy for 25 years,
and the majority of that time I have been homeschooling.

My 19th year just started,
but who’s counting?
Apparently, I am.

Do I dare admit,
at the beginning of a new blog,
at the beginning of a new year,
I’m a little burned out?


YES I DO!


I’m not tired of teaching, I’ve always loved school.

I’m not tired of my children,
they were all in my Gifted and  Talented program,
despite not making their beds and brushing their teeth regularly.
I didn’t begin homeschooling because
I was exceptionally brilliant and talented.
I loved my children and wanted to be around them.

I’m tired of reading a few pages and answering a few questions.

B-O-O-O-O-O-R-R-I-I-I-N-G!
The motivation to cross off one more assignment on the weekly goal chart,
had totally lost its thrill and luster,
and our love for learning was being quenched.

We long for time to sew, craft, bake, read, explore, dress-up,
pretend, play with toys, snuggle, and laugh.

Above all, we need to regain our love of learning.

With four students graduated and one entering college,
I am departing
 from the workbook teaching
and am going to a hands-on, literature based learning.

I’m wondering why I waited so long to do this.

This year, we’ll be living, laughing, loving, and  learning  through
Margie Gray’s Prairie Primer,
using all the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder as our educational foundation.

Even if you aren’t using this curriculum this year, I will be sharing all kinds of veteran tricks  hidden up my sleeve, or should I say, for this year, in my apron pocket?

I’d love to have you join us on the adventure.

We intend to fan into flames our love for learning.