Archive for Useful Tools


Old Tools

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Using ‘tools’ in the broadest sense – maybe anything that extends your hands/body to get something done more easily – what is the age of your oldest tools, specifically the ones that have been in fairly constant use?

This is an interesting question for me, and brings an awareness about my life I haven’t had before. There are tools that I use in my life that are almost as old or older than I am. My Mother’s garlic press is still in use, and the pin that holds it together still slips out if you’re not careful. I have some kitchen spoons that have been stirring things since before I was born – both wooden and metal. I have a pottery bread rising bowl that has three little legs and used to have a bail handle. It was used in the warm ashes to raise bread and I still use it. And my Mother’s pastry blender with a handle that my Dad manufactured when the first handle broke. All still in use.

Outside I still use the asparagus knife, the long handled weeder with the steel digger, forked at the end – that I used as a kid on the farm, digging up burdock! I need to fill the handle and reseat the cap – other than that it is an amazing garden tool. I have been working for my daughter in her landscaping company, using this tool at least two days a week for 7 hours a day for almost three years. It’s still going strong when all the new ones have broken or bent.

I have loppers bought in the late forty’s, a brace and bit and the bits to go with it. And some really fine knives.

There’s a little green stool in the bathroom under the sink. My Dad made it when my older brother needed a stool (1942?). It was used by all of us kids, by my Mom in the kitchen, by my Grandma Armstrong to get in and out of the VW Van and now by my grandchildren. It’s not a thing of beauty, it’s a thing of function. It connects me to my whole life – the  little, beat-up, dark green stool.

I even have a willow laundry basket I bought in Vermont in 1966 and I sure wish I’d bought two.

I am totally convinced that buying quality is the best investment you can have. For those things that are used all the time, and will be used by all, get tools that are forever instead of disposable. Your hand and body gets to know a tool and then the good use of it really begins. It’s such a pleasure to use a tool that has been well taken care of and cherished.

I know, some things go obsolete almost before you turn around. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the basic tools that only need elbow grease or skill to have them work. I love having that sense of certainty. I know I am an expert with these tools; I’ve had more than 5000 hours with every one of them.



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When I grew up aprons were made out of chicken feed sacks. This sounds odd and sort of gross until you know that during and after the Second World War these chicken feed sacks were made from one yard of calico. It was a selling point, I’m sure, since every backyard I knew of had a few chickens and a vegetable garden. That company wanted the chicken feed business of millions of women backyard farmers. Women also used these sacks for curtains, little girls dresses, napkins, place mats and pillow covers. The trick was to get enough sacks of feed of one pattern at one time to get the job done. It was a time of careful frugality.

Back to aprons though. Ordinary, every day aprons were once voluminous affairs compared to the stiff straight canvas barbecue aprons we normally see now. These current aprons have one function – keep your clothes clean when you cook. Aprons my Mother and Grandmother wore were for keeping clean and oh so much more. A good apron for every day wear was used as a pot holder to pull a dish out of the oven, wipe tears away, mop a sweaty brow, dry your hands fast when someone came to the door, and hold the freshly gathered eggs or vegetables from a trip through the back yard.

As I added children to my home, I remembered aprons and all the things they could do. It came to me for two reasons: my Mother was slimming down the amount of stuff in her home and handed me a pile to go through; and as  I loved to wear skirts I found I was using my skirts for all the functions an apron served – and ruining them! Of course, you might say, that’s what aprons are for! It also meant that I was going against the current fashion of mothers in my neighborhood, hard to do at a young age. Easy for salmon to swim upstream; not so easy for someone who wanted to fit in and didn’t want others to know she grew up on the farm.

We had aprons and I even made some. There were frilly little cocktail aprons made out of starched organdy, clothes pin aprons just to wear to the clothes line and hold the pins, and the ubiquitous barbecue apron. Have you ever tried to dry a little ones tears with any of these? They hurt! I suppose, like buttons on cuffs, we were to use those new paper tissues and not something as unsanitary as an apron corner. Humph! We also knew you had to eat a peck of dirt before you die, and now the farmers market doesn’t even know what a peck is!

Now that I have a passel of Grandchildren, I’m going to make aprons again, as soft and full and useful as I remember. I’m going to get a yard of bright printed calico to hide the stains and have a pocket in it to hide a homemade cookie. I think it is an idea who’s time has come – again!


Elder Wisdom

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Looking back over the last 50-60 years I am astonished by all the deep changes in the way we live. The information available from us older folks on how to do simple everyday things is encyclopedic and in fact foreign to most of our current Western urban/suburban society. All the people that live in a place where electricity goes out for a week at a time will still know most of this. Most of the rest of us may not have the skills we need to be fine under those circumstances. This leads me to suggest dusting off some old skills and hooking up with people who do know how to live well unplugged.

Moving to a farm as a child gave me the basic experiences of doing it all at home. The farm still had an outhouse, a wood burning cook stove, a parlor stove, a hand pump, a dug well, and a smoke house (the tightest building on the place). Even though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, this was one of the most profound times of basic learning I experienced. Those lessons don’t go away. They are in my body as physical memories. When ever I am placed in a situation where I need to access this information, it is there. Sometimes I can’t remember it in my head, but when asked about it or placed in a similar situation, I am triggered into total recall. This rises from my body, not my mind…like riding a bike.

This knowledge is safety and security. When you know how to prepare food from scratch, sew on a button or make a garment, create a shelter, tell time with a compass or tell direction with a watch, gather food and build a fire, you feel safer in the world. Knowing that each basic item we have can help make something else is useful. The old game of “What would you want to take with you to have on a deserted island?” is a good thought experiment! Actual hands on experience is even more valuable.

Here’s a suggestion for this year and all the years to come: learn something basic every month. If you had one match, how do you make sure you could start a fire? What are the basic skills, the rock bottom ideas that could sustain you if you were tossed out into this world naked? Interesting thought! What would you put in a backpack if you had to leave your home in 10 minutes and never go back?

My first idea? Look for others. Then comes: Trust Life, trust Spirit, be in the moment and remain aware. Allow your instincts to lead you, and when all else seems too weird to manage, make food. “Stone Soup” really works! When you follow the thread of  ‘OK, what’s next?’ everything will flow from that. Staying present and in the moment keeps all the ‘What If’s’ at bay.

In these Change Times the idea of only focusing on what’s next and putting all your energy in that moment by moment experience will free you and keep all the negative worry thoughts out of the picture. You are only responsible for NOW, so just make that the very best possible now, and keep on keeping on. In tough times the only thing you have total control over is your attitude. Make it a good one! I start my day with five excellent words such as : Love, Joy, Abundance, Gratitude, and Peace. I refer to these every time I get into downer thoughts. Believe it or not, this improves my life day by day. It just takes willingness to turn your thoughts to something else! And this is also the very basics of living well –  no matter what!

If nothing else comes to mind, sing a good old song that lifts you up and connects you to others. “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream…”