I found out that trying to do too much without planning how best to accomplish it was like borrowing from a loan shark–it meant physical bankruptcy sooner or later. Nature may honor an overdraft for a time, but she extorts pay in the shape of wrecked health, discomfort to the family, and doctors’ bills. -Iowa Farm Woman, 1915
Does anyone in business (including the manager) enjoy working without a clear plan of work that needs to be done, where basic supplies are missing or in disarray, and every day is hit or miss? Would you work for a company that managed the same way that you run your house?
Many of a housewife’s tasks don’t have clear deadlines so it’s easy to become casual about our work and not hold ourselves to schedules. It’s also the beauty of the work, that things are not run on a hard and fast schedule. After all, nothing tragic will happen if the curtains aren’t washed on Tuesday, However, if Junior’s bath keeps getting postponed and the cucumbers aren’t picked regularly, everyone will be sorry. There has to be a plan of sorts to keep things moving at a steady lope, so we’re not overwhelmed but also not living in oblivious denial of a disorganized life
Modern-day research backs up Mrs. Iowa Farm Woman’s opinion that stress is responsible for a majority of cases of “wrecked health” and “doctor’s bills.” Even if we assumed the statistics are exaggerated, it’s still a staggering number. Stress manages to find us in plenty of ways and we don’t need our homes to be another source of it.
The Iowa Farm Woman continues:
I realized that rather than feel sorry for myself when the work pushed me, I should be ashamed of my bad management. Anyone can putter around all day with little to show for it, but it takes a smart woman so to manage her work by labor-saving methods that she can do all that is required and have leisure for the development of her better self and for acquaintance with her family.
Did it ever occur to you that an excessive workload is due to mismanagement?
Some days I have a clear plan and actually take the time to look at what I’ve written in my planner. On those days I amaze myself. I get all my errands done, cook an extra meal for the freezer, return emails, and weed the herb garden.
On days when I don’t have a plan and approach the day willy-nilly, my list of accomplishments looks a lot different. It consists of making a dessert recipe that caught my eye on Pinterest (but don’t need), stalking a friend of a friend on Facebook, watching a tv show that really didn’t interest me but I couldn’t turn off, and sorting through half-done craft projects without working on any of them. I can putter with nothing to show for it like the best of them. Even on days that I have plans, but can’t get them done because other things came up, I still feel successful because I didn’t waste my time.
The article mentioned that not every woman could afford “an electric iron, a power washing machine, or a vacuum sweeper.” We have infinitely more ways of saving time and effort than the women of 1915. But using them to our advantage so they truly save us time that doesn’t immediately get filled up by more work and responsibilities involves skill, planning, and of course, relentlessly refusing other time-absorbing options.
Housewifery done poorly is one of the most difficult, unfulfilling jobs there is. But a systematic plan that works for our own lifestyle will bring a measure of peace into our homes. More importantly, it will enable us to participate in one of the most sacred, well-known rituals in all housewife-dom, sitting around eating bon-bons. That’s what we’re known for, after all. It’s high time we found a way to live up to the stereotype.
In my perusal of mid-20th century cookbooks, I’ve noticed the recipes contain a stunning array of canned foods. It’s my guess that when the modern convenience craze began rolling in a big way and homes were being filled with “labor-saving devices,” food manufacturers jumped at the occasion with a little too much enthusiasm. (The very fact that food could be considered “manufactured” should have given someone a glaring clue…)
I suppose housewives, enthralled by the idea of spending an extra hour or two at Mildred’s bridge party, thought they could come home, open a few cans, gussy them up, and ta-da! Dinner! This sort of cuisine delighted no one, ever, and thankfully, many of these tinned wonders disappeared along the way as manufacturers stopped canning everything they could squeeze into a cylinder.
If you had been cooking in the 1950s, take a look at these oh, so convenient canned wonders you could have chosen for your main dish (and all these are really found in the “Jiffy Cooking” section of the 1958 Mary Margaret McBride Encyclopedia of Cooking):
- beef and kidneys
- tongue and tongue loaf
- chicken fricassee
- chicken a la king
- codfish cakes
- Welsh rabbit
And for side dishes,
- canned cooked rice
- canned tomato aspic
- canned dandelion greens
And for dessert, how about some canned fig pudding, complete with that tinny taste?
And don’t forget potted meat, the particular delicacy still easily found in stores and, I confess, my cupboard. Not everyone has a thoughtful sister-in-law who cleans out the potted meat shelf at the local scratch-n-dent store and gives it to you for your birthday.
As I walked past the freezer section at the grocery store today, I saw frozen pre-made single-serve tubs of oatmeal. (What better way to entice you out of bed in the morning?) A few shelves away were packages of frozen mashed potatoes. And then there’s the pre-cooked, vacuum-packed bacon, milk in a cardboard box, frosting and cheese in tubs–shelf-stable for years, and a vast number of other foods preserved and packaged for maximum storage time at the expense of nutritional quality and most notably, taste.
Hmm. The cans may not be as popular these days but maybe some things haven’t changed after all.
As we re-learn the old ways of preparing and storing food, I hope that these technological wonders we have accepted as food will one day be as unappetizing as the early canned experiments.
Are you familiar with the poem Trees, by Joyce Kilmer? “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree…”? It’s a classic poem teachers have long assigned to their students for memorization.
In case you didn’t know that the poem had been set to music, here is an unforgettable version, whose haunting melody will do just that. Haunt you. You’ll never be able to hum it in key ever again.
The reason I’m bringing this up is that I recently discovered an alternate version of that revered poem in the May, 1968 issue of Women’s Household magazine. This poem seems fitting as we head into the summer season, when knees (and just about everything else) are on full display.
I think that I shall never see
A thing as ugly as a knee,
Above whose gnarled and knotted crest
The mini-hemline comes to rest.
Or one that’s even worse than that
When padded with repulsive fat.
A knee that may in summer wear
Nothing at all, but be quite bare.
Behind whose flex there oft remains
A network of blue and broken veins.
Some knees continue to perplex–
How can they form the letter “X”?
While in another set one sees
A pair of true parentheses.
Small nuts write verses such as these,
But greater nuts display their knees!