What Would Ma Ingalls Do?

Monday, August 29, 2005

Words of wisdom from the Little House

I found the following two quotes online this morning while googling "Ma Ingalls." I will write something soon, but wanted to share these:

Tip from Ma Ingalls:

If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care.
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.

~Caroline Ingalls
Nov 1881

It is easier, for a time, to go with the current; but how much more can be accomplished if we would all be honest in our talk. We all despise a coward, but we sometimes forget there is a moral as well as a physical cowardice...It is weakness to one's personality and moral fiber to deny one's opinions or falsify one's self, while it throws broadcast into the world just that much more cowardice and untruth.

~Laura Ingalls Wilder

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Lessons from our ancestors about the countryside

this is a bit further back than ma ingall's, but this article was a good read so i thought i'd share...some may have already seen it via pathtofreedom.com....

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Option to choose

I read the Little House books when I was a pre-teen, and then read them aloud with my son when he was about 7-8, so about 6 years ago. My most lasting impression is of the characters being plugged into an urgency and a practicality that most people never have to experience anymore. The frontier is closed. Our society has gone from farming families who are fairly self-sufficient, and who are dependent upon one another's good graces and skill sets, to families who live in insulated pods with earning as much money as possible in order to pay for entertainment a huge focus.

At this stage my main interest and ability is food supply, and my husband is the one who fixes the things that break. Most of us have no real concept of where our food comes from, and seldom have the time or the energy to give it more than a passing thought. We don't have to, or at least we've been conditioned to think we don't have to because of the ease and availability of mind-blowing selections of food. We hire specialists to handle most of the fix-it jobs around our houses because we haven't the time or inclination to learn how to fix plumbing, electric, appliances, replace shingles, erect a shed.

My family lives somewhere in the shadowy no-man's land between two worlds, learning to be more self-sufficient, but still woefully dependent upon modern conveniences. But we have the choice. We don't have to get it right the first time. We can afford to make mistakes and go back to the drawing board. The canning I do is more for the pleasure of it, than for the need. The savings helps, sure, but if I couldn't do it, or didn't want to do it, we'd be fine. I think of Ma Ingalls, and I start to panic. If she didn't get enough food put up for the winter, they went hungry. I can't even imagine the pressure on her soul to get it right. Add to that the fact that she didn't necessarily always want to be where she was, on the tattered edge of civilization, getting it done. I'm where I want to be for the most part, and I have the benefit of a husband whose business pays for most of what we need and want.

Part of the reason I'm learning as much about supplying our own food as possible is because I believe that in my lifetime we will see the food network shrink radically, we will have far fewer options than we have right now. Most of the people I know think I'm barking mad for thinking this, but I just smile and tell them to come see me when they need something to eat. I have a huge, long way to go— just barely scratching the surface of providing for my family without the help of a grocery store. If I feel overwhelmed at all, it's because I worry that I won't have enough knowledge in time, that I'll be caught with my pants down in the bean patch, and the clouds moving in. That I won't have built a strong enough network of people who have a variety of skills to fill in the blanks for one another.

I think Ma Ingalls faced things I'll never have to face. I imagine she often had a good, private cry then told herself to buck up and get on with it. I'm trying to learn to do the same thing, because I want to do it before I have to.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

For All Of Us...

... but especially Jeanne:

The Greek word oikos, meaning house, is the root of the word ecologist, which could be defined as, among other things, housewife. It's not that I'm so fixated on housewives, who are one among many categories of individual that have taken power to change the world, and it's not that I believe that the category housewife is so compelling a definition of women who have other lives before and after and often during staying home with kids....

From this article.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Yesterday I spent the day with my extended family, all farmers, children or grandchildren of farmers in northern New England. It struck me that it has been the women in my family who keep the families going, they were adept in the art of readiness. They stood as a reminder of how much WE can do. Though times have changed so much in the last few generations, poor farmer families are lured to all that mainstream America claims to offer. While many of my mother's cousins grew up knowing what to do they have turned their backs on it for the sake of convenience, therefore their children and grandchildren have no idea how to make do when the occasion arises.

So as with many things lately, I got to pondering what would Ma Ingalls do if she lived in today's society? Would she have been enticed by the lure of the millions of commercials and ads which bombard our culture every moment of the day? Promising an easier and more fulfilling life? Would she be living the the hills of (add state here) living off the grid and away from the mainstream?

I think Ma would be somewhere in between, like many of the contributors here, trying to find a happy middle ground that provides peace for herself and her family yet supplies them with the necessities they need without taxing the environment or their pockets. This is on my mind quite a bit now that winter creeps closer, my house is not outfitted to depend on anything other than petroleum products and that sickens me. My SO is the model of complacency, he lives in the land of denial and comes to reality only when bills grow overwhelming and then he is horrid to live with. Because of his denial I am the one who must take charge, prepare, plan, stock and ready this home and family for winter and high prices. I've lived very poorly before and struggling through cold New England winters struggling to make ends meet and not get too far into debt (if at all) until Spring comes and offers a reprieve is a rough place I care not to revisit.
So this all has me asking, once again "WWMID?" What choices would she make?

I think that she'd prefer being home and raising her children, modern society offers conveniences that even in an off the grid style, would free up time for Ma. I think she'd be enamored by the internet and would find a way to make it work to her benefit. Perhaps through an ezine to share her recipes, skills, knowledge and opinions. Or she would be a writer from home, for one of many magazines or newspapers out there. This last idea is actually one which came from a dear friend and one I cannot take credit for.

She would be proficient in home maintenance, home arts of yesteryear, she would use her skills in sewing, cooking, maybe gardening to provide a modest supplemental income. Perhaps she would teach herself basic plumbing, carpentry, etc. to do what needs to be done.

She would reuse old clothes that could not be tailored down to fit each subsequent child, they would then be remade into quilts, rugs or a patchwork dress. Worn sweaters would be unraveled and the yarn reused. She would be proficient at 'reduce, reuse, recycle'.

She would eschew prepacked, processed foods which offer convenience but also a multitude of health issues in favor of foods and ingredients that she has made ahead and prepackaged for cooking ease.

These are a few of my ideas, I'd like to see other's theories.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Inner life...

Well, I know I got an assignment with my invitation, but in typical lifelong fashion I am unable to follow directions. I have been thinking about Ma's inner life, or lack of, in the books and my own mom and just kind of ran with that...

When I read Little House as a child I saw Ma Ingalls much as I saw my own mother; a behind the scenes worker absolutely necessary, knowledgeable, but flat when compared to Laura. It is not that I found my mother (or Ma) without her charms. I loved baking cookies with her, the fact that she went sledding with us in the winter and sang songs with us on long car trips, but she did not have an inner life that I was privy to. I doubt I ever even thought of her having an active inner life, as that would have meant there was a place I could not reach her, a place where I did not belong. Ma Ingalls lacked this inner life as well. This makes perfect sense as the books are written from the perspective of a child. Ma is, for the most part, what she does not what she thinks. Even if she is the font from which life's lessons, social graces and rules stem these are statements of her place as the one who keeps the whole machine oiled; ever-present, ever necessary and ever taken for granted.

Rereading the books with my own children, I have been struck by my change of perspective, both as a reader (paying much more attention to Ma), and as the peer of Caroline Ingalls and my own mother (thinking back to her as the mother she was to me as a child). I am now the mother of children who depend upon me, watch me as I do things and listen to my life lessons and rules. I am no longer blind to the fact that my mother, and Caroline, had rich inner lives. That while they baked, sewed or weeded they also dreamed, worried and plotted things that had nothing to do with their children. I also know that while I share more of my feelings with my children than my mother did with me, and pretty certainly more than Caroline Ingalls did with her children I am still, in many ways, a mystery to my kids. That is as it should be, but I am struck by the way the wheel turns and I find myself here feeling so much closer to my mother, and to Ma, than I did as a child. They were both Mothers with a big, fat, capital M, and now I can see them as people also. I didn't realize until I had children of my own that I never loved my mother as much as she loved me. There is no love that supersedes the love I have for my children. It is a fierce, visceral love and I was ashamed of my ignorance of this fact once my first daughter was born. I called my mother on the phone to apologize, to tell her I didn't know... She laughed and told me that wasn't the half of it, just wait. She was right. As I read about Ma again and remember all of the things my own mother taught me, I know there is something much deeper there than can be put on the page.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Would More Money Change Things?

I struggle with mama brain as Georgia reaches the one month mark, so I'll start my thoughts here by respnding to Steph's ?: How did you come to it? Would you stick to it should a large sum of cash fall into your lap?

We live our lives of "voluntary simplicty" out of both a love for doing so and financial reasons. Cloth dipes, for instance, save us money but we can't imagine using exclusively disposables for environmental reasons. The baby sleeps wonderfully through the night in a disposable but we don't see any reason to use them during the day.

We don't spend much money on entertainment, "toys", or new clothes - but again, I think this is as much about it not being my nature as it is about not having the funds. Struggling right now with the tv - I think the family time E spends with his dad watching the Yankees games is important but dang, I wish they were on basic cable (a few years back here in NJ the Yanks games started to only be showr on their own "YES Network"....craziness)

It's nice knowing our food is right outside our door, and when we sell eggs or goat kids we usally can cover the cost of feeding the chooks and our two does.

I will be very happy once we reach financial equilibrium...once my husband makes enough at the job he already loves that I can focus on the money I can make from our farm and not have to work off farm anymore - probably another year or two at least.

But if we were to receive a financial windfall? We'd pay off our debts - in this day and age I know that buying a home where we did - in NJ to be near our folks - requires, oftentimes, a mortgage, as does E's hard-earned law degree, but the sooner those two debts are gone the better! But I would still raise our own food, still can and preserve, still garden, and still raise our livestock. I'd just worry less on bill paying day. :)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Reclaiming my "Ma Ingalls"

(I'm hardly a writer, so here is my attempt at relating my choices)

a modern woman’s choice of simplicity in the 21st century

The majority of our society are locusts, consuming everything of abundance that is in their path. After one hundred years of more, more, more, bigger, better, “new and improved!” we have used up and annihilated most of our resources.

How can people living in this overconsuming society even consider Ma Ingalls and her arduous, efficient way of life when everything is so easily handed to us? Why would they want to? The term ‘voluntary simplicity’ invariably raises eyebrows, not many people out there get it and figure those who strive for this are Nuts. That is the difference between Ma and the rest of us, is that it was not voluntary for her and as life gets crazier it becoming less voluntary for us.

No longer are we taught how to be self-sufficient, to live by the motto "Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do" of our parent's or grandparent's generation. Now we are bombarded by hundreds of different ways to make our life easier and stress-free, so why isn’t it and why aren’t we? I am always curious when I meet my contemporaries who subscribe to this way of living. How did you come to it? Would you stick to it should a large sum of cash fall into your lap?

We all have our reasons for returning to that “simpler” way of life, maybe by necessity, choice or a bit of both. It is difficult to find people to discuss this topic with, as so many feel downright resentful to see others living in such a manner as it projects a glaring spotlight on how much they consume and add to the depletion of our planet's resources. They feel threatened.

Some days I wonder how I came to this point, why am I not like the masses and blissfully unaware of what my ways are doing to my well being, my family and the planet. Living in debt with a dozen credit cards maxed out and living paycheck to paycheck. I choose this lifestyle because I loathe having to depend on anyone, apparently it’s the way I am wired. Dependency leads to chaos when your supply is interrupted, example: todays economy, peak oil…I may get the strange looks and words whispered behind my back but I find taking the road less traveled to be far more fulfilling.

The best advice I ever received was from my grandfather, the son of late 19th century/early 20th century pioneers, he said that nothing should be bought on credit. If you do not have the money then save it up and make do until you can pay cash. During that time you discover whether or not you really need it. Like Ma and Pa, he never wanted to be beholden to another and it is a good rule to live by. I think I am one of the "lucky ones" because my grandparents were an integral part in my upbringing, I watched and learned a lot from them, both children of farmers, both living through the Great Depression. I was taught to make do but our American culture can be mighty tempting with its siren's song of commercial temptations. Let's have a big house that practically does everything for you, products that make our lives easier and leaving us free to do....what? A big glitzy car, a store full of colorful, shiny new things to choose from, disposables to make life more convenient (pay no attention to the landfills full to bursting). I admit to fighting daily desires for these things, I think Ma would too.

As life in the 21st century grows more volatile and uncertain I find myself looking to Ma Ingalls, how did she cope with the many changes?

The woman worked, she worked hard, something that is a foreign concept to recent generations who want something for nothing. Many of our modern day problems stem from our “new and improved” ways of life. I admire the simplicity of the pioneer life but I am also a child of the latter half of the 20th century. I will always aim to make do but I will always admire and desire something to make life easier to.

So for those of us deemed “radicals”, let’s make do. It makes for more work but take a look around at those around us, we are a society filled with increasing numbers of unhealthy and fat people. Making life simpler has left us fat, lazy, depressed and uninspired.

So! Here are my goals and thoughts on simplicity:

Recycling goods, bartering and trading: Just last night I chatted with an online friend who trades her extra chicken eggs for services form her friends. What a concept!

I am frequently disappointed when I see that most will do for you if you give them cash, what happened to swapping? Trading? The internet has some fantastic websites promoting recycling, Freecycle most notably. We do not need brand-spanking new things, gently used or even hard used but sturdy and useable if given some TLC. For me my choice to live simply is more of what effects overconsumers have on the planet and it’s inhabitants.

Clothing: I know someone who insists on buying a completely new wardrobe each season. I will wager that the majority of her clothing is made of manmade fibers, something that really doesn’t last in most cases. How many make their own clothes? Sure many of us are hopeless behind the sewing machine which is when thrifting comes in mighty handy. Sewing one’s clothes has become a lost art in our affluent society. I recently ripped my shorts on who knows what, most would toss them and buy new ones. I cannot boast that I took scrap material and patched it but I did patch it, with a store-bought iron on patch. It’s not perfect but it’s a start.

Food: This is where I tend to alienate myself from the majority of people in the various online groups I have belonged to over the years. I like cooking from scratch, I keep “make a mix” blends handy instead of depending on prepackaged or canned goods that are filled with preservatives and who knows what. I prefer eating fresh veggies and fruit that I have grown. Canning and preserving gives me a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I can do this for my family. I aim to eat seasonally and regionally, Annemarie Colbin’s The Natural Gourmet is a wonderful book which promotes this way of eating, I highly recommend reading it. Now I am not about to begin cooking and eating the ways of the pioneers, I do have some splurges that are a must, olive oil being one of them and good chocolate being another. I like to experiment with cultural recipes, but the main focus of my diet is what I can get locally.

Entertainment: This is where my partner and I butt heads, he is very media-centred and I grew up without a tv and locked outside on all but the most inclement of days. I found my own entertainment something my child now struggles with as she has two very opposite parents. Thankfully she is happiest outside, her preferred “toys” being sticks, rocks and whatever she may find outside. I do admit to having an addiction to this time-suck called the internet. I am addicted to the ideas I find, knowledge I acquire and people I meet in cyberspace. Hobbies, learning fine old arts which in turn can also grace your home decoratively with your handiwork. Saves a bundle at those big home furnishings stores.

Homeschooling and the one income family: It’s a hard thing to do some days, this family of three living on one income, one income that twenty years ago was sufficient to support a family of six quite well. Homeschooling has been a hard sell for my partner’s family and, at times, my partner. I am seen as selfish and overly attached, overprotective because I want my child with me instead of in school or at a daycare/babysitter while I work a lousy paying, thankless job. Homeschooling gives me freedom, freedom to live slower, get to really know my child. Having her work beside me each day teaches her skills and gives her knowledge of things that many adults have no clue of themselves. She will be self-sufficient and a wise protectress of the planet and its innocent inhabitants.

“DIY”: Recently my partner and I built our chickens a new coop and pen from mostly found materials, it cost us maybe $25 and we now have room for our 15 layers and probably room for a few more. Now Ma gets all the interest but I have to admit I admire Pa as well, he built their barns, homes and furnishings. I can relate to Pa, I like to think I have a fair balance of the two. Having forked out $3,000 two winters ago to have stairs to the cellar put in and discovering that the carpenter hired did a pisspoor job I am more determined to arm myself with the know how to do it myself in the future. I think the only thing I’d rather not mess with is all things electrical.

Now these are only a few areas, homekeeping is another subject all its own with non-toxic cleaners and what not. Ma Ingalls had a hardworking simple life, it was not perfect every moment but I imagine at the end of the day she fell into bed utterly exhausted and she was content and happy with the life she chose and built. She admired pretty things and dreamt of special items that were more of a splurge by her standards. When it comes down to it, that’s all we are really after, a sense of contentment the problem is we have to work for that contentment. We were not meant to have everything done for us, if that were the case we’d still be attached by our umbilical cords to our mothers.

It's Official.



Hey, Ladies.

Here's the situation:

This is actually going to be a real website/group blog in the near future - this is just sort of a test run.

All entries you make here will eventually be imported to the new place.

Posting about day-to-day Ma-type tasks you perform is fine, but what would really be excellent is taking those postings and kind of running with them, getting into the philosophy, attaching it to current events, etc. You know? Does that make sense?

I'm going to edit and repost the essay I did about Ma on my old blog, for example. I love reading about what motivates behavior, why people are coming back to Ma, etc. I got more comments from my entry about Ma than I had about anything else in a long time.

There will be a tee shirt, yes. And it will be cool and tasteful, because Ma would have it no other way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


I know for sure Ma Ingalls would NOT have had time to blog.

But what if she had!?