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The long winter

February 21, 2011

The “Little House on the Prairie” series was one of my favorites as a child. I read each book probably ten times. I followed a certain ritual. First, I took a few slices of that thin, cheap lunch meat from the fridge and fried it to a crisp in the microwave. I had no idea what venison was at the time, but I figured this was pretty close. Then I crumbled some cheese bits into a small wooden box.

With my venison and cheese, I found a sunny square of carpet somewhere in the house, splayed open my books, and transported myself back to the prairie. “By the Shores of Silver Lake” was my favorite of the series, because Laura and Almanzo finally, finally fell in love, but coming in close second was “The Long Winter.” Oh, the image I had of Pa out in the lean-to, twisting straw into tight sticks of fuel, and the way the whole family took turns grinding wheat in the coffee grinder to make a course flour for bread.

Every Thursday night the boys and I drive over the bridge to Wisconsin for piano lessons. It’s a 40 minute drive each way. Seth thinks I’m a little silly, but I love our piano teacher, who is Russian trained and simply phenomenal. But truthfully, I also love the time. It’s a straight shot up and down a country lane, past acres and acres of corn fields and farms, buried in snow. In fall we drive with the setting sun. In winter it is all blackness. Orion and Ursus Major shout down at us from the sky.

While I drive, we listen to books on tape. We are listening now to “The Long Winter” because this is the land of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her presence is felt everywhere.

We listen up and down that country lane, listen as Pa twists the hay and they all wait for the train to come because the family has no more kerosene or coal. We listen through the black night as Christmas comes with no train, but there is a small package of candy for each child, and a bit of lace that Laura has made.

It must be admitted that I cry every single week as I listen to this story. Because our winter has been long and cold and dark, but I have Wal-Mart and Target just five minutes away, plus central heat. I have more clothes than I know what to do with and I can serve meatballs for dinner. I worry when we run low on bananas.

Often I want to wring the collective American neck and say, “Do you realize all that we have?” We are so mired down with stuff, with tasks and that endless hunt for happiness. Are we watching what happened in Egypt? It is our dinnertime talk, each night, as the professor has become quite an expert on the topic. Look at what we have here in America. Look at what other people want so bad they’re willing to risk their lives for it.

More importantly I want to pause the audio tape every five minutes and ask my kids, “Do you get it? Do you understand what these frontier people did for us, clearing the land and laying the framework of our country? Do you have perspective to see how good we have it? Do you understand that there is never cause to complain, that we have so much goodness we cannot hold it all?”

It snowed all day yesterday. All day, in a slanted, harsh, driving way. Outside the world is shut down. No university classes, or violin lessons. On the driveway there are another seven or so inches of snow we’ll be shoveling this morning.

But inside, within these warm and stable walls, I am still a little girl looking for that patch of sunlight and a good story. They’re everywhere, you know.

  1. February 21, 2011 9:01 am

    Lovely! Your writing is so poetic. And also, those chairs turned out beautifully.
    The two series I can’t wait to read my kids are Little House on the Prairie and Harry Potter. -J

  2. Allison Harkness permalink
    February 21, 2011 9:30 am

    Really beautiful.

  3. Rachael permalink
    February 21, 2011 9:44 am

    I remember curling on on my bed with a square of fluffy gingerbread that I had just baked to the right of me to read “A Long Winter”. And whenever I smell gingerbread that memory comes back so vividly. I love books and I also have a tendency to reread the ones I love over and over and sometimes have to force myself to try something new.

    • February 21, 2011 12:27 pm

      Isn’t it fun to connect food with certain memories, especially books? I’m a big time reader-writer-snacker. Someday it’ll catch up with me though!

  4. Jenni Fisher permalink
    February 21, 2011 11:39 am

    Love that picture of Seth. And that article with him is great. The professor is making his mark! You and your kids might like the book on tape: Running Out of Time.

  5. February 21, 2011 8:27 pm

    I read Little House on the Prairie to my kids and only Elise was interested. I love those books as well! I had a similar gratitude check when I read “Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression.” It was also a realization that my kids are much much more capable of all kinds of work than I allow at this point. I’ve stepped up my expectations a bit since then and it is amazing to see how well they respond.

    We’ve had a rather sunny winter this year. I have enjoyed every bit of sunshine. I think we have only had snow once and a bitter cold snap (not as cold as you are regularly, I’m sure) in early December. I took the kids on a hike to the beach on the Hood Canal where there were oysters and sand dollars and muddy sand everywhere. We had quite the adventure slogging through the mud on the trail and the beach!

    I also love how your chair turned out. I love the blue and white! It is so crisp and clean and classy!

    Take care!

    • February 22, 2011 5:23 am

      Mary, winter beach hiking has such an allure! I’m glad you’ve had sun this winter–it makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

  6. Christine permalink
    February 21, 2011 8:52 pm

    Oh how I can’t wait until you write a book for us all to read. You have the best descriptions and I always feel like I am right there with you!! I will be waiting patiently for that book:)

  7. Alice-Anne permalink
    February 21, 2011 9:41 pm

    so very true! Thanks for your thoughts…we need to keep reading from that series.

  8. Ondalynn permalink
    February 22, 2011 4:42 pm

    I just introduced Sydney to the series! It’s a favorite of mine too! They just don’t make books like that anymore (sigh).

  9. February 22, 2011 10:31 pm

    I guess great minds think alike. I was checking on your blog, to make sure you were surviving this extension of winter. Only to find, that you, like me survived it by counting your blessings and wondering in awe about those that came before us. Though, I was mistaken, I thought it was Little house at plum creek. I could never get the imagery of the cows with frozen clouds over their top half, out of my head. My boys loved the series! Another blessing-Books on tape!!
    One of these day I will bring by a gift, that I have for you. Oh for spring, it will be here soon- I promise!

  10. February 23, 2011 1:16 pm

    That’s it! I am going to the library this afternoon to get the Little House on the Prairie Series! I love your imagination and enthusiasm. I appreciate your love for literature so much and I hope that I can teach that to my little ones! We listened to Anne of Green Gables last, which was like a sunny day in the middle of winter.

    I also used to microwave slices of bologna. Unfortunately mine was not connected to any book, I just liked it. So gross!

  11. Mari permalink
    February 23, 2011 8:39 pm

    Hi, I was looking for an e-mail address for you, would love to ask you some questions about Florida!

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