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Archive for the ‘On Being a Housewife’ Category

Turns out, I miss this place. I went on for many months quite happily without the computer. Working on my farm projects. Summer was banner this year, and my plate was manically full. But somewhere around July, I started to itch for writing. A place and a way to express my thoughts, to communicate all the stuff that crowds my head. Ears who care to listen.

Now, don’t go creaming yer panties, I’m not coming back here on a regular basis. But, maybe just a quickie now and then, in the laundry room.

Besides, I have some important addendums to the inherent subject matter of Apron Stringz. My life as a ‘mama who likes to get shit done’ continues to evolve, and it seems wrong to leave off when new discoveries are being made.

Not that I have come to any conclusions. As usual the farther I get into it, the more confusled I become. Certainly nothing has become clear to me, in my absence from blogging. I have not come back to share brilliant epiphanies. But that’s why you love me right? For laying bare the absolute bewilderment of life and loving?

I do have one particular thing to say, the thing that has made me come back, an admission.

For the record– it didn’t work.

This whole ‘yielding to motherhood and the inglorious work of housewifery’ thing, it didn’t work. I mean, I guess it worked for a while, gave me some peace when I needed it most. Allowed me to survive a period of intensity that otherwise might have destroyed me. I still recommend it, wholeheartedly. If you can manage it, submitting to the humble task of motherhood is a strangely liberating experience.

I just want to make sure you understand the further evolution of that story. Although I cultivated it successfully for a few years, as soon as the life-or-death necessity for submission had worn off, I abandoned it like a leaky rubber boot. I went straight back to my old ways– taking on way too much for someone with small children, trying to do it all, wanting it all with an almost debilitating lust, then beating myself up for failing on all accounts.

Part of that is just summer in Alaska. It all happens so fast. It’s winter and winter and winter, and then all of a sudden– BAM. It’s summer and it’s going to be over before you can finish even half the projects on your list, so hurry the fuck up!

But I can’t just blame summer. There’s more to the story.

Six years ago now, we had our first baby. I slowly and painfully began to set aside my own projects and passions for the all-encompassing work of motherhood. Two years into it, we moved to New Orleans, My Man went to law school, and we had our second baby. Enter the Submission Phase, blah, blah, blah. I gave up on accomplishing anything of consequence, outside of raising up two beautiful new souls. I didn’t submit easily, in fact it was emotionally akin to amputating both legs. But I did it– I put my own, separate, non-mama path on hold for a few years. I relegated my passions and what I consider my real work to ‘charming hobby’ status.

Then My Man finished school. Moving back to Alaska was something of an anti-climax because even though I was back in my own home turf, surrounded by my previous years’ work on our little property, My Man was studying harder than ever for the Bar. Time and energy were still too tight for me to take back up those passions in any meaningful capacity. So, I squelched them back down and screwed the lid on once again.

Our little backyard homestead lay in a state of dormancy, fertile soil covered in a dense blanket of weeds. It would have to wait.

My mind lay similarly neglected. After years of fighting for each little scrap, I had acquired a resident apathy. I could hardly remember what I might care to do with myself, should I ever have time to do anything in. As someone who had been vehemently motivated to do cool stuff, before I had kids, the apathy was perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.

But, here we were– back home in my chosen context, with all the things I claimed to care about around me. And that is when my greatest fear of all surfaced. What if I had just changed? What if I didn’t care about homesteading and wilderness and harvesting anymore? What then? What would I care about if not that?

This is the identity crisis which I alluded to in my few posts last summer, but never had the guts to write about. I was terrified. I had built my entire life around this homesteader dream, the possibility of it’s loss was haunting.

Our girl started kindergarten that fall. Suddenly I had just one kid again, for half of every day. The desperation of mothering two littles began to ease. I had finally settled back into Alaska. My Man passed the Bar, and started working. At long last, the 3YO began to sleep through the night and into the morning, allowing me a good night’s sleep and an hour or two of quiet solitude at the beginning of each day. I took a deep, wonderful breath.

My mind opened tentatively into that extra space, like a hermit crab poking out of it’s shell. Is it safe? Is there really room for me again?

It was at that moment in time, serendipitously, that I discovered permaculture. I was ripe and ready, it was exactly what I needed. Knowledge! Learning! Permaculture was the next step to everything I had done before I had kids– an advanced course in gardening and homesteading. I was consumed, like a hot, teenage crush. It was so exciting to be excited again. Even now, when I hear the intro song to Thomas the Train (which allowed me many an hour to sit around learning) I feel a wave of giddy joy.

And that is when I realized that I had not changed at all. I had not lost my love for all things which grow from the soil, and a life which relates to wild nature. Rather, my lust for learning had just been squashed by too many loads of laundry, I had had too many attempts to try something new crushed into the ground by a screaming toddler. I had given up.

I had tried for graceful submission, but in the end had settled into apathetic resignation. Not towards my life as a whole, but certainly towards my personal passions and ambitions.

I still believe that graceful submission would be a beautiful thing. I did hit it for small moments, and they were good and sweet. I don’t begrudge the resignation either, it is acceptable to me on a short term basis. It served me well when I needed it.

I was so thrilled to find my own spark still alive, so relieved that it was (conveniently) still flaring in the same general direction, that I hardly cared whether it had been submission or resignation or what. I flung my painstakingly acquired good mom habits out the window and set right into ignoring my kids in the name of backyard homesteading.

I weeded out three years’ worth of creeping buttercups and planted all my old garden beds. I started teaching classes, something I had always wanted to, in bread making, gardening and wild plants. I butchered, packaged and froze two black bears given me by a local guide. I started making herbal medicine. I picked gallons of wild blueberries. But, most significantly, before summer had even begun, I ordered fifty chicks and ducklings thereby turning my nice little gardens into a full fledged small farm.

I ordered the birds while there was still snow on the ground. I had spent the winter drawing up a totally awesome permaculture design for our property, and had convinced myself on paper that I could build an addition to my coop which would quadruple it’s size, before the chicks grew out of their brooder.

I had forgotten that I was in fact still a mama! You can throw the ole’ submission idea out the window, but the kids don’t seem to notice. Well, I’m sure they noticed something. Like the fact that I had stopped taking them to kid activities around town, stopped doing crafts with them, stopped reading stories in the middle of the day, and started a hell of a lot more yelling.

It wasn’t all bad. There were some absolutely amazing days, the kind of days I imagined motherhood would be– working outside building the coop, or digging in the garden; a little pack of kids ranging around between our yard and our neighbors, happily playing in the sunshine with sticks. Brilliant days, which I did have the good sense to stop and appreciate, recognizing these moments as the best of the best, what I had always hoped my life would be like.

I don’t regret my regression back into project-land. Mamas busy with projects are a good thing. But there’s busy and then there’s too busy. I do regret ordering fifty birds. What the fuck was I thinking? I could have simply doubled my flock, like a normal person, just dabbled in raising meat birds; but no, I needed to quintuple my flock so that I could put a year’s worth of birds in the freezer, and still have several different laying breeds left to trial.

The stress of all those animals under my care, inadequately housed (barely better off than factory farmed birds for a while there) gave me actual belly cramps during the month of June. I just couldn’t build fast enough. It seemed like I managed to nail up about two boards/day.

At any rate, here I am now, at the end of it. A nice big pack of roasters in my freezer, and a beautiful flock of laying hens and ducks. I am learning new things, evolving my homesteading skills, moving forward on my path again.

Occasionally I miss those days when I just let taking the kids on an outing, doing laundry and making dinner be enough. I am still often jealous of the mamas who can sustain that kind of devotion. But I am not that mama. For me, submission was a temporary helpmate.

And for you other mamas out there who used to like to get shit done, who now feel your own passions numbed by motherhood, understand that you can submit for a few years and still resurface intact at the end of it. It might take some time to wake your mind and passions back up, but don’t be frightened by a little apathy. When the time comes, your spark will reignite.

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Despite my absence here for the last month and a half, I have not been master goddess of my domestic realm. I am always surprised when I take a break from blogging, I mean you’d think that the extra 1-2 hours per day would get me something. And of course it does, it gets me a slower pace of life, a calm that I do appreciate when I can manage to acknowledge it. But it does not get me a cleaner house or happier children. At this very moment (and most others) the kitchen is a mess, the table is stacked with four loads of clean laundry waiting to be put away, the floors are disgusting, and I have no idea what I’m cooking for dinner. I feel that depthless falling feeling lately. The list, by which I mean The List, is miles long and filled with projects like “replace linoleum in the kitchen,” “put up the year’s worth of salmon,” “rebuild collapsed woodshed roof,” and subsequently “cut and stack five cords of firewood for the winter.”

And I can’t even get the fucking laundry put away.

The disappointment of times like this always starts me to grasping for a cure, and lately my obsession has been the Waldorf concept of Rhythm. The idea is that a flexible but regular schedule is essential for children; that knowing, generally, how their days will unfold gives them a sense of peace and stability.

Duh.

One of the things I hate about parenting dogmas is how impervious they are to differences in personality. Although I think a predictable schedule is generally agreed to be good for kids, I suspect there are kids who will never adapt to a schedule and furthermore don’t need to, as well as kids who’s lives could be turned around by a strong rhythm. Those are the kids who thrive on Waldorf, and “prove” the success of the ideology.

What I am realizing lately is that I was one of those kids, who’s need for a predictable, peaceful and quiet daily routine was never satisfied as a child. And as happens in a developing brain when a need is unmet, I am consequently malformed.

I have always had a near obsession with routine and yet an inability to actually execute it to any satisfying degree. I need it because I didn’t get it as a child, but I don’t know how to do it, because I didn’t get it as a child. My journals are always studded with multiple attempts to corral the chaos of my days. Literally,

“Summer Schedule
6:00 wake up, coffee
7:00 breakfast
7:30 walk
9:00 outside chores”
etc, etc.

I write it all out, earnestly believing every time that the mere act of writing will create the calm rhythm and self disciplined schedule I crave. Later I am convinced that it hasn’t worked because I just haven’t gotten it right, haven’t divined the Perfect Schedule. Inviting yet another attempt.

That’s me– forever believing that there is a formula for perfection. Not universal, but personal to me. If only I could figure it out.

Having kids of my own I have only stepped up this madness. Desperate for a handle on life, I feel sure that I am just missing something. If I could just get the kids to eat right, they wouldn’t have these stubborn screaming fits. If I could just get the house clean and stay on top of it, we would all feel so much more calm and relaxed. If the 2yo would just consistently sleep enough at night. If I got the kids enough exercise and peer play every day. If… If….

And then the kingpin– If only I could get us on a schedule, then I would (magically) have time to fit all this in to every single day.

Then, then! Life would be all soft watercolors and silk scarves. Hallelujah.

Looking around online for Waldorf rhythm is excessively discouraging. The blogshine that I always rail against is rampant in the Waldorf crowd. One that I read this morning went on for an entire post about their morning ritual of waking softly, lighting candles and singing morning songs and how sweet and perfect it all was. Well, perfect pink wool felting mothers of the world, damn you if you’re lying, and damn you more if you’re not.

I started this post weeks ago, in the midst of an obsession. Now as I come back to finish what seems worth finishing, I am trying to divine the lesson. Did I learn something? I do in fact feel like in the last few weeks I created some kind of order in my universe– the house is clean, the laundry is caught up, the kids are happy. But as usual, in retrospect, I find myself wondering if I created that order and peace, or if it created itself.

Do I follow a pattern of sinking to the bottom and then pulling myself up by the bootstraps? Or does life follow a pattern of chaos and hard times, which lead inevitably to a relative peace and better times? Or is it (more likely) both? Do we feed off of each other, me and life, and oh– don’t forget the kids, in their own two separate cycles.

Waldorf appeals to my depressed self because it is based on the premise that if you do everything “right” (and they’ll tell you how) your life and your children will be sweet and quiet. It taps directly into my innate compulsion to believe that there is a Perfect Way, I just have to figure out what it is. It feeds heavily on my propensity for mama-guilt, because if my life is not so perfectly sweet and quiet, it is my own fault. I have failed myself and my family.

Like any religion, it takes a human being in their weakened state of sad, disappointed confusion, and props them up on the idea that there is a prescribed way out. Just follow the master plan, and it will all be taken care of. The idea that there is in fact an underlying order, a secret to life, is so incredibly seductive to us. We want so desperately to believe, to be Believers.

For whatever cosmic reason, me and the kids were at a real low. I was desperate, I was vulnerable. I delved into the ‘rhythm as panacea’ concept, even started doing a Waldorf circle time with the kids every afternoon. I summoned my will and attempted to implement a stronger routine than what we already had. I checked out Over the Rainbow Bridge from the library. I berated myself appropriately over their movie watching, the overflow of plastic toys and my own yelling mad self. (This last one works wonders– beat yourself up about being a mean mom. Just see how sweet it makes you. Wow. It was from this place of yelling at myself for yelling at the kids that I told them I wanted to chain them up so I could just please fucking carry the fucking groceries the two blocks up the fucking hill to our house.)

The problem, for me at least, is that feeding the belief in achievable order interferes with the work I really need to be doing. Accepting the chaos.

Submitting.

Shit, there it is again. Not submitting to motherhood this time. But submitting to life. The universe. Everything. The greater-than-me. The things I can never know, and never understand. The mystery. Submitting to the fact that I am not ruler of this world, or even my world. There is no plan so perfect that it will tame my wild children. Thank god! My life is not reducible to a calm, clean, quiet procession of handcrafts. It is an uproarious mess of bewilderment and kitchen projects. My kids are LOUD because they are full of piss and vinegar, they run around the house breaking shit because they are full of nearly explosive curiosity for how the world works.

We are movers and shakers, a whole fam damily of them. Our life together is bound to be complex.

I’m not altogether done with the rhythm concept, or Waldorf in general. Of course, just because they have not created The Master Plan doesn’t mean there isn’t some valuable takeaway. Just because a solid rhythm would not singlehandedly create peace on earth, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t help create a bit more peace in our own household. Or at the very least, in my own brain.

As usual, I walk a weird line between wholesome organic crafty mama and ranting punk bitch, and it’s sometimes hard to know quite where to set my bags down. I guess my real work in this life is to just be without need to label, to search without need to find, to try without need to master, to take what comes as it comes. Chaos, order, chaos.

That’s not too much to ask, right?

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I think often about those of you who are new to this work. I myself feel so blessed to have been raised by hippies and given a good education in DIY homemaking. The values and the habits of green, ethical, DIY living are second nature to me. I wonder what it must be like to jump, feet first, out of mainstream America and into such unknown territory. I think about those of you who read and identified with Why Are We Doing This? but who are still at the outset. Why is a good question, a vital question. But moving forward from there, how do you do it? Especially for those of you who are parents and whose time and energy are so acutely limited.

I have wanted to write directly to you for some time, to give you my two cents of advice on your monumental task. But I wasn’t sure what I could say. What kind of advice is really useful anyway in this world of vastly distinct personalities and situations?

In my experience the psychological aspects of this kind of work are the biggest hurdles. Learning to execute the tangible skills takes time and energy, no doubt. But learning to maintain a lifestyle which is considerably more difficult, more time consuming, more physically sapping and certainly more austere than the standard is very challenging. We could probably all list out the skills we need or want for our DIY homemaking, the skills we aspire to– cook from scratch, grow a garden, keep chickens, fix stuff, build stuff, make stuff. But what are the qualities that enable people to incorporate all those skills into an every day real live life? And to keep on doing it for the long haul?

These psychological qualities are much harder to lay your hands on. I have thought quite a lot about what these might be and, although I have no doubt there are many more, I offer up this small list: thrift, efficiency, organization, creativity, generousness, flexibility, courage, perseverance, wonder, and the ability to take pleasure in simple things. These basic virtues are fundamental to everything else. And although you cannot change who you are– you cannot learn to be organized like you can learn to make yogurt– you can work to become more organized. You can identify that organization is a weakness, acknowledge that yogurt making will function better if you stay organized, and consider it an opportunity for improvement. (Ahem. This is an entirely theoretical example.)

I feel that the tangible skills of DIY are quite adequately represented in books and blogs, but people rarely talk about these fundamental homesteader qualities– perhaps because they are considered inherent to our personalities, immutable. Nevertheless I think it’s important to recognize them, to give them the credit that they so absolutely deserve. Because although change on this level is hard and slow, it is also real and lasting.

Furthermore, what I want to say today is that these psychological building blocks are a perfect place to start. right. now.

Whether you live on your dream homestead or in a studio apartment, whether you grow all your own food or eat frozen pizza every night, you can work on the virtues necessary for the lifestyle you aspire to. No space is too small! No budget or investment necessary! It’s the ultimate ‘start where you are’ opportunity.

But how? How do you change such fundamental personality characteristics? This is where we circle in to the meat of this post. The only tool I have yet identified to effect change in myself. The incredible power of habit.

Although this well might not be true for others, for me habit is what brings it all together. I can sit around bullshitting all day (oh my can I!) and pine away for change all night, but the only thing that really makes it happen is the slow incorporation into my daily life of habitual thought and action.

What got me started on this post idea was eating vegetables. I was lamenting yet another bag of my good garden veggies languishing in the fridge and composing a post in my head about how the deceptively simple habit of eating more vegetables is an essential first step toward a more sustainable life. Growing a garden is great, and if you have the dirt I encourage you to give it a try. But I can tell you one of the biggest and most common gardening challenges, it’s one they basically never discuss in gardening books– Eating what you grow.

Most of us were raised on a very meat and dairy based diet. Even myself, although I adore veggies, I have never gotten my head around planning dinner (let alone any other meal) based on the veggies. They remain an afterthought and therefore if anything rots in my fridge, it’s usually green. So if I were going to recommend a first step to aspiring gardeners, it would be simply incorporating veggies into your daily belly-filling consciousness.

The more I thought about that post, the bigger the idea grew. Thinking about the habit of eating vegetables led me to the habit of wondering what’s in the fridge to eat rather than wondering what you want to eat and going to buy it; which led me to the habit of making do rather than buying something.

Doing without or creatively making what you already have work are absolutely habits. They are thought patterns that you lay down in your mind. It takes time, first you have to rip up the old one (buy whatever you want, whenever you want it), one pesky brick at a time. Then you have to lay down the new one, one pesky brick at a time. But once you are going on it, it gets easier. You gain momentum. Actually what you gain is habit. The habit of making a habit. The habit of being conscientious.

I warn you, it can get annoying. After a while it will be ingrained in you to think about everything you throw into any trash can anywhere. You will size it up and add it mentally to everything else in the trash can, and every other trash can on the block and feel a pervasive, occasionally engulfing guilt. But all those thinking moments will start to leak into other moments, and eventually you will find yourself rewired.

Eventually. It can take years. A lifetime really, a work in progress. Have you ever heard the Redbird song, Patience? “I spent all day yesterday watching the grass grow. What I learned is that grass really grows slow.”

Yes, ma’am. Slow. But darned if it doesn’t grow in the end. And grow and grow and grow.

How to Become a Punk Ass DIY Housewife

  1. Start small.
  2. Establish conscientious habits.
  3. Have patience.
  4. Take joy in small pleasures.
  5. Keep at it.

 

 

 

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Listen up, y’all. That big ole’ flagrant housewifey propoganda has been a bit of a thorn in my side. I labored over writing it, feeling a continually growing discomfort that it was exclusionary. I tried to re-work it several times, attempting to include everyone, but it just didn’t work. Dilution made it weak when I wanted it to be strong. So I settled on just saying it out straight how I myself needed to hear it and hoped that in the context of the rest of this blog, and the usually very inclusive nature of my writing, it would work out.

When the overwhelming response started rolling in I was flattered into complacency. Perhaps I had alienated some of my readers who do not for whatever reason fit the punk housewife mold I so strenuously extolled, but I had certainly attracted more. It all comes out in the wash right?

Blogs are a wonderful and slightly dangerous medium. I write one post at a time, you read one post at a time. But each post is only one tiny slice of me and whatever it is I believe. Longtime readers have gotten a much more whole picture, but I wonder if even they can keep it in perspective when they read a particular strongly worded post.

Fortunately Trish at Little Eco Footprints left a (very respectfully phrased) reminder in the comments about working mamas who “outsource” some of the domestic duties. She wrote a post about it in fact, on her own blog. I really appreciate that she commented though, because I suspect she spoke for many other working mamas who wonder where their place is in this so called revolution.

Then I got a long email from a very dear friend asking more or less the same question. She is considering going back to school, and thereafter back to work, and considering the possibilities of paying someone to do the jobs she’s been doing for years now. I know her email was mostly talking to herself, she and I often act as sounding boards for one another, but there was a small implied question of what I thought. Based on my very ballsy post, would I still respect her if she payed someone to hang her laundry. Could she still respect herself?

And I thought, holy fuck, what have I done?

I want first of all to say that those who work outside of the home and “outsource” some of the domestic jobs do of course have a place in the choir! Believe me, there’s room for anybody who cares to join in.

Independence, almost a moral commandment in this country, was the goal of the 1970′s back-to-the-landers. But I like to think our generation has learned the essentiality of inter-dependence. I have certainly been learning it. The central point of inter-dependence is that everyone has their special inborn talent, their calling, and if everyone does their special job then– taken as a whole– we can cover all the bases in the most effective manner. One person or even one family trying to do it all is absurdly inefficient. Especially in these modern times when we are learning all these skills from scratch! As if that were not enough to expect from ourselves we are also, audaciously, trying to do all that and continue to live as a part of the society around us. And most of us are doing it without any young girlslaves or elderly granbabysitters. Jesus H.

I honestly do not feel that I have some higher moral ground to preach from. I want to create a space to validate what I do, what many of us do because, yes, I believe it’s good. And I want you to stand up on your soap box too and feel proud of what you do, whatever that is.

I linked to it in both the original post and the after-post, but here it is again– if you have not read Why We Do What We Do, go read it next, please. Although the two posts were written many months apart, they are more or less inseparable volumes.

I wanted to say all of that, but there’s something else. Something more. I have been trying to formulate a post on this ephemeral topic for months and I just can’t pick it out. It’s a thing I have felt ever since I started parading my own ideals and achievements around here in the ethernet. A particular discomfort.

Writing is very hard. There is only one clear way to do it, one formula– set the scene, present the obstacle, overcome the obstacle, summarize the moral. There is no space in writing for the incredible, insurmountable complexity of life. No matter how hard I tried, I could not write in seven directions at once. Well that’s not quite accurate, I can write that way, but it is not good writing. No one would want to read it, me least of all. The way to decent, coherent writing is to set out with a single concept and illustrate your linear path to the conclusion.

As I have, dare I say, become a writer, this has been a continual sticking point for me. The deeper I delve into it, the more I have discovered that the original sin lies in our thinking. We are so heavily moralistic, so thoroughly black vs. white, good vs. evil, that my brain almost cannot escape. I feel like I am stretching up on tiptoes just to wonder if there is another way to see the world. What would that even mean? What if me doing things my way and believing it was good in no way implied that your way was wrong?

That my friends would be revolutionary.

Because in addition to including the working mothers who cook down farmer’s market fruit into jam on the weekends, I also want to include those mamas who don’t want to do any of it. The mamas who are passionately working for social justice and buying prepackaged food. The mamas who are stuck in a job they hate for a corporation they despise just so they can pay the bills. The mamas who don’t have to work outside the home, but nevertheless can’t summon the energy or desire to do all this crazy shit after they’ve finally gotten the baby down for a nap.

As Bill Staines says, “All God’s critter’s got a place in the choir. Some sing low, some sing higher. Some sing out loud on the telephone wire. And some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they got now.”

The bigger the choir, the louder the song.

 

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Well, hello there new readers! That last post apparently hit a vein. After a small interval of cyber-sharing, we had a banner day here at Apron Stringz with 1,491 views! Holy mama!

I feel I must take a moment to introduce myself. I wrote that post with my regulars in mind, knowing that they know me and would fill in the other half of the story. Because that post alone could sound awfully high and mighty, and I usually do my damndest around here to keep it down.

First, full disclosure. I am a woman of many and varied sensibilities. I am married, happily, to a man of many different sensibilities. Our two firecracker kidlets are making their own marks on our family life, and this all adds up to a household that might surprise you new readers with it’s multitude of transgressions. I fear you might have been accidentally led to believe I am some kind of punk goddess, rocking the home like it’s 1999. I thought a bit of reality was in order.

As I mentioned afterwards in the comments, I spent days gestating and then birthing that post. For those days (and many other unrelated days in my life) I completely neglected those righteous homemaking duties for the more glorious job of writing about them. On the day I finally set pen to paper, as it were, I plugged my kids into dvds all morning and then left them with Papa all afternoon while I drove our car to the coffee shop to write. As I was doing the last edit in a rush at 5:15, My Man took the kids to Wendy’s for dinner. To unwind after our long half-sick day, we watched a dumb movie in one room while the kids watched another in the other room.

I would like to say such activities are rare.

I can’t.

I’m telling you all this because– if this ruins it for you, you might as well leave now. I understand the inspiration of voyeuristic perfection, I have imbibed myself on many occasions. But there is another kind of inspiration, much more subtle and possibly longer lasting. This is the inspiration of other real people, just like you. Fucked up and wonderful, just like you. Generally confused with bright moments of epiphany. Succeeding sometimes, failing often, but keeping at it.

With this blog I do my best to champion that radical punk housewifery I wrote about in Why Are We Doing This; to describe the mechanics as well as the psychology of my own particular trip. But my highest aim is the uniting of all of us. The kick-ass radical punk bitches, the harried just-trying-to-survive-two-kids-under-the-age-of-3 moms, the homesteader grandmas who remember and support us. I can jive with just about anyone who tries to make a change in this life, no matter where they started or how far they’ve come, no matter what canvas they work on. It’s that heart-binding intent that I believe in.

So, welcome you. Welcome to the sideshow. Take a seat and introduce yourself to your neighbor. We’re making this show up as we go along.

A selection of introductory posts for you new readers:
Why We Do What We Do -- the important other half of the question
Hello You Shy, Confused Feminist Housewife, You
Priorities, Compromise and the Privilege of Doing Good
Master of Fine (Homemaking) Arts
Is Your Sustainable Life Sustainable?

 

 

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As you know, I finished my small but satisfying zine recently. Despite it’s slender finished appearance I spent many, many hours writing and thinking about it. The subject, you may remember, is Getting Shit Done (With Kids). To clarify, the shit I’m referring to is all the same ‘sustainable home’ shit that I generally write and obsess about. Growing some of your own food, responsibly sourcing the rest, cooking everything at home, consuming a minimum of our world’s resources, finding the smaller and simpler pleasures in life– all in the context of homemaking.

After finally getting the zine all laid out, I spent a few hours at Kinkos printing it (it always takes hours, even when I think it will only take 30 minutes.) While I stood there at my personally designated copier with a 3 foot square of countertop to lay out my piles of pages, I felt myself and my work laid naked before the world. There it was for any passerby to glance at– the Apron Stringz cover page. What at home had seemed clever and spunky suddenly seemed trivial and indulgent. Embarrassing. I felt a tiny crash in my heart.

I’m so excited? I wrote a zine about being a housewife?

Here, in this corner of cyberspace, we are together. All of us strange people who value home work. We come here to remind each other that we are important, to take shelter in one another. But out in the big world, people still think housewifery is for women who can’t get a job. People don’t understand what we might be doing all day, at home, and even if we explained what we were doing they wouldn’t understand why. Why go to so much trouble to make something you can buy at the store for $1.99?

As much as I want to believe that I am this strident renegade who doesn’t give a damn what the world thinks, it’s not true. Of course I care, everyone worth anything does. It’s destructive and beautiful, but absolutely human– our pack mentality, our sensitivity to others.

So I go along, carrying my secret work in my heart, brandishing my beliefs occasionally in public too loudly and with too much passion. Confusing well meaning relatives, alienating myself and consequently those who try to be close to me. It’s a hard row to hoe, and I would be lying if I claimed to never have had a breach of faith.

Having kids is hard work. You know. Unbelievably, previously unimaginably hard work. Sometimes I find myself wondering why on earth I try to do anything else. Why do I spend so much time and energy with this whole punk housewife thing? Is it really so important? Isn’t the “revolutionary” tagline in my header just tongue-in-cheek? Who do I think I am that what I do matters so very much. What precociousness!

My lonesome Kinkos moment was just me, out in the real world. Remembering that I am a freak. Questioning my self, my motives, my outcomes. Not feeling at all sure of the answers.

It was somehow much easier to keep a grip on the import of my ‘work’ when we lived in Alaska. My daily activities just seemed more revolutionary– even after having a kid reduced my efforts to the household realm, at least I was making stock out of deer bones. We drank wild salmonberry juice and picked chantrelles out of the mossy forest. Whenever I needed a good jolt of ‘why’ I had the big wild mountain right there out the window.

Here in the city, the sustainable lifestyle looks less radical. I make my stock out of plain old chicken, even if it is from the farmer’s market. We buy organic juice concentrate from Whole Foods, and locally grown shitakes that come in a plastic box. Is this revolution? Really?

Maybe not revolution exactly, but inglorious though it may be, this work needs to be done. Figuring out how to live happily in a thriving wilderness ecosystem will not save humanity at this point (though it well might be our salvation in the future). Right now we need to figure out how to sustainably keep large populations happy and healthy in cities where their concentration is most efficient, we need to come down off of the drug of convenience slowly and explore the genuine possibility of change. There is much work to be done to turn cities and urban homes into sustainable working systems, and it is helpful to have someone actually in the home to do the work.

Wendell Berry is, arguably, the grandfather of the now very fashionable ‘local’ movement. He writes about farming primarily, about staying in place and owning up to land use, but he always honors the home itself as the nucleus of everything. His monumental book, The Unsettling of America was the first place I ever read the word housewife used without malice. It is obvious that he reveres the traditional rural housewife, but– perhaps because he himself is the farmer and not the farmer’s wife– he doesn’t focus much on the role.

Wendell and the local food movement broke ground, but Shannon Hayes was the first public voice I heard with the balls to say, without mincing any words, that choosing not to have a paying job, and instead staying home to care for yourself and your family is radical political action and will effect significant change, change that we desperately need.

Shannon’s book Radical Homemakers, gave us some real meat to chew, a fat gleam of pride. But like Wendell, she lives rurally. Although some of the people in her book live in the city, the overall effect is the feeling that if you’re going to quit your job, you’d better move to the country and start raising your own grass-fed beef.

Then came Harriet Fasenfest with The Householder’s Guide to the Universe. Dramatically less academic and achingly more intimate, Harriet lays out her own struggle to turn the farmer’s ethic of thrifty, hard working, conscientious living into an urban reality. She uses the genderless word ‘householder’ to describe this more tightly focused work. Harriet started right where she was, with what she had, and there is great inspiration in that. But Harriet’s kids are mostly grown and she has has been able to give incredible energy to the task.

I feel that there is a great untapped labor force– people like me, and maybe you– stuck in the city, partner working full time, little kids providing the greatest motivation for positive change that mankind has ever known and simultaneously carving our time and energy down to within an inch of it’s life. We can’t get anything very big and impressive done, but there are so many of us. Our actions might be small, but our potential is big.

This post is not meant to be a declaration, an imperative or a manifesto. Purely an explanation, to myself above all. Because, although it is absolutely true that I do what I do because I love doing it, it’s also true that I often don’t love it at all. Sometimes it’s a downright shit job, a literal shit job, and I do it anyway (mostly). DIY punk housewifery as described herein is dirty, tedious, time consuming and, after the inital high of aquiring the skills, often flat out boring. Today I need to remind myself, and any of you who haven’t had a good pep talk lately, why we do this thing.

Let’s be frank.

I believe the world is fucked up. We have ravaged the wilderness into near oblivion, sucked the life out of every arable piece of land, bombed and enslaved our fellow humans, all in order to provide for our extremely decadent first-world lifestyle. I know I can’t change things to any significant degree, but neither can I turn aside and pretend I haven’t noticed. I cannot, in good conscience and healthy mental condition, proceed at full speed. Over time I have accepted that I can’t and don’t want to withdraw from my countrymen into the wilderness. In fact, since having kids I find that I am drawn more and more back from the fray. I am guilty of participation at every level, but I cannot reconcile a life that does not at least try for something better. If I am weary with effort, I will know I am doing what I can do.

And here’s what I can do.

If I believe that massive-scale agriculture is defiling our land, and corporate food products are defiling our bodies, I can base our diet instead on whole foods from local farms.

If I believe that using fossil fuels supports global bullying and violence, not to mention environmental degradation, I can make the time to walk and bike whenever possible.

If I believe that the immense resources sucked down and shit out for every piece of plastic crap we think we deserve is inexcusable, I can mend broken things, reuse materials, buy second hand, do without.

But you know damn well those choices are not so simple, and that is where the skill and craft and countless hours of housewifery become meaningful. After the romance of changing the world has subsided, it all comes down to the number of hours in a day and the number of dollars in your bank account. In case you’ve never been to a farmer’s market let me tell you that local, sustainable food is enormously more expensive. If I want to be able to afford the luxury of responsible purchases, I need to defray costs by cooking everything from scratch. Creativity in the kitchen is worth money– stretching that costly ethical meat by picking every last shred off of last night’s roast chicken and cooking the bones into stock; planning ahead for variety and convenience so that we are less tempted by the many corporate foods surrounding us on a daily basis; and ‘adding value’ at home by making our own jams, yogurt, granola, and bread.

Although cooking tends to monopolize my own housewifery, cleaning up after everything is a law, like gravity. It has to be done, and someone has to do it. The infinitely humble task of washing dishes is radical political action, because after cooking your ethically and sustainably raised chicken into stock to make a second or third meal out of it so that you can afford to keep supporting that righteous local farmer, there is a pile of greasy dishes to be done. If a=b and b=c, than a=c. In other realms, it doesn’t take very complicated math to realize that eschewing 2-3 years’ worth of disposable diapers, per kid, has radical environmental impact.

And if you want to quit your job so that you can be home to do all this radical chicken cooking and diaper washing that means that you probably can’t afford day care for your filthy little angels, which means you will be involved in the now political act of picking up the floor on a more or less continuous basis.

Welcome to my world.

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Yes, I did get a good chance to climb back out of the hole I was in. I got time to be creative, finish a project, have dates with friends, and generally re-connect with myself as a grown-up. As I’d hoped, the break mellowed me back into a much better, more joyful and more appreciative mama. Thank goodness for the power of renewal!

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I did have a line-up of goals for ‘after the break’ when I would be a repaired and re-energized person. I have fallen into some serious sloth and indolence over the last few months, at every level, and I feel ready to do something about it. I know it’s not a good idea to take on too many goals at once, but what if they are all things that you had managed to do in the past and just need to re-instate? Doesn’t that make it a bit more realistic?

Number One on my list is screentime. I’m feeling okay about mine, but the explosive quantity of movie time for the kiddos over the last four months has been bothering me to the point of soul-destruction. I am sure that I over worry about it– plenty of kids watch 3, 4, 5 or even 6 hours of actual commercial-laden television every day and live to tell therapists about it. My kids watch 1-4 hours/day, 2-3 hours on average, of relatively good quality dvds. You have no idea how much it kills me to admit to that ’4.’ Granted, four is a bad day, but nevertheless, jesus christ, how has this happened?!?!? We have gone in and out of better and worse phases, but I feel the kids themselves are on a better phase right now, and I need to catch onto their coat tails.

Because, don’t you know, getting them to shave down their movie watching isn’t so hard as getting me to shave down on my time to get shit done without someone hanging on my leg! I’m the one in need of weaning here. Mornings are the critical time too, the time when I most hate to see their beautiful wide eyes get sluggish with movie-hypnosis. The time when I most sharply want (need!) 40 minutes of relative peace to get my brain in order! (And then, since they’re plugged in anyway, another 20 minutes to get breakfast made and our bag packed with snacks, water and diapers for out morning outing. Oh god, it’s glorious to just be able to go about this simple task!)

But, it’s no good I say. I have called a pretty complete halt to the first-thing-upon-waking movie watching, and I am making an effort to cut out some from the rest of the day too. Although many of the mothers I most respect manage to do their job with no movies at all, I feel like if my kids averaged an hour and a half per day I would feel good.

Next on the list, and don’t ask me how I plan to accomplish both of these at the same time, is cleaning the goddamned house! This place has really fallen from grace. It’s not nearly so bad as it was this time last year, but I think I am ready to re-new a similarly intensive cleaning standard. For those of you who have asked, and I’m sorry it took me so long to respond, I did not keep up that 1 room/day schedule for more than a few months. But that doesn’t bother me. Turn’s out it’s a lot of work to keep your house that clean, and I am not a clean house person– I don’t feel the need to live in constant cleanliness. I just don’t like utter filth and oblivion. The massive overhaul of last January helped me to reign in a house that was completely out of control, and the following 1 room/day schedule re-programmed my brain to an expectation of relative cleanliness which carried me through most of the rest of the year. I was very grateful for it.

Now, it’s time to push that re-set button again.

Those are the two main things. Then of course there’s the perennial desire to get more exercize, do 10 minutes of yoga every day, resume my atheist prayer practice which fell completely off the radar a couple of months ago, and oh yeah… relax and enjoy my kids.

Wow. How to achieve so many things at once? Of course the answer is that I can’t. A thorough post on accepting limitation and setting priorities is brewing in my mind, but in the meantime there is only one thing that can possibly even nudge everything in the right direction at once, and that is being more organized and efficient.

I do love to make a plan. In some ways, sitting around planning to do is ridiculous. But for me it helps to have a spark, an inspired motivation. And if that takes a little time “wasted” with pencils and paper at the outset, that’s okay.

So when my friend explained the concept of a Homemaking Journal the other day, I was snared. Have you heard of them? I’m not sure what they really are, I did a quick g**gle search which was immediately co-opted by a religious, pink ribbons and needlepoint kind of homemaking. But my vision, formed by the description my friend gave me and built upon over the last few days, is a giant notebook where the specifics of everything I do in my day, all the kinds of things I write about here, are laid out in an organized and comprehensive manner. My friend had made one out of a 3 ring binder, which is of course what makes sense. Take papers out, add more in, move around. But, is it just me? I hate 3 ring binders. They are no pleasure at all to write in, and what good is a giant Life Planner if you can’t curl up on the couch and make lists in it?

As much as I should be using the time to actually do the stuff, I can’t resist this opportunity. I am designing my perfect Journal/Planner and it is going to be awesome. Lined paper, graph paper, calendar sheets and pocket dividers all in a spiral binding so I can get snugly with it. And I thought y’all might have some advice before I do this thing. Here’s my ideas so far:

The front section will be a weekly planner/calendar, followed by some lined pages for general notes, to-do lists, books I want to read, websites, inspiration, ideas, etc. The kinds of things I usually write on little scraps of paper and lose immediately.

Then a Kitchen section, with a pocket for snipped out recipes to try (even though I almost never actually do), lined pages for recipes I make up as I’m cooking (which I do actually do, a lot), notes on how things work, kitchen ideas, grocery lists, etc.

The Garden section will have graph paper for sketching layouts, as well as blank calendar pages for figuring out crop timing. Also lined paper for assorted notes, seed lists, etc.

Then, bane of my life, the Cleaning section. A slim little volume with lined paper to write out my various soap and laundry detergent recipes, and imagine more good cleaning schedules not to follow.

What do you think? What would you add? What are the things you like and need to keep track of in your life?

Since I am going to buy the paper and figure it out and do the binding (at Kinkos) anyway, I am incredibly tempted to make extras for y’all.  Wouldn’t that be a cool project! The annual Apron Stringz Punk Homemakers Journal. Ooo, I like it.

I’m afraid that zine-making was entirely too addictive.

 

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Thursday’s post on Fair Trade was a soap box, no two ways around it. This whole Quiet Riot is going to involve a lot of soap boxing. Worse, because we are (most of us) inescapably consumers, a lot of living more responsibly involves spending more money. Let me assure you, as a born cheap-skate, it seriously disturbs my soul to be up here, looking down beneficently at my gathered crowd, telling you all to go out and spend more money.

A woman commented on the Bank Transfer post the other day wondering how to choose priorities from the endlessly long list of things a person really ought to do. Especially when responsible choices often cost more and, in the real world of limited incomes, conflict with her highest priority of staying home to raise her kids.

I can word out a few seemingly sensible soap box responses to this, like– ‘well, what kind of world do you want to be left for those children to live in’ and ‘don’t you want to set the example to your children that you do the right thing, no matter how hard?’ Etc, etc. But as convenient as that kind of black and white thinking is, I know full well about the incredible gulf of gray between.

I suspect everyone reading this blog cares deeply and honestly about the future of our world, and is doing what they can. But the devil is in the details, ‘doing what we can’ is a tricky statement. We could all do more, no doubt. We could probably survive with less sleep, spending those precious kid-less hours gardening by headlamp. We could certainly do with quite a lot less food and more ruthless austerity. We could… And those of us with overactive guilt complexes instilled by Catholic/Jewish/Baptist/privilegedwhitepeople backgrounds are sometimes consumed by that needling ‘could.’

But what value do we place on living a joyful life as a part of our particular community of humans? How much margin do we allow ourselves in that ongoing effort to be a part of our world, while also trying to change that world for the better?

Fair trade is a perfect set for this confusion. All jokes aside, coffee, tea and chocolate are far from necessary to our actual survival. A person could afford to buy ethical luxury items simply by treating them as luxuries, which is to say reserving them for special occasions. You can have a chocolate cake on your birthday, the other 364 days of the year you can eat a second helping of locally grown vegetables for desert. And haven’t you heard of roasting the dandelion roots you weed out of your garden for a local, sustainable coffee substitute?

I lived that way for a handful of years in my rugged youth. We ate plain oatmeal for breakfast, beans, rice and foraged greens for dinner. No sweeteners, no butter, and hell no coffee. We were austere, in the first degree. After a year or so, I started finding reason to go visit our neighbors strangely often. Who, coincidentally, would always offer me a cup of coffee. And, if I was lucky, a piece of pie. I am quite certain that better people than me are capable of maintaining a hard core rebellion against the western world’s interpretation of luxury as standard, without becoming neighbor junkies. Those years proved that I am not.

This is a theme I want to explore over the course of this Riot. How to keep doing the hard thing when everyone around you does the easy thing. How to maintain a poverty standard in a world of flagrant excess. How to feel okay about holding your children to that ethic. Not that I have any answers, understand, only a sticky ball of questions and personal failures.

After accepting that I didn’t have what it takes to live the ascetic life, it boiled down to a matter of priorities and consequently compromise. Which is the quagmire I have been slogging in ever since. To get back to that original comment– how do we choose the most important things to do with our limited energy, time and funds? How do we balance ethical (read: expensive) consumption with our decidedly low family incomes? I think the answer is intensely personal. I don’t mean personal as in emotionally yours, though that is also true, but so completely based on every particular situation and family that there’s hardly any generalized objective truth.

It seems to me that we mostly choose our battles based on what we’re good at and what we want to do anyway. And when you think about it, isn’t that the best way after all? We all have our inborn talents, our callings in life. We will work hardest, most passionately, most effectively doing what we are drawn to do. Hopefully the community at large will cover the rest, right? Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean, and so between the all of us, we’ll lick the platter clean.

As you all know, my calling in life is food. I work very hard at it, and if I may say so myself, have fair natural talent. I’m also really good with systems, which I think is an extraordinarily helpful skill to keeping a home. I do hope that this blog lends a hand with some specifics of Sustainable Housewifery on the Cheap, because if we can’t do it on the cheap then most of us simply can’t do it.

Which leads me to the elephant in the room.

Privilege.

Privilege comes in all sizes and shapes, but for now let’s talk about economic privilege. Neither My Man or I were born into money, but his folks have made a goodly stash in their mature years, and are very generous with us. Sometimes so generous that my teeth hurt. Many years ago they took out the mortgage for us on our house back in Alaska. We are slowly buying it from them as they buy it from the bank. All very convuluded, more than you can even imagine. At present, they are loaning us more than half of the money we burn through here in New Orleans, while I stay sweetly home to watch my angels grow up and nobly shop at Whole Foods (the other half is student loans, we didn’t have any savings at all). They also loaned us their car to use during our 3 year stint here, so we do not have car payments. They gift us big, nice, useful presents at Christmas and birthdays. Just about everything we own either came off the side of the road or was given us by My Man’s folks. It’s a motley collection.

Admitting this all, in print, to the wide world, is nothing short of excruciating for me. I grew up with hippie parents who scraped together $12-15,000 year, total. We lived extremely frugally and always by the skin of our teeth. I was endowed with a fierce spirit of individualist pride. Doing it yourself. Never accepting, or even deigning to need, help from anyone.

I have come around, intellectually, as an adult. Even before I married accidentally into money (hey, he was living in a moldy plywood tipi at the time, how could I have known?) I was beginning to realize the importance of interdependence, of accepting help and yes, even needing each other. I see now that family is meant to help. Our situation looks new and fancy, but the bones of it are ancient– parents establishing themselves, passing on what they can to their kids as they take out into the world.

Another important kind of privilege is less tangible– knowledge, attitude and expectations. I didn’t get any economic privilege growing up, but those anti-materialist DIY hippie parents gave me all kinds of essential mental tools to pursue this life. They also encouraged me to skip college and debt, and I spent those formative years instead learning more specific homesteading skills, living without butter, and hanging out in moldy tipis with suspect young men.

I don’t reference tv much and I’m not about to start a regular thing of it, but I did see a good Michael Moore interview on the Colbert Report a few months back. Colbert had quipped something about him “making bank” and that his sweat pants and ball cap didn’t fool us. Moore blushed deeply but countered with, “Yeah, you’re right. And that’s exactly why I think it’s our responsibility to do something with ourselves.”

I certainly wouldn’t say My Man and I have made bank– we live on about $40,000/year. We are very frugal in some ways. I rarely buy clothes at all, and always second hand. I don’t buy any kind of lady potions, handbags, or other female paraphernalia. We don’t drive much, so save quite a lot on gas. My money sink is food, both quality and ethics. On one hand you could say I make it my priority, I scrimp in other ways to pay for better groceries. I make everything I can at home, I work hard in the kitchen. I brew my fair trade coffee one cup at a time so that none is ever wasted, and I drink one or two perfect cups a day instead of a whole pot of mediocre cheap coffee.

On the other hand, I know plenty of you do the same and still can’t afford to spend $16/lb on goddamned coffee. I know I am lucky, very lucky to be able to be home with my kids and spend my few spare hours blathering on about responsible consumerism. It is a privilege to be able to ponder what is right, a privilege to be able to do it.

We all know we shouldn’t compare ourselves to one another. Do what you’re passionate about, push yourself as often as you can, ease up when you need to. Feel good. But in case that old dog comparison creeps around in the dark of night– don’t ever forget that, for the most part, those of us standing around on soap boxes had a boost up.

Related Posts: 
Is Your Sustainable Life Sustainable?
Why We Do What We Do
Master of Fine (Homemaking) Arts

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Each of us enters into this world of punk DIY housewifery from different angles. It’s easy enough to look down the street (or more likely, through the screen) at Ms. Jones’ new chicken coop, the handsewn banners in her window, the pie cooling on the sill, and compare straight across to our own shamble-stead. Assuming we ought to be even.

But there’s no reason whatsoever we should be ‘even.’ Everyone started in a different place, and took a different road in. People say this all the time. Start where you are. But I feel like we don’t give this fundamental truth the credence it deserves.

Adult jobs require training. Some jobs require years of schooling. Why is it we think we should be able to just step right into the kick-ass housewife role? Why do we think we should be able to cast off 20 years of academic schooling and suddenly, without training, become a super-hero urban homesteader? It’s yet another sign of how we devalue the work.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been, perhaps uniquely, well trained for this job. I grew up with hippie parents who fixed rather than bought, valued healthy food, believed in responsible action. They started me out with the values and the basic skills of the DIY lifestyle. When I left home, instead of going to college, I spent 3 years traveling around in rural areas, doing interesting, unusual and eminently practical work, and generally learning everything I could about the possibility of a more simple life. I spent the next 4 years with my partner on a friend’s land, building a sort of practice homestead, testing out everything we had learned. In the world of DIY/homesteading I am, I think, unusually well educated for this day and age. As far as more the classically ‘domestic’ skills go, I grew up in a restaurant and as an adult have cooked in professional kitchens where speed and efficiency rule. Cleaning and kids were my big blank spots (very big, very blank), the rest I had pretty well covered.

I don’t mean to gloat about it, but rather to say, look– I’ve had all the training a person could hope for considering the times, and I still think this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, still feel like I’m falling short every day. I can’t imagine what it’s like for you mamas who are just getting into all this stuff. I know the excitement of first love is heady, and hopefully it will carry you through, but damn you must feel overwhelmed! I just want to remind you to consider your training, or lack of it, and give yourself a break.

If you went to college and then spent your twenties working an office job, and now you are home with two kids trying to change the world one household at a time, you have just weathered an abrupt career change! Think of it as if you had lost your entire field of work and had to find and train for something radically different. Maybe you knew nothing about this new job. Maybe your family growing up rarely cooked, and a housekeeper scrubbed the bathtub. Gardening meant watering the rhodedendron. Maybe you hadn’t been around kids since you were one.

This is no small matter to brush carelessly aside, this is the crux of it really, because we have lost vast stores of knowledge about how to run an efficient, thrifty, coordinated home. It used to be that girls would learn this stuff before it was their responsibility, they would leave their parents home into their own new home having ‘apprenticed’ with their mothers and grandmothers. Not that those old days were so glorious, and I surely don’t want to be mistaken for saying women shouldn’t go to college, but what would it look like if an education in homemaking were a respected choice? Or perhaps available as a double major? Anything beyond a laughable elective in high school would help.

We have run in such panic from our past that now that we consider homemaking knowledge non-less, demeaning or even hateful. The cruel irony is that many women nevertheless continue to bear children, keep a home, run a budget and even cook for their families! But instead of proceeding with the confidence and success of training, we have to plunge in clueless. Without any real idea how to go about these jobs we all have to re-invent the wheel. What a waste of our (limited) energy! It’s sad, and as anyone reading this blog can identify with, it’s damn hard!

Several months ago, Harriet Fasenfest asked what we would look for in a “nuts and bolts” book about householding. The question has revisited me many times, partly because it was the bug in my rug before I had ever even heard of Harriet. What is it that would make our training? What exactly do we need to know? Is it the practical skills of cooking, preserving, cleaning and gardening? Or the less tangible skills of budgeting, time management and community building? But recently it hit me that whatever the knowledge base, information is only a part of training. Reading books and watching experts is valuable, but at some point everyone just has to dive in and get their hands dirty.

At the Foxfire Museum, on our trip to mountains last week, we got to watch the resident fiber artist for a while. She asked my girl how old she was, and then went on to explain which part of the process would have been her job at that age. “At four girls started carding, at five they made rolags, six they learned to spin, by seven they were using the loom.”

The beauty of a traditional “education” in homemaking arts was that it took place over ten or more years, under the direct tutelage of one’s instructor, and involved every day practice of a skill set which built on itself. How frustrating not to be able to use the loom till you’d put in three full years of fiber arts, but then again, how comforting really. Imagine if all the basic housewifing/homesteading skills were so viscerally ingrained in us. Imagine what we could accomplish!

My Man and I had a good long conversation on the train back from our trip. I am so envious of his ability to be flexible. He started out chaining himself to trees, and yet feels no regret about the way his life has changed since, no regret about his new vocation of paper-wrencher. He has this fantastic way of taking a distance perspective.

“It’s not a revolution right now. I wish it were, but it’s not. All we can do in a single generation is work for some degree of change in the right direction, and then trust that our work will be carried on by the next generation. Trust that eventually it will add up to something significant… Or just see us through until real revolution comes.” He added with a grin.

So, if you started your path in a mainstream, consumer household, spent years in the career world and are just now carving yourself some kind of responsible homemade life, take heart. Start small. Remember you are training on the job, with probably no teacher. Give your kids the values of thrift, simplicity, respect, conscientious living. Do what you can, as much as you can. Then trust that the next generation will continue our work.

Or start praying for revolution.

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I always thought I would grow up to be a kick-ass Alaskan homesteader. By age 15 I had dreamed out in incredible detail how I would build my log cabin, milk goats that survived on willow scrub, tend a garden carved out of the wild bush, hunt, fish, can berries for the long winter. I made countless graph paper sketches of cabin and garden layouts, lists of the groceries my family would need for one year in our bush homestead home.

Oh yes, my future kick-ass self was always a mama. In the fantasies, they blended so seamlessly– homesteading and mothering. Fantasies are lovely that way. In my ‘pre-enactments,’ the kids were perennially about 10 and 12. They did chores and homeschooled. They more or less took care of themselves, Swiss Family Robinson style. I don’t remember ever washing their dishes or doing their laundry (by hand in the creek?) I was busy kicking ass, right?

After the reality of kids, and just life in general, my homesteading vision was tamed down a bit to this punk housewife gig. Lately, in addition to rocking the garden and kitchen, in addition to raising up two gorgeous kiddos, I want to be able to write. A lot, apparently. A friend recently suggested that maybe I’m not meant to be a full time mama. Maybe I should just bite the bullet and sign my kids up for day care. But I don’t want to have to give up being with my kids to write. I don’t want to give up punking my household for either. I want everything I want. I want it all.

Because I’m worth it.**

I am always so profoundly disturbed when I dig deep, deeper within my psyche and unearth– the advertising industry.

Fuck me.

Under everything, all my intellectualizing, my earnest desire to affect change, my renegade claim, my hippie upbringing, my alternative education– under all that self that should know better is a solid foundation of good old American free enterprise. Which has underwritten me with the belief that I can and should have it all.

Capitalism wants you to think that you’re “worth it,” so that you will buy it. Corporations profit hugely off of an infinite desire for more, and a faith in the god of ‘having it all.’ If they can keep us believing that ‘all’ is possible, we will keep spending until we get it.

And they can keep us believing. They have the big bucks to spend on the top pyschologists in the world, to determine exactly how to shape us all into perfect consumers. I hate to venture into conspiracy theory territory here, but if there is a ‘they,’ it’s the ad industry. They have the tools, the brains, the money and the motive to control the entire modern world. Because who is safe from media these days? No one I know, and I know some contenders, believe me.

Media is everywhere. Big Brother had nothing on us. Look around you right now and count corporate logos. How many electronic devices are within reach, how many of them are on? How often do you look at something designed by corporate advertising?

If I think too hard about it, I get completely creeped out. Horror movie style. They are in me! No one is safe!

My Man always laughs at conspiracy theorists. He thinks the government’s too stupid to pull anything like that off. Bumbling idiots, he calls them. And maybe the ad industry is too. Maybe they’re not even trying to rule the world. But no one can argue that they are trying to make the maximum possible profit. And nothing ensures profit like a captive audience with an insatiable appetite.

How does this fit together? The ad industry’s evil plan to take over the world and my worn out “lost dream” story?

Well, here I stand at the ready, insatiable appetite for coffee, chocolate, heirloom seeds, and self-images. I want to be all and everything. I think I deserve to be everything. Wholesome mama, passionate wife, punk urban homesteader, and now respected writer on top of everything else. Who the hell do I think I am?

This is such a big subject, I hesitated to tackle it at all. To plumb the depths of this one would take far, far more time than I have. But let me ask you this? Why do we think we can have it all? Why do we think we are worth it when people all over the world, throughout history have had to be just plain old whatever-their-families-needed-them-to-be in order to put food on the table? Why do we all think we can accomplish so much more in our small lifetimes than anyone else?

And why, oh why, is this even more prevalent among us ‘alternative’ folk? We think we’ve circumvented The Man and his evil plans. We think we’ve banished the rampant consumer instinct, the materialistic desire for moremoremore, when in fact, we just moved it over 6 inches. We want moremoremore life, moremoremore accomplishment.

When My Man and I got together, at some point as courting couples often do, I asked him what he wanted from life. Among other things, he said he wanted to be ‘great.’ I remember scorning him a little, his egotistical desire to make history. Many years later I have finally realized that I wanted to be ‘great’ too, I wanted to accomplish what so many people before me have failed to do, to succeed exceptionally in many things at once.

Everyone I know, same story more or less. We start out thinking we can have it all. When the natural limitations of life start to sink in, typically in the 30s, and we realize we are not going to get it all, we feel disillusioned. We start throwing blame. If we have a family, we blame it on being tied down. If we’re single, we blame it on loneliness. If nothing else, we can always blame it on our parents!

If we could just wipe that slate clean. Stop blaming, stop expecting to be superheros, stop thinking we’re so extra special.

If I could do that.

Oh how my life would be easier! If I could just vanquish the ads.

Because I am worth it. I’m worth not feeling perpetually dissatisfied because I can’t accomplish every single goddamn thing I ever dreamed up. I’m worth feeling worthy without the right mascara/handbag/woodswoman image. I am worth just being me, whatever shape that may take over the course of my lifetime. Homesteader, mother, writer, wife, frumpy stinky me washing my 659th load of dishes in a plain old sink with running water and Joy soap, like every other American housewife. No accessories, no glory. Just me.

We’re all worth it.

**For any overseas readers or folks who grew up under a rock, “Because I’m Worth It” was a slogan created for L’Oreal in 1973 to sell their higher priced hair products. According to AdSlogans: “The message was all about what the woman thought. It was about her self-confidence, her decision, her style. Over time, “Because I’m Worth It” has become part of our social fabric and today an astonishing 80% of women recognize and respond to this positive phrase and powerful sentiment.”

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