Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Simpler Life

My eight year old and I are making our way through the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I never read the books as a child but grew up watching The Little House on the Prairie on TV and thought it would be a fun series to read and discuss with the boy. Wilder's writing is sweet and memorable. She makes you feel like you are right there with the family, experiencing their joys and hardships. We are currently reading Farmer Boy, which tells the story of Almanzo Wilder (Laura's husband) as a young boy living in Northern New York. Both the Ingalls family and the Wilder family are incredibly hard working, and I love sharing these stories with my son as a way of demonstrating how easy life is now compared to then. Last night we read how Mrs. Wilder used beef tallow to make candles. It was a day long process, and they needed to make enough to last the entire year. Everything they did took time, a tremendous amount of energy, and careful planning. There was no running to the grocery store in the middle of winter to replenish the pantry with food and supplies. 

The other thing I love about the stories is the cyclical nature of everything. Each book (well, the three we've read so far) journeys through the seasons, explaining in detail how the families took advantage of what was available and learned how to preserve what they needed for the upcoming months. Barbara Kingsolver wrote a book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle that describes how her family spent a year buying only locally grown or manufactured products. There is this wonderful part where they are gathered in the kitchen cleaning, cooking and pickling a mountain of produce, and I was reminded of it as we read through the harvest section of Farmer Boy. Both books serve as a metaphor for life. Be prepared. Seasons change, life becomes difficult. We need to preserve the good things to last us through the short, cold days.

I am amazed at how the stories are affecting me. While I don't envy Mrs. Ingalls and Mrs. Wilder their long hours cleaning, preparing food, and making clothing, I do wish things could be simpler. Simpler food, simpler living space, simpler responsibilities. As a mom, it can get tiresome doing the same activities over and over. Activities that often go completely unappreciated. But I am trying to shift my attitude to one of mindfulness - finding joy in things otherwise taken for granted.

If, like me, you only watched Laura Ingalls on television (the book is much, much different) or even if you read some or all of the books as a kid, I recommend [re]reading the series by yourself or with a member of the younger generation. We could all benefit from the lessons in those pages.

And go out and enjoy the springtime. We've earned it this year!

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