5 Things I Learned From Grandma About Engaging in the Ordinary

Today, I want to talk about my grandma Mattha.

First things first, grandma HATED her name. Althought the pronunciation of her name is actually quite simple (math-uh), people would butcher it into an unrecognizable series of sylables, including grandma’s ever-favorite and frequently-lamented Mah-Ha.

She was an orphan, raised in an actual orphanage, who went on to build planes in the war, got married and divorced from a schmuck of a man who thought a secret family was a good idea. His own family rejected him, and my grandmother remained friends with her former in-laws until the day she died. She then met and married my grandfather after a mere 8 weeks of courtship, and moved to a small town to become a farmer’s wife. She wanted nothing more than to be a mother, but being a biological mother just wasn’t in the cards for her. After an actual hysterical breakdown, she had all but given up on having a child when she and my grandfather adopted my dad in their early 40s. She was the epitome of klutzy, constantly knocking things over and falling down. She navigated the world as a Native American woman during the Civil Rights movement and suffered from a rare blood disease that required weekly blood draws.

She also had chickens, managed a home, and raised an amazing human I get to call dad. She baked ridiculously beautiful birthday cakes, taught me much of what I know about cooking, and loved to make people laugh, often by telling hysterical stories about her own clumsy and bewildering life. She hugged like she meant it, and always listened with sincerity.

I tell you this, partially to brag about my grandmother, but also because despite the hardships life handed her, she was one of the most content, if not the most content, women I have ever met. She exuded acceptance, love, and calmness. She laughed from her belly, and rarely hurried to do anything, preferring a slow life over rushed frivolousness. She knew how to fully engage in everyday life – in the ordinary and mundane things that make up our days, and consequently, our lives. Here are a few things I learned from her.

Prioritize doing things that bring you joy.

Grandma always made time to do the things that were important to her. Her family was the most important thing in her life, and I don’t remember her ever saying no to playing outside, making mudpies, or watching our endless school plays and athletic games unless she was sick or making dinner. Dusting could wait. The dishes could wait. Vacuuming could wait. But heading outside to play in the wheat truck with her grandchildren? That absolutely could not wait. Her ability to say YES, without hesitation, to the things that brought her joy was a lesson that I am forever grateful for and that has helped me to not stress over a cluttered counter or postponed laundry day.

Do it by hand.

Every holiday meal in my household includes an amazing cranberry salad that often took my grandmother hours to prepare. She would sit at the kitchen table with a paring knife and a small cutting board, meticulously slicing individual cranberries into thin pieces for this culinary masterpiece. She could have thrown them in a food processor, pulsed them a few times, and called it a day (this is what my mother and I do), but that was not her way. If there was a way for something to be done slowly, by hand, especially in the kitchen, that’s how she did it. And that’s how I do it, too. I wish I would have had the forethought to ask her WHY she did it this way, but here’s my guess: the repetitve motions of chopping, or hanging clothes on the line, are almost meditative. You can let your mind wander as you complete the task, giving your brain a break from the stresses of life.

Sit on the back porch.

The back porch of our farmhouse saw a lot of activity. Need to snap the ends off of green beans or asparagus for dinner? Grab a bowl and go sit on the back porch. Want to read a magazine or book? Go sit on the back porch (or by a window if it’s too cold). Want to catch up over a cup of iced tea or lemonade? That’s going to happen on the back porch. Grandma loved sunshine and being outside, and took every opportunity she could to commune with nature. She taught me that you don’t have to be an avid hiker or camping enthusiast to love and enjoy time outdoors; you just need a place to sit, a patch of grass, and hopefully, a sunny sky.

Do one thing at a time.

As an avid music-lover, I once asked grandma why she never listened to the radio that was mounted under her kitchen counter while she cooked, and she responded simply: “Because I’m focused on cooking dinner.” She did one thing at a time, and when it was done, moved on to the next thing. If she was watching TV, that’s what she was doing. Watching TV. Not folding laundry and watching TV. Not eating a snack and watching TV. Just watching TV. I mean, the woman would sit down at the kitchen table with a full plate and silverware setup to eat a PBJ sandwich at lunch. She was the first master of single-tasking in my life, and I try to immitate her sense of calm purpose and focus, especially when doing household chores. (Truth: I often fail, because audiobooks are SOOOO good, but it’s a work in progress.)

Just be.

I envy my grandmother’s ability to just be. If you pulled up to the farmhouse during daylight hours, it would not be uncommon for you to find her sitting quietly on the back porch, drinking a cup of iced tea. Just… existing, and enjoying her very existence. This daily porch-sitting and tea-drinking seemed to be a part of her daily routine, and it never failed to amaze me that someone could just sit there without doing something for that long. I strive to achieve my grandma’s level of midnfullness – even though she probably wouldn’t categorize it as that – and to be comfortable enough with my own mind and presence to just. be.

I have yet to master any one of these ideas, but I have integrated them slowly and purposefully into my life, and I can tell you that it has made a difference. I feel more calm, am more comfortable with slowness and silence, and feel more in control of my life.

If this list seems overwhelming – that’s ok! It IS a bit overwhelming! But just work on one thing at a time (just like Grandma Mattha did!), and be consistent. We’re looking for progress, not perfection.

How do you engage in everyday life? What would you add to this list? I can’t wait to hear what you have to say in the comments.

Until next time – don’t forget to Sparkle.

-Mikki

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