You Wouldn’t Recognize The Poultry Your Great-Great Grandparents Raised

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You Wouldn’t Recognize The Poultry Your Great-Great Grandparents Raised

For most homesteaders, having poultry is an important part of the lifestyle. We’ve all read the magazine articles about preserving our heritage poultry, and so we bring home flocks of gorgeous Rhode Island Reds and Welsh Harlequin ducks, trios of Royal Palm turkeys, and a pair or two of handsome Pilgrim Geese.

We enjoy our poultry flocks. After all, we are living like our forefathers, right? Well, maybe not.

What if I told you that most of the beautiful species of poultry we raise today weren’t even developed back when great-great granddaddy had his farm and worked the land?

For most of us, our great-great grandparents would have been living life in the 1800s. Whether your ancestors lived on farms or in town, pretty much everyone owned chickens. Dual-purpose chickens provided both eggs and meat, and for this reason most families of six had at least a dozen or more birds. Feeding your flock was mostly about free-ranging them in your yard and feeding them scraps. Occasionally, birds were supplemented with cracked corn, oats, barley or wheat.

Goose and duck flocks were managed in much the same way as chickens, and some breeds were developed to weed crops and orchards. Geese were raised for not only meat but also their feathers and down, which were used in pillows and mattresses. Duck owners enjoyed their meat as well as their eggs. Neither was widely raised until later in the century. In most areas of the country, ducks and geese were hunted rather than grown, most likely as a way to provide meat for the family without the time and expense of managing a flock. Duck meat has never really gained the popularity here that it has in Europe, due largely to the fact that chickens tend to be leaner and far more prolific.

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For the farmer with larger fowl such as turkeys, the birds were primarily allowed to forage. Flocks were raised not only for meat, but also because of their remarkably large appetite for bugs. For this reason, they were often raised in orchards and in woodlots, where the birds also had space to roost in trees. During the winter, birds were supplemented with corn, oats, barley or wheat, much like chickens. Some old-timey turkey-raising manuals even suggest that farmers slaughter a hog as feed for their turkey flocks during the winter months as a way to provide extra fats and protein.

With turkeys being native to over half of the United States, there were plenty of small farms that preferred to hunt them rather than raise them. However, events such as the Mexican-American War and the Civil War impacted the wild populations of the Gould’s, Rio Grande and the Eastern Wild along the Southern United States.

The Breeds of Great-Great Grandaddy’s Day

Chickens

In the early 1800s, chickens were strictly viewed as a utilitarian bird. This meant that flocks largely consisted of crosses of the birds available at the time. One of the more common purebred birds was the Dominique, a dual-purpose bird with barred markings and a very good foraging ability. These handsome birds were often depicted in paintings from that era and are credited as being the oldest breed in America.

Plymouth Rock

Immigrants to the New World brought along breeds such as the Hamburg and Polish, as well as crossed birds from their native countries. The Java also made its appearance in the early 1800s in the colors of black, white and mottled. From these birds of possible Asiatic descent, the Plymouth Rock was developed and made its first official appearance in 1835. English varieties such as the Dorking were imported into the United States around this same time, and by the 1850s “Hen Fever” had caught on to the point that even small farmers were venturing into new breeds. Some of these early imports included the Brahma, Cochin, Orpington, and later on, the Leghorn. By the end of the century many breeders, farmers and enthusiasts were tinkering with creating their own breeds, and we see the emergence of the Winnebago (modern-day Silver Laced Wyandotte), Jersey Giant, Buckeyes and Rhode Island Red.

For our ancestors, the importation and creation of new breeds created larger, often more robust animals that produced better meat and more eggs. Imports were expensive, and a common practice of those early days was to buy a rooster of imported blood and breed it into an established flock. Since hens were allowed to go broody and hatch their own chickens, it took a relatively short amount of time to completely change the landscape of chicken raising in the U.S.

Ducks

The first domesticated ducks in American are believed to have been the Aylesbury from England and the Huttegem from Belgium. While I could find very little about the Huttegem, the Aylesbury is still a very popular breed in England and is prized for its delicious meat and good egg laying ability. Both breeds were not uncommon in New England during the 1800s, and small farms throughout the Midwest usually had a combination of these breeds crossed with domesticated wild mallards.

In the early 1800s, several new duck breeds emerged, claiming to be bred from native species that were caught and domesticated. Most never gained popularity and they disappeared. One in particular endured — the Cayuga duck. The Cayuga’s wild beginnings are often disputed, however, with many believing it actually to be a descendant of the Lancashire Black, which was common on farms in Lancashire, England, into the 1860s. Regardless of its start, the Cayuga was named after the Cayuga region of New York, and the breed was popular in the North East due to its hardiness and its personable, easy nature.

As “Hen Fever” ramped up and chickens began to be imported, a few duck breeds also arrived. In 1850, the Rouen entered the U.S. by way of England, and small poultry keepers rushed to add these heavy weight ducks to their small flocks in an effort to increase meat yields.

The late 1800s saw the importation of the Blue Swedish Duck, and near the turn of the century the first Pekin (or Peking) White ducklings arrived. From here, the U.S. saw the development of many other duck breeds well into the 20th Century.

Geese

Domesticated geese came into America in the early days of the first European settlers. These birds were most likely descendants of the wild Greylag goose, and/or descendants of the domesticated Roman goose.

Beyond birds bred for the small farm or homestead, geese were being bred in large numbers to be used to weed the cotton fields of the South. Descended from unknown birds that arrived during colonial times, these birds became their own breed, the Cotton Patch. Regardless, in my research I could find no truly distinguished goose breeds listed until the arrival of the Bremens (the modern Embden) in the early 1800s. We do know that the Cotton Patch goose was already being utilized in the south by this time; they just hadn’t yet been developed into a true “breed.”

Toulouse Goose

Following the Bremens, Toulouse arrived during the mid-century and became widely popular in the Midwest due to their heat tolerance. In the later part of the century we see the arrival of both the African and Chinese goose, which descend from the wild swan goose of Asia. While the Toulouse flourished in America, the Africans and Chinese didn’t really catch on until much, much later.

Turkeys 

Domesticated turkeys in the Americas have an interesting history. The original turkey breed in America (domesticated) and most widely raised is the Bronze. These birds are descended from varieties brought by the first Europeans, crossed with the wild Eastern Turkeys. The resulting animals displayed Hybrid Vigor — being hardier, taller and much heavier than either. Stock from these crosses was retained and resulted in the breed we know today as the Heritage Bronze.

Sometime during the 1700s, the ancestors of the Norfolk Black (also called the Black Spanish) arrived. These birds descended from turkeys taken from Mexico to Europe in the 1500s and brought back to American with the early European Settlers. The birds were then crossed into wild Eastern Turkeys to make it what it is today. While they enjoyed popularity for a time, the breed had more or less fallen out of favor by the mid-1800s.

The Black was used in developing what some consider to be the first truly American turkey, the Narragansett. Developed in Rhode Island from wild Easterns and Blacks, they were considered THE turkey of choice from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic from the 1700s until their decline around 1900. They were the first breed to be bred and standardized for commercial production, and were popular on small farms and homesteads for their mild dispositions, large size and prolific breeding. Farmers raising these birds during the early 1800s claimed that a flock of a dozen hens could produce a flock of 100-200 birds in a single year!

Sometime right before the 1800s, the Chocolate turkey arrived from France. These birds were not quite as large or as cold-tolerant as the Northeastern breeds, but they became very popular in the Southern United States prior to the Civil War. They were a popular sight on small holdings and plantations alike, but with the desperate times of the war flocks were devastated to such a degree that they never really made a comeback.

About the same time that the Chocolate was arriving, a new breed was finding favor in the Northeast — the Holland White. It’s interesting to note that the Holland is not a Dutch bird as the name suggests, and is actually a mutant strain of the Heritage Bronze. They quickly found favor for being a bit smaller than the other breeds available at the time, and with their white pin feathers they quickly developed into a commercial breed. They were not as popular with small farmers and homesteaders as the other breeds.

In the late 1800s, the Bourbon Red (or “Bourbon Butternut,” as it was originally known) was developed, and if your ancestors lived in Kentucky or Ohio as mine did, this was the breed they raised. The striking red birds with white tail and wing feathers became very popular for their good growth and large size. They have remained popular into the 21st Century.

It’s worth mentioning that the Jersey Buff was also available during the 1800s, though its exact emergence is difficult to pin down. We do know that it was used in the development of the Bourbon Red, but truly never gained popularity and was considered to be extinct by 1915.

What is plain when researching these breeds is that our forefathers relied on poultry that could withstand the climate they were being raised in and reproduce effectively there. Birds that could serve multiple purposes were far more preferred than anything that was just merely pretty, and efficient foragers with good growth rates were a must. Our great-great grandparents simply didn’t have the time, money or energy to expend on stock that didn’t offer a good return.

What would you add? Do you know what types of breeds your ancestors raised? Share your thoughts in the section below:

3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Built Fires Without Wood

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3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Made Fires Without Wood

Image source: Library of Congress

I’m fortunate to call the windswept prairie of the Great Plains my home. If you get out of farm country, it’s just grass as far as you can see. In fact, there are still places nearly unchanged since pioneers first tried settling this area more than 100 years ago.

Although quiet and expansive, there are real challenges to living in the plains. This rings especially true for a person who pursues knowledge in woodcraft. One of the biggest barriers to settling the plains was the lack of timber. Historically, people all around the world have overwhelmingly depended on wood as a natural construction material. The lack of trees on the prairie was one of the biggest obstacles pioneers faced when they looked into the Great American Desert. Wood was, and is, such a central part of our life, especially when forging a living from the land. Lack of timber seemed to make settlement nearly impossible.

While most Americans during the mid-19th century looked at the prairie as an inhospitable land, there were already people living happily in this treeless expanse. An array of Native American societies were established, each developing strategies for living a life that depend on wood as little as possible. Adventurous mountain men and explorers had also learned these lessons the hard way. They, too, knew how to survive in a land devoid of such a pivotal resource. One thing everyone on the plains had to know was how to build a fire without using wood as a fire fuel.

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Even today, we can take a page from their book and remember there are other excellent fire fuels besides wood. Here are three examples of resources you can burn when heavy timber may be in short supply:

1. Buffalo chips/cattle manure

Buffalo chips is a reference to the dried manure of buffalo that once dotted our grasslands. Once dubbed as “Plains oak”, buffalo chips were widely used as fire fuel for generations on the plains. When cattle were brought north, their manure also was collected for the same purpose. Both sources were a very common source of fuel, and actually offered several advantages to wood fires. For starters, in such a dry environment, buffalo chips don’t throw sparks like wood fires tend to do. Manure fuels smolder more than they actually burn. The smoldering actually helps control the fire, rather than constantly setting the prairie ablaze.

3 Forgotten Ways The Pioneers Made Fires Without Wood

Image source: Pixabay.com

This smoldering characteristic also made buffalo chips ideal for burning in tipis and other natural shelters. Another advantage of using a fuel “cut by the cows” was the saved labor. Rather than spending hours cutting and splitting wood, people living on the plains simply gathered and stacked the chips. In a region so difficult to make a living, this saved labor would have been nice.

2. Woody shrubs

Although there is a lack of trees on the Great Plains, there are locations with an abundance of woody shrubs. Most prolific in my area are sagebrush and yucca. At times, these sources of fuel came in especially handy. One mountain man, Osborne Russell, kept a journal of his experience depending on sagebrush for fire.

Russell and a few companion’s horses had been run off, and the group was on foot. Back in those days, being afoot on the prairie was akin to a death sentence. They headed for an army fort they that lay across a sagebrush sea more than a week’s march. While making their way across the barren land, they carried little more than their rifles and basic gear. No blankets, no food, and none of the small comforts their rough lives knew. As they traveled, they shot buffalo when they came upon them and used the hides to sleep on. While caught in his sagebrush sea, a mix of rain and snow moved in upon the group. Russell’s account of the incident leaves no debate that the trip was miserable. After many, many cold and wet miles, the group finally safely walked into an army fort and survived the ordeal.

Along the way, though, the group needed to build a fire each day. With no wood in sight, they turned to a nearly endless source of fuel in the sagebrush. Russell noted that at times these fires consisted of no fuel larger than thumb size. Needless to say, it kept them alive in poor conditions.

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Sage and other woody shrubs should not be overlooked for their potential as a fuel source. As with buffalo chips, small shrubs offer the advantage of keeping a fire small. Again, in a place that is so dry and windy, keeping your fire small is important. An old mountain man adage was “the bigger the fire, the bigger the fool.” By keeping the fire small, they not only limited the chance of spreading fire, but they saved labor and decreased their chances of being seen by those who meant to do them harm.

3. Animal fat

A final alternative fire fuel people utilized is animal fat. In the past, animals like bear provided not only meat for the larder, but fire fuel, such as for burning lamps. If the pioneers or Native Americans happened to be in an area devoid of animal manure or shrubs, fat would have been a viable option.

In my own experience, I’ve used raccoon fat as a fuel source while building a campfire. I can testify to its ability to put out some heat. A word of caution, though: Unlike the previously mentioned fuels, fat burns extremely hot and very fast. Just toss a bit of raccoon fat on the fire and step back. It is best used in small amounts; otherwise your fire could easily get out of control. Have a bucket of dirt on hand. (With a grease fire, water only would heighten the problem.)

Do you have any fire-starting advice? Share your tips in the section below:

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The Cheap, Easy-To-Make Survival Lamp Your Great-Grandparents Used

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The Cheap, Easy-To-Make Survival Lamp Your Great-Grandparents Used

Imagine you are sitting in a log cabin, or perhaps hunkered down in a lean-to or some other makeshift shelter in the woods. It’s dark, and you’d like more light than your fire provides so you can do some chores.

Maybe you are mending your socks, or sewing a button back in place, enjoying a meal, or just trying to do a little reading before bed. Or maybe you are in a survival situation, and have lost modern means of lighting, or the grid has gone down, and your rural homestead still needs lighting. Or maybe you just like the tools and skills of the past. Either way, it’s dark and you want some light. There are a number of traditional means of lighting your home or shelter, ranging from kerosene lamps, to wax or tallow candles, to the often-forgotten tallow lamp.

Illumination through combustion was the first way our ancestors fought off the darkness, starting with fires and torches, and reaching a point of refinement with pressurized white gas and propane before the electric light won out in the end.

Until petroleum refining took off in the mid-19th century, natural fats and oils provided that illumination. In the Middle East, olive oil was a popular illuminating oil, and at one time, whale oil lit the homes of the well-to-do and wealthy in Europe and America. However, by and large for the common person, candles provided that light. But hunters, natives and the very poor knew of another light that could be as simple as placing melted tallow (a rendered form of fat) in a shallow dish and setting it alight, or using a bit of cloth or porous fiber, string, twine, etc., to serve as a wick. It is a traditional method of lighting that has existed for thousands of years.

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These very simple lights can be made from material readily found in the wilderness, and a tablespoon or so of tallow has been shown to provide useful light for about 45 minutes, making it perfect for working on evening tasks before bed, or even just a few minutes with your Bible or another book. Like all simple tools, the tallow lamp can seem more complex than it really is to our modern mind, so let’s take a look at a common way of making them.

Seashells were one way of holding the tallow, but you also could do it with a piece of bark, a stone with a hollow in it, a small dish, or really anything capable of holding the tallow. For a wick, an inch or two of simple string or twine will suffice, as will a strip of scrap cloth.

Melt the tallow and pour it around your wick (it can be laying sideways if needed), or even press unmelted tallow or fat around the wick. You also can run the wick through a button that will hold it upright in the pool of tallow (a so-called button lamp) and make it a bit more efficient.

What you get with just a minute or two of work is a crude, but effective, lamp. This would not be suitable as your primary lighting source unless you had no other choice, but it becomes invaluable for the stranded hunter or in a total societal collapse. (It’s a great way to use up rancid or heavily used cooking fats, though.)

One of the biggest drawbacks to the tallow lamp, aside from the low levels of light it produces and the fact that it is both smoky and can put out an odor, is that it demands the use of edible fats. You can make lamps along these lines with any kind of natural oil, and as we all know (or should know) fats are very important in a survival situation. Fat consumption provides valuable caloric energy, so this puts tallow lamps strictly in the realm of something to use when you have a sufficient fat supply.

Making tallow lamps isn’t hard. While they are not the greatest source of light, they are more than sufficient for personal use, and are a useful tool when you have no other source of light.

Have you ever made a tallow lamp? Share your tips in the section below:

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Strange Winter Tricks My Ancestors Used To Stay Warm

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Strange Winter Tricks My Ancestors Used To Stay Warm

When winter rolls around, most of us simply curl up in front of the wood stove or fireplace, or even turn on our electric blankets, but what would you do if those things were suddenly gone?

If the worst-case scenario occurred, would you know the ways that our ancestors stayed warm during winter? During those times, we might not be able to have a fireplace or a cozy home to sit out the winter months. So this might be a good time to familiarize yourself with the old-fashioned ways people have used to stay warm when they were outside.

Instant Heaters

My mother, during the depression, often took a hot baked potato to school, worn inside her coat. This helped keep her warm on her wintery walks to school.

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Other warming items, which are easily heated in a stove or in a pot of boiling water, would be hot water bottles, rocks, bricks, flat stones, potatoes and even shoes or underwear! My mother often said that, before she got dressed, she put her underwear and shoes right next to the wood burning stove on a cold, icy morning.

‘Crazy Layers’

Dressing in layers — but not the types of layers you and I use — was perhaps one of the best ways our ancestors stayed warm. They weren’t too picky about what it was, either. Layers of items create air pockets which keep heat in and cold out. Today, we have a great selection of fibers to choose from, so we can put on a couple pair of silk undergarments and a synthetic coat.

Before these materials were invented, however, some of our ancestors knew how to do what my grandmother called “crazy layers.” This means wool long John’s or undershirts and leggings, perhaps several pair. If you had them, you wore multiple pairs of pants or several petticoats (or slips). Stories in my family say that my great-grandfather only had two pairs of pants, so he would put them on, stuff the hems into his socks and boots, and then he stuffed chicken feathers in between the pants for insulation!

Most women wore several layers of clothing, a couple of scarves and hats, along with fur-lined gloves. It was not uncommon to see women wearing blankets tied about their neck or across the shoulders. This left their arms free to work, but helped to keep them warm.

Even More Unusual Ways to Stay Warm

Strange Winter Tricks My Ancestors Used To Stay WarmOf course, we all want to believe that the truly desperate fights for survival are behind us. However, since none of us can foresee the future, we should at least be aware of some of the extreme, or at least unusual, ways that our ancestors stayed warm when dire circumstances were more common.

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Sleeping next to or under animals is a good way to stay warm if need be. Yes, it’s true that sleeping under a cow or next to a couple of goats or sheep might not smell great and might not be all that comfortable, but it will surely beat freezing to death.

Also, in a pinch, you can use some of nature’s own insulating materials, such as leaves, hay, feathers, hair (such as horse hair), straw, dried grass and even pine boughs to insulate your clothing, make a shelter and provide a dry floor for bedding.

Let’s not forget that there are other things to burn besides wood. If you want a fire but can’t find wood, remember that you can burn most dried animal manure (cow, horse and buffalo “chips” are great for this), as well as bird nests, straw, hay, charcoal (partially burned wood), paper, cloth, tires and leaves.

I don’t know about you, but after thinking about burning cow patties to stay warm, I am really grateful for my wood burning stove and electric blanket right now!

Do you know of other ways our ancestors stayed warm during winter? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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Lard: Your Great-Grandmother’s Secret To Better Skin, Naturally

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Lard: Your Great-Grandmother’s Secret To Better Skin, Naturally

Image source: Epic Provisions

 

Before the birth of the industrial cosmetic industry, people found other ways to improve their skin. Perhaps they realized that after continually handling meat in the kitchen, the skin on their hands was softer and smoother. Or perhaps they were just feeling adventurous with the leftover biscuit grease.

Either way, people for centuries – especially women — have been using lard as a facial cream. Lard is pork fat that has been rendered down to a liquid. Not only does it act as an exceptional barrier for locking in moisture, but it is also high in the vitamins that help keep skin healthy.

While the idea of rubbing pork fat on your cheeks might seem off-putting, think about this: Nearly all commercial skincare products are already made with some sort of animal fat. And massaging lard into your skin isn’t the same as rubbing bacon on your face. In fact, lard is incredibly gentle on skin, since it is so close to human skin in its chemical makeup.

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So before you call that 1-800 number to purchase a $50 bottle of Anti-Aging, Acne-Erasing Wonder Cream, give lard a chance. This humble pork product has been proven to:

  • Reduce fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Tone and firm for a more youthful look.
  • Even out color and reduce redness associated with rosacea.
  • Reduce dryness associated with conditions like eczema (or winter weather).
  • Even out texture for a smoother, softer feel.
  • Improve acne and reduce pores.

If you are truly looking for a healthy and sustainable fix for your skincare woes, lard has the power to do everything that bank-breaking bottle of Lancôme does, and for the same price you could buy about 20 gallons of it!

Here’s Why it Works

When it comes to cellular makeup, pig lard is incredibly close to human skin. It has a similar pH and is made up of saturated and monounsaturated fats. One fact that skincare experts know: Oil dissolves oil. Since lard is so similar to our own skin oils, it’s a match made in heaven. As a cleanser, lard is a gentle and natural way to rid your face of that nasty sebum buildup and the daily dirt in your pores.

Pigs are extremely efficient at processing sunlight and storing it as Vitamin D in their fat. Fortunately for us, we get to enjoy our four-footed friends’ hard work when we rub that fat on our faces. Vitamin D helps to minimize dark spots and lines, reduce acne, and promote collagen production. This D-rich lard comes from pastured hogs that have been exposed to sunlight, so be sure to keep this in mind if you purchase your lard. Lard is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin E and Vitamin A.

There’s only one ingredient in lard: lard. Think about that next time your read your lotion label. If you can’t pronounce the words on the label, then you probably shouldn’t be putting it on or in your body.

Though convenient, most store-bought lard is hydrogenated and may contain preservatives. If you are going for a completely natural lard fix and you can’t render your own lard, then the best place to go is to your local butcher or farmer’s market. And for about $1 you can enjoy healthy, radiant skin for months. I haven’t seen a deal that good on any late-night infomercials.

How to Use it

Night is the time for our bodies to rest and restore. After your nightly washing routine, towel dry your face and dab a tiny bit of lard onto your cheeks and forehead. Massage it in well all over your face and neck. In the morning, wipe it away with a warm cloth.

Though some notice an instant improvement in their skin’s look and feel, for many this isn’t a simple overnight fix. My advice to you: Be patient! Going to bed smelling just a bit like a sausage may be discouraging (unless you really love sausage), but the end result will be well worth it. Those who have taken on the lard challenge have noticed a reduction in the signs of aging, improvement in skin elasticity, more even skin texture and color, fewer occurrences of acne, and softer skin.

If you’re tired of spending an arm and a leg on expensive chemical night creams or if you’ve simply tried everything without positive results, then I encourage you to give this age-old all-natural porcine remedy a try.

Have you ever used lard as a lotion or skin-softener? Share your tips in the section below:  

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8 Weird Ways Your Ancestors Kept The Bed Warm During Winter

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8 Weird Ways Your Ancestors Kept The Bed Warm During Winter

Image source: Wikigallery

Our ancestors’ homes usually were heated by wood-burning stoves. While any wood stove will keep a certain space warm, the ability to heat a whole house – particularly one that is two stories — diminished with distance and range.

Sitting next to a fire is nice when the weather outside is -30 degrees Fahrenheit, but if you’re sleeping upstairs you’re going to feel far less heat and far more cold.

While some homes had the luxury of a second story fireplaces, most did not. As a result, our ancestors had to improvise numerous solutions to stay warm at night.

Some of these solutions were simple and some more complex. Some were temporary, while others were more permanent. Many of these solutions were used in combination on particularly cold nights. Still, our ancestors found some unique and even weird ways to stay warm at night when sleeping.

1. The “grate.” Homeowners would cut a hole between the first and second floor and insert a grate that would allow the hot air from below to rise into the second floor. It was far from forced-air heating, but it did offer some relief.

2. The hot-bed pan. Another solution was to take hot coals from the fire and insert them into a covered pan on the end of a long wooden handle and rub it over a mattress before sleeping.

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It brought some wood smoke into the bedroom briefly, but that was and still is common in any home heated by wood. The heat was temporary, yet it took the edge off a cold bed when first turning in.

8 Weird Ways Your Ancestors Kept The Bed Warm During Winter3. The “nightcap.” If you’ve ever slept in a cold tent during winter, then you know the need for a “nightcap.” This was a head covering that could be a knitted cap or, in Artic climates, a fur cap. When the weather outside is frightful, keeping your body warm is only half the battle. A stocking cap or “nightcap” made a big difference.

4. Layers on layers of insulation. Layering is a common concept for anyone in winter, and layers of sheets, blankets and quilts made a sleeping arrangement warm and warmer. Goose down quilts were a luxury and often a necessity on bitterly cold nights.

5. Sleep with the dog. The shared body heat from a pet can help keep a bed warm at night — and the dog appreciates it, too.

6. Night clothes beyond pajamas. Most pajamas are made from a thin, lightweight material that serve more as a modest way to sleep.

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Our ancestors didn’t mess around. Their night clothes were often heavyweight combinations of wool and thick, cotton flannel.

7. Snuggling. Families often slept together in the same bed, especially on cold, winter nights. The human body radiates heat at an average of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, and a combination of people in the same bed allowed the body heat to be shared.

8. Hot iron. This is potentially dangerous, but hot pieces of iron were sometimes heated on the top of a wood-burning stove or in a fireplace and then placed into a metal bucket. The bucket was then brought to the bedroom and placed on the floor or even under the bed. The radiant heat from the hot iron lasted for hours and helped to bring some added heat to a cold bedroom.

Of course, when all else failed, it was likely that a family would sleep downstairs in closer proximity to a stove or fireplace. This was a somewhat radical move, but when temperatures plunged far below zero, it was sometimes the only alternative.

Do you know of other ways our ancestors kept their house warm at night during frigid temps? Let us know in the section below:

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3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

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3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Artist: Alan Maley

 

Americans love to shop for holiday gifts, but what if there were no stores, sales or affordable goods? Our homesteading ancestors often had to deal with this reality and they did what they were good at: They improvised.

Creativity is at the heart of the pioneer spirit, and we’re going to cover some gifts you can make for kids, friends and family that everyone will remember.

  • We’re going to start with the fundamental concept of the Christmas wreath. They’re easy to make.
  • We’re also going to explore a simple way to make a log-cabin dollhouse. It takes time, but the result will be appreciated for years if not generations.
  • Finally, we’re going to explore a simple baking gift. It’s a harvest bread in the shape of a wreath that can be filled with anything you like or simply enjoyed as a symbol of the season.

1. Wreaths

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

Wreaths as a concept emerged during a Scandinavian festival called “Jool.” The English pronunciation is “Yule,” and this season and festival – which takes place around the winter solstice — became known as “Yuletide.”

The wreaths were often worn as crowns improvised from pine, herbs and other plants around a circle of woven vines. Eventually the wreath became a symbol and the circle of branches, herbs and fruits evolved into a decoration we still pursue today.

Our ancestors appreciated a wreath hanging on a wall not only to represent the celebration of the season, but the aromatic sprigs, branches and berries provided an aroma to offset the smell of wood smoke, body odor and mildew that sometimes permeated cabins long ago and still today.

Wreath 101

A wreath is a circle that can be any diameter, and the fundamental foundation is an intertwined circle of vines. Grape vines work great for a larger wreath, but any plant with a long stem, from grasses to tall weeds, can do the trick. The key is to bind them together so they make a circle as a base for the branches, stems, trimmings or other items you want to incorporate into your wreath.

Wreath Ingredients

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

What’s great about vines is that they are very long and make it easy to wrap in a circle to create a good foundation for a wreath, I’ll usually wrap the vines in some twine to keep them together and retain a circular shape. Once this is done you can easily insert branches from trees, shrubs and plants to hold them in place and use either wire or more twine to keep them there. Sometimes just pushing the branch into the bundle of vines will do the job.

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Given the season and time of year in most of North America, pines or other evergreens make good material for a wreath. I like juniper, balsam and Scotch pine. They’re pliable, durable and easy to find, depending on where you live.

Holly and other sturdy plants are also good options but remember: Holly berries are poisonous. You also can make a wreath out of corn husks that have been dried and dyed. I’d use traditional dyes like onion skins, blueberries or beets to get a variety of colors and then weave them into my vine circle once they’re dried.

2. A log cabin dollhouse

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

This is surprisingly easy to make but it does take some time. You have to gather materials, cut them to shape and then build the house and the roof. The roof is usually a separate construction, so it can be removed to allow a child access to the interior.

It’s also easy to craft rustic furnishings from benches to tables and beds, and if you like you can visit a hobby store like Hobby Lobby and find rustic dollhouse furnishings.

It’s Not Just A Little Girl Thing

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

I built a log cabin miniature for my daughter and another for my son. Both loved to fantasize about living in their little log cabins, and they spent hours moving things around and adding details, like more firewood in the fireplace or the dried minnow my son hung on the side of his little cabin.

Gathering Materials

On one occasion, I gathered small sticks about an inch in diameter and shaved them to build a cabin. I chinked the cabin with caulk. I built the roof separately and used bark as shingles. I used small rocks to build the fireplace and placed it all on a board that I detailed using sand and railroad modeling grass to create a feeling of a place. I surrounded it with fences built from small sticks and the general clutter that surrounds a homestead. Use your imagination. What would your son or daughter like to see?

Measuring And Cutting

For my young son’s cabin, I gathered reeds that resembled wood and stocked and glued them in pace. I cut smaller lengths and glued them in between the spaces. Our ancestors would have used pine sap, but I used carpenter’s glue. I also used moss to chink the cabin walls, which is still a common form of chinking used to this day.

The Interior

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

Like many rustic cabins, this is a one-room setup. There’s a fireplace, bed, table, shelf and the other things you would expect to see in a one-room cabin. Here again, use your imagination. If you and your son or daughter were going to live in this imaginary place, what would you want to have?
Small sticks can easily be made into furniture, and I used paint-stirring sticks to make a bench and table. Be creative.

3. Christmas bread

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

This is a simple recipe with a simple idea. You knead the dough, let it rise and then make it in the shape of a wreath. You can serve it plain or fill it with a dip if you like. This was often a Christmas gift because it was simple to make with some flour and other ingredients and could be enjoyed by all. Here’s the recipe and some photos to guide you through the process.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water (70 to 80 degrees)
  • 1 egg (room temperature)
  • 3 tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Pinch of allspice
  • 3 3/4 cups plus 1 tbsp. of bread flour
  • 2 tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 cup dried fruit that could include dried cherries, cranberries and raisins, depending on your preference
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

Directions

3 Old-Fashioned Christmas Gifts Our Ancestors Crafted By Hand

Photo by Steve Nubie

Knead for 20 minutes or add to a mixer with a dough hook for 15 minutes. Let rise for 30 minutes. Cut half of the dough ball into chunks and use the other half to roll a rope of dough that you make into a circle. Do this on a buttered baking sheet.

Surround the circle of dough with the dough chunks and let it rise again.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 35 minutes or until browned. Fill with a fruit sauce like cranberries or a cheese mix if you like.

Final Thoughts

Christmas gifts don’t have to be something you buy. In fact, a handmade and homemade gift is often more appreciated because it demonstrates the love and attention of the person giving the gift. I still try to make gifts from scratch and by hand and am always grateful when I see my old gift still on display or talked about years after the holidays are over. Give it a try if you have the time this Christmas season.

What are your favorite homemade or old-time gifts? Share your tips in the section below:

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Your Great-Grandparents Didn’t Celebrate Christmas Like You Do

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Artist: Edmund Restein

Artist: Edmund Restein

As we enjoy the Christmas season, many people are thinking about tradition. For us here in America, Christmas has become a time of family traditions, where we look back to a simpler time and rekindle memories of our youth and imagined memories of our grandparents’ youth, as well.

But the traditions we think of as “old traditions” aren’t as old as we like to think. The Christmas celebration, as we know it, is much different than Christmas of old. While many of the symbols we recognize as being part of Christmas existed in the beginning of the 1800s, they weren’t all widely used. It was through the years of the 1800s that our Christmas traditions, as we know them today, became widespread American traditions.

This was actually an important part of American history, as the country was very divided through the 1800s. Not only did we fight the Civil War during that time, but society as a whole was fragmented. Cultural groups were widely separated and geographic distance made it difficult for there to be any cohesion in a land as vast as the United States of America.

But communications also were growing during those years. In 1860, the Pony Express connected the East and West Coasts in a way that had not previously existed. The very next year the Pony Express was supplanted by the first intercontinental railway, allowing people to travel from coast to coast in three and a half days. All this happened at the same time as an ever-faster means of communication – the telegraph. The first telegraph lines to cross the continent were strung by the railway right of way.

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This increased communication heightened the need for unifying the country, but it was war that found us first. On April 12, 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Four long years later, it ended, and the people of the United States started on the even longer road to healing. A part of that healing process was the unifying of our Christmas traditions.

Solely A European Holiday?

While Christmas existed as a holiday before this time, it wasn’t celebrated by all. Basically, it was a European holiday and so was only celebrated by those whose ancestors had come from Europe. Even then, not everyone joined in the celebration. The early Pilgrims didn’t celebrate Christmas, because they didn’t see it mentioned in the Bible. Of all of the European countries, Germany made the most of Christmas; many of our traditions can trace their roots to that country.

Those early Christmas celebrations weren’t the mass-marketed, highly commercialized festivities we have today. Rather, the Christmas celebration was something done in the family, in the church and in the neighborhood. Church was an important part of the celebration, with many people going to church both on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas Day.

Gift-giving was always a part of Christmas — for those who could afford it. But the gifts that were given were largely homemade. Being personal, they were considered superior to anything store-bought. As with clothing, store-bought gifts were only for those who couldn’t do any better.

Your Great Grandparents Didn’t Celebrate Christmas Like You Do

Image source: Pixabay.com

Eating a feast was an important part of celebrating Christmas, much as it is today. Cooking started weeks in advance, as mincemeat and plum pudding needed time to ferment. Christmas cookies and pies were common, as people ate the best of what they had. For those who could afford it, that meant beef or a ham.

Christmas became a very social time, with carolers going from door to door, singing. It would be impolite not to invite them in for a warm cup of wassail, turning every caroling event into a moving party, with time taken at each home to visit and wish the inhabitants a Merry Christmas.

Christmas Gets Commercialized

The commercialism of Christmas didn’t really start until after the Civil War and was stronger in New England — where much of the country’s wealth was concentrated — than it was in other parts of the country. Merchants responded to the needs of those celebrating the holidays first in providing factory-made ornaments for the home, then Christmas cards and finally the gifts that people gave.

Commercial gift-giving also lent rise to the idea of wrapping gifts, increasing the suspense and thereby the recipient’s joy. Large retailers began offering simple wrapping as a way of making those gifts more special, so that they could compete with homemade gifts. Eventually, the tradition of wrapping gifts became the norm and wrappings were developed specially for that purpose.

But even then, gift-giving was much more limited than what we have today. Our English and German ancestors brought to those stores the idea of Father Christmas, who eventually became our beloved Santa Claus. Children hung stockings for Father Christmas to fill, which at that time were real stockings.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957), the creator of Little House on the Prairie, wrote of her Christmas treasures in one year’s stocking. She was delighted to find a shiny new tin cup, a peppermint candy, a heart-shaped cake and a brand new penny. In that time, that was a treasure trove of wealth on Christmas morning.

Your Great Grandparents Didn’t Celebrate Christmas Like You Do

Image source: Pixabay.com

Christmas cards were a unique American invention, albeit by a German immigrant. Louis Prang (1824-1909) brought the idea to the forefront as a substitute for inexpensive gifts. Originally, these cards were small works of art, intended to adorn the home after the holidays were over. Prang even had art contests every year, seeking our original artwork to put on his cards.

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Early Christmas trees weren’t bedecked with commercial ornaments. That didn’t come about until the 1870s and later. Instead, families would decorate their trees with what they had on hand. This often included the bounty they had gleaned from nature, as fruit and berries were the early ornaments, following after the Jewish tradition of decorating the Sukkah for the Feast of Tabernacles. Ribbons, cookies and hard candies were added to the fruit, nuts and berries, making those trees into a multi-colored joy.

The lights on the tree were originally candles. While dangerous, they were normally only lit on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The idea was started by Martin Luther, the same man who started the Reformation. He had been in the woods praying at night and saw the beauty of the starlight reflecting off the icicles on the pine trees. Wanting to share this with his children, he put candles on the family tree. When German Christians immigrated to the United States, they brought this tradition with them.

All of these traditions, most of which have survived to today, helped to bring the American people together, not as separate ethnic groups living in the same land, but as Americans. Celebrating a common holiday, with common traditions, helped to make us one common people.

Sadly, there are those who want to squash some of those traditions, taking Christmas, and especially Christ, out of the holiday. Yet it was the celebration of His birth which helped our country to heal and brought people together after the Civil War. The destruction of such a unifying celebration can do nothing to bring us closer together, but rather the opposite; it could become one more wedge, used to separate the American people into smaller and smaller groups, driving a wedge between us.

Let us continue to celebrate Christmas as what it is. Better yet, let us revive some of the old customs, sharing time with family, friends and neighbors. Let it become once more a unifying force, bringing the nation back together again.

What are your thoughts on Christmas and its celebration? Share them in the section below:

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15 Free-But-Forgotten Ways Our Ancestors Stayed Warm During Winter

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15 Free-But-Forgotten Ways Our Ancestors Stayed Warm During Winter

Artist: Thomas Birch

Staying warm was not always as simple as flipping a switch or nudging a thermostat. In the days of our ancestors, it also was not as easy as loading and starting a pellet stove. It involved even more than hauling firewood in from a dry shed and loading it into a state-of-the-art woodstove.

With what were often limited resources, our grandparents needed to use common sense and ingenuity to augment whatever they used as a primary heating system.

Here are some of the “free” things they did to keep warm:

1. Wear sweaters and warm clothing. There probably were not many folks going around all day in short sleeves in the dead of winter. Instead of bringing the indoor temperature high enough to dress the same all year ‘round, they added on layers during colder seasons.

2. Acclimatize to cooler temperatures. When my aunt relocated to Florida several years ago, she laughed at the sight of joggers wearing earmuffs at 50 degrees. But by the next year, she, too, felt cold at higher temperatures than she had while living up north. In the same manner as my aunt became accustomed to warmer weather, so, too, can most people get used to cooler indoor temperatures during winter.

3. Stay active. I have hiked many mountains in cool weather, wearing only shorts and a T-shirt in temperatures as low as in the 40s. But sitting indoors at my computer, I reach for a sweater as soon as it dips below 70. Our grandparents may have moved around both in- and out-of-doors more than we do now, if for no other reason than to accomplish daily living tasks which we no longer do today. This higher level of activity contributed to keeping them warmer.

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4. Wrap up. When they did curl up on the couch with a good book or relax with a hobby, our grandparents likely made good use of afghans, shawls and lap quilts. Rather than heat the whole room, it made sense to use warm covers to retain body heat during sedentary intervals.

5. Be conscientious about trips in and out of the house. Every time a door is opened, heat escapes. By planning ahead and limiting the number of times the door is opened, people in our grandparents’ generation were able to retain indoor heat more efficiently.

6. Use the oven for indirect heat. It goes without saying that baking anything other than necessities is a better idea on a cool day than on a hot one. And after the baking is done, it is useful to leave the oven door ajar to allow the heat into the room.

15 Free-But-Forgotten Ways Our Ancestors Stayed Warm During Winter

Artist: Currier and Ives

7. Close off unused rooms. Spare bedrooms, summer kitchens, utility rooms and entryways may not need to be heated all winter. The more square footage in a home, the more heat is required — and the harder it can be to stay warm. Closing doors and heat registers to non-essential space can be helpful. This is what our grandparents did.

8. Keep bedrooms cool and pile on extra blankets for sleeping. Many bedrooms do double duty as areas for homework, children’s play or hobbies. It might be worth considering to move these activities to common areas during cold weather, thereby saving heating costs while keeping the family warm in one or two rooms.

9. Use insulated curtains or hang blankets on windows. Staying warm in our grandparents’ time often included creating an extra barrier between themselves and outside, and window coverings were key.

10. Cover walls. Hanging heavy quilts along exterior walls can help keep rooms warmer. It not only provides additional insulation, but soft textiles create the illusion of warmth and comfort. Extra coverings over wall outlets can help minimize drafts, as well.

11. Place draft dodgers under doors. Creations made of yarn, fabric, rags, synthetic stuffing, or newspaper can help prevent air exchange and retain more warm air inside. These could be basic — just old hosiery stuffed with textile scraps — or as fancy as anyone wanted to make them.

12. Winterize windows with plastic. Windows which were particularly vulnerable to wind and cold and those in rarely used rooms could be easily covered with a sheet or two of clear plastic and tacked on using furring strips, adding an additional layer of insulation and helping to create a greenhouse effect inside the house.

13. Caulk or fill in around windows. Loose windows and frames allow warm air to leak out and cold air to flow in. Filling in gaps and cracks with a malleable material helped prevent heat loss and contributed to our grandparents staying warm.

14. Insulate the attic. Commercial insulation is probably the best idea for us today—despite its higher cost, it is super-efficient. But our grandparents had to do it with whatever they had—rags, woolens and even old newspaper could make a difference. It was important that they take care not to place anything combustible too close to a chimney, and that remains a crucial consideration for us today, too.

15. Bank around the house. Our grandparents used bales of hay or straw, bags of leaves, or other insulating materials around the outside of the house. Often in colder climates, they packed snow around the foundation to minimize transfer of heat.

By being intentional and diligent, our grandparents were able to thrive in the coldest of weather. And by following the lead of our ancestors, we all can stay a little warmer during winter.

What old-time advice would you add on staying warm during winter? Have you discovered new ways? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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Opinion: Taking sides…

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From Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Price acceptance speech in 1986: And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the […]

5 Forgotten ‘Antique Tools’ You Better Store For Uncertain Times

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5 Forgotten ‘Antique Tools’ You Better Store For Uncertain Times

Image source: Wikipedia

The march of progress and the changing demands of an increasingly industrialized world without frontiers has changed the tools we use, but that does not mean all have lost their utility.

For the survivalist, homesteader or simply those interested in the methods of times gone by, there are plenty of useful tools that our ancestors used that the modern world has almost forgotten. They could be used now – or stored away for an uncertain future. Here are five:

1. Flails

5 Forgotten ‘Antique Tools’ You Better Store For Uncertain Times

Flail. Image source: Wikipedia

Flails are ancient grain-threshing tools made obsolete by modern harvesting methods. While thankfully we no longer have to thresh grain by hand, a homesteader growing small amounts of grain may find these useful. Made from two pieces of wood and fastened together with a chain, a flail was swung so that one stick struck stacks of wheat or other grain, knocking the grain from its husk. While labor-intensive, it is an effective process, and when all else fails, it is a great way to thresh your grain harvest, and a skilled hand can thresh about seven bushels of wheat in a day.

2. The hewing axe

In a world where timber and lumber are cut in high speed, there is precious little reason to trim a log square by hand. Unless, of course, there is a long-term blackout, or you live so far away from civilization that you have no other choice.

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Hewing axes are just what they are described as: wide-bladed axes designed for shaping round timbers square. These specialized tools are a must if you want to make your own timbers and you don’t have access to a mill of some sort.

3. Augers

While more commonly seen today in mechanized versions, the original hand auger was an absolute must for boring holes in beams and timber. Regardless of if you are fastening things together with bolts, lag screws or simply using wooden pegs, this handy and somewhat obscure in its manual form hand tool will be the quickest way to bore large and deep holes. Put one of these aside, because without being able to bore holes, your ability to construct buildings gets a lot harder.

4. Butcher knives

It’s not that we don’t use butcher knives anymore, but rather that we don’t use them as our ancestors once did. Throughout history, a common person might have one or two basic utility knifes, and while we now enjoy all manner of special blades, many people once made do with a basic butcher knife. It is easy to get caught up in carrying special hunting knives and forget that once upon a time, our ancestors carried a butcher knife on their belt and made great use of it. So if you are looking for an affordable utility knife, consider a butcher knife.

5. Pick mattock

5 Forgotten ‘Antique Tools’ You Better Store For Uncertain Times

Pick mattock. Image source: Wikipedia

Unless you work regularly with digging tools, these brilliant and simple hand tools are likely to be as forgotten as crank telephones. Combining a wide pick, with an adze, you get two tools in one that are perfect for gardening, working the soil, digging and cutting roots and even shaping timbers. The pick part speaks for itself, but the adze can be sharpened and used to shape wood, cut or any other purpose. This indispensable tool is important for off-grid survival and homesteading.

I am pretty certain that our great-grandparents would happily choose many of the labor-saving tools and methods we have today. However, knowing the simpler tools of the past is important to surviving in an uncertain future — plus there is great personal satisfaction in mastering difficult and nearly forgotten skills. Anyone who is prepared or preparing to live off grid must be ready to dial back their technology base and skill sets to a 19th century or earlier level, and that starts with understanding the tools our great-grandparents would have used.

What would you add to this list? Share your tool tips in the section below:

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The 1800s Homemade Battery You May Need During A Collapse

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The 1800s Homemade Battery You May Need During A Collapse

Ever wonder how our 19th-century ancestors maintained a strangely effective telegraph and telephone grid long before the days of highly efficient batteries? The short answer is that they did it through brute force and ingenuity. The long answer is something far more glorious, and even something the modern homesteader could draw inspiration from to create power for recharging small electronics or – in the event of a crisis — running low-power objects.

Now, don’t get me wrong: There is absolutely zero rational reason to recreate these old 19th-century batteries unless you have absolutely no other choice. You are best to stockpile modern-day batteries, solar chargers and survival gadgets, but there may come a time when any sort of cobbled-together battery is the best choice you can make.

The 1800s Homemade Battery You May Need During A Collapse

Image source: W1TP.com

Called a “crow’s foot” battery (or gravity battery) for the shape of its zinc electrodes, these batteries had a star-shaped copper base connected to a wire which created the positive voltage. The whole thing was installed in a large glass jar, full of copper sulfate as an electrolyte. Now so far, a clever prepper or survivalist should be able to scrounge the copper and zinc to make the electrodes, and the glass jar to put them in. But the copper sulfate solution may be harder to come by, although under the name “blue vitriol” it is sometimes sold to provide copper nutrients in animal feed and as an algae killer for pools. You may be able to scavenge that, or if you have access to about 6 volts DC, and sulfuric acid, there are means to make it through electrolysis. Clearly if you expect to survive through a societal collapse, it may be a rather good idea to either have a chemical stockpile before the government puts common chemicals on a watchlist, or make good friends with a chemist who knows how to make things from scratch.

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The 1800s Homemade Battery You May Need During A Collapse

The battery, with the parts separated. Image source: W1TP.com

But let us assume then that you’ve managed to come up with the ingredients for our ancestral battery. Just what can you do with it?

The early telegraph grid used batteries arranged in parallel, using a great many of these roughly 1.5- to 2-volt batteries to maintain the circuit. This array of batteries could be built on to provide sufficient amperage to transmit the telegraph, and later telephone signal over such distances as may be required. They were bulky, leaked electrolyte as they were discharged, and in general were somewhat messy. They were usually placed on a wooden table, with glass battery rest insulators underneath to provide insulation for the battery and also to catch some of the spilled electrolyte. All told, these batteries were crude, yet highly effective.

Coming back to the modern era, or an unpleasant future where you want to charge your small electronics or have some sort of power system for communication, creating these crude 19th century marvels will require dedication. But just what can you do with them?

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The 1800s Homemade Battery You May Need During A Collapse

Image source: MorseTelegraphClub.org

It really depends on how many you can make. Each battery is fairly low voltage and low amperage, and their output depends on the freshness and quality of the electrolyte as well as the quality of the electrodes. You will need a good mulitmeter to check voltage and amperage for each battery you manage to assemble. Personally, I think the primary value of these batteries is less in being able to charge up your pre-collapse iPhone (solar chargers do it much, much better) and more to run some sort of communication array.

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If you get enough batteries going, you can connect them in series to run a low-power radio, or you can run them in parallel for your own telegraph or landline telephone system. They also have value in keeping low-draw LED lights on or as a supplemental source of power for other systems. Because of their large size, these batteries have a long life span, and if you are skilled enough to make them, you can salvage many valuable materials from them at the end of their life cycle to aid in making another battery.

These things are great if you have access to copper, zinc and sulfuric acid, and from there, the output of these batteries is limited only by your resources. I think they work best for providing low-voltage application in parallel, which could be used to maintain small electronics and rechargeable battery packs in a pinch, but I would focus most on using them to make your own communication grid as they were once intended.

The stark reality is that batteries are messy, and nothing can replace a stockpile of solar-powered products — or even a solar-powered generator. Still, it is good to be prepared for all circumstances. We have become culturally dependent on a myriad of electrical devices, and some of those devices can be crucial for communication during a collapse. If you have the ability to add obsolete skills to your skillset, then learning the batteries of the past may become a literal lifesaver.

What advice would you add? Share it in the section below: 

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6 Things Our Great-Grandparents Did Better Than Us

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Off-Grid Life In a $4,500 Converted School Bus

Homesteaders and off-gridders often look to the past for wisdom, studying how those who came before us – that is, our ancestors — survived tough times without modern conveniences.

Many of them had no cars, computers, electricity or even running water, and yet they seemed to thrive when life got hard.

On this week’s edition of Off The Grid Radio we look to the past as we discuss six things our great-grandparents simply did better than us – six things that could make our modern-day lives better. Our guest is homesteading expert and writer Melissa K. Norris, the author of The Made From Scratch Life (Harvest House).

Melissa tells us:

  • Where people during the Great Depression shopped – and why we need to rediscover this lost art.
  • How our ancestors obtained material for clothes when they ran out of cloth.
  • What our great-grandparents ate when times got tough – a lesson that our society desperately needs to learn.
  • How the idea of “neighbor helping neighbor” kept people alive at the very moment they wanted to give up and quit.

Melissa also shares with us a few stories from her book, including the one about an heirloom seed strand that has lasted more than 100 years in her family! Don’t miss this week’s episode if you want to learn from our ancestors how to survive hard times!

 

Our Great-Grandparents Were Less Stressed. Here’s 10 Reasons Why.

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Our Great-Grandparents Were Less Stressed. Here’s 10 Reasons Why.

“Family Grace.” Norman Rockwell

Life in the 21st century can get pretty hectic. Most people fill their days to the overflowing with jobs, commuting, kids’ activities, fitness goals, food preparation, home and garden maintenance, house chores, and more. Sometimes it almost feels like there is barely any time left to enjoy our families, and that can feel like a real loss.

If you are like me, you might wish you could just take a deep breath and slow things down a little. I am often inspired by the kind of life depicted in books and movies set in days gone by, and by stories told aloud about generations past – our grandparents and great-grandparents.

It seems that family life simply was different in the days of our ancestors, and that they even were less stressed. There are plenty of things they did back then that we do not do anymore, but maybe we should.

Let’s take a look:

1. Families ate meals together. Today’s helter-skelter schedules often make family mealtimes difficult to achieve, but just imagine the benefits of doing so. Spending time together, practicing social and conversational skills, and learning about one another’s passions and challenges might strengthen family bonds and help members grow as individuals.

2. Reading was a common pastime. Consider the benefits of reading — literature, pulp fiction, how-tos, classics, non-fiction, newspapers, westerns, mysteries, romances, memoirs and biographies — as an alternative to other forms of entertainment. Reading almost anything is useful for developing and maintaining language and critical thinking skills.

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3. Neighbors got to know neighbors. The people next door, down the block, the next farm over, and around the corner all have distinct personalities, strengths and quirks. We might become lifelong friends or we might keep them at arm’s length. They could turn out to be courteous and neighborly, or thorns in our side. But whatever they are like, we will never know if we do not give them more consideration than a cursory nod while we’re setting trash out by the curb once a week.

4. Families and friends played games together. A game of Monopoly, chess or crazy eights is a rewarding way to spend time with a loved one. Children learn about strategy, good sportsmanship and decision-making. Adults of all ages keep their wits sharp and their focusing abilities strong. And games are just plain fun!

5. People spent time with extended family. Getting to know a great aunt or a second cousin once removed is a great way to learn about family history and feel a sense of belongingness. Connecting with family members old and young enhances connectedness, instills familial pride, and creates valuable memories. Families are more geographically scattered than they were in days gone by, but that challenge can be offset by the ready accessibility of modern transportation.

Artist: Gerrit ter Borch

Artist: Gerrit ter Borch

6. People wrote and received letters. Letter-writers of all ages could benefit from the practice of language arts, from spelling to composition to story-telling. How uplifting it would be to find something besides bills and junk mail in the mailbox, and what joyous anticipation in awaiting a reply from a cherished friend!

7. Families worked together. Group endeavors like raking leaves, tending a garden, washing dishes, cleaning the house, preparing meals, washing cars, caring for pets and livestock, and even doing errands all can turn into a win-win situation. Shared effort and goals can teach kids about the satisfaction of achievement and can give parents and older siblings the opportunity to serve as partners, leaders and mentors.

8. Active outdoor recreation took place in backyards and neighborhood parks. Long-distance destinations and cruise ships and theme parks are enjoyable. But in between those opportunities, it is an excellent idea to throw a ball or a Frisbee around on the lawn, play hopscotch on the sidewalk out front, ride bikes, play tag, fly kites and swing at badminton birdies.

9. Families were friends with whole families. When my mother and father went visiting, I went along. Sometimes the kids there were older or younger than me, but I made do. Looking back, I realize that the adults had to make do when their spouse’s best friend wasn’t married to their ideal friend, either. Of course, every family member should have the opportunity to spend time with their own choices of friends, but the social flexibility learned from spending time with a wide variety of people can be an enriching experience.

10. People talked face-to-face. In this day of social media and texting, imagine how refreshing a sit-down conversation now and then would be. Taking the time to focus on the person or people in the room, hearing their unique voices and accents and manners of speaking, seeing their body language, and sharing a physical presence, all adds up to a deeply personal method of communication with others.

We live in the modern age and cannot return to the days of old. Perhaps we would not even want to. But it might not be a bad idea to pull over into the slow lane every once in a while, try doing some of the things we do not do anymore, and enjoy life the way our ancestors once did.

What would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew

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10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew

The world we live in is certainly different from the one our grandparents were born into. Our resources, challenges, technology and opportunities have changed dramatically. But one thing has remained the same — we are still people. In our hearts, we remain the same kind of creatures our ancestors were.

Following are 10 things our grandparents – if they were around – probably wish we knew.

1. How to cook one’s own food from scratch. In the days of yesteryear, people cooked whole foods and ate at home. For most people in their generation, eating out was a treat, and buying a lot of ready-made food at a supermarket was unheard of.

2. How to fully commit. Past generations believed in marrying for life, devoting themselves to families forever, clinging to their ideals, and always keeping their word. They didn’t discard relationships or ideals when they ceased to be convenient. It was common in our predecessors’ day to devote oneself to a vocation, a lifestyle and a religion.

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Our older relatives grew up to understand that commitment is a gift.

10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew3. How to not quit. Our grandparents did not give up. They did what they had to do, because they had to do it. The old adage about trying and trying again rang true in their day, and it led to accomplishment, satisfaction and pride.

4. How to work hard. A strong work ethic was a cornerstone of our grandparents’ lives. They knew that even though a person might be lacking in education, luck, talent, connections, good looks, intellect or money — it could be made up for with hard work. They put their nose to the grindstone and made astonishing things happen.

Even if we can’t dance, don’t understand calculus, got rejected by Harvard, have a big nose, or weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouth, our grandparents may wish we knew that none of those things matters as much as hard work.

5. How to write thank-you letters. People who gave gifts to our grandparents never had to wonder whether or not they received it or if it was appreciated. Rules about thank-you letters were strict. Children in some households were not allowed to play with the new toys that came in the mail from relatives until they had written a proper thank-you. Most of our grandparents were brought up to consider it rude and ungrateful to accept a gift without sending a formal expression of gratitude.

There are probably a few grandparents out there today who would love to receive a sincere note of thanks.

6. How to pay attention and truly listen. Once upon a time, orators delivered very long speeches. Ordinary people would pack up the kids and a picnic lunch and listen for hours. Attention spans have gradually diminished over generations. In addition to orations, lectures, concerts and political debates, our elders were able to open their ears and their hearts and hear what was being said in person.

If they were alive, our grandparents would probably like to see us let go of entertainment-seeking behavior and make the effort to pay attention to that which is likely to be of consequence and meaning. Their personal stories might not ever become as popular as kitten videos on social media, but could turn out to be worth our while.

7. How to make do. Our grandparents grew up not demanding to have the best of everything. Instead of replacing their belongings when they became scuffed or unfashionable or showing signs of wear or no longer matching, they tried to use them as long as they could. They purchased the best quality they could afford, and made the best use of it as possible.

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If our grandparents could talk to us about consumerism, they might want us to know that having fancy new stuff is overrated. In the end, it’s just stuff.

10 Things Our Grandparents Wish We All Knew8. How to fix things. Calling a repairman was not always the first option, and throwing it out was always the last resort. Grandpa could string a few wires together and shore up a loose part to keep a portable radio or lawn mower running. Grandma could fix holes in mittens and rig up a splint on the dog’s leg if she had to.

The older generation may like to see people today learning repair skills. There is a lot of ingenuity and creativity in the world that can be put to good use in this way.

9. How to make and supply our own goods. Our grandparents’ generation prided itself on self-sufficiency. Many of them made laundry soap, cut firewood, butchered hogs, knit mittens, built wooden furniture, hand-tied animal halters, sewed clothing, quilted blankets, dug wells, constructed toys, put up fences and created décor.

We are probably not going to do as much for ourselves nowadays as our ancestors did. But they likely would wish we were a little more adept at making our own.

10. How to focus on what matters most. Our grandparents could prioritize.

To paraphrase an illustration used by life coach Stephen Covey, try filling a bucket with large rocks, small rocks, gravel and sand.

Imagine the big chunks are the important things in life — family, health, faith and values. The smaller the pieces of rock and particles, the less important.

If you start by filling the bucket with sand and gravel, there won’t be room for the large rocks. But if you place the big chunks into the bucket first, the smaller pieces can fill in the spaces around them.

Our grandparents would want that for us.

We all stand the chance of improving our lives by incorporating some lessons from the lives of our elders. Their wisdom and time-proven successes are of great value. By trying some of these things that they would wish we knew, we might well improve our lives, enhance the lives of those around us, and make our predecessors proud.

Related:

7 Reasons Your Great-Grandparents Were Happier Than You  

What would you add to this list? Share your suggestions in the section below:

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11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

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11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

The modern, industrialized world revolves around a myriad of electrical and electronic gadgets. Little is done anymore which doesn’t require electrical power.

We’ve harnessed this power for tasks to make our lives easier, as well as more interesting. The electric motor is at the core of many of these devices. By using motors, we eliminate the need to provide the manpower for these devices ourselves. This saves both work and time, allowing us to accomplish more, with less effort. Such is modern progress.

One of the major areas where this technology has been applied is in the home, specifically in making homemaking chores easier. Back before electricity, many household tasks required considerable muscle power to accomplish. Women had to work a lot harder in the home and usually for many more hours to get their work done.

While these gadgets do make things easier, our ancestors got by just fine without them. Learning about their appliances can be useful, whether it’s simply to use as a backup in case our electronic versions break, or it’s to use during a power outage.

1. Wood-burning cook stoves

Many homesteaders already use stoves for heat, but that doesn’t mean that they can cook on them. Unlike the older designs, few modern wood-burning stoves are designed to allow their tops to be used as a cook stove. Also, modern wood-burning stoves generally are not in the kitchen.

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The difference is that a cook stove is designed for cooking, rather than heating. It provides burners for cooking food in pots and pans, as well as an oven for baking. If you can find one, they’re worth picking up, as new ones are often running over $5,000.

2. Wood-fired water heater

An add-on option to the wood-burning cook stove is a wood-fired water heater. These were a metal tube, installed in the cook stove, above the firebox. Filled, they would hold about five gallons of water, enough to heat a bathtub, when brought to boiling. A spigot on the front allows easy removal of the heated water into a pot or pail.

3. Fireplace crane

11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

Fireplace crane. Image source: Chimney Direct

Those who couldn’t afford a cook stove were stuck with cooking in their fireplaces. That may seem excessively rustic to us today, but it was very common throughout much of history. All a cook stove did was make cooking more convenient, but just like cooking hot dogs over a campfire still works today, so does cooking over a fireplace.

One common means of cooking over a fire in a home was to use a fireplace crane. This is a metal hook, mounted to the side of the fireplace, which allows a suspended pot to be swung over the fire and then swung away for stirring and serving. The fireplace crane adds a lot of safety to cooking in a fireplace, as well as convenience.

4. Oil lamps

Maybe this one isn’t really an appliance, but oil lamps are a vast improvement over using candles for light. They don’t require the time it takes to make candles, can be used with any oil, and provide much more light. This increase in light comes from their larger wick. When used with mineral oil, lamps are smoke-free, helping to keep the air in your home fresher and cleaner.

Surprisingly, few homesteaders and survivalists have oil lamps in their stockpile, mostly opting for candles. But a few oil lamps will serve much better over the long run, ultimately providing much better lighting. Since they can burn other oils than just mineral oil, they will probably still be usable after paraffin for making candles runs out.

5. Washboard

Yes, washboards do have a purpose other than a hillbilly band. The old-fashioned washboard made washing easier, if you can believe that. The corrugated surface provided agitation to the clothes, breaking loose dirt so that it can be rinsed away. While this may not seem easy, it’s better than not having one.

11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day

Image source: Wikimedia

Washboards come in two sizes, a smaller one that is 18 inches x 9 inches and a larger one that is 24 inches x 12 inches. They are also made in a variety of different materials. While zinc-coated steel is the most common, they can also be made of copper, brass and even glass. Of the various materials, glass outlasts the rest.

6. Clothes wringer

If you’re going to have to wash clothes by hand, then it would be nice to be able to wring them out by hand, as well. Of course, you can do that totally by hand, building muscle and making your hands tired, or you can do it with a clothes wringer.

These wringers are most often associated with the early electric tub washing machines, which usually had a wringer mounted on the edge. However, some people had the wringer, without the tub washer. Either way, the wringer still does its job, making it much easier to get the majority of the water out of your clothes, without having to wear out your hands.

7. Kerosene clothes iron

People started ironing their clothes long before the electric clothes iron was invented. In colonial America and the pioneering days, the most common clothes iron was the cast iron, which was literally made of cast iron. The iron was placed on a wood stove for heating, and the mass of metal held the heat for ironing.

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The cast iron was ultimately replaced by the kerosene iron. This had a small fuel tank and an internal burner, making it totally self-contained. The tank would be filled with kerosene and the burner lit. Within a few minutes, the iron would be producing enough heat to iron your clothes. While nowhere near as convenient as a modern electric iron, this was a vast improvement over the cast iron.

8. Meat grinder

The meat grinder wasn’t something that would be found in all homes, but it was fairly common in farmhouses and butcher shops. At that time, grinding meat for hamburgers wasn’t all that common. Instead, meat grinders were used for grinding meat to make sausage. Usually, the meat grinder would be able to be used to stuff the sausage into the skins as well.

This was an important means of preserving meat, as all types of sausage and lunchmeats fall into the category of “cured” meats. The high salt content was the main curing methodology, as salt is a natural preservative. Much of this cured meat was also smoked, forming a skin of collagen around it, which would keep bacteria out.

9. Meat hammer

11 Forgotten ‘Antique’ Appliances Your Great-Grandparents Used Every Day You can still find meat hammers in use in kitchens today, although many people have no idea of what they are. The meat hammer is the original meat tenderizer, predating MSG by centuries. Not only does it predate MSG, but it’s much better for your health. The pointed surface of the meat hammer was used for breaking down tough meat, by breaking its structure. This made the meat much easier to chew and digest.

Game meat is generally considerably tougher than domesticated meats. If you are planning on eating game meat as part of your survival plans, then having a meat hammer on hand is going to make your meals much more enjoyable.

10. Apple peeler/corer

People who have apple orchards or even a single large apple tree need to be able to make use of their apples. In olden times, apples were squeezed for cider, dried as apple rings, turned into applesauce and made into apple butter. Some of these products required peeling and coring the apples, as these parts were not wanted. The job could be done by hand, but if you had a lot of apples to deal with, a peeler/corer was much easier.

This is a hand-crank device, which worked similar to a wood lathe. The blade would peel off the skin as the crank was turned. The core was easier, as putting the apple on the appliance actually meant pushing it onto the corer. A twist as the apple was removed, and the core stayed behind.

The same tool could be used for peeling potatoes, so it was useful in more than one way, although it was still referred to as an apple peeler.

11. Dutch oven

People who didn’t have that fancy wood-burning cook stove we talked about earlier still needed a means to bake. Pies, cakes and bread were all popular parts of their diets. But these require an oven. That’s where the Dutch oven comes in.

The Dutch oven of our grandparents day was different than most of what you buy today. What we call a Dutch oven now is nothing more than a medium-sized pot. It can’t be used in a fireplace well, and if it is, it will not last long. But these older Dutch Ovens were made of cast iron, making them much more durable and much better at resisting the damage of the fire.

A true Dutch oven will have feet cast into it, allowing it to be placed in the coals of the fire and still stand upright. The lid will have a rim on it as well so that coals can be piled on top, without falling off. In this manner, the food inside is surrounded by heat, something necessary for baking.

What old-time appliances would you add to this list? Share your tips in the section below:

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Diseases We Have That Our Ancestors Didn’t

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Diseases We Have That Our Ancestors Didn’t

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We have been blessed with some amazing advances in modern technology which has allowed us comfort that was not possible a mere 100 years or so ago. But despite these advances, we suffer from severe chronic and degenerative diseases that were unknown to our recent ancestors.

We are a sick nation, overburdened by conditions such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease and allergies. Our healthcare system expense hit $3.8 trillion in 2014 — and is still on the rise. Yet we remain 37th out of 190 countries in the effectiveness of our healthcare system. We are plagued with disease, yet we have access to many technological advances that other countries will never be able to imagine, let alone realize.

According to Daniel Lieberman, a professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard University:

The fundamental answer to why so many humans are now getting sick from previously rare illnesses is that many of the body’s features were adaptive in the environments for which we evolved but have become maladaptive in the modern environments we have now created.

This would explain why we have seen such a major spike in degenerative diseases such a Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Since the industrial revolution, the production and consumption of processed and fast food has skyrocketed, along with a sedentary lifestyle.

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It is no longer the norm to grow our own food. Instead, we prefer our drive-through lunches and quick microwaveable dinners. The human body was not created to metabolize high volumes of vegetable oil and sugar — the main ingredients found in our industrial food supply. In addition, we were also not built to live such sedentary lives. Yes, things are very different than they once were.

Diseases We Have That Our Ancestors Didn’t

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In 1900, pneumonia was the leading cause of death in America and the life expectancy was only 47. In the early part of the 20th century, doctors were busy treating infectious diseases and inventing drugs to cure pneumonia and tuberculosis. With these advances, people lived longer and – thanks to poor lifestyle choices — began to develop coronary heart disease at startling rates. By the 1930s, heart disease became the leading cause of death.

It was and still is poor lifestyle choices that ultimately result in millions of lives lost each year to heart disease and other lifestyle-related illnesses.

So, while on the one hand, science and technology have allowed us to live longer, “advances” in our food supply and various other “tools” have turned our nation into a “drive-through” people, making us sicker.

We don’t move as much as we used to. We eat too much. We eat the wrong food. We don’t manage stress well, and we generally disrespect what God created and declared good. Children are more obese than ever and battling earlier onset of diabetes and other dangerous conditions.

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So, what did our ancestors get right? That is a simple answer: plenty. Here is a short list of what they did that we no longer do:

  • Grew their own food
  • Cooked with whole foods
  • Rarely snacked
  • Engaged in physical labor
  • Went to bed early
  • Got up early
  • Ate a traditional diet
  • Led a simple life
  • Did not have electronics

The answer to a long, healthy and disease-free life rests in how we treat our body. We succumb to lifestyle-related illnesses today because of the lifestyle that we choose to live. Our ancestors had plenty of threats to their health, but they were mostly external threats and things that they had very little control over.

We have the extreme advantage of being able to live in a world with clean water, advanced emergency medical care and access to tools that make our life very easy compared to our ancestors.

How healthy you are depends a great deal on the daily choices that you make. With a new year, now is as good a time as ever to start making the right ones!

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