My Grandma Was a Genius

16 Mar
Grandma with me and my cousin. I am the smiley one. People change.

Grandma with me and my cousin. I am the smiley one. People change.

Part of my work is to keep track of trends. These are usually technology trends, but as technology permeates pretty much every aspect of our lives today, what starts as a technology trend, quickly becomes a social, economic, or behavioral one.

Economist SharingOne of the recent trends I was reading about was the so-called collaborative consumption or sharing economy. The idea is that instead of buying the stuff you need, you can share it with peers, so that you spend less, you waste less, and you are less tied to the objects you own. Makes total sense! I had to read it in The Economist though to remember that that was one of my grandmother’s little pieces of wisdom. If you can borrow something from a neighbor, why spend the money to buy it? And that got me thinking about some of the other maxims she would often disperse. It turns out she predicted most of the trends we are all buzzing about.

  • Sustainability – Grandma hated throwing stuff away. She would save and reuse plastic bags until they started falling apart. She would wash yoghurt containers and find new ways to use them. In her tiny apartment, she would have drawers full of scraps of paper, fabric and strange stuff that she had saved to reuse. She was not a hoarder who stores things just so they have it. She believed that these things would come in handy. And they often did.
  • The Maker’s Movement – Chris Anderson wrote a book about it, but long before that, grandma knew and tried to teach us that creating something yourself, or adding a personal touch to something manufactured makes it special. She never realized her dream to be an artist (she dropped out of the Arts Academy to marry my grandfather), but after she divorced him and her girls grew up, she managed to turn her skill into a side business. She took up painting “champagne” bottles. There were two kinds of bubbly wine in communist Bulgaria – red and white. At weddings and christenings, people would often buy it to celebrate, but since it was not that good, it often did not get drunk. Grandma would do a personalized painting on the glass bottle, turning the undrinkable carbonated wine into a keepsake. I wonder how many liquor cabinets in my hometown still have an unopened champagne bottle from the 70s and 80s with a painting of a basket of roses, or Easter bunnies…
  • Seasonal food – You can tell a great cook from an OK one if they can do something out of nothing. My grandma was a great cook. But even when there were food shortages, she would try to cook with products that are fresh and in season. Even after a long winter, she would not buy the early tomatoes, because they would not have any taste. Waiting for the real tomatoes, the ones that have had a chance to ripen in the sun, that smelled like summer was worth it for her, even if she had to cook with the canned stuff for another month. It did not hurt that the canned stuff was home made from the late tomatoes from last summer, either.
  • Sugar and flour are evil – Grandma was fat, in a soft and comforting sort of way. Ever since I remember, she would try to loose the weight to look better and feel better in the summer heat. She did not need to read diet books or talk to a nutritionist (honestly, even the idea that such a profession exists would make anyone in Bulgaria laugh out loud) to know that she needed to cut out the bread and cookies. But she loved baking and she just had too much fun cooking, and enjoying her food. One of her self-depreciating jokes was that she was on a diet—she ate her fruit without any bread. She would have laughed if someone tried to convince her to that a low fat cookie or yoghurt, full of sugar, would help her get slimmer.

I would not get into her advice about picking the right bra or husband, but grandma had lots of other common sense insights. Granted, a lot of her wisdom came from economic hardship – she had to stretch a small income and, later, a pension, as much as possible, but it also comes from a feeling of self-confidence and self-knowledge that we seem to have lost or that we have stopped trusting anymore. So as Wired or The Economist proclaim the next trend and we all rush to analyze it, my first question will be “What would grandma think of that?”

3 Responses to “My Grandma Was a Genius”

  1. leah j. wolfe March 17, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    So true. It’s funny how human trends are just historical habits with different nouns. I loved this for its reminder of common sense (another trend we humans misplace from time to time), and reinforcement of personal effort as a key to social sustainability.

    Love your style.

    • epalaveeva March 17, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. russianmartini March 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    Hahahah, my grandma also reuses jars and plastic containers!! And insists on sending food home with me in them. And she did eat fruit with bread (also nuts and sunflower seeds with bread)… baked goods with bread. She ate a lot of bread until she had to cut it out recently.

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