Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Winter days

Here in Ohio we don't get a lot of snow, most of the winter you can still see the grass. However, a week and a half ago we got a record breaking 5-6 inches! I know, I know, all of my family in Western New York is snickering about it, but what can I say? I haven't been out of the house in a while so I decided to stroll up the driveway to get at least a little exercise (it's a tenth of a mile long) and then I went to see what the men were up to. They were cutting wood (no surprise there) so I watched for a while until Aleks suggested to me to take a turn. Well, OK, if you're going to push me. ;-) Let me tell ya, sawing wood by hand is hard work!So here I am, getting my upper body workout. It's no wonder the 4 of them are as strong as oxes! So, now my shoulders are sore (but don't tell anybody). They do this every day, I'm so glad that I get the easier job of being a wife and mother! Sometimes women are tempted to lament about how hard they've got it but really, I've got it made! If I want to stay in the house, I can. If I want to sew or cook or bake, I can do whichever I like. Mr. G and the boys have to do the chores, cut wood and go to work no matter how much they might wish to stay in the house and read. So, here's to all the men who do the hard part so that we can do what we do best, keep our homes a welcoming place for our family.

We just finished The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We read it once, years ago, but I wanted to read it aloud again. It's hard to complain about your lot in life whilst reading about what that family went through to survive 7 months of blizzards. Their entire life consisted of 2 meals a day of brown bread (dry) and boiled potatoes and twisting hay to keep a fire going so that they wouldn't freeze to death. Sobering, huh? They ran out of kerosene at one point and Ma made a button lamp so they would have at least a little light. I've copied that part out for you, here it is:

“If only I had some grease I could fix some kind of a light,” Ma considered. “We didn’t lack for light when I was a girl, before this new-fangled kerosene was ever heard of.”

“That’s so,” said Pa. “These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraph and kerosene and coal stoves- they’re good things to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ‘em.”

When he had gone to do the chores for the night Ma told Carrie to bring her the ragbag. She took some of the axle grease from the box and spread it in an old saucer. Then she cut a small square of calico. “Now find me a button in the button bag, Carrie.”
“What kind of button, Ma?” Carrie asked, bringing the button bag from the cold front room.
“Oh, one of Pa’s old overcoat buttons,” said Ma.
She put the button in the center of the square of calico. She drew the cloth together over the button and wound a thread tightly around it and twisted the corners of calico straight upward in a tapering bunch. Then she rubbed a little axle grease up the calico and set the button into the axle grease in the saucer.

“Give me a match, Charles, please,” Ma said. She lighted the taper tip of the button lamp. A tiny flame flickered and grew stronger. It burned steadily, melting the axle grease and drawing it up through the cloth into itself, keeping itself alight by burning. The little flame was like the flame of a candle in the dark.
“You’re a wonder, Caroline,” said Pa. “It’s only a little light, but it makes all the difference.”

The Long Winter
Laura Ingalls Wilder

We decided to make a button lamp today and followed Ma's directions. At first it burned really fast and seemed to be just burning the cloth, but after a while it seemed to settle down and just burn the oil. I didn't use axle grease but cheap-o corn oil that has been used to deep fry a bunch of stuff. It was really bright, much more so than modern candles (maybe candles in the 1880's burned brighter?) and was hard to blow out. Very hard. It took 2 of us blowing as hard as we could, several times, to blow it out.


  1. Mrs. G,

    What a lovely post. I miss our place out of town. Our driveway was also a tenth of a mile long, and occasionally I would walk it. I also used it when I trained my dog. When I was pregnant and overdue, I went out and drew in the front fields—a huge message with my feet— trying to start labor and having fun.

    I agree with you that the men folk have the physically hard work. I tell my husband that I am so thankful to have him to take care of the many things that a man does, which often go without a lot of appreciation.

    How self sufficient are you and your family? I know you said that you raise your own meat and eggs, if I remember correctly? You also use a wood-burning stove? I would be interested to hear of all that you do that you consider self-sustaining. My girls and I, who all live in town, yearn to be self-sufficient and want to work towards it. In fact, one of them and I were talking of it just last night, and yesterday, my oldest brought over a rabbit that she had skinned for Sister’s dog. We do small things but would love to learn more!

    I have read the Little House books too many times to count, and my very favorite is The Long Winter. It is so amazing what fortitude those people had. It indeed makes me thankful for the luxuries we have today.

    I have thought often about Ma’s button lamp and was telling my dad about it just a few weeks back. How fun that you actually made one! What a long post this is…sigh.

    Thanks for sharing your day. :)

  2. The lamp is really neat!!!
    I have to cut firewood alot. Not the most fun job I've done... :D
    We have about 4 inches of snow here. Its been 30-35 below here for awhile. Thankfully its warmed up some. :)

  3. I read The Long Winter last year since it was my first winter in AK. It certainly put things in perspective.

  4. The Long Winter is one of my favorite books and it always makes me stop and think how easy I have it and how much I do take for granted. I will have to try to make a button lamp of my own. I think the boys would enjoy it!

    Even though we don't live in the country (yet!) and hubby doesn't have a ton of work to do outside I do often feel guilty taking such pleasure in my housework and being able to pretty much do what I like whenever I want to! David gets to go outside in all sorts of weather to care for the coonhounds and take out the trash and clear the drive after we get snow, and do whatever else needs to be done while I can stay warm indoors with my babies.

    That being said, I'd love to try sawing wood sometime. Im sure I wouldn't be able to get much done but it looks like fun to try!