No Dollar Signs on Women’s Work, part 1

I can’t say I’ve ever heard a woman say she chose housewifery as a career for the usual reasons one goes into a particular field– having the skills required for the job, the earning potential, the incredible opportunities for advancement, or even the prestige and glamour of it all.

In these oh, so enlightened times, when we’re all told to listen to our hearts, be ourselves, and do whatever it is that fulfils us, choosing to be a housewife is most certainly not one of the options that will catapult you to Nobel prize status or into the first paragraph of the family Christmas letter.

But I recently discovered that this isn’t a new perspective when I came across a letter written to a magazine devoted to farm wives.

In 1933, the wife of a beet farmer living in Idaho (who signed her letter Unknown) wrote that she felt her husband didn’t see the value of her work as a housewife. Her letter didn’t complain about his attitude but instead, she agreed with him when she compared her work to his. She wrote that “measured by the things he does, my work is really ‘nothing.’ On him depends the food for the family, yes, I might as well say for the world. “ So what was her work, the work she considered “nothing”?

2 preschool-aged sons
100 baby chicks to raise
bread to bake
ironing to finish
dishes to wash
other things “too numerous to mention”

She raised the chickens as a little side business but noted that it brought in only a fraction of the household income. Her conclusion was to find comfort in “a ray of hope” that if nothing else, women are “the mothers of men, who in turn will raise big crops that will sell for big checks.”

It’s a sad perspective that for Mrs. Unknown, it all came back to the dollar sign. But in many ways, I don’t feel like it’s much different today. Young mothers trying to raise little humans into productive adults, not to mention working to provide a clean house, healthy meals, and all the rest hang their heads because their work doesn’t come with the status of a paycheck.

It’s curious, isn’t it, that society values work more when there is income attached to it? We can mop a floor, toss french fries in a fryer, or organize a craft project for a group of children in our own homes yet we’re still “just housewives.” But we’ve been led to believe that when we do nearly the same work away from home for a paycheck, it matters more.

Many people believe that the women’s movements of the 1900s elevated the status of women in society. It may have opened doors for women working in public careers, but in doing so, it further discredited and devalued housewives and the work they do in the home.

If you measure quality of life by money alone, yes, a housewife’s worth is minimal. But, if money is the measure of quality, well, Heaven help us all!

Maybe we haven’t come a long way after all, baby.

 

(In case you think this has been a downer of a post, stay tuned for part 2 on Monday. It gets better!)

 

This post is included in the Wise Woman Linkup.

Blue Moon, a game for one

April is living up to its reputation for showers, except that here in Wisconsin, it happens to be snow showers. Dr. Seuss summed up our spring pretty well. “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play. So we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day.” We entertain ourselves these days often by looking at a screen of some sort, but don’t you ever get tired of it? And haven’t you wondered about ways people entertained themselves without technology? They had a rich variety of pastimes, which included solitaire games.

When people think of solitaire, they’re usually thinking of a game actually called Klondike. Really, there are a vast number of card games that are considered solitaire, that is, games played alone.  I married into a family that Doesn’t Enjoy Games (gasp!), except for a rousing game of Crazy Eights about once a year. So I get my jollies learning different old-fashioned solitaire card games. I even keep a miniature deck of cards in my travel bag, just in case.

Blue Moon is one of the first solitaire games I learned and still one of my favorites. It was taught to me by my mother, who learned it from her father. Why the name Blue Moon?  Because that’s how often you win it….once in a blue moon. Not that I know that for a fact, I have to confess. I’ve come very close but I’ve never won. But I live with the hope…

My brand-new vintage deck of souvenir cards, thrifted for 25 cents

The rules are very simple. You lay the first card face up, then to the right of that first card, keep laying down the cards face up, one by one. If, when you lay down a card, it matches the previous card by either number or suit, you move it (and all the cards underneath) to the top of the matching card. You can also move the card(s) if it matches the card two cards before.

Here are my first few cards. I was able to match up some of the cards. Since you can only move cards next to each other or two cards apart, I couldn’t move the 2 of spades pile to the 4 of spades.

 

Here I could have moved the 9 of clubs to the 10 of clubs OR the 9 of diamonds; it didn’t really matter at this point

 

 

 

 

You will have to start strategizing at some point…here I could move the 9 of hearts pile to the 9 of clubs first, which would then allow me to move the Ace of diamonds to the 9 of diamonds.

 

Slide your cards to the left as you match so there are no gaps.  Keep checking to see if you’re able to condense your cards even more.

Continue laying down cards and (hopefully) piling them on previous cards until you run out of cards or you’re stuck. In the miraculous event that all your cards are in one pile, congratulations! You won! (HOW did you do it?)

Knowing How to Stay Home

I have observed that we are now faced with a lesson our ancestors never even dreamed of having to learn–that is the lesson of knowing how to stay at home and enjoy the blessings of home culture. -1905

The writer goes on to mention the early 1900s trends of “rapid transit, cheap rates, and easy theatricals” that have made people “restless, nervous and incapable of self-amusement.”  (“Rapid” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when I think of 1905 transportation…)

Why should you stay home more?

It amazes me, but have you ever noticed your house is messiest on days when you’re not home? It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true. I think it’s because you don’t have time to fully complete a task before you’re off to the next commitment. The dirty dishes pile up faster, the clothes don’t make it into the washer with the same regularity, and the mail doesn’t get sorted right away. When you’re at home, life follows a steadier rhythm. Mealtimes are consistent, laundry gets done, children settle into a familiar routine.

And let’s be honest, home is the comfiest place around. Where else can you drink a big mug of tea in your jammies snuggled with your favorite quilt? Even the local quirky coffee shop can’t replicate the feeling. (How awkward if you could cozy into a big recliner with your fuzzy slippers at a coffee shop…because across the room would be other customers in the same condition, and that’s a sight guaranteed not to bring out warm fuzzies.)

How could your life change if you stayed home more?

There’s the practical side of staying home more. When you’re at home, you’re spending less money. Yes, Amazon and other online shopping sites are still available for the clicking.  But at home, you aren’t relentlessly bombarded with stuff fighting for your attention in a million ways. You can turn the screens off, but when you’re out and about you can’t close your eyes at the signs and ads and you can’t turn off your nose when every single food smell is irresistible, even if you didn’t think you were hungry.

Besides spending less, staying home also allows you to save money. When you’re at home, you can cook your meals from scratch. You can do your own yard work and extend the life of your clothes by replacing buttons and fixing hems. On hot days, you’re able to open the windows in the morning and pull the shades in the afternoon to save air conditioning costs.

The greatest benefit to being at home is difficult to identify, but the settled, contented feeling it produces is unmistakable. “Home sweet home” takes on a new meaning. On the days you can stay home, you can block out much of the craziness of the outside world and live in your own world, with your own people and your own version of life.

The more you’re home, the more you appreciate it and the less you feel like roaming. But it’s definitely a learning curve. That “restless, nervous” feeling the author describes is real and common for the woman newly committed to being a keeper at home. I think we’ve all felt it. If you can stick it out, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of peace and contentment that can’t be found “out there.” We can’t live like hermits and never leave our homes, but developing a homeward mindset will go a long way toward enjoying “the blessings of home culture.”

(This post linked to the Wise Woman Linkup.)

First Things First, a 1928 Schedule

A Housewife Writes focuses on several recurring themes common to women everywhere.  One of them is managing time. It’s interesting to read about different approaches, because what works for one doesn’t help another one.  So from time to time, we’ll present different women’s strategies.

You’d never think that women a hundred years ago would have a problem fitting everything into their day. Really, how hard could it have been?  They didn’t have to find time to update social media, manage digital coupons, schlep children to sporting practices, or watch a single tv show.  But they did struggle, which shows that even without modern distractions, this housewifery thing isn’t all cupcakes and rainbows.

One woman in 1928 wrote about her struggle to establish a well-rounded routine. As a new housewife, she tried to be a perfect housekeeper, cleaning all day, every day, obsessed with mopping her floors and polishing the stove. “Clean corners are the earmarks of a good housekeeper” was her favorite motto. But she could never “do it all” and eventually, after the birth of her third child, found herself worn out and discouraged. “Somehow I woke to the realization that one woman can’t do everything there is to be done in her home.”

Priorities

This is when Mrs. 1928 hired a maid and nanny and all was once again well in her world, right?  I’m afraid not. She decided to prioritize what was most important to her. “Clean babies must come before clean windows” she wrote and chose to focus on people instead of things, and essential things over optional things. Because we can’t fit in everything, we have to narrow down our list of essentials until they reach a point that they are manageable.  This isn’t always easy and sometimes it takes a strong mind to move something from the essential list to the optional one, but as she put it, “there’s always a way out.”

Incidentally, every profession includes prioritizing.  It’s just that when our work is our home, it’s always there.  We can’t close the shop, pull the shades, and walk away without a thought after a long day.  Our work is in the same rooms where we sleep, eat, and relax. And sometimes our work seeks us out at odd hours, toddling into our bedrooms and waking us up in the middle of the night.

Her Simple Schedule

Mrs. 1928 came up with a way to simplify and improve her schedule:

  • She scheduled one big task daily, like washing or baking.  Focusing on one goal meant that she could be more efficient by not constantly changing directions.
  • She scheduled daily rest periods.
  • She maintained three lists, one of daily work involving the children, one of daily housework, and one for weekly tasks.

 She noted that by planning out her week, she was able to accomplish all the different jobs she needed to do within the week. Not only did she find time for all the essentials, but also for rest, and extras, like reading and letter-writing.

“And best of all–it worked!”