Sally Schneider
Sally Schneider

Helvetia is a tiny town in the West Virginia Appalachians where I‘ve learned a great deal about improvising over the nearly forty years I’ve been visiting there. Settled by Swiss-German immigrants in 1869 who started from scratch in its wilderness valley, a strong tradition of resourcefulness courses through the town. “If you don’t got it, you don’t need it” is a common saying, a way of everyday survival for folks who are a forty-five minute drive on winding mountain roads from the nearest store. If you don’t got it, you figure something else out…like baking a souffle in an iron skillet (no souffle dish), or using a door knob as a pestle, or a wine bottle to roll out dough…I once saw a man use a pitchfork to stir a huge cauldron full of boiling ramps (wild leeks) set over an open fire…

When my friend Eleanor Mailloux, who grew up in Helvetia, got around to looking at my blog, she wrote that it reminded her of a game she played as a kid. That old Appalachian game was a simple way to cultivate an improvisational mindset, and still is:

” I remembered playing a game at a 4-H meeting back at the Stadler farm in 1930. At the end of the meeting, we chose sides and played a game called “inventing”…or was it “creating”?…Anyway, it went like this: You chose a very common object and tried to create as many uses as possible, say, a BROOM…
…you sweep with it…
…if you cover it with an old shirt you can sweep the cobwebs off the ceiling…
…when it’s worn out, cut off the handle and use it as a brush…
…my grandma used it as a cane…
…you can ride it!  ha, ha!”

I’ve found that Eleanor’s game is great private exercise for adults –  no teams needed – perfect when riding the subway or waiting on line at the bank. It’s what the expression “think outside the box” means, and what any creative person does: surprise us using known things in new ways.

(…in Italy, they dry fresh sheets of pasta by draping them over a broom handle suspended between two chairs…)


…here’s how to use a broom as an improvised weapon

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3 replies on “a (mind) game for cultivating resourcefulness

  1. Sally,
    This is fantastic! Improvised Life is inspiring. I think you can change peoples vision of their future and present lives with the latest chain link fence piece.

    Thank you,
    Fern Berman

  2. Thanks, Fern. I think I need to fly Eleanor in here to teach us all to tat!

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