Reading Review: Skills for Simple Living – Advice, Ideas, Recipes and Reflections (2nd Edition) edited by Betty Tillotson

When I lived in Chicago, I briefly participated at the hackerspace Pumping Station One. One time when I was present, a couple of anticapitalists (it would be bad form for me to advertise for the particular organization they represented) were agitating. I went outside to take a break from having my supposed worldview challenged, and I chatted with one of PS1’s officers while he was having a cigarette. I’ll never forget his retort to what was going on: “I always ask guys like that one question. OK, let’s say you’re right, and the revolution happens tomorrow. What skills would you have to offer the new society? What can you do, besides make pamphlets and fliers and talk to people?”

The book I just finished up, Skills for Simple Living, is a collection of how-to articles originally published in Smallholder magazine. It describes in detail the myriad of practical problems that a person will encounter when trying to depend less on manufactured goods and social support, in today’s, or indeed any world; however, it only describes these problems in passing, because its focus is on techniques for solving those problems. Some of these problems are both extremely removed from the ones I am used to, and frequently encountered by smallholders. Reading about the nth proposed solution for slugs in a garden when my tiny condo plot produces no food got a little tedious. But overall, this was a very worthwhile book.

Here’s an example of one of the briefer articles reprinted in Skills for Simple Living:

ICE-SAFE YOUR SHOES
I heard recently about pulling old socks over your boots to make walking on ice less slippery. I had occasion to try it this winter, and it seems to work. I pulled a loaded sleigh into a howling wind across bared-off lake ice where in other years I had been reduced to crawling on hands and knees in a similar situation.

(That’s from the “Household Techniques” section, page 118 of my edition.)

Useful Info for Those of Us in the Chicago Burbs
Here’s a compiled list of the articles I intend on trying to put into practice:

  1. CATFACE CRADLE
  2. CLASSIC, SIMPLE HOMEMADE CLOTHING
  3. MAKING KIDS’ BOOKS
  4. HOME REMEDIES FOR INSECT BITES
  5. TREATING BEE STINGS (man I hope I never need this one, but you never know…)
  6. TESTING A LEVEL
  7. BOOT SCRAPER
  8. GARLIC AS A POWERFUL MEDICINE
  9. OILS AND SALVES
  10. MAKING LYE AND SOAP
  11. CUTTING THROUGH GREASE
  12. FLY DETERRENT
  13. SALT SUBSTITUTES
  14. SAFE ANT REPELLENT
  15. SERBIAN STRING CHEESE
  16. DRYING GREEN VEGETABLES
  17. MARJORAM VINEGAR
  18. SOY ICE CREAM
  19. ONIONS WITHOUT TEARS
  20. STOVE-TOP BAKING
  21. FRESHNESS TEST FOR EGGS
  22. HOMESTEADING WITHOUT A LOT OF MONEY
  23. HOT PEPPER SPRAY (for soft-bodied insects, not humans!)
  24. CREATING NO-DIG GARDEN SOIL
  25. GARDEN PLANTING HINTS
  26. ORGANIC SPRAY INSECTICIDE
  27. WATERING TEST
  28. GREEN MANURES

Not a bad collection of information, if I do say so myself.

Yes, there were articles on making alcohol.  Livin the high life.
Yes, there were articles on making alcohol. Livin’ the high life.

Because I am so unfamiliar with both this problem set and executing solutions for it, I did find some of the explanations that were intended to be crystal-clear and step-by-step a little hard to follow. There were some illustrations in the extra-wide margins, but more of those would have been useful. The articles that dealt with the use of tools particularly left me in the dust. I mean, I know an “adzhe” (sic) is a tool, but I don’t think I’ve ever used one and I don’t really know what they look like or do. I guess that’s what the Internet is for.

This book’s most concrete use for me at this time in my life is actually something for which it was probably not intended. Namely, I found it very useful for helping me calm down. I’ve found that media that involves a strong narrative element, whether it’s movies, music, or creative writing, usually stimulates me a lot and gives me energy. When I got anxious, Skills for Simple Living gave me something for my mind to focus on and work through that didn’t make me more tense. It kind of worked the way cigarettes do for some people – it brought me down when I was up, and up when I was down. It was cool like that, and I was grateful to have it.

Overall Rating: 4.0 out of 5.

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