Thursday, January 30, 2020

Housework and Good Mental Health

"Some people vacation in Yellowstone, Aruba, or New Orleans. Others go to Bali to lie on white beaches, or to the Himalayas to climb steep mountains. I went to Japan to clean toilets." 

--from the book, 'Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures' by Louise Rafkin

America is a nation of fads. (The word fad, incidentally, is an anagram for the phrase "famous for a day." ) Maybe it's because of our affluence, but it seems to me that Americans are constantly chasing fulfillment in the next shopping spree, the next exercise program, the next self-help trend. Sometimes, I think that Americans are allergic to what is simple and authentic, the things that require just a wee bit of discipline, the things that are right in front of us, free for the taking.

Housework is a lot like that.  It's almost legendary how much it is derided, avoided, scorned, complained about and yes--whined--about. When hearing many people talk about housework, it would seem that they were talking about loading boulders uphill, or shoveling coal miles underground, their faces smeared with soot and sweat.

But did you know that in many cultures of the world, housecleaning is a sacred act? Monks around the world, and in both the Buddhist and Catholic faith get up each morning and faithfully do the most menial tasks. They scrub floors on their hands and knees, and sweep steps with willow brooms, all done with care and mindfulness. This is how they show the deepest respect to their monasteries; it is how they serve and affirm their place in existence. It is one way in which they meditate, communicating with God in the monotonous, rhythmic work before them. It is also how they nourish inner peace and inner respect.

 I fully, unequivocally believe that my discipline of homemaking has pulled me out of many a dark, deep valley. Doing this activity, day in and day out, whether I 'feel' like it or not, has helped me grow and helped me give.

Here are some of the ways doing housework has improved my life.
1.) It helps to organize my mind. 
There is a belief out there that a messy environment is a sign of a mind in chaos. I find this to be true. A straightened up room helps me to think more clearly, plain and simple. 

2.) It grounds me. I have heard many naturopathic physicians recommend soaking up the energy of the earth, by walking barefoot in the grass. I even remember a program where an outdoorman/survivalist type never wore shoes at all...even in the winter! (No, I don't recommend that.) But I do relish walking barefoot in my yard in the summer, and I would add that working with the hands can feel just as wholesome. So much of our time is spent living in a world of abstraction, pushing keyboard buttons that make symbolic marks on a screen. (As I am doing right now.) But sweeping a floor, or swishing a cloth in some delightful lemon scented suds brings my physical being to the fore in a way that can be deeply satisfying.

3.) It actually has helped me deal with my perfectionism.
The most common complaint I hear about housework is that it is never done, and yes that is a hard fact with which to come to terms. It is never done because it is intrinsically connected to life, and as such is vitally important. Housework is as essential--and as forgotten about--as your breathing or your beating heart. The advance of technology and even the most strident complaints from the feminists will not ever alter that fact, because people will always need to eat and sleep and hopefully live in a bit of order. Successful, happy homemakers learn that planning is their best friend and that time is precious. They schedule each day and focus on the relevant tasks before them, understanding that in any job tasks will repeat themselves over and over. They do their best, and respect the occupation enough to learn how to do better.They realize that 'perfection' is an impossible goal and instead work towards excellence--which means consistently doing one's best over time. 

"When it seems that you have been unjustly stuck with cleaning up behind someone or something, think past that dirty pad--launch pad, I mean. There's always cleanup after launching any worthwhile project. As a giant life-enhancing cargo is launched into space to impact the world with scientific excitement and information, we hear and read about this great accomplishment, yet it rarely occurs to us that it left a dirty launchpad behind. Yes, getting that payload raised and up and out left the place blackened, sooted, smoked, scratched and scummy, just like getting a family launched into life. Great meals, great buildings, great novels, bumper crops and crown jewels all create some dust and mess getting the job done. Cleaning it up is not only worthwhile, it's actually part and parcel of the end result. Cleaning affects the quality of life much more than parties, socials, entertainments, vacations, etc., and look at all the effort and money we pour into them. So, just think as you clean up, "This is not the aftermath, but the launch...I'm preparing for the lift-off of great things.

When you think of the impact, the accomplishment of the 'clean' you've created in your life, when you focus on the end result, cleaning feels good and necessary and even noble."
--Don Aslett, 'Is There Life After Housework?'

4.)It gives you time to think and process emotions, while still being productive. Need to figure out the best course of action on something? Ponder your options while doing the dishes. Want to give your husband a piece of your mind? Pray and sort it out while sorting the whites from the colors. If
I'm having a day of deep sorrow, a freshly made bed would be much more soothing for an afternoon nap than one that is tear-stained and rumpled. At least in making the bed, I can exercise appropriate control in my life, and maybe the scent of lavender on a pillowcase where I rest my aching head will lessen my problems just the tiniest bit. Psychologists are still studying the details of  brain chemistry, but one fact is undeniable. If a good brisk walk will cause your body to be flooded with endorphins, it stands to reason that moving constructively has the potential to alter your thoughts--and your mood. And as Julia Cameron observes in her book, 'The Artist's Way', dull boring housework has a way of bringing out our hidden creativity.

"Filling the well needn't be all novelty. Cooking can fill the well. When we chop and pare vegetables, we do with our thoughts as well. Remember art is an artist-brain pursuit. The brain is reached through rhythm--through rhyme, not reason. Scraping a carrot, peeling an apple--these actions are quite literally food for thought.

Any regular, repetitive action primes the well. Writers have heard many woeful tales of the Bronte sisters and poor Jane Austen, forced to hide their stories under their needlework. A little experiment with some mending can cast a whole new light on these activities. Needlework, by definition regular and repetitive, both soothes and stimulates the artist within. Whole plots can be stitched up while we sew. As artists, we can very literally reap what we sew."

5.)It is an example of sacrifice and giving, and it keeps you humble. Housework is a beautiful form of social work. What better way to say 'I love you' than to put fresh linens on the bed, fluffy towels near the bathtub, serve a steaming cup of Earl Grey in a shining china cup? A gleaming toilet requires a bended knee, a strong arm, and an obedient spirit, which is cultivated more and more, every time it is scrubbed.

"When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. "You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
John 13:12
6.)It helps you to see how much you have been blessed with. Hallelujah!  Dirty dishes means that you have food to eat. A cluttered closet means you have clothes on your back. Even the roof over your head, the windows, the appliances, the heating and cooling system...all of these riches made for your comfort, boggle the mind.  The average American home is bulging at the seams, so much that that 'minimizing' and 'decluttering', or their opposite--storage units--have become a normal part of modern life. Look around you with fresh eyes, whisper a sincere thank you, and decide how best you will honor the riches you have received. (And yes, it's okay to let your gratitude spill into donations for the Goodwill.)

  7.)The home is like a mirror, and the more housework you do, the more the house 'smiles' back at you. I find people to be difficult and unreliable. (No offense, dear readers, but the world of relationships can be tough for us all.) However homemaking is a series of constant, reliable transactions. In other words, if I wash my windows, I will be immediately rewarded with shining clear views outside. Every morning, looking at my kitchen's shining sink and butter yellow walls is as delicious as that first cup of coffee. Something as simple as mopping is sure to make my floors gleam like they belong in a palace. Hubby and I have renovated two very run-down houses and it makes my heart sing to see what dignified charming places they are today. Sometimes our relationships fail, no matter how much we give; things get complicated or misconstrued. There is so much loss in life, it sometimes can take our breath away. But in homemaking we are constantly building back up and ordering what is out of order, creating nurture and loveliness over and over.

8.)It is physical and gets you moving. Our family room is downstairs, while everything else (kitchen, formal room, bathroom, bedroom) is upstairs. Going up and down the steps so many times in a day is my own kind of homemade exercise machine.

9.)It sends out a message, "I respect myself and I respect my environment." This is a tough one, because many people think they deserve a clean environment, but don't want to lift a finger to obtain it. They think that this kind of work is completely beneath them, when it is simply part of being a human being.  As a former professional house cleaner, I can tell you that this kind of thinking leads to nothing but misery. There is an old adage, 'Nothing is certain but death and taxes." Housework should really be added to that. Unless you're royalty with a full compliment of household staff, it is hardly likely that you will ever be entirely free of putting a plate in a dishwasher or throwing in a load of laundry. People with this sad perspective fail to grasp the concept of 'right action', where one orderly action leads to the next orderly action, a practice that can be put into countless areas of life. They miss out on the self-respect that naturally flows when one is achieving based on rightness of thought, rather than raw desire or self-centeredness.

You'll never hear me say that this is an easy journey, but it is most definitely worthwhile. If housework has been a battle for you, first of all, work on being teachable. Examine the values and opinions of others and ask yourself what really matters in your life.Just because something is mainstream and popular in the culture does not make it automatically right. I think a good starting place is discovering Marla Cilley ( Her testimony will make you want to hug her, and her methods of cleaning are simple, tried, and true. At one point, Marla's life was complete chaos and her house was no exception. After being hospitalized for such severe depression that she nearly killed herself, she resolved to start her life over, step by step. And a major part of that recovery was learning how to have a home that demonstrated her sense of newfound self-worth. Her video below really says it all (dig the pre-millenial computer technology.)

 Housework is never going to go away, my friends.

 And hopefully, we'll get to a point where we thank Heaven for that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Some More Frugal Things We Did Recently

"Yet thrift is a genuine virtue and one well worth embracing. It is not romantic and has a private worth, but without it there can be little solid domestic happiness. For thrift is neither selfishness nor cheese-paring, but a large, compassionate attribute, a just regard for God's material gifts. It has nothing in common with meanness and is different from economy, which, although it may assist thrift, is a habit rather than a moral act. "

Phyllis McGinley, poet, author of books for children and women, author of 'Sixpence in Her Shoe' a response to Betty Friedan's book, 'The Feminine Mystique'.  Pulitzer Prize Winner (1961), recipient of twelve honorary degrees, and extremely happy and traditional housewife. 

Thrift is a mindset that grows into many a smart and creative habit.  Here are a few of our most recent penny-pinching accomplishments.

1.)  Making New Creations Out of Leftovers.
 About two cups of leftover meat spaghetti sauce (homemade)
 combined with some beef broth from the freezer,
 a couple of beef bouillon cubes, 
a couple of carrots, 
a couple of celery stalks, 
an onion, 
garlic, salt and pepper to taste 
made a pot of soup that warmed us delightfully through this past snow storm. I'm showing you the last little bowl, because it was nearly gone before I had time to snap a photo. We had this for three lunches and savored every steaming spoonful.

2.)  Freezer Sandwiches
I took three loaves of bread bought at the discount rack of our local bakery. One loaf went into individually wrapped peanut butter and jellies; one was made into lunch-meat chicken and cheese sands, and the other was roast beef and cheese. There are so many videos on youtube on how to make these, so it's good to check there first. However, just a couple of hints: to keep sandwiches from getting soggy, make sure that you put peanut butter on both inside slices of your pb & js, then add jelly, making sure it only touches the peanut butter and not the bread edges. Use a very thin layer of butter for the meat sandwiches, and it's a good idea to blot the lunch meat with a napkin. We have found that artisan breads (we used a brand called 'Naked Bread' ) give a lot more flavor and heartiness to the sandwiches. I think it took about fifteen minutes to do all these sandwiches; I believe it made about 21 total. We enjoyed them as 'fast food' with our soup...yum!

3.) Keep your thermostat at 65 degrees. We often go to 60 degrees at night.
I just can't see the point of letting all those dollars burn up in the furnace when I can easily put on a pair of warm socks, or throw on a sweater. It's also such a cozy experience to snuggle in a warm quilt. Hubby and I find that we both sleep far better when the house is cooler, as well. If we just can't warm up, I will get the oven going and bake us a treat and fill the house with scent and yummy goodness as well.

4.)Being thrifty can also add some zing to your day.
I originally bought a paint sample at the local hardware store in order to paint this dark corner of the laundry room. However the first color did not have the neon zest I was looking for, so I again used what I had and mixed my own paint---from some spare tubes at my easel. No, I wouldn't typically recommend this, but the wall is simply a piece of sheet-rock and so I'm not concerned about the quality of paint. I smile every single time I come down here, and it pretty much cost me nothing.

 5.) Try to find a way to do it yourself.

Letting you know that we bought a nail trimmer for our little sweetie was a perfect excuse to post this adorable picture. I don't think there is any pet jumping at the chance to get their claws clipped, but it saves us some stress taking her to the vet six weeks and the $30 fee. I don't know if this particular one is better than others; we'll just have to see over time.

Happy thrifting, my friends!  Remember little things add up to a lot.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The Country Mouse Goes on a Cruise Ship

When I was a little girl, I loved the story 'The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.' If you don't remember it, it was about a simple little housekeeping mouse who wore a tiny pink ruffled apron and spent her days sweeping her humble little parlor at the base of an old oak tree, setting her table with plain nuts and berries gathered from the fields. Her cousin, the Town Mouse, comes to her home and shares how wonderful and sophisticated life in the city is, how full of delights and luxuries. So, Country Mouse decides that perhaps she needs a break from all this simple life and heads off with her cousin to experience all of this dazzling glitz and glamour.

First of all, I want to state it seems like quite the leap to go from talking about the merits of cardboard boxes as furniture in my last post, and now announcing that hubby and I finished a European cruise. No, we didn't suddenly win the lottery, and no, all of our thrifty living did not suddenly produce piles of extra travel money. This was a gift, three years in the planning, from hubby's parents who are very much into the sea cruise lifestyle, and we took the trip to the Netherlands, Ireland and England with them.

I have wanted to go to England since I was nine years old, when I fell into a lifelong rabbit hole of studying Tudor history. And so, to be able to see ramparts that Henry VIII built, to see the sun setting over the white cliffs of Dover, to wander the twisty fairy-tale cobblestone of Canterbury, well, it was truly beyond anything I could ever believe.

  Because of rough seas, inclement weather, and the illnesses that often accompany such things, we did spend a great deal of time on the ship, as well. It was so refreshing and healing for me to witness the value of hospitality, brought to a pinnacle of professionalism by a crew who's smiling attention to detail never once seemed to falter. It 'brought home' to me again and again how important the job of caring for other human beings really is. Think about it--entire mega million dollar industries, such as the hotel, vacation, and cruise industries are built on creating excellent hospitality,  the very same skills, with maybe some extra polish, that the humble homemaker uses every day. And such small things, really, such as a starched white tablecloth, a piping hot cup of tea, and a delicately cut sandwich on a pretty plate are such achievable steps to the sublime.

Yes, we had five star meals, almost every single night. Yes, the sun set every night on a living painting of sea and sky and sweeping coastline, a constant, always changing miracle. And a funny thing happened in response to these ultra-plush surroundings. The majority among our nightly dinner party group would sigh, saying how they never wanted to go home and leave this paradise. Or they would talk with fervent resolve about how many more hours they would take on at their jobs in order to get back for another round of luxury.

Hubby and I, country mice that we are, had quite a different reaction. We focused on this trip, and each moment, without grasping for anything more. We looked at our stateroom, so orderly, neat, and inviting after a day of touring on the coast, and reflected gratefully on how household routines in our daily lives constantly revive the tired spirit. We looked at an elegantly plated meal, and thought, "What a great idea to try at home." We laughed at the whimsical animals made of towels popping up nightly on the bed, and hubby enjoyed them so much that he bought a book on how to make them himself. We tried our very best to give heartfelt thanks to all the beautiful people who served us, knowing that to truly nurture others requires uncommon strength, patience, and the willingness to sweat through hundreds of unseen and distasteful tasks, tasks that hold chaos at bay. All of those hard-working hands made that ship run every bit as the enormous engines, and we wanted to constantly recognize that.


Like Miss Country Mouse, we realize that much of what we think we want that is 'out there' is really ours for the having quite simply and quite inexpensively and even quite easily.  Home has become an evasive concept for so many of us in these modern times, a place associated with unending chores at the end of a punishing work day...a place to get away from. I think that in the course of a couple of generations, because so many skills of running an organized, relaxing home have been lost or degraded, indeed it does seem like the only way to get some tranquility is to buy it for thousands of dollars and seek it thousands of miles away. How sad that so many of the luxuries of life really could be ours on an almost daily basis, if we were committed to slowing down, simplifying, studying the wisdom of others, and savoring what is right in front of us.  

If we are going to take the trip of a lifetime, let us make sure that we are returning to the home of a lifetime. And above all, that we are filling that lifetime with so many daily joys that  whether we are sitting in a gilded restaurant or in our armchair with the worn spots on the arms, we are equally in the best part of the world.   


Saturday, July 13, 2019

A few simple--and frugal--joys this week

Frugality is a mindset, made up of many little actions. I'm sure there are more thrifty things that we did this week, but here are the ones that stand out.

1.) I made up a huge bowl of pasta salad for dinner from a few leftover vegetables and meat in the fridge. I used the pickle jar vinegar as an ingredient in the dressing.

2.) I got sick of laying my paperbacks and night-time lotion on the floor on my side of the bed. After a brief survey of the box collection in the shed (yes, we seem to hoard good cardboard boxes), I was able to find a box that fit perfectly in that corner, and covered with a pretty sheet, it has been transformed into a corner table that pleases me greatly. 

3.) We repurposed a copper bowl from an old water fountain. The fountain, a long ago gift, had to be plugged in to be used outside, and we have never had an outside outlet, so it had taken space in storage for years. We took out the basin and used it to make an lovely birdbath.

4.) I bought a black velvet evening gown for $3.00 at Goodwill. Originally the price tag said $5.99, which thrilled me beyond belief. When the salesgirl rang it up and said it was yellow tagged at half price, I was over the moon. Cinderella is going to the party in style! 
(And yes, I actually need this for an upcoming event.)

5.) We did do some buying this week. Despite the fact that everyone who knows me knows that coming to my house always involves having a cup of tea, I must confess I have never in my adult life had a real tea kettle. (I have always used a pot for boiling water.) We found this one for 25 cents at a garage sale.  It even matches the red accents in kitchen. I am feeling quite fancy.
5.) We had some leftover sweet and sour pork and leftover rice that was still okay to eat but hadn't been very tasty the night it was made. I added some Korean sauce hubby always keeps on hand and took the hard not-completely cooked rice, added a little water and re-steamed it to fluffy goodness in the microwave.  It turned into a passable dinner, and even a bit for lunch. I am so glad that I didn't throw it away.

6.) I ran out of liquid hand soap, but didn't want to buy some until pay day came around again. I poured some Dollar Store lavender body wash into the bottle, shook it with some water (about half and half) and the soap is every bit as nice as 'proper' hand soap. As Marla Cilley of Flylady fame says, "Soap is soap."  

7.) We hosted a wedding renewal service at our home this week. I made a homemade-from-
scratch yellow bundt cake, frosted it with homemade white buttercream, and put a nosegay of white silk roses in the center. The cake simply cost me butter, sugar, and flour. The glasses were bought many years ago, and tied with discount ribbon from the Dollar Store. I made a potato salad, arranged some cold cuts on a plate, cubed up a huge watermelon, and put out some potato chips and potato rolls. Elegant, refreshing, and simple. We arranged our tiny table in the parlor, and kept the kitchen open for a buffet.  It was a lovely night, and proved that a special event can be celebrated with humble means.

It seems to me that thrift and gratitude are inextricably intertwined. I don't believe whatsoever in the prosperity gospel, or what New Agers call 'manifesting' or the 'law of attraction', but I do know from personal experience that you only have more when you are deeply thankful for what you already have, right now. This kind of gratitude makes it possible to stretch things or make them special, because deep down inside you already feel like you have enough. Some people believe that God only cares about lofty, intangible things. But, I have experienced over and over how much He cares that life is abundant and even luxurious for His children, on over the tiniest of details and the tiniest of incomes. I think wonderful things can come our way for pennies if we remember deep down, that if God wants us to have something, He will put it in front of us and make a way, no matter how much is in the wallet.

It's our goal to live a life so far from keeping up with the Joneses that they begin to wonder what we are up to.  May you find a multitude of simple frugal joys today, and every day.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Privilege of Tough Times

 "As it is with the commander of an army, or the leader of any enterprise, so is it with the mistress of the house."

Isabella Beeton, from her famous book, "The Book of Household Management", 1861. (pictured at right)

"She is clothed in strength and dignity; and she laughs without fear of the future." 
Proverbs 31:25
There's a common misconception out there that if a woman is a housewife, somehow she is weak, needing to be sheltered from the cold, hard world. That couldn't be further from the truth--in these times more than ever. In a materialistic society where we are told it is almost impossible for a family to function without dual incomes, deciding to be a homemaker requires a rebellious spirit and the heart and stamina to constantly swim upstream. It also requires a sort of steely calmness when troubles--especially financial ones--inevitably happen. 

For the past several years, my husband was working at a job where he had a two hour commute every day. I realize that this is the case for many out there, and wow, you indeed have my respect and sympathy. In our situation, the difficulty was compounded by a second-hand vehicle with random mechanical failures, winter road conditions that broke 40 year records for snow and ice, and a budget where there was absolutely no room for thousands of dollars of additional fuel costs. Sometimes he even had to stay at a local motel because the highway was closed except for emergency traffic. Although the position was--and is--a good solid one, there were many times when he and I wondered if the the job was just costing too much.

Every month more was going on the credit card than we were making. I have always been extremely frugal, and it was a slap in the face to be in a situation for the first time, where we were actually paying for necessities with plastic.  I was frightened; I felt worthless and guilty, and most of all I felt paralyzed with indecision. 

This was so different than other troubled times in my life. As a single mother, widowed at a young age and used to rolling up my sleeves, I am a woman of action, someone used to conquering problems with my own self-will. I have done all sorts of jobs and have some professional skills to my name. It seemed like a no-brainer that I would go out and make some extra income for us, and relieve the burden that my dear husband carried each and every day. 

But this time there was a dilemma.  I was now the wife of a pastor and a police chaplain, and I felt the Holy Spirit asking me loud and clear to stop to deal with this crisis differently this time. We had looked at the world with fresh eyes after coming back to Christ, truly seeing all the rampant adultery, divorce, and abuse. We had counseled many a shattered family, and knew that there were Biblical principles that could prevent much of this pain. Going back to the work world would be tearing at the heart of our belief system. It would be a statement that indeed, the verses about a woman's role and the hierarchy of the home were just anachronisms-- worthless in the current day. It would be a statement that we didn't think God was big enough to handle our finances. It would be a statement that the fads of feminism, our own fears, and a few entries in a check book were mightier than his plans.

We are beginning to come though this turbulent--and yet wonderful--time. In December of last year, I received the gift of news, news of a transfer for my husband that would bring him back to an agency only blocks away from home. I cried like a baby from relief, I must say. And as we are skimping still and whittling away at the debts, I can finally breathe a bit and reflect back on the lessons learned.

 If you are struggling financially, first of all, let me please give you a huge cyberspace hug. In a world where we seem to talk about anything and anyone, money seems to be last taboo, and especially when we are having problems with it. There is nothing quite like the loneliness of following an ideal that the world is trying to stomp out, and when the winds of trouble blow, it is so easy to think you have made some sort of colossal mistake. You are not alone. There are others going through similar things, and God is there with you as well, every step of the way. 

I wish I could say that I was valiant, strong and self-controlled throughout this journey, that I always had faith and trust. Umm...not so much. I whined and worried and tantrumed and threw my hands up in defeat more often than I care to admit. I probably mentioned going back to work at least once a week, and always, my dear husband would remind me that he needed me home. And another thing that happened? I'd start to search the job ads and invariably, something at home would just suddenly come up, a furnace repair, a vet visit, a husband sick for days with the flu, and yet again, I would be reminded that things happen in this house that cannot be addressed from a desk at the office.
Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how  the lilies of the field grow; they do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these.…

Here are some of the things I believe I learned through this particular journey.

1.) I learned that God will indeed reward thrift and care with His money.  We need to remember that all that we have, has been given to us from Him, from the roof over our head to every single breath we take. God will take care of our basic needs, if we ask Him. Throughout this financial challenge, there was not ONE time where we were unable to make a payment on a bill. I believe this was because we were content to have our basic needs met; we were not asking Him for more than that. We were also willing to sacrifice any extras, live simply and willing to stretch every bit as far as it would go. I believe I can say that God approved of this, because many, many, many times, we would have exactly, almost to the penny what we needed, even when at first glance, it seemed the budget just wouldn't cover it all. I like to joke with hubby about times like that and say, "Well, God's showing off, again." I love those moments, because it is like He is deliberately making his presence known to us.

2.) I learned that God's plan is for us to be more than workers and consumers. We are to be responsible with the resources that come into our lives, but focusing only on the finances is very close to making them an idol. We are human beings, not just human wage earners. Sometimes we need to be tested over whether our values can be bought or not. The world will tell you the direct opposite of what God would have you do. It will tell you that you are a burden when really you are being a support system; it will tell you that you are being foolish when actually you are seeking great wisdom.

3.) I learned that if I had God, it really wasn't that hard to give up most material things. During extremely impoverished times, we realize how much is out there that is just frivolous and really doesn't fulfill us. In fact, many of the fripperies of life just manage to drain us. I think this is why monks focus on simple lives as their way to get closer to God.

4.) I realized that God was bigger than my bills. He could handle this; I just had to do my part and my best each day, and let Him take care of the rest.  It was during this time, that I encountered many people who were in far worse financial straits than we were, and both people in the marriage were working, and making far more money. I learned that 'financial security' only could come from true security, which could only come from the Creator of the Universe.

And most of all, I learned that tough times are a time to exercise our faith muscles. It is not about being punished or 'in trouble' with God; it is about learning to walk with Him more closely. When we are trusting only in our nice bank account balances, or the size of our investment portfolios, we tend to trust our own devices far too much. But when things fall apart...ah, those can be the best times in our lives, if we are willing to be guided. These are the times we may not want to live again, but if we are willing to learn we can be mighty glad they happened. They are the times when we are privileged to have a front seat, to witness His providence in action, to see how God can work through what we think is 'impossible.'  

What a glorious thing to see.




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.