Saturday, November 13, 2010

Just Like Ma Ingalls

I've gone through several stages in my life where I've felt an awful lot like Ma Ingalls. I loved enjoying the Little House books with my kids when they were younger. At the time, we were going through what I refer to as our "self sufficiency phase" and living off the grid in the mountains of northern California, and the books were a perfect fit.

Basically, "off the grid" means we had no power from an electric company, and therefore, we had very little in the way of electricity. We had a ridiculously small propane refrigerator, (with not even enough freezer space for a carton of ice cream) and a wood stove to keep warm. Every few days, I would fire up our ancient generator to wash a load of laundry, and I tried very hard to time this during Sesame Street so I could have a few minutes on the computer while I had power and my children were occupied. Eventually, we bought a tiny solar panel that gave us a few house lights when it wasn't foggy, but it usually was foggy, so it wasn't often we had those lights. Mostly, we read at night by oil lamp, and went to bed early in the winter.

Farmer Boy (Little House)I realized back then that I am no Ma Ingalls. She was far more patient and hardy than I am, or at least her daughter Laura never mentions Ma complaining or freaking out about the hardships of trying to live off the land. I did both on a semi regular basis so I guess she was made of stronger stuff than I am. But, I'm glad we did try out that life. I know my kids gained valuable lessons in those few years, and so did I. I still love living in the country, but truth be told, I really like having a dishwasher.

Anyway, I realized recently that my Boy Child was so young, he barely remembers the Little House series, and he will probably soon be too old to be interested in reading them with me. So, before the time is past, I borrowed Farmer Boy and we curled up together to read. I could see him relating to the character of Almanzo and his life with his animals, just as I'd hoped. The BB gun came out, and he spent hours target shooting at cans. He wanted to make old fashioned ice cream, candles and a yoke for his goats (who I suspect would not appreciate  it.) We haven't made the ice cream yet, and I think we'll pass on the goat yoke, but we did roll some bees wax candles. Ma used lard from a freshly butchered pig, but again, I'm no Ma. We also checked out the Little House Cookbook, and made some extremely tasty home-made lemonade. We attempted butter making, but learned that no amount of shaking turns 1% milk into creamy butter. Boy child even took the book off to read on the wood pile by himself a few times, and was so engrossed, he didn't even notice the chicken reading over his shoulder. He came away every time inspired for more good old fashioned fun.

One cool project that we got my dear husband (aka "Pa" for this post) involved in was making lanterns. I am not so handy with tools, so when my big ideas require heavy or sharp metal objects, I usually tell the kids to go ask their father in a really excited and smiley way, and most of the time, they are able to enlist his help.  For our lanterns, we used a couple of metal cans that were headed to the recycling center. They drew dots in the shape of their chosen design- a star for Boy Child and a peace sign for Girl Child- and placed them over a wooden dowel. It required some hands on holding from Pa while they smashed holes in the can with a hammer and nail. Another benefit of not being handy with tools is that my fingers were not at risk at any time during this project. Pa was not so lucky.

We were really happy with the results. I like it when craft projects end up being useful and not just more dust collectibles in an already cluttered "little house." We put in a couple of (store bought) tea candles and had a nice candle lit supper. I think these will look lovely on the porch for a winters evening celebration as well.

We also watched a couple of episodes of the TV show, which Girl Child was a little disappointed in since they really varied pretty strongly from the books. The whole experience of reliving the Little House books made me so glad for the simple country childhood my kids have had the chance to live. It also made me extremely grateful to live in the time that I do where a trip to town for supplies is 20 minutes in my station wagon rather than all day in a horse drawn one, and the fact that my supplies can include butter and ice cream that are ready to eat without hours of work on my part. So maybe I'm not just like Ma Ingalls, but I think we've found a really nice balance of old and new that includes a good amount of nature and technology. It all adds up to a pretty good life here in our little house.