First Things First, a 1928 Schedule

A Housewife Writes focuses on several recurring themes common to women everywhere.  One of them is managing time. It’s interesting to read about different approaches, because what works for one doesn’t help another one.  So from time to time, we’ll present different women’s strategies.

You’d never think that women a hundred years ago would have a problem fitting everything into their day. Really, how hard could it have been?  They didn’t have to find time to update social media, manage digital coupons, schlep children to sporting practices, or watch a single tv show.  But they did struggle, which shows that even without modern distractions, this housewifery thing isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows.

One woman in 1928 wrote about her struggle to establish a well-rounded routine. As a new housewife, she tried to be a perfect housekeeper, cleaning all day, every day, obsessed with mopping her floors and polishing the stove. “Clean corners are the earmarks of a good housekeeper” was her favorite motto. But she could never “do it all” and eventually, after the birth of her third child, found herself worn out and discouraged. “Somehow I woke to the realization that one woman can’t do everything there is to be done in her home.”

Priorities

This is when Mrs. 1928 hired a maid and nanny and all was once again well in her world, right?  I’m afraid not. She decided to prioritize what was most important to her. “Clean babies must come before clean windows” she wrote and chose to focus on people instead of things, and essential things over optional things. Because we can’t fit in everything, we have to narrow down our list of essentials until they reach a point that they are manageable.  This isn’t always easy and sometimes it takes a strong mind to move something from the essential list to the optional one, but as she put it, “there’s always a way out.”

Incidentally, every profession includes prioritizing.  It’s just that when our work is our home, it’s always there.  We can’t close the shop, pull the shades, and walk away without a thought after a long day.  Our work is in the same rooms where we sleep, eat, and relax. And sometimes our work seeks us out at odd hours, toddling into our bedrooms and waking us up in the middle of the night.

Her Simple Schedule

Mrs. 1928 came up with a way to simplify and improve her schedule:

  • She scheduled one big task daily, like washing or baking.  Focusing on one goal meant that she could be more efficient by not constantly changing directions.
  • She scheduled daily rest periods.
  • She maintained three lists, one of daily work involving the children, one of daily housework, and one for weekly tasks.

 She noted that by planning out her week, she was able to accomplish all the different jobs she needed to do within the week. Not only did she find time for all the essentials, but also for rest, and extras, like reading and letter-writing.

“And best of all–it worked!”

Summer in the Soul

It is common things that quench thirst, not rare things; ordinaries, not luxuries; not palatial houses, but a home; not royal wine, but cold water; good health, kind friends, encouraging words, loving deeds, duty done, heartaches healed, a grasp, a clasp, a kiss, a smile, a song, a welcome–these are the beams that bring summer into the soul, and make us light-hearted, free and glad.  –1933

 

So there you have it, ladies.  This is our grand opportunity to be secret agents.  By all appearances, we’re mild-mannered housewives working in ordinary middle class homes, fighting a never-ending battle for clean dishes, laundry, and the Organized Way. But underneath our aprons, we hide nearly magical powers to bring a bit of summer to a dreary March day.  

We have the opportunity to set the tone in the household and give our families the kindness and encouragement that makes them feel “light-hearted, free, and glad.” Your family and friends may not even be aware of the summery little beams you scatter all over your haven like a little fairy, but they’ll appreciate the atmosphere those beams create.

What’s a common denominator necessary in all these beams the writer talks about?  Time. In spite of our efforts to be productive and make every minute count, we can’t maintain an awareness when we’re moving at a frantic pace.  A slower pace of life gives us time to notice the needs around us. These beams are not things we can hire someone else to do but at the same time, they don’t cost us anything, either. Someone has to be present to notice and provide the encouraging words, healed heartaches, smiles, and songs whenever the opportunity arises.  

Our subtle ability to create an atmosphere will leave a longer lasting memory than a dusted bookshelf or clean bathroom towels.  Of course, household chores are important to making the home a peaceful, orderly haven, but there has to be a balance. You don’t want to be like a lady I knew from church.  She was the picture of hospitality and graciousness, but you had to clear the clutter off the couch if you should happen to want to sit down during your visit. You also don’t want to be the woman who is so organized and scheduled that all the bins and baskets in her home have cute little chalkboard labels and a detailed planner marking every hour of the day but she’s too productive for just “livin’ life.” 

It’s an inspiring realization, isn’t it?  The quiet impact we can have when we deliberately schedule our days loosely enough to fit in the unexpected–a spontaneous coffee date with a friend or an afternoon in a makeshift living room tent with your children.  Maybe it will mean that you can send extra cookies to an elderly neighbor or welcome unexpected company instead of hiding in the closet hoping they don’t notice your car in the driveway.

It’s the intangibles that make our profession such an irreplaceable one.

 

Sail On!

Mistakes? I make ‘em every day, don’t you?

But no one said “Sailing On” was always easy!

It helps a bit to realize that mistake-making is universal. Only those who profit by the mistakes they make get to the point where they make few–a goal we all long for. And it helps a lot to know, not that all things are good, but that “all things work together for good–to them that love the Lord.”

We may have a hand in turning our mistakes to good. We may do as a great artist did who noticed after he had painted a picture that he had left some smudges in his beautiful clouds. They couldn’t be erased, so he made birds of the smudges.

If we are unduly cross to the children or to our John, we make birds of those ugly smudges by “fessing up” our wrong-doing and proving our repentance by sweet smiles and loving words. If we wrong a neighbor in word or deed we can find some lovely way to atone. All of which will “work together” for our soul’s good.

As housewives we all tire of the daily grind which sometimes seems so irksome, so futile. I have often been strengthened for a hard task by recalling Columbus’ motto, “Sail on!” You remember the story as told in Joaquin Miller’s poem, “Columbus.” On his first voyage of discovery his crew grew discouraged and mutinous and the mate would come to Columbus with such questions as this:

What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
If we sight naught but seas at dawn!

Columbus’ invariable brave answer was:

Why, you shall say at break of day,
Sail on! Sail on! Sail on! And on!

From Lillian in Kansas, 1929

 

Peanut Macaroons

I prefer using old cookbooks in my kitchen. One of the reasons is that the recipes use common ingredients, many of which I grow in my garden, just like the cookbooks’ readers would have. Another reason is that the recipes use those common ingredients in creative ways. During World War I, U.S. residents were encouraged to limit their use of wheat, meat, and sugar, and increase their use of fruits and vegetables. A century later, we’re playing the same tune…

Peanut Macaroons is a recipe from a wheatless cookbook published in 1918, 100 years ago. I’ve made it several times and enjoy this variation of a regular peanut butter cookie. They are unmistakably peanutty, but light and crispy.  

Normally, peanuts (or nuts in general) aren’t considered a frugal ingredient, but for the housewives in 1918, peanuts would have been a crop most could grow in a home garden, unlike other wheat-free flours. In my case, Wal-mart put all their baking nuts on clearance after Christmas. I paid less than $1 a pound, which is cheaper than most wheat-free flours.

Incidentally, that’s one reason why it’s so hard to label foods as frugal or expensive. A bargain for one person is a luxury for another. Depending on where I’ve lived throughout the U.S., shrimp, pecans, and raspberries have been so abundant that they’ve become staples and taken for granted.

 

Print Recipe
Peanut Macaroons
a 1918 recipe, created during WWI as an alternative to wheat-based cookies
Cook Time 30 min.
Servings
cookies (approx.)
Ingredients
Cook Time 30 min.
Servings
cookies (approx.)
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Chop or blend the peanuts into finely ground. Beat egg white until stiff, slowly add sugar, salt, peanuts, and vanilla. Drop by tablespoon on a greased pan and bake in a slow oven (300-325 degrees) for about 30 minutes or until brown.