Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ol' Time Homemaking - How did they do it?

I have always been in awe of the Amish women who were living the same or similar lifestyle as what my Grandma used to talk about when she was growing up. Today, I find myself living that way of life in many areas. It has been enlightening to see over the past 18 months just how much we relied on electricity and modern conveniences to accomplish our daily tasks.

This has been a time of great reflection and having to be adaptable to making changes and alterations. Speaking from my own perspective, I have had to not only change the methods in which I do my daily tasks, but I have had to rethink my priorities.

I remember watching shows like "Little House on the Prairie" and wondering how Ma got it all done. She was tending the home, children, garden, feed and gather eggs from the chickens, and on a regular basis would make the long walk to town. She would sew her family's clothing or other necessities and still be able to help neighbors when needed. She was in many ways like that goal that I would like to strive for, but leaves me stretching to get anywhere close to achieving. Is it an unrealistic goal? Not really. Our Grandmothers and previous generations of women did it in their lives. What is missing is the example today of just "how" they managed their time and work.

This is where I am today. I see what has worked over the past 18 months and what needs to be tweaked and altered to make the tasks easier to manage. There are 3 constant changes that occur in our life. The first is the needs of the children. As they get a little older, Abbie is able to do more for herself but Micah still is need of a great deal of assistance. This will change and evolve over the upcoming years. As it does, they will be able to help out to some degree but there will be the added task of their homeschool education. The second area is the seasons. I have found that the 4 seasons of homesteading are Planting, Garden Weeding & Tending, Harvest, and Planning for the next Planting. In the warmer months when we have more daylight, I have the opportunity to work longer hours each day. This can be a double-edged sword. While the longer hours can be a blessing, you are exhausted by sundown. In winter when you have shorter daylight hours, you have to cut back on your activities so that you are not having to use a lot of lamp oil to complete your work in early hours or at night. The third area is the weather. Of all the areas where I am forced to be flexible, this is the roughest for me. Spring, for example, is our wet season. Last year, we had 21 days straight of rain. Doing laundry became a challenge. I had to wash daily and hang the clothes indoors to dry. Sometimes it would take more than one day for the laundry to dry. All this goes back to my original question - how did they do it in the ol' days?

Grandma once told me of how they had a set routine. Have you ever seen the samplers that assigned a specific task to each day of the week? This was a reality in many homes. Their days began early. Gram was always up before the children. I remember Dad telling stories to me about it being dark outside when Grandpa would wake them for morning chores. Grandma would already be cooking breakfast at the stove when the boys came downstairs. Having only the 3 sons, Grandma didn't have the help of any daughters to prepare meals or tend to the household. She simply did what needed tending each day. Gram had a routine that she followed fairly closely. It wasn't so rigid that she could help a neighbor or change her plans if the weather prevented her from doing a task. The routine was structured enough though to allow her to get it all done in a timely manner. If weather was a factor, then she simply did her best to work around it. She was forced to be resourceful.

One lesson that I learned from her was that the more of the old ways that you incorporate into your life, the more of the modern attitudes that you have to leave behind. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to have a house full of "stuff" to be happy. We have found that by removing excess in our lives, we are actually happier. We are more productive in our work and the children are happier to play with each other. We are seeing the side benefit that Micah's autism is becoming less of an issue due in a large part to the time we (especially his sister) play and interact with him. Gram was able to do more each day because she didn't have the distractions. No TV or other electronic entertainment source to keep her from her tasks. Yes, they had a radio, but it was enjoyed in the evenings when choring was done. She also didn't have the ability to just up and go somewhere in the car whenever she got the urge to do so. She was home and able to get the work done.

Gram made the comment to me often when I was visiting with her that she learned to work as she rested. One good example was when we would sit on the porch on a hot summer afternoon and snap the green beans for dinner. We sat out there on the porch swing and did a task that needed doing, but were able to talk and enjoy the time. I seldom saw Gram ever just sit. She always had some task that could be done while she was sitting down. I wonder if that is where my low threshold for boredom comes from? When we had a TV, I rarely could sit through a movie without getting up often to take care of something, much to my dear husband's dismay.

It still amazes me to think about the amount of work people had to do in the ol' days. How spoiled we are! I am still working to be more effective in my daily routines. It is a constant work in process. It will continue to be in the years to come. As I get more proficient in a task, it will take less time to accomplish it. The children will be a help as they grow older and can work along side of Joe and I.

The main focus for me today is to not let the question of how to get it all done become a distraction or discouragement. It can be a guidepost to measure myself by when I see how much more I get accomplished today when compared to a year ago. So it must be with all of us. Look at the question as a method to learn. Search out the answers that work for you and your situation, then make the necessary changes to your own way of doing things.

When our ancestors were living the non-electric lifestyle, they had to learn the ropes as children and grow in knowledge and experience. As modern-day homesteaders, we are much like those children. We are having to learn a different way of doing things. It takes time and patience. Easier said than done? Yes, but it can be achieved.