This is about what I learned from my mothers. Yes, mothers. While I've clearly learned the most from my actual mother, I also have two wonderful grandmothers, and this is a tribute to their wisdom as well.
Since my parents moved abroad seven years ago, I've probably spent more time with my grandmothers (certainly collectively, possibly also individually) than with my mother. The past seven years, seeing as they involved about four house-moves, graduating college, and starting to take care of myself in a more serious way, have also been a period of calling up my mother and grandmothers for advice quite often. They've never let me down. If I tried to take all of their advice all the time, I don't think it would work out, but applying different things I learned from them at different times has worked out quite nicely, I think.
Some of what I learned from my mothers (not in any specific order and I'm sure that I have left out many, many things):
- You should stand up for yourself.1
- Doing your taxes yourself really isn't that difficult.
- You can make doll clothes out of cloth scraps when you're eight and nine years old. With a regular needle and thread. Really.
- If you don't know how long it takes to cook something, look it up in Joy of Cooking.
- The best recipes are the ones that aren't really recipes. That is, the tastiest things don't require exact amounts of this or that, in which you can substitute all kinds of ingredients.
- A picnic in the park is a great way to spend the day when you're a kid.
- You should brush your hair before you leave the house. Actually, scratch that. You should brush your hair before you come to the breakfast table.
- Nail polish is fun.
- Chocolate is delicious.
- French toast tastes better if you put a lot of eggs in it.
- To keep tuna casserole from falling apart, put some brown rice into it. (I asked my mother why, when I followed her recipe, it disintegrated, and she told me that she always used to sneak brown rice into it to help it stick together. Who knew?)
- You can get a PhD when you're in your 50s if you want.
- It's important to help others. (My mother volunteered as a translator (Hebrew/English) for Rofeh and assisted a blind Israeli woman during all of my childhood.)
- You shouldn't fill up on challah when other good food is about to be served.
- How to make a bean salad: Open three or four cans of beans of different sizes and colors. Add diced tomatoes from another can. Add garlic, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil until it tastes good. Mix it up. Refrigerate. Optional: Chopped up red onions, canned corn, broccoli, asparagus, or whatever else you have lying around.
- It's important to take care of yourself.
- You can use baking soda to clean almost anything.
- The proper way to dress when shopping at Filene's Basement in Boston (the original): Wear shorts with a skirt over them, a tight-ish short-sleeve shirt, and another shirt/sweater/jacket over that. This is from the days when they didn't have even the communal dressing room that they have now, when you had to just stand in the middle of the store and try on clothing. The shorts and skirt combo allowed one to modestly try on pants or skirts, as did the tight-ish short-sleeve shirt covered with a more normal shirt.
- Never, ever pay full price.
- You should spend money on nice experiences sometimes, like the ballet, the theater, or a good concert.
- You are going to forget things. Write it down. Make a to-do list, a shopping list, a menu, a packing list.
- Before you leave the house ask yourself (or have your grandmother ask you): Do you have your keys? Wallet? Glasses?2
- Be nice to your mother.
- It is not difficult to fold hospital corners on beds, and the sheets stay tucked in much better that way. (I need a brush-up on this skill. It's less necessary for fitted sheets, but still useful for the bottom of the top sheet.)
- Writing letters is an excellent way to keep in touch with people. If you can't or won't write letters, though, the least you can do is e-mail and/or call regularly. It's not that hard and it makes a big difference to people.
- Always take a sweater when you go to San Francisco.
- Wash your hands with soap before coming to the table for a meal.
- Waste not, want not.
- There are lots of things that you can use for purposes other than their intended purposes, which will save you money. For example, the bag that onions come in makes a handy-dandy dish scrubber while doing dishes. You can save and reuse string from pastry boxes.
- It's not nice to put the pot that you cooked the food in on the table. Transfer it to a nice plate or serving dish. Presentation matters.
- It's not nice to serve meals on paper plates. Presentation matters.
- You should dust your domicile often. Like, once a week or at the very least, every other week. Dust bookshelves, picture frames, windowsills. The works. If you don't, things will get very dusty.
1. When I moved between apartments in New York, and my movers broke my couch because they disregarded my advice about the best way to move it, I didn't know what to do. Should I not pay them? But I had signed an agreement that I would. Should I call the moving company to complain? Could they be held liable for fixing the couch? How was I--exhausted, a woman, not the bravest type--going to stand up to three enormous male movers? The head mover had already proven himself to be a jerk by the way he treated his two underlings. I couldn't reach my mother, so I called my grandmother as I fought back tears. My maternal grandmother told me to stand up to them, and suggested that I withhold the tip unless or until they fixed the couch. She told me I could do it. Knees quaking, I did. They were pissed off, said they deserved the tip. I countered that a tip was for a job well-done, and breaking a piece of furniture by ignoring my instructions about the best way to move it was not a job done well. I promised them that if they came back and fixed the couch, I would give them the tip they were "owed." I stood my ground. I arranged a time for one of them to come and fix the couch. He didn't show. He called to apologize and set up another time. He didn't show again. So, instead, I went to the hardware store, spoke with a knowledgeable sales person, and using an electric screwdriver, wood glue, and a few phone books, fixed the couch myself. Thanks, Grandma!
2. I am nearsighted, but not very, so, yes, I have accidentally left home without my glasses. I usually realize it before I get out of the elevator, though.