Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Homemaking Is Easier Now

Taking Afternoon Tea in a Beach Hut at Felixstowne, in Suffolk, England

Kitchen Update: still experimenting with style and colors, and waiting for more repair work to be done.

My Home

This is the place that I love the best,

A little brown house, like a ground-bird's nest,

Hid among grasses, and vines, and trees,

Summer retreat of the birds and bees.

The tenderest light that ever was seen

Sifts through the vine-made window screen--

Sifts and quivers, and flits and falls

On home-made carpets and gray-hung walls.

All through June the west wind free

The breath of clover brings to me.

All through the languid July day

I catch the scent of new-mown hay.

The morning-glories and scarlet vine

Over the doorway twist and twine;

And every day, when the house is still,

The humming-bird comes to the window-sill.

In the cunningest chamber under the sun

I sink to sleep when the day is done;

And am waked at morn, in my snow-white bed,

By a singing bird on the roof o'erhead.

Better than treasures brought from Rome,

Are the living pictures I see at home--

My aged father, with frosted hair,

And mother's face, like a painting rare.

Far from the city's dust and heat,

I get but sounds and odors sweet.

Who can wonder I love to stay,

Week after week, here hidden away,

In this sly nook that I love the best--

This little brown house like a ground-bird's nest?

Ella Wheeler Wilcox 1850-1919

Along with many other women, I lived in the days when some parts of house keeping was very hard work. I lived before permanent press, dishwashers, indoor bathrooms, television, indoor washers, dryers, air conditioning, central heating, electric vacuum cleaners, and many other labor-saving tools.

Clothing was more difficult to clean because it was not stain-resistant. Once it was dry, it took almost an hour to iron a shirt. Shirts were made of natural fabrics, which wrinkled very easily. The fabrics were tough, but the irons were heavy, and hot enough to do the job. Try ironing one of those natural, untreated fabrics today with an electric iron, and you will find it is not heavy enough or hot enough to do the job.

The irons that were heated on the stove were very effective, but it was such hard work that it could take half an hour to iron a shirt, and if you were a novice, it might take longer. Just about every single garment we owned had to be ironed. We did not iron things just to make them look good, either. The fabrics were so wrinkled if you did not iron them, it made it difficult to button or zip things and the garment would twist around and not hang as straight. Clothes not ironed could be very uncomfortable.

Today, clothing is so much easier to care for, that ironing can be more of a finishing touch, and a pleasure, than hard labor.
With so many conveniences now, from easy-care floors, to dishwashers, coffee-makers, ice-makers, food processors, and so forth, I do not know why young women should not look forward to being homemakers. These days, women can have any kind of invention they need to help them. There are sewing machines to make clothing construction easier, and there are easy instructions on the web if you want to learn to do something by hand. These conveniences make home making simpler, and leave free time our husbands, children and our parents.
Please remember to visit Lovely Whatevers every day this month and look at the new posters. You can purchase these by clicking on the titles, and if you like them for your blogs, be sure to post a link where they can be found. My daughter, Lillibeth, manages the Lovely Whatevers
http://warmpiehappyhome.blogspot.com/ has photographs of women dressed for church,at a church potluck, and a good post today. Go and see the hats and dresses, and imagine the delicious food in those picnic baskets.
Go to http://sprucecreekfarm.blogspot.com/2008/11/prairie-kitchen-sampler.html for a similar story of living before the days of hot tap water. We had the same hot water reservoir in the cook stove, as this lady describes. We also heated buckets of extra water for our baths, on top the stove. Our tub was an army-navy type of contraption that folded up like a canvas folding chair, and it actually held water. I have a picture of it somewhere, and will post it when I find it. I believe some of my brothers and sisters were taking a bath in it when the picture was taken.
Have a look at what you had to know about using a stove back then http://grannymillerblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/cook-stove-basics.html
The reason for this post was that so many young girls do not want to be homemakers full time because they think it is boring, too hard, drudgery, isolating, etc. This is simply not true. Today we have cars, and running water, automatic washers and dryers, telephones and every thing that would open up the world to us, as well as free us of much time-consuming labor. If you aren't happy at home, perhaps you have not explored your possibilities there. Home is a luxurious place and you can change it if you don't like it. If you work outside the home, you have less control over the conditions you live in daily. At home you can adjust the temperature, change the paint color, clean and arrange and beautify as you like. You get to invite the people you want, and you can also do as much work as you like, catching up on laundry and getting the house in order. You don't have to be regulated by much except your own judgement.


Secondhand Blessings said...

I think in this day & age too many of us take our modern conveinances for granted. Or perhaps some may just not be aware of hard homemaking used to be.I have a cookbook called the Prairie Kitchen Sampler. It consist of 60 years of recipes and reminiscences from the life of a Nebraska farmwife, Alice Mickish Hendrickson. I wrote a post about it in November of last year,
check it out when you get a chance, here is the link to cut & paste http://sprucecreekfarm.blogspot.com/2008/11/prairie-kitchen-sampler.html
It talks about how homemaking used to be. She talks about pitcher pumps, cream separators, renting a locker from an ice plant,being wired for electricity, & having to learn to run her stove before learning to cook on it. It makes me grateful for what I have!
Thanks for a great post.

aspiritofsimplicity said...

What a lovely post. I love that poem and hope you don't mind if I copy it over to my blog so I will have it within easy reach. And, I love your kitchen. The light is so peaceful it looks like such a nice place to be in.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't have said it better! I really give thanks for the wonderful appliances we have these days for homemaking. I know you are enjoying your new kitchen and especially the dishwasher.....it is a great help to prepare wholesome homemade food (which does create a lot of dishes to wash!) Also, you feel more like setting a proper table when you know you can just put it all into the machine to come out sparkling clean :o) Blessings, Anne

Mrs. Anna T said...

Dear Lydia,

Very true, many homemaking tasks used to be difficult; much more difficult than today. But on the other hand, women were not expected to pull themselves apart and "have it all" like today. It was acknowledged that homemaking is hard work, and it was to be a woman's career.

Also, people used to have fewer possessions and smaller houses, which made housework easier. :o)

S. Belle said...

I agree that homemaking seems easier by comparison. There is still some drudgery, though. But, I'm coming to the point of taking great delight in cleaning and caring for my home. I have so much more that I want to learn, and I'm excited about growing into an excellent homemaker.

Anonymous said...

HOw good of you are to remind this young mommy of how blessed I am in this day and age. I was just looking around my house wishing I could "snap" it together like Mary poppins! With that I need to get cleaning!! God Bless.

FreshWhippedStitches said...

Wonderful, thank you. How often I forget. I appreciate your constant encouragement; the gentle ways in which you build up and push us younger women to thrive in the home the Lord has blessed us with, as though with a hug. Thanks again. :)

Tracy said...

To think of spending an hour to iron one shirt! Wow. In my family, we do iron nearly everything as we wear mostly cotton and some linen. I teach my girls when they are around 10 to help with this task.

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

When I was a preschooler, we had indoor plumbing to run water but we still had to use an outhouse.

Our phone was the kind you cranked and an operator answered. You knew if a call was for you by your own distinctive number of rings.

Our kitchen stove was heated by coal.

Thanks for the memories. I'm fifty-four and I think most people don't realize such a lifestyle was not all that long ago (albeit we did live in the country).

FreshWhippedStitches said...

Thank YOU for stopping by MY blog, Lady Jen, and for the encouragement that brought me! :) xo

Susie Mitchell said...

Thank you Lydia for a wonderfully entertaining blog. I'm so very happy to have discovered your writings. I start every morning with a cup of coffee and catching up with my email and of late the blogs I follow. I find a story from yours is the most pleasant way to get my day going.
I pray something happens every day that becomes a sweet memory for you.
Blessings, Susie

Anonymous said...

Amen! I often read biographies and letters of women from the homesteading days if I catch myself feeling whiny. :) All it takes is imagining having to haul water from a creek in to a tank on the back of a woodstove, keep the stove hot, and use that water to wash dishes, etc. to make me feel very silly for complaining about doing the dishes with a beautiful sink and running water.

Now just imagine washing cloth diapers back then! Yikes.

Lydia said...

I was born in 1951, and I lived before commercial bread and commercial cereals, at least in my part of the country. Our bread was always baked, and it was hard work, and gone sometimes as soon as it emerged from the oven, which was heated with wood, chopped by our father and split by the older children, brought in and laid in a stack. Today I hear young ladies who are not yet married saying house keeping is hard, lowly work and they want careers outside the home, so they won't be having to do such drudgery. It is not so much drudgery today, as knowing how to operate a machine. Most of the real drudgery comes from picking up the huge amount of material things that we did not have then. And, you are right, the burdens on women were not so much then. She didn't have to worry about earning a living also. She did worry about how to make the money stretch, but she did not have the social snobbery connected to homemaking that exists today. There is a great deal of pressure and disapproval from those outside our homes, and that is one thing they didn't deal with back then. Once in awhile some smart mouthed person would say "what do you find to do at home all day?" and our mothers would just laugh and shake their heads and ask them a silly question in return, such as "How do you breathe all day?"

Lydia said...

Hip Chic,

The poem might paste better if you go here and get it"


I had a hard time getting it to paste in the proper lines and had to separate it all myself.

Lydia said...

By the way, in the poem "The Kingdom of Home," by Ella Wheeler Wilcox in the previous post, the term "gay cavalier" referred to the seeker of fortune, the flamboyant rich person, a partying adventurer, of sorts. If you do a study of the word "cavalier" on Wikopedia or the dictionary or encyclopedia, you can understand it better. Some of the cavalier type of people settled in the southern states, while the puritans went to the north. Throughout the ages, there have been various meanings to the words "gay cavalier." I explained this just in case anyone thought that poem was a bit strange.

Lydia said...

The poem is in the post "The Humble Art of the Victorian Period."

Lydia said...

I think the work turns to drudgery when it stacks up so high that it is labor intensive to get it back to normal. THe secret, if you have the stamina, is to do a clean sweep around the house daily and pick up and wash and clean up, etc. when it is a small mess, rather than waiting for a large mess.
Of course there will always be days when there are interruption, or urgent matters, or you have not felt well, and it is harder to pick up after this. I go into a slump every so often where I mentally give up on the place, but after some rest and some recreation, I feel a renewed interest in it. The beauty of being home is that if you start getting bored with the walls, you can change them by painting or wall paper or different pictures. You can also change your scenery outside by adding birdbaths and pots of bright flowers. YOu have power, control, and choice, when you are the keeper of the home.

Anonymous said...

My mother (born 1931, I was born 1975) used to tell me of how she ironed clothes when she was just a young girl and what hard, hard work it was. I would imagine myself gliding a modern nonstick electric clothes iron over poly-cotton blend shirts, and really wonder what she was talking about! I did learn later on of the heavy irons heated on the stove, what hot work it was to do, and how hard you had to really press to do a good job on sturdy old resin free 100% cottons. :) I grew up sewing on the old family treadle machine too, and one thing I really appreciate today is buttonhole making and zipper feet!

Lydia said...

Katya, thanks for reminding me of the treadle sewing machine. Yes, it was hard work and it didn't reverse, so you had to stop and tie your seams in knots, a small skill that was difficult. Also it was touch and go as to whether or not the belt would stay on the machine or you would have to adjust it. Then you had to make sure you pushed the pedal just right and spun the wheel at the same time to get it started. I do miss that machine, particularly when the electricity goes out, but it was all exercise. The washing machines, though some were electric, were pulled out of the house, and plugged somewhere inside the house, and you had to fill up the machine with hot water from buckets from the stove. You turned on the dial and it would agitate for awhile, and then you turned it off yourself and put the clothing through the wringer, which sometimes got stuck if you didn't have the clothes absolutely thin and flat. They fell into a tub of cold water on the other side of the machine, which was filled with a hose from the well or the lake. Then you turned the wringer around and put those clothes through it once again, to land in another tub on the other side. After that you carried the tub to the line and hung them up. If we washed on Saturday, we always tried to have one clean outfit to wear while the other clothes were being washed, and we put everything we could think of in the wash pile, so as not to have any dirty clothes later. However, we could always have the option of washing something in a hurry in a basin of water, any time we wanted.

The clean clothes felt so fresh and good on your skin and the fresh sheets and blankets were also very nice. The air and sun sanitized everything and bleached out any whites with stains.

It was also a chore to gather up the clothes from the line and get them ready to be ironed. You had to sprinkle them with water and roll them up so they would not dry out. That was called steam ironing, because our irons did not give steam.

One time a lady got so far behind on her ironing, because she had been ill, that she sent over a huge basket of it for me to iron, with a promise of payment in return. It was such hard work, that it took me a year to do it and when I returned the clothes, her family had outgrown them. I was quite young at the time, though, and it was a huge job.

Lydia said...

ALso we used to put the whites in the washer first, and used the same water for the lighter coloreds, and then finally the jeans and dark colors. We never changed the water on a wash day, as it was such a chore. Later, the rinse water was used for wash water. All of it was dumped on the flowers and the lawn. Drains are nice, but what a waste of water, eh?

Laura Ashley said...

Recently I thought I'd save some money by doing the laundry in the sink or bathtub. (It is a $1 to wash and a $1 to dry at the apartment's laundry mat.) I thought if I could wash most everything by hand, then hang up the items that dry quickly, I could save some cash in the long run.

What a workout! Washing 1 pair of jeans takes about all the energy I have. Things become so heavy when they are soaking wet! I honestly had no idea it was that hard.

Now I question how much money it is really saving anyway since you have to pay to fill the tub with hot water. But it was a good lesson that is for sure.

Lydia said...

Laura Ashley,

I've just been reading the history of the Chinese laundry. I began to appreciate their hard work, at a time when heavy work clothes, soaking wet, had to be wrung out tightly and air dried. And, what an enterprising thing they did in this nation, and Canada, at a time when working men could not do their own laundry. It showed me what we were taught as children: do what you can do with your hands, and you will find enterprise. THe Chinese in America were always doing something that seemed menial, that was a great service to others, and they sustained their families through cooking, washing, store keeping, and many other things.

Anonymous said...

W/all the nice equipment we have now a days women still complain.
I just don't see how they can not keep up.
I feel sorry for them.

Anonymous said...

Well, the ease with which the menial chores can be done does undermine people's respect for keeping home as a "career"-- if any fool can clean a house top to bottom in two hours, then why spend all day doing it?

(and, truly, I've seen career women with homes much more immaculate than your average homemaker's. Working outside the home and having a clean house aren't mutually exclusive by any means.)

It's taken decades, I think, for there to be more widespread understanding that there is more to the art than the purely physical side of it.

My mom stayed at home through the '80s, and I think I have more moral support now than she did then-- the assumption (even by church leaders!) was that she was only a housewife because she was too uneducated to be anything else.

When young women complain about the drudgery of it, they're seeking validation that their lives are not meaningless.

It's not about the physical labor; it's about their conflicted mental state.

If they felt sure that their lives at home were valuable, the physical tasks would shrink into their proper perspective-- but the new generation of SAHMs doesn't want to "judge other women," and I think this ambivalence about the basic value of staying home makes it hard for them to really give themselves over to their jobs.

So, they are too idle, and they complain.

Lydia said...

truly, the home is now filled with luxury, and so being the care taker of the family should mean "tied down", as many young people deem it to be. The modern aids and modern houses are much easier to live in and to keep clean, so there is more time for things other than work. That being said, my mother never got up in the morning intending to work all day. She thought of many things to do that were a pleasure, and worked when she had to work. She and many women of that time did not think that work was everything, but they did not neglect it for their own pleasures. On the other hand, they did not feel they had to justify doing the things that they liked. Today, we see many of the hand work done by that generation, in the antique stores, and they are highly valued. I admired their mind-set and their acceptance of the things they knew were their responsibility.

Stacy said...

I think the modern difficulties don't stream from the work but rather the mind set of society. The work is viewed as unpleasent, even degratting. I think a lot of people have a big mental block that they might not even understand. I am 22 and have been married for 5 years and I have only JUST discovered the joy and beauty of keeing my home clean and organized. I still have 3 rooms, and several closets to figure out as well. LOL! But the rooms that I have down (the kitchen and living room) are going to stay nice now that i know what im doing and can actually enjoy the work. The rest of the house will follow suit. ;) Nice entry, btw. I love your blog.

Anonymous said...

Seriously. The 21st century is the easiest time to be pretty much anything. We are not talking about 100 years ago just 30 years ago was different from today. Housework should be easy not to to be dreaded. Read The Good Old Days, And They were Terrible.

Anonymous said...

Regarding women's conflicted mental state: women who are at home should NOT feel guilty about it IF they are diligent in their work. Lydia very astutely reminds us that our mothers and grandmothers didn't just live to work, but also knew how to relax or partake of recreational activities without guilt. Why? Because they kept up with their duties and did not neglect their families or their work. They had their priorities in order, and did their work first, and consequently lived a more balanced life. My grandmother would arise at 5:15 every morning, say her prayers, perform her daily grooming, then hit the work hard. The house was always in total order and the noon meal (which was the main one) simmering away by 10 am, no exceptions, ever!

There were always the stock characters, back in the day, however, whose lives were in disarray: the neighbor who would be at your house as soon as her husband left for work, and would sit there all day while you tried to get your own work done, or the closet alcoholic who kept a mixed drink handy at all times in the pantry and by suppertime hardly knew her own name, or the sloven who lived in curlers all day and watched the soap operas as the dirt and clutter piled up.

I think that a lot of times, today, at-home ladies feel like they have to do all kinds of extra things to prove their worth, from keeping bees to making soap to heading up ministries in church or running their own business from home, and then dutifully report on how much they do to everyone so that they won't be considered sluggards. Come on! By all means, do all those things if you are a high energy person and you have a passion for them and your family will not suffer because of them, but do not feel like you have to be the home answer to superwoman just to be validated in the world's eyes, even the Christian realm's eyes! None of those people out there who are looking at you and judging have to pay your bills, be responsible for your health or stand before God for you someday.

So my thing is, love your families, take care of them and your home, be happy with who you are, and let other people be judgmental if they will, but refuse to be affected by it. And oh yeah, don't be afraid to lay down and take a nap in the afternoon if you need it, by 2 pm everyone in the office is dozing off in front of their computers anyway!!

Lydia said...


This is one of the reasons that the Bible instructs women to be sober keepers at home: because there will always be those who are not, who will need teaching, and who will need an example. There were the complainers and the idle, just as there are today in any job. The Proverbs 31 woman example says that she does not eat the bread of idleness. Today with all that lovely machinery, and easy care floors, etc. the homemaker has to remember to do other useful things aside from house keeping, that will benefit her home. What was lacking in the former days, was the self consciousness and anxiety connected to "staying home." Staying home was more important to women than anything else, whereas today, the women feel a need to justify and explain themselves. ALl they really have to do is be dedicated to their family and they don't owe anyone an explanation, unless they can be of help in showing them why it is a conviction.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I think this is true of anyone, in any occupation; nothing but misery generally comes of trying to "explain yourself" to a hostile or indifferent audience.

And yes, it's easier to be most ANYTHING now than it was back in the good ol' days. My grandfather did hard physical labor well into his forties, when he took over the management of the labor instead of *being* the labor.

A lot of things had gotten more mechanized by then, too, so that he groaned that the young guys he was managing didn't know anything about real work.

My husband, even by comparison to the farmhands Grandpa complained about, has led a very soft and comfortable life. College educated, etc.

This doesn't mean he never complains about things at work, though. LOL.

None of this means that life can't revert back to the state it was in during the 1930s or 40s, though... the future is impossible for our poor fleshly eyes to see.

Work first, play later! Words to live by!

momstheword said...

Loved the poem, thank your for sharing. Loved your post too. I remember when we got our first dishwasher. My mom loved it.

It's interesting how some homemakers can manage to make their housework last all day (and still not get it done), and we have it alot easier than the women before us.

I know that when I married I didn't have a clue and struggled to keep our home clean. I wasn't organized and didn't have a routine and didn't know how to make one.

My mom loved cleaning our old Victorian home and I was not given any chores to do (other than dust once or twice). Not blaming my mom here, just stating the facts. My kids, however, were taught chores from when they were very young. I think it teaches them a work ethic.

Lydia said...

I have to agree about not expecting your husband to do the work you did not do while he was gone earning a living. My great grandmother did a lot of her own work, but she had children that were taught to help. I have noticed, too , that it is easier to wake up naturally, and early, as I get older. It was not as easy when I was young and had children. I really felt the need for more sleep, and more naps.

There is always the false history that is spread that women got up and worked beside their husbands in whatever occupation they had, AND did the dishes AND cleaned house AND cooked all the meals. I don't think women would have stood for that and I think they were very much in control of their own situations. A man worked, but so did a woman, and she was not expected to do a mans work or earn a living at the same time and then have a perfectly clean and neat house. If they worked side by side with the men, then who in the world did the cooking and cleaning and mending and sewing and gardening? Did they leave home to work with their husbands and leave the children at home to do it, or did they have money to hire others to do it. I find no evidence in the diaries of our grandparents, that they thought they had to work along side their husbands and then bake the bread and keep chickens and clean house, plus sew all the family clothing. I dont know who spreads this false view. Our mothers and grandmothers certainly helped their husbands sometimes when they were needed, but it was not a practice to abandon the house and children and go work side by side with their husbands all day, and then come home and clean house, which is practically what many women do today, with not very good results.

Anonymous said...

I think your kitchen is lovely!

Jan Hatchett said...

Amen. I think that sometimes, we ladies, can slide down the slippery slope toward laziness and entitlements. We feel sorry for ourselves instead of being grateful for the wonderful provisions that God has made for us.

Love the article. Please keep publishing more.

Lydia said...

When In posted this, I was also thinking of young women who think home making is beneath them. They do not know that it can be the most flexible job in the world. Besides that, they would be surrounded by the luxury of all the nice things that are so much more available today.