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 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.

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