Thursday, March 31, 2011

BOOK TWO (5) HB pencils, regrets

HB pencil by HB pencil, resolve firmly, like a Housewife and a Woman, to individually label all those school supplies with stickers of your child's name, without getting maudlin about your friend's recoculously sweet promotion; whining until someone bails you out; or pretending you just didn't get the supply list in time. It's brainless work, not unlike dusting or watering the plants. Skip the self-defeating inner monologue, the f-bomb strewn rant (the de facto soundtrack of housework), the wish to show off how much cooler your labels are by puzzling over sourcing the perfect font. And don't avoid the task by fiddling around, trying on clothes, then getting disgruntled because you have nothing to wear.

See how chuffed you are with yourself for not flying off the handle? If only you could always be so balanced, lugging the Electrolux around behind you, like so many regrets.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

BOOK TWO (4) croissants,tempus fugit

Think of how many times you've pulled out croissant recipes, read them, checked if you have extra butter in the fridge, then decided it was too ambitious, and put it all away. How you've been able to consistently produce a mean currant scone [1] and formidable pie crusts, yet you haven't applied yourself to croissants! It is now time to realize that you're a pretty good cook and baker, that you have all the information easily at hand; and to admit that one day you will no longer want to even pull out the recipe books--the reading alone will be too tiring. Bake the croissants, then, to up your kitchen mojo (not to mention brag a little on Facebook); before the urge dissipates, like water in a forgotten kettle.

[1] My favorite currant scone recipe is in this book. Recipe freely available to you via the "look inside" preview as provided by Amazon...

Monday, March 28, 2011

BOOK TWO (3) Nigella Lawson, Amy Winehouse, moussaka

Housewifery is full of times when one moment you're channeling Nigella Lawson,

the next, Amy Winehouse.

But even the occasional shrunken sweater has its place in the laundry basket of life...that is, in the bundle of changing demands which are written on the "to do" list you made during breakfast. (To which you can add "buy new sweater.")

Your will to accept this variability is a major source of household awesomeness; as such, you might want to offer toasted raisin bread for a change (especially if it's Monday), in order to keep everyone from slinking back to bed. You are key to the well-being of your household, as well as to the wash cycle, particularly because you'll be the one to bring the clothes back upstairs and iron them afterwards. So don't fret: that "to do" list you made-- which you plan to check off-- is good, even if not all gets checked off. Moreover, remember what keeps the whole family from boring itself to death is change-- not merely as in a change of socks; but also as in a change of swimming for skating; moussaka for pasta; or mucking in the garden together instead of letting them veg in front of the Xbox.

On these thoughts rest content and hold them as dear as the salt dough robin your preschooler made last spring. (Forget your thirst for Chopped and Hoarders) So that when your life's laundry has finally spun and dried you may not murmur over who forgot to feed the cat, but meet it wearing something other than "mom jeans", and gratitude for all the Bundt cakes which have properly de-molded.

Friday, March 25, 2011

BOOK TWO (2) cookbooks, seed catalogues, lego

A little flabby-butted, a little coffee-breathed, and a logic which puts friends before ironing--that is myself. (Forget your textbooks; no more keeping them where cookbooks should sit; they are no longer part of your reading.)

As one already at the point of ordering heirloom seed catalogues in place of Vogue, stop obsessing about your body--of its burdensome blood, its bones, its knot of freckles and dimples and aches. The breath, too: what is that? The most beautiful moments pass as a sigh or gasp; (and not even of the same lung capacity as if you were running more). But the third, the housewife logic, the mistress mind--on this you must concentrate. Now that your hair requires regular colouring, let your priorities play the part of a slave no more, veering like a Swiffer at dust, towards all opportunities to volunteer at school. And stop getting personally insulted over the endless meals your kids think are cruddy, by henpecking them today about the lego they left out, or worrying if they will have an "accident" at daycare tomorrow.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BOOK TWO (1) epicurious, bjs, bedhead

1. Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with teachers who do not truly love my lovable children, a husband who does not believe in verbal compliments (except following bjs), sassy clerks at the grocery store, friends who went for lunch and forgot you, a neighbor who built an illegal fence over your property, and a painful sense that your favorite jeans are no longer flattering--all due to the offenders' ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the benefits of putting up canning for winter and its smug security (not that I always get it done), the nature of being intimidated by the pilates ladies and their snobbery, and also the nature of the culprit herself, who is my sister (not in the physical sense, but as a fellow creature similarly endowed with bedhead and a share of the divine); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading. Neither can I be angry with my friend, Lila, or fall foul of her; for she and I were born to work together, like a pasta machine's crank and roller, or like "epicurious" and a good meal. To obstruct each other is against the Domestic Goddesses' Law--and what is getting ticked off going to do to make your static cling go away?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 8 con't) wine, Banksy, Disney, sex

To the gods, or crazy luck, it must be ascribed that my constitution has survived this manner of housewifery so long; that I never got entangled with a lawnmower man nor a Bradley, and also returned from those (hideously termed) "play dates" with the kids more or less undamaged, yet with my powerful aversion to "Disney"--or its symbolic resonance-- intact;

I think Banksy has it about right

also, that although Roger and I frequently had arguments on "Who're more important to society? Poets or Engineers?", I never pushed things to the point of tossing personal objects out of windows. Furthermore, that on occasions when I thought of buying boxes of chocolate-covered almonds from kids canvassing at the door, I was never told that I couldn't buy at least a couple; and know that next week it may well be my kids at other people's doors.

I must thank the gods for the crazy luck for such a husband as mine (who supports my erratic obsessions), so loving, green-ish eyed and able to cook, so able to get me to have sex; for an unfailing supply of music teachers and coaches for our boys; and for well-timed glasses of wine prescribed for me by his intuition of varying degrees of need--especially in cases of ambitious gardening, and late assignments I've helped the boys complete, (as happens at least once a term).

Lastly, that with all my addiction to eating well I was yet preserved from either falling prey to needing "fat pants" or spending all my time pouring over cookbooks and not grinding away at my own desk.

For all these good things (à la Martha) and otherwise, a housewife needs the help of allies, decent wine, a room of her own, and a powerful sense of humour.

Among those who don't do yoga but is tempted.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 8 con't) Mrs. Brady, English lit

The gods, too, gave me brothers whose natural attraction to playing wild games of hockey and sleeping late were a standing challenge to my own self-discipline (though their letting me eat the pizza, left over after parties, warmed my heart);

...and children who were neither skull-popped nor physically "off".

It was an aunt who talked me out of law school, though reading through sample LSATs also didn't encourage much progress. Fate instead was such that in my English lit classes I raised my profs to such rank and station (occasionally manifest as crushes), as I thought they might also have on me (or at least my brain) that I later almost agreed to write a dissertation on a single, short Seamus Heaney poem.

To the gods I owe my near-sisterhood with Muriel, Margery, and Mary (housewives, all). With them, too, I am able to compare our vivid and recurrent sense of how isolated it is to be at home. Indeed, for their part: the favour of picking up my children after school, sharing Mojito recipes, making entertaining phone calls, and regular outings for sushi I have received leave my personal failure to attain "Domestic Goddessdom" without excuse. If I am still far from being Mrs. Brady, the fault is my own for not keeping my hair consistently flippy enough, nor paying heed to their tips.

Monday, March 21, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 8) bands, bossiness

17. To the gods I owe good grandparents, good parents, good brothers, and teachers, profs, boyfriends, cousins, book groups, mani-pedi-curists, and friends good (and comical) almost without exception.

I rarely fell out with any of them, except for Victoria, (at her insistence), in spite of a highly emotional temperament that could very well have thrown me towards the Haagen-Dazs.

To a couple of them, too, I owe it that the responsibility of the lady next door, who took care of me when I was 5, was brought to an early end, stopping an unfortunate reliance on Campbell's tomato soup. Thanks to other allies, I was not impatient to reach womanhood, but spent plenty of time wearing vintage clothes, traveling, moodling about with friends, reading their secret notebooks and listening to their bands late into the night.

I send thanks also that under my mother, the aproned, DIYer / Empress of our house, I was cured of some of my pomposity, and made to realize that my life was likely to be lived without boy toys

(different from having a boy collection in one's 20s),

Armani suits, sunny vacations every winter, and outward splendour of that kind, but that one's lifestyle can be decently simplified (almost like pre-children days) without losing the odd Cashmere sweater, and bossiness needful to lead a household.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 7 con't.) clogs, coffee, Moog, cleaning

As mentioned, she despised laziness and also messiness, and had an established preference for spending holidays with relatives--helping them butcher a pig and make sausage or embed alpine plants in a rock garden, over lounging on a beach.

After recovering from one of her blinding migraines she would lose no time in vacuuming the bejeebers out of the house, with 2 pots of coffee under her belt, and Moog rattling the dishes.

Her personal letters and confidential notes were fairly easy to find (I was a snooper), and the few times I spotted "love" in them my brother and I went catatonic with comedy, imagining her with a lover.

She showed balance and restraint when hosting yearly block parties, celebrating the rebuilding of the garage, paying the kid who painted the fence, and so forth, knowing they might be occasions to gather round a cheeseball, rather than nag for the return of a borrowed fondue pot.

Her baths were taken after everyone else's as she worked late and long hours, and she loved to fix and renovate. She was very critical of the food she ate, more so than the style of clothes her kids wore or of the motives of some other housewives' husbands.

Her heeled clogs, curiously back in fashion, and most of her working suits came from fairly good stores as they were intended to last forever.

Her thoughtful gesture of leaving cookies for the garbagemen was typical of her demonstration of gratitude--for being cranky (outside the house) was as foreign to her nature as swearing, or insulting people.

She sometimes grew angry, but rarely to the point of cracking her wooden spoon on the counter. It was increasingly her habit to refer to what Barbara Coloroso would do or "consider the source" calmly; taking "five" by polishing her philodendron leaves with Amway plant wipes. What is recorded of many single mothers everywhere, was actually less applicable to her. She lacked the ability to wallow in self-pity or overindulge in retail therapy, with which most might console themselves. To be thus mighty enough to support her kids singlehandedly and maintain a clean house argues a consummate and hardworking soul--as my Grandmother admonished when she gave me this dishtowel, before moving into an oldfolks home.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 7 con't.) Aqua Net, excelling

Not a breath of the braggart's chabber, the bridge player's idleness, the trophy wife's emptiness could be charged against her. All housewives recognized in her a hairdo so well-sprayed and backcombed that no wind could budge it.

With props to Aqua Net

In the same style she, too, was bulletproof to begging for a canopy bed or a pool in the backyard (though caved in over "Neapolitan" ice cream) and entirely capable of ruling herself, my posse of garden-raiding friends, and invasive perennials. Moreover, she had a high respect for all genuine workers; and yet though believing it was a fair price, refrained from heeding the advice of a carpenter who quoted her on building an indoor sauna...She preferred to do it herself.

At parent teacher interviews she was friendly and conversational without being too fun--embodying the divorcee's gravitas of the '70/80s. The care she took of her figure was impressive. Though not afraid of dying--she had a genuine horror of getting fat

...or growing hair from her chin and being unable to pluck it. She was not above abusing herself occasionally with Spicy Doritos, in spite of the fact she looked after herself so successfully that she was seldom in need of medical attention.

No hint of jealousy showed in her quick recognition of the best qualities in other people, whether in school assemblies, at the gas pumps, at her son's football games, or any other social interaction, and she took pains to give each person the chance of excelling at being him or herself (so long as they were not lazy). Though all her actions were underwritten by the claim that "there is a right way-- and a wrong way", she would never fight to the end because her reading in pop-psychology was such that she had begun to struggle with her own black and white moral view.

Friday, March 18, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 7 con't.) jazz dance camp, self-help

To his wife he was not committed, so let us instead consider my mum, who was the first housewife of my consciousness. Before her Avon sales representative she was tremendously devout; before her fellow-housewives she never stooped to bid for popularity by buying a full set of Tupperware, but pursued her own studious and selfhelp-fortified way,

...disdaining anything that savoured of pretension. She did not accept without either complacency or serious muttering a lack of material comforts as fortune (and her divorce) had left at her disposal. When she had better years, she would give us skis for Christmas and register me in jazz dance camp,

and when they were not, she taught herself accounting and made money on the side preparing people's tax returns.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 7) Elvis, whoppers

16. The qualities I least admired in my father

were his lenience as a parent, his firm refusal to be reachable by phone or post for years at a time, his complete indifference to meretrious honours (until, perhaps, he discovered driving taxi?), his lack of ability to maintain a steady income, and his perseverance of alcohol in any form.

He lacked a willingness to come to school plays or hockey practices and insisted instead that any rewards were his due, as he was in most situations the victim. He claimed an expert storyteller's sense of when to lay on deluxe bullshit or buy another round of beer, and always was comfortable being right.

He was unaware that family life must have its claims: his children were under no obligation to join him at his table (didn't know where he lived) and when they had Christmas or Easter Vacation it made no difference to him.

Here's a rare visit.

Every question that came before him in perplexed phonecalls was painstakingly ignored; he was never content to answer them on a cursory first contact. His friendships were likely enduring; they were not capricious--at least, so long as the money held up--and they were probably extravagant by tavern standards. He was always equal to hitting up his sons for money or their cars; cheerful, yet long sighted enough to have a case of beer in tow. He had an ever-watchful eye to the needs of lonely widows, prudently getting them to swallow his whoppers along with G & T's, and putting up with the weak marriages that resulted.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 6) Uncle Dermit, "Charlie"

15. Uncle Dermit was my model for self control, plaid western shirts,

...and staying dutifully married, even after my aunt had a mysterious stroke (pill-induced from pilfered meds?) and turned mental. His character was an admirable combination of Christian soldierdom and avoidance of confronting troubling family details, such as the big hair satanic rock band my cousin was in.

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He stayed (as directed by my aunt) quietly "tinkering" in his workshop, out of her way in the house. He gave everyone in the family the conviction that his religious faith precluded the need to really discuss his wife's radical brush cuts, or the cause of his daughter's sudden weight gain, and acted as he judged right. Bewilderment or controversy were unknown to him; he was never hasty to clear dishes (women's work, according to him), never lost his temper; and no amount of his wife's secret smoking and spraying "Charlie" found him at a loss.

He indulged neither in being depressed by eventually selling, then renting out his own home from the person he sold it to, nor eating pickle sandwiches for dinner. Nor had the anger of other men in his barbershop quartet, or jealousy, have any power over him. Kindliness, supportiveness, and the fact he made his kids a go-kart as well as a treehouse contributed to give the impression of a great heart that was innate rather than inculcated. Nobody was ever made by him to feel intellecutally inferior, yet none could have wanted to challenge him in a game of horseshoes. He was also the possessor of tremendous nostrils and an agreeably infectious laugh.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 5) eccentric sandwiches, loud music

14. From my brother, Oscar, I learnt to tolerate my relations on F's side, to love building eccentric sandwiches (often mixing sweet and savory)[6], and to love loud music. Through him I came to know of Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, the Who, and the Rolling Stones. Bowie I discovered on my own. I became acquainted with the conception of a group of friends (substantially unlike my preppy pals)...

...based on equal access to beer and pot, freedom to sing "Bad to the Bone" in the wee hours, and a relationship to our parents concerned with maintaining their friendship. He showed me that his high school group, the MFLB (or Marijuana For Lunch Bunch) reduced the need for emotional showdowns at school, created an addiction to mad friendships, precipitated later open-handedness with his sons, and confidence that I needed to move far away from them all. I remember, too, his mopey way with G-- and W-- when they argued over all that yardwork, and his way of leaving friends in no doubt of his likes and dislikes, but of telling them plainly if they were an "anus" or not.

[6] This recipe is highbrow, but sort of on the right track. His were more along the lines of regular ham and cheese, and jam, plus peanut butter and olive...depending on what was in the fridge.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

BOOK ONE (Part 4) booze,volunteering,social pages

11.To my mentor Stella P. (17 when I was 16),

I owe the realization that miraculously getting away with watering down Mum's booze (to disguise the stuff we'd siphoned off), sneaking back into Marty's jazz bar after being kindly ejected, and successfully begging for money in order to fund adventures--faking we'd lost our bus fare--were the first signs that our déclassé cowboy surroundings tended for the most part to not be lacking in sympathy for ordinary people.

12. The Uptowns cautioned me against frequent use of the words 'I am too busy' in grocery isle chats or solicitous emails, except in cases of real necessity (terminal cancer); saying that no one ought to squirm out of volunteering on the excuse of putting one's private life before the community.

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13. Mrs. Anderson counselled me never to make light of the tennis pro's criticism of my game, even if he is a sexist bastard, but to do my best to keep him happy at the club and take his advice in stride; to speak up readily to praise the organizers of the Friday night BBQs, as we read in the social pages of our local paper, and to cultivate a little distance from my children's lessons.