Old Fashioned Housekeeping Rituals
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  1. #1
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    Old Fashioned Housekeeping Rituals

    I was searching for something else and came upon a press release for an art exhibition. One of the pieces, a woodcut print, shows the artist and her mother streching lace curtains. The print brought back memories of my paternal grandmother and her housekeeping rituals. If Grandma S still were alive, she would be 107 years old. But, she acted older than she was and lived as if she were a generation older. I attribute that, in part, to the fact that she was the last of 12 children and was raised by parents who were in their 40s when she was born. In any event, long after other people had abandoned old fashioned housekeeping rituals, she maintained them. Most adults, like my mother and my aunt, refused to assist her in these tasks (because they thought that they were ridiculous). But, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother's house when I was a kid and I was drafted to help her with things.

    Grandma S had lace curtains that she hung on the "parlor" windows and the front bedroom windows that probably were at least 40 or 50 years old when I was a kid. She had a "lace stretcher," which was a contraption with a frame, the size of which could be adjusted, that had tiny nails all around it. The edges of the lace curtains, which had been soaked in starch, then would have to be attached to the nails so that the curtains could dry without shrinking or with wrinkles. The print shows the same ritual.

    Grandma S also changed all of the rugs in the house each Fall and Spring (wool rugs in the Winter and sisal rugs in the Summer) and all of the curtains and window shades (heavy curtains and white shades in the Winter and thin curtains and dark blue shades in the Summer).

    Does anyone else have memories of such housekeeping rituals? Grandma S was forced to give up these rituals when I went to college and no one else was willing to indulge her (from that point until she moved to the old age home, the "winter" rugs, curtains and shade stayed up -- I think that my aunt threw out the ancient lace curtains and the lace stretchers). I am pretty sure that by 1976 when I went to college, Grandma S was among the last people around who did these things. But, perhaps there were people who continued these traditions later in time?

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    Shining houseplant leaves with mayonnaise to make them glossy.
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    A similar technique with lace doilies to make ruffles--using sugar/starch.

    I don't know what the technique was to get the even folds, but the result was a series of folds on the circular doily that looked like a 17th Dutch burgher's collar. This was in the house of my best friend, passed on from an English/Scottish grandma to my friend's mom.
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    My old fashioned housekeeping ritual is to crack a beer while the wife vacuums.
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    Quote Originally Posted by wooglin View Post
    My old fashioned housekeeping ritual is to crack a beer while the wife vacuums.
    and lift your feet so she can get the spot under your feet.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigrider View Post
    and lift your feet so she can get the spot under your feet.
    whaddaya mean i don't help? last week i emptied my own ashtray!

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    none of that, but my great grandma had a cookstove in the kitchen when i was younger. when she got the new stove (don't recall whether it was gas or electric, but it does not matter), the new stove was nowhere near as good as the wood stove.

    She would have been 98 or so in 1987 or 8 when she died, and it is possible she would have known of this curtain stretching.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by paredown View Post
    A similar technique with lace doilies to make ruffles--using sugar/starch.

    I don't know what the technique was to get the even folds, but the result was a series of folds on the circular doily that looked like a 17th Dutch burgher's collar. This was in the house of my best friend, passed on from an English/Scottish grandma to my friend's mom.
    I remember seeing lace doilies with stand up ruffles at someone's house, but that is one old fashioned thing that my grandmother did not have (all of her doilies and other dust catchers were flat). I don't know what the technique was either, but I am sure that it was time consuming.

    I forgot to mention that my grandmother used to make snide comments about my mother's poor housekeeping because, among other things, my mother did not iron my father's boxer shorts or my pajamas.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigrider View Post
    Shining houseplant leaves with mayonnaise to make them glossy.
    Ugh, wouldn't that start to smell nasty, and attract bugs and stuff?

    I have seen a product sold in a spray bottle at Wal-Greens (or someplace similar) that is meant to do the same thing.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcsqueak View Post
    Ugh, wouldn't that start to smell nasty, and attract bugs and stuff?

    I have seen a product sold in a spray bottle at Wal-Greens (or someplace similar) that is meant to do the same thing.
    I've never heard of using mayonnaise, but I've known a number of people who'd give their houseplants a milk bath to make the leaves glossy.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by wooglin View Post
    My old fashioned housekeeping ritual is to crack a beer while the wife vacuums.
    Mine is to ask the housekeeper to come in twice a month.....
    It's all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.

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  12. #12
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    i collect my $60.

    actually, i aint been paid in the past few months. time to buy a new frame!
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by weltyed View Post
    i collect my $60.

    actually, i aint been paid in the past few months. time to buy a new frame!
    You are being oppressed!!

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  14. #14
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    Remember nursing caps?

    My mom would mix up a pitcher of starch, spray the hat, and lay it flat on the front of the refrigerator to dry. When I was about 5 yo I had a bad cold. Got up Saturday morning to watch cartoons, made a bowl of cheerios, and poured mom's starch on instead of milk. Couldn't taste anything but I ate the whole bowl. I've been stiff ever since.....
    Last edited by Fordy; 01-24-2012 at 07:25 AM.
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  16. #16
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    From my childhood, no -- I grew up in a simple suburban ranch house built in the 1970's. Nothing changed from summer to winter -- indeed nothing was really repaired or fixed in the house. It was a simple box with few accountrements or bonus amenities.

    In the new-old-house, have things like removable storm windows and radiators, and learning the annual maintenance required for these items has been interesting.

    Do you think it is modern climate control seems to have eliminated most of the things you describe?

    We have considered buying a "winter" and "summer" duvet, for instance, but in the Pacific Northwest the average temperatures do not vary so much. If one were waking up in a house that would be in the thirties without considerable effort, I might be more inclined to behave differently.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Argentius View Post
    Do you think it is modern climate control seems to have eliminated most of the things you describe?
    .

    Yes, I definitely think that modern climate control has a lot to do with eliminating most of these things. Also, the use of things like synthetic yarns in carpets probably has eliminated the need to take up wool carpets and store them with moth ball or flakes all summer to prevent moth investations.

    Another thing that probably has eliminated the need for "spring cleaning" is the switch from using coal and wood for heat to cleaner fuels. I read a book a few years ago about housekeeping in the 19th century. Apparently after a winter of heating a house with a coal furnace, there was a thin layer of coal dust or soot throughout the house. After the furnace was not being used for the year, the house would be cleaned from top to bottom to get rid of the dust/soot. My grandmother's house had a coal furnace until the year before I was born. So, part of her adherence to these cleaning rituals may have been a carryover from what she had to do during the coal furnace days.

    My grandmother's house never had air conditioning. She kept the place cool with fans and the opening and closing of windows and window shades to keep heat and hot sun out of the house. My mother definitely lives the 1970s type lifestyle in which you were raised -- the windows never are open at her house. Either the AC is on or the heat is on. Nothing changes from season to season. My grandmother also had a very tiny refrigerator and bought food frequently from a store within walking distance of her house (she never learned how to drive a car). My mother has a big refrigerator and freezer and drives to buy her groceries. In other words, my grandmother lived a much more "green" lifestyle than the next generation does, even though she never would have heard or know what the term "green" means.
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  18. #18
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    That makes sense. I read Bryson's "At Home" and enjoyed hearing some of that history. When we did a thorough cleaning of our partially finished basement, we still found some shards of coal under the stairs. There was also evidence of a house fire, long ago -- I suppose that makes sense, since this is where the electrical service panel is!

    Thankfully the previous homeowner had switched from coal, wood, and, later, oil heat, to gas, in about 1970, so most of this residue was long gone, though we still had to deal with the effects of his smoking inside the home.

    I had not thought of moth infestations -- and it is only in the last few years that home air conditioning has become at all commonplace; it is still not the norm in the northwest. I think I am glad it does not get so hot, but I have read the Seattle metro area is the cloudiest major metro area in the country!

    We enjoy living something of a back-in-time lifestyle, and is why I wanted an urban lot: the supermarket is two blocks away. But, I think your grandmother might have been aghast at my place of work being twenty-five miles from home.

    Though it would quickly become a transportation policy issue, it is of interest to me that your grandmother would not have had that difficult of a time getting to my office. There used to be a cable car down my street, the bottom of which is twelve blocks from Union Station. She could've taken the streetcar that distance if she did not feel like walking. From there, the Interurban Electric Railroad would have taken her all the way to Seattle, 35 miles north, stopping in Kent, where I work, on the way.

    That railroad, the streetcar, and the cable car, were all ripped up when buses and cars rendered them obsolete in the era in which that was in vogue ( General Motors streetcar conspiracy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ) .

    They have rebuilt a version of a single streetcar, but the steep grade of 9th means that only healthy adults choose to walk or cycle it, and the Interurban is now a rail-to-trail MUT, which I cycle on -- I am grateful for that, at least.



    Quote Originally Posted by MarkS View Post
    Yes, I definitely think that modern climate control has a lot to do with eliminating most of these things. Also, the use of things like synthetic yarns in carpets probably has eliminated the need to take up wool carpets and store them with moth ball or flakes all summer to prevent moth investations.

    Another thing that probably has eliminated the need for "spring cleaning" is the switch from using coal and wood for heat to cleaner fuels. I read a book a few years ago about housekeeping in the 19th century. Apparently after a winter of heating a house with a coal furnace, there was a thin layer of coal dust or soot throughout the house. After the furnace was not being used for the year, the house would be cleaned from top to bottom to get rid of the dust/soot. My grandmother's house had a coal furnace until the year before I was born. So, part of her adherence to these cleaning rituals may have been a carryover from what she had to do during the coal furnace days.

    My grandmother's house never had air conditioning. She kept the place cool with fans and the opening and closing of windows and window shades to keep heat and hot sun out of the house. My mother definitely lives the 1970s type lifestyle in which you were raised -- the windows never are open at her house. Either the AC is on or the heat is on. Nothing changes from season to season. My grandmother also had a very tiny refrigerator and bought food frequently from a store within walking distance of her house (she never learned how to drive a car). My mother has a big refrigerator and freezer and drives to buy her groceries. In other words, my grandmother lived a much more "green" lifestyle than the next generation does, even though she never would have heard or know what the term "green" means.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by snapdragen View Post
    Mine is to ask the housekeeper to come in twice a month.....
    Do you clean before the housekeeper comes?
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  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fixed View Post
    Do you clean before the housekeeper comes?
    Sort of....

    I pick up the crap strewn about the floor and put stuff away.
    It's all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.

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  21. #21
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    John was grumbling about the off-white color of his undershirts compared to the brighter-white of the comforter; I explained that there are many different shades of white, and it was like comparing apples to oranges. Meaning, I really don't feel like bleaching stuff that's never even seen by the general public.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Christine View Post
    John was grumbling about the off-white color of his undershirts compared to the brighter-white of the comforter; I explained that there are many different shades of white, and it was like comparing apples to oranges. Meaning, I really don't feel like bleaching stuff that's never even seen by the general public.
    Plus, if you bleach white undershirts too often, they get holes in them and turn into rags.
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  23. #23
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    Grandma S probably would've used something like laundry bluing to help with this problem, instead of bleach.

    John can just use oxiclean presoak, or similar...

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    Quote Originally Posted by MarkS View Post
    Plus, if you bleach white undershirts too often, they get holes in them and turn into rags.

  24. #24
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    Yeah I was thinking about the Bluette (what the hell is in that anyway??) because I don't like using bleach. One drop in the wrong place can ruin something else.

  25. #25
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    both of my grandmothers were born in the late 1800s...they had some old-school habits.

    both made their own fabric bonnets (seen anyone wearing a bonnet lately?) for sun protection while working outside. they also made their own aprons.

    neither owned vacuums (too new-fangled and expensive), so they both engaged in a particular ritual of rug cleaning several times each year...they'd drape the heavy 'parlor' (I like that word) floor pieces over a clothes line and then proceed to beat the living crap out of them with a wood-handled wire gizmo about the size of a small tennis racket.

    the dust clouds they could create were pretty impressive.

    I also remember that one of them had a 'clothes washer' on the back porch that had to be filled with water from the garden hose. clothes were hand-agitated in soapy water on a corrugated piece of sheetmetal, rinsed in a second basin, and then dried by passing thru a hand-cranked pair of heavy rubber rollers. not exactly a high-tech machine.
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