The ladies who never left the house without lipstick, the ones who knew how to stretch a dollar and make home-made meals, the ones who knew how to sew, knit, crochet.
The ones who brought out fine china for special events, who were always there with a warm hug and a treat.
The ones who were strong in other ways, even if that meant keeping their mouths shut and their legs crossed, which doesn’t need to be construed as a sign of weakness in females, but a sign of different times, a sign of a different kind of strength. I could never keep my mouth shut, my willpower is not that strong, and as for the legs crossed…well, my wedding dress wasn’t a true white.
These are the ladies I aspire to be. The ones you should aspire to be, too. And, not just for the environment and greener living styles, but I’ll get to that. For the strength and the kindness and the genuine lives they lived – and are still living.
I’ve never once thought my Baba to be a weak person, even in her old age. For someone who only line dries their clothes and still uses a wringer-washer, there is no room for weakness. I’m sure if she ever needed to, if she actually went through with her threats to ‘box your ears’, she’d knock you out. Those arms are made for whipping up meals with a wooden spoon and hauling wood to the stove to heat the home.
There are lots of things that are okay that they’re going out of style (like repressed feminism and lack of women’s rights), but some things need to stay. Like, manners and etiquette. And, knitting and sewing and cooking meals from scratch. And, learning how to re-use items instead of throwing them away. And, fine china. Oh, how I love fine china. Something seemingly useless, but if passed down through generations, a treasure, and honestly, a green alternative to buying new fancy china.
While I like to display a small part of my china in a nice wooden milk carrier, and can’t wait to have my china cabinet built, I also like to actually USE them instead of simply sitting there for show. That means, if you come over to my house for a large dinner, there will be a mismatch of new plates, old plates, and some delicate looking china and crystal that might as well be used instead of collecting dust.
Let’s go back to that re-use part, though. In today’s world, single-use items are simply that: single use. But, back in my Baba’s house? That bread bag will hold other delightful home-made treats, tucked away in a too-full freezer. That margarine container or sour cream container? Guarantee you there’s some sort of broth in there, reused until it doesn’t work anymore.
Not everything was environmentally friendly, but my Baba never switched to liquid laundry detergent, instead using the powdered stuff in the laundry AND at the kitchen sink. Because, why would she? She collected rain in a rain barrel, has a decent sized garden, makes things from scratch, hangs her laundry outside in the warmer months, and in the basement in the cooler months. She knows how to preserve near-most everything and is who I call when I don’t know what the hell I’m doing with my canning recipe.
The idea behind throwing something away just because it doesn’t seem like it was useful anymore never seems to cross their minds. There was always a second use for things, maybe even a third or fourth. You didn’t need a room full of clothes (debatable, though) and would be able to happily make do with what you have. Yeah, a lot of this stems from a poorer and simpler time for a lot of grandma’s and older relatives. They learned how to make do, and learned how to darn a sock or stockings because they HAD to. We don’t have to, anymore. Everything is so readily available, and for the most part, affordable.
But, is it needed? Probably not.
I wasn’t planning on posting this type of a blog post today; instead, I was going to give you tips on what to do in Amsterdam (I still will, just at a later date!). But, I’ve been thinking about Grandma’s and Oma’s and Baba’s and Nana’s for the last few weeks. I think about them when I re-use my own bought bread plastic bag for my home-made bread or cookies or muffins, instead of reaching for a ziploc. Yeah, it’s not zero-waste, but it’s a ‘single-use’ I used, again. I thought about them when I was putting up shelves in my dining room, taking care of antique plates that we acquired from my husband’s Nana. I thought about them when I went through my drawer full of doilies, some old and some new from our wedding. I wondered why people didn’t use them, anymore, to display on tables or desks or shelves.
I pinned about a million ways to re-use and up-cycle doilies and found that there are so many uses and cute decor DIY’s you can do with doilies.
For my wedding, I bought a big strip of fabric that was meant to drape through the trees we were supposed to get married under. Instead, plans changed and it was draped around a staircase. After, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it, and may have kept a little bit for some crafts, but most would’ve ended up in the trash. My Baba, loving the pink lace, asked if she could have it to make curtains. I was delighted that it would get a proper use beyond just my wedding day and handed it over, happily.
I often wonder if this is something people would normally think of. Instead of buying new, would they think to use something – anything second hand – to make their own? Would they know how? I wouldn’t, but I know a lot of great women I could ask to show me how. I yearn to know how to do all of this myself, without having to call my mom or my Baba for help, but I’m years away, I know that. And, as for that call, make it. Instead of youtubing it, give your grandma or mom or aunt or whomever a call. They’ll love teaching you something.
I want to be self-sufficient in my life, knowing that if I needed to, I could make it without the internet, without life’s ‘necessities’. Obviously, a kind of change like that wouldn’t be taken on lightly – I mean, curling up to watch Netflix or read magazines on my tablet is a favourite of mine, but if I have the skills to ‘homestead’, then it makes me the self-sufficient woman I always hoped I would be.
Because, homesteading doesn’t have to just mean a farm.
The word homestead is a trendy term nowadays, with everyone ready to flee the hustle and bustle of the city to go live out their dreams on a hobby farm. There are so many pinterest links with how to’s on caring for your chickens, and keeping eggs and the difference between washed and unwashed eggs, on how to keep goats and why you should want to, on how to make soap. All of those are great, but to be like our fore-mothers, to make any home a manageable homestead, we don’t need all of that. We just need the basic skills, the skills that they learned in school, from their mothers, from friends, passed down through generations, the skills to survive and not depend on money or material items.
A strong, self-sufficient woman, in today’s terms, is usually depicted as a woman who is at the top in her company. She makes her own money, doesn’t have to depend on a man, and is powerful. Both in her suits and her professional demeanour. And, don’t get me wrong, these ladies are fucking killing it. I’m proud of all the women I know, and the ones I don’t, on how far they’ve come and how much they’ve accomplished in their life. Because it is harder for a woman, no matter how much privilege you were raised on. There may be different tiers of hardships, but they’re there and found in everyday tasks.
These aren’t the women I aspire to be, though. While I don’t see any glass ceiling and believe that, if I truly wanted to, I could do whatever I pleased, I don’t wish to be a top-performing CEO at some huge company. I want the strength and the self-sufficiency that came from needing to learn and survive on your own. On having to take care of a family, even if that family is yourself or just you and your husband/wife/partner. On knowing what to do if you’ve forgotten your laundry in the washer. On how to clean things, properly. On how to grow your own food and then preserve it so you can feed you and your family in the winter. On how to host a family gathering.
I’m slowly learning it all, and I can’t wait to learn more. So, to all you grandma’s and aunt’s and friendly neighbourhood older ladies out there, thank-you.Thank-you for being so strong when you needed to be. Thank-you for being independent and figuring it out, eventually. Thank-you for having the patience to teach us younger ‘kids’ how to do things and how to do it right. Thank-you for always buying the china and knowing that you can do what you want, even if it was in a roundabout way.