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I have a new series called TWELVE CLASSIC BOOKS YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR HOME SCHOOL LIBRARY. Here is February’s classic pick:

Title:               A Girl of the Limberlost
Author:           Geneva Grace Stratton-Porter (1863-1924)
Genre:             Autobiographical Fiction; rural life in northeastern Indiana
Setting:           Limberlost Swamp near Geneva, Indiana, the author’s home
Timeline:        Early 1900s

About:            A Girl of the Limberlost (1909) was written by popular Indiana author, photographer and naturalist, Gene Stratton-Porter. This author and her works are most often associated with the one-time great Limberlost Swamp (13, 000 acres) near Geneva, Indiana by the Ohio border. AGOTL uses the Limberlost and the fictional town of Onabasha as its setting.
The primary character is Elnora Comstock, a young girl of high school age who lives with her mother near the swamp in poverty. Her mother treats Elnora abominably and blames her for the death of her husband, Elnora’s father. Due to the kindness of others, however, Elnora does “come of age” and eventually reconciles with her mother.
I have referred to the book as autobiographical fiction because of Stratton-Porter’s intense love of the Limberlost Swamp where she spent a great deal of her time exploring. Also, Stratton-Porter cleverly injects herself into the story as the character of  “the bird women.”
Other recommended reading:  A Girl of the Limberlost is the sequel to Stratton-Porter’s book Freckles (1904).

Visit the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, Indiana. Although the great Limberlost Swamp is gone, parts of it have been restored and can be visited: https://www.indianamuseum.org/limberlost-state-historic-site

Also, for those of you who get these posts by email, please visit my website for previous articles and to take a peek at the books I have written. Thanks.  MLJ



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Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender
Song of Solomon  2:15

We often say “it’s the little foxes that spoil the grapes!” Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived apart from the Lord Jesus, penned this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It can be used to illustrate that it’s not the big things in our lives that destroy us but the little things. It’s the little flaws in our character that are allowed to come in under the radar unnoticed, that develop into monsters that gobble us up in the end.

Although most things are not fatal, they do leave scars that preclude us from accomplishing great things. Everyone of us has them. Procrastination is the flea that bites and bites, wasting time and resources, causing us to settle for ten acres of corn when we could have harvested one hundred. Idle words that hurt and hinder, always seeming to get back to the person we were talking about. We fail to take the wisdom, gifts and resources that God has given us. Waste! Time wasted, resources wasted and words wasted!

The little foxes rarely clean out your vineyard overnight; they do it little by little, over the course of a lifetime. You will drink no wine from your vineyard if you do not shoo out the little foxes and repair the breach in the fence that allowed them to sneak in!  MLJ

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Keeping my promise to you, I am beginning a new series called TWELVE CLASSIC BOOKS YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR HOME SCHOOL LIBRARY. Here is January’s classic pick:

Title:               The Long Winter
Author:           Laura Ingalls Wilder
Genre:             Historical Fiction; semi-autobiographical
Setting:           De Smet, Dakota Territory (S. Dakota)
Timeline:        Winter of 1880-81

About:            The Long Winter is book six in the Little House Series depicting pioneer life in Dakota Territory, specifically, the struggles and survival during the famous blizzard of 1880-81. Historically known as The Snow Winter, the story is seen through the eyes of Laura as a thirteen year-old girl, and records her remembrances written down many years later by herself as a mature author and women in her sixties. Although Laura wrote this book as historical fiction, most of the events, locations, and people are real. The story centers around the life of her pioneer family in keeping with the general theme of the other Little House books.
Interestingly, the Ingalls family had boarders living with them in their drafty, uninsulated storefront in De Smet during the hard winter, adding another dimension of drama and complexity to the story. However, you will not read about this in The Long Winter because Laura saw fit to sidestep the unsavory details that might have seemed too “adult” and inappropriate for schoolchildren.
The Long Winter doesn’t seek to soften the hardships of that time and is pretty straightforward, confirming the shear character and spine needed for survival in those days. How different we are, indeed, from our pioneer ancestors.
A good follow-up for high school students would be The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin, Harper Perennial, 2004, which deals with the equally famous blizzard of 1888. This book does mention Laura’s blizzard and will give you an idea of how severe it really was.  MLJ

jpeg long winter childrens blizzard

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(A Short Story from the Old West)
© 2018 Michael Leonard Jewell


Timing was now essential. The pots of baking beans, now bubbling thick with molasses and strips of salt pork, had been cooking for hours but the sourdough biscuits had to have time to rise, to be baked at the last minute so they would be fresh, hot and good.
Hidden in secret under the cover of several empty flour sacks were apple strudels and peach cobblers that Hans had made from Mr. Swinson’s offering of dried fruit, to be a grand surprise for the men at their Christmas dinner.
Later that evening, cowboys not on their watches gathered around the blazing fire near the chuck wagon. How their eyes bugged out and their mouths watered to see the four large turkeys roasting golden brown over the fire, their fat falling in sizzling drops upon the hot glowing coals. The old trail boss stood before them, holding up his hand to get the attention of his men.
“Boys, I’m sorry I couldn’t get you home for Christmas this year to be with your folks; it couldn’t be helped. But is it not Christmas wherever you are?” Then Mr. Swinson and his men removed their hats as he began to pray and ask the blessing:

  Lord, It’s Christmas here again. You know that my boys and I would rather be at home with our folks but that’s not possible. I want to thank You for what we’ve got and what You’ve given us. Thank You for the Gift of Your dear Son. We’ll be thinkin’ ‘bout Him tonight ‘special. Now, let us enjoy each other’s company, just as if we were home with our families.  Amen.

As Hans and Juan carved the turkeys and dished up each man’s plate, the men noticed that on the top of the chuck wagon was a small pine tree thoughtfully brought back with the turkeys by Juan and the cowboy. Hans had cut thin strips of tin foil into long streamers and tied them to the branches. It made a fine display, reflecting the glow of the fire and the lamp light.
Then the homesick cowboys, finishing their plates of food and dessert, made haste to relieve their partners so they could take their turns partaking of the wonderful feast.
Hans approached Mr. Swinson who was leaning against the corner of the chuck wagon, staring into the fire. Handing him a bowl and spoon, he said, “Here Boss, God Jul from the old country.”1
Swinson took the bowl from Hans and smiled, “What is this?”
Hans grinned, pressing his lips together. “I didn’t want you to miss out on your Risgryngröt. Sorry I didn’t have any almonds.”
Swinson took a taste of the rice porridge, a Swedish Christmas tradition meant to be served with a hidden almond inside that assured the finder of marriage during the following year. The hard old trail boss choked back emotion. “God Jul, my dear old friend!” he said, shaking his hand. Nothing more needed to be said.
As the evening began to wear on, several of the men gathered around the fire, one with his harmonica, and began to sing good and loud so the cowboys watching over the cattle could hear:

There’s a song in the air!
There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer and a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire while the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a King!

As the melody sweetened and warmed the chilly night air, several of the cowboys slipped away to retire to their bedrolls under the toasty warm tarpaulin, knowing that soon it would be their turn to stand watch over the herd.
Home seemed like a dream and so far away, but maybe next Christmas would find them all there.


 1 God Jul, is Merry Christmas! in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

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This Sunday, December 23rd, I will post the final episode of the eight-part Christmas short story, IS IT NOT CHRISTMAS WHEREVER YOU ARE?
Starting in January, I plan to post from a series called TWELVE CLASSIC BOOKS YOU SHOULD HAVE IN YOUR HOME SCHOOL LIBRARY.  Again, if you would like these blog posts sent directly to your email, follow me at FIRST SCHOOL PRESS.



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(A Short Story from the Old West)
© 2018 Michael Leonard Jewell


The men dismounted their rides and slowly began to work around each side of the thicket along the grove of trees. As they approached, they observed several turkeys roosting at the bottom of some pine boughs.
How Strange,  Juan thought to himself. Turkeys usually roost up higher in the trees. These fellows are flat on the ground where a catamount or coyote could get at ‘em. 1
The drover only had his six-shooter with him, but Juan carried his ten-bore shotgun. Surprised that the turkeys didn’t make an effort to flee as they approached, he quickly took aim and fired off two shots, concentrating on the long necks and heads of the ponderous birds. The turkeys didn’t move.
As Juan and his partner closely examined the dead birds—four of the largest toms they had ever seen—the answer to the mystery of why they were roosting on the ground was made evident. Huddling together at the base of the trees to gain shelter from the freezing rain, they found themselves frozen and trapped in the hard, crusty snow. The turkeys were not able to break free from the ice and fly up in the tree branches to spend the night or to escape from the approaching men.
Juan and the cowboy fastened the large birds together by their feet and slung them over their saddle horns and after finding enough firewood, returned to the camp. Juan asked the cowboy to keep hush about what had happened.
Hans was certainly surprised and happy when he saw the turkeys. He and Juan quickly began dressing them, plucked feathers flying everywhere. Then he cut up the hearts, gizzards, and livers from the birds and simmered them down to make a broth. Hans had a flour sack of stale saleratus biscuits, sourdough bread and corn muffins he had been saving for stuffing. 2 Breaking them up in a large pan and seasoning with leaves of dried sage and several onions he had been keeping back for the occasion, he poured the hot broth and precious bits of giblets over the dried bread mixture. Hans and Juan stuffed the birds until their necks and bellies bulged and set them roasting over the hot coals of the fire.
1 Catamount, an Old English word short for “cat of the mountain”; refers to any large wildcat, i.e., cougar, bobcat or lynx.
2 Saleratus, an early leavening agent used before baking powder was commercially available.

 (Part VIII coming next week)

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(A Short Story from the Old West)
© 2018 Michael Leonard Jewell


The thoughts of the trail cook were always on the next meal, the next task. Responsible for preparing three large meals every day for over a dozen men, how could it be otherwise? At three o’clock in the morning while he rolled out sourdough for biscuits, thickened a pan of meat drippings for sop, and floured slices of side pork to fry crisp and brown for breakfast, Hans already contemplated the beans he had soaking for stew and the cornbread batter to mix and bake for the next meal in the day.
There was a lot of work to be done before the herd moved out later that morning. The water barrel had to be topped off, and more firewood collected and chopped to be stored in the “possum belly”, a buffalo skin that was stretched out and hung under the wagon like a sling.
Hans would let the weary men who had just come off their watches, sleep as long as he could. Then he must rouse them from their bedrolls and comfortable shelter under the tarpaulin. Though Mr. Swinson had not yet given the order to move out, Hans knew that after the noon meal, he must pack up the chow wagon and drive far ahead of the herd with the scout who would point out their next camp.
Beginning all over again, building a blazing fire, he must have a hot meal and coffee waiting for the men when they got there. To do otherwise would be inexcusable, even unthinkable. Everyone had his particular job and responsibility and need not be told what to do. The drive would not and could not suffer sloth or idleness from even one man.

* * *

Christmas morning had arrived. Swinson and his drovers had put twelve miles behind them yesterday on a trail of mud and slush. He decided to let the cattle rest and fatten up some on the plentiful grass near a wide stream they had found. It being Christmas, the men could certainly use the rest, too.
Juan and a cowboy “volunteered” by the trail boss had set out to retrieve more firewood from a thicket of Osage orange trees and pines they could see in the distance. It had been raining lightly all the night and a coating of ice seemed to cover everything. As the two men approached the spot, they noticed a thick covering of snow that seemed to wrap around the base of the trees like the white fur collar of an ermine coat. Then Juan stopped his mule in its tracks.
“Whoa, hand!” he whispered to his partner. “Do you see what I’m seein’? Are those turkeys huddled together under those trees or am I seein’ things?”

(Part VII coming next week)

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