one year

Imagine my delight at happening upon Fiona J. Houston’s book, The Cottage Diaries My Year in the Eighteenth Century. Why would someone choose to live for a year in a small house without running water, electricity, heat or any of the comforts that we are accustomed to? Ironically, the present led her back to the past. While investigating the history of Scottish food for an exhibition, she read Felicity Lawrence’s Not on the Label: What Really Goes into the Food on your Plate, and was shocked by the lack of nutrients found in industrialized food. She posited that people ate better in late eighteenth century Scotland and decided to take on the challenge of living and eating for a year as a dominie’s wife (a dominie is a Scottish schoolmaster).

Houston writes:

“One of my reasons for trying to go back in time was my anger at our throw-away society. It’s not just the wastefulness of buying goods, using them for a short time and then chucking them out that upsets me. It is the whole swathe of human activity and endeavour that is negated by this cycle. In the past, people had fewer resources. They had to use their skills and ingenuity to obtain the things that they needed for daily life. They had to make, mend, improvise and invent. I like all of that. I may not have all of the skills, but I have the inclination. In deciding to live simply for a year, I was setting myself a challenge to let the practical side of my nature come to the fore.”

Houston sets herself up in a small house and kits it to an eighteenth century standard with a simple table and chair, bed, a few candlesticks, pots and pans, and a range dating from 1860 (women of the prior century would have cooked on an open hearth, but the structure of Houston’s cottage did not allow for this). She wears clothing of the time (skirts and cloaks, both become soaked in the rain, for not waterproof), gardens and forages in order to cook seasonally, writes with a quill pen using homemade ink, and walks to the local village when necessary.


Her diary begins in January 2005 and chronicles her monthly chores and activities. She provides recipes, and I have yet to make her oatcakes, but soon nettle soup will be on our table. She kept a careful accounting of the her food categorized by season, purchased or foraged, as well as “What it all Cost.” She works incredibly hard at daily living, keeping warm or cool, gathering firewood, making candles and other chores. At the end of her day, she tries to sit down and read books of the time, but finds that it is difficult to read by the rushlights. Houston confirms my suspicion that working by candlelight was extremely difficult, for I often wonder how much was accomplished by such dim lights.

I have the utmost admiration for Fiona Houston, for mastering the skills needed to survive an eighteenth century year. Her book provides one with both the expertise to follow in her footsteps and the ability to see what one can do in the twenty-first century to live a more considered, ‘greener’ life.

NOTE: It seems only fitting to mark the completion of a second year of ‘on a colonial farm’ after reading of Houston’s eighteenth century life. Thank you, dear readers for joining me.

Fiona J. Houston, The Cottage Diaries My Year in the Eighteenth Century, illustrations by Claire Melinsky, (Saraband, 2009), pgs. 9-10, 44, 71, 214

past & present

Yet another snowstorm looms in our local future, as it does for many on the east coast. The weather continues to be a topic of much talk and, in some cases, despair, as it ever was.

Noah Webster (1748-1853) kept a “diary of weather” and thus was able to put both past and present into perspective. He wrote:

“The snow in January of 1805 was about 3 feet deep. This was the severest winter since 1780. But the snow left the earth in March in good season & spring was early. I cut asparagus on the 14th of April, 9 days earlier than last year.”

His article ‘Meteorological’ in The Connecticut Herald seeks to make sense of the reported severest winters of 1780 and 1805. Webster was eagerly tracking the climatic changes through his strenuous data gathering, and thereby challenged the attestations of Thomas Jefferson and others that the “American winters were becoming milder.” Intriguingly, biographer Joshua Kendall links this controversy between scholarly gentlemen to what we now call climate change. Jefferson claimed that the deforestation in some states was the cause of this warming trend; Webster noted that variability in weather patterns was increasing, and he kept data and analyzed the statistics to prove it. Both of these wise individuals pointed to the plight that we are dealing with, or need to tackle, today.

Looking back at these winters and writers gives one a bit of perspective on the recent bout of record setting weather, which must needs give one pause about what we humans are doing each day as we shape the future of our globe.


Wendell Berry asks us to remain in the present with our actions in regards to climate change and land abuse. He posits that if we are only thinking of what can be accomplished in the future, we are missing the opportunity for what we can do right now. He invites us to ‘save energy now for the future’ by beginning with small acts today. Berry states,

“We are always ready to set aside our present life, even our present happiness, to peruse the menu of future exterminations. If the future is threatened by the present, which it undoubtedly is, then the present is more threatened, and often is annihilated, by the future.”

He continues:

“….so few as just one of us can save energy right now by self-control, careful thought, and remembering the lost virtue of frugality. Spending less, burning less, traveling less may be relief. A cooler, slower life may make us happier, more present to ourselves, and to others who need us to be present.”

Time, right now, to start a list of small actions for today.



Joshua Kendall, The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture, (Berkley Books, 2012), pgs. 273-274.

Wendell Berry, Our Only World Ten Essays, (Counterpoint, 2015), pgs. 174, 175.



I stand at my worktable, pierce holes in paper, thread a needle with waxed linen and bind the pages together forming a hand bound book. My actions are not revolutionary, but they are meditative, and ones that fellow bookbinders have done for centuries.

As I line up the pages within the eco-dyed covers, and rhythmically slip the needle through the holes, my mind wanders to images of leaves of books, of books within books. Often books are about just that – other books – and with more regularity now, images of archival manuscripts are reproduced therein. Thankfully so, for these manuscripts are hidden from view, tucked away in special (often secure) rooms in libraries for safe-keeping.

eco-dyed covers ready for binding

Scholars, poets, artists and authors search out these handmade objects, for the energy and information that they hold within. A tactile experience described by Jill Lepore:

“…sitting in that archive, holding those sheets of foolscap stitched together with the coarsest of threads, I began to think that Benjamin Franklin’s sister had something to say after all, something true, something new. Very delicately, I once more turned the brittle pages of the Book of Ages, and in them I saw an unwritten story: a history of books and papers, a history of reading and writing, a history from reformation to revolution, a history of history. This, then, is Jane Franklin’s story: a book of ages about ages of books.”

Lepore’s biography of Jane Franklin (Benjamin Franklin’s sister) revolves around this manuscript housed in the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Franklin “…stitched four sheets of foolscap between two covers to make sixteen pages. On its first page, she wrote, “Jane Franklin Born on Monday March 27 1712″. She called it her Book of Ages.” Lepore charts the course of her biography using Franklin’s book as the route; the strokes of Franklin’s quill pen in her handmade book provide the coordinates.

Step back. Examine the pen strokes, their placement on the page, the materiality of the paper, as Susan Howe wisely advises in her recent book, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, when examining Jonathan Edwards’ papers at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

“Three of Edwards’ manuscript books I particularly love are titled Efficacious Grace. Two of them he constructed from discarded semi-circular pieces of silk paper his wife and daughters used for making fans. If you open these small oval volumes and just look—without trying to decipher the minister’s spidery script, pen strokes begin to resemble textile thread-text. Surface and meaning co-operate to keep alive in one process mastery in service, service in mastery.”

“Spidery,” and “lavish, calligraphic…slender, artful”, are adjectives used to describe the styles of Edwards and Franklin, respectively. Paper made from rags (Franklin) and silk (Edwards) bound by their hands and holding the words written in their hands. These manuscripts are more than books; they are also a portal into an historic figure and a corresponding era.

bound copies of Tobacco Hour

Objects. A few weeks ago, the poet Susan Howe delivered her lecture (from which the above referenced book is based) at The Hotchkiss School in conjunction with the exhibition, “Hotchkiss in 50 Objects” at the Tremaine Art Gallery. The exhibition traced, defined and referenced Hotchkiss’ history by way of fifty items from the school’s archives. Before she began her lecture, Howe told us that while giving her talk, a series of images would be shown, but she would not stop to tell us what each was, rather they would roll forward as a “collage”. Images of documents, book pages and fragments floated by on the screen, and we connected the dots by way of her multi-faceted details. Howe states:

“In research libraries and collections, we may capture the portrait of history in so-called insignificant visual and verbal textualities and textiles. In material details. In twill fabrics, bead-work pieces, pricked patterns, four-ringed knots, tiny spangles, sharp-toothed stencil wheels; in quotations, thought-fragments, rhymes, syllables, anagrams, graphemes, endangered phonemes, in soils and cross-outs.”

Find some paper and thread, make a book, and begin writing down details.


Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, (Alfred Knopf, 2013), pgs. XIII-XIV, XII, 49.

Susan Howe, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives, ( Christine Burgin/New Directions, 2014), pgs. 46, 21.

Note: Tobacco Hour a collaboration between poet/Dara Mandle, artist/Brece Honeycutt, and publisher/Jason Andrew/Norte Maar will be published in April 2015. Special thanks to Barbara Mauriello for her encouragement and consultation on the project.

sneak peak of Tobacco Hour cover


needlework tools

This coming Sunday marks the Hari-Kuyo broken needle ceremony–a 400 year-old Buddhist tradition originating in Japan that honors the implements used by needleworkers. For this event, attendees are invited to bring their broken or bent needles and plunge them into blocks of tofu. In this action, they send their tools off to the next world in happiness and for success. The blocks of tofu, laden with needles, will be blessed by Buddhist priests as part of the ceremony.

As I look around my studio, there are many types of needles–darning, bookbinding, sewing machine, knitting, crewel, embroidery–as well as books about techniques and histories of needleworkers and stitchers.

Therese de Dilmont states in her introduction to The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework that “Furthermore, in whatever circumstances of fortune one may be placed, the ability to sew well will always be useful. On the other [sic] hand, a practical knowledge of plain sewing enables one to appreciate other people’s work at its true value, and on the other hand, it enables one to produce strong and lasting work should the need arise.”

one of the 'scrap' quilts made by Nannie

one of the ‘scrap’ quilts made by Nannie

Over the past week, my beloved aunt and I have been reminiscing about sewing, for she along with my mother and grandmother were keen sewers. As a young girl, I adored going to the fabric store and looking at not only the patterns, but also the fabric and notions. The sewing store in Hickory, NC was a wood building with proper screen doors and the interior was clad in wood paneling. Hung high adorning the walls were posters of current fashions alongside sewing ephemera. Bolts of fabric were stacked around the room and there were large cutting tables, racks of thread and buttons, pattern books on large slanted tables, and women eager to help you with your project.

My aunt tells me that she made her children’s clothes but did not use patterns. Instead, she designed the dresses in her mind, purchased the fabric and notions, and went home and made them. This is awe-inspiring to me, and as de Dilmont says, it makes me appreciate my aunt’s skills; in order to sew successfully, one must not only understand the physical nature of the cloth, but how it will work with the design. These are skills that I am now learning with some difficulty, so I wish that I had paid more attention to the sewers in my family.

a pink quilt that was on my bed as a child made by Nannie

a pink quilt that was on my bed as a child made by Nannie

The numerous garments that my aunt made as well as the ones made for me are long gone, given to other children or donated to church jumble sales. Fortunately, my grandmother also made quilts from scraps and remainders of sewing projects, and on one treasured quilt there are squares made from my school dresses. When I crawl under this quilt, I am reminded of walking into school on an early September day proudly wearing my blue dress with patterns of flowers and birds, sewn for my by the hands of my grandmother.

Therese de Dilmont, The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework, (Running Press, 1996, Third Edition), pg. 11.

Note: One may attend a Hari-Kuyo Ceremony this Sunday February 8th at 4:30 at the BF+DA, Brooklyn, NY. For further information,


For further reading about needlework:

Marla R. Miller, The Needle’s Eye Women and Work in the Age of Revolution, (University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2006).

Jane Brocket, The Gentle Art of Stitching 40 Projects Inspired by Everyday Beauty, (Collins and Brown, London, 2006).

Roderick Kiracofe, Unconventional and Unexpected American Quilts Below the Radar 1950-2000, (STC Craft, New York, 2014).

Cassandra Ellis, Cloth 30 + Projects to Sew from Linen, Cotton, Silk, Wool and Hide, (STC Craft, New York 2014).

Natalie Chanin, Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns (STC Craft, published in 2015).

busy hands

On a recent subway ride, I watched a woman crochet a colorful hat surrounded by riders tapping away at their ‘smart’ phones. Busy hands. All hands were indeed busy, but sometimes juxtaposition says it all. The woman will have an actual useful object to show for her time, but what can be said of the others?

Are we truly busy when scrolling through Facebook, Twitter or Instagram? Does one’s mind settle down as it does whilst knitting, as Cat Bordhi revealed in her essay, “A Guide for Bringing Knitting and Spinning into Elementary through High School Classrooms.” Secretly, she had her students knit and spin during her humanities class without first obtaining permission from the administration. When the district superintendent stopped by unannounced, her students’ hands were busy knitting, spinning or winding wool, whilst listening to an audio-tape. She feared repercussions, but the superintendent later reported “that what struck him first as he came through our door was that every single student was productively and positively engaged as a member of a thriving community of learners, and that he had rarely seen a classroom so attentive on so many levels: listening, working with the hands and helping one another.”

Working with one’s hands yields compound results. Monica Moses’ editorial in the February/March 2015 issue of American Craft cites multiple studies equating using one’s hands as a tool to combat depression. The actual ‘act’ of making not only brings happiness, it also fosters the human spirit. Stephen S. Ilardi notes “that people whose lifestyles more closely resemble those of our ancestors–for example, the Amish, who make their own furniture, sew their own clothes, and drive handheld plows–experience significantly less depression.”

Jean-Francois Millet, Shepherdess Seated on a Rock, 1856 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Jean-Francois Millet, Shepherdess Seated on a Rock, 1856 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Knitting was a skill that both boys and girls learned in earlier centuries. Larissa and Martin John Brown report that in the late 1700s, villagers from Dentdale, England, men women and children, came together at the end of the work day for a “sitting.” They posit:

“It’s tough to imagine that world now, when you can buy a ten-pack of factory-made socks for a few dollars, but this was a time when the vast majority of socks, stockings, and gloves in the Western world were not just knitted, but knitted by hand. They were knitted because knitted fabric has properties of stretch, shapability, and seamlessness that make it superior to woven and sewn work for those garments. They were knitted by hand because knitting machines, though in existence from 1600s, took centuries to overtake hand production.”

My first major knitting project was a pair of socks on four DPNs (double pointed needles). I had no idea how to construct the heel flap and then turn the heel, but then found helpful resources and fellow knitters to guide me along. I had almost finished one sock and slipped it on. It was huge, so off I ventured to my local yarn store for a consult. Deb, the owner, confirmed that the sock was too big for me and too small for my husband. So as I gulped, we ripped it out and I started again on a circular needle. Now, thanks to her, I knit two socks at once and enjoy wearing my hand knit pairs.

Maybe someday, I will board a subway car and there will be a “sitting” going on — many of those in the car knitting or crocheting. What if more people started knitting their own socks, hats and gloves, not only to quiet the mind, but also to connect, with making and with others? Trust me, tucking a ball of sock yarn and a pair of circular needles in one’s bag is easy.

Cat Bordhi, “A Guide for Brining Knitting and Spinning into Elementary through High School Classrooms,” accessed in July 2011. Her essay as well as a lesson plans may be found on her website. The lesson plans are a history of civilization told via fiber.

Monica Moses, “Making it Better,” American Craft, February/March 2015, pg. 10. Moses cites the research of Stepehn S. Ilaridi in her editorial.

Brown, Larissa and Martin John Brown, Knitalong: celebrating the tradition of knitting together, (Stewart, Tabori &Chang, 2008), 42.


Bundled up with my walking stick in hand, I head out each morning for a brisk stroll. During the winter months when the trees display their trunks and branches like dark lines on a white sheet of paper, I play the “nest game.” Bird’s nests are now visible in the crooks of branches and wedged amongst brambles. Weather–rain, snow and wind–causes unfurling, and strands of straw and grass hang and move in the breeze, and it is this movement that I catch out of the corner of my eye, stopping me in my tracks, so that I may examine the nest. The nests are made of varying materials, and come in all shapes and sizes. Without binoculars it becomes hard to see the details, but happily one can reference America’s Other Audubon by Joy M. Kiser.IMG_2182

Kiser explains in her Preface that she happened upon a display featuring a copy of Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History en route to begin her new job as an assistant librarian. Perhaps it was the visual juxtaposition of the oversized book next to the tiny label that caused her examination. The label “explained that the book was the accomplishment of the Jones family of Ohio: the daughter, Genevieve, had conceived of the idea and had begun drawing and painting the illustrations with the assistance of a childhood friend: the son, Howard, had collected the nests and eggs; the father, Nelson, had paid the publishing costs; and after Genevieve died, the mother, Virginia, and the rest of the family spent eight years completing the work as a memorial to Genevieve.”

It is no wonder that Kiser lingered at the display, for each delicate plate shows a nest rendered in exquisite detail in its natural setting, as well as the Latin and common name of occupying bird. Rows of eggs are drawn and painted to scale with three views per oval. We are treated to informative text with poetical descriptions of the birds, their nests, eggs and habits (flying pattern, songs, mating, nocturnal or not, etc,).

One of my favorite plates shows the nest of the Parus atricapillus (the Black-capped Chickadee) in a cut away view inside a tree trunk. Chickadees place their nests in the cavity of a tree and it “…is composed entirely of moss and very fine downy feathers, the lining being similar to the exterior except that the fibers are more numerous within.” A perfect bowl of moss lined in feathers–what more could one want? Of course, the Chickadee’s nest will be much harder for me to see on my morning walks, for only the exterior hole is evident to the passerby. I will watch more closely the openings, ever hopeful to see one emerge from a nest hole.

Likewise, I will keep my eyes alert at yard sales and antiquarian bookstores for a copy of the original book made by the Jones family. Kiser notes only twenty-six of the fifty-three hand colored copies and eight of the thirty-seven uncolored have been located. Pay attention.

Joy M. Kiser, America’s Other Audubon, (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012), pgs. 10,13, 160-161.

Note: Kiser’s full introduction as well as selected plates are on view on line courtesy of the Smithsonian Libraries—

new day, new year

Happy new day and year to all.

First a thank you to you, dear Reader for journeying along with me this year–I so appreciate your comments and feedback.

Time to sharpen one’s pencils, wipe the slate clean, sweep out the old and begin afresh on the first day of this new year.

Furthermore, make those resolutions and to-do lists. Superstition keeps me from revealing my resolutions, but I don’t mind sharing a few of the items on my to-do list.

——Start an embroidery sampler. Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches will be my guide. As she states, “Stitches are the “scales and exercises” of embroidery and a good working knowledge of these is the first essential foundation of the art.”

——Enhance the fodder for the bees and continue with our efforts to ensure that we have plants for them throughout the entire growing season. First off, plant a few witch hazel bushes.

——Plant a dye garden with woad, indigo, coreopsis, marigold, St. John’s Wort, just to name a few. Time to place that Fedco order.

——Conquer the indigo pot and fully understand the correlation between pH, temperature and fabric. Thankfully, I will use the pH chart and information from Gosta Sandberg, Indigo Textiles Technique and History (Lark Books, 1999), pp.126-127.

——Learn to make ink from natural materials, as well as make a quill pen and learn how to write with it. Search for a recipe for the ancient Oak-Gall ink.

——Venture forth to the research library in Pittsfield; locate and examine the probate records of the residents of our house.


First on my list, though, is to dye the book covers and subsequently bind the books for my collaboration with the poet Dara Mandle and the non-profit Norte Maar. Tobacco Hour will be published in the Spring.

Time to stoke up the dye pot and get started.

All the best to you in 2015, dear Reader.

Mary Thomas, Mary Thomas’s Dictionary of Embroidery Stitches, (William Morrow, 1935), preface.



Tis the season, as they say, and many are rushing around trying to find the perfect gift. One might suggest that presents often don’t come in the form of an actual object, but instead as a memory that returns to the forefront while your hands are busy knitting, for example.

A few weeks ago, I attended a knitting afternoon arranged by my fiber friend extraordinaire, Abigail Doan. She wanted to introduce a group of us to the “Turkish slipper.” After consuming soothing cups of tea, we seated ourselves in a circle, and received our kits containing the pattern for the “Sifa Silver Turkish Slipper” and balls of Figgi yarns.

Abigail explained that the pattern is designed by Catharine Bayar, a textile expert living in Istanbul, and is based on the traditional slippers her husband’s female relatives knitted for generations. Furthermore, the yarn, made from delicious, durable Turkish cotton, includes a strand of silver and is called sifa defined as healing in Turkish. We could not wait to start, and all cast on and began to work.

A pair of knitted lace Turkish slippers. Photo by Abigail Doan.

A pair of knitted lace Turkish slippers. Photo by Abigail Doan|Lost in Fiber.

When the event finished, we packed up our work and headed off, with promises to be wearing our slippers soon. I am adoring knitting my slippers, not only due to texture of the yarn in my hands as I work combined with the stitches that create the lace work of the pattern, but for the memory that it sparked, and this present to me is invaluable.

Knitted slippers. Like a bolt of lightening, I recalled Nannie, my grandmother, giving us presents of her hand made wool slippers at Christmas time. Each year we received a new pair, sometimes with pompons, others with reinforced-soles, always knitted perfectly in bright color combinations, and so warm.

It is a long way from Hickory, NC (Nannie & Papa lived there) to Istanbul in real time, but in memory time, the distance is quite short, linked for me by yarn. This holiday season, I am thankful for the cherished recollections of time spent with Nannie, especially when watching her hands transform yarn into slippers or sweaters and crops into delicious dinners. And I am thankful for my friends and their experiences and memories. A true present indeed.

Pattern for Turkish Slipper maybe found on Etsy.

Information on Figgi Yarns found here.

Information on Bazaar Bayar and their knitting retreats found here. Perhaps, this is something to put on your to-do or wish list for 2015!

sky strainer

The ephemeral often becomes useful–milkweed silks for candlewicks, cattail fluff for pillow stuffing, and spider webs for staunching wounds—as well as inspirational.

Glimpsing lacelike spider webs, fluffy cattails and silky milkweed on my morning walks spurred me to re-examine strands of fiber and sparked a series of work. The sculptures in sky strainer series are made from my handspun wool in the knotless netting technique. Some of the pieces are nestled in tree branches or suspended from the ceiling, as one might glimpse a light orb or a spider web out of the corner of one’s eye.


In his book, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting, Odd Nordland examines ancient textiles, including the beautiful milk strainers made from cow tail hairs gathered in the fall after the cows no longer needed their long tails to ward off flies. He further examines the many uses of the cow: for food (both meat to eat and milk to drink, often out of the horn of the cow), and for skin and sinews (providing material for sewing, often with needles carved from cow bones).

It is not only the magnificence of the lacelike milk strainers that influences my series, but also the industriousness of the farmers that used them. Early farmers depended upon their cattle in a wide variety of substantive ways. These cows were not being raised on industrial cattle farms and being fed corn and antibiotics, but instead were eating native grasses under the stars and sky.


In our over-mechanized society, we can draw inspiration from the ancients who exemplified such resourcefulness and directness in their daily routines. Be it from the turning of the spinning wheel to make the yarn, or the slow methodical movement of the needle twining through the loops, the sky strainers hearken to an earlier age and push forward.

Odd Nordland, Primitive Scandinavian Textiles in Knotless Netting (Studia Norvegica No. 10, Oslo University Press, Oslo, 1961), p.93.

Note: sky strainer #6 is currently on view until January 31, 2015, in the exhibition Circle Round at the KNOX Gallery, Monterey, MA.


Last week, snow fell as forecast. A heavy wet whiteness outlined every branch and covered every surface. Trees laden with dense snow could not bear the load, and fractured limbs blocked roadways and downed power lines. We experienced a power ‘interruption’, as our utility termed it, for 36 hours.


Luckily dinner was on the table when the lights went out. The candles illuminated our plates (heaped with warm, soothing polenta and greens), but not much beyond that. Looking outside, I could no longer see the neighbor’s lights far in the distance. Our world was quickly shrouded in darkness.

Over the next day and a half, there was time to contemplate and consider, as we inhabited a world without electricity and modern conveniences and connections it affords. No heat or running water; these two became the most missed and needed. No stereo nor internet; while it was refreshing to step away from instant access, the quiet became more accentuated and appreciated. Our old-fashioned rotary phone, stationary at that, plugged in; no more walking and talking or otherwise multi-tasking.

Being inside a true colonial home, these hours allowed me time to contemplate the following:

Weather forecasting—What range of natural signs did our early inhabitants rely upon? Thickening clouds, changes in wind direction and speed, the moistening of air, the up-turning of leaves, or changes in the feel of one’s body? No NOAA weather advisories to harken a blizzard. Almanacs would serve as a reference, as well as handwritten daily weather diaries kept in some households.

Time telling—Perhaps they could not afford a clock, but the sun’s position relative to the western mountain range provided a constant reference–a large sundial, if you will. Furthermore, if they had a flock of chickens, the light sensitive rooster heralds the coming of dawn and gathers his hens in the coop at dusk.

Water—Where was the water source in relation to the keeping room? And how did they stop it from freezing? How much water did they take in knowing a storm was imminent, and how did they decide the duration in which they might not be able to access the water before conditions improved?

 Entertainments—Quiet descended on us, both outside and inside. M’s returning from feeding the chickens was announced by his beautiful whistling underscoring the stillness. No wonder Laura Ingall’s family rejoiced when Pa brought out his fiddle, breaking the silence and bringing in felicity. I wonder about what other entertainments they may have engaged in.

Chores—-All outdoor work was done in a timely manner and at the right hour of the day. One would take advantage of the natural light, for when darkness arrives without flashlights and headlamps, it would be onerous, if not impossible, to work. No wonder the harvest moon was so appreciated, not only allowing extra time and more illumination.

Light sourcingCandles and a few flashlights became more treasured on the second night of the ‘interruption.’ At first, I could barely discern what was in the bottom of the pot on the stove. Soon I grew accustomed to the dimness, and realized how hard it was to read, sew, knit, whittle, write or sew or do anything at night.


I attempt to envisage what it was like to inhabit this house over 200 years ago, and being without power for an extended but certainly endurable period allowed me a glimpse into the quiet, strenuous past. It is often difficult to step out of the modern and try to feel and see days of yore. Visiting historic sites and reading well-written biographies or first hand accounts and history books gives one another peek into a past world, as often does a transporting film; one may be brought closer to this past, however, when one “loses” our modern conveniences, whether by choice or by circumstances.

NOTE: The harsh realities depicted in the new movie “The Homesman” offer a glimpse of unrelenting Nature and human striving. We are with Mary Bee Cutter, the heroine of the film, and her moral and physical dilemmas of the 19th century American prairie.