Victoria Bylin: Modern Day Conestoga continued . . . Fast Food or Real Cooking?

victoria_bylin_banner A few weeks ago I blogged about loading up the “pod” and our upcoming move to Lexington, Kentucky. The Pod is long gone, which means my husband and I are camping in our own home.  My youngest son is here, so he’s camping too. The only things we have in the house are things that will fit in my car and my husband’s pick-up truck, or stuff we plan to give to the Salvation Army. 

It’s amazing to discover just how little we need to live. We have a couple of beds, a love seat, an old chair that belongs to the dog, one television, a coffee table, and few other pieces of flotsam and jetsam.

My kitchen is empty except for one cabinet that has a couple of plates, cereal bowls, one fork and too many spoons. I’m not sure how that happened. Somehow I kept out all the spoons and only one fork. I’ve got one mixing bowl, one cooking pot and my favorite microwavable bowl.spoons

Compared to what was in the cabinets three weeks ago, we’re down to bare essentials.

You know what?  I’m enjoying the simplicity.  No clutter. No mess.  With my life stripped down to basics, I’ve thought often about that Conestoga wagon and how people took care of themselves.

When it’s dinner time around here, I put a frozen pizza in the oven or head to Subway for sandwiches.  Pioneers traveling by covered wagon cooked over campfires. That meant gathering fuel for the fire, either wood or buffalo chips.  I hit “start” on the microwave, or turn a knob and hear the clicking of the electronic starter on the stove. The women traveling west struck a match and tended the fire as they made meals from what they’d brought and what was available.  

covered-wagon-desertLocal plants and animals supplied much of their food, but they had to haul along flour, sugar, coffee, beans and other essentials. They could make some purchases from forts and trading posts along the way, but you know how prices go.  When things are in short supply, prices go sky high.  And there were no guarantees supplies would be available.  Me?  Lately I’ve been heading to the local market (Giant or Safeway in this area) and picking out pre-packaged cold cuts, frozen dinners, potato chips for my husband and Mighty Dog for Hartley (our beagle / Jack Russell mix).


The men and women traveling by covered wagon packed bacon in 100 lb. sacks with bran to preserve it in the heat. They carried 100 lb. sacks of flour, double bagged and carefully stitched. Vegetables were desiccated before the trip. They were cut thin, pressed, dried and as hard as rocks until cooked in water. Canned vegetables could be taken on the trip, but they were heavy and took up space. Me? I can buy fresh, frozen or canned vegetables ranging from corn to jalapenos and I don’t think twice about it. It’s all so easy, and I take it totally for granted.  

Some early travelers took things for granted as well, and they learned a hard lesson. As I was researching this blog, I came across a story in A Hand-Book for Overland Expeditions by Randolph B. Marcy, Captain U.S. Army.  He wrote: “I once traveled with a party of New Yorkers en route for California . . . They soon learned that Champagne, East India sweetmeats, olives, etc., etc., were not the most useful articles for a prairie tour.”spanish-olives

Can you imagine being hungry for a real meal and finding only olives and champagne? That’s the kind of snack that makes you appreciate home-cooking. So does frozen pizza!  My goal for this move is to be settled by Thanksgiving so I can make a big turkey dinner.

What about you?  Have you ever lived a stripped-down life?  If you were moving and had to reduce your kitchen to bare essentials, what would you have in your fridge?



And one last thing . . . Next week the Fillies are doing a Western Recipe Week.  Check in for some great meal ideas that don’t come with microwave instructions!

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26 thoughts on “Victoria Bylin: Modern Day Conestoga continued . . . Fast Food or Real Cooking?”

  1. Great post, Victoria. My family does live a relatively stripped-down life when we go to our cottage. It used to be even more so, before we acquired propane tanks. We cooked, heated water and kept the place warm with a wood stove, and we used kerosene lamps. The place is several kilometres back in the woods, on an un-maintained dirt road. At first the nearest store was an hour away, and we had only ice and a cooler to keep food cold, so we planned meals with a minimum of refrigerated ingredients. The best Christmas turkey I ever ate was cooked in the oven of that old Enterprise range. Now the place has a generator and a propane stove. More convenient,especially as my folks are getting older, but a lot less satisfying somehow. We often turn the power off and use the old lanterns night, and we still heat the place with a wood stove. Luxury by Conestoga standards, but it makes us appreciate the simplicity of that way of life.

  2. Hi Jennie, Your cottage sounds like a real blast from the past. As much as I enjoy modern conveniences, there’s something wonderful about lanterns and open fires. I’d miss my microwave terribly if we were to live like pioneers, but I have to wonder if we’re all working harder than ever just to pay for the conveniences!

    About that wood stove . . . My husband and I heated the house with an air-tight wood stove when we lived in Pine Mountain in Calfornia. It was great!

  3. Vicki,

    It is hard when you move. Your cottage sounds like a very nice place. I love open fires. I hope you get settled in soon. Great Post

    Once you get settled please get the interview questions back to me

    Walk in peace and harmony,


  4. Hi Vicki,

    Oh, I remember it well, when we gutted our kitchen. We ate in the living room or on the floor. We had a refrigerator and a microwave and we managed very well. Thank goodness for pizza and Subway! We did the exact same thing as you, so I’m smiling now! The house was a mess, so we didn’t have simple, like you did, but I was amazed at much much I got rid of in my kitchen. Now I only have the things I really need and use. It’s much neater and I have more space!

  5. Hi Tracy, You said it exactly. I don’t need a lot of stuff, but some things are sure nice to have. Funny what’s become a necessity . . . we’ve got internet and cable TV. Had to have my online connection!

  6. Hi Melinda, I’ve got your interview questions front and center. With a little luck, I’ll be able to do them tomorrow. I’ve got one more catch-up project and then I’ll be pretty much back to a regular schedule. Pretty soon! I promise!

  7. Hi Charlene! I bet your new kitchen is beautiful. It’s a huge job, but it’s worth it. I hear you on sorting through old stuff. I got rid of things I haven’t used in years, stuff I’d forgotten I even had. One of the things I’m enjoying is not having to empty the dishwasher. Instead of using every dish we own and running the d/w every couple of days, we’re washing as we go. Much simpler and it uses less water.

  8. Vickie, there’s lots of freedom in living a stripped down life. Sure takes the worry and frustration from having to decide what to have for dinner. But, it’s probably a good thing that these periods in our lives are short. A lot of that fast food can sure pack on the pounds. But I sure wouldn’t have wanted to be a woman on the wagon train. Talk about work. Sheesh!

    Wishing you lots of good luck on the move.

  9. Hi Linda, To both my delight and detriment, the closest fast food place is Dairy Queen. They’ve got great burgers, much better than any of the other chains. They also have those chocolate dipped cones. Yummy! Once a week I splurge. It’s so easy to gain weight these days. Yesterday I bought one of those pre-baked chickens. They’re delicious and a lot less fattening than DQ!

  10. Hi Vicki, what a wonderful post. Sometimes we figure we ought to move and pare down even more. Fortunately my hubby is not a collector of stuff and his years in a fire station taught him to be tidy and spare. Me…I’m starting to get rid of something everytime I get something new…particularly after shoveling out my mom’s old house where she never three a thing away for 50 years. Don’t wanna leave that sort of thing behind.

    We spend time each summer in a condo…and I totally love the pared-down stuff there. Everything I need, a decorative knick-knack or two, but nothing more than what you need. (I always bring a family photo along though LOL.)

    This puts me in the mood to go clean out the attic LOL.

    Great blog, Vicki. Good luck with your move. oxoxoxox

  11. Howdy Tanya! What a great idea to bring a family photo to the vacation condo! It’s a reminder of what’s really important.

    This experience has been good, but I have a hunch I’ll be blogging in November about how much I like being surrounded with my stuff again! Photos are on that list. When we find the new house, we want to do a wall with all the family pictures. We’ve got tons of them and they mean a lot.

  12. Hi Victoria,

    As I look at my accumulation of things (comfort junk) surrounding me, your post makes me yearn for a good clean-out! Seems like every horizontal shelf, table and counter are filled with stuff here. I loved camping as a child, and you are so right–stripping things down to the bare minimum and simplicity does have a way of making you appreciate what’s important in life.

  13. Hi Vicki!

    I love getting back to basics — sort of — but my back to basics is so different from what it used to be when I was growing up. Love the sound of your cottage. 🙂

  14. I seem to be a all or nothing type personality. Basically I’m a pack rat with lots of unnecessary junk around me that comforts me but on the other hand I’m easily pleased and can do without (except for my books lol).

  15. Love this, Vicki. Sometimes I look around my house, see all the stuff I’ve got, and wonder what I’d do with it if I had to move. Those poor folks who have to evacuate for fires or floods find out in a hurry what’s really important. It must have been the same with people crossing the plains.
    I have a family picture wall–it’s in my hallway. Those photos would be one of the first things I’d save.

  16. Hi Kathryn, We’ll find out if this is two-way street when we’re settled in Lexington. I’m having visions of delighting in piles of books and boxes of photographs, comfort stuff as you called it. I also want a house with real closet space. Our townhouse was built in the 1970s. It needs electrical socket and closet space desperately.

  17. Hello Karen! Getting back to basics has been an interesting journey. I really like my clean, empty house. As a family, we’re chatting a lot because we’re not all distracted with things we *should* be doing. It’s been good.

  18. Hi Jeanne! I can’t imagine living without books. I packed all my books except two. That was 2 weeks ago. Would you believe I’m sitting here with about ten? I got my shipment of LIHs, plus I had to buy a couple of Love Inspireds. Then there was Mary’s “Cowboy Christmas,” and a friend gave me the new book on writing by Donald Maass. you gotta have books!

  19. Hello Elizabeth! My mom always said that in a disaster, she’d grab the 3 Ps: People, Pictures and important Papers. We were once evacuated for an earthquake (Sylmar 1971) and that’s exactly what we took.

  20. One year ago this month, we received a major lesson in survival when Hurricane Ike paid a visit to our city. In the fourth(?) largest city in this country it was most difficult to obtain the necessities of life. After a couple of days, freezer foods had to be cooked or tossed out. We have a gas stove, so we cooked all that we could. Neighborhoods were having block parties and grilling foods, which were then shared out among family & friends. Everything had to be consumed because ice was one of the hard-to-get items. Having no power makes a vast difference in how
    one lives, for us it was 13 days before power was
    restored. We thanked God for FEMA and all the
    power companies who sent in people to help us!
    My prayers go out to the people who are suffering
    from flooding after the recent heavy rains!!

    Pat Cochran

  21. We have so much stuff, I could probably furnish 5 houses and still have left overs. We have given stuff away, but there is still more. Most of what is cluttering up our life is mine. I’m a bookaholic and have 20+ bookcases and 30 to 40 boxes waiting to be unpacked and/or read. I’m a children’s librarian and have boxes of craft supplies, stamps, puppets, stuffed animals, you name it. I try to sew when I have time and have shelves of fabric. Did I mention cake decorating supplies and needle work supplies.
    When I was in the Peace Corps, I had my clothes (not many), a camera, writing supplies, and a few books. When I finished, I shipped a trunk home and mailed a few boxes. The rest all fit into one small suitcase which was enough to see me through a three month trip.
    When we got married, everything fit into a small trailer. Our last move when we retired we filled one large moving van and had enough to fill a second. We’ve since added more.
    If we had to go down to essentials, I’d keep my cast iron pans, a set of dishes, bowls, mugs and silverware & cooking utensils. A good set of knives, a set of mixing bowls, a rolling pin, measuring cups & spoons, and my favorite recipes (not my 600+ cookbooks). Of course the basic cooking ingredients including spices & herbs, and a good supply of matches. In the fridge: milk, eggs, butter, mustard, ketchup, a block of sharp cheddar and a block of swiss. With fresh fruits, meats, veggies, and dry staples, and you have all you need.

  22. Hi Pat, You’re so right about electricity. We depend on it for everything from light to refrigeration to communication. I joke about camping in my house, but it’s hardly camping when I’ve got hot water and light at the flip of a switch.

    A hurricane came up the Potomac a few years ago. It was a tropical storm by the time it reached my neighborhood, but we lost power for 2 days and water for about the same amount of time. It was a real challenge. Here’s hoping you’re spared another hurricane both this year and the years to come.

  23. Howdy, Patricia! I’m in awe! Your house must be wall-to-wall books. I like that kind of decorating. Being a children’s librarian has got to be rewarding. Some of my fondest childhood memories are walking to the local library and coming home with a new stack of books.

  24. Just packed off my husband and son for a four day fishing trip. They left with the essentials …bread, salami, cheese, fishing poles and dry clothes. Guess they will survive! I would have had to have a few books, some fruit, and water….then I think I would have been okay.

  25. I think I would need my Bible, some books and my computer. That would be all I could carry, LOL
    I would need food and water, but don’t know how I could get it all together.
    May God bless everyone


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