Trying out a Simpler Life

This past month we took our summer vacation. We spent a week on a lake in northern Wisconsin. We rented a teeny 1930s-era cabin at an old-fashioned “resort.”  The cabin had electricity, a kitchen sink, and a toilet. (The shower house was a short walk away.)

Throughout the week, I kept noticing ways in which life in our Northwoods cabin differed from our everyday life. Here are a few of things that I noticed the most:

Stuff. I had so few belongings that I used many things for more than one purpose. A mug doubled as a measuring cup. A saucer became the cover on a bowl of leftovers. A rolled up blanket functioned as an extra pillow. A few times I cooked in stages because we had one skillet. We just “made do” with what we had or did without but we got along fine.

Entertainment. We had electricity but no internet or tv. So instead we found entertainment in our surroundings and surprisingly, found no end of ways to stay busy. We watched boaters and water skiers go by and got to recognize some of them. We noticed clouds and fronts move in and out throughout the day and watched the sunset every night. (It’s amazing how different every sunset is.) We watched every day for the duck with 8 ducklings who bobbed around in the water and the loon that came around our dock in the early evening. And time flies when you’re sitting in front of a bonfire and just talking.

Cooking. I made our meals without any recipes and I never looked for online inspiration to help me make dinner. We had a craving for potato salad one day and I made it from memory, with a spoonful of this and that. By golly, it tasted the same as when I follow a recipe and drag out multiple bowls and measuring spoons. I need to trust myself more in the kitchen!

Cleaning! Oh my. After breakfast we’d do the dishes, then sweep out the whole cabin, make the bed, and put away a few misplaced belongings. That sucked a whopping 10 minutes out of the day. Then I had to decide if I would read my book sitting out on the dock or in the hammock.

I realize that I was living a fantasy kind of life. And honestly, I wouldn’t want to live that way permanently. I want more than four outfits, two books, and a week’s worth of food. And let’s not forget my garden, canning jars, and my crafts. I would miss them terribly.

But I did learn a few things that will do me well to adopt back in my “real life.”

-We estimated and brought enough food to last the week. Since we didn’t want to waste any, I found ways to incorporate leftover ingredients into a meal the next day. Because our refrigerator wasn’t jam-packed, ingredients didn’t hide behind the condiments and leftovers and become forgotten and spoiled. I think I was more organized because I didn’t have endless options and I used what I had instead of cooking according to my ever-changing whims.

-We found that overall, we didn’t miss technology, even though at home, a tv, radio, or something is nearly always on.  We spent more time outside because the outdoors was so much more interesting than anything in our tiny cabin, with nothing enticing us to stay indoors.  Because we weren’t distracted by electronic entertainment, we went to bed when it got dark and woke up with the sun. In spite of being on vacation with few responsibilities, I still think we were more well-rested than at home.

It was great to get away and “reset” and see life in a different angle. I don’t plan on giving it all up for a life in the Northwoods any time soon, but I’d like to incorporate a few things into my life for the other 358 days of the year.

Don’t Save Your Pretty Things For Wife #2; 1937

 

Whenever I am tempted to put pretty things away and not use them I think of a neighbor I had. She was fine to visit with over the garden fence or in my home, but it was no joy to go into her home. It was beautiful–but the polished floors were covered first with new rugs and then with old rugs and where there wasn’t any “rug” there were heavy papers, so you couldn’t possibly mark the floor. The chairs were all covered so they wouldn’t get dusty or scratched. She never used her best dishes for fear they would get nicked or broken. Her beautiful linens were laid away, so they wouldn’t wear out. Children were not welcome in the house, as they might leave a mark or fingerprint on something.

One day Mary died of heart failure.

Within a year Joe was married again. All the old rugs and coverings disappeared, the costly china is used everyday and on wash days the most beautiful linens hang on the line. Four  healthy, sturdy boys have come to bless the home.

As we see them learning to swim, having water fights or sailing boats in the bathtub, sliding down the banisters or playing train with the furniture, we wonder, “What would Mary say if she could see all this?”

We are thoroughly convinced that we, ourselves, shall use and enjoy all our pretty things and not save them for wife number two.

 

 

Vic and Sade, 1930s and 1940s

A fun way to get a glimpse of home life “way back when” is to listen to an old radio show called Vic and Sade. Vic and Sade was a daily 15 minute show so popular at the time that each episode aired several times a day. Most of the episodes have been lost or destroyed but the ones that remain are available online. You can find some of them right  HERE.

Whether the show is an accurate portrayal of life in the 1930s and 1940s, who can say for sure? Not me. I can only assume it was a realistic reflection of the era. It was certainly a slower, simpler pace.

The family consists of Victor Gook, his wife Sadie, and their son Rush. Vic is an accountant at the Consolidated Kitchenware Co. and one of his primary interests is his lodge membership in the Sacred Stars of the Milky Way, where he serves as the Exalted Big Dipper.

Sadie is a housewife, whose best friend is her neighbor Ruthie Stenbottom. It seems as if the two of them are always shopping at Yamilton’s Department Store to take advantage of a washrag sale and in the evenings, she and Vic often get together with Ruthie and her husband Fred to play 500 and have ice cream.

Rush is their enthusiastic teenage son. He’s always discovering money-making schemes, reading his Third Lieutenant Stanley adventure books, and going to the YMCA with his friends to “watch the fat men play handball.”

The episodes aren’t full of wild adventures, mysteries, and outrageous situations. There are no laugh tracks, punch lines, and only a few sound effects. Instead, each episode is a slice of an ordinary (yet quirky) family’s daily life. Many of the episodes take place in the living room after dinner as the family discusses the trivial happenings of the day.

I feel like I’m eavesdropping on the Gook family; it’s like the social media of the early 20th century. The conversations aren’t exciting, but just like pictures on Facebook of an ordinary family birthday party, you can’t help but look (or in the case of Vic and Sade, listen in). The storylines move slowly enough that you learn the family member’s personalities, pet peeves, and individual peculiarities and feel you know them well.  The shows get funnier over time as I’ve learned the personalities of the family members. The subtle humor often make me laugh out loud.

Give it a try sometime! It’s a peaceful change of pace from the usual blaring TV noise, with its ads and fluctuating volumes. Life seems to move a little more quietly after I’ve listened to a few episodes.

 

Juneberry (Saskatoon, Serviceberry) Jam, 1924

I recently read an article in a 1924 issue of the Farmer’s Wife magazine on using wild fruits. At first glance, I didn’t think I had access to any of the wild fruits mentioned, like red haws, pin cherries, and chokecherries. But then I had a chance conversation with a fellow camper over the Memorial Day weekend…

unripened Saskatoon berries

I learned from the chat with my campground neighbor that Saskatoon berries are also known as Juneberries and Serviceberries. I’ve had a couple of Saskatoon berry bushes for years.  The bushes have been slow to take off, but I finally got my first harvest last year. I picked all the berries and put them into the freezer, where they have remained because I had no idea what to do with them.  Our conversation reminded me that the article included a couple of recipes for Juneberries.

frozen Saskatoon berries

So, I had an opportunity to try out one of the recipes. I didn’t have enough berries for a full recipe, so I just followed the ratio in the recipe of 3 parts berries to 1 part rhubarb. 

simmering the berries and rhubarb

I began to drain the fruit as directed, but then decided that I prefer jam instead of jelly, so I strained it through my jam cone instead.  I really like the idea of jam that doesn’t use store-bought pectin but I struggle with the jelly test on the back of a spoon. I’m always afraid of overcooking it so my jam often winds up more like an ice cream topping, which isn’t all bad, but a little drippy for toast.

I concentrated on counting drips–”1, 2, 3….13, 14, 15, drip” then “1, 2, 3….20, 21, 22, drip” over and over, gradually working my way closer to 60. I found myself counting faster and faster to reach my goal before it dripped. Even while pouring it into the jars, I knew it was thicker than I’d wanted. I think my problem was that by the time I counted all the way up to 60, the jam had cooked nearly a minute longer.  

stirring and counting between drips

In spite of the thickness, the taste is absolutely delicious, like blueberry with a little tang. All in all, I consider my first attempt at Juneberry jam a success. I’m anxious for this summer’s crop to ripen, so I can make another batch.

Have you ever tried Juneberries? (or Saskatoon berries? or Serviceberries?)

Print Recipe
Juneberry (Saskatoon, Serviceberry) Jelly
originally shared in 1924 by Mrs. Floyd Luros
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Wash and pick over berries and dice rhubarb. Put fruit in kettle with pinch of soda and just enough water to cover. Cook slowly until the fruit is soft and tender and then strain through a cotton flannel bag. Add an equal amount of sugar to the strained juice, bring the boiling point and simmer gently until it jells. A good plan is to see if the last drop on the spoon can be held while counting sixty, as then it will surely jell. Pour into hot sterilized glasses, cool and seal.