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.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Chapter 17: Pa Goes to Town

"Before dawn, Pa went away. When Laura and Mary woke, he was gone and everything was empty and lonely. It was not as though Pa had only gone hunting. He was gone to town and he would not be back for four long days."

Laura and Mary stay in the house with Ma all morning. It is too big and empty outside with Pa gone. At noon Laura and Ma goes outside to move the cow's picket line to fresh grass. Then they go back inside until evening chore time.

Ma is just putting on her bonnet to go milk the cow when all the hair stands up on Jack's back and he rushes out of the house. They hear a yell, "Call off your dog! Call off your dog!" It is Mr. Edwards. Pa asked him to come by each day and check on Ma and the girls. He has come at chore time so he can help with the chores.

But now he is on top of the woodpile with Jack growling and trying to get to him. Ma makes Jack let Mr. Edwards down, but Jack keeps an eye on him the whole time he is doing chores.

That night everything is dark and lonely. A wolf howls out on the prairie, but Laura is not afraid. Ma has pulled the latch string through the stout door and Jack is in the house with them. Nothing can get to them; they are safe.

The next day is empty and long like the first one. Mrs. Scott comes to visit and talks to Ma. She says interesting things about massacres, but Ma changes the subject. Later Ma says Laura will have to be older before she can know what a massacre is.

Mr. Edwards comes again to help with chores and Jack chases him up the wood pile again. Laura and Mary think about Pa, camping that night in the town of Independence. Tomorrow morning he will shop and by tomorrow afternoon he should be on his way home again!

The wind blows bitterly cold for the next two days. Pa must travel into the wind to reach the little log cabin. On the second day, Laura and Mary begin to watch for Pa. They wait all afternoon and all evening, but Pa doesn't come. Only the wind blows and blows and blows.

Ma lets them stay up and wait for Pa, but finally Laura falls asleep sitting up on the bench. She falls right onto the floor and Ma says they must go to bed. Ma sits by the fire in her rocking chair waiting and waiting.

Laura doesn't even know when she falls asleep again, but next thing she knows, Pa is standing in the cabin. His clothes are cold and his boots are caked with frozen mud. He is very tired, but he wraps Laura and Mary in Ma's shawl and takes them on his lap. He is glad to be home.

Pa drinks a cup of nice, hot coffee and shows Ma and the girls the treasures he has brought from town. First he shows them a flat, square package wrapped carefully in brown paper. It is full of eight small squares of glass for their window! Ma is so pleased; now they will be able to look out the window this winter.

Pa also shows them a little paper sack full of pure, white sugar. Ma puts it away carefully to be used when company comes. Pa has also brought lots of nails, salt pork, tobacco for him, and cornmeal for corn bread. It is so nice. Now they will have enough of everything all winter long.

It's kind of interesting to read this chapter just as I'm gearing up for another monthly shopping trip. Once a month I go buy out Walmart and haul home hundreds of different kinds of items---pet supplies, groceries, household items, etc., etc. You know, just the simple necessities for modern life. Perhaps I should surprise Caleb by coming back this time with only cornmeal and sugar. Wouldn't he be excited!

Now, I know that the cornmeal Pa picked up in Independence was already ground at a mill somewhere. Even in those pioneer days, women had risen up in rebellion against the ancient method of hand milling. In fact, grist mills date back before the Roman Empire. Those ancient housewives must have been feisty!

But I wanted to try grinding corn the OLD-fashioned way. It seemed more authentic. More real. More in touch with history. More like I had no mill to use.

So I went out in the bitter cold and selected two nice rocks. It was a complicated selection process with stringent requirements----mainly I had to be able to kick them loose from where they were frozen to the ground.

Then they went through an important seasoning process where I scrubbed off all the dirt and dead vegetation. There was a limit to the amount of crunch I was willing to accept in my corn muffin.

I dried the rocks and placed a handful of popcorn kernels on the bottom rock. Popcorn kernels are smaller than regular grinding corn, but still work.

Then I started to grind the corn. Turns out dry corn is pretty hard...the kernels went flying and suffered no noticeable damage in the process. But I kept at it, though I did mentally downsize the amount of cornmeal I planned to get.

It was around this time that Caleb got home from school. Slam! "I'm starving, Mom! What's for dinner?"

He walks into the kitchen and sees me with my two rocks, grinding away at the corn.

"I'm making supper as fast I can, Sweety."

"Are you kidding me!?"

Have you ever seen a teenage boy cry?

My dad also stopped by, but somehow didn't want to stay for dinner. I don't know why---cornbread and chili beans is one of his favorite meals. He did let me know a fascinating historical fact: Old-fashioned stone-ground grain had powdered bits of rock in it and actually ground off people's teeth over time.  

Hmmmm. Maybe I'll just mix the cornmeal in only ONE special  muffin!

I worked at it for about twenty minutes before I got bored.  My family never would have made it back in ancient times! Or they would have learned to like REALLY crunchy bread. By the time I finished, I had quite a bit of powder on my grinding rock-----but still mixed in with large chunks of hardened corn. So I mentally downsized my expectations yet again and ran it all through a colander.

I ended up with about a tablespoon of extremely....hearty cornmeal. And I think almost half of it was actually corn!

Fiesta Surprise Cornbread:

2 1/2 c flour
2 c cornmeal
1/2 c sugar
4 t baking pwd.
1 t salt (I think I would increase this by at least 1/4 t next time)

Mix together

2 eggs
2 1/4 c milk
1/2 c melted butter
1/2 c frozen corn
1 4-oz. can green chilis
1 can sliced olives

Mix in separate  bowl and fold into mix; add small amount of water if needed.  Pour into greased pan and bake at 350  35-40 minutes until done.

That's an OLIVE, not a rock.....

Ready to eat the delicious "special" muffin that has the homemade cornmeal mixed in it......

First bite......

Mmmmmmmm! Tastes good.

But even Caleb can hear the chunks of corn? grinding in my mouth....

Delicious! I would recommend this recipe to anyone.

Though you may want to leave out the authentic stone-ground part......

Just a suggestion.

"Everything was alright when Pa was there. And now he had nails, and cornmeal, and fat pork, and salt, and everything. He would not have to go to town again for a long time."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chapter 16: Fire in the Chimney

"The prairie had changed. Now it was a dark yellow, almost brown, and red streaks of sumac lay across it. The wind wailed in the tall grass, and it whispered sadly across the curly, short buffalo grass. At night the wind sounded like someone crying."

It is fall. The days are growing shorter and cooler. It is time for Pa to go to town. He couldn't go during the heat of summer because it would have been too hard for Pet and Patty. Pa gets the grass-hay cut and stacked by the barn, ready for winter. Now all he has to do is go hunting so Ma and the girls won't run out of meat while he is gone.

The next morning Pa takes his gun and heads down into the creek bottoms. There are lots of geese and wild ducks by the creek, resting on their way south. Laura and Mary hear a shot echo in the woods and they know Pa has got some meat.

That afternoon the wind is cold and fierce. Pa is still not back from hunting, but Ma calls Laura and Mary into the house. Ma builds up the fire and sits rocking Baby Carrie. The wind blows and blows.

Laura hears a crackling noise in the chimney. Ma hears it, too, because she leans forward and looks up the chimney. Then she gets up, puts Baby Carrie in Mary's arms and pushes her into the rocking chair. Ma hurries outside and Laura runs after her.

The whole top of the chimney is on fire! The chimney-top is made of sticks and mud, and all the sticks are burning up. Ma grabs a long pole and starts hitting the burning chimney, trying to knock it away from the house. Laura grabs a pole too, but Ma tells her to stay away. Burning sticks are falling all around them and Ma doesn't want Laura to get hurt.

Laura runs back into the house. Burning sticks are falling down the chimney and the house is full of smoke. One big stick rolls off the hearth and right under Mary's skirts. Mary is too afraid to move, but Laura grabs the great, heavy rocking chair and pulls it backward, moving Mary and Baby Carrie to safety. Then she grabs the burning stick and throws it back into the fireplace just as Ma comes in.

"That's a good girl," says Ma. She pours water all over the fire in the fireplace. Soon there is nothing left but a very smokey house. When Pa comes home, he finds the fire out and the house very cold. He goes to cut green sticks and builds the chimney up again so Ma can roast the four fat ducks he brought home.

Soon the house is snug and warm again. Pa says he will head for town early the next morning. Ma is happy. Now she can mail a letter to the folks back in Wisconsin. They can write back during the winter, and she might even hear from them as early as next spring.

Well, another challenging chapter. When is Laura going to do something like read a book, do a demure sewing project, or play on the computer? All this death-defying stuff wears a person out!

What a narrow escape they all had! It would be bad enough to have to fight a fire now, with hoses and water, and the fire department on the way because you called them on your cell phone. But Ma and the girls were out in the middle of a (dry) prairie with no resources except what their own efforts and ingenuity could provide.

And then to do all of that in a long dress and heavy petticoat. It's no wonder so many women suffered horrible burns or lost their life after their clothing caught fire. But for Laura's quick actions, Mary and Carrie might well have been buried out there on the windswept Kansas prairie.

So what to do for this chapter? I had no intention of lighting myself on fire, no matter how educational it might be. But there was no reason not to light someone ELSE on fire. Especially someone like Flamin' Fanny.

I started by going to the thrift store to find a dress I wouldn't feel bad about burning. It had to be ugly enough to deserve incineration and made of a cotton-type material, similar to the highly flammable calico that most pioneer dresses were made out of.  I found one that fit both criteria nicely. And a big thank you to the kind-hearted thrift store ladies who tried to find something nice to say about it.

"My. That dress is....interesting, Mabel."

"Yes, it is, Nancy. You don't see something like that every day. It's...........pretty."

Ladies, I'm going to burn it alive. You don't have to try so hard.

The dress wasn't quite long enough, so I added to its splendor by sewing a panel of brightly colored sheet material around the bottom. Lovely.

Then I had to wait several days for the temperature to get out of the minuses and the wind to die down. I had no intention of suffering while I burned Miss Fanny. At last the day dawned with mild enough conditions go conduct my little...experiment.

Because this is a family blog...

Fanny was constructed by Caleb out of a couple of 2x4's with an attractive pumpkin head. She was dressed in a full cotton sheet for a petticoat to give her those extra layers of combustible comfort. Then we fitted her dress over the top and fixed her hair. Voila, Flamin' Fanny, the Fearless Frontier Female.

The idea was to build a small fire at the feet of Fanny, then document her dress catching fire....perhaps smoldering a bit first, then a finger of flame licking up her gown, and finally, the tragic conflagration. That was the idea, anyway.

Didn't quite work out that way....

I built the fire alright, using cardboard and old shingles. I lit it in a couple of places, but the wind was still brisk and the little flames guttered and went out. It's 15 degrees outside, and I don't have much time to lay a pretty fire and coax it to life.

Time for the gasoline.

I am actually a HUGE chicken when it comes to fire, and while a male-type would probably splash some carelessly from the can onto the little firelet, I wasn't about to do any such thing. I poured a little bit on a shingle and laid it on the fire.

Let's just say it "caught".

By the time I could take 3 steps back from the fire, grab my camera, and turn it on......well, Fanny was already fully involved. It wasn't just because of the gas. She was actually starting to go before I even got the shingle over there. It was just that her dress went up SO quickly.

If she were a pioneer woman, she would have had 10 seconds or less to respond and get the fire out before it got critically bad.

So here is the first shot I got off of poor Fanny...

At this stage, I think she could have still been saved. Some quick thinking and some stop-drop-and-roll, and she could have gotten the fire out. The same things that made it so dangerous---her thick petticoat and long dress---would help to protect her in those first few seconds...which I imagine were usually spent running and screaming; perhaps trying to tear the dress away.

"'Don't cry, Laura," Ma said, stroking her hair. "Were you afraid?"

"Yes," Laura said. "I was afraid Mary and Carrie would burn up. I was afraid the house would burn up and we wouldn't have any house. I'm--I'm scared now!"

The next sequence of photos (and the video that follows) were all taken during the same minute---the last minute of Fanny's life.

Her hair went fast.....

VERY fast!

As you can see, she was not only in flames within a minute, but her dress was almost wholly consumed in those 60 seconds.

It was a very thrilling and educational experience, but one that was sobering as well. For too many women, Flamin' Fanny's fate was a terrifying reality; maimed or killed in the line of duty---by the very uniform required of their sex. It was a graphic reminder that nostalgia is a whole lot more romantic than actually living during "the good ol' days".

Poor Fanny!