Posts Tagged ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder’

It sounded like a raindrop.


The rusty colored grasses and spent blooms danced in the sun-dried breeze.


The cloudless sky’s likeness reflected on the water of the expansive slough which had receded considerably from its banks during the long dry spell.


The distinctive smell of rain, petrichor, was non-existent; the earth dry as a bone. We needed rain.


 Then there it was,  the gentle folding of a stem, a leaf, a flower gone to seed.


It was the weight of grasshoppers landing on the leaves and stems and faded flower past their prime that were making the sound; a prelude to Autumn’s splendor.

I sat on a bench for a bit, listening to this primal sound of nature. I never heard it before – or had I forgotten what I heard? I remembered catching grasshoppers as a child, wondering if it was really tar that grasshoppers ejected, but, not this sound. The simple pleasure of discovery on an October afternoon.

As I rested on the bench, I continued to hear the plop, plop, plop of grasshoppers. I thought of the plague of grasshoppers that wiped out all of Pa’s wheat in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, “By the Shores of Plum Creek”.  The grasshoppers, which were actually Rocky Mountain locusts, first appeared as a black cloud on the horizon. They dropped down and decimated the Ingalls’ crops and neighbors’ crops, destroying all of that year’s wheat harvest. Then, they laid eggs which meant more grasshoppers the next spring. They destroyed the following year’s crops. To make matters worse, the grasshoppers flew into the little house, down the chimney, through cracks in the chinking, covering the floor, clothing, everything. A natural disaster, for certain, and one I would not want to experience.

I arose and continued on my walk. Yellow finch flitted past, here and there with their distinctive, dipping flight pattern, darts of golden energy. Bees hummed on their nectar finding missions and a flock of geese came in for a landing, honking like harried cab drivers in the Loop. Geese never arrive unannounced, unlike the great blue heron that swooped in without a sound and landed on the reedy shore.

My walk ended, but not my amazement as I noticed that the maples were starting to turn color. I held the hope in my heart that we just might have a colorful fall after all.






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“Often a butterfly stopped to rest there.

Then Laura watched the velvety wings…”

On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder


Like the young Laura Ingalls of the Little House books, I watch the “velvety wings” of butterflies. I squeal with girlish glee when a Monarch flits by, dipping around as if by the mere breath of the breeze, partaking of the abundance of native flowers flourishing in our prairie garden.

The plight of the Monarch butterfly has been well documented and its migratory flight has been monitored for more than a decade. I have often shared photos and thoughts about the Monarchs and bees in the journey of this little blog, from travels afar to what is right under my nose here along the Cutoff.

Last summer was alarming, especially here when I saw but one Monarch. One. This year, I have spotted at least a dozen and have found Monarch eggs and caterpillar on the milkweed – enough times to have perfected my happy dance. Butterflies have been flitting about and stopping to sip on the Joe Pye Weed, the Monarda (bee balm), and Echinacea (cone flowers) which are all a bloom in these dog days of summer. There are bees and moths and other pollinators that also show up on sunshiny days, sipping sweet nectar from the cups of flowers. It is a regular insects’ tea party, if ever there was one, here among the native plants and some of their distant relatives.

This increased activity is encouraging for those of us who have worried about the changes in nature that have occurred in these past decades; we counters of bees, planters of pollinators and taggers of “velvety wings” who have become a small army of citizen scientists. I am cautiously optimistic.

As I brandished my watering wand, I reflected on how much is yet to be done and how much has already been accomplished on our little acreage . I watered some newly introduced cone flowers and pulled that rascal, Creeping Charlie, who was cavorting  among the feverfew and indigo, and I imagined Laura’s life along Plum Creek.

How our little prairie has grown! Established in August, 2013, it is now a crowded confusion of exuberance and joy that will need dividing and some expansion of plots come Autumn. For now, I’m enjoying watching those velvety wings of nature as the plants reach for the sun and spread their arms in a blowzy embrace of prairie life.

I remain appreciative of all the green thumbs who shared their plants in our little adventure, and I am optimistic with this glimmer of hope for the Monarchs and the bees.

Here are a few photos of the prairie garden being developed in 2013

and recent photos of the garden today.










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“Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder. “Little House in the Big Woods”

That little girl’s name was Laura. She grew up to become one of America’s most beloved children’s authors with her books, commonly known as the Little House Books, still in publication.


Today is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday.

Those of you who have been visiting with me here on the Cutoff for some time know of my love of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories growing up on the vast prairies of the midwest in the second half of the 19th century. You know how I often read “The Long Winter” during snowstorms and of my visits to several of the Little House sites, most recently the one in Burr Oak, Iowa. If you are new to my site, or don’t know about the Little House books, please feel free to click onto the links to learn a bit more.

It is “Little House in the Big Woods” that has started countless schoolchildren on the long journey with Laura and her family that begins in the North Woods of Wisconsin and is one of the first “chapter” books read aloud to children in schools.

This one little book. written when Laura was in her sixties, is a chronicle of midwestern settlers who formed and farmed the heartland of the United States.

“Little House in the Big Woods” was followed by more books that chronologically tell of the Ingalls’ journey across frozen Lake Pepin to Minnesota and Iowa and the Dakota territory. Laura Ingalls Wilder brought the pioneer spirit alive. She still does as her books take us into their sod house, log cabins and shanties, enduring grasshopper plagues, near starvation, and illness that leaves Laura’s sister Mary blind.  Ma’s cheery disposition and ability to cook anything and Pa’s fiddle strings playing the girls up to their beds at night and all the adventures, both big and small, continue to entertain, educate and inspire children young and young at heart

I was so excited to learn of her birthday today that I just may stop right here and read the first chapter of “Little House in the Big Woods” . . . well, you know what will happen if I do that, don’t you?

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The first day of spring usually has us covered in snow with temperatures below freezing and a mighty March wind blowing. This year – well,  this year has given us the oddest of winters and record-breaking high temperatures. Trees are in leaf with fruit trees in blossom, the daffodils are nearly spent, and the mosquitoes are already on the offensive.

Can a game of tag be brewing?

Yes it can.

Sunday Taylor, who pens the exquisite post Ciao Domenica, recently “tagged” me, along with several other bloggers. I was happily reading her post, learning eleven things about her, enjoying her fabulous photographs and absorbing her well written words, when I came to her list of the eleven bloggers she was tagging. There sat my very own name . Surprised, I did a double take, smiled at the sweetness of recognition, not only of myself but of several other wonderful bloggers I frequent, and was excited to read some new ones.

Sunday then posed eleven new questions for each of us to answer and a challenge to “tag” eleven others.

Taking a cue from Perpetua, who creatively responded to a Kreativ Blogger award recently, I decided to bend the guidelines a bit as we play tag on my little playground here. Instead of answering all eleven questions in one post, I will do it in several, “tagging” a blogging friend each time along the way.

I will also invite you, dear reader, to answer the question as well.

Ready. Set, Go!


This is a hard question for someone who likes to read as much as I do, but, when pushed on the playground of life to answer, I would have to say that my favorite writer is Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books. Though it is difficult to say which one  is my favorite, Little House on the Prairie defines the series and the spirit of the Ingalls family, especially Laura.

I admire Laura’s sense of adventure and her appreciation of the wide open prairies which, to me, also signifies the wide open possibilities of life. Being the oldest, I’m more like Laura’s big sister Mary; quiet and well-behaved, studious and proper. I would much rather be like Laura, running through fields of wildflowers with my bonnet off or watching the wolves baying in the safety of Pa’s arms.

I love the sense of place that the Little House books bring; the story of the homesteading spirit that moved families across the prairies and settled much of the United States, with a young girl named Laura being the story’s protagonist.

I often post about the Little House books and have visited several of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, most recently this past Autumn. The fact that Laura first started writing the Little House books at the age of 65 gives me encouragemen. Maybe, I, too, can write such a book. How does Little House on the Cutoff sound?

Rachel over at Book Snob was also tagged by Sunday. I encourage you to visit her wonderful blog.. As part of her year-long experience in New York, Rachel set out  “reading America” and included several Wilder books in her quest. Rachel’s well written book reviews, worthy of literary publication, bring a new generation’s perspective to these classic stories. One of her posts on Laura’s books can be found here.

Who is your favorite author?

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“In 1906 Laura Ingalls Wilder visited her daughter, Rose, in Kansas City, MO. While she was there this studio picture was made. Her life in the LITTLE HOUSE books was just a memory and her writing career had not begun.”

From a postcard of Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, Mansfield, Missouri

If you guessed Laura Ingalls Wilder as the lady in yesterday’s post, you were correct.

It was many years after posing for this picture that Laura began writing what became known as the LITTLE HOUSE books. When most of us think of Laura Ingalls Wilder, we think of a little girl with her long hair flowing and a bonnet hanging down her back, for Laura did not like to wear hats. We may think of her as the matronly woman below, but, we rarely think of her striking such a pose. It tickled my fancy when I saw the postcard in the gift shop in October when Tom and I visited one of the Laura Ingall’s Wilder sites in Burr Oak, Iowa.

Those of you who have read my blog for a while know my love and appreciation of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her children’s books. The LIttle House books are the story of Laura and her family as they travel from Pepin, Wisconsin to the vast, unsettled prairies, living in cabins and depots and sod houses. Hers is the story of family, with all the hardships and joys that life has to offer, especially during the second half of the 19th century as families moved further and further west, seeking good farm land and opportunities. Her books are the story of the pioneering spirit that settled much of the United States.

Those of you unfamiliar with my ramblings on LMA and this remarkable series of books that have delighted children, and children at heart like me, might want to start at the blog I wrote last fall. That one will lead you to others if you wish more. You can find it here.

Better yet, forget my blog. Go right to the books, starting with Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. If you are stuck under several feet of snow, read about The Long Winter.

You were such good sports about not telling who the lovely lady was, and patient in waiting if you did not.  Thank you.

I have always been in awe of Laura. She wrote for local newspapers during her adult life, but it wasn’t until she was 65 years old that her first book was published. Her books have remained on the bookshelves in stores, libraries, and homes ever since and have brought to life a unique time in American history.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how a picture on a postcard can become an online conversation in a blog? I wonder how Louisa, and other writers as well, would feel about this thing we call the internet and about blogging.

Our tea was delightful. I wore a feather in my flowered hat, and will tell you all about it in another post.

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Saturday’s road trip had the pioneering feel of the Little House on the Prairie books. Maybe it was the aura of visiting the Burr Oak/Laura Ingalls Wilder site earlier this month.  There we were, Ma and Pa, off to market in the buckboard. Okay, it wasn’t a buckboard. It was our 21st century mocha colored VW with a latte interior. We were loaded down with provisions. Well, not really provisions. A cooler with soda and granola bars and apples. Does the bottled water count as provisions? The sun was our guide as we headed southwest. I know, it was really the GPS system/mapquest/google earth that we navigated by. We didn’t want to get lost.

The rattling started as we merged onto Route 66. Well, not really Route 66. The interstate that replaced it. Interstate 55. The rattle was real. As we accelerated, we heard a thumping sound that seemed to come from the rear. Pa pulled over to check those things Pas check when it sounds like the wheels of the buggy are coming off. The wheels, er, tires, were just fine, and off we went again, only to hear the rattling again at about 55 mph. Pa suspected a loose belt, while Ma fretted that her own belt was too tight. A little more horsepower, and the rattling abated.

I didn’t hear the honking horn, nor did I see the driver motioning to Pa and pointing to the roof of our mocha machine. I was surprised when Pa pulled over, emergency lights flashing. “Well, Ma,” says Pa, “that driver was pointing and had his fingers up to his ears like he was trying to tell me something”. Was it a seatbelt hanging out? A walnut hidden for the hard winter by a squirrel? A branch, perhaps, from the grass where we have been parking the car while the tar dries? What in tarnation was it?

Pa poked his head in and said “open the sunroof”. Huh? “Just open the sunroof, Ma”. So, open it I did. A bit of a sound, then Pa’s handsome but sheepish face peaking in.

The rubberized cover of Pa’s iPhone, which had inadvertently been left on the roof of the mochamobile while Pa was loading provisions, had, just barely, gotten stuck in the trim of the sunroof, where it rattled away at the posted speed limit, hanging on for dear life. Did you know that was an iPhone application? *** UPDATE BELOW

Enough excitement for one post. I’ll tell you about our  arrival at the 3 French Hens Market and then to the prairie later. In-the-meantime, make sure when you are loading up your buggy for a ride that you leave nothing to chance – not even your iPhone.

*** It was the entire iPhone that was on the roof. The edge of the cover was what saved the phone from oblivion.

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Driving away from the Effigy Mound National Monument, we wandered a bit west, near the border between Iowa and Minnesota, to the little town of Burr Oak, Iowa. It was enough west from our earlier ride for the landscape to flatten out. It was still rural and picturesque. Soon, we found ourselves on the Laura Ingalls Wilder historic route. Fancy that!

In her “Little House” books, Laura Ingalls Wilder omits the few years her family spent in Burr Oak where they helped run the hotel for room and board. It was a sad time for the Ingalls family. The only son, Freddy, a baby, died there. It was a hard existence inside the hotel. I don’t mind that this has been left out. The “Little House” books are based on Laura’s childhood pioneering homesteads. The books are novels for children. They remain favorite reads.

Modern Burr Oak is a very small town of a few businesses, a grill, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum. Here I am, happy as a lark, about to enter the Visitor’s Center, where we got our bearings, inquired about a place to eat, and made plans to come back in a short while for a docent tour of the Masters’ Hotel across the road.

A few pork tenderloin sandwiches and a lot of calories later, we began our tour with a small gaggle of women out for the day, only one of whom was a kindred Wilder spirit. Tom was a real trooper.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a series of children’s books about her life as a pioneer girl from the north woods of Wisconsin to the prairies of Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa and the Dakota Territory. She published her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 65. Eight more books, and generations of boys and girls, and me, have delighted in her simple stories of life homesteading, braving blizzards, making do with what the land yields, and, well, the pioneer spirit that broke the soil and settled our vast land. An unpublished memoir of Laura’s documented the Ingalls’ stay in Burr Oak. To see this site and some of Laura’s belongings was supreme joy for me.

Click on to get a clearer view of the hotel/museum.

In the Long Winter, which I have read again and again, the Ingalls spend the winter in town, where they and the townspeople nearly perish from starvation as the winds and snow of the great blizzard ravage the prairie. Laura helps Pa make twists of hay to throw into the fire for fuel. The scene plays out in page after page of the book, but, I could never quite visualize what these looked like. Here it is.

At the time the Ingalls lived in the hotel, living in a single room, cooking meals for up to 25 boarders, three times a day, up to 200 wagon passed by each day, filled with all the worldly possessions of folks looking for a better chance at life. It was a time of economic depression, plagues of grasshoppers, failed crops, maddening blizzards, and hope. The docent pointed out a framed document showing that even Laura’s Pa, Charles Ingalls, a hard-working and self-sufficient man, needed a little help from the U.S. Government in 1875.  It was for a half bushel of flour valued at $5.25.

 I was so excited to be there and already knew most of the Ingalls story, that the docent finally said “If you have any question, just ask Penny.” It was fun to learn that his wife’s nephew had worked for a time with our Jennifer. It is a small world, isn’t it?

Tom and I both saw this dresser in one of the boarding rooms at the same time. His mom’s family had one just like it. Tom’s maternal ancestors were homesteaders in Ohio. We still have furniture from the farm, but, not the chest, which also knew Jennifer for a short time.

Can you imagine sleeping on this bed? Three to a bed? The little cozy on the chamber pot is rather cute, but, I’m grateful for our indoor plumbing with flushing toilets, aren’t you? Every few days, the bed coverings would be pulled back and the ropes would be pulled and tightened. The coverings would be aired out and beaten to remove any bugs. This is where the phrase “sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite” originates.

We spent a few hours in Burr Oak and have loads of pictures of all of the artifacts there, but, I’ve taken up enough of your time, so, will say goodbye for now, dear reader. I think I need a bath and I’m certainly glad I don’t have to pay extra for hot water.

Have you read any of the “Little House” books? Do you have a favorite?

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. . .  An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving


When Ma and Pa Bassett are suddenly called to Grandmother’s house in the middle of Thanksgiving preparations, the six Bassett children left at home, lead by oldest sister Tilly, decide to make a turkey dinner anyways.

Set in 19th century New Hampshire, this is one of Louisa May Alcott’s short stories that found its way into book form. I discovered it when we visited the river town of Stillwater, MN, home to many used and antiquarian bookstores. This lovely edition  jumped into my hands and followed me home. I like to take it out and read it around Thanksgiving. The illustrations in this edition, by Holly Johnson, are evocative of the Garth Williams pictures in the Little House books and remind me of Tasha Tudor.

In between cleaning and baking a Jack-o-Lantern Tea Loaf, I pulled the book off of the shelf and browsed through it once again as the pictures took me away to an 1800’s farm in the east, and I scanned the recipes for Cranberry Sauce with Raisins, Johnny Cake, and Louisa May Alcott’s Apple Slump that follow the story in the back of the book.

After I set the table for tomorrow’s dinner, cover the pumpkin bread and pull out the big pans for the turkey and sweet potatoes, I think I’ll make a cup of tea, settle into a comfy chair, and read anew this little treasure, written in the 1870’s, not long after Abraham Lincoln declared a national day of Thanksgiving. It is a good time to sit and reflect on all the things I have to be thankful for, including you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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