Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My 19th Century Homemaking Inspirations

When I need some Homemaking inspiration, I look to two book series to pull me out of the duldrums of housekeeping; the Anne of Green Gables series and the Little House series (which for some reason I always call the Mary and Laura books). For the last few days I have reread the Little House Series. Especially as I read the earlier books, where Laura will describe in detail the small ins and outs of pioneer life, as her Ma makes cheese, and braids hats, and has each day of the week assigned to a specific task, plus the monumental work of obtaining the food for and then homecooking three meals a day with the technology of two centuries ago.

After reading a few chapters of this, I can cheerily go to washing my dishes in a sink with running hot water, and then fold some laundry that came out of my electric washer and dryer. Of course, as the books progressed, I started reading in longer and longer stretches, and the choredoing became more hurried, but overall my approach to home management is bettered when I spend some time in the world of Ma Ingalls. She truly is my hero. While living in England, I often thought of Ma, and I felt somewhat how she must have felt, because we lived in the country by ourselves, and as it was dark and cold all winter long, I marveled at how well Ma stood going months without seeing other women, and how happy the family is about it all. The Little House books are a great lesson to me in being happy regardless of circumstances. Sure, I've heard some people say that their life wasn't exactly like that, but that's fine with me. After all, my other domestic inspiration is Anne Shirley, and she's 100% fictional.

Today I read These Happy Golden Years, which used to be my favorite, but now I like the early books, since I relate to Ma the most (And I've always felt a little bit Meh about Almonzo and Laura's courtship. It all seems so underwhelming). Then with great trepidation I picked up The First Four Years, because I've only read it once, and in my memory I didn't like it much.

I have a good memory. I ended up lightly skimming the book. I just couldn't take it. They have no money, they're poor newly weds, and Almonzo keeps on spending money, to buy gifts for Laura. A pony here. A saddle there. A new house here (that he went into $500 of debt to pay for, and didn't tell her until after they'd been married a year. If someone tried to pull that on me, heads would have flown [this is in no way a condemnation of Avram. Avram is great at money. He never spends it, and I do the budget, and it works great.] {although he does get an allowance, I'm not Scrooge.}). A Grandfather clock there. Not to mention farm tools galore. Periodically Laura will worry a lot about money, but then she thinks to herself that this is Almonazo's job, and he isn't worrying, so she doesn't have to.

Hello, wakeup call here! I don't know if it was the time period (mid 1880s), or some backwards Christian thinking, but clearly her husband is bad with money, so why is he the only one in charge of it? I can see why this was only ever a draft found among Laura's papers after she died - it honestly makes Almonzo look pretty bad.

Sure, they have a lot of other problems too, like a wildfire that destroys their house, a baby dying, diphtheria, their crops being destroyed by the weather every year, but all this only means the more that they should be careful with their money! It makes me have a great urge to go and balance my checkbook until I feel better.

In summation, if you ever need to feel inspired to be a better housekeeper, who never just gives her work a "lick and a promise" read the early little house books. If you like to be depressed about irresponsible living, read The First Four Years.


  1. It's weird that Almonzo is so foolish in that book, and so sensible and wise and prosperous in the others.

    For a pick-me-up after reading that book, read something about their real life. I really came to love Almonzo (though I've always liked him) after reading about how hard he worked for their entire lives, even after becoming partially paralyzed, and never gave up. Eventually they had a nice, successful farm and a beautiful home, everything they'd dreamed of, and all because of their hard work -especially his.

  2. It does seem from what their daughter said that Laura did idealize their lives but I think we all do, especially our childhoods. However, all the tasks that had to be done and the details of how they were done are very interesting. I started to read "Little House in the Big Woods" to a first grade I did a long term substitution with. I found I had to explain a lot of things to them. Today's world is so different, they couldn't understand it just from the way Laura tells it. In a year or two, Lydia will be old enough to read the early books too. You children enjoyed them when you were approximately the same age as Laura and Mary but after a while, they got too old for you to relate to so you read those books yourself after you got older. I didn't like "Farmer Boy" as a child but I thought it was a hoot when I read it as an adult.

  3. i have not read the first four years more than twice i think. But all i remember about it was the fire and baby dying. AND this was before i had a baby die. so since i have had that happen i dont like to read any books where i know its going to. So i have never read it again. what is funny to me is i am really obsessed with finances so you would think i would have remembered that part. I guess i just care more about whole homes getting destroyed and babies dying. I just remember reading it the last time in highschool and it was depressing to me. I agree though that the earlier books ( or any books from that time period) make you really gratefull for the technology we have.

    I whine about having to lug my laundry to the mat and paying to wash and dry it but really it could be worse if i had to hand wash the entire amount!! If i did have to wash by hand i think everyone would have two outfits and have to wear one all week and on on sunday because i am way to lazy to wash as much clothes as we go through now!

    Another good book that helps me is the work and the glory books. I always feel so blessed to have all my "stuff" and even though i keep moving all over the country at least i am not walking there! Not to mention i dont have to have babies in the middle of no where like the pioneers did and then bury 3/4 of them along the way! seriously i am still thinking about that conference talk!

    My oh my can you tell i am starved for adult interaction? i think my comment is longer than your post!! Good think i have the internet and the phone to keep in contact with my sisters!! i will call you.

  4. holy cow thora i just now notticed the row of all the books you read THIS year!! when do you read them? seriously??!! I am lucky to get in 15 minutes of scriptures these days!

  5. Anne often has that effect on me. After reading about her joy in her life I find more in mine.

  6. I love Anne and Ma. They make me feel lazy, but in a good way.