Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Frugal Packed Lunch

I've talked before on this blog about how much of my job as a housewife is to keep our food expenses the lowest I possibly can. As I was packing hubby's breakfast and lunch this afternoon (I always pack it the day before), I thought it might be fun to show you what is a typical offering. All of these dishes are homemade and so it might seem like putting together a lunch like this is a time-consuming task. But it always surprises me how a few dinners made in large amounts really feeds us several times over.

 Strawberries and a quarter cup of plain yogurt, along with a sausage breakfast casserole is for breakfast. The casserole can be reheated in his office microwave. It is a delicious combination of bread cubes, eggs, cheddar cheese, onions, green peppers and a generous sprinkling of basil. I like these kind of dishes because they are made ahead and are easily put together. In the background is salsa, which hubby always likes on his eggs. I also included two pieces of toast, buttered and jellied and wrapped face together in plastic wrap.

For lunch are fried noodles and sweet and sour chicken on rice from the freezer. I made too much pasta after an Italian night, and just fried the cooked, refrigerated spaghetti in some sesame oil, added garlic, left-over veggies and some rice wine. I also stirred in some leftover barbecue sauce I had made.The sweet and sour pork recipe, with pineapple and green pepper, came from my old reliable Betty Crocker.

If you would like any of these recipes, I will begin to post them.  It's little things like this that keep us feasting like a king (and queen) on very little money.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Calling yourself a Housewife

My grandmother, Ellen, standing proudly with her mother, after getting lunch for the threshing crew.
What images come to mind when you hear the word 'housewife?' Do you think of a woman that the times have forgotten, scrubbing clothes on a wash-board, chained to the sink or the stove? Or maybe June Cleaver flits across your imagination, in all her pearl and high-heeled glory, waltzing with a vacuum cleaner.
Or maybe your idea might be hazier, but a lot more toxic... a depiction of someone timid as a mouse, a doormat, someone who drifts through their days at a loss of what to do, or doing silly, trivial things. Rest assured, many societal influences over the past century have worked tirelessly to get these ideas into our heads. 

How many times a day does THIS happen??
Housework has always been hard, humbling work. It requires a quieting of the soul, a desire to comfort others at the expense of oneself. The Bible speaks about how we are to go about showing hospitality 'without grumbling', tipping us off to the full implication that feeding and sheltering others involves many tedious, grumble-worthy tasks. The Savior washing the dirty feet of his disciples was an example of housewifery for the times, and a pinnacle of servant-hood. The story of Mary and Martha, where Martha is complaining (hand on hip, I imagine) to Jesus about how Mary is not helping her in the kitchen is the same complaint we hear so often in the 'we all need to pitch in and help' modern day.  (Although if that scene happened today, shamefully, I believe a feminist version of Martha would probably have been hustling the King of Kings in to 'help' cater his own party, but I digress.) 

Calling yourself a housewife is different than calling yourself a stay at home mom. 'Stay at home mom' has a hip sort of ring, and connotes a woman who wears yoga pants to play-dates and spends afternoons at the gym or a girls' book club. No, a housewife is a decidedly old-fashioned term, one that summons up aprons and rolling pins. And for some it is a word that connotes an undertone of quiet desperation, of captivity, and helplessness. 

It was indeed not always that way. A woman used to call herself a housewife with quiet pride and certainty. This title in past generations was like a hope chest filled with traditions, methods, and skills passed down from generation to generation. It was a job title about capability, strength and support. The fact that such a stable, serviceable word, referred to women since medieval times, is now derided took some work to destroy, but it has happened, nonetheless.

A pamphlet from 1915, showing clearly the link with feminism and socialism.
We often think that the early suffragettes were commonplace women simply fighting for the right to vote. This just was not so. Not only were many of the prime activists well-to-do women that had their own domestic staff, but they also had far bigger societal plans in store than just to be able to put their ballot in the box.  So much history has been trimmed conveniently away on this matter, because it doesn't fit neatly into the narrative created by women's studies programs. Actually, many of the early feminists were scarred mentally by adverse home or family experiences and externalized this pain onto the public sphere with the fervent desire to eliminate the traditional housewife role for every woman-- whether she wanted it or not.

Extreme concepts abounded even in that era--like doing away with the cozy home kitchen and replacing it with mandatory neighborhood communal dining rooms, courtesy of Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Victoria Woodhull spearheaded a 'free love' movement that proposed prostitution should be legalized and criticized monogamy, coupled with the work of Margaret Sanger to promote birth control and abortion. Elizabeth Cady Stanton challenged the idea of Biblical female submission, writing a two volume treatise entitled "The Woman's Bible". These early feminists were not only well-acquainted with Marxist thought, they strongly supported it, and desired to completely overturn our capitalist society. As you can see, the vote was only the beginning. 

The Women's Anti-Suffrage League
 It is an often ignored fact that huge numbers of real housewives fought this movement--tooth and nail. Women-- not just men-- protested the radicalism of the early feminists. I believe that they correctly saw the feminist agenda as a deadly threat to home and hearth...and a movement that could destroy the foundations of civilization. An article from "The Spectator" in Great Britain that does an excellent job of explaining the thought process of women at the time can be found here

It was not until second-wave feminism's Betty Friedan, in her book, 'The Feminine Mystique' that the word 'housewife' really suffered a truly fatal blow. Friedan, a self-proclaimed communist, called the housewife, a 'prisoner in a comfortable concentration camp.' Her derision blazed like wildfire, and the book attracted a mass audience. It was the turbulent 1960s, and I could write post after post on why some women were drawn to this book...but I'll save them for another time.

I used to think, while poring over the writings of feminists, that the housewife was viewed as their enemy because they simply thought she was not as enlightened as they, and far too stubborn in her out-dated beliefs. But I've come to realize that there is a much darker under-current, an under-current of snobbery, insecurity...and even more than a little jealousy coming from the 'i am woman, hear me roar' camp.

For how can you deride an occupation as beneath you if you yourself don't know how to do it? Feminists love to portray the trad woman as stupid, particularly picking on the 1950s housewife. But here are some of the things that women of that era did...often and easily. 

'The Bride's First Dinner Party', 1952 by Ray Prohaska.
1.) They could host dinner parties for roomfuls of guests. No, these weren't catered and they weren't potlucks. These were dinners, with formal china, and food in courses made from scratch. The 1950s housewife, so often portrayed as 'feather-headed' would know how to dress up, how to use proper etiquette, and also how to make pleasant, informed conversation.She would even be expected to know how to tactfully create seating arrangements at the table, where different personalities would be the most comfortable.

2.) They could cook lavish holiday meals--from scratch. The Butterball website and its crisis line rings off the hook at Thanksgiving with frantic cooks who do not know how to roast a turkey. The 1950s housewife could do this in her sleep.


3.) They could garden, can, and process food, often going through what seemed like mountains of produce. Many women of the time were experts at jelly-making, and could line shelves with their own homemade spaghetti sauce, as well as even jars of home-canned meats. This job requires enormous physical stamina, standing in an over-heated kitchen while endlessly peeling, chopping, and sterilizing. Canning is an exact, practical science, an occupation that requires fanatic attention to cleanliness, following steps to the letter, and having a meticulous eye for detail, from knowing when things are at their needed boiling point to determining if a jar has sealed correctly. It is a science where if it is done incorrectly, food poisoning could result. The fact that so many housewives were known for their canning abilities underlines just how capable and intelligent they indeed were.

4.)  Sewing. An average sixteen year old student in the HomeEc classes of the 1950s could construct a tailored blouse or jacket.  Their skills extended from everyday mending and darning to even being able to slip-cover their sofas.  They were familiar with knitting, crocheting, and embroidery. 

Now, please don't get me wrong here. I am not for one minute saying that a woman has to master all these skills to proudly say she is a housewife. What I am saying is that being a housewife has always been an occupation to test the heart and the mind.  I truly believe there is no job out there that does not require skills. No matter what the level, a housewife still has a learning curve, like anyone working in an office, like anyone working in a classroom. The fact that working as a homemaker has become viewed as somehow mindless and menial is a grave insult that has been handed out to us by our radical feminist sisters. And that is a truly sad thing--for all of us.

Being a housewife is an ancient occupation that has been the foundation of countries and cultures across time; it is vital because people will always need care, comfort, and order. In fact, you could even say that housewifery is an important part of bringing out the best in us as humans, and when you think of it that way, what bigger job can there be?

As Proverbs 31 in Scripture states, "She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks." You are not 'just' a housewife; you are a woman of conviction, strength and intelligence...nurturing both the elderly and the young.

We need to call ourselves housewives again, with honor and with gladness.



Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Joyous Messiness of Home

A friend told me once that my idea of a mess was to have clean dishes left drying on the counter. All I could do was laugh heartily and think to myself that I had really managed to pull the wool over her eyes.

There are indeed houses where everything stays obediently in its place, where surfaces gleam continuously, and bedspreads lie wrinkle free and untouched. Like unicorns, these places are the stuff of luxury hotels and mansions where either nobody is around--or the maid has just left. And even in these magical places, as soon as someone opens the door, or the fridge, or kicks off their shoes-- well, the spell is completely and utterly broken. It seems that we humans cannot enter a space without leaving some trace that we have been there.

I struggle with this greatly, because I adore the glossy magazine cover look. There is just something so endlessly engaging about houses that look like they are suspended in time, holding their breath and waiting to be enjoyed. It's like looking at a birthday cake, with its swirls of colored frosting roses, moments before you cut into it. So delectable to touch the piles of perfectly stacked bath towels as the steaming water is running into the tub, to admire the willow basket of green apples moments before they become sticky peelings, cores, and eventually a pie, to walk across a floor that is squeaky clean and gleams with summer sunlight. There is a sense of expectation in a room where the pillows are fluffed, where flowers and trinkets sit in perfectly studied casualness on shelves and tables. In that orderliness and calm, there is, or rather there should be, a sense of welcome, and yes, implicit in that is also an invitation to come in and mess it up.  In other words, to live in it.

I show you my home often in its finer, more organized moments. And I will admit that I work very hard to keep my home clean, tidy, and yes, I do strive for that 'cover look.' But the longer I am a homemaker, the more I realize that messes are another kind of artistic still-life, that, heck, they are indeed life. They are the evidence that living people (and a cat)  eat here, sleep here, love here. The messes in the home are like the wrapping paper all over the floor when the gifts have been opened and enjoyed. They are something I am learning to be grateful for, and they are, whether I like it or not, an essential aspect of the goodness of being alive.



Sunday, February 10, 2019

An Ordinary Romance

Even after fourteen years of marriage, my husband cannot wait to come home, and he tells me this often. In fact, it is not uncommon for him to even phone me during the day, where he says he just wants to hear my voice. He honors me often by telling people that his wife creates 'his sanctuary.'

Being a housewife really gives me constant opportunities to improve my marriage. As my husband is an Anglican priest, we have mentored couples dealing with intense marital discord. Every time, I am taken aback by how rampant materialism  has stolen their time and sense of priorities, and of course, romance is the first thing to go. I fervently pray that their hearts would soften and they would be moved to a reorganized life, one based around the Biblical roles of man and woman. It would give them a truly strong foundation and simplify so much that they are going through --and yes, even in the midst of today's daunting financial pressures, it CAN be done...but that is a subject for another post.

Many people are caught on the hamster wheel of over-working and over-spending, and they think that romance must also have elegant expensive trappings. They think romance involves huge bouquets of crimson roses, candlelit dinners at five-star restaurants and the soaring sounds of violins. Or they think of luxury get-away vacations to white-sand beaches or bed-and-breakfasts tucked away in postcard mountain villages.

Candy ceramic hearts from Goodwill.
But I find that romance is truly built on the ordinary. Romance is a cumulative effect of consideration and kindness and even just plain good manners.  It is about seeing your loved one and really noticing all that is good about him or her, noticing it and above all, holding it tight and appreciating it.

Family photos, and a card from our wedding tucked in.
  Many modern women today are terrified of being subservient or overly-generous with their spouses. Feminism has taught them that this is 'beneath them', that it will lead them down a road of being a doormat, or turn them into a meek and rather stupid mouse. It has taught them that to get what you want, you have to fight for it. You have to be vigilant and make sure that you are 'getting your fair share.' They claim that giving so much will just leave a man demanding more and more, that it will lead to abuse and a wasted life. I agree that this can be possible if a woman marries a man with an unsavory character, and in my feminist college days, I certainly knew my share of shady characters. But when a woman marries a truly good, decent man, and especially one that understands the Biblical principles of manhood...well, then this supposition is completely turned on its head. After so many years of marriage, and a marriage with more than its share of financial and medical trials, I can honestly say that the more I give to my husband, the more he gives back to me. It has become a game, centering on who can give more to the other...and I assure you that it is one heck of a lot of fun.

I enjoy doing little things for him every day, like playing relaxing classical or jazz music when he walks in the door, stressed-out and exhausted. Or I might tuck a sweet note in his lunch, or make his favorite meal or dessert. If he mentions something he sees that needs to be done, such as an errand on his already crowded schedule, I will volunteer to do it before being asked. I keep myself looking put together with make-up and nice clothes as much as possible, and maintain a tidy house, so that we have a pleasant environment to enjoy most of the time. I love to bring him a hot cup of tea while he is studying, just because. We savor nice, peaceful dinners together and although I have dishes to do in the evening, I try to keep tasks down so that I can focus on him. I was married to an alcoholic as a young woman, and I know far too well that a loving man should be appreciated, because there are many, many other less-desirable places he could unwind after work besides his home. I also make sure to nurture myself during the day, with a short nap, maybe or some time off to do something purely for fun. I believe that being refreshed improves me as a person, and enables me to be more happily generous.

Silk tulips I received while deathly sick with pneumonia, several years ago.
My husband loves to shower me with little things, as well. In fact, for many years, I have grown cautious about expressing a whim, because he is prone to just go out and get whatever I say I would like. Ever since he brought a sub sandwich lunch to my office after our first date, hubby loves to bring home treats. Whether it's burgers and ice cream on a Friday night because he doesn't want me to have to cook, or ginger ale, sushi, and Chinese chicken soup when I am sick, he loves to go out of his way to make me smile. He acknowledges how hard I work, and in the summer, it's not uncommon for him to suggest we just jump in the car and have a day adventure, just to get out of the house for awhile. In our frigid winters, he insists on warming up the car for me, and will always drop me off at the door of our destination, while he goes to park. He is secure enough to watch a whole lot of chick flicks (I think he secretly likes them)...and he loves to hear about my day, even the most mundane details. I have seen him inspire other men to pamper their ladies, because he will treat me like a Southern belle at parties, bringing me little morsels on a plate. One Christmas, when we were so very broke, we made a pact that we would not buy presents for each other. He shocked me with a wrapped jewelry box, and inside was a Hershey's chocolate kiss.
He goes without so many things; his work shoes wear thin at the soles, and his suit-coats get compliments from people who don't know they come from the thrift store--all so that we can stay solvent and pay our bills. He still calls me his bride, and I have seen other men imitate this practice after being around him. The figurine down below symbolizes how we work through fights; we force ourselves to hold hands and look into each other's eyes. It has de-escalated many a hot-tempered situation, and bonded us even more together.

I think Valentine's Day this year will be simple as always. Maybe a homemade two-layer chocolate fudge cake for dessert or a card tucked under his pillow. But when every day is Valentine's Day, you already have it all.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Clean and gleaming for the New Year

Well, it's January. Time to lug out those cardboard boxes from the garage, sweep up all the dusty pine needles from the corners of the living room, and after all is dusted and polished anew, time to showcase all things that gleam and shine...just like the New Year.

I tend to think of winter decorating as 'Christmas-lite'. In other words, it is a combination of holding onto a few traces of crimson richness from the holiday, while displaying all of the silver and blues that tingle and tickle like snowflakes on your nose.

Safe, battery-operated candles look so hopeful and warm on dark winter nights, while a mason jar of silk poinsettias keeps memories of Christmas around just a bit longer. I also use our Christmas dishes until the end of the month. Hubby misses the Christmas decor something fierce, and the dishes help him cope with his holiday 'withdrawal.'

In the upstairs parlor, I am interested in a formal, restrained look. It's fun to bring the snowy season indoors with a few pine cones,a hint of golden ribbon, and a silvery snowflake. I used the same crystal vases from Christmas, simply filling them with green and blue glass balls. 

I want to keep it a bit more warm and casual down in the family room. 

I love all the frills of Christmas, but have to admit that the clean look of the New Year is really calming in the kitchen. 

If you haven't guessed already, I am a bit of an armchair interior decorator, and so there will be more posts about decorating as the seasons change. But I promise there will be more topics tucked in along the way. 

Hoping you keep a candle lit in your heart while we face all the challenges and opportunities waiting in this New Year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas Tour

As Christmas fast approaches, I thought I’d take you on a tour of our festively decorated home. First of all, I have to make a disclaimer, or maybe two. This will not be one of those sumptuous house tours I love to watch, where everything matches, is trendy, and oh-so-elegant. All, and I mean all, of my decorations are either vintage, homemade, finds at thrift stores, or gifts along the way. Secondly, everything cutesy, sweet, and sentimental rules the day. This was the first year I didn’t put up the popcorn strings that my boys made when they were little, but only because I didn’t have room.  I still have their ornaments made from clay and construction paper in elementary school, and yes, they are on the tree.

There was once a time when my Christmas was a pretty stark affair, and I relied on paper chains and paper drawings of gingerbread men, stars, and tin soldiers. In fact, I even think this tree itself was a castaway. That was an amazing, never-to-be-forgotten Christmas, because if it had not been for my family sending gifts, there would have been nothing under the tree for my babies---a very, very hard time. And because I know what it is like to do with so little, I unpack SEVEN boxes of Christmas trinkets every single year with a renewed sense of gratitude and wonder and waves of memory.  What really gets me is how little I purchased myself.

We’ll start downstairs in the family room. The tree is loaded with ornaments,  little wooden ones I tole painted, crocheted ones from my late grandmother, two military ones representing hubby and son, initials of our granddaughters, a few pieces my husband bought while in South Korea, and even one from Mount Vernon,  commemorating our visit to George Washington’s home.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus perched on the windowsill were made by my dear departed auntie; their bodies are made of plastic Ivory soap dish-washing bottles, and they were made for me when I was a little girl. I believe Auntie Mavis is who I take after when it comes to art-making.  The Sheriff is a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement of my hubby’s years in law enforcement, given to us by his mom.  I snatched up the tree-topper from Goodwill. For many decades our tree had gone without a topper, because I couldn’t find one I really liked. This one was so unique that I had to have it, and the price was certainly right.

A few touches near the television. The crispness of white is a nice counterpart to all the colors in the tree. The arrangement is in a Korean lantern that my son bought me as souvenir when he was serving there in the Air Force. I also like to keep gorgeous Christmas cards from year to year and continue to display them, a free and easy way to add holiday accent.


So many good memories are symbolized in this cozy corner. The snowman came from a lovely senior woman back in my house-cleaning days, and the little elves at the far left were a temptation I couldn’t resist back when I was working at a non-profit charity that had an adjoining thrift store. I really like placing the Pere Noel by the globe at the top of the cabinet for a more ethnic feel. He was a gift from hubby’s brother.

Now, who could resist these little guys, really?  Especially the precious one that is reading the book, a little man after my own heart. The golden bowl filled with holly was once used by my husband for Buddhist ceremonies, back in the days when he lived all over Asia.

And now onto the library. These cards came a few years back from a secret Santa, who’s identity we do not know to this day. They are whimsical depictions of the twelve days of Christmas, and are delightfully and carefully hand-crafted. On the day of ‘five golden rings’, a kindly stranger knocked on the front door and presented me with another card.

Inside was the message, “He sees all that you do, and He is pleased”, along with five crisp 100 dollar bills.

The timing and sheer anonymous generosity of this gift was so divinely perfect that it sent us both into tears of utter joy, and yes, it sent us to our knees. We were sorely needing automotive repairs at the time, and had been doubting God’s providence, wondering again if I needed to go back to an outside full-time job, even though my being away from home so much would radically affect our ministry. These cards mean so much to the both of us, and give me spiritual ‘goosebumps’ every year that I display them. Our Father loves us beyond our wildest imaginings. This card stays in my Bible at all times, reminding me that God is not just some lofty, abstract presence; He cares about ALL of our lives, even the most mundane details, and He uses wonderful people to achieve His purposes.

Just another touch of the holiday on my cabinet of domestic books. The little snowman is Target’s mascot, “Snowden”, a reminder of my mother’s days working there. The red placemat and flannel poinsettias were made by a relative in the 1990s, and have come out every year since.

On our way upstairs, there’s a little something I did to spice up the laundry room.  The tree was given to us and decorated by my mother-in-law when we were in the middle of a lot of life transitions and couldn’t unpack our own tree that year. I simply adore it…it’s apparent she knew how much I crave red at Christmas. The little placard down below was painted by my daughter-in-law. And the chair was going to meet a dastardly fate beside the dumpster…until I rescued it and gave it a new paint job with some left-over house paint.

At the top of the stairs, is our nativity scene. This was purchased back in the 1990s at the store, ‘Legends’, once a fixture in almost every mall.  I’m afraid those stores have passed into the mists of legends…sorry, pun totally intended. (smile) I liked this set, but didn’t like how it was painted, so meticulously repainted it. Aside from its obvious significance to hubby and I as followers of Christ, it also brings back vivid memories of Christmas in 2005. We were living in the attic/servant’s quarters of a Victorian mansion in Pennsylvania. I never fail to remember how soft and deep the snow would fall outside our broken stained glass window, trudging up those steep Allegheny hills from our local library, and the warm smiles in Grandma’s kitchen. These were the only ornaments we could easily access in the jungle of packing boxes, and they were such a grace note in our nearly bare apartment. The ribbon tree was also made by a friend, and the trimmings around the scene came from South Korea.


What priest’s home would be complete without some happy singing monks? (I tend to think hubby resembles the one on the right.) This charming little music box plays ‘Joy to the World’, and was a gift as well from a friend.

I like to keep a much more formal air about this room, since it is where we tend to entertain and do pastoral counseling. Everything on this table was a gift, including the very fine—and I daresay—expensive crystal vases. Those were both filled with enormous flower arrangements and sent to my job from a former boyfriend, long before I met my dear hubby, who after 14 years, has indeed proven himself to be the love of my life.

Tucked inside the lawyer bookcase are three angels that fascinated me as a child in the 1970s…

A little vignette of snowmen—or snowboys, as my kids used to call them—cheer up the bathroom, along with some seasonal embroidered hand-towels and a pine-cone and pearl ornament.

And lastly, the kitchen…

More gifts from friends,  I can’t get enough red from Christmas, but I also have such a passion for warm, soft yellows…

We have had our Christmases of abundance, and we have had those where there was less. Frankly, the more I look back, the harder it is to distinguish between the two. Sometimes the darker and bleaker it was, the more brightly that Star could shine. I sincerely wish you and yours all the blessings you could wish for during this season of wonders.