An Evening of Pioneer Revelry

Posted by on Jan 28, 2014 in Adventures in Country Living | 26 comments

As a historical writer, I spend a good bit of time in a world with no electricity through story. I’m always curious–what was it like? Looking back over the Cadence of Grace series, I wondered–did I get it right? So in the spirit of research, I thought it might be fun to get the family involved and when I threw the half-crazy idea out to my husband, he happily agreed. The kids seemed to like the adventure of it: an evening of no-electricity and nothing modern.

It’s amazing how the simplest of things–like turning on a light, can be taken such for granted! So before our non-electric, modern-free evening even began, I knew I needed to get the kerosene lantern in operating order, including fresh kerosene and a new wick. While making my to-do list for that, I mused to my husband about needing to buy kerosene and in his adorable way, he gave me a mini breakdown on all things oil and gas. I have no idea what he said, but the gist of it was that the kerosene was fine. I’ll tell you, the guy knows his fuels. ;) So off to town I went with my trusty sidekick for a lantern wick (that apparently made a very nice forehead wrap) and some more candle sticks that took much prompting to not be used as drumsticks on the edge of the shopping card.

Back home, and feeling quite like Ma Ingalls, I decided to put in the wick. It took several minutes worth of attempts before it was made clear that I got the wrong size. So I called my husband who at this point had been nicknamed Lord of the Flame and he happily swung back by the hardware store. The smaller size went in like a dream.

Lighting. Check. Now…on to dinner.

I’d thawed some deer meat which seemed very authentic and would be easy to cook on the wood burning stove (since using the propane stove was quite off limits.) We use cast iron anyway for all our cooking, so it was easy-peasy to simply grab my favorite pan and start some taco meat. Per his usual nightly routine, Lord of the Flame built the fire. The stove would only take about a half hour to heat up enough to cook supper, so in the meantime, I prepped the ingredients.

To my surprise, about an hour before sunset, the house turned quite dark. This is where the benefit of many windows was apparent. Our living area only has two windows and before long, I had to light a few candles. Note to mothers everywhere: As soon as the kids saw the effects of not turning on the lights, they all dashed outside (that was easy!). As I was cooking dinner, they were in the front playing basketball with my husband and riding bikes (which my 7-year-old was pleased to declare that those were appropriate activities as they don’t require electricity.)

Supper cooked like a dream and everyone hailed it delicious. After the dishes were washed, we had some time on our hands. Really, we needed something pioneerish to do. I was going to read to the kids as usual, which was destined to be epically cool with the presence of only lantern light, but that was still an hour off and seeing as we didn’t have any traps to grease or melted lead to mold into bullets, I thought we could make butter.

I know… an all time high in the history of family entertainment.

At this point, Mr. 7-year-old, who had begun using air quotes for the word “electricity” helped keep the little ones on track with the toys they could use. Our 4-year-old was clearly made for an electric world and the 2-year-old was just happy to be in the midst of it all.


A quick how-to on homemade butter:

Pour some room-temperature heavy cream into a quart mason jar (about 1/2 full is great)

Shake, shake, shake. Once you have a lump of butter formed (which we had in about only five minutes!), strain the buttermilk well. I let our butter drain over some cheesecloth until it finished dripping. It’s very soft and pliable and easy to spread. We dedicated a few muffins for the occasion and it was a delicious treat!

* * *

The evening, I’ll tell you, was a delight. It was one of those times that I wished I could bottle and keep forever and I know the memories will stay with me a long while. Because of the candles and the need for nearly a dozen to get dim light, we kept everyone in the living room together. It really drove home the fact that people would have congregated to a common area if there was a need to conserve oil or candlesticks. To fill the hours, my husband played checkers with the kids, we all laughed about how none of us could see and the kids almost all dozed off in the living room while I read the last few chapters of our book, Dr. Doolittle. Before long my husband was carrying a sleeping 4-year-old to bed while I helped tuck in the other two.

A few whispered “goodnights” and we plugged in the nightlight. :)


  1. Oh sweet. I love your adventuresome spirit. That sounds like a fun evening. Although in Oregon we have power failures hardly ever, back east, where I began my writing journey, I can recall evenings scribbling away by candlelight (I didn’t have a computer then either) because a storm had knocked the power out. There’s something so cozy about candlelight. I know you’ll cherish those memories… and maybe even try a repeat performance? Seems like a great skill to teach kids these days, how to spend an evening without electricity.

    • Lori, it really was fascinating. I thought of you in the midst of it. :) It’s amazing the little details that come with lighting like that. Having to lean toward a candle to even see what you’re doing. It really was amazing research and also such fun with the family. I love the picture of you scribbling away about the Colonial era by candle light. What a neat experience!

    • Hi Joanne, I actually used to get my schools lessons around a table with a kerosine lamp at each end of the table. No lanterns. There was a lot of us kids, but we were used to it. Had to carry a lamp to other rooms. It was my job to clean the lamp globes each day, and one of my brothers filled the lamps. It was a nightly ritual. But, tho I enjoy the electricity now, I like to remember the simple life and more family interaction. Maxie

    • What a neat memory, Maxie! I was surprised by HOW dirty the lamp globes get. I can see why they would need to be cleaned every day!

  2. What a beautiful memory building night. So precious! It is especially wonderful for your children to have a “hands on” way of understanding life for their forefathers. A little indoor camping goes a long way to building a closer family. You really could write a parenting book. Growing up in Michigan there were many times we lost power for long periods of time due to downed power lines or bad storms. I remember how excited I would feel when the candles came out and our sense of adventure was kindled. It happens here and there still and how quickly those precious memories awaken when we search for the candles.

    • So true. It really was a great hands-on way to learn about history. We’ve been reading the Little House books and right now are listening to Little Women on audio and I think it will really give their little minds a sense of what it was truly like. Such sweet memories of your time in Michigan! I bet it was such a blast with 3 other sisters to experience it with. :)

  3. Oh, I love this, Joanne! So creative, and your observations have such insight. The closeness the lack of light brought to the evening, the eagerness to play outside… just delightful! I remember one moonlit night in the middle of a blizzard when our power went out (before we had kids), we dashed outside and ran down the street, skating on the sidewalk and in the empty, silent street with our tennis shoes, our laughter echoing against the night. Something about the simplicity heralded by moments like these makes for ideal treasure moments. :)

    • What a delightful memory, Amanda! So precious! Oh and you tell it just like a writer–adore those sensory details *heart melt*

  4. Love this! We often lost power on the farm when I was a kid. Playing cards was a popular pastime as well as telling stories. Oh wait, we do that when there IS power.

    • Thanks, Sarah! Isn’t it amazing how much fun can be had with the simplest things. ;)

  5. Love it! The one time a few months ago that my daughter and I tried to make butter, we asked my husband to pick up heavy cream on his way home from work. He picked up heavy “whipping” cream by accident and my daughter and I didn’t notice. So, we start shaking the jar and it just gets goopier and goopier. We are continuing on and wondering how we could possibly mess up cream and shaking! It puffs up and fills the whole jar. Finally looking at the label, we realize the mistake! So, we think that maybe it will be like whipped cream…not at all! Very much an epic fail on our part! Glad your night went much better! :-)

    • I know just what you mean, Brittany!! I did the same thing the first time too! I will tell you that both times, I’ve used Heavy whipping cream and what you have to do to keep it from making whipped cream, is for it to be room temperature. It won’t “whip” if it’s not cold. The first time, it whipped into cream, so I ran it under a warm faucet and within a moment, it turned into butter! Last time, I made sure it was room-temp and after just a few minutes of shaking, a huge lump of butter formed. That might help if you try it again! :)

      • Well, we definitely want to try again, so I am glad to know about the importance of room temperature! We only tried this a few months back, but I truly didn’t know what we did wrong. I thought it was the cream we used. I am so glad to know it is a temperature issue. Thanks Joanne!

      • I’d love to hear how it turns out for you!

  6. I just love the visual of your wonderful evening, Joanne! Sounds so cozy, warm, and full of fun!! Sounds like a wonderful experience for ALL families to revisit from time to time!!

    It not only proved that life need not be complicated, gave valuable info for later life, and provided added opportunities for family closeness, time spent together and shared activities and chores – but left a lasting impression on your children, that will, in later years, bring warm reminders and prompt gratefulness for blessings, and renewed joy in the “little things”!

    • Why thank you, Bonnie! It truly was. You’re so right… life need not be complicated. Such joy in such simple things. :) A lesson we always hope to instill in our children and we see it played out in their hearts every day. Just love that!

  7. I love this idea! Also seems like a wonderful way to just disconnect from all the distractions in life that our laptops and cell phones bring.

    • Why thank you, Dana! It really was. I had to tuck my iPhone away in the other room. ;)

  8. So inspiring, Joanne! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Joanne, what a sweet adventure you guys had! I think more people would do well to turn off their phones and everything else electronic one night a week and enjoy family time. Families would bond more and separate less.


    • Such an observation, Andrea. :) It really does draw you closer, that’s for sure!

  10. Super fun post, Joanne. Just had to pin it!

  11. What a cool idea! As I’ve said before, I like writing and reading historical fiction, but I’m glad for modern conveniences when I come back to real life. :)

    • Oh yes! It really is handy to have those modern conveniences! :)

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