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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Something for history geeks


(The brave souls of The Edwardian Farm together with a randy ram and one of their
big shire horses used for plowing and pulling wagons.)


I don’t watch television. I don’t have cable, and in Colorado if you don’t have cable you can’t watch TV. The mountains block signal. I remember growing up how irritated I was by this. Even with an antenna, the picture was always fuzzy and prone to disturbance.

But I do love a good documentary. If our local cable providers would permit it, I would order the History and Discovery channels a la carte. But they don’t. So about six or so years ago, I told them to take their converter box and shove it. I haven’t missed television (which I rarely watched even when I had cable) at all.

When I do watch television programs, it’s usually a DVD I’ve bought or sometimes a program on Hulu, such as Castle, which I love. (The writer jokes crack me up.)

But my sister knows me very well. She sent me a link to a new program that I've absolutely fallen in love with and which I want to share with the other history geeks out there. Of course, there’s every chance you’ve already discovered it. I’m a bit slow.

The name of it is The Edwardian Farm. It’s a BBC program that shows life on an Edwardian farm as lived through two archaeologists and one historian who move into an Edwardian farmhouse and begin living the way people lived in that area back around 1900. My degree is in archaeology, and the daily lives of ordinary people is one thing that draws me to writing fiction. No detail is too small. I find everything utterly fascinating.

(Here, they’re working a cider press on cider apples. That pile of straw in the middle is actually layer upon layer of crushed apples with the straw folded over and laid on top. It's called a “cheese.”)

And this program goes into great detail. How do you clean germs out of an outdoor privy in that time period? How do you maintain the hedgerows that keep your livestock from running off or getting into your crops? How do you plow a field with horses? How do you make quicklime? How do you preserve food without refrigerators? How do you clean a stopped chimney?

I have loved every episode I’ve watched — all of them on YouTube — and I can’t recommend it enough.

As some of you know, I’m very involved in urban farming and what’s called the “localization” movement. Localization is the reverse of globalization. It’s about making sure that your community produces what it uses, especially where food is concerned. The idea is to prevent unnecessary pollution and to make your community secure in case of a catastrophe. If you grow your own food and your community produces almost all of the food and goods and services humans need to live and thrive, then the global economy can go to hell without your family being hurt.

On a personal level, it means learning skills your grandparents knew — knitting, quilting, sewing, canning, growing gardens, having orchards, keeping chickens and bees. A person on an ordinary lot can do most of these things (depending on climate), and so provide most of the food their family needs. My grandfather built his own house and fed his six children on an orchard, grape arbor and vegetable garden that he cultivated in their backyard. They also had pigeons, rabbits and a goat (for milk).

We outsource most of that nowadays. Rather than doing these things ourselves, we’ve grown dependent on others to do them for us. That gives us more time, but what do people do with that time that really counts? Not only are we less connected to our own lives, we are at the mercy of the entire chain of people who supply the goods and the labor. This fact was driven home to me in December 2006 when six feet of snow fell in four weeks in my front yard and the grocery store shelves became empty. Empty. You couldn’t even buy sugar.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be dependent on an entire global mechanism for feeding my family. I don’t want to “outsource” my life. I’m trying very hard to “insource” it. (I invented that word, by the way, as far as I know. I’m involved in the localization movement here in the county and was trying to find a term for what we’re doing.)

This topic fascinates me, so if any of you are interested in the “transition movement,” which got its start in Great Britain and is also called localization, let me know. I may start a separate blog about that.

I enjoy being able to do things for myself and being reconnected with my own life in that way, rather than simply working for a paycheck and spending all that money on things I can learn to do myself. I find it very wholesome and appealing somehow, even if it is a lot of work. And this program, The Edwardian Farm, is basically about these three people learning the skills their great-grandparents had — i.e., reskilling themselves — and learning to be self-sufficient again.

So how do you clean a stopped up chimney back in the day? One option was to stuff a chicken down your chimney. It would flap and claw and break the soot free. But it was also kind of mean to the chicken — something that probably didn’t matter back in 1900. Another less chicken-y option was to take branches from a holly bush, bind them together and shove them up the chimney. Fascinating!

Apparently, prior to this, these three had a program called The Victorian Farm, which is equally fascinating. During the Edwardian period, technological advances included combustion-engine plows, indoor plumbing, gas ranges and so forth. When I’m done watching these episodes, I’m going to dive into The Victorian Farm and see what things were like back then.

Update: I’m still going to have the Dessert Diva as a guest together with Natalie. The two will be baking pies. I intended it to be a summer blog, but I have been so, so, so busy that it’s now going to preview holiday recipes.

Also, Carnal Gift will be live any day now on Amazon.com. It’s been edited and uploaded, and now I’m just waiting. This will be a very special release for me because finally — finally! — the book will be available as I wrote it, instead of missing 100 key pages.

It has taken a lot of time and effort to get the books online. Fortunately, my son Benjamin has handled a lot of it. I’ve been working on Defiant and trying very hard to stay off the Internet, which has a huge impact on my ability to focus and get work done. So if I’m not around, please forgive me. I need to write!

I’ll be back soon to announce the winner of the e-book copy of Sweet Release.

Thanks for being so patient! I owe it to you to put my time into my books and to make them the best they can be.

5 comments:

Wendy said...

I saw something like this on PBS a while ago. A family moved into a Little House on the Prairie setting and was challenged to live as historically accurately as possible. I remember the teenage girls - lacking their cigarettes - smoked pipes. And the young boy (maybe 7?) sobbing in his mother's lap because they were planning to kill and eat a hen ("I love her! I love her!" he howled) It was heartbreaking. Definitely a fascinating show. (And made me want to go kiss my washing machine!)

Wendy, I think I saw the same show. It was a sort of contest, and it was called Pioneer or something like that. There were several families & they were competing to see who could "survive" the pioneer life the best. I'd love to see Edwardian Farm and Victorian Farm. I'm not even sure if we get the BBC at our house, but I'll have to check & see. Pamela, I know some of those old-timey skills, but I have a special needs family member who takes up a lot of my time and energy, and the rest goes to writing. I'm not sure how to balance it all. I used to sew, but haven't touched my machine in a year.

This show sounds very interesting. But I disconnected from TV in 1989 and don't miss it. I have been fascinated by the transition concept too.Although I live in a condo I know how to cook, sew, can food and grow a garden.I am fascinated by herbal medicine and use it for my own health. One writing\historical project that keeps popping into my mind is inspired by an old farm manual I saw at the Carnegie Library. The book has all sorts of details on how to set up a farm and household including day to day tasks, recipes and household cleaning. I am wondering if I could adapt some of these skills for post-modern readers who wish to prepare for the post-oil crash. I wish I had my own copy of that old farm manual so that I could work on this kind of project at home.

I also remember that 2006 blizzard. It took me over an hour to walk less than a mile to King Soopers for something I needed. After that I bought snowshoes for future blizzards.

Kristin said...

I remember PBS (I think) did a show like this but the family moved into a Victorian era house and lived like they were in the Victorian age.

I think we take WAY to much for granted now days when I think about what anyone who lived more than 100 years ago had to endure. Then again, there's something very attractive to me about living in simpler times.

Great post! I'm definitely a bit of a history buff :)

Hi, Wendy — That sounds like an interesting show. I think most of us would have a hard time killing an animal we'd raised. We've become attached to them in a different way than people were 100 years ago when hides and meat meant life. Poor kid!

The cool thing about this programme — that spelling is for you Queen's English types — is that it's not a reality TV show. These people are all experts. What's funny is seeing them try to put what they know from books into practice. But they do slaughter their hens. In one episode, Ruth makes a sheep's head stew that reminded me very much of the stew they make on the Navajo rez today.

Tori, you have your hands full. I don't think anyone can be expected to take care of someone with special needs, write and then play urban homesteader. I suppose in my utopian village, people would farm your yard and split the produce with you. That way your soil is put to use and you don't do the work. That's what some people are doing with elderly neighbors here. Good for you for just getting some time to rest and write! That's a tough situation. I have a friend with a severely autistic child in similar situation. I admire her so very much.

Donna, they have those manuals on EDWARDIAN FARM, and it made me wonder if we have any. And I guess you answered that question. They're at the Carnegie (which was a gym back when I was a little girl; I had ballet lessons there). I should check them out. I don't miss TV either, but I really enjoy watching some stuff on the Internet.

I did a bunch of research there for a book I thought of setting in Caribou. Never wrote that.

Snowshoes are on my list two. I got stuck on Hwy 119 in that first big blizzard. It took me 2.5 hours to go about 10 miles and it was horrifying.

Kristin, that's so true! Think of life without antibiotics or any kind of commercial medicine you could buy. Think of being at the mercy of the local midwife or doctor's education, which might be very minimal. No TV, no radio, books hard to come by. Fleas! Lice! The inventions I'm most grateful for — air conditioning, reliable contraception and the epidural — are things I would deeply miss.

I really can't wait to watch the next episode of this. Then on to The Victorian Farm. :-)

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