Saturday, October 13, 2012

Farmer Boys and Pioneer Girls (books for children)

Farmer Boys and Pioneer Girls
(books for children)

     Dean and I visited the Hans Herr House and Museum on Shnitz Day. Built in 1719 it is the oldest house in Lancaster and the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse still standing in America. The parking lot was over-full. Cars parked on the grass. I enjoyed the couple of hours we meandered. We meandered with interest from demonstration to demonstration and then sat down to hear and watch some blue grass players.

      In addition to feeling a little odd being without the company of offspring, I was taken aback (I could almost say “spooked”) when I overheard a mother ask her semi-circle of girls, “Where’s Nigel?” Not only is Nigel an uncommon name in these parts but it is also the exact phrase that once passed my lips to my girls about their little brother . . . often.

    These photographs were taken on Shnitz Day. My favorites are the girl hanging the washing and the red woven bedspread.
     Later, when we returned, stories of settlers came to mind – which gave me the idea to share them with you. Scroll along stopping at whatever catches your fancy. Our Nigel helped me add links for you. 

     When my children were young I chose this time of year to read aloud Ox-cart Man by Donald Hall. It ended up becoming an autumn family tradition. I find it a simple, somewhat poetic picture of early American rural life.

     Maybe it is the girl with her embroidery hoop in hand that endears me to its pages.

     This year I noticed something new about Ox-cart Man

Do you see (back a couple photos) how the book's cover depicts a blue oxcart? I had always assumed that the bright blue made eye-catching cover-art. That’s all. Seeing the blue covered wagon, however, at Hans Herr seemed too much of a coincidence. Lancaster, Pennsylvania is were the Conestoga wagon originates. Museums strive for accuracy –even with colors. Therefore, Barbara Cooney’s cover-art blue is likely to be accurate, too.

     Traveling in a Conestoga wagon is probably how Ann’s family left Gettysburg to settle further west in The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz. The pioneer girl you see pictured on the cover is Ann, the author’s great-great-grandmother. 

     Ann told the story to her children and children’s children. You’ll find out why her story is repeatable when you read to the end. Don’t peek. The book is short enough so you should be less tempted to leaf ahead. 

     The Cabin Faced West would brighten the study of American History (third grade reading level). 

     As a read-aloud it is marvelous for end-of-the-day de-stressing.

     Who traveled from east to west with apple seeds and tree seedlings? Johnny Appleseed. His name is John Chapman (1774-1845). He was born in Massachusetts. And although tall-tales may have sprung up about him, he is a real person with resilience and resolve who did steadfast acts of pioneering.

     The puny apples picked off the ancient apple trees at Hans Herr for Shnitz Day look just like the apples that grew on our old trees in Appleton, Maine (and those in Lessons at Blackberry Inn). From our spotted and dimpled apples my girls decided to make applesauce.

     The best use of a bumper crop of little apples is cider making. Mashing apples into juice for cider results in mounds of apple cores. Inside the cores are seeds.  Johnny Appleseed could have the seeds for free. This sparked the idea to start an apple seedling business from them. He traveled on foot from farm to farm helping families plant orchards on their homesteads. 

     The Sower Series is a set of biographies that does not skim over a person’s relationship with Christ. Because I have read several titles from this series and found them excellent, I can safely say that Johnny Appleseed by D. Collins is worth looking into for ages 10-14, although I haven’t read this particular title. 
     I've read Who Was Johnny Appleseed? by Joan Holub and found it pleasant and informative. Its simple text and cheery line drawings make it suitable for an average third grade reading level. 

     At Hans Herr one demonstrator made an apple pie and baked it in a brick oven. That same week Yolanda told me that she tried a new technique with “Grandma Opal’s Apple Pie” from 

     Fill a pie shell with chunks of raw apple. 
     Cover with lattice. 
     While a pot of caramel (butter and brown sugar) on the stovetop is still hot, pour it through the lattice and bake. 

     Yolanda was happy at how her pie turned out and I’m sure her husband was, too.  

     Three features make A Pioneer Sampler by Barbara Breenwood an inviting history resource.

     1.  It has a story to it.

     2.  It is chockfull of drawings. 

     3.  It offers instructions for “hands-on” projects.  

The Robertson family (fictional) is never in want of something to do. They start the year with maple sugaring. Fields are cleared, potatoes are planted, cows start giving milk, and bees start making honey. Sheep are sheared, wool is spun, and cloth is woven.

Summertime visits from nearby Indians, the cobbler, the peddler, and the itinerant preacher, make the Robertson’s life more interesting as do the girls’ trips to the general store and post office. Mr. Robertson and his sons fish and hunt. Most impressively they build a two-story timber frame house.

By autumn the family moves out of their log cabin and into their new house. They make ready for winter with a corn husking social, by threshing wheat, drying apples, preserving meat, making candles, and splitting firewood.

The year ends with Christmas traditions, bread baking and a shadow puppet show. One project is a punched tin sconce made from pie plates. You might choose cheese making, cloth dyeing, candle dipping, stenciling, or the threading together of a jumping-jack puppet. 

A Pioneer Sampler would be a good accompaniment to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy - a peek into the childhood of her husband, Almanzo Wilder. Almanzo is nine years old at the beginning of the story – the youngest in the family. Their days in New York State were full of multi-skilled chores from sunrise to sunset - similar to the seasonal chores listed above. It’s been decades since I read Farmer Boy aloud but I can still picture its episodes as if I had watched a film. And how could I forget the parlor wallpaper incident? 

On page 136 of A Charlotte Mason Companion I mention Farmer Boy as a useful book for ushering in a narration. My quiet child found it difficult to narrate from Little House - On the Banks of Plum Creek. Frankly there is not much happening in this book. I put it aside and replaced it with Farmer Boy. It did a better job of “feeding” her imagination.

     My word “feeding” has a double meaning because anyone who has read this book aloud can attest that the book is mouth-watering. All those delicious meals made from scratch and cooked on a wood-burning stove, minutes after the fruits and vegetables were picked from the garden, put a giggle in us both as my daughter narrated. Our stomachs growled. Eventually I scheduled this to be our last lesson of the morning so we could make lunch directly afterwards. Isn’t it nice how home education allows a family to be flexible?

Happy Reading

A favorite pioneer girl of my daughter's is Caddie Woodlawn. My review of the book it is on this post. 

Comments are Welcome,
Karen Andreola 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Woods are Waving, "Farewell Summer"

The Woods are Waving, “Farewell Summer”

     Out her front door the Lady-of-the-House views wildflowers and unwelcome weeds along the woodland edges. “Oh no, they're dispersing their seeds,” it occurred to her. Although she and the Man-of-the-House had planted some naturalizing bushes and perennials, the wilderness is taking over. She bore the feelings of a defeated gardener when she walked to the mailbox one morning - until nature gave her a pleasant surprise. She spotted a patch of White Wood Aster. It changed her attitude. The White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus), a bit larger than the Calico Aster, is the wildflower she remembers from the carefree days of her girlhood, flowers dotting the woods where she grew up. No other wildflower has the same sentimental pull on her as this humble weed.

     What glorious hours she spent in those New Jersey woods – sometimes setting up house with the neighborhood girls and sometimes daydreaming under the trees by herself (unsafe these days.) Her home backed up to Washington Rock State Park. 

     Here, on the first steep hill along a flat eastern seaboard, George Washington watched the movements of the British. What he saw was the dust rising up between the trees made by the horses treading along the dirt roadway below. 

     No fence separated her backyard from the park. Its woods and scraggly lawns were hers. It was like having an expansive backyard. Often she would wander out to the clearing and the rock-walled overlook. She would stand where George Washington once stood. If the sky was blue she could see the tall buildings of the New York City skyline on the horizon. 

Aster divaricatus

     Did George Washington notice the White Wood Asters dotting the woods here? It’s unlikely. He had pressing things on his mind. The Indians must have, though. The Lady-of-the-House is guessing that this wildflower has been around for a long time - since the days before the Colonists. 

     Not to disturb her modest patch of Asters she picked only a few stalks for a vase, then some wand-like Blue-stemmed Golden Rod (Solidago caesia) and miniature zinnia from the patio.

     Around this same time the Lady-of-the-House visited a small art museum with the Man-of-the-House and son. In the gift shop she spied a display of local wildflower seeds. “Ooo, now I can plant these Asters where I want” she thought, “and it gives me the idea to save the seed of those growing in our patch.” A little slip of paper told her that the seeds could be sown right now, this autumn, directly in the soil. They like to over-winter before they become springtime seedlings. “Hmm, that makes sense – evidently so do all the other weeds around our house,” she thought, “and they do so unaided by any gardener.” 

     Last autumn she sowed the seeds of Sweet William this way. A packet of seeds came with a friend’s letter. Although the Lady-of-the-House was skeptical she followed the advice in the letter: sow the seeds in autumn, directly in soft earth, cover with soil and wait. Happily they did sprout in springtime. The Sweet Williams were short and stout this summer but next year she expects blossoms. Pink Yarrow grows near the Sweet William. In place of balled bushes, the perimeter of the square house is slowly beginning to be populated with Colonial plants. This week the Aster seeds join them.

   The paintings at the Brandywine River Museum are worth seeing, by the way. The Lady-of-the-House likes the portraits, still life and landscape scenes of the Romantic period best. She was thrilled to find a portrait painted in 1775 by Benjamin West – hence the new quote in the margin that she has been charmed by for some years. The circle on the gift shop’s brown bag is a millstone. The museum is a beautifully restored historic mill of red brick surrounded by indigenous wildflowers.

     Beside the poem, “Harvest Home,” Yolanda entered a Purple-stemmed Aster (Aster puniceus) in the Nature Diary of her girlhood. Her note is uncorrected. Purple Asters are plentiful in Maine but haven’t been spotted by the Lady-of-the-House here.

Each Weed Entangled Way

Miss Charlotte Mason’s advice in Home Education joins the reminiscences of this post.

     “Milkwort, eyebright, rest-harrow, lady’s-bedstraw, willow-herb, every wild flower that grows in their neighbourhood, they should know quite well; should be able to describe the leaf – its shape, size, . . .  manner of flowering – a head of flowers, a single flower, a spike, etc. And having made the acquaintance of a wild flower, so that they can never forget it or mistake it, they should examine the spot where they find it, so that they will know for the future in what sort of ground to look for such and such flower. ‘We should find wild thyme here?’ ‘Oh, this is the very spot for marsh marigolds; we must come here in the spring.’ ” *1

     A good field guide will supply “pleasant facts and fancies that the children delight in,” says Miss Mason on the same page.

     Under her blueberry vase of Asters is a patchwork coaster.

      Do you like little things? The Lady-of-the-House did an impulse buy at an Amish quilt shop. Have you ever seen a patchwork sewn this tiny?

     The mini wildflowers in the fabric inspired her to try a patchwork of her own. She cut out some squares and triangles for a pillow design that has been taking up space in her imagination for sometime.

     Quantities of grassy weeds, pink and stubbly-headed, grow in the sunny edges of the lawn. Some call them Smartweed, others, Lady’s Thumb. They are in the buckwheat family. This species looks to be  Polygonum pensylvanicum. With zinnia they fill a jar for an all-pink bouquet. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. 

     A white chrysanthemum at the front door mirrors the wild Boneset in the woods. 

     The fuzzy white flowers of the Boneset, to the Lady-of-the-House, are like fairy lights in the dark shaded woods. 

     The Boneset is an herb once used for healing – specifically in setting bones as its name tells. Its leaves were wrapped with bandages around splints. Perhaps it was used during America’s Revolutionary War.   

Post Script
Last Lines
     I chose the last line of the poem “Harvest Home” by Arthur Guiterman for the title of this post. It's the poem Yolanda made part of the Aster page of her Nature Diary and is a lovely poem worth looking up for this time of year. Does the subtitle “Each Weed Entangled Way” sound familiar? It is the last line of Mary Leslie Newton’s poem, “Queen Annes’s Lace.”

     1. Charlotte Mason, Home Education, page 51

     I hope you’ve had a relaxing visit with the Lady-of-the-House and that you’ve picked up some ideas for The Gentle Art of Learning - ideas for any time of life, any circumstance. 

     Karen Andreola