This is the title of one of the books I picked up at the tag sale this week. I spent some time thumbing through it the past few days and I’m just fascinated. So much of what is recommended as proper household management makes so much sense, some is founded on principles of reduce, reuse and recycle and some is just plain dangerous. I’m not thinking I’ll be buying asbestos by the sheet to turn into potholders and table trivets any time soon. Still, I found a lot of tips I’ll be putting to work. She says to scrape all dishes to remove traces of grease, put the grease on newspaper and burn that in the stove. This keeps your dishwater cleaner and keeps the grease out of pipes. That sounds reasonable. I am reading about candle making right now and actually learning a lot about the making of different kinds of candles and the pros and cons of each. One thing that occurs to me is that women worked all the time. There is a section on daily tasks that is mind-numbing. Just keeping the stoves and lamps clean and fired up must have consumed a couple of hours each day. She claims that dishwashing for a large family could take up three hours a day. At first that seemed excessive but when you think about it, maybe not. Then there was the laundry. When you consider that killing the hog to get the fat to make the soap, not to mention starting the fire to boil the water and the back-breaking work of the washing, rinsing and wringing, you can see why you only did it once a week. Then ironing. Heating up the sad iron and mixing the starch took another day to complete. The good old days may have had much to admire but it certainly wasn’t all fund and games. I was tired out just reading about what was accomplished.

I did enjoy the frugal use of every small thing. String was sorted by size, then the small pieces tied together and used again and agin. All fabric was either remade for another wear or used to make quilts, pot holders and carpets. Sheets were cut in two and resewn with the worn part on the edges to get every inch of wear from them. Collars were turned and socks darned. Paper was pressed, ashes and fat made into soap, wash water poured on the kitchen garden.

We tend to be so full of ourselves and our green choices but reading this book makes me feel like a fraud. It’s pretty easy to use a stainless steel water bottle and pat myself on the back but I’m guessing that, if I had to haul the water from the well I would be farm more careful of it’s use. I may drink raw milk but I don’t need to first milk the cow, then churn the butter and make the cheese in between sewing the sheets and hand washing the diaper that I had sewn the night before by light from the candles I had made from the fat I had rendered from the pig I had butchered. People ask if we are self-sufficient here. Not a chance. Not by a long shot.

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