Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I foresee a lot more MacGyverizing in the future. When people can't afford to hire someone else to fix things, they start thinking about ways to manage on their own. It's nothing new. Our parents and grandparents knew all about managing on their own, but somewhere along the line, we forgot. We forgot all about self sufficiency and independence. When the repairman was as close as a phone call, we forgot how inexpensive it was to repair it ourselves.

I've been working on a time travel novel set far back in the past in northeastern America--up near the Canadian border. In my forays into the past, I've encountered all sorts of roadblocks and detours. No corn. Two varieties of squash. Limited beans. No potatoes. No wheat. No rice. No domesticated animals. No eggs/chickens. No milk.

Well, that's just the food issues. Then there are other things such as textiles, shelter, heat, potable water, sanitary arrangements, weapons, food preservation, cooking utensils... and the list is endless.

In discussions with friends and family about the issue of survival, the misconceptions have amazed me. One example--animal skins. One woman said, "They'll just have to make clothes from animal skins."

Uh-huh. Animals--even a fairly large one such as a deer or elk will not yield that much actual usable material. Once the animal is dead, then you have to deal with preserving the meat (what method are you going to use and how are you going to store it?) and you also have to deal with tanning the skin so it's pliable enough to work with. That would be done using... (wait for it!)... the animal's brains.

So for one piece of clothing, it might take two skins. Two skins equals two animals' worth of meat that you don't dare waste. Ah yes, I forgot. How are you going to trap/kill the animal?

Where is MacGyver when you need him?

In the piles and piles of books that I've acquired for this project and the pages and pages I've printed from survival sites on the internet, I've discovered something. Our ancestors, particularly pre-World War II, were a pretty self-sufficient bunch. They knew how to survive on their own. They knew several ways to preserve food. This was pretty much pre-freezer era. No microwaves. No convection ovens. No dehydrators. As a matter of fact, homes out in the country didn't even have electricity or (gasp!) telephones.

How about soap? Do you know how to make soap? Or simple medicines? Or how to use herbs to season your food? I don't. But I'm learning and experimenting.

I asked a wonderful group of ladies about dyes. It took a couple of posts for me to clarify the time period I was interested in, but they came through like champs with all sorts of ideas for natural dyes and mordants. (Thank you, Brynn, for the url!)

I queried a survival group about using superglue to seal a wound. One fellow sent me pictures of his injury--a ghastly long cut--that he sealed close with superglue while out on a hunting trip. A former medic in the armed services answered all sorts of detailed questions.

There's a lot of knowledge out there, just for the asking. I'm not advocating that you stop what you're doing and go into survival mode, but wouldn't it be nice if we all had something to contribute if we needed to do so? The next time something breaks down, wouldn't it be a life saver if we knew how to fix it?

One of my goals this year is to be more self sufficient in my life. I want to rely less on the outer world and concentrate more on what I can do for myself. I'll let you know how it comes out.



  1. Anny, I hope you're not going to turn into a wacko nutjob survivalist who can open a can of stew with her teeth and keeps six months worth of fresh water ever ready (constantly cycling it through storage to keep it fresh, of course).

    There's being prepared, and then there's going off the deep end.

    And you *know* all those pre-WWII folks would gladly exchange their labor-intensive food preservation methods for one good freezer.

    This is like those "tests" you see floating around from decades or centuries ago, asking 3rd graders questions none of us can answer. Different needs, different knowledge. I have enough filling up my brain without stuffing it with six ways to tan a hide, knowledge I will never, ever need. How many things do we know now that would baffle those folks?

    Sorry--bit of a rant.

  2. I grew up in farm country, and my mother canned, preserved, and 'put up' food every year, as did my grandmother, aunts, etc. True, they had electric stoves which made it easier, but my grandmother told stories about doing the same tasks on a wood-burning stove. Argh. HARD work.

    I got interested in horticulture years ago, and studied herbalism and medicinal horticulture. I tried a lot of the recipes I studied, and developed an appreciation for those who use them on a regular basis. I think just becoming more attuned to how we rely on modern technology can help us find a better balance in life.

  3. Glad I cheered you up yesterday:)

    Just don't let me start dreaming about Acorn Heaven again???

  4. Dear Anonymous!
    Thank you for dropping by and adding your thoughts to the blog. I appreciate your concerns. Nope, I'll likely never need to tan a hide and if I'm ever in the position to open a can with my teeth... well, I'll be in big trouble. BIG trouble.

    I do find different knowledge interesting. Just as some people are fascinated by ghost busters (I'm not into that) or others are interested in American Idol (I'm REALLY not into that), this is a particular interest of mine. I think everyone should have something they find of interest outside their daily lives. I imagine that most people that are interested in ghosts don't expect to encounter one. And I doubt that people that are enthralled with American Idol for the most part don't believe they will become a star.

    We're all different. Thank you for the rant.

  5. JL and Molly--Thanks for your comments!

    Canning is hard, hot work no matter how many conveniences you have! Actually, I haven't found any food preservation method other than freezing that isn't just plain hard work.

    As for acorns... well, Molly, I did learn a lot of things from that experiment. The main thing I learned is that I didn't dry them nearly long enough so they molded. Not a very good omen for my time traveling characters.

  6. Anon, it's also important for Anny to get these facts right since she's writing a book using them. If her facts are off, she gets hand-slapped from the editors. She also has to be able to prove her information and research is the only way to do that. Anny's research extends her credibility and her readers KNOW that whatever she puts out there, is accurate. I admire that about her.

    Some of what you talk about, Anny, I found absorbing about Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean Auel. Tanning with brains and herb foraging made that book good, not the plot. Good job on weeding out the facts. Or is it weeding in?

  7. Seems I hire everything done because once my DH starts FIXING things himself, the problem worsens. Drives me nuts!

    I recall my grandma canning fruits and vegetables and making her own bread (NO MACHINE...lol). She was magnificent.

  8. I like Anonymous - good opinion. Also, adding my own...do you think you might be researching too much?

  9. I suppose research--and how much you do--depends on the time period and genre of the book you're writing. I confess that I'm a frustrated researcher so often when I find something interesting, I'll pursue it on my "down time".

    However some things you only learn by doing. Shooting a gun, for instance, is very different than talking about it. A shotgun has an unbelievable kick--especially for a woman. And as I said earlier... acorns get moldy--something I would have never considered.

  10. Self sufficiency is definitely the way to go wherever you can. We've tried to live more simply these last couple years and it's always surprising how refreshing it is to look at something you've done on your own. Especially gardening and canning. I haven't gone head over heels into canning yet, but the little bit I've done the last couple summers has been a lot of fun. Macguyverizing... Maybe I can take a piece of gum, a paper clip and a dixie cup to start my car though next time I lose my keys. :D

  11. I never meant to suggest that she shouldn't research for her novel. I understand that completely. But this post come close to saying that people who had to do stuff without electricity,make everything themselves, etc. are better than modern society. That's what I was objecting to.

  12. Hey Anon. Totally missed the inference. :) I wouldn't go electricity free either. Fortunately it's not something we have to face! Our society has come a long way to be convenience based. I'm not convinced it's all bad, either.