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Inspiration from my Ukrainian grandmother

17 Mar 2022 | Written by By Kathy Feest

A grandmother in Ukraine is called “Baba”. Mine was also called Olga. She was born in America to Ukrainian parents, spoke the language, cooked the food and treated her grandchildren to her special brand of love – infused by her Ukrainian heritage. Baba’s life wasn’t easy. She lost her three year old twin boys in a tragic accident, and her adored husband died far too young. Yet nothing stopped her indomitable spirit. 

When she found herself widowed and alone in a big house, her grown children living their own lives, she sold up and became a live-in housekeeper for a professional family, taking care of their children the way only grandmothers can; cooking and cleaning and making their home her home.

Wherever my Baba went, so did her Singer sewing machine. Other people’s cast off clothes, curtains, tablecloths – any materials that were no longer required for their original use – were repurposed into rugs that were to grace the floor of many houses.  She would cut the rags into long thin strips and sew them into lengths she could plait together. The magic of her nimble fingers meant she must have created thousands of rugs of all sizes in her lifetime. She never learned how to drive, and instead took the bus everywhere. If you sat next to Baba and got talking to her, by the time you reached your destination, she had your address and you had a rug winging its way to your home, to grace your floors. 

When her housekeeping job ended due to the retirement of her employers, she moved into a new city and into the home of her youngest daughter where she set up her Singer in the basement. Not able to sit still for two seconds when she wasn’t at her sewing machine, she soon decided she wasn’t ready to retire. She still loved being a homemaker, and discovered a new way to become one. She found a busy professional family who had left their original country and didn’t have any relatives nearby. They did have small kids who needed a Baba to look after them and clean and cook and hug them. When everyone else wanted my Baba to retire and slow down, she disagreed. That wasn’t her style. I listened to the chatter by the adults around her who thought she should do this or that, and I watched her successfully navigate their doubts and anxieties on her behalf and create the life that she wanted.  A life filled with caring and giving and friendship and love. Those were the traits that she baked into every cookie she made, shared in every hug she provided, sewed into every rug she gave away.  

Filling everyone she met with her warmth and generosity, she showed us by example what love and kindness and generosity of spirit were all about. She taught us that no matter what, you have to do what you love. If you get lost along the way, sit down with a cup of tea (and for Baba her rosary beads) and keep going until you find out how to take the next steps. Staying true to herself was her key. 

In a time before there were many books being written about self confidence, she exuded the confident self.  Navigating stormy waters was done with the help of friends, despite whatever life threw at her. Friendships, kindness and generosity of spirit lasted her entire lifetime.  

At her funeral, my Uncle draped one of Baba’s rugs over the bottom of her coffin.  The family whose small kids she’d help raise were all grown and attended the service. Along with the rest of my family, they also mourned her passing. She had become their Baba, too.  

The people of Ukraine will not give in or give up.  They come from a strong line of broad-minded people who have learned how important getting what they need is, and know that helping others is important. The kindnesses and the generosity that they have shown each other, even if the other is a total stranger, is not a surprise. That the world is helping them as they try to help themselves is a testament to the generosity of spirit available to us all.  Empowering ourselves on a personal level matters. 

When the amazing President Zelensky of Ukraine was asked if he wanted to be rescued from his city, Kyiv, he responded that he needed ammunition, not a lift.  Knowing what you want and need is everything. 

Ask my Baba.


If you feel stuck and unsure what you want to do in your life, you can come along to Kathy’s Empower Hour sessions. You’ll get strategies to help you identify what your needs are, and tools to attract more of what you love in your life. Click here to find out more and to book your place.

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