Friday, February 28, 2014

Laura Month Finale


It's February 28 and that means Laura Month is coming to a close. I've had a good time writing about my favorite people this month. I hope the 2 of you reading this blog have enjoyed it too.

For this final post I thought I'd share a few pictures from our 2010 trip. We hit Pepin, Burr Oak, Walnut Grove, Spring Valley, De Smet and Keystone in one trip and had a fabulous time. I hope we can do it again soon.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Make Your Garden

"Now is the time to make your garden! Anyone can be a successful gardener at this time of year, and I know of no pleasanter occupation these cold, snowy days than to sit warm and snug by the fire, making garden with a pencil--in a seed catalog. What perfect vegetables we do raise in that way and so many of them!...Best of all, there is not a bug or worm in the whole garden, and the work is so easily done. In imagination we see the plants in our spring garden, all in straight thrifty rows with the fruits of each plant and vine numerous and beautiful as the pictures before us."
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Missouri Ruralist, February 1918

She hit the nail on the head there, I am an excellent gardener in my dreams. I love the idea of a garden...I've never been so fond of the actual work involved in making a garden, though. Although I start out with the best of intentions, my gardens never live up to the beautiful pictures in my imagination.

However, every winter I dream the dreams, buy the magazines and haunt the seed aisles at the local stores. This winter is no exception and I have a spot that is just crying to have a little beautification - my front yard.

So starting in March, I'll begin the Jasper's Cottage garden project and everybody can follow along with me. The yard has good bones, it has a wonderful cottage-y white picket fence and even an arbor. Unfortunately that arbor leads into the dullest, most colorless space of nothing that you've ever seen. I don't have grass, it's all grey gravel with grey scalloped edging around dirt-colored spaces filled with colorless plants. Sounds lovely, right? Let's see if we can change that by the time spring rolls around.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Wilder Wisdom

Love and service, with a belief in the future and expectation of better things in the tomorrow of the world is a good working philosophy; much better than ' in olden times-- things were so much better when I was young.' For there is no turning back nor standing still, we must go forward, into the future, generation after generation toward the accomplishment of the ends that have been set for the human race.

But however fleeting and changeable life may appear to be on the surface, we know that the great underlying values of life are always the same; no different today than they were a thousand years ago. 
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Missouri Ruralist, June 1921

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Almanzo turns 157

Almanzo in 1894, shortly before moving to Missouri

Today is Almanzo Wilder's 157th birthday. I have always loved Manly Wilder. I fell for the patient, quiet, determined young man from These Happy Golden Years. His courtship of Laura set a bar too high for any of my future suitors to reach.

Laura and Manly in 1885/86

I think Almanzo has gotten a bit of a raw deal in the LIW scholarly world, though. Although many fans love young Almanzo of the books, later on he is most often described  as a shy old man with little to say who spent most of his time hiding in the barn. A few years ago a New York Times review of a LIW biography described him this way "he remains, in all accounts, a stoic, almost silent, limping figure for the rest of his long life." It's like Manly becomes an after thought, reduced to a one dimensional character alongside his feisty wife and strong-willed daughter but that's not the picture that's painted by people that actually knew him.

In his 1986 article for the South Dakota Historical Society, William Anderson quotes Orel Dennis, the Mansfield boy who worked alongside the owner of Rocky Ridge in 1911, during the last stages of construction of the farmhouse there, as saying  "Almanzo Wilder was one of the finest men I have ever know."  Anderson also notes that "Helen Boylston also developed a strong affection for the male Wilder's endearing character when she joined the family unit during the late 1920s. "He was a lamb!" declared Boylston in 1981. "He was a sweet soul, he was a darling, and he was witty.... a good, kind, sweet, intelligent, patient man,... who was the most expert curser that I ever heard in my life!... My Lord! I thought I knew all the words, but he knew more." Laura Wilder, Boylston recalled, "nagged him, and yelled at him, howled at him, and adored him. That he knew, too.... he told me once,... 'I knew when I married her she had a temper. She still does. You just get used to those things."

Neta and Silas Seal, a young couple from Mansfield, became close to Laura and Manly in the 1930s. When asked by author Dan White if Almanzo was much of a talker, she said "oh yes! He liked to talk." I wonder if she ever got to hear his plethora of profanity.

Manly & Laura in 1933 after the publication of Little House in the Big Woods

By far my favorite quote from Dan White's interviews of Mansfield residents comes from Anna Gutschke who knew the Wilders from 1904 until their deaths. She didn't seem all that impressed with Laura, who she noted had quite a temper, but she had nothing but praise for Almanzo "Mr. Wilder was one of the greatest men. He had great humor, he enjoyed entertaining. He was absolutely the greatest. He had lots of fun, he was a joy."

That doesn't sound like a stoic, silent limping figure to me. So happy birthday Almanzo, you don't look a day over 155.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ingalls Homestead

By pure coincidence, I happened upon some old video of my favorite place - Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, South Dakota. It was shot in 2009 when some LIW friends got together and formed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Research and Legacy Association and started planning for the very first LauraPalooza conference the next year.

Quite frankly, I didn't remember I'd shot video of that trip, I just happened to find the video camera today and was thrilled to see that I shot quite a bit of that trip. Enjoy my stellar narration. ;-)


Saturday, February 8, 2014

My first time

If someone gave me a plane ticket and told me I had to use it to visit a Laura Ingalls Wilder homesite but I could only pick one, it would probably be a difficult decision. Each homesite has its own unique charm and they all contribute to the story of LIW but when it's all said and done, I know where I'd go if I could only pick one. I'd go back to where it all began...for me.

Back in the dark ages, before Google searches and the Internet, we had to get all our research information from books. Nowadays if some kid wants to learn about Laura, within minutes she will find out about all the books she wrote, all the Ruralist articles and have directions to each and every homesite. But back when I was in school, I didn't know about any of that stuff. I just knew about the Little House books that I could borrow from my library. I knew she was real but I didn't know you could visit the very places she had written about and see the houses she lived in.

Until a biography came out that changed everything.

This book came out in 1977 and changed everything for me. Despite the TV series cover (yuck), there were pictures of the real Laura and the real Ma and Pa inside and although they weren't as pretty as the TV actors, I found them fascinating and I loved learning so much about the real Laura.

Of course better biographies have come out since but this one had a special treasure waiting for me on the back pages - the contact information for each of the homesites. And that's the most important thing I learned from this book - THERE WERE HOMESITES! But they were all so far away from Virginia, scattered across the mid-west in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri and the furthest of all - South Dakota. Sigh. I wanted to see them so badly but it just wasn't going to happen.

But then, a couple of years after the book came out, a miracle. My parents were planning a cross-country trip to visit my grandparents and Dad was holding business meetings along the way. Somewhere in the planning it came out that he had meetings in...wait for it...South freakin' Dakota! Oh happy day, I was finally going to get to visit De Smet, the best of all homesites because that's where Laura and Almanzo fell in love.

Except, oh the horror, Dad had a meeting one night in Sioux Falls and another one the next night in Rapid City, clear across the state. There was no time to spend a day or two in De Smet. I was crestfallen so Dad said that if we got up really early we could drive out of our way to De Smet and be there around 6am and see the town but we could only spend an hour because then we had to be on our way to Rapid City to make the meeting that night.

So I wrote a letter to the LIW Memorial Society address that was listed in the back of my book, explained my situation and asked what I might be able to see from the outside that early in the morning. Keep in mind that, because there was no Internet, I had no idea what they had there or what the town looked like. Now I could just go to my friend Zoie's site, Frontier Girl, get all that information and make a plan but back then, I was flying in the dark so I really wanted to make sure there were places we could drive by so that we weren't wasting our time.

My parents didn't really expect that I'd hear back but one day there was a fat letter from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota. It was from a wonderful woman named Vivian Glover, who was the president at that time. She took pity on me and told me she'd meet me at the Oxbow Restaurant at 6am and take us on a personal tour.

And that's exactly how my first Little House homesite visit happened. Mrs. Glover met us at the restaurant and we followed her back to the Memorial Society. She took us through the Surveyor's House and then over to the Third Street house. I got to spend as much time as I wanted (keeping in mind that we had to leave to drive across the state, of course) and ask all the questions I could think of without having to compete for space and attention with a noisy group of tourists. I repaid her kindness by buying up everything in the gift shop, I had come prepared for that and had been saving money for months. I still have most of the things I bought and they are so special to me.

You may have noticed a raven-haired doll in my pictures. The pictures are from my 2010 trip with Mr. French but the doll is my prized possession from that trip from long ago.

Charlotte enjoying a pancake man in 2010

Meet Charlotte. She's modeled after a doll that Laura got as a kid, the story is in Little House in the Big Woods, and I adore her. She was the first thing I picked up in the gift store all those years ago and she's been my favorite companion ever since. She reminds me of the kindness of strangers who are brought together through a common interest. She reminds me of Mrs. Glover who went out of her way to be nice to a girl just because we both had a passion for the writings of another girl that neither one of us got a chance to meet. She reminds me that you never know the lasting impact you can have on another person.

So, even though I love all the homesites (and I desperately want to re-visit Mansfield, Missouri sometime soon because it's been too long since I've been there) if I had to choose just one, I know which one it would be. It would be my first.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

visit the homesites!

One of the things that immediately attracted me to the writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder was the fact that, unlike the other books I'd read to that point, these stories were true and Laura was a real girl. All of her many adventures really happened, that was so exciting. Even better, one day I realized that I could actually go and visit all the places she lived. Luckily a lot of people had the foresight to realize what a national treasure LIW was and they worked together to discover and document her life all over the country.

Pepin, Wisconsin - replica cabin on the land where LIW was born plus a museum in town

Independence, Kansas - replica cabin on the Ingalls' land

Walnut Grove, Minnesota - museum, ability to visit Ingalls' land including dugout site

DeSmet, South Dakota
LIW Memorial Society - original homes (Surveyors House, Third Street house), original school
Ingalls Homestead - Ingalls original homestead land, replica cabin

Mansfield, Missouri - Laura and Almanzo's farm home for more than 60 years

Burr Oak, Iowa - Laura didn't write about the year her family spent managing the Masters Hotel

Malone, New York - the boyhood farm of Laura's husband, Almanzo Wilder

Spring Valley, New York - museum exhibit on the Wilder family who lived here during Almanzo's teenage years. In addition, it was the home of Laura & Almanzo early in their marriage

Westville (New Hope), Florida - historical marker identifies property where Laura and Almanzo lived for a very brief time in the 1890s

It took me several years but I have been to each and every one of the homesites. Don't ask me which is my favorite because I love all of them but next time I'll be happy to tell you about my favorite visit which was my first trip to a homesite.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

the quotable LIW

Many people don't know that Laura was quite the writer long before the Little House books. She started writing in 1911for a regional newspaper, The Missouri Ruralist, and her articles were full of quotable wisdom that often still resonates (with me) today.

Life is often called a journey... Usually when referred to in these terms, it is also understood that it is a “weary pilgrimage.” Why not call it a voyage of discovery and take it in the spirit of happy adventure?"                                                                        Life is an Adventure." Mrs. A.J. Wilder    March, 1916
I love the idea of adventure but today I confess to dwelling in the "weary pilgrimage" frame of mind. I promise to work on it.

Has anyone ever said to you, as a warning, "No man knoweth what a day may bring forth?" I have heard it often, and it is always quoted with a melancholy droop at the corners of the mouth. But why! Suppose we do not know that will happen tomorrow. May it not just as well be a happy surprise as something unpleasant?"                                  Life is an Adventure." Mrs. A.J. Wilder    March, 1916
Here's hoping!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Laura and me - my first Little House book

I guess a lot of people would start at the beginning - in my own way, I am too. I'm not going to write about Laura's first book or her birthplace or even the first article she wrote for publication decades before the LH books. I'm going to write about my first LH book.

My first Little House book didn't even have LITTLE HOUSE in the title. The first Laura book I ever read was On The Banks of Plum Creek which told the story of the Ingalls family's life in Walnut Grove, Minnesota even though the town was never actually named in the book. Luckily Michael Landon came along years later and took care of that little problem.

That's the book right there - the actual book that I first read at age 11. I can't believe I didn't know about Laura before that. I read all the time in elementary school, my favorite books being The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner and the Betsy books by Carolyn Hayward (not to be confused with the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, I didn't discover those until adulthood) but I never encountered Little House until I went to my friend Kathy's house.

She had the whole series and one day she let me borrow On The Banks of Plum Creek. I'm not sure why we started with that one, maybe it was her favorite or maybe it was because it was the only hardback on the shelf. It didn't matter, I loved. loved, loved the book. The idea of living in a dugout in the ground (with a dirt floor!) was fascinating to me and, of course, this was the book that introduced Nellie Oleson, the villain of the series so there was all sorts of drama. It's an exciting book with grasshoppers, leeches, blizzards and long-legged snipes. No wonder I was hooked. I immediately decided to read the series from the beginning and I've been reading it ever since.

You may wonder how I am able to get a current picture of Kathy's book...I loved it so much, it never went back to Kathy. Oops.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Happy Laura month!

Laura in 1894 wearing her wedding dress

It's Laura month here at Jasper's Cottage. That's because February is the month we celebrate the birth of my favorite author, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

All this month I plan on posting little bits of information about Laura - links to her homesites, quotes from her books and many articles, pictures of LIW trips I've taken, etc.

Did you know that Laura didn't start writing and publishing the Little House books until she was in her 60s? It gives me hope although I guess I'd better get cracking - I'm closer to 60 than I used to be!