Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chapter 23: Indian War Cry

"The drums seemed to beat in Laura's head. They seemed to beat deep inside her. The wild, fast yipping yells were worse than wolves. Something worse was coming, Laura knew it. Then it came---the Indian war-cry."

The morning after the prairie fire, Pa goes whistling out to his plowing. When he comes back for lunch, he is black with soot, but very happy. The long, prairie grass doesn't bother him. Now it is easy to break the sod.
But there is something funny going on with the Indians down in the creek bottom. Every day there are more and more Indians, and every night the noises they make get louder and louder. Pa brings Jack into the house, shuts the door, and pulls in the latch string. No one may go outside until daylight.

All night, every night Laura listens to the Indians yelling and the drums beating. One evening before he goes to bed Pa gets out his bullet mold and begins to make bullets. He melts the lead and pours it into the bullet molds. He doesn't stop until all the lead is used up and his pile of bullets is very big.

Laura and Mary lie in bed and watch him. "Why are you making so many bullets, Pa?" Mary asks.

"Oh, I have nothing else to do," Pa says. But Mary and Laura know that Pa is tired. He has worked all day and could go to bed. But instead he sits up and makes more bullets than they have ever seen him make at one time before.

Laura and Mary wonder. No Indians come to the house anymore. Pa and Ma look worried. Mr. Scott and Mr. Edwards come to the house and talk to Pa about building something called a "stockade". But when Laura asks questions, the grownups never answer them.

One night Laura sits up in bed and screams. Something woke her up. Something terrible. And then she hears it again. It is loud and terrible. It makes her feel like she is falling down forever. She screams to Pa, "What is it? What is it?"

"It's the Indian war-cry, Laura," Pa says.

Pa explains that the Indians are talking about war by yelling their terrible war cry. They dance around their fires and beat the drums and talk about war. But Pa says Laura should not feel afraid because Pa and Jack are there, and the soldiers are at Fort Gibson and Fort Dodge.

Laura still feels afraid.

The war-cry goes on and on, but once there is a new sound in the night. Closer and closer comes the sound of galloping hoof-beats. Laura looks out the window and sees a black Indian pony running past with an Indian brave on its back. Then the Indian is gone.

Pa sits up all that night, listening and watching. He listens and watches all the next day, and all night the next night. During the day the prairie is quiet and still, but no one goes outside. At night the Indians dance and yell their war-cry. 

Laura and Mary are so tired that they fall asleep sometimes, but the war-cry always wakes them up again. Pa and Jack stay awake watching, but one time during the daytime Pa is so tired that he falls asleep right while he is sitting up at the table watching. He only sleeps a moment, and then wakes back up again.

"Don't let me sleep again," he tells Ma.

That night is the worst of all. The Indians yell back and forth, getting louder and louder. Up and down the creek, the drums beat and the Indians call their war-cry. Pa says they are quarreling with each other. Just before dawn, the war cries stop and Laura falls asleep.

When Laura wakes up, Ma is cooking lunch and Pa is sitting in the open door watching a big party of Indians head across the prairie. Two large groups have already gone past while Laura slept and Pa says they have broken up the group. They will not go together to hunt the buffalo. 

There are no Indian drums that night. No war-cry to keep Carrie, Laura, and Mary awake. Everything is quiet. Even Jack sleeps soundly on the floor of the little cabin. 

The next day Pa decides it is time to go exploring. Things have been quiet for a whole night so clearly there is no danger. He is gone all day, but when he comes back he has good news for everybody.

"The Indians did fight with each other. They wanted to go on the war path and kill all the settlers in Indian territory, but the Indian brave that rode past the first night argued and convinced the Osages not to fight the settlers. The other Indians didn't want to fight the Osages, so they all left."

"That Indian brave is one good Indian," Pa says.

Thoughts: Boy, that Pa! It's a wonder he survived as long as he did. If I was Ma, I surely would have clanged him up the side of the head with a frying pan long before this. And I love the parents' belief that the children would somehow fail to notice the whole "warring nation" thing going on next door. Let's just not talk about it so they won't worry. There are some things I am glad modern life has helped to change.

But what to do for this chapter?

North Dakota is rather free of wars right now. 

I mean, Canada isn't exactly a hotbed of aggression at the moment. And Minnesota and Montana have been at peace with us for many years now. Like...forever. Has ANYONE ever been mad at North Dakota? Even if there was any conflict, I'm pretty much a peace-lovin' gal myself, so can't say that war appeals to me as a hobby choice.

"One evening Pa took his bullet-mold from the box under the bed."

However, it just so happens that I know a dedicated practitioner of the ancient art of the mountain man. Someone who would be able to guide me through the old-fashioned process of lead bullet pouring. Thankfully, these mountain man-types are usually very happy to have someone take an interest in their craft and I was able to spend a fun afternoon learning about bullet-making.

Lown Schipman runs Mountain Man Fishing from his home. The local tire shop provides him with buckets of wheel weights that he melts down and turns into fishing weights and handmade lures to be sold in the nearest fishing town. 

Each time he gets a fresh bucket, the tire weights are cleaned and melted down into lead bars.

 After that, it is time to melt and pour. First the molds are heated over the melting pot for a while. If the mold is too cool, the molten metal won't have time to fill the whole cavity before it hardens. Once the mold is hot it goes under the pot, you pull the lever on the side, and out pours the lead.

Definitely a big improvement on the old by-the-fireplace method.

But the fishing weights are just for business. This mountain man also has bullet molds for pleasure---and of course he has the muzzle-loading gun to match each mold.

When I was there, he was making bullets for a .44 pistol.

I think.

I am not a mountain man, so it's like a foreign language to me.

"Pa sat for a long time on the hearth, melting lead and making bullets."

After watching him demonstrate his craft it was my turn. Nothing intimidating at all about plunking my butt down to handle molten metal. Nope, all in a days work for this girl.

The bullet molds are smaller than the fishing weight molds and you have to put the mold right up to the spigot of the melting pot. This means you can't see how full the mold is getting. I was worried that the lead would overflow, but it just goes to the top of the mold and stops. Unless you take the mold away while the lever is still down, it's not going to spill.

In fact, the lead hardens a little and you have to break it away from the pot.

The bullet is cool enough to leave the mold almost as soon as it is poured. When you hit the top of the mold to release it, it knocks the excess off and leaves a nice, round bullet behind.

Lown could do it in one quick tap, but I had to flail away at the mold several times to knock the top piece of the mold loose.

 "Laura and Mary lay awake and watched Pa. He had never made so many bullets at one time before."

Beautiful! My very own home-made bullets! I had planned to fire some of them off today, but sadly, that didn't work out this visit. The fact that it was snowing and no one wanted to go outside might have had something to do with it. And mountain man thought he may be, Lown is not down with shooting in his living room.

Actually, Lown might be, but Mrs. Mountain Man would definitely have something to say about it if he ever tried.

But he did show me the pistol my bullets are used for and how it is loaded. I don't want to get too technical, but it involves bullets, powder, and firing caps. The hammer of the gun hits the cap, which makes a spark, which lights the gun powder, which explodes, which propels the bullet from the chamber.

Pretty amazing, actually.

As I learned about different bullets, guns, and how each one functioned, I was thankful I had the luxury of being mildly interested in a scientific chain reaction and not dependent on it for my survival! The thought of those chunks of lead ripping through my flesh, causing pain, damage, and death is not the most pleasant one.

Far better to use it for target practice and pleasure shooting.

I'm just glad I have that option!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Chapter 22: Prairie Fire

"One day Laura and Mary were helping Ma get dinner. Baby Carrie was playing on the floor in the sunshine, and suddenly the sunshine was gone.

'I do believe it is going to storm,' Ma said, looking out the window. Laura looked, too, and great black clouds were billowing up in the south, across the sun."

It is spring on the prairie. The snow has melted away and as far as Laura can see, the hills are covered with long, dry prairie grass. Pa has harnessed Pet and Patty to the breaking-plow. He works all day turning over long rows of rich prairie sod. Pa says this year he will plant sod potatoes and sod corn in the thick strips of sod and by next year roots will all be rotted away and he will have beautiful plowed fields to seed.

Every day Laura sees more and more Indians. They are gathering for their big spring hunts. Sometimes they come by the house and Ma always gives them food or tobacco. She doesn't want the Indians to be angry. 

Jack is kept tied up all the time because he still doesn't like Indians coming to the house and Pa is worried he will bite one and make trouble.

One bright afternoon Pa is turning over more sod in the field and Ma is getting dinner. Laura and Mary are helping like the good little girls they are. But something funny happens. All of the sudden, the sunshine goes away. 

Ma looks out the window and sees dark clouds rising up to cover the sun. She thinks it's going to storm, but then they see Pet and Patty running towards the house, with Pa leaping along behind them.

"Prairie fire," Pa shouts

Ma runs to the well and begins filling the big tub with water. Pa ties up the horses and brings the cow and calf up to the stable. Laura runs to gather up the sacks that Pa had thrown out of the stable.

Pa is plowing now, as fast as he can, yelling at Pet and Patty to go faster. The fire is coming closer and closer as Pa plows a long furrow up the west side of the homestead, across the south, and down the east. Ma has the tub of water full now, and Pa helps her carry it to his furrow.

Laura watches as Pa starts a fire on the other side of the long furrow. He wants it to burn towards the fire and make a safe area around the house. Ma follows along behind with her wet sacks, beating out any fire that tries to cross the line.

Rabbits, prairie chickens, and snakes hurry across the yard, running away from the prairie fire. Jack doesn't care---he knows a great danger is coming and stares at the fire.

Pa's fire grows and stretches away from the house. The prairie fire roars and rushes. Then the two of them meet and the sky is filled with smoke, wind, and noise. All Laura can see is fire all around her.

And then the fire is past. 

Pa and Ma put out any little fires that got started in the yard. She tells Laura and Mary not to worry. "All's well that ends well."

Laura watches as the little prairie gophers stick their heads back out of their holes and look around the burned, black prairie. Later the birds fly overhead, then the rabbits began to hop by, and finally the snakes and prairie hens come back.

Mr. Edwards and Mr. Scott come to check on the Ingalls family. They are worried the Indians started the fire to try to hurt the settlers, but Pa knows that the Indians have always done this in the spring. The fire burns the old grass and makes room for the new grass to grow. Soon the whole prairie will be green again and the buffalo will come.

Thoughts:  You might think that since it's been over two years since I last posted, I've been working hard on a really amazing post.

You might think that, but you'd be wrong.

I simply fell victim to a common, but life-altering condition. I got a job.

It turns out that working actually takes up quite a bit of spare time. Who would have thought? But even as the months turned into years, it was always my goal to get back to this blog someday. I still haven't read all the way through the book series, and I'm not about to stop now!

So here I am, with an important message of fire safety. Wildfire preparedness, to be exact.

"Prairie fire!" Pa shouted. "Get the tub full of water! Put sacks in it! Hurry!" 

The time to get ready for a ready for a wildfire is before the fire, of course. Fires can move at an amazing speed, leaving you very little time to react. There are certain steps anyone can take to help their home survive in a wildfire situation. For this post, I decided to go over some of these steps and see how my own house rates. You can find more information here .

Would my house survive a prairie wildfire?

(Spoiler alert: No.)

The biggest survival factor for any home in a wildfire situation is defensible space. This is an area around the home that is kept free of fire fuels, weakening the fire before it comes close to your home, and giving fire fighters an area to fight from. In a fire situation, if your home is clearly not defend-able, fire fighters will conserve resources by moving on to those homes they have some hope of saving.

What is defensible space?

It is broken up into 3 zones. Zone 1 is closest to the house and reaches out at least 15 feet---more if there are hills or heavy fire fuels surrounding the home. This area needs to be kept clear of anything that will burn easily. Bushes should be kept trimmed and away from the house. Trees are a risk, but if you have them, they should be kept right up next to the house, all the overhanging and dead branches should be trimmed off, and all other trees should be kept far away from them so fire can't spread from tree to tree.


I think some of those branches might be considered "overhanging".

Just a little.

"Pa's little fire was all around the house now, and he helped Ma fight it with the wet sacks. The fire blew wildly, snatching at the dry grass inside the furrow. Pa and Ma thrashed at it with the sacks, when it got across the furrow they stamped it with their feet. They ran back and forth in the smoke, fighting the fire"

Grass is supposed to be kept well watered and always trimmed. I guess I get half a point here because my grass is currently covered with snow. Never mind how long it was in the summer. It's not summer now, is it?

I do have a little bit of open space around the house, but at no point do I ever reach the minimum of 15 feet, let alone the recommended 30. I also have shrubs, flammable structures, and my propane tank all located too close for Zone 1.

Maybe I'll do better in Zone 2.

 Well, actually no.

"The prairie fire was roaring now, roaring louder and louder in the screaming wind. Great flames came roaring, flaring and twisting high. Twists of flame broke loose and came down on the wind to blaze up in the grasses far ahead of the roaring wall of fire."

Zone 2 is all about reducing dry, dead fuels under your trees. Ladder fuels are things fire can use to climb from the grasses up into the tree tops. Any shrubs, long  grass, and dead branches should be cleared out from under all trees in Zone 2. Trees are also supposed to be spaced so there is at least 10 feet of open space between the crowns of the trees.

 I'm pretty sure the whole "branches completely intertwined down the entire tree row thing" doesn't meet the specifications. Not to mention the long grass, shrub, dead tree limb landscaping theme I've got going on.

I do have one thing kind of right in Zone 2. I don't have a wood pile because I don't have a wood stove, but my burn pile IS located more then 30 feet from the house.

Zone 3 begins 100 feet from all structures. That's pretty much off my property and has no trees at all, so I guess I win that one.

"Pa said that the fire had not missed them far, but a miss is as good as a mile."

Boom. Prairie wildfire preparedness.

Does anyone know the name of a good insurance agent?



Friday, September 27, 2013

Chapter 21: Indian Jamboree

"Winter ended at last. There was a softer note in the sound of the wind, and the bitter cold was gone. One day Pa said he had seen a flock of wild geese flying north. It was time to take his furs to Independence....

Before dawn the next morning Pa hitched Pet and Patty to the wagon, loaded his furs into and drove away."

It is almost time to plow the fields and plant a garden. Spring is in the air and Pa needs to go to town. He will buy the things they need, plus a plow and some seeds. Ma is afraid to have him go because of the Indians, but she knows that he must.

After Pa leaves, Laura and Mary count off the days until he'll be home again. It takes one, two, three, four day, and maybe on the fifth day Pa will be home. Laura and Mary play outside waiting for him. They want to see him as soon as he comes out of the creek bottoms.

Suddenly, both girls stop playing.

"What's that?" asks Mary.

Laura has heard the strange noise, too. "It's the Indians," she says.

It is such a funny sound, floating on the breeze. It doesn't sound like any song Laura has ever heard, but she can tell it is made by many, many Indians. They don't sound angry, but the song goes on and on.

Ma calls both girls inside and pulls in the latch string. Jack is in there, too and they all stay in the house for the rest of the day. When it is time to do the chores everyone helps. Mary brings in wood and Laura helps Ma to feed and water the animals. All the time the strange singing continues, faster now and louder.

The sun sets and the prairie is shadowed and gray. Ma cooks supper over the fire while Laura and Mary watch out the window. They both want Pa to come home tonight. How Laura shouts when she hears the wagon coming!

Ma makes both girls stay in the cabin while she helps Pa carry in the packages. He has already put the new plow away in the barn, but there are many other fascinating bundles to explore. Laura and Mary jump on Pa as soon as he comes in and he hugs both of them before going out to unhitch the horses.

Then it is time to open the packages. Pa has brought brown sugar, a little white flour, some cornmeal, salt, and all the seeds they will need to plant. He also brings out a box of crackers and a tiny jar of little green pickles. Ma's face shines. She has been longing for pickles and Pa remembered.

Pa unwraps one more package and it is a piece of pretty calico, enough for a dress. "Oh, Charles, you shouldn't! It's too much!" Ma says. But she is beaming and Pa beams back at her. Then Pa looks at Laura and Mary out of the corner of his eye. He takes off his jacket and hat and stretches out by the fire.

Laura can't wait any longer and climbs onto Pa's lap. "Where is it? Where's my present?" she says, beating him on the chest.

Pa laughs and brings two beautiful black rubber head bands out of his pockets. One has a blue ribbon and one has a red ribbon. He gives the blue one to Mary first because she was patient. Then he gives Laura hers and both girls put them on. They have never seen anything so pretty.

While they eat their supper, Pa tells Laura and Mary about the seeds. He has brought every kind of seed they need to grow a garden.

Pa also mentions to Ma something he heard in town. "They say that the Indians have been complaining about the settlers on their land and the government is going to make all the settlers leave."

"Oh, Charles, no! Not when we have already done so much work!" Ma exclaims.

"I'm sure they won't do that. They'll just make the Indians move on again. The government always lets the settlers keep new land. We don't have to worry."

After Laura is in bed, she lies awake and listens to the Indians singing and singing. She thinks about what Pa said.

When I decided to do this post about gardening I never expected it would include the entire process from seed to harvest! But this has been a very busy summer for our family. We made 3 trips, including one to Wisconsin for my grandfather's funeral after he passed away at age 98. So I haven't had a lot of extra time for blogging.

But now it's fall and time to get ready for another Long Winter. Break open the books and start up the computer. Summer's chores are over!

Now I just have to deal with all of Winter's chores...

I began my garden with a bag full of hope, with packages of possibilities. I intended to have a big, beautiful garden this year because next summer I'm planning to keep things simpler with a smaller one. 

"Pa told Laura and Mary about all the seeds. He had got seeds of turnips and carrots and onions and cabbage. He had got peas and beans. And corn and wheat and tobacco and the seed potatoes. And watermelon seeds."

I always start my own seeds; I did that even back in California. There I could plant my seeds outside in my driveway as early as the beginning of March. I covered them with plastic to keep the frost off at first, but that never lasted long. Soon the beautiful spring weather chased off winter's chill.

The plants I grew were always very strong and healthy. I never had any planting shock with them because the seedlings were already acclimated to the outdoors.

When I moved up here, my methods had to change a little bit! Most people start their seeds late March/ early April, but indoors only, please. There's still snow on the ground in April and 2 more months to go before the last danger of frost. Plants tend to turn out a little spindly if you don't have a fancy growing set-up with lights and well-spaced racks.

Which I don't.

And this year I didn't even get my seeds planted until May. Caleb and I made a trip to Seattle, WA in April, and what with one thing and another, it was May before I got around to doing my seeds. That was way too late to be starting, but hope springs eternal in this breast, at least. I hoped I'd be able to plant them in early June and they could catch up with the rest of the world through my tender care and loving ministrations.

So, that didn't happen either....

 My grandpa passed away in June and I didn't get my plants in the ground until the beginning of July. Part of what slowed me up was waiting to get the ground plowed. I know a sturdy pioneer girl would have gotten out there with a shovel and made it happen, but I'm only an imitation pioneer, not the genuine article.

I waited for someone to plow it for me.

Finally my dad took pity on me and went down to Williston to buy an attachment for his beloved tractor. had very little to do with me because it doesn't take much for my dad to find a reason to get more tractor equipment.

"Ma said, "But, Charles, you didn't get yourself a thing!"

"Oh, I got myself a plow," said Pa. "Warm weather'll be here soon now, and I'll be plowing.'" 

Whatever his motivation, the end result was a beautifully tilled garden spot. Surely things were looking up for food production on the prairie....

Over a month over-due for planting, my seedlings were leggy and weak, but I was able---finally!---to get them in the ground.

What a beautiful sight! All those seed trays empty at last!

I had row after row of tomatoes planted. I always over-do the tomatoes a little bit. It's sort of a family tradition with me, and there are so many good varieties I just have to plant some of all of them. Things can get pretty ugly once they all start to ripen, but I usually try to sell some of my excess.

"Pa said to Ma, "I tell you, Caroline, when we begin getting crops off this rich land of ours, we'll be living like kings!'"

That didn't happen this year. My plants grew, all right, and even produced lots of green tomatoes. But with their late start, they'd missed too much of the heat of summer. A tomato needs nice hot temperatures in order to ripen and my plants never got enough warm weather. I ended up with a lush jungle of vines laden with bushels of green, green tomatoes.

Now that it's fall, I've been picking them. Tomatoes will ripen after being picked, and the wise tomato farmer will pluck the last of his harvest and store it inside. This enables him to enjoy ripe tomatoes through November or even December.

The key here is to pluck the last of the harvest. I am harvesting an entire season of tomatoes that ARE ALL GOING TO RIPEN AT ONCE! And where to store all of them in the mean time, I don't know.

I foresee much experimentation in green tomato recipes!

Thankfully, not all of my seedlings turned out to be such divas. My flowers bloomed beautifully, covering the side of my house with brilliant blossoms all summer long and I had lush pots filled with fragrant herbs for cooking.

I always plant pumpkins, squash, and gourds in my garden because I enjoy growing them so much. I don't enjoy eating very many of them, so they usually end up being given away to good homes.

Last year I had a family out to the house to pick their very own pumpkins from my patch. There aren't very many U-pick pumpkin patches in our area (like, none), so it was a fun treat for them, and of course fun for me as well. I'll probably do it again this year, too, though my pumpkins never had the chance to grow very big.

Gardening is certainly a lot of work, but to me, it is well-worth it. At least, I think that at the end of the season. And in the middle of winter when all the world is white and cold. And when the first signs of spring peek over the horizon.

But ask me on a hot day in July, and you might get a different answer!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Chapter 20: Scream in the Night

"They stood by the fire and listened. They couldn't hear anything but the wind. And they could not do anything. But at least they were not lying down in bed. 

Suddenly fists pounded on the door and Pa shouted: 'Let me in! Quick, Caroline!'"

The days are short and cold now. Mary and Laura spend most of the time inside their snug cabin, either helping Ma or playing games with Carrie. Pa goes out trapping and hunting every day.

The winter wind sweeps and howls over the prairie, never still. But one night a loud and terrible scream wakes everyone up. It is not the wind.

"Charles! What was it?" Ma says.

"It's a woman screaming," Pa said. "Sounded like it came from Scott's"

Pa puts on his boots, his heavy coat, and his fur cap. He lights the candle in the lantern, grabs his rifle,  and heads out the door. He is going to make sure that the Scotts are alright.

Ma and the girls are left alone in the cabin. Ma tells the girls to go back to sleep, but they are not sleepy. Laura imagines Pa walking along the top of the bluff, the candle shining here and there through the holes cut in the lantern.

It seems like hours go by, and then they hear the terrible screaming again. It seems very close to the house. Ma jumps up to put more wood on the fire. Laura jumps up, too, but Ma tells her to go back to bed. Laura begs so hard to stay up that Ma lets her and they stand together by the fire, listening.

Suddenly, they hear fists pounding hard on the door and Pa's voice shouting, "Let me in!"

Ma opens the door and Pa slams it quickly behind him. He is breathing hard from running. "Whew! I'm scared yet," he says.

"What was it, Charles?" Ma asks him.

"A panther," Pa answers.

Pa tells how he hurried as fast as he could to Mr. Scott's house. But when he got there, the house was dark and still. Pa could not find anything wrong, and he didn't want to look like a fool waking them up. So he turned around and came home feeling silly.

It was just as he was hurrying along the edge of the bluff that the scream came again. It sounded like it was right under his feet. The panther was up in the top of a tree that grew against the bluff and Pa lit out for home as fast as he could run.

Laura is glad Pa is safe. She helps him take off his boots and asks, "Would a panther carry off a little girl, Pa?"

"Yes, and kill and eat her, too. You and Mary must stay in the house until I kill that panther."

Pa spends days hunting the panther with no luck before he meets an Indian in the woods. The Indian uses signs to tell Pa that he shot and killed the panther the day before. Pa is glad and the Indian is glad. All the little girls and little papooses are safe.

Well, I could have built my own panther in the time it's taken me to get around to writing this post. Spring is a very busy time on the prairie, OK? But at last, I've seized myself by the scruff of the neck with the worst threat of all----no more Facebook on the prairie until I get this posted.

Aaaaaaargh! Going through withdrawal here........

Must concentrate.

For this chapter, I decided to go for a four mile nighttime walk, panthers optional. Of course, a gentle and innocent creature such as myself cannot go walking out after dark alone, so Caleb was cordially conscripted---I mean----invited to join me. The party pooper didn't want me to randomly wake him up in the middle of the night in order to make it more authentic, so I was forced to leave just after sunset.

I could deal with that as long as it would be dark enough that no one could see the latest crazy thing I was up to. Because we had to do the walk by lamplight, naturally.

I wasn't able to find a kerosene lantern to carry and didn't want to wait to order one. As it turned out, I could have knitted one in the time it's taken me to post, but I didn't know that at the time. Plus, I don't think a knitted lantern would actually be that durable.

I borrowed the closest thing I could find---a battery-operated camp lantern from my sister. Clutching a few sad, desperate rags of authenticity about me, I tried to make it more realistic by making a "tin-punch" effect out of cardboard wrapped around the lantern.

I started out by drawing a design on the cardboard strip, then making holes in the cardboard with a hammer and nail. This lasted for the first panel.

Wanting to get out of the house sometime before midnight, I just started hammering randomly around on the cardboard.

Sadly, it was difficult to tell which one was the design.

"Pa put on his warm, bright plaid coat, and his fur cap, and his muffler. He lighted the candle in the lantern, took his gun, and hurried outdoors."

Lantern readied, it was time to throw on our layers and prepare for the trek. It was a warm evening for the season---about  25 degrees---but a south wind was blowing, bringing just a hint of chill to the air.

I wisely decided to err on the side of caution while dressing. After all, I could always take layers off if I found myself too warm.

Caleb posed nobly with the lantern  as we were leaving...

 Then gave it to me to carry the rest of the way.

My driveway faces south, right into that blessed little breeze. I wasn't even halfway to the end of it before I was ready to turn around, warm clothes notwithstanding. Who needs to walk a full four miles, anyway? I was sure I could come up with something creative to make a blog post out of a walk to the end of our driveway.

But Caleb and I decided to try and make it a leetle ways down the road. Once we turned, the wind wouldn't be full in our faces anymore and we might start to thaw out a little.

"Tiny bright spots of candlelight darted here and there from the holes cut in the tin lantern. The flickering lights seemed to be lost in the black dark."

The lantern really did make dancing little lights, just like in the chapter. Unfortunately, the full moon made much bigger little lights, so we really couldn't see the lantern-light much at all.

But at least we had it along.

In case the moon went out, or something.

Well, once we got started on the road, we just kept going. It's two miles to the end of our road, so a round trip would take us the required 4 miles. It was actually a fairly pleasant walk, as long as you weren't too picky about little things like feeling your toes.

As we got closer to the intersection with the main road, I maintained an unceasing vigilance, ready to leap into the bushes at the first sign of a car. Only there weren't any bushes. Maybe I could quickly cover myself with snow or something....

Thankfully, it never came to that, and I was able to have Caleb snap a quick picture of me before we slunk hurriedly away from the main road.


Finley's looking away because he hates having his picture taken. Maybe I overdid it a smidge when he was a child, but he was such a cuuuuuuuuute puppy....

Seriously! How could I help myself?

"All that time they had been lying and listeing to the wind, and Pa had not come back. 

Then, high above the shrieking of the wind they heard again that terrible scream. It seemed quite close to the house." 

We made it back home, getting to have the opposite side of our face frozen on the homeward journey. We never heard any panthers screaming, but the migrating geese did set up quite a ruckus as we passed their prairie potholes.

I'd be yelling, too, if I had to stand in snow melt to keep the coyotes from eating me.

There should be a picture right here of Caleb and me triumphantly snug and warm back in our kitchen. But there's not. When we got home, we blew through the house and went straight to our warm beds.

I'm sure Pa did, too.

Whew! Now for some Facebook....

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chapter 19: Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus

"Laura was anxious because Christmas was near, and Santa Claus and his reindeer could not travel without snow. Mary was afraid that, even if it snowed, Santa Claus could not find them, so far away in Indian Territory. When they asked Ma about this, she said she didn't know."

Winter has come to the prairie. The days are short and cold, but no snow falls. Only rain, rain, and more rain.

Mary and Laura stay close by the fire and work on their nine-patch quilt blocks. Or they work on cutting paper dolls from scraps of wrapping paper. Laura is worried that Santa won't be able to come see them since there is no snow, only rain.

At last it is Christmas Eve. The rain still falls, but by noon the clouds break apart and the sun shines. Laura and Mary can hear the creek roaring down in the creek bottom. Now they know they will have no Christmas because Santa Claus will not be able to get across the flooded, rushing creek.

Pa goes hunting and brings back a giant turkey. It is for Christmas dinner, but Mr. Edwards will not be able to join them because there is no way for him to get across the creek. Ma says it is too bad, having to eat bachelor cooking on Christmas Day.

"A man would risk his neck, trying to cross the creek now," Pa says. "We'll just have to make our minds up that Edwards won't be here tomorrow."

No Santa Claus and no company. Laura and Mary try not to mind too much. They are lucky little girls to have a nice, warm house and a good turkey dinner to look forward to. Ma tells them that they have been such good girls this year that Santa hasn't forgotten them---he will surely come next year.

But Laura and Mary are still not happy.

At night Laura and Mary lie down in their beds. Pa and Ma sit silently by the fire. Ma asks Pa to play the fiddle, but he says, "I don't seem to have the heart to, Caroline."

Ma gets up. "I'm going to hang up your stockings, girls. Maybe something will happen." Laura's heart gives a leap, but then she remembers the swollen creek. Nothing can happen. But Ma hangs up the stockings, anyway, one on either side of the fireplace.

The next morning, Laura wakes up when Jack begins to growl and the door-latch to rattle. Pa lets Mr. Edwards into the house. His teeth are chattering and his voice is shivering. He says he carried his clothes on his head while he swam the creek.

"It was too big a risk," Pa says.

"Your little ones had to have a Christmas," Mr. Edwards says. "Nothing could stop me after I fetched their gifts from Independence."

Laura sits bolt upright in bed. "Did you see Santa?," she yells.

Mr. Edwards says he did, and Laura and Mary are so excited they pepper him with questions. It is hard for them not to peek while Ma puts the presents in the stockings, but Laura and Mary listen to Mr. Edwards tell the story of how he met Santa in Independence and how Santa asked him to deliver the gifts for two sweet, pretty, good little girls on the Verdigris River.

At last Ma says the stockings are ready. Laura and Mary race to the fireplace and begin to explore their treasures. The first thing they find is a bright, shiny, new cup, one for each of them!  Then they each find a stick of red and white striped candy. Next are pretty cakes sprinkled with white sugar, and then down in the toes, each girl gets a bright copper penny. Oh, there has never been such a Christmas!

Ma, Pa, and Mr. Edwards look like they are about to cry, but Laura and Mary are just happy, happy, happy.

Imagine if you gave your children a Little House Christmas. One tin cup, one small cake sprinkled with white sugar, one candy stick, and one bright, copper penny. OK, you can be really nice and allow for inflation---give them 15 cents. You might get excited shrieks on Christmas morning, but I doubt they'd be from joy!

It can be hard to impress the jaded young whippersnappers of today, but every year parents keep trying. They know that almost nothing feels better than seeing that look of pure delight on their child's face and knowing that they put it there. 

"When Ma opened the door, Laura and Mary heard the creek roaring. They had not thought about the creek. Now they knew there would be no Christmas, because Santa Claus could not cross that roaring creek

But sadly, as we all know, not every child is able to experience a happy Christmas. In fact, on a global scale, probably most children don't get one. That is why a program like Operation Christmas Child is so valuable and has such enduring success. For those of you who don't know, Operation Christmas Child is a program that collects shoe boxes filled with small toys and gifts by donors and sends them to needy children around the world.

I've always wanted to fill a shoe box like all the "cool" people, but could never get past the mid-November collection date. They collect the boxes early to allow for shipping to the various countries in time for Christmas. And I never had my "Christmas" hat in place and operational until after Thanksgiving.

But last year I managed to pack one shoe box and get it mailed off by the collection date. That's all it took---I'm a shoe box addict now.

The year is still young, but I've been collecting things for boxes, hitting all the post-holiday sales to pick up little odds and ends on clearance. So far I've collected a pretty decent size pile, and if I keep this up all year, I'll be able to pack a bunch of boxes to bring happiness to little kidlet hearts.

Some of the things I've found so far are gloves (those stretchy kinds that are $1 for 2 pairs this time of year), jump ropes, hair sets, little handbags, and animal shaped soaps from the after-Christmas sales, mini dinosaurs and mini purses from the party favor area, stickers, heart stamps, and disc shooters (you may thank me, grateful international parents) from Valentines day, and various other little things.

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Edwards! Thank you!," they said, and they meant it with all their hearts. Pa shook Mr. Edward's hand, too, and shook it again. Pa and Ma and Mr. Edwards acted as if they were almost crying, Laura didn't know why. So she gazed at her beautiful presents."

But I wanted something that I could hand make. The Operation Christmas Child Pintrest boards have lots of good ideas, some of which I hope to try by Christmas. However, I wanted to come up with something original for this blog----some little project that could be made to make some child as happy as Mr. Edwards made Laura and Mary with his simple gifts.

So I (out of my very own head, said with pardonable---yet modest----pride) designed this easy-peasy T-shirt bean bag.

 Don't freak out if it looks difficult and complicated. I made the first one and thought the whole way through that it wasn't going to work---my seams weren't straight, it didn't look right, etc. But as soon as I cut the fringes, it looked fine and worked just the way I'd hoped. Afterward, I helped my 12 year old nephew make his own, cutting, sewing, and everything, and it turned out fine, too. It's really a very forgiving project.

Step 1: Pick T-shirts in whatever color combination you want. This is a great way to use up shirts that are stained or torn.

Step 2: Trace 6 circles on your T-shirts---2 small, 2 medium, and 2 large, varying the colors. I used a 9 inch, an 8 inch, and a 6 1/2 inch circle.

Step 3: Cut out circles. OK, so this one is a no-brainer, but I'm trying to be complete with my instructions here.

Step 4: Sew one of the medium circles to one of the large ones. I measured three inches in from the edge of each fabric piece to make my seam line . Repeat with the other medium and large circle.

Step 5:  Put the small circles on top of the two circles you've sewn together. Measure 3 inches in from the edge of the smaller pieces of fabric. Sew the small pieces to the top of the medium circles (the large circles are underneath the medium, already sewn will sew through all the layers). You should end up with two halves that look like this. Now you are ready to sew the halves together.

Step 6: Measure the same distance of three inches from the edge of your large fabric pieces. When you sew your halves together, right sides out (this means all the fabric pieces are on the outside), make sure that you don't catch any of your other fabric pieces in the seam. Keep them pulled back as you sew. At the end, leave a small opening in your seam to stuff the beans through.

If you're like me, it will never be big enough and you'll have to open it more to make it work.

Step 7: Fill the bean bag with beans to the desired weight. When you have it as full as you want, stitch the opening shut, either with the sewing machine if you can make it work, or by hand-sewing.

Step 8: Now you are ready to clip the fringe. Work with one layer at a time, being careful that you never clip through a seam.

Step 9: I found it worked best to make cuts dividing it into fourths, then cut fringe in each of the fourths until every layer has been completely fringed. It should look like this when you are finished...

Step 10: Shake it out and play with it to your heart's content! This is a super-fun, awesome update to the classic bean bag.

Even if you're not a handy person and the mere thought of sewing sends you into a cold sweat, I hope you will still give shoe boxes a try. You don't have to make everything yourself like some mutant Martha Stewart clone; with a little time and forethought, a shoe box can be stuffed very easily and inexpensively. It's a great way for kids to realize how blessed they are and it gives them a chance to give back just a little.

"Pa, and Ma, and Mr. Edwards sat by the fire and talked about Christmas times back in Tennessee and up north in the Big Woods. But Mary and Laura looked at their beautiful cakes and played with their pennies and drank water out of their new cups. And little by little they licked and sucked their sticks of candy, till each stick was sharp-pointed on one end.

That was a happy Christmas."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Chapter 18: The Tall Indian

"Indians came riding on the path that passed so close to the house. They went by as though it were not there......

"I thought that trail was an old one they didn't use any more," Pa said. "I wouldn't have built the house so close to it if I'd known it's a highroad.'"

Autumn hangs over the prairie. Nature is busy preparing for the long, cold winter to come, and the Indians are busy making preparations, too. Many, many Indians ride past on the little trail that goes right past the house. It makes Ma nervous and it makes Jack very angry. Jack believes that the trail belongs to Pa, and he tries very hard to keep the Indians off of it.

One evening, the family looks up and sees a tall Indian standing in the doorway. Jack jumps at him, but Pa catches the dog just in time. Pa ties Jack to a bed post and goes and squats by the fire with the tall Indian. They sit there together while Ma finishes supper, both friendly, but neither one speaks. Ma gives Pa and the Indian their suppers on two tin plates and they eat right there by the fire.

After supper, Pa shares his tobacco with the Indian and they smoke their pipes. When the pipes are empty, the Indian tries to say something to Pa, but Pa can't understand. He shakes his head and says, "No speak." They sit a while longer and then the Indian stands up and goes away without a sound.

Pa says the tall Indian is probably an Osage.  He thinks the Indian tried to speak in French, but Pa doesn't speak French. Ma is worried about the Indians and hopes they keep to themselves. Pa tells her that the camps around the little house are friendly and if they treat the Indians well and watch Jack, they shouldn't have any trouble.

The very next morning, Pa looks out the window and sees Jack standing on the Indian trail. There is an Indian on his pony and Jack will not let him pass. The Indian raises his gun, but Pa grabs Jack and pulls him out of the way. After this, Jack has to stay chained to the house in the day time and to the stable door at night. There are horse thieves around and Pa wants Pet and Patty to be safe.

Winter is coming and the animals are all wearing their thick, winter coats. Pa goes out and sets his traps, bringing back wolves, foxes, beaver, muskrat, and mink. He dries the skins and piles the hides in the corner.

One day, while Pa is hunting, two Indians walk into the house. Jack is chained up, and the Indians help themselves to all Ma's cornbread and all Pa's tobacco. They know that Pa is gone because his gun is missing from the hooks above the fireplace. One of them grabs all the furs sitting in the corner. Ma stands there with the girls close to her. There is nothing she can do.

The other Indian argues with the one holding the furs. Finally, he drops the furs and both Indians go away. Ma sits down and hugs Laura and Mary. Ma's heart is beating fast, but she smiles and says, "I'm thankful they didn't take the plow and seeds." Laura is surprised, but Ma explains that the plow and seed for next spring is in the bundle of furs.

When Pa comes home and hears the news, he looks sober. But he says all is well that ends well.

I'll bet Ma wanted to clock him one when he said that! A mother always has a harder time being pragmatic about the risks to her kids. But it was an era of risks. A mother could only hope to keep all her kids alive through childhood; many didn't make it.

So for this chapter I attempted something very dangerous. Something that I doubt I will ever try again.

I invited my family over for a silent meal.

I thought it would be a fun and interesting to experience an evening of non-verbal communication. What a challenge it would be, especially for the kids! But we're a creative bunch, so I figured we'd come up with some great ways to communicate.

We sounded like a bunch of deranged squirrels.

The evening got off to a late start due to the delayed arrival of our guests. My carefully prepared meal languished on the counter, but some of my righteous indignation evaporated later when I discovered that it hadn't even finished cooking all the way. That's OK, I like crunchy french fries....

My guests arrived and had a shocked, yet stunned reaction to the news. And then I got my camera out. So they had to re-do shocked-yet-stunned several times before I got a photo I liked. Authenticity, baby!

"Pa dragged Jack to the bedpost and tied him there. While he was doing it, the Indian came in and squatted down by the fire.

Then Pa squatted down by the Indian, and they sat there, friendly but not saying a word, while Ma finished cooking dinner."

The idea was that we would all get our plates, pose for a few squatting pictures, and then relax into a comfortable dinner on the floor. The process was hampered by the fact that nobody but me knew what was going on.

Everyone milled around like sheep in the kitchen. 

I motioned for everyone to get their plates.

People started to get their plates. And eat from them.

Noooooo! Don't eat from them, pose with them! Communicated through shrill, deranged squirrel squeaks.

My guests looked understandingly puzzled. First, I invited them for dinner, then motioned them to get their plates, then squeaked at them shrilly when they tried to eat.

Let's try this again.

I led them boldly into the living room.

They sat on the floor.

Squat! Don't sit! Shrill, deranged squirrel squeaks.

After many rounds of squirrel charades where I demonstrated taking my plate, squatting, and smiling for the camera, most of the group caught on to what I wanted. So I pushed the timer and hurried to get in the picture.

Note to self: if you ever want a flattering self-portrait, do not squat in front of a camera.

By this time the kids had caught onto the possibilities of our situation. Somehow Noni and I didn't inspire awed obedience while frowning fiercely and squeaking. So the kids started running amok. After all, if they got in trouble, they had plausible deniability. "How was I to know you didn't want me rappelling from the ceiling? You didn't SAY so!"

Finley began to see the potential of having all the plates down at nose level. If we didn't want him to poke his snout in hopefully, we would have been at the table, wouldn't we?

The actual meal went rather quickly. After all, if you don't pause to converse, you can do a lot more chewing.

"Laura and Mary were close together and quiet on their bed in the corner. They couldn't take their eyes from that Indian He was so still that the beautiful eagle-feathers in his scalp-lock didn't stir. Only his bare chest and the leanness under his ribs moved a little to his breathing."

My guests were supposed to get up and leave after the meal, just as the Indian had done. However, nothing so far had gone according to plan, and this was no different. Having eaten, the kids were ready to play.

Devon showed us a few of his new wrestling moves. Noni kindly allowed herself to be taken down. Devon has not yet attained, shall we say, heavy-weight status as a wrestler.

Then everyone tried a round of Indian leg wrestling. This was a bit of a challenge since some of us (mainly me) had forgotten just how it worked. I found squirrel squeaks less than adequate in explaining the process, so I was unprepared. Of course that was the reason Damon beat me. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Caleb got a nice ego boost by wrestling Devon. I wonder who's going to win????

At last, the company left. Noni had to squeak very sternly at them, but eventually even the last stragglers trickled out. It was so nice to be able to speak again! Not talking is WAY more tiring than talking.

All in all, the evening was fun and definitely memorable, but I still don't want to give up speech. I don't know how parents that can't talk manage....they must have some very obedient kids! Or some very forceful sign language.