Finding small flickers of hope in hard times

Throughout this blogging journey a constant drumbeat of mine has been talking about my belief in learning self-reliance and emergency preparedness, which now seems more important than any of the partisan politics or culture war turmoil. While being aware of those things is important, in our everyday lives getting angry, alarmed or worried isn’t going to change a thing and it’s certainly not going to help us be better prepared, develop useful skills or navigate through difficult times.

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Townsends, which is devoted to cooking and culture in 18th century early America. There’s never any politics on Townsends, just early American history presented in a very engaging format. I learn something new in every episode and yesterday’s was perfect for the times we’re facing with rising food prices:

What’s fascinating with many of the recipes in the very old cookbooks Townsends refer to is many lack precise measurements and give sparse cooking instruction, but he does a lot of research and often compares similar recipes from the time period and then he sets off and experiments making these foods. The Townsends team sets off on bigger adventures too, like making an earthen oven or even building an actual functional cabin using only tools available in the time period. The Townsends cabin-building adventure covered several episodes focused on different aspects of the project, like making their own tools, selecting and chopping down trees, and dealing with problems, including weather.

Few of us posses the type of rugged individualism to set off into the wilds to start a new life or even to learn how to construct a building on our own, but I’ve been following a YouTube channel, My Self Reliance, produced by Shawn James, a Canadian man, who built a log cabin by himself, from chopping down the trees, to building the entire cabin by himself, on his remote property. His videos are fascinating, because in most of them there’s no talking, just him working and going about his daily tasks. He later added some outbuildings, but then decided to move to an even more remote property and has been working on constructing a bigger cabin project by himself. James started another channel where he explains the challenges and his views on various topics, including why he chose to move into the wilderness:

My late husband was one of those rugged individual type people – he just set out and tackled hard tasks and he was forever using that saying, “How do you eat an elephant?” – one bite at a time, which means that often monumental tasks seem overwhelming, but if you start tackling it “one bite at a time,” each day you will see progress and the more you accomplish, the more you’ll believe you can do more and more… and more. I, on the other hand, doubt myself a lot, second-guess myself too much and often waste too much time overthinking things rather than just getting busy doing things. I’ve never regretted trying something and failing, but many times I’ve regretted not attempting to do new things.

You don’t have to move off into the wilderness or take on building a log cabin with your own two hands to get motivated to learn new skills and learn to become more self-reliant.

I’ve said this many times and I don’t want to be taken the wrong way here, but you can’t just shop your way to emergency preparedness or becoming more self-reliant. That doesn’t mean I am suggesting people not stock up on food and other items, because stocking up is a good thing, especially with the chaotic political and economic crises escalating almost daily now. By all means stock up, but here’s the thing, stocking up and being able to utilize all those items you bought are two different things entirely. A long time ago I saw a crafting meme that captures this sentiment: “I’ve decided that buying craft supplies and using them are two separate hobbies.”

I mentioned Townsends and My Self Reliance, because they show the days, weeks, months and yes, even years of hard work that goes into living without modern conveniences and they’re constantly learning more and developing more skills.

Most of us aren’t going to set off into the wilderness or build a log cabin, but developing the type of grit and determination to learn new skills, fail, then pick yourself up and start over is crucial to not just surviving, but thriving in bad times. Each day strive to learn something new.

As a child I got only one real Mattel brand Barbie doll and it was Midge, that I received as a Christmas gift. My mother bought me other cheaper brand Barbie size dolls and other dolls and she bought my sisters and me a few sets of plastic doll furniture. I yearned for a fancy doll house and doll furniture, like the kind I saw in toy catalogs. I made a doll house out of a cardboard box and I began using small empty boxes and plastic containers to make my own doll furniture to augment the plastic doll furniture. My great-grandmother was a quilter and she had boxes of fabric scraps she had collected when she worked in a blouse factory and was allowed to take home the fabric scraps that would have been thrown away. She let me use whatever fabric from her fabric boxes that I wanted for my crafting projects. I was around 8 years old when I began gluing fabric to cover little boxes and my great-grandmother showed me how to thread a needle and gather fabric together with long running stitches, so I could create ruffled edges on some of my cardboard furniture creations. My sisters and I got a small round plastic loom in some Christmas craft gift that we used yarn scraps to knit umpteen Barbie dresses too.

I still like to figure out how to use things I already have for projects. Sometimes they work, but often they don’t. My oldest sister, who is eight years older than me, has always been a very talented crafter, gourmet type cook, talented cake decorator and the list goes on. She’s very creative. Something I learned from her is to think in terms of creating a prototype, then working out the glitches and problems in the next ones. Most new things we try won’t turn out perfect the first time and whatever project or skill you’re learning, it’s much more likely there will be some problems or failures and it will be back to the drawing board. Rather than get frustrated by failures, try to use your failures as opportunities to learn more.

I rarely watch TV these days and the odd thing was I completely disliked the “reality TV” stuff from the beginning, but now I watch a lot of YouTube, which is real reality TV, without professional producers. I started watching YouTube looking for information for various needlework and crafting projects, then it moved to cooking and from there gardening and now I watch some homesteading and prepping channels too. I realized that I could learn some needlework and crafting techniques easier watching videos, where I could pause, rewind and replay, as I attempted it myself. I learned how to make Amish knot rugs that way:

An Amish knot rug I made a few years ago.

I’ve made 4 or 5 Amish knot rugs and plan to make some more. For my first rug I didn’t have the actual Amish knot rug needle, but I watched a video where a lady showed how to make your own tool with wire, so I used a large paperclip and bent it into the shape she showed. Yes, my first bending up a paperclip for recreational use was to make an Amish knot rug needle, lol.

There are so many excellent how-to videos on YouTube, so just look around. There’s also a lot of contradictory and bad advice, so take some time to browse around before you begin a new project.

I randomly came across a Canadian lady, Jessica Wanders, YouTube channel as she embarked on a No Spend Pantry Challenge, cooking meals with only food in your pantry for a month, that I was interested in. This young lady cans a lot, but she also has a lot of store bought items too. She makes her own yogurt using a very low tech method, which got me wondering about how you could make yogurt if you didn’t have store bought yogurt with live cultures. The creative ways she uses what she’s got and tries new dishes was very interesting.

Recently I’ve been thinking about making some simple soft cheeses and learning to make yogurt. Almost every yogurt how-to begins with using some yogurt culture from store-bought yogurt and with the current shortage problems I wondered how people made yogurt before they had store-bought yogurt. People have been eating yogurt for millennia. Voila, I found a process on a YouTube cooking channel I really love, Sweet Adjeley. This lady offers clear and precise instructions, in addition she has a lovely lilting accent, so it’s a pleasure to watch her channel. She has a video on how to make your own yogurt starter using chilies in milk and she says a cut lemon can also be used. So, I’ll be attempting making my own yogurt starter in the near future.

I’ve also been trying various keto bread and low-carb bread recipes I found on Pinterest and YouTube, which might be more diabetic-friendly. I recently stumbled across some bread recipes using bean flour, which would be a great use of some of these dried beans I’ve stocked up on and also a red lentil bread, I’d like to try. Beans aren’t low carb, but the carbs in beans are slower to digest and might work better for my blood sugar levels than regular wheat bread. Most keto bread recipes have too many eggs in them for my taste. I also ordered a used cookbook (very good condition,) Country Beans for $5.33 from amazon and it’s filled with all sorts of ways to use dried beans that were new to me. Sara Lee makes a low carb bread, that I like and it’s way cheaper than the keto breads, but I want to have some alternatives, in case I can’t find the Sara Lee bread.

YouTube is filled with channels on various types of gardening and homesteading, so you can find tons of advice, how-to videos and inspiration. You can also find how-to videos on almost any type of home repair, making and using tools, doing just about anything, but you can also find a lot of bad advice, political commentary of every stripe, end-of-the world prognostications and every type of crazy imaginable. I have also found some very thoughtful motivational videos, ranging from religious to secular themed. I urge you to listen to people who motivate you to feel like you can do more things and who inspire you to keep a positive attitude, then take a deep breath and get busy working to learn new skills and get things done.

There’s plenty to be worried and fearful about with the chaotic times we’re living in, but each day I try to remember to thank God “For Lovely Things,” which are all-around us. It’s a prayer I read as a child, from a little book of prayers I received for Christmas in 1964 and still have. I rarely part with books that matter to me. I wrote about this in a 2017 blog post:

How an individual responds to challenges really does depend on that person alone, but most of us turn to other people for encouragement, support and often guidance or advice and that’s where community comes in.

America doesn’t have to end up like other countries that fall apart, unless we let it. A lot of people in online communities are talking about building community these days and that’s a very positive sign. All across America ordinary people can create small flickers of hope, whether it’s an entire community effort, one church group or even just a small group of 2 or 3 people working together. Some Americans already are doing just that, which I’ll write about soon. We don’t have to turn out like Venezuela or Argentina falling apart, which I hear about constantly among online preppers.

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Filed under American History, Food for Thought, General Interest

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