Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Servin' up Wormy Beans with Sisu

 by Lorna Kerin Beall

“Ugh,” “Ick,” and “Eww,” Nana's grandchildren responded when she told them how her family survived on wormy beans one hard Minnesota winter when she was a child. Nana smacked her lips, "Yum! Protein!"  I wasn’t so shocked. After all, didn’t they normally eat weird things like pickled pigs feet, and pig brains (that went by the name of headcheese?) I’d even heard that they, as well as my own family, ate rattlesnakes!

Little did I know at the time that wormy beans would play such a big part in the middle-grade novel I would someday write. “The Wormy Bean Winter," is based on real-life events of my Finnish American family. Though, as my husband Richard likes to point out,  it was his side of the family who actually ate the wormy beans!

In a card promoting my manuscript, I included the synopsis, “Kata didn’t realize that something as tiny as a wormy bean could be the difference between disaster and survival. While homesteading on the South Dakota prairie during the harsh winter of 1919, her family was barely surviving on their last bag of beans. When they discovered they were eating beans infested with worms, Pappa went to work in a copper mine leaving 12-year-old Kata in charge of the outdoor chores in the bitter cold. What was worse was that Papa’s confidence in Kate was bean-sized, too. She had to prove her sisu, the Finnish word for guts and determination, while she faced challenges like her baby sister’s ear nearly freezing off, vicious old “Three-Toes” the wolf, and all her sisters’ refusal to eat the wormy beans even if it meant starvation!”

I loved writing the book and coming to know more about my family. And I am so thankful for the humor, sisu and faith that both our families had when they helped settle this wild and wondrous country.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our "Little House on the Prairie" Dresses

Jana Segal

While my mom devoured the Little House books, I was more into the TV series. As a child, I remember being glued to the TV to watch Half-pint (Laura), Mary, Ma and Pa on Little House on the Prairie every week. My pre-adolescent heart beat a little faster when curly haired Michael Landon flashed that gorgeous smirk of his. My annoying father would walk in front of the TV flicking his tongue distastefully, “Bluck. Bluck.” But that show meant a lot to me. I always wanted to be an actress and child star Melissa Gilbert gave me hope with her two front teeth slightly protruding. In addition to our matching smiles, I resembled her in other ways - especially that button nose. (Imagine my dismay when my childhood doppelganger had her nose and teeth fixed.)

A popular show in the 70s, Little House on the Prairie had an impact on the fashions of the time. I remember all the girls at church wearing long, maxi dresses. In our family there was very little money to buy new cloths. Mostly we wore hand-me-downs and thrift shop finds (way before it was trendy.) I remember one of the few times we got something new. Dad had gotten free tickets to the fair. I don't know what possessed him, but he bought all five of us girls - mom included - matching pink and white gingham maxi dresses with bonnets. (One of us must have destroyed the Polaroid of the five of us from Mom, teenage me, preteen sis on down to the baby in our matching Little House on the Prairie dresses.) We had so few clothes so at any given time at least three of us had to wear the offending dresses to church on Sunday. Oh. Oh. Painful memory. In the church parking lot. Climbing out of the bed of the truck wearing my Little House maxi dress and tennis shoes.

Despite the embarrassing dresses, I was always loyal to the program. Growing up as the oldest daughter, I was a timid, overly obedient child. My one act of rebellion was standing up to my dad when he forbid me to watch my beloved Little House on the Prairie because it was too dramatic and “sappy.” I remember crying, “Mom! It is so unfair!” This was the most wholesome, Christian show on television!

It's funny how things come full circle. After I was grown and married, mom dug out one of the gingham dresses for my costume collection. When she and my nieces came to visit us, we dragged out my costume box and all dressed up 1880's style to visit the old West tourist town of Tombstone. One of my little nieces continued the family tradition by wearing the pink gingham dress and bonnet with her tennis shoes!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Inspirational Visit to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge Farmhouse

Jana Segal

While visiting my mom in Missouri, we took a self-guided tour of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge Farmhouse in Mansfield where Laura wrote the beloved Little House books. What a lovely day!  The introduction included a charming documentary featuring a recording of the elderly Laura making a speech about how everything that she wrote about really happened to her. 

While touring the museum, I was struck by the similarities between the mother-daughter relationship of Rose Wilder and Laura Ingalls Wilder and my own relationship with my mother. The first thing I noticed was that mother and daughter were both writers - just as we are. Laura's daughter Rose was a successful writer and editor for the San Francisco Bulletin when she encouraged her mother to jot down her stories. Rose used that expertise to give her mom feedback on her work - just as I gave mom feedback on her children's manuscript. It was encouraging to read that Laura's first book, "Little House in the Big Woods" wasn't published until she was a senior citizen in 1932.  (See, mom, there's hope for you yet!) Inspired by her mom's stories, Rose went on to write, "The Young Pioneers." Likewise,  I was inspired to adapt my mom's family story, "Model T Biscuits" for the big screen. 

my 1880s writing desk

As Mom and I toured the farmhouse, I felt a kinship with Laura and her daughter Rose. Noticing all the pioneer mementos, I sensed that we shared a common nostalgia for South Dakota homesteading heritage. (Mom writes about her own family's South Dakota homesteading adventures in her book, "Wormy Bean Winter.") We spoke to one volunteer who used to be a teacher. She recalled how Laura liked to come to her classroom and read her books. My mom also loved to read her books in me and my siblings' childhood classrooms. 

I looked around and saw that we weren't the only ones who felt a special bond with Laura and Rose Wilder. There were people from all over the country (and other countries too) and even a Mennonite family who related to those cherished Little House books.

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge Farmhouse museum site:

Video of the Rocky Ridge Farmhouse property

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fountain Pens and Other New-fangled Writing Tools

by Lorna Kerin Beall 

My daughter, Jana, had to drag me kicking and fighting like a roped calf into doing this blog. I also bellowed when my girls first suggested I use the computer instead of my typewriter. They said something like, "Mom you need to enter the 20th century. Using the computer makes writing so much easier." (Of course now I’m saving a ton of money on Wite-Out.)

In my defense, I remember being forced to use a fountain pen in penmanship class. As a fourth grader at Riverview Grade school in Prosser, Washington in l951 (or was it 1952?) having to use that fountain pen made me feel like I was a forced to use quill and ink. (Now I’d love that old-timey feeling, but back then it wasn’t a positive thing.) In fact, because of the inkwells, I was sure we students were still sitting at in the same ancient, dilapidated desks once used by pioneer children!

I had to dip and hold the tip of my pen in the ink bottle (which did not fit in the manufactured hole in th e desk) and pull a little gadget on the pen which filled it. Then I was free, not to create, but to practice my cursive over and over. This resulted in drips and mess and much blotting. I was assured this was the most modern way to write. (Now where have I heard that before?) 
Fortunately, the next year my fifth grade teacher, whose birthday was the same day as mine, drove out a whole six miles to our little stucco farm house for a fried chicken dinner and homemade birthday cake. Besides a big dose of confidence, he gave me - marvel of all marvels - my very first ball point pen! Did he guess that this shy, freckled-faced ten-year-girl would one day be a writer?

So here I am blogging once again. Actually, I have to admit it is fun. And it’s especially rewarding because of those of you who read and/or respond to our blog so graciously.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rag Dolls and Kewpies

by Lorna Kerin Beall

I recently attended an OWAIC Writing for Children conference in Springfield with two of my good friends. Though it wasn’t the main theme of the conference, the focus that I came home with was to "write from the heart."

I hadn’t planned to buy a book but keynote speaker Paula Morrow, the editor and publisher of Boxing Tree Books, put out copies of the book, Rose O’Neil, The Girl Who Loved to Draw, by Linda Brewster. (Rose O’Neil was the creator of the Kewpie Doll.) It’s a beautiful book with innumerable pictures illustrating Rose’s life as an artist by both Ms. O’Neil and author Ms. Brewster. It’s a feast for eyes and heart. And I loved how, in the early chapters, the author captured the child like wonder of little Rosie. 

But one reason I wanted this book was because it reminded me of the Kewpie doll that I got when I was four-years-old and living with my Finnish Mumu in the tiny town of Buffalo, South Dakota.

When I was six, my Mama married my Step-Daddy and we were about to head out West to find a new home. I wrapped Kewpie in tissue paper, and after a final kiss, put her in a Buster Brown shoe box and packed her with the rest of our things in the back seat. She traveled with us to an apple picking camp in Hood River, Oregon. I felt bad that Kewpie was missing the sights like the huge Hood River and Mount Hood. The mountain looked like my Grandpa with its white head and beard of snow. But I was happy that Kewpie was with us. At least I got to cuddle the Raggedy-Ann my Mumu had made. We’d tell Kewpie everything when we got to our brand new own home. (Our oma tupa.)
We loved our new stucco-covered home in Prosser, Washington even though Mama said it looked like a chicken coop and we had to use the outhouse at first. Snug in our oma tupa,  I gave both Kewpie and Raggedy Ann a goodnight kiss every single night. 

I still have my porcellin Kewpie though her “skin” is cracked and wrinkled much like my own. Sometimes it's good to unpack childhood toys and family heirlooms to see what precious memories they conjure up and what stories they inspire. I appreciate the sweet reminder I got to "write from the heart"  from the conference, Linda Brewster’s book, and memories of my beloved Kewpie Doll.