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?

Victory Menus for Christmas Week, 1918

I have fully participated in the modern food trends of the holiday season. I’ve read the cookbooks, watched the baking shows and the Christmas menu videos, and have eaten my share of it all.  It’s as if we take all the richest, sweetest, most decadent foods we’ve ever experienced and cram them into the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, with nary a memory our first round of decadence at Thanksgiving time. Then we wake out of our stupor on January 2nd, stock up on vegetables, and wonder how we possibly survived on sugar and butter for so long. It’s a wonderful cycle.

I recently ran across an article written in 1918 on Christmas menu planning. One hundred years ago, when the article was first published, World War I had ended just weeks before.

 

The war is won! Reconstruction is here! We are to have a simple Christmas this year, for every member of the big Good Housekeeping family is shouldering her burden of war support with man power at the front and money power at home…and the day will prove the richer for its very simplicity.

Here is the suggested Christmas Day menu:

Breakfast:

Grapefruit

Rye Pancakes

Margarine

Coffee

Dinner:

Roast Goose

Hominy Chutney Stuffing

Celery

Sweet Pickles

Potatoes on the Half Shell

Creamed Onions

Yellow Winter Squash

Dressed Lettuce

Cheese Straws

Date and Nut Pudding

Company Coffee Cake

Supper:

Goose Giblet and Egg Sandwiches

Applesauce

Fig Cookies

Tea

It looks elaborate at first glance, but it’s actually much simpler than many of our modern day feasts. And so healthy! As for the rest of the Christmas week menus, they’re even simpler.  Here is the recommended menu for the day after Christmas:

Breakfast:

Hominy with Raisins

Top Milk

Creamed Dried Beef

Toast

Coffee

Luncheon:

Combination Soup

Crackers

Bread and Margarine

Orange, Banana, and Coconut Jelly

Tea

Dinner:

Tomato Soup

Cold Sliced Goose

Roasted Potatoes

Creamed Cauliflower

Bread and Margarine

Cocoa

Cornstarch Pudding

The menus contain barely any wheat, butter and sweets, all of which had been rationed to provide more for the troops. In its place was an abundance of vegetables. If these menus are indicative of the World War I era, there’s hardly a cause for overindulgence anywhere.  

This is just a fun post to show the difference 100 years can make, and how truly prosperous we really are.  (And from now on, baked potatoes in this home will be referred to as “potatoes on the half shell.” How very elegant.)

An Amish Schoolhouse Christmas, part 2

 

…I divided up the chores, with some of them clapping erasers, washing off desks, and emptying trash, while the older boys moved all the desks to one side of the room then back to the other side while the older girls and I swept the floor. A few girls drew pictures on the blackboard and a welcome message for our guests. During the weekly art time in December, the scholars had colored Christmas pictures, made stars from old Christmas cards, glued construction paper chains, and hung paper snowflakes from the ceiling.

 

The families soon began to trickle in–parents, babies, grandparents. Some came by car with a driver, many came by horse and buggy. Some of the men brought in with them the benches they used for church services. I always marvel at how many people are able to fit in one of those little Amish buggies. They used those same squeezing skills to fill the benches. If an Amish school had a fire code, we blew past the prescribed number of occupants in a short time.

We didn’t have any sets, costumes, or anything that would indicate a program. In fact, I had been informed by the school board that the recent Amish trend of hanging a curtain across the front of the classroom and having the children come out one by one to say their pieces was not acceptable.  It was too theatrical, attention-seeking, and too much like the English way of doing things, they said. (It’s easy for the rest of us to snicker over the concern for a simple curtain. But it’s those little things that turn a simple Christmas program into an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza with costumes, rehearsals, and sets that exhaust children, teachers, and parents alike.) So the children stood in the front of the classroom and took turns stepping out of the choir in between the songs to recite their poems.

Amish schools are judged in part by the quality of their singing. Loud singing is good singing, and the more booming, the better. They sing with an Appalachian-like lilt, unlike any singing I’ve heard before or since.Without accompaniment or note reading, song tunes change slightly over time and vary from school to school.

 

 

 

After the program, the nervous tension of the morning completely dissipated. The children exchanged their gifts with each other and I passed around my gifts to all the children. None of the gifts were expensive or elaborate–coloring books, small games, puzzles, marker sets, flashlights, etc., but that didn’t lessen the excitement. Some of the parents brought treats, like popcorn or candy canes to share with both the school-aged and preschool children. All of the families presented me with small gifts, such as a glass candy dish, a handmade doily, or some homemade candy. The parents had also collected for one larger gift for me. Here is one gift that still hangs in our home.

My Amish school days were good ones. In the excess that makes up much of modern life, the simplicity of an Amish school Christmas is a refreshing reminder that more activities and stuff doesn’t mean increased happiness.