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.
The modern definition of a vamp is a woman who is “striking, exotic, or overtly glamorous” and who is “usually a heartless, man-eating seductress.” Oh, my! Such an interesting phrase to describe the ideal farmer’s wife!
Have you a little vamp in your home? Now don’t look so shocked because, I’m going to say something worse than that. You should have one. You should be one!
When you have done the weekly wash and scrubbed the cellar and the porches, besides your daily dozen (which includes the dishes, cooking, sweeping, chickens, beds and–Oh! Why mention them? You know what all I mean, and sometimes it seems more like a daily thousand than a daily dozen) and you have had baking, and perhaps churning too, thrown in for the day and you are tired but you still have a half hour before you need to start supper. Don’t change the papers on the pantry shelves. I know they need it but you are so much nicer than any pantry shelf you ever saw. Let them go and give that attention to yourself instead.
Wash face, shoulders, arms and feet (of course, a complete bath would be better if you have time.) Cold cream your face and then lie down and relax for three minutes or five or more. Depends on how much time you have. I mean relax completely. Not a tense muscle in your whole body. Not a solitary wrinkle in your face. Chase that pucker out of your forehead and rela
This period over, put on your white shoes and stockings, wipe the surplus cream off your face and put on some powder, fix your hair prettily and top all with a clean dress. Nothing fussy. A blue percale bungalow apron will be just fine.
Now look in the glass. Did the pantry shelves with clean paper ever look prettier than you do? No. They did not. Now we’ll get supper.
My! How John watches you. Really good to look at. Had almost forgotten how pretty you were. Supper tastes so much better too and although you were so tired an hour ago you feel rested now. And it has a soothing effect on John’s tired body to see someone pretty and cheerful opposite him instead of a tired, bedraggled old farm woman.
The woman in the home is the real home-maker and the morale of that home is raised or lowered just so many points by her daily appearance and her outlook on life and its problems.
Finally John says, “Why are you all dolled up tonight?” And when you tell him, “Oh! Just for you,” don’t be surprised if he doesn’t take you in his arms and pet you a little because he probably won’t. He might, of course, but more likely he’ll reach for his pipe and say, “Golly! I hope that rain holds off till I get the West Forty done. I stepped right along today.” Don’t feel slighted because he takes more interest in the Forty and what he is doing than he does in you. He noticed you, didn’t he? And, way down inside he feels flattered because you did it for him. He’s just a child grown up and he is as susceptible to flattery as any child. Tell him, “Yes, I noticed that you were working pretty steady.” Doesn’t make any difference whether you really noticed it or not. You know he was. Take an interest in his accomplishments. More flattery. And a vamp never overlooks the possibilities of flattery. Never carry it so far as to sound insincere. Just be interested.
If he jollies you or teases, don’t fail to jolly back. Flirt with him. Vamp him. If you don’t, somebody else will. And men like water, traffic and other things too numerous to mention, follow the line of least resistance. Make it easier for him to be with his cheerful pal, his chum, his wife, than to be away from her.
Through your comradeship and the resulting wholesome atmosphere of your home, your family will gain a prestige in the community that nothing else, not even wealth, can give. The result will be well worth your effort. Start now.
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.