Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Little House on the Prairie: Chapter 1

"A long time ago, when all the grandfathers and grandmothers of today were little boys and little girls or very small babies, or perhaps not even born, Pa and Ma and Mary and Laura and Baby Carrie left their little house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing among the big trees, and they never saw that little house again."

The Big Woods are becoming very crowded. Sometimes they can hear a rifle shot that isn't Pa's. The path beside their house is becoming well traveled, with a wagon creaking past almost every day. Pa is ready to move on. The wild animals will not stay in a land so choked with people.

One dark morning, Grandma and Grandpa, all the aunts and uncles, and all the cousins gather around a wagon all packed with things from the little house. It is still winter and the air is cold, but Pa and Ma load the girls up and head off to Indian country. They have to get across the Mississippi before the ice breaks up.

It is a long way to Indian country. They must ride in their bouncing wagon across Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and into Kansas. Laura gets very tired of riding in the wagon, but they keep on, day after day, following the wagon tracks across the prairie.

It certainly took a special breed of men to be pioneers. And it took an even more special breed of women to agree to go with them! If it had been me when Pa came and made his case for uprooting the whole family to go on a perilous journey so he doesn't have to listen to anyone else's rifle, I think I would have beaned him with a cast iron skillet. But it wasn't me, and so the West was won.

"One day in the very last of winter Pa said to Ma, "Seeing you don't object, I've decided to go see the West. I've had an offer for this place and we can sell it now for as much as we're ever likely to get, enough to give us a start in a new country."

I just love this. "Seeing you don't object." To uprooting the children, leaving behind every convenience you'd managed to scrape from the wilderness, drag your family across five states, and expose them to untold dangers. No, I'm sure Ma didn't object. Men can be so clueless sometimes; he probably thought the silent treatment was consent. But Ma loved Pa enough to go with him.

They had to face a large peril right at the start of the trip. Lake Pepin, a wide spot on the Mississippi River, had to be crossed before the ice broke up. It was late in the season, and there was absolutely no guarantee that their heavily loaded wagon wouldn't go crashing through the ice, drowning all of them on their first day of travel. Obviously they made it or the book series would have been a whole lot shorter, but nerve-wracking much?

Maybe it's because I'm especially not fond of drowning, but this particular experience really jumped out at me. The risk the Ingalls family took, the suspense of a mother not knowing if her decision would cost her children their lives---it's very gripping. So it was a natural for me to pick it for the blog.

Of course I don't have any scary lakes to cross, and I wouldn't cross them if I did (I lack the true pioneer spirit remember!), but I do have the place where the road flooded last spring. It's still underwater and now frozen over. Since I walked the thing while it was still liquid, I knew that it never came over my waist. Still, I felt precautions were in order. A good pioneer expects the unexpected...but doesn't that make it expected? Hmmmmmm.

Life jackets would have been nice, but since I didn't have any on hand, I went with the next best thing---inner tubes. I felt they added a jaunty aspect to our appearance, but certain sensitive teenagers disagreed. Oh, well, no ice time without 'em, so we suited up to the tune of murmured grumbles.

"Pa drove the wagon out onto the ice, following those wagon tracks. All around the wagon there was nothing but empty and silent space. Laura didn't like it. But Pa was on the wagon seat and Jack was under the wagon; she knew that nothing could hurt her while Pa and Jack were there."

The ice seemed thick, but we've had several warm days in the last week which added an authentic aura of risk to the whole endeavor. As authentically risky as one can be over waist-deep water and with an inner tube around one's middle. Hey, if we fell in we could get a cold, you know...

The sun was just setting, casting the whole scene in a golden glow as we made our careful way along the path. The water plants from last summer were still poking through the ice to mark the roadway, but even without them we could still tell where the road was. Over the road was a comforting opaque whiteness that dropped away into a sinister midnight blue on either side.

It is always longer to cross that section than it looks from the shore, whether you're worried about prowling pond slime monsters in summer or catastrophic ice collapses in winter, but eventually we made it and paused for a triumphant photo on the other side. Then we headed back across to try it again, this time on ice skates.

"Laura hadn't thought about it before, but now she thought what would have happened if the ice had cracked under the wagon wheels and they had all gone down into the cold water in the middle of that vast lake.

'You're frightening somebody, Charles,' Ma said, and Pa caught Laura up in his safe, big hug.

'We're across the Mississippi!', he said, hugging her joyously."

We had a great time, had some laughs, and created a fun memory in peaceful and beautiful surroundings, but that's kind of the key point. We only did it for fun; the Ingalls family did it for real and the stakes were a lot higher than getting their feet wet. I can't imagine being that brave (or foolish, depending on your point of view), but I'm glad that people did have that kind of courage, the courage to try new things and places.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Chapter 13: The Deer in the Wood

"The weather grew colder. In the mornings everything sparkled with frost. The days were growing short and a little fire burned all day in the cook stove to keep the stove warm. Winter was not far away.

The attic and the cellar were full of good things once more, and Laura and Mary had started to make patchwork quilts. Everything was beginning to be snug and cozy again."

As winter approaches, Pa sets out to put in a store of meat for the winter. He has made a deer-lick out in the woods where deer can come to lick the salt Pa puts out. After supper one night, Pa takes his rifle out into the woods. He will stay out all night, and in the morning there will be fresh venison.

But this time, there is no deer hanging from the tree when Laura and Mary wake up. Pa is busy working all day, and it's not until evening that he is able to sit down and tell them the story of his adventures in the Big Woods.

It had been a busy night at the deer-lick. First it was visited by a great big buck, but Pa was so captivated by its size and beauty that he never shot his rifle. Then came a great big black bear, but Pa was busy watching it and forgot to shoot. After that, a mother doe and her yearling visited the deer-lick, but Pa couldn't bring himself to shoot either of them.

Both Mary and Laura are glad that Pa didn't shoot the animals. They scamper off to bed and snuggle down underneath the warm, soft quilts. Pa plays his fiddle while Ma knits by the fire. The long evenings of music and firelight have come again.

Not too many options for activities in this chapter. I could have gone deer hunting, but since I lacked, oh, pretty much EVERYTHING with which to go hunting, I decided to skip that one. I'm always a little paranoid about being mistaken for a deer anyway. I mean, if hunters can shoot a school bus by mistake, what chance do I have?

Making a doll quilt like Mary and Laura seemed much safer. Of course, nothing but hand-sewing would do, and I decided to keep a journal of my experiences.

Day 1: Today I picked out the fabric for my charming doll quilt. How exciting! I loved shopping amongst all the lovely fabrics; it was certainly hard to choose, but I feel I picked some very nice colors. My quilt will be a thing of beauty.

Day 2: Today I cut out the pieces for my adorable doll quilt. I've decided to do a basic appliqued heart pattern. Nothing too fancy---after all, this is all going to be done by hand. I'm sure it won't take me too long to finish such a simple little piece.

Day 10: Working on getting the hearts ready for application. I tried ironing the edges under, but that didn't work, so I had to do a basting/gathering stitch around the edge before I turned it under. Oh, well. Sewing is so relaxing I don't mind the extra work. I just wish I were making faster progress.

Day 36: Finished readying the hearts for sewing today. Found out that they are too big for their squares. No problem---ha, ha, ha. I still have plenty of fabric, so I'll just cut bigger squares. Crumbs. Just realized that I will have to re-cut all my other pieces now, too. Making this quilt is turning out to be a little more work than I thought, but it's worth it. So few people take the time to create things of lasting worth anymore. The modern world demands instant gratification; I'm glad to do my part to stem the tide and bring back an appreciation of old-fashioned values.

Day 54: Got three of my hearts sewn on. Lost the other one. Please tell me I don't have to start over with another one! I think I'll wait a few days and see if I can find it....

Day 75: Found the heart today. Now to sew it on. Hand sewing is trickier when you have cats that want to floss their teeth on your thread! Sometimes I have to sew standing up just so I can work without being attacked. But my quilt blocks are looking very nice. It's given me new energy to press on. Surely it won't be long now.

Day 92: Learned how to blanket stitch today. Tricky, but used the trusty ol' pioneer standby "You-tube Tutorial", so finally got it. To add to the authentic, rustic appeal I decided to make my stitches random and uneven. It was hard to overcome my native talent for perfect stitching, but I want this quilt to look just as if a young Laura Ingalls had stitched it herself.

Day 133: Finished the blanket stitching. Started to sew the actual quilt together. Am doing the same effect with my seams as with the blanket stitch---rustic and authentic. Beginning to doubt I will ever be finished, but trying to keep the faith. No wonder girls started working on quilts for their hope chest as soon as they could hold a needle! And many of them didn't marry until late in their 60's and 70's just so they could finish!

Day 198: Half-way done with the quilt top. Why didn't I make a hot pad?

Day 247: In the home stretch of the quilt top. Last border to put on. Discovered I forgot to make two of the sides longer to finish the rectangle. Will have to put in extra set of squares in the corners...no one will know it wasn't on purpose. Turns out to be a good thing I forgot, because, as the photo shows, I don't have enough fabric to make it all the way around and have to piece the final 3 inches.

Day 560: Completed the quilt top last night. My fingers have more holes in them than a colander. Whose stupid idea was this anyway?

Day 1,498: I have the quilt pinned to the batting and backing now. Beginning to work on the quilting. Slow going. Might not live to complete it....

Day 2,041: Still quilting. My fingers are killing me, and if I get one more needle under my fingernails, I'm going to scream.


Day 3,989: Quilting not done yet. Can't last much longer. Fingers three inches shorter...Several of them have left completely in protest.

Day 5,467:Done quilting! Only two more steps to completion--I have to baste on the binding, then stitch it on. I think I feel my strength being renewed. Wait.....wait....nope.

Day 12,468,391: Almost finished! Sewing on the buttons. Hands cramping. I'll never play the violin again..........

Day 3,450,183,693: Done! I made the last snip today. It was an event on par with the driving of the golden spike as far as historical significance is concerned. I think I might do this again sometime--oh, in another lifetime or so.

This is me before I started the quilt.

This is me after finishing the quilt.

Now that my beautiful doll quilt/wall hanging is finished I need to find it a nice home. If you want to be the lucky owner of such exquisite workmanship, post your favorite cookie recipe in the comments and I will draw a name randomly. Then I will sit around eating cookies and getting fat until my hands recover sufficiently to do anything else but lift baked goods to my mouth.

For entry in the drawing post your recipe no later than February 15, 2012. If you don't know me outside of the blog, make sure to check back and see if you won because I will have other no way of letting you know. Also, if you try to comment and it won't let you, just email your recipe entry in if you know me and I will post it. Good luck!