Green Living: Old-School is Cool Again

Technology may have made life easier, but it also stole our independence. If you want to go greener, look to your grandparents and great grandparents. Look to people who lived before automation.

Green living was cool before most of us were born.

My mother made her own soup from scratch which I thought was insanely brilliant. When I was a kid, frozen meals were brand new and were all the rage. Cooking from scratch was for poor people--which is where we fit in. Weren't we lucky?! We were better fed than the people eating those popsicle meals.

Mom was pretty good at stretching proteins, which is probably why we ate a lot of stews and casseroles. She used to scare me to death when she made fish soup though. Before every mouthful, she'd warn us to be careful for any stray fish bones or we'd choke to death. (Her words!) LOL! I'd eat my soup like a snail, my tongue feeling for any spiky bones. To this day, I won't eat fish soup. I love it, but I won't eat it.

My grandmother on the other hand was a real life wizard to my young eyes. She knew stuff, stuff even my own mother didn't know--or didn't practice.

We lived far away so we didn't visit often. When you're five years old and only see your grandma once a year, she becomes a mythical figure and I was too shy to interact with her. I watched her constantly though and I'm sure she knew it too. She was kind and never forced herself on me like some grandmas are wont to do.

One of my favorite things to do was to get up before dawn. Everyone else would be asleep, but my grandmother would be up before daylight. She'd be mixing dough, or warming the oven, or picking through her herbs.

My grandparents lived in Mexico which was hot and dry. By midday, my grandmother would be out washing her stone walkways of dust, or watering her garden. She'd hang clothes in the sun, or preserve whatever was in season. her kitchen always smelled wonderful. In the evening she'd be fitting someone for clothes she sewed herself. Looking back, I don't think I ever saw her resting. She was always busy.

One very distinct memory was of her slipping into a back room. It was like a mudroom to the kitchen. She had led a small goat back there. As an inquisitive child I watched in rapt awe as she pulled out a small knife and slit the goat by the jugular.

It was then my mother dragged me away, telling me that it was not appropriate for me to watch. In hindsight it was the wrong thing for her to do. I feel very strongly that all children should know where their food comes from. I've known grown people who can't comprehend that plastic wrapped ground beef once came from a live cow.

When children are too protected, we make them weak. I was glad I was able to make the connection between food and animals early on. It made me appreciate their sacrifice even more, which keeps me diligent for their care.

Our parents and grandparents lived in a different world than we do now. I'm glad I had the chance to experience life before computers and microwaves.

For well over sixty years, technology has marched forward and we've welcomed it every step of the way. But the pendulum is swinging back. We want to be greener. We want to leave a smaller carbon footprint. To do that, we have to rely less on greedy technology, and more on passive energy (and sometimes strong backs).
If there's a key to being greener, it's to use less, and be less dependent on automation.
--Maria Zannini

• Dry your clothes on a line.

• Grow a garden, even if it's only in a pot.

• Eat local. Eat in season.

• Drive less. Because we live far from any good-sized city, we're always aware of how much we drive. For that reason, we try to run all our errands on one trip.

• Fix it. Try to fix something before you throw it out.

• Reuse the things around you. An old plant stand can become an outdoor drink table. Empty detergent tubs can be used as carry-alls, chicken nests, and storage containers. Punctured hoses can be shortened and refitted with new fittings for a fraction of the price of a new hose. T-shirts can become rags, or cut into strips to hold up trellised plants.

• Collect rainwater. When we lived in SE Texas I never thought about collecting water because it rained ALL-THE-TIME. But here, I'm always checking for rain so I can set my buckets out.

• Cook at home. Cooking is my least favorite task, but I do it every single day. It's smart money-wise and healthier than what you'll get in a restaurant. The only downside is that I'm the one who has to do all the work. 😒 Sometimes we eat out, but that's only when we're too far from home and hungry.

• Read. Our grandparents read all the time and then they shared what they read with friends and family.

• Go easy on electronics and electricity. Unless you're on alternative energy, go easy on your power usage. It's expensive, and it's not good for the environment.

• Watch less tv. That includes streaming on smart phones and tablets.

• Stay social. And I don't mean on social media. See people. Visit with friends. It's good for the soul and not very expensive if you plan ahead. Go potluck, or entertain at home. There's no law that says you have to visit friends at a restaurant where everyone would rather be on their phone than talk to you.

Sometimes I think people go out because they don't like their homes. I love my home. I work hard at making it homey and comfortable. I want it to be nicer than any restaurant or hotel because the beds are clean and the food is fresh.

So what do you remember most of your grandparents? Did you like seeing them? Do you love your home? What would you change if you could?


I remember my grandmothers and my mother hanging clothes out on the line, and if the weather was bad, they hung them in the basement. I don't even think we owned a dryer!

And I love my home! For many reasons, but two of my favorite things is all the natural light and my little office. :)
lynnviehl said…
My grandmother always crocheted her own hats and slippers. She upcycled used clothing all the time, and because she was over six feet tall often tailored men's trousers to fit her long legs. She could cook anything, and never ate out in restaurants, which she considered too expensive. She made wonderful German food, including her own sausages. I think the thing that most impressed me as a kid was that she also made her own candy for Christmas: fudge, peanut brittle, divinity, lollipops, pralines, chocolate creams (remember those?) caramels and even peppermints.

We didn't have a clothes dryer at home; my mom hung out the wash every morning. It was my job to take it down, fold it and put it away when I got home from school. Those were the days before permanent press, so I also had to iron the sheets every week for the entire family (nine beds' worth.) I like the way clothes smell when they dry in the sunshine, but today our HOA won't allow clotheslines. I still dry some things on the porch where no one can see. :)

We've always had our home exactly the way we like it because we are such homebodies, and there's no place I'm more comfortable. Since we both grew up by the sea we like the same things, and the house is slowly evolving into a big beach cottage. Nothing fancy, just restful and light, with sky colors on the walls, pale woods and simple country decor. We still need to renovate a few leftovers from the previous owners (white bathroom tile on the kitchen counters is my one great lingering peeve) but I'm mostly happy with it.
Stacy McKitrick said…
I love my new home, but I would change it to include a third garage if I could (there just isn't any room to do that).

I lived close to my maternal grandparents (Grandma and Grandpa). My paternal grandparents (Monher & PopPop) lived across the country in NJ (we lived in CA). Monher came out to see me when I was little, but I don't remember the visit. She died when I was six or seven. But Grandma was my friend. When we moved from LA to Santa Barbara, so did Grandma and Grandpa. She was someone I could escape to and complain about Mom (Grandma would sympathize). She also drove me to my first duty station, Ft. Lewis, WA (she was born in Seattle and wanted to see the house she grew up in) with her sister (who was 13 years older than her). This eighteen-year-old had a blast! But she really didn't teach me anything but love, which I guess isn't a bad thing to teach, huh?
Maria Zannini said…
Madeline; You hit on a very important facet of home life--natural light. I don't think most people even realize what a valuable commodity it is. It's not just emotionally satisfying but it does something to the brain chemistry that helps you work better.

I've done the same work both in an enclosed office and at home. My work at home is always more creative and energizing than the stuff I did in the office.
Maria Zannini said…
Lynn: That is tall for a grandma! It seems every previous generation is always a bit shorter than current ones.

re: ironing
Oy. I remember pre-permanent press. Fortunately, I have a sister who LOVES ironing. I kid you not. She always found it therapeutic. She still irons.

I didn't realize you lived in an HOA. I hate those things. When we were house hunting we immediately crossed any HOA homes off the list, even if they were otherwise perfect.

re: counter tops
I hear you on the tile counter tops. It's impossible to keep hygienic. The grout holds all sorts of bacteria.

I'll bet your home is lovely. A beach cottage is like living in your own vacation property.
Maria Zannini said…
Stacy: We have a third garage and it's surprisingly useful! This garage is walled off from the other double garage and is also divided in half by another wall. We use the front part to park my golf cart, and the enclosed back end is my mini workshop and storage.

re: But she really didn’t teach me anything but love, which I guess isn’t a bad thing to teach, huh?
You were so very lucky. No one does love better than a grandma.
jacabur1 said…
"So what do you remember most of your grandparents?" I only have scattered memories of my paternal grandmother buying me a goldfish one weekend when we visited and my maternal grandmother did not speak English well so we did not interact all that much before she died. Both grandfathers died early on so no memories of them at all.

"Did you like seeing them?" I remember vaguely that it was fun to visit because both ladies had a place we could go outside of town, one lived on their family farm and the other had property with my step-grandpa out in the country as well so it was different than the small town we actually resided in full time.

"Do you love your home?" Yes, even though it is not exactly my style inside Maria the fact it was built for a handicapped person when new has been a tremendous help these last several years.

"What would you change if you could?" Not much except our shower stall which is not a walk-in but instead it has a 9" raised ledge you have to step over to enter and exit which is getting harder for me over time.
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: Yikes on the shower. I think it'd be a worthy investment to redo the shower. We have two walk-ins, both with benches so we can sit if necessary. The best guest room has a shower like you described though, totally unusable for the elderly or disabled.

Whenever my mother comes to visit I insist that she use one of the other bathrooms for showering. I don't want her falling.
Jenny Schwartz said…
I'm going to stretch a bit and mention my great-aunt instead of my grandma. She used to do her ironing in the kitchen, but she never had an ironing board. The old, very solid wood table got a wool blanket folded on the end, and she ironed on that. My dad remembered when the iron was heated on the stove!
Maria Zannini said…
Jenny: My mother used to do that! We didn't have an ironing board, so she used our old kitchen table. We did have an electric iron though. :)

Other than doing skirts, I never saw much point to an ironing board.
Betty said…
I only knew my mom's mom and we had a language barrier since she didn't speak English and I didn't speak Polish. My mom was the youngest of 10 so my grandmother was about 44 years old when she had my mom. Then my mom had us kids when she was in her 30's so my grandmother was in her early 80s when we came along. I don't have too many memories of her except that she didn't like thunderstorms and didn't like to be alone during a storm so when my mom heard thunder, we would have to stop what we were doing and go over to my grandmother's if no one else was there with her. Although I don't have the memories of her, I do have the stories my mom told about her. She would get live chickens and of course wring their necks to prepare them for cooking. My mom didn't like watching the chickens running around without their heads on. My grandmother though was very resourceful in what she cooked, having to feed a family of 10 kids, and mom told of the wonderful things she made, etc. She was one of those cooks, as many were from that generation, that didn't need to measure anything when she made bread, etc.

Technology is wonderful but we have to keep it in its place and not let it rule us, but rather find a way to use it wisely but still do the best we can to protect our environment.

Maria Zannini said…
Betty: 10 kids! I know people who can't handle one.

I will never be one of those people who don't measure--at least not for baking. :)
Angela L Brown said…
For year we didn't own a dryer during my childhood, so waching mom hang clothes, and soon learning how to do it myself was crucial.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: Same here. I think I had already moved out of the house by the time my mother got a dryer. We lived in an apartment back then. No one had dryers.
Michael Keyton said…
Clothes line every time. Can't beat that fresh smell. We were raised to be frugal (Though I'm lashing out on Ribeye steak for our anniversary tomorrow) :) But it was your reference to cutting back on TV that caught my eye. On coming back from Iceland we saw we had about 48 hours of 'recorded' TV to watch and our hearts sank. We deleted them all and have largely cut out TV from our evenings. (We don't do daytime TV either - they're always advertising chairlifts and vitamins for the infirm) As a result our days have become magically longer and we read far more. Sometimes we talk :)
Maria Zannini said…
Happy anniversary, Mike!! I'm glad Bernadette has renewed your contract. ;-) Keep up the good work.

re: tv
That is an eye opener. We don't watch much on tv anymore. If we're going to watch anything it's probably a movie, and dthose we can watch any time.