Lessons From My Mother (List of Faves)!

Here in North America, we celebrated Mother’s Day on Sunday. I called my mom, and we talked about Mother’s Days gone by and how we’d all get dressed up for church and how our Dad would make reservations at fancy brunch places and how the whole day would be focused around her. My father adored our mother and he loved any excuse to celebrate, so Mother’s Day was always filled with meals and gifts and fun around treating mom like a Queen for a day.

As you know, I am not a mother, but I am connected with many mothers and I also live in the world; the one where I see a tremendous amount of pressure on mothers to take on the role of caretaker, chauffeur, cook, laundry technician, finder-of-all-things, and general superhero.

I believe that mothers hold up this world.

Mothers give us life and they teach us lessons, whether they generated the knowledge on their own, or whether the lessons were passed down from their own mothers.

Growing up, my mom seemed to be able to do everything. She loved her role as a homemaker and she took it very seriously. We always came home to a clean, organized and healthy home, where yummy smells emanated from the kitchen on a nightly basis, and where we only rarely had to yell things like, “Mommmm!! Where’s my_______” because she had a rule: “There is a place for everything and everything in its place.” (this is apparently a Benjamin Franklin quote, but one my mother certainly took to heart!).

Many days, I’d come home to the sound of talk radio blaring, knowing that my mother would be found somewhere in the house, wearing her “work duds” (a pair of paint- and plaster-splattered shorts and a T-Shirt), doing something remarkable. She was always impressing me; such a capable woman, able to fix and repair and improve and enhance and create just about anything.

My mother was (and still is) an incredible homemaker and creator. And while I didn’t follow in most of her footsteps, she taught me some incredibly valuable life-skills that I wanted to share with you today. Surely, I won’t cover them all, but I’m hoping that something in this list will inspire you. Because we are ALL homemakers! We ALL have homes that we live in and tend to and care for, and my mom has an incredible ability to take the overwhelm out of all things home-related, from cooking to cleaning to organizing, and turn them into enjoyable tasks that we can feel really good about.

So, here goes…. But first, I realize how long this list became after I even had to force myself to stop, so if you struggle with food or weight or with cooking, check out #s 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8. For great cleaning advice, head to #10, 11, 12, 13 or 14, and for interior design tips, check out 15, 16, 17 and 18.

 

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Lesson #1: "Everything has its place". I mean it, this one was a biggie in our home, and I was commenting to my mom on Sunday that one of things I loved most about our home life was that it was never "chaotic". There was always a sense of calm, rarely fighting between my parents, and there were never those crazy mornings where no one can seem to find anything they are looking for. That just didn't happen. If we used the scissors, we put them back in the scissors drawer. Or if we came home, the car keys were always placed in the car key dish. This habit created calm and peace but is also meant that my mother didn't waste a single penny replacing something she already owned; which brings me to Lesson #2. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #2: "Take care of your things". This is one I have carried with me always. Along with everything having a place, my mother took very good care of her things so that she wouldn't need to replace them. It also showed tremendous respect for her hard-earned money and effort in finding and buying things. She didn't take things for granted.This lesson aligned perfectly with her belief that we, as a society, overconsume. My mother loved what she had. She didn't keep pieces that she didn't really appreciate. If it didn't suit our home or if she wasn't using it or if she didn't need it or it wasn't sentimental, she gave it away. She taught me to keep--and preserve through caring for my things--only what I needed. We consume enough as it is. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #3: "Water and wood don't mix". This is a saying I've heard for as long as I can remember (which leads me to believe it was my grandmother's saying before my mom took it on), and one that aligns with my mother's penchant for taking care of her things. "Water and wood don't mix!" This lesson has reminded me to take care of my wooden furniture by not allowing it to get wet. If it does get wet, my mother taught me how to use a hair dryer and a soft cloth to dry the stain and then to rub mayonnaise, in a circular motion, to remove the stain. But prevention is always easier, so take my mom's advice and don't mix water and wood! Thanks, mom.

Lesson #4: "Once you've eaten, you'll feel better". In our home, although both of my parents were good with money, my father was the spender; my mom the saver. After church every Sunday, my brother and I would beg from the backseat, "Pleeeease can we go out for brunch?!" and my dad would make a face like, "Well, darling, the kids really seem to want to go out for brunch. What do you say?" but he'd wait to see our mom's reaction to his face before saying anything. We'd win sometimes, but more often than not, our mother would say something like, "I've got some lovely roasted chicken in the fridge. I can make you a nice chicken sandwich in no time. Let's just go home for lunch." And we would moan and groan, but once we'd arrive back at home, she's have those sandwiches made in no time, and we'd gobble them down and race outside to play with our friends. As an adult, this piece of advice has served me in ways I can hardly describe. I can not count the number of times I have had to use this lesson on myself. Because who wants to go home and prepare a meal when you can just eat at this place? Or here? Or there?! People with a little foresight--which can be really hard to have when we are hungry--are the ones who generally stick to their health goals; they realize that their future self will genuinely thank their current self for the help. As a kid, as much as I wanted the brunch place, I was just as happy when my belly was full. The same is true for me today. As soon as I've eaten, my cravings go away and I can move to the next thing. Being prepared by having healthy, easily accessible food in my fridge has served me very well. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #5: You are what you eat. And going along with this theme, a lesson my mother taught me from as early on as I can remember is this: you are what you eat. I've written about it here, but essentially, we are the result of our choices. We literally wear them! When people exercise, eat well and generally respect their bodies, it shows. We see it. And remembering that what I choose to put into my body is a reflection of how I feel about myself helps me to make the choices I want to make, rather than the ones my cravings will have me making (plus, we start to crave the good stuff once it becomes a habit!). Each time I make a food choice, I ask myself why I am making it, and I remember that I am what I eat. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #6: Prepare Your Dinner at Breakfast. Speaking of preparation, my mother taught me something that I still use today. This one definitely comes from her mother, my Nana. I prepare at least one part of my dinner meal in the morning. My Nana always prepared her vegetables in the morning, and my mother does the same. So do I. Many mornings, while I am sipping away on my smoothie, I will chop some veggies and drizzle them with oil and seasoning so that they are ready for roasting as soon as I arrive home. Or I'll whip up a quick veggie soup. Or boil a dozen eggs for easy egg salad or deviled eggs. Or I will make a batch of quinoa or brown rice to go with my chopped veggies that I will simply stir fry. Whatever I can do in the morning affords me more time later on, and it also helps me stick to my dinner plan, rather than ditch it for take-out as I will reason that I already have the meal half-made. Preparing food when we aren't hungry is a great way to stay on track with our health goals, as well, since we are less likely to want to make unhealthy food choices. This has been a big one for me. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #7. Mark special occasions with special occasion food. We rarely ate dessert when I was growing up. My mom would offer a piece of fruit sometimes or a small bowl of apple sauce, or once in a while she would make "Baked apples", where she'd core an apple, and place a dollop of butter and a spoonful of brown sugar in the middle before microwaving it until the butter and sugar became a bubbling caramel...sooo good! But it was rare. Even today, I almost never order dessert at a restaurant unless it's a big celebration, because it's just not a habit I ever built. When we would have company, my mom would make a dessert and it would always be amazing: Crepes Suzettes; Cherries Jubilee; Chocolate Cheesecake...But we only ate this way when company came; it wasn't all the time, and it made company coming even more exciting! I love that my mom helped me make a habit of eating celebration food mostly only at celebrations. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #8. Use a spatula. My mother taught me to cook from a young age, and high on her priority list was being a clean cook! She didn't want to have to spend more time cleaning up the meal than cooking it, and so using proper tools to get the job done helped in this area. But no one kitchen tool is more useful to my mother than the spatula. First, it does a great job of stirring without splattering food everywhere, and second, it allows you to scrape every last bit of goodness out of your pot and into your bowl, making clean up a breeze while also yielding more of it into your bowl than down the drain (have I mentioned that my mother is the Queen of frugality?). I loooove a good spatula, and I have several of them because I don't typically get through making a meal without using at least one. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #9: Write thank you notes. My mother was BIG on hand-written thank-you notes. She still is. I could do better in this area for sure, but I do tend to send thank you notes whenever I receive something from someone. Nowadays, it is sometimes an email, but most often, I take the time to put pen to paper. I learned this from my mother when our grandparents would send us gifts across the miles. She would let us pick out the stationary (want to make my mother deliriously happy? Buy her a box of pretty stationary. Did I mention she has the most elegant and beautiful handwriting? Yup.) Anyway, it is incredibly thoughtful to send a hand-written thank you note. Or a "just because" note. In this crazy, fast-paced world, sending and receiving hand-written notes is a lovely gesture. And I believe I feel just as good doing it as the person feels receiving it. And I love that. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #10: Clean Your Windows regularly. There is NOTHING like fresh, clean windows. First, it gets rid of bad odours; it's amazing what you can get off dirty windows. Second, your whole home takes on a dingy film if the windows are dingy and covered in film. Seriously! I wash my windows twice a year, in Spring and Fall, and while I don't have many to clean (5 large and only a handful of small), it is honestly not hard, takes only a minute or two per window, max, and makes our entire place look bigger, brighter and fresher. It's an almost FREE home makeover! If this isn't already something you do (or hire someone to do), I hope you'll give it a shot. Spring is the perfect time. Thanks, mom. P.S. If you want to know my mom's amazing window-cleaning method, here it is! 

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Lesson #11:. Enjoy the process by reminding yourself of the result--but still love the process. There is a power to "keeping the end in mind" while tackling a less-than-desirable task, like cleaning or cooking, but we can forget to enjoy the process, as well. I like to listen to music or a podcast or I enjoy singing or whistling while I work. My mom often whistles, sings and loves listening to the news while working. The point is to make the experience enjoyable so that you will repeat it and enjoy more of your life, since our lives are essentially series' of tasks getting us to the next series of tasks! Let's all love our lives a little more by embracing the tasks we are conditioned to hate, like cooking, cleaning, organizing, and purging. My mom always sets targets, too, so that as soon as she's finished one part of the task, she rewards herself (this used to be a glass of wine or a cigarette when we'd be working together, but now it's more like a cup of tea and a sit-down!). Thanks, mom.

Lesson #12: Finish What You Start. My mother may have taken breaks between tasks, but she never left a project unfinished; it would have driven her crazy! She absolutely loves the process of any job, as we've talked about, but nothing, NOTHING could compare to her level of satisfaction when a job is complete. Whenever I start something, I tend to make sure I finish it all the way. It feels good to close loops, and I love the feeling of accomplishment when something is finished. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #13: Purging. In the Spring and Fall, my mother does a deep clean. She has done it for all the years she was married and she continues it today. Each spring and fall, she pulls apart each room, systematically, and cleans it from top to bottom. Each spring and fall growing up, she always had us clean out our closets. Once done, we had piles of out-of-season clothes as well as stuff we no longer wanted or that no longer fit. The stuff we were keeping was left hanging in the closet. My mom would come in to check out what we'd decided, and we put the donate stuff in a green garbage bag to be taken to the donation bin (we'd usually go that day, because we always finish what we start!). The out-of-season items were taken downstairs or just put into the back of our closets, and then we'd put our clothes back with all pants together, shorts, tops, etc. as well as organized by colour. I know it sounds a little intense even when I write it, but this system saves hella time when you are looking for that perfect black top!!!! Remember Lesson #1... My mom always wanted our home to be a peaceful place where we knew where to easily find all of our things. Purging also feels sooooo goood. They say that our external environment is a reflection of our internal environment. Purging creates a sense of calm in our lives. Plus, you never know who you might be helping when you donate gently used items. Thanks, mom

Lesson #14. Maintenance is the key. My mom's house is always spotless. But if I'm being totally honest with you, that's not really true. It gets dusty and a little messy, just like everyone else's each week! The difference is, every single Thursday, for as long as I can remember, my mother has cleaned her home from top to bottom. But because she cleaned on the same day every week, year after year, she kept her work to a minimum. Like, an hour or so, tops, even when she had like 15 rooms to clean! I have followed in her footsteps and make sure I am maintaining my home so that I never get to a point where it is a complete and total disaster. If YOUR home is in total disarray and you want my mom's list of how to clean and organize every square inch of your home, comment below or send me an email at Sarah@SarahTalksFood,com and I will have her send it along. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #15: Make a silk purse out of a sow's ear: I don't know where she got this saying, but I believe it was her father who said it as a compliment to her when she was a newlywed living in a two bedroom apartment in Toronto. My mom taught me how to make every living space--no matter how small or imperfect--my own. She shared that with a little creativity and some elbow grease, we could take what may look like a nothing, blah space and customize it to create a little haven that was perfect for me. In your own home, perhaps you have a space that you haaaate. That spot in the basement or that space in between the kitchen and the living room; any space in your home where you wish it looked prettier, nicer, cleaner, etc., can be transformed. It becomes so much fun to learn to love every single square inch of our homes. It really shifts our mindset when we do. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #16: Group in 3s. My mother is a master of interior design, and she even went back to school for it as an adult. She taught me this rule early on, and I have used it ever since. For whatever reason, our brains prefer 3s (or 5s or 7s also work) rather than doubles of things. With two hats, for example, it's just a pair, But with 3, it's a collection. In our homes growing up, she would often create collections of mirrors or pictures, or other objets d'art that became collections, and hence appeared purposeful and pleasing to the eye. I use this in my own decorating and often find myself counting, to make sure I've still got an odd number! Thanks, mom.

Lesson #17: Buy furniture that has storage built-in. I can not overemphasize the importance of this one. From those pretty pedestal sinks to the spindly legged antique tables, I now see things from a more practical perspective, as I have always lived in apartments. Because I haven't had unlimited square footage to work with, I now see and buy furniture with the idea that it has to play at least double-duty. First, it has to go with my design and I have to LOVE it (remember Lesson #2?). Second, I have to be able to use it for its main purpose, but I also have to be able to store things in it. For example, we have a guest room, but I wanted my niece and my nephew to both be able to sleep over. So, I have a pullout couch that I LOVE (it MAY not be the most comfortable bed, but it does the job and he's only 10 years old right now, so he bounces back!); I had a coffee table once that opened up to store magazines, my couch blanket, etc.), I have 2 ottomans that are used for extra seating and also store things like my gardening tools (I live in a condo, so I don't need much!) and the other one houses the kids' pool toys, etc. You get the point. But this tip has served me very well over the years and allows me to heed Lesson #1, knowing where everything is because everything has its place. Furniture with built-in storage has been a game changer in my life. Thanks, mom.

Lesson #18. Paint it out. This final lesson is one I have used ever since my mother taught it to me, even when I did some staging work for a local realtor. It's a good one. "Paint it out".  In all of my apartments, this has always been my first step, thanks to my mom teaching me that a couple of coats of paint are the cheapest and best way to make a place feel fresh, clean, and renewed. It's fun to play with colour, too, and she taught me that paint is a great way to distract the eye. So, when you have something unattractive (say, a radiator or uneven windowsills or a fuse box), simply paint it the same colour as you painted your walls, and watch it disappear! It's a great technique, especially in rental units, where your landlord may not allow small renovations, but allows you to paint. Thanks, mom.

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There is no doubt, my mother is a master when it comes to running her home. Everything is systemized and organized and her work provides her with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Her lessons have served me incredibly well, and I am forever grateful for all of these and the myriad others she has taught me along the way, and will continue to teach me. Thanks, mom. I love you dearly.

I hope you've enjoyed learning some of the lessons my mother taught me.

Because I want you to love your life one bite at a time.

 

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