The Art of Beautiful Living

An Experiment Born of Inconvenience

Y’all know that I am a bit strange and I love to try things that most others wouldn’t do on a bet.  I have a fascination with the past and how people lived (and ate) back in the day.  When a storm knocked out our power for almost two weeks, I was thrown into the past living without water, septic, or power.  It sort of became an experiment in survival (we stayed in at home the entire time) while we attempted to live comfortably without the conveniences of modern life.

With Hurricane Dorian looming off the coast, several of my friends on Facebook are talking about their hurricane preparation and now, are reporting power outages.  This caused me to remember my own hurricane encounters.  Just a couple of days ago, Facebook posted my memories from the days after Hurricane Irene hit Virginia in August of 2011.  We lived just north of Richmond, but we were without power for what seemed like an eternity.  My Facebook posts say that we were part of the 4% Club (i.e. we were the last ones to get power almost two weeks after the storm).  This gave me lots of time to contemplate living in the past.  I fancy that I learned a lot during those two weeks.

What I Learned…

Wood House

Learning is fun for me.  I enjoy knowing (and experiencing) how people lived in the past.  It seems that I always tend to look at my situation and compare it to what my ancestors experienced.  How comfortably did they live without modern conveniences?  When we were working in the Texas heat on the house, I thought about the amount of work it took to survive on the Texas frontier in 1846.  They had a family to feed.  We were exhausted just from our daily work.

I certainly couldn’t imagine chores all day, hauling water, chopping wood, finding (growing or hunting) food and cooking it over a fire.  And then there is the winter preparations on top of this.  Where did cloth and clothing come from?  I don’t know how they got it all done.  Add on top of this that my family emigrated from Scotland and arrived in June.  They were trying to figure out how to do all of this in the middle of a Texas summer drought.  Unbelievable.  When I committed to milking twice a day and making cheese, along with tending to goats, garden, and chickens…I thought I was doing something.  It wasn’t even close to what my ancestors experienced.  I still had all the conveniences of modern life to help me.

So…I May Be a Little Strange

I have some strange experiments that I would love to do, but I think my family would mutiny.  Wouldn’t it be fun to spend just one week living like we were back in the 1850s?

No running water, no air conditioning.  Just what we could hunt, catch or grow to eat.  Nobody would ever go for this and so I did the best I could with my own little imaginary world.  I raised a garden with a ton of fresh produce and I planned meals around what was in the garden.  My favorite meals were the ones that came entirely from our property.  I made gratins (crust-less quiches) filled with my onions and peppers and made with our eggs and homemade cheeses.  Heck, sometimes we even had homemade bread made with they whey from the cheese I had made.  It was fun and gratifying, but most of all it gave me a real appreciation of what it took to survive in the 1800s.

But I would never really know what pioneer living was like.  I was using electric appliances to prepare these meals.  The refrigerator kept everything fresh.  I had hot showers at the end of the day.  It was pioneer living with modern conveniences, but I would never get to experience life without them because nobody would ever agree to it.  And then, Mother Nature stepped in and removed all choice in the matter.

A Little Help from Mother Nature

Sorry about my foot being in the picture…

Things got real.  In August of 2011, we were hit by Hurricane Irene.  That left us without power for 11 days.  Two weeks after regaining power, Tropical Storm Lee hit.  This storm washed out our road and took our phone line (and internet) with it.  Being without power wasn’t horrible.  We had a generator that we ran in order to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold.  It was hot and humid, of course, and so not having AC wasn’t great, but we could survive that easily, right?  It would only be for a few days, right?

We were on well and septic.  This meant that when we were without power, we had no running water.  THIS was an issue because experiment or no, we had no open well to “fetch” water from.  We were just without.  We bought garbage cans and filled them up with water at our friends’ house and used this water to do flushes and showers.  I can proudly say that I am capable of a full shower with only 2 qt. of water.  I need a little extra if I shave my legs.

We did eat out of the garden.  While there was a bountiful supply of peppers, eggplants, squash, okra, lettuces, onions, asparagus, and tomatoes, the variety was lacking after a few days.  I did succotash and what I called “scrambles” in the electric skillet.  I had no means of cooking over an open fire and so we were limited to using this electric skillet powered by a generator.

We had to use the potty sparingly.  I remember hearing a line from “Meet the Fockers”…”if its yellow, let it mellow.  If its brown, flush it down”.  It was gross, but we didn’t have time to dig an official outhouse and had to make do with indoor toilets powered by pitchers of water poured into the tank.

A Happy Ending

We finally got power restored after 12 days.  By then, the laundry had piled up (no creek nearby to do my washing in!).  I felt that everything was just gross and that we were one step away from getting some terrible disease from eating from prepared in questionably washed pans.  I confess to using plastic and paper plates, cups and utensils. Luckily, there was a stockpile of homemade wine and that made the evenings on the porch very enjoyable.

What I did realize is that I have it so much easier than my ancestors did.  And yes, I know that you could have told me that at the onset of this craziness.  However, what I did learn was that I could be really, really productive without the distractions of the modern world.  Suddenly, I wasn’t on Facebook, or surfing the Internet.  I was trying to figure out what we would eat next and taking care of the livestock and garden.  We were deciding and doing what needed to be done next in order to live comfortably without modern conveniences.

And that may be the most valuable thing I learned during the entire experiment…well, that and how to shower out of a 2qt. pitcher.



    • Jana Burch

      I haven’t seen those shows! I have watched hours and hours of Homestead Rescue, though. I so admire the folks who are living off the grid and we are always looking at ways to move in that direction. I have no illusions that we would ever be totally off the grid…but even just a little bit of a shift towards self-sufficiency makes me happy!

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