Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Big Three and Sometimes Four

I think of home as a production center. Home is a place where comfort, orderliness, and peace should roll off its 'assembly-line', each and every day.  While this may seem like an unattainable goal, it really isn't. It's all about making sure that some basic, but very crucial, things get accomplished so regularly that they become almost unconscious habits. You wouldn't think about leaving the house without brushing your teeth, and these home maintenance chores are at the same level.

There are three things that I do every day, with the exception of being mortally ill, and then I have them done by someone else...usually hubby.  I think of these three as being the foundation from where all other homemaking tasks begin. These three things have been proven and time-tested through my years of raising children, working outside the home, and even when I had an in-home daycare.  They aren't everything that home-making entails, but they have gotten me through tough and ridiculously-busy times.

1. I get all the dishes done by the end of the day, at the latest. This works even if you don't have a dishwasher; after years of standing over the sink, I can attest to this. I pick my time, but I make sure that they are done once a day, every day.  Garbage, if full, is taken out.

2. The bed is made. This job, in my view, is a loving gesture to yourself and your family. There is nothing better than to pull the sheets back from a neatly made bed at the end of an exhausting day.

3. I do a load of laundry. I have a pretty wicker clothes basket, and I like to finish the load, fold it, and put it in there to be put away the next day. The next day it is put away consistently, and I do the next load. Remember this is a mindset where laundry is done every day.

 4. This is optional, but this idea helps too. I try to figure out what we are having for dinner, and if I have the time I try to put it together in the morning. (Yes, I have made spaghetti sauce at 6 a.m., before I really had my eyes!)  Crock pots are your best friends here, and it's also helpful to cut up some vegetables, toss up a salad, make some jello, some various forms of preliminary food prep. If I can, I try to make up casseroles and main dishes in the morning, because I'm one of those crazy morning people.  That way, you can just pop it in the microwave or oven in the evening, and it almost feels like someone else made your meal...almost.  At least, try to have an idea of what you want for dinner. This will relieve so much stress come 5:00, and as you sail past the fast-food joints back to a home-cooked meal, you'll be glad you did.
No matter how crazy the world outside is--and we all have those crazy times-- if these three things are done for your household, your home will welcome you with open arms.  You will also have three of the most important things a home provides, clean dishes, clean clothes, and a clean place to rest. 

(Image: "Study of a Breezy Window" Colored Pencil by Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 1998)


Friday, June 19, 2015

Raggedy cookbooks

My first--and still old standby--Better Homes and Gardens, given to me as a wedding gift in 1984. It looks like it might have survived an earthquake or an attack of savage dogs, when in actuality all it had to endure was a painfully insecure teenage cook who learned through a rollercoaster ride of flops, of sawdust cakes and bread like a brick and stew where the carrots still crunched like orange rocks. My sons took their Crayolas to this book, and although I was mad at the time, now those are the pages that make me want to hold their little hands again. Half of the pages in the book have fallen out and most are bumpy with dishwater stains and all manner of mystery food splotches. The book is open to Blonde Brownies, which I have probably made at least a hundred times in my life, and I see I have marked 'Toffee Bars' as 'good', but I've made them so many times that I certainly don't need that reminder anymore. 

The book above is a 1960s version of Better Homes and Gardens, which I ordered used from Amazon. It is a treasure trove of 1970s memorabilia, since the owner, a "Mrs. David E. Hoover" who inscribed the front cover with a flourish, collected magazine recipes and meticulously added them to her cookbook. She most definitely did NOT allow her sons to color all over the 'egg' section, and her book has nary a water stain.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Dishwashing ladies

Even though I grew up in the supposedly "I am woman, hear me roar" 1970s, the sight of women clustered together in tiny kitchens, washing and drying dishes, was as familiar to me as the face of my doll or my place at the dinner table. It was a sight that concentrated itself in the summer, since that was when my 'city-slicker' family would load up the Maverick and drive to one-street, bowling alley-and-bar towns in North Dakota, obscure towns that sometimes even people from the state hadn't heard of, where the rows of alfalfa fields ran ruler-straight to the blazing white sky, and where kitchens roared like infernos as steaming jars of tomatoes were brought out of enormous black canners, in a time where air-conditioning meant sitting in front of the portable fan.

I remember those formica counters being full of dirty dishes brought in from picnic tables or dining tables. Piles of exotic dishes that now line antique store shelves, dishes like dainty relish and pickle plates made of pale pink bubbly Depression glass that held watermelon pickles and tomato jam, served with tiny forks, so at odds with a farmer's calloused dirt-encrusted fingers. Sugar bowls with gilded handles and cream pitchers shaped like cows. Thick, yet slightly translucent white coffee cups with sweet little crimson roses blooming on their sides. China, always china, devoid of its cupboard chilliness because it was actually used...worn into ordinary by being put on a table three times a day and holding countless scoops of potatoes and gravy. Paper plates were anathema, alien, or even worst of the worst, trashy.  Paper plates were not part of those kitchens, and only mysteriously appeared on the 4th of July when you came back smelling like the local swimming pool and scratched at your mosquito bites while eating fried chicken in the grass.

I remember Grandma's thermometer over her kitchen sink reading 110 plus. I remember sweat mixing with lemon-scented steam on her forehead as her hands plunged and scrubbed in a mound of suds. I remember women wearing lipstick the color of the pink and red petunias outside, and nylons and their church shoes, with their 'fancy' chiffon aprons tied over their good Sunday dresses. But what I remember most is their chatter and their conversation.

Here was where I heard terms like 'stitch in the ditch' (a quilting phrase) and I learned that the secret to making a fluffy omelet was to add just a little bit of milk. I saw recipe cards filled out, with Victorian lady penmenship--'oooh, just what DID you do to that jello salad---and learned the heartbreak of a whole batch of jelly not setting--'just use it as pancake syrup'-- or that crocheting was so much easier than knitting. I heard how my mom's waist was so 'oh so tiny' in her lacy hooped wedding dress and how her cheeks were so pink that she didn't wear even a drop of makeup. How that July day when she married my Dad was SO hot...the women chattered back and forth, reminiscing and exaggerating...opening cupboards and vigorously drying--completely oblivious to the fact that they were currently in a room that smelled like a scorching iron. They would cackle, truly like hens, over old jokes, and snap wet towels at each other and giggle and then complain about their health problems, or their friends' health problems, poor soul.  Memories and methods tumbling out in some sort of matronly tidal wave, from rolling out the perfect pie-crust (using lots of cold water), to the best vinegar rinse for the hair, to, well, the prime stuff, when things would get hushed and conspiratorial and the eventual tongue-clucking family scandals would be revealed or rehashed, where, despite my best efforts to be invisible, I would catch someone's eye and be sent out to play.

These women were too busy to be interested much in Betty Friedan's 'problem that had no name.' There were eggs to get and cows to milk. The men were outside, sitting in the shade of sparse windbreak trees, looking faintly bored and uncomfortable with conversation. The women would not only not have dreamed of joining their company, they wouldn't have wanted to. This was their 'old girls club', and it was a place in which I hoped to be initiated into. Unfortunately, it was not the 'old girls' eventually faded into the nursing homes, and I came of age in a dreary empty world where women's gatherings in the kitchen revolved around multiple glasses of wine, complaints about child support and daycare and how much they hated their bosses.

So, I guess if there is anything specific this blog is about, it is about women washing dishes, the way they used to, when washing dishes was about so much more than doing dishes.  It is about sharing the tips they would have shared, back when being home wasn't a political football, or a really took care of people and it really, really mattered. It WAS their job, and believe it or not, they loved and they lived for it.    
(Image "Encounter with the June Cleaver Fairies" pastel on paper, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2000.)  

Tile Therapy

Additions I've been making to put in my garden. I am currently working on floral tiles that will correspond with the Victorian language of flowers.

More can be found here:
Loud Colors Studio--Tiles 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Hints and tips from a Mom

Advice I would want my children to remember I gave them:

1. Always dress up when you are going to do something that you are a bit anxious about, like taking a test, and of course, a job interview should be a foregone conclusion. Knowing that you look your best will make you feel more confident and focused.

2. Your home speaks volumes about you. Keep it neat and tidy, and don't make it just a place to in which to eat and to crash out. Home can be your place of total replenishment, if you let it be.

3. Read a book. And not just some cheap best-seller either. Read something non-fiction, where you actually learn something.

4. Say 'thank you' often and write thank you notes.  Have a 'thank you' attitude towards life in general.

5. One of the most frugal things a household can do is to keep their refrigerator clean and eat as many leftovers as possible. 

6. When you get paid, immediately write out a budget and 'spend' every dollar. In other words, every bit of your money should be designated, for bills, groceries, savings, etc.  Even 'fun' money should go into its own fund.

7. Don't call people or disturb them during the hours between 5:00 and 7:00. I know it's become acceptable, but I believe the world would be a better place if we could unplug and actually sit down to dinner with our families on a regular basis.

8. A man cannot serve two masters, and debt is a second master, which keeps you from living your best life.

9. Don't follow what everyone else does. If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you jump off too?

I'm sure there will be more to I love to give advice...whether wanted or not. :)  

(Image: "Armchair Lady" pastel on paper, Cory Jaeger-Kenat, 2000.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Garden update with snow outside

Marigolds on the far left, phlox, I believe, on the far right...tomatoes in the middle. The seed packets will be planted directly outdoors. We had a sudden storm last night which is not unusual in the spring here, and although we are all eager for sunshine, we do need the moisture. I'm chasing away the winter blahs with some old K.C. and the Sunshine Band. You know a person is desperate for some sort of cheer when they're pulling out 1970s disco!

Crepes, by accident!

People ask me often how we can possibly have a grocery budget of between $20 and $30 a week for the two of us. I have a few tricks I've learned that I will explain more fully in later posts, but probably one of my main ones is that I always focus on using what I have. I have freezer cooking days once a week, where I survey what is currently in my fridge and freezer and see how I can 'transform' leftovers. This time, I had a loaf of bread that did not rise correctly in the bread machine--I still don't know what happened, because the next loaf came out fine--and so I decided to use the flop for French toast. Which turned out not too badly, I must say.  After frying up the French toast, I realized that I still had a considerable amount of egg batter left, and really didn't want to just pour it down the sink. So...I went to my trusty computer and discovered that if I just added a bit more flour to it, to make it a runny form of pancake batter...that it would make crepes. These came out so perfectly, I had a giddy Julia Child moment!!  Whether I can do it that's the test.

Oh, and by the way, this is one of my Grandma Ellen's tablecloths. I figure it's about 50 - 70 years old.