Book Review: These Happy Golden Years

happy-golden-yearsThese Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder covers the time when Laura, at age 15, starts teaching school, to the time of her marriage at age 18.

It’s incredible to us today to think of someone teaching at age 15, before they have even finished high school. I don’t think that was the usual course even then, but a need arose, and Laura had passed the teaching examination and was willing to go.

This term was one of the most difficult of her life. The school was twelve miles from her home, and she boarded with the superintendent. His wife was sullen, mostly silent, and seemed to resent Laura’s being there. Later Laura heard her complaining about everything, not just Laura, so she knew it was just that she was unhappy in general rather than just resenting Laura. The woman was probably clinically depressed from what I can ascertain. At one point in the middle of the night she threatened her husband with a knife, but he talked her down. The conditions of both the house and the school were fairly primitive. The walls and floor of the school had cracked through which the cold seeped in. Sometimes Laura let the students do their lessons around the stove. Laura never really liked teaching, but it was a way she could earn money to help keep Mary in the college for the blind.

She was concerned that her youth and small stature would be a problem in trying to teach and discipline students who were bigger and older than she was. And indeed it was, but her parents’ good advice and her own ingenuity helped her over those hurdles.

The only thing that made this time bearable was the fact that it was only for that one term, plus Almanzo Wilder came and picked her up every Friday afternoon, took her home, and brought her back every Sunday. When her students referred to him as her beau, she didn’t want him to get the wrong idea, and told him she was just riding with him to get home, not because she had any interest in him. She expected he wouldn’t keep coming after that, but he did.

Finally the term was over and she was back at home, attending her own classes, which she had been able to keep up with by studying on her own. On weekends a lot of the young people paired up to go sleighing around town. Laura was feeling lonely and out of it when Almanzo came and asked if she’d like to go with him. Thus started a habit that continued on, riding the sleigh in the winter and the buggy in the spring and summer. Laura was not afraid even when Almanzo was breaking new horses in with the buggy, and she had to jump in as Almanzo could only pause for a few seconds before the horses took off again.

She taught two more terms of school in different places, continued with her own schooling, helped at home. Mary came home for a couple of visits. I enjoyed seeing Carrie mature and the relationship between her and Laura grow, as well as the rejoicing in the family when any one of them received something or had a good opportunity. Pa would have liked to move the family on again where the land was less settled, but he didn’t. Her descriptions of a couple of dresses Ma made, with all the detail, layers, lining, and bustle, made me very glad that fashions have changed since that time!

Almanzo was a quiet, not pushy, but persistent suitor. Laura didn’t give him much encouragement, as he was ten years older. At one point when someone called Laura a young lady, “she was startled” and had not thought of herself in that way and “was not sure she liked” it. But when Nellie Oleson tried to horn her way in to his attentions, I think perhaps Laura understood then just how much she actually did care for Almanzo. In Pioneer Girl, she wrote that after he had been away for a few months, “I hadn’t known that I missed him, but it was good to see him again, gave me a homelike feeling.” The way they got engaged was both sweet and funny.

One of my favorite scenes in the book is when she’s admiring their new home, particularly the spaciousness and organization of the kitchen and pantry that he had crafted for her.

I very much enjoyed this reread of this book.


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The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook

liw-cookbookWhen I saw The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook among the resources on Annette’s site, I had to look it up. Unfortunately, it’s out of print now, but used copies are available. I got mine for less than $4.

This is different from The Little House Cookbook, compiled by Barbara M. Walker, which shares recipes mentioned in the Little House books. This book was the result of finding Laura’s “home-made cookbook, waterlogged and wrinkled” “among reams of the yellowed papers that are a witness to her writing life” (p. vi).

Her cookbook was in the form of a scrapbook, which I enjoyed since I did mine that way as well. But hers was literally made of scraps. “The Wilders were extraordinary in their thrift and ingenious in recycling useful items. Laura’s cookbook exemplifies her careful economy…Recipes were pasted over pages of a cardboard-covered invoice book used by Almanzo while he was a fuel oil deliveryman in the early 1900s” (p. vii) as well as a calendar page and the back of letters. I tried writing notes on the backs of used paper in college, while money was extremely tight, and I couldn’t stand it. 🙂 It just seemed too confusing and messy. But for Laura this was probably a lifelong habit stemming from when they didn’t have money to get extra paper, or in some places where they lived when she was a child, there was no extra paper to be had.

It contains her owned penned recipes, “clippings from newspaper food columns or magazines,” meal ideas, “cooking advice from her mother…and daughter,” and even a tip about setting colors in cloth to avoid fading.

This cookbook doesn’t include the cooking advice or tips, but it does include several of Laura’s recipes, photos of Rocky Ridge farm, where Laura and Almanzo lived the bulk of their adult lives, by Leslie A. Kelly, and some commentary by Laura biographer William Anderson. I enjoyed seeing the photos of Laura’s home.

I even learned some things about Laura’s adult life that I hadn’t known before, like how she came to write columns for the Missouri Ruralist (its editor was a meeting where Laura was supposed to speak about raising poultry, which she had been asked to do because of her success in that endeavor. She could not attend but wrote out her speech to be read there.) Plus she took in boarders for a while (which they actually did portray in the “Little House: A New Beginning” TV series). The house had a lot of windows, and Laura would have “curtains hung straight at the sides, leaving the views undisturbed…’I don’t want curtains over my pictures'” she explained. Rose remarked, “She has windows everywhere, not only in her house but in her mind” (p. 144). She had a “behemoth” cookstove “circa 1905” which served her “for over a half-century” (p. 46). They later added a little electric stove for use for something quick or when it was too hot to use the cookstove, but she generally preferred the latter. In fact, the recipes had to be configured and tested in a modern kitchen for the book so they’d be more accessible to those who wanted to try them.

I also enjoyed learning a bit more about Almanzo.”While the careers of Laura and Rose brought renown to the Wilder name in journalism and literature, Almanzo was known as one of Wright County’s best farmers. Making Rocky Ridge farm productive was not an easy task; much of the land was stony and untillable. But Almanzo worked magic with the stubborn soil.” He was written up in the news for having a cow that produced “twenty-four pounds of milk at one milking,” “heads of wheat over seven inches long,” and a “fifteen-inch tomato.” He was both “a judge and a participant” in the Agricultural Stock Show and won many prizes (p. 56).

The recipes are primarily good old American cooking – meat loaf, chicken pie, chicken and dumplings, various side dishes, breads, desserts and beverages – with a few “adventurous” foreign-influenced dishes. Some of the entrees are not what we would call heart-healthy today. 🙂 But I have a few marked that I want to try, as well as a few from the different sections. The recipe she shared when asked for a favorite was her gingerbread, which I’d like to try some time, as well as Lemon Spice Puffs, Lemon Sticks, Whole Wheat Bread, Scalloped Corn Kansas, Farmhouse Stew, Gingernuts, and Applesauce Cake. The only one I have made so far is the Apple Upside Down Cake in her honor for her birthday.  I think I’ll leave the Liver Loaf, Chilled Meat Loaf, Glazed Beets, Dandelion Soup, and Lima Puree to others, though. 🙂

Reading her recipes while seeing photos of her home and hearing tidbits about her life was like a little visit with her. I think any Laura fan would like this book as well as anyone interested in vintage recipes.

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Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder!

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Today marks the 150th birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, famed write of the Little House on the Prairie books. In honor of her birthday, I made an Apple Upside-Down Cake from The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook, compiled from a scrapbook of her recipes (I’ll have more to say about the book in a later post). I actually made it on her birthday eve so I could have the photos ready for today. 🙂

A few of the apples stuck to the pan, but not as many as I feared!

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It made a one-layer 8-inch square cake, which I liked because with just the three of us, we don’t need a big cake. I had all of the ingredients on hand, which helped, too. It probably won’t replace this cake as a favorite apple cake, but it was good, especially warm with a bit of ice cream.

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I was going to share some fun facts about Laura in honor of her birthday, but then discovered I did that last year! But I’ll repost a few of them and add a few more:

  • She was born on February 7, 1867 and died February 10, 1957 (that’s why we hold the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge in February). Almanzo was born in February as well (the 13th), 10 years before Laura. According to the cookbook mentioned above, his favorite meal was Swiss Steak and he sometimes got it on his birthday.
  • She didn’t start writing the Little House books until she was in her 60s.
  • She had originally written one book called Pioneer Girl, but was advised to expand and edit it. This manuscript published for the first time a couple of years ago.
  • Pioneer Girl is factual, but the Little House books, though heavily based on Laura’s family, are fictional and arranged a little differently than real life, so there are some differences. For instance, Jack the dog’s death scene was totally fiction. Pa sold him.
  • Nellie Oleson was based on a composite of three different girls in Laura’s life.
  • Laura couldn’t spell very well — odd since she was a teacher and even wrote of competing well in spelling bees. It may be that in the original draft of Pioneer Girl, which was handwritten for her daughter, she was more concerned about getting it down that concentrating on spelling.
  • Before Laura wrote her books, she wrote a column for the Missouri Ruralist: most, if not all, of those columns have been compiled into a book called Little House in the Ozarks (liked to my review.) There are over 140 articles or columns arranged by topic, and the topics range from WWI, women’s progress, and “the greatness and goodness of God,” but most are just observations drawn from everyday life.
  • There was a Japanese series based on Laura’s novels called Laura, The Prairie Girl.
  • Both Laura and Almanzo were fairly short. She was 4’11” and he was 5’4″. They had the kitchen in the last house built for their height.
  • When asked why she didn’t write more books, one time she replied that the money she received from them cost her more in taxes. “She never found taxes on those who had labored their way to prosperity to be an incentive for even more labor” (Stephen W. Hines, I Remember Laura, p. 97). But another time she said that if she wrote more, she’d have to get into some of the sad times of her life (p. 122).
  • According to the cookbook, she used a wood cookstove most of the time, even after having an electric one installed just for quick things. Some of the recipes had to be configured for modern day regulated ovens.

Some of my favorite quotes of Laura’s from her columns in Little House in the Ozarks:

  • “Let’s be cheerful! We have no more right to steal the brightness out of the day for our own family than we have to steal the purse of a stranger. Let us be as careful that our homes are furnished with pleasant and happy thoughts as we are that the rugs are the right color and texture and the furniture comfortable and beautiful” (p. 37).
  • “It is a good idea sometimes to think of the importance and dignity of our everyday duties. It keeps them from being so tiresome; besides, others are apt to take us at our own valuation” (p. 130).
  • “Just as a little thread of gold, running through a fabric, brightens the whole garment, so women’s work at home, while only the doing of little things, is like the golden gleam of sunlight that runs through and brightens all the fabric of civilization” (p. 207).
  • “Here and there one sees a criticism of Christianity because of the things that have happened [during WWI]…. ‘Christianity has not prevented these things, therefore it is a failure’ some say. But this is a calling of things by the wrong names. It is rather the lack of Christianity that has brought us where we are. Not a lack of churches or religious forms but of the real thing in our hearts” (p. 265).

Favorite moments in Laura’s books:

  • When Mr. Edwards endured an arduous journey to bring Christmas presents to the Ingalls girls.
  • When Pa played his fiddle in the evenings.
  • When they thought they lost their dog, Jack, and he found them.
  • The church Christmas party where Laura gets her fur cape and muff.
  • The girls bringing in all the firewood during a storm when Ma and Pa are away after they heard about a house of children who froze.
  • When Laura admires the kitchen Almanzo built for her in the first home together.

Fun links about Laura:

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge Sign-up Post 2017

Welcome to the sixth Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge! I am especially excited for it this year as Feb. 7 marks her 150th birthday.

The basic idea is to read anything by or about Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the comments below let us know what you’re planning to read. On Feb. 28 I’ll have a wrap-up post where you can tell us how you did and what you thought, either in the comments or with a link back to your posts. You don’t have to have a blog to participate, but if you do I’d appreciate your linking back here.

If you’re looking for ideas for books other than the Little House books themselves, I have a list of Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, with some others listed in the comments there and here.

Sometimes participants have done projects or made recipes from the series as well. If you do so, please do share with us! Annette at Little House Companion has some activities and other resources.

I like to have some sort of drawing to offer a prize concluding the challenge, and I decided to once again offer one winner the choice of:

The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker

OR

Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

If neither of those suits you, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. To be eligible, leave a comment on the wrap-up post at the end of the month telling us what you read for this challenge. I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from then to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

For myself, I am planning on reading at least These Happy Golden Years, the next to last book in the series. I may go on to The First Four Years – or I may save that for next year.I also recently got a used copy of The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook, compiled from recipes found in Laura’s kitchen and supplemented with information about Laura’s life and photos of the Wilders and their home. I plan to at least read the supplemental information: I may even try one or two of the recipes.

How about you? Will you be joining us this year? What will you be reading?

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2017

I hope you’ll forgive multiple posts in a day. The first two were reading challenge wrap-ups, required for the challenge but probably not of interest generally to anyone else, especially since I’ve already posted books read in 2016 and my favorites thereof. 🙂 And I did want to get information posted about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge for this year.

The month of February contains the dates of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth and death, so it seems a fitting month to focus on her life and writings, especially this year, which marks her 150th birthday. This is our sixth year to host this challenge, and I have enjoyed it each time. Many of us grew up reading the Little House books. I don’t know if there has ever been a time when there wasn’t interest in the Little House series since it first came out. They are enjoyable as children’s books, but they are enjoyable for adults as well. It’s fascinating to explore real pioneer roots and heartening to read of the family relationships and values.

On Feb. 1 I’ll have a sign-up post where you can let us know if you’ll be participating and what you’d like to read. That way we can peek in on each other through the month and see how it’s going (that’s half the fun of a reading challenge). You can read anything by or about Laura. You can read alone or with your children or a friend. You can read just one book or several throughout the month — whatever works with your schedule. If you’d like to prepare some food or crafts or activities somehow relating to Laura or her books, that would be really neat too. Annette at the Little House Companion blog has some neat ideas for Laura-related activities. You do not have to have a blog to participate: if you don’t, you can just share with us in the comments on the sign-up post Feb. 1 that you’ll be participating.

On Feb 28 I’ll have a wrap-up post so you can link back to any posts you’ve written for the challenge or to a wrap-up post.

Need some ideas beyond the Little House books themselves? Annette, as I mentioned, has shared several books for children here. I compiled a list of Books Related to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some others are listed in the comments. Laura fan extraordinaire and historian Melanie Stringer has a treasure trove of information at Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I don’t know how many more years I will continue to host this challenge -probably just one or two – so I encourage you to join in before it’s all over. Have fun gathering your materials and planning what to read and do, and I’ll see you at the sign-up post on Feb. 1!

I am having trouble making a code that you can use to put the button on your site, but in the meantime, you can right click on the button below, click on “Save as”, then save it to your computer to use in your post. I’d appreciate your linking back to this post if you participate in the challenge. Thanks!

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge 2016 Wrap-Up


It’s the last day of February and so it is time to wrap up our Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge. If you’ve read anything by, about, or related to Laura this month, please share it with us in the comments. You can share a link back to your book reviews, or if you’ve written a wrap-up post, you can link back to that (the latter might be preferable if you’ve written more than one review — the WordPress spam filter tends to send comments with more than one link to the spam folder. But I’ll try to keep a watch out for them.) If you don’t have a blog, just share in the comments what you read and your thoughts about it. We’d also love to hear if you’ve done any “Little House” related activities.

I like to have some sort of drawing to offer a prize concluding the challenge, and as I thought about it this year, I decided to offer one winner the choice of:

The Little House Cookbook compiled by Barbara M. Walker

OR

Laura’s Album: A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder by William Anderson

If neither of those suits you, I can substitute a similarly-priced Laura book of your choice. To be eligible, leave a comment on this post by Friday telling us what you read for this challenge. I’ll choose a name through random.org. a week from today to give everyone time to get their last books and posts finished.

Personally, I read and reviewed Little Town on the Prairie here. I am still working on Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Smith Hill.

Thanks for participating! I hope you enjoyed your time “on the prairie” this month. It always leaves me with renewed admiration for our forebears and renewed thankfulness that I live in the times I do.

The drawing is closed: the winner is Melanie!

Book Review: Little Town on the Prairie

Little TownLittle Town on the Prairie is the seventh book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and takes place just after The Long Winter. Laura is 14 as the book opens. Her family is still working the claim her Pa has, but they move into town for the winter in case it’s as bad as the last one, both to be closer to what they need and because the claim isn’t sturdy enough to stay warm the whole winter yet.

As usual, the book tells about the joys and everyday experiences and chores of both of summer on the claim and then winter in the town.

One main focus of the family in this story is trying to earn money to send Mary to a college for the blind. Laura gets a temporary job sewing shirts for a seamstress in town (and sees interactions of a family very different from her own), but her main goal is to qualify for a teaching certificate at age 16, and then teach to earn money for Mary’s college, even though teaching doesn’t sound like a goal she would pursue otherwise.

Laura’s nemesis from an earlier book, Nellie Oleson, is back in this one. Though Nellie’s family is in reduced circumstances, she’s still the proud, scheming person she always was.

In town much of Laura’s time is spent at school. It doesn’t seem like there was a winter or Christmas break as we know them now – they went to school all through winter as long as the weather was good, except for the day of a holiday. One teacher Laura’s school had was Almanzo’s sister, who doesn’t have much control of the class, and the misbehavior escalates to extremes until the school board steps in. Laura doesn’t misbehave herself, but she feels guilty at smiling at (and thereby encouraging) some of the boys after she has a couple of negative interactions with Miss Wilder .

One difference in this book from the others is that the Ingalls’ family is seeming to settle down rather than moving from place to place. One highlight of the winter, when people couldn’t work outdoors, was the “Literaries” – evenings once a week where the townsfolk get together and do something for entertainment. One night it was a town-wide spelling bee, once it was people playing various musical instruments. One that is offensive to modern sensibilities is men (including Pa)  dressing in blackface paint and putting on a minstrel-type show.

One difference between the way they lived then and we live now (besides the obvious differences in technologies and living conditions, etc.) is the expectations of how people should act. For instance, after Pa’s visit with the school board to Laura’s school, at home Laura waits for him to talk to her about it, because”It was not her place to speak of what had happened, until he did” (p. 182). When Mary leaves for college, and little Grace starts crying, Laura hushes her with shame that such a big girl is crying. When the family walks into the church-wide Thanksgiving celebration, “Even Pa and Ma almost halted, though they were too grown-up to show surprise. A grown-up person must never let feelings be shown by voice or manner” (p. 228).

I’ve mentioned before that even when I am reading a book that is not necessarily written from a Christian viewpoint, I still read it with Christian eyes and try to discern where the people are coming from spiritually. I’ve never been quite able to figure that out with the Ingalls family. There was an era in our history when people were what we’d call God-fearing in the sense that they believed there was a God, that the Bible was His Word, that He punished or blessed people, that there was a heaven and hell, etc., yet weren’t truly believing on Christ as Savior (“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble” James 2:19). There are many Scriptural references and applications in the books. For instance, during the debacle at Laura’s school, she outwardly is the model student, but “she did not think then of the Bible verse that speaks of the cup and the platter that were clean only on the outside, but the truth is that she was like that cup and platter” (p. 167) because she resented, even hated Miss Wilder for her mistreatment of Laura’s sister, Carrie. She has a discussion with Mary about always feeling that Mary was good, but Mary says she wasn’t, confessing that even when she was trying to be as a child, much of the time it was from the motives of vanity and pride. She reminds Laura that the Bible says we’re “desperately wicked and inclined to evil” (p. 12) and says they shouldn’t think so much about whether they are good or bad, but instead should focus on “being sure of the goodness of God” (p. 13). Yet Laura admits to not listening at church beyond the text, since that’s the only thing Pa quizzes them on at home, and later on, when they attend a church revival, though what the preacher says is sound, it’s done in such a fiery way that it was “dark and frightening” to Laura. Her whole family confesses to preferring Rev. Alden’s more quiet style. I do get that. I prefer “quieter” preachers who speak in conversational tones than “ranting and raving” ones. But they only talk about the style rather than the substance of his message, so it’s not clear what they think of it. Laura does her best to act like she’s supposed to except against Nellie Oleson and Miss Wilder. I’m hoping The Pioneer Girl might shed more light on Laura’s personal beliefs.

This book also introduces Almanzo Wilder’s beginning interest in her when he asks to walk her home after some of the events in town. At first Laura is only confused – he’s 23, a homesteader, and her father’s friend. She doesn’t seem to be thinking romantically towards anyone yet. But she accepts his offers and gradually is able to talk normally with him. He shares here how he got his unusual name, something I had forgotten. I had thought this book went into their courtship and up to their engagement, but I guess that’s in the next book.

I don’t remember quite as much from these later books as I do from the earlier ones – maybe I read the earlier ones more often as a child. But I enjoyed this foray into the prairie again. It was nice to see the family settling down, the community growing, and Laura and her sisters maturing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge

(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)