Sewing in School, by Teacher Mary L. Murphy; 1913

Practical education seems to be the cry of the people, especially in rural schools where only a small per cent of the children ever go beyond the eighth grade and of those who go through high school still fewer go beyond.With that thought in mind I aim to teach sewing two Friday afternoons a month. I plan the sewing and do the cutting and either do the basting or show the children how to do it.

The girls very readily took up with the sewing plan, but at first the boys thought it would be very queer for them. If it is possible, the boys work at carpentry.

We talked of things that boys and girls could easily make and each child selected his article, the material for which the parents gladly furnished.

The various articles which have been made so far this term are:

Pincushions, two boys, four girls.
Sofa pillow in cross stitch, one boy.
Sofa pillow, crash, fringe edge with initials, one boy; two girls.
Fancy-work aprons: three girls
Handkerchiefs: two girls.
Dresser scarfs: three girls.
Towels, hemming and monogram; two boys; two girls.
Kitchen aprons, cross stitch; two boys.

There are fourteen pupils in my school and everyone, even the smallest, has finished at least one piece and all take an interest in the work.

 

When there is any machine sewing to be done, as with the kitchen aprons, the mother is asked to do that at home. We use two rows of cross stitch to hold the hem down and have some simple design worked above that on aprons.

 

The children can easily be told where and how to begin work. Children will to do ripping in many cases but will be more careful the next time and they usually do it cheerfully when they see the difference in the right and wrong way.

I use my own original designs when anything is to be monogrammed or embroidered.

The parents are very much in favor of this work. They say, for the girls especially, that they are taking an interest in sewing which they never before showed. Those that hated it, are now liking it. There is no lack of interest on the boys’ part, for they have asked to be allowed to take sewing home to work on, the boys can make useful things.

Sewing for the wee folks requires more planning and I sometimes have them work at other things as color work, paper cutting, etc.

Some of the work begun at school is finished at home but even if it is not done exactly right it stimulates the child to greater effort and in time he will learn the difference between good and poor work.

It is best to plan things as simple as possible, for children from 6 to 12 years old are not very persevering and well enough instructed in the art of needle craft to do difficult work.

True Happiness, 1933

Everybody is trying to get there first. It is just hurry-scurry from one thing to another. Everybody seems to be wanting something she doesn’t have, and is in a hurry to get it before someone else does. After we do get a thing, we never have time to enjoy it, but just start thinking about something else we want.

This sounds like a good description of 2019, doesn’t it? But this was originally written in 1933, during the Great Depression. In an era characterized by widespread poverty, I expected people would have been more appreciative of their meager possessions in light of others in a worse position. Somehow, I imagined more contentment and less running after the next thing. But people are people the world over. We covet the latest iphone, maybe they coveted the brand new board game of 1933–Monopoly or the latest record for the victrola.

It’s hard for us to separate material possessions from happiness. Even our country’s economy measures success by how much we’re spending. But many of us have come to realize that all this stuff hasn’t made us happy. The current minimalism trend is a reaction to the many years of economic prosperity which led to our unchecked materialism. But simply getting rid of everything won’t guarantee happiness, either. Happiness comes from within and consists of enjoying the things we have, which aren’t necessarily material things.

Work? Why be happy about work? Ask the man out of work what he wants most. Health? Why, of course. Yet few of us appreciate it, or try to keep it until we begin to lose it. Ask the invalid what she wants most.

The fact of the matter is we all want happiness, and happiness is just enjoyment of the things most of us have–work, health, home, family, and friends. Being satisfied and content with what we have: this is happiness.

A Simple Plan, 1930

Well, here we go again. The start of a new year.

I’ve been thinking about this year and what I can change to make it go more smoothly. To say there’s room for improvement is obvious. Of course the best plans never go the way you expect them to, but a modified plan has to be an improvement over winging it all the time, right?  

More than anything else this year, I need to focus on….focusing. It’s kind of appropriate that squirrels are one of my favorite animals. I see them as kindred spirits, the way they dash around looking busy but in reality are just unfocused, trying to remember where they left their nuts.  We’ve all seen what happens to a squirrel that loses focus in the middle of a road…

Me demonstrating my focus on the new year

An article about prioritizing and simplifying a daily schedule recently caught my eye. In 1930, a woman living in Kansas wrote a letter to the editor of the magazine.  She offered her organizational plan, hoping it might help other readers. Here’s her daily “schedule.”

Ten years ago I made a list of my responsibilities in order of their importance:

  1. Husband
  2. Babies
  3. Chickens
  4. Garden
  5. Others
  6. Work in hand for the day
  7. House
  8. Mending
  9. Sewing
  10. Self-improvement

 

“I’ve found a schedule won’t work, or else I won’t work one,” she wrote. “Every day I start at the top of the list and work through as far as I’m able.”

I like the way she simplified her life by following a consistent plan. She prioritized living things before objects, and the living things at home came before anyone outside her home.

Contrary to all the modern-day advice on self care and caring for yourself first, she lists self-improvement as her last priority.

As far as self-improvement away down at the end of the list, it was really accomplished in bedtime stories, ‘rithmetic problems, a ride with John, a letter written, a posy cultivated. But I like to do some special systematic studying when (or if) more important things are done.

But she doesn’t neglect herself completely for her family’s sake. I appreciate her creativity in following the list. “When I’m tired and cross, I can even conceive of a rest period for myself as a duty to husband and babies.”

You see how it works? I’m always sure that I’m doing the right thing at the right time. Then I do it to the best of my ability. What more could I ask in a schedule? Or anyone ask of me?

This 90 year old plan gives me ideas for focusing on the important things this year. Except I need #3 on the list. Because that would simplify my life, don’t you think?