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That’s a lot September 18, 2013

“…we got each other,” she said, “and that’s a lot.” (from Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt)

I’ve been reading Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner and it has me thinking about friendship and family and the wealth therein. My family is reasonably comfortable now but we have been through times when we lived on a pittance. I will not romanticize living on little. It was stressful. But I can not tell you that we have ever been poor. We have always had the wealth of one another. It’s not just enough. It’s a lot. An excess of laughter and comfort and presence. I have always said that our one great talent is friendship and we have surrounded ourselves with just the loveliest people. It’s weird because we are introverts by nature yet we have these wide circles of friends and deep pools of them. We are also close to our families. We live where they live and we don’t plan to move away. This is what is most important to us, these people.

And the astonishing grace of the whole thing is that enough would have been enough. Just Jon and I loving each other or just our families or just a couple of close friends–any of these scenarios alone would have made us feel secure in affection and comfort. As Ma Ingalls said in one of the Little House books, “Enough is as good as a feast.” Enough would have been enough. But instead we have more than enough. We have a lot.

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Why do I love the Little House books? January 24, 2012

On the smooth, cream-colored page, in Ma’s fine handwriting, Laura read:

If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,

Five things observe with care,

To whom you speak,

Of whom you speak,

And how, and when, and where

Your loving mother

C L Ingalls

(from Little Town On The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

I received a comment a week or so ago asking why I love the Laura Ingalls Wilder books so much? I assume this question is mostly in response to the volume of quotes I have used from the Little House series in the last year. Typically, on this blog, you will see groups of quotes from whatever I’m reading at the time. So, in re-reading the series last year, I found many notable quotes and used them during that time. But the question is still an interesting one. Why do any of us love the books we end up loving? I thought about it for a while and I have some answers for this particular series.

First, I love them because my Mumsie gave me the boxed set for my eighth birthday. That was my favorite-ever birthday party: my mom and aunts set up little stations all through our house for my friends and me. We had a make-up station, hair station, and dress up station. She had my great-grandmothers beautiful old dresses (from the days when ladies had many occasions to dress to the nines) shortened for us to play in. We had the dresses, the gloves, the hair-spray smell, the ridiculousness of make-up on eight-year-old faces. Then we had petite fores and punch and other fancy things on my mother’s good china. There was a lace table-cloth on the table. I remember I had asked for a basketball for that birthday because my PE Teacher scolded that I needed lots of practice at home (I couldn’t dare tell her that in our two-sister home there were no basketballs to practice with and DON’T get me started on the PE methods in public education). I did get a basketball–just what I asked for and didn’t want. But I also got the boxed set of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I didn’t ask for them. I didn’t even know they existed. I had never heard of the television show based on them, we had not yet read one of them in school, but Mumsie told me she loved them when she was growing up. “Growing up.” That’s how she said it. Not, “I loved them when I was a little girl,” but “I loved them when I was growing up.” It made me feel like she thought I was growing up.

I read them straight through. In class later that year we read The Long Winter and I felt great that I had my own copy at home, so much better than the textbook version. By The Shores of Silver Lake was the first book that ever made me cry, when Laura became Mary’s eyes in a world that had gone dark, when she learned to sacrifice her own selfish desires to work toward sending Mary to college. For years after that, if I needed a good cry and couldn’t get the tears to come, I would pull Silver Lake down from the shelf and read a few chapters about Mary’s blindness. Silly, I know, but true. So I love the books for the memories first. Like my grandmother, I loved them when I was growing up.

And, I love them as a grown-up for a new set of reasons. I love them because they offer a gentle wisdom and a simple lifestyle in a crazy, commercial, speedy world. They take me back to the basics. They chastise me for always taking the easy way or the convenient way. They remind me to live well within my means, to not chase after everything my friends and neighbors have but to live with contentment. The Ingalls and Wilder families show beautiful examples of courage under pressure, grace in the face of tragedy, acceptance of hardships, determination, pluck, relationships, and humor. Sometimes I can hardly believe what they went through. I love the history of this country told through the eyes of a girl growing up in it. I love the romance between Charles and Caroline Ingalls and the romance between Laura and Almonzo Wilder.

In re-reading the series as an adult, I have been challenged to do things for myself that I might not have a few years ago. I am sewing my baby girl’s bedding and some other things for her nursery. I am venturing in to the world of cloth diapers (something I seriously thought was insane a couple of years ago when I had my son). I am making my own household products if I can’t find them at the rock bottom price I want to pay: laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner, glass cleaner, etc. I make gifts for people I love instead of shopping around to buy them something. I feel like I’m living more abundantly and counting my blessings more readily. When something is hard for me, I think how easy my modern life is compared to the pioneer life and I am grateful.

I’m grateful that I don’t have to depend on the weather for the very food to feed my family. I’m grateful to be having babies in the twenty-first century when my 8lb 4oz breech baby could be delivered by c-section safely, when I can get a glimpse of my daughter in an ultrasound video to know she’s growing well. I’m grateful for electricity and technology, for community and all the books I want.

I love the Little House books because they remind me of growing up, because they challenge me as a grown-up to live more simply, to do without what I don’t need and to appreciate the luxuries of living when i do, and because they’re just flat good books that have stood the test of time.

 

 

What your figure will be January 12, 2012

Filed under: Chapter Books,Classics — Kristi @ 3:04 pm
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“What your figure will be, goodness knows,” Ma warned her. “When I was married, your Pa could span my waist with his two hands.”

“He can’t now,” Laura answered, a little saucily. “And he seems to like you.” (from Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

This one made me smile. I’m glad my husband still seems to like me despite my greatly increased waistline. The bigger challenge for me is to still like myself (I mean, my physical self). It’s hard at times to accept a body that changes, even harder at a time when the public ideal is either skeletal thinness or body builder type muscle. It leaves the rest of us working incredibly hard to maintain something that at least looks okay when fully clothed.

I remember going to a museum a few years ago and seeing plaster castes of Renaissance era Greek statues–beautiful nudes of full-figured women lounging or standing. I couldn’t see any of their ribs, nor did a single one have defined abdominal muscles, but they were beautiful. At the time they were sculpted, they were the ideal of womanly beauty. In fact, many of them were the artists’ depictions of goddesses. It occurred to me then that the modern ideal of womanly beauty would look almost grotesque on a sculpture of that style. But that doesn’t keep me from yearning for a thinner, leaner figure.

I struggle to see the beauty in what my body has become–a heck of a lot closer to a Greek statue woman than a modern swimsuit model. I read a question the other day that made me laugh and sigh: If you could go back to your childhood or teenage years what is one thing you would do? My answer: I would wear shorts every warm day and appreciate my darling, thin, gorgeous legs. But I actually can’t go back to the summers when I had darling legs and wasted them, so what do I do with where I am now?

I take an honest look and force myself to be appreciative. My body has been good to me. It has done some incredible work. It grew up. It carried a baby (quite a good-sized one) and endured surgery to give him a safe entrance into the world. It provided his nourishment for the better part of his first two years. Now it is carrying another baby. It will endure another surgery in a few months. It is nurturing and growing an entire human who is growing at a remarkable rate. Once again it will produce milk to sustain the life of my child. My body is tired, but it keeps on giving to the baby. It is preparing for the next phase even as it does the good work of the phase we are in. It has a scar. It has more padding than it used to. But it’s a good body. It’s the body of a woman, not the body of a child. I’m actually pretty proud of it…even if I can’t wear shorts with much confidence anymore.

(Seriously, if you are sixteen years old, WEAR SHORTS every day that is warm enough!!!)

 

Untangled January 3, 2012

Filed under: Chapter Books,Classics — Kristi @ 11:31 pm
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Laura’s thoughts untangled from their ugly snarls and became smooth and peaceful. She thought, “I will be good. It doesn’t matter how hateful Nellie Oleson is, I will be good.” (from Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

This has been such a struggle for me lately–untangling my thoughts from their ugly snarls when other people are misbehaving. It is hard. My sister is going through a really hard time with a person who is just making her life more and more miserable with every interaction. For me, to find it in my heart to forgive the person who hurts my loved ones is so much harder than forgiving the person who hurts me.

But as much as I despise this person (and I really, really do), I hate more the way it feels to be filled with hatred. I want my thoughts to smooth out, to untangle and be peaceful and calm. It was hard for Laura Ingalls and it’s hard for me–it’s probably hard for everybody–but I will decide to think about things that are uplifting, pure, noble, and good no matter what others may do or say.

 

That was Santa Claus December 21, 2011

Filed under: Chapter Books,Classics — Kristi @ 9:33 pm
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Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus. (from On The Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

 

Better December 6, 2011

Filed under: Chapter Books,Classics — Kristi @ 10:37 pm
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“Every Christmas is better than the Christmas before,” Laura thought. “I guess it must be because I’m growing up.” (from By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

When I was a child, Christmas was looking forward to early release from school, going to Mumsie and Pops’s house an hour and a half away, and spending the week in the coziness that was their home. We would help Mumsie bake and she would let us eat the extra pie crust, lick the icing beaters, and other sweet priveleges. Pops would joke that he was going to try to catch Santa coming down the chimney. Christmas Eve, we would hear my dad read the Christmas story from the book of Luke, then open our gifts from each other. Then the four cousins would head upstairs to bed while the grown-ups stayed up making merry sounds we could hear below. All night long, my cousin Adam would wake us up each hour to tell us how many hours we had left until morning. When we woke up, we would gather on the stairs for a sleepy, messy-haired picture before heading down to see what Santa left in and around our stockings. Afterward we would have an amazing breakfast prepared by our dads and everyone would spend the day just enjoying each other and eating leftovers, sneaking out to the porch to raid the pie table pretty regularly. I probably couldn’t have imagined anything better.

But now…oh my word. Now I have a sweet boy. My son, who hangs all of the Christmas ornaments on the lowest branch of the tree…who begs and pleads with big blue eyes for one more cookie, and then one more…who loves to sing the “rum-pa-pum-pum” part of The Little Drummer Boy…who asked me if he could have a Christmas pinata (???)…who wants to pray for not only our family members and their dogs each night, but also the drummers in the Christmas parade…who finds delight in absolutely everything…who today said to me, “I want to watch Charlie Brown while I snuggle wif you, mama.”

Maybe the only thing better than being a child at Christmas is having a child at Christmas time. We are having so much fun. It just gets better and better.

 

Cut our coat October 24, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kristi @ 8:00 pm
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“Don’t worry about it, girls,” said Ma. “We must cut our coat to fit the cloth.” (from Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder)

It seems strange to me that we have so much more now than we’ve ever had before and things come so much easier because of the affordable technology available, yet we are more worried than ever. Everywhere I turn I hear complaints about the economy, the struggle to make ends meet. But if you get down to brass tacks, the people making these complaints are not really starving. We are unbelievably spoiled by our plenty and unaccountably worried about our small degrees of lack.

In this scene from Little Town on the Prairie, the Ingalls family is upset by the sudden demise of their entire corn crop when thousands of black birds swoop in to eat it where it grows. For years they have worked extra hard (as if the hard work of beginning a homestead and farm in a new place weren’t enough), taking on extra jobs to save up for Mary Ingalls to attend a college for the blind. Just when they feel they have enough to send her to college, the cash crop is destroyed completely. Pa shoots as many of the offending birds as possible and Ma industriously bakes them into a pie to make the best of the situation. They salvage what corn they can to dry for the family to eat later in the winter. But their cash crop, the income source with which they planned to buy necessities such as coal, is gone. Laura immediately assumes that this will keep her sister from realizing her dream of an education. She does not realize yet that her parents will sell a cow to buy the coal and meat for the winter, and send Mary to college as promised.

The coal is an absolute necessity. Supplies for the winter are a must. The cow provides cream and butter–luxuries that they have looked forward to, but not something they need to survive. College for Mary is also a luxury, and between the two, they decide to give her the gift of education and wait a year for their cream.

This is where I think we have strayed in our modern sensibilities: we no longer understand the difference between luxuries and necessities. If my husband and I have two cars and one breaks down, do we have to panic and pay to have it fixed or could we share the one working car until we can comfortably pay for repairs? How often have we said there is nothing to eat in the house, meaning really that there is nothing we currently crave to eat in the house? And should I stare despairingly at the electric bill after an insanely hot Texas summer even while I continue to pay for little luxuries like paper towels, fountain drinks, and movie rentals?

No, there is no real need to worry for most of us. We just need to learn to cut our coat to fit the cloth. Simplify. Check out the Laura Ingalls Wilder collection at your public library and be inspired by a harsher time but a simpler (and seemingly happier) way.