Insourcing and Outsourcing 

I really like checklists. I like knowing concretely that I’ve done my work, which is one of the reasons I liked menial tasks like shelving even once I had my MLS. I like report cards.

And that’s one of the hard things about staying at home full time.

Because I can fill my day with any combination of tasks, but I’ll never be able to do all the things.

I make my own bone broth, my own granola, my own pizza crust. I don’t make pickles, or yogurt (though I’ve tried), or hummus. I can embroider, but I can’t knit. I’m not much of a gardener, though I might like to be. I mend shirts that need buttons, but the other day I threw out a cookie sheet because whatever was on it (baked-on potato starch???) was so thick and unyielding that I refused to scrub anymore. I like to bake and I don’t like to iron, so I do a lot more of the former than the latter, and people might be able to tell. (Wrinkles, waistlines.)

 

Most of the jobs I have had centered around scheduled hours and specific tasks. If I showed up for the scheduled hours most of the time and performed most of the specific tasks, I was doing well.

I like doing well.

unnamed-20.jpg

Stay at home motherhood is not that way. I need to take care of the kids, keep them safe and tolerably clean and reasonably happy, and it would be good if, barring illness and crisis, I made sure we had regular meals and enough clean laundry to limp by.

Beyond that, it’s kind of up to me, and it’s kind of bewildering.

I’m listening to Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect right now, and while that’s helping, I’m also remembering my reflections years ago on her essay, “Things I Don’t Do.”

My question, I guess, is this: How do you, as a homemaker, choose? Frugality? Interest? How do you know if you’re doing a good job? How do you feel good about the decision to hire a cleaner, or buy your produce at the farmer’s market instead of growing it yourself? When you can do almost anything, go deep on any one task, which ones merit your lingering attention?

IMG_8853.jpg
Fairly typical, honestly.

 

Advertisements

Commonplace Book, 17

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • These “cookies.” I think you’ll like them more if you rename them “bites” or “mounds.” (I will forgive the author, as she has the awesome site name, Connoisseurus Veg.) Scout is a little anemic and I’ve dutifully been giving her that disgusting liquid iron vitamin but it makes us both wretched, so I’m trying to find real food supplements and thought I’d start with blackstrap molasses since she (and I!) adore molasses. These are best the first day, but still pretty good, just crumbly, later on.
  • Split pea soup. Do recipes really matter here? I just search for something I can make in the slow cooker that uses ham or bacon or sausage, depending on what I have on hand. It always tastes the same, which is to say, good.

What I’m reading:

  • The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski: A gift from Scout’s godparents, we are attempting to read it aloud to each other — something we did often before kids, but which we struggle to fit in now. But we both love the Inklings, so it’s worth a try, right?
  • BROTHERS KARAMAZOV FOREVER WHY WHY WHY MAKING PROGRESS BUT STILL.
  • The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater: I remember being electrified when I was reading the previous book in this series, morning sick in bed, and realized — hey, she is talking about where I’ll be moving. Henrietta, Virginia, is in the Shenandoah Valley, just like we are, just like the author is, and it’s pretty fun to really resonate with the landscape now.
  • Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House by Cheryl Mendelson. I’m going to be real with you: I got this book because everyone recommended it and because it was on sale as an ebook and because I’ve pretty much got laundry and meals down, which, according to Like Mother, Like Daughter means it’s time to expand my efforts (which for me, means I really need to start thinking about my floors), but IT IS STRESSING ME OUT. She is so casual about all the things I should be doing and I cannot. Is there an equivalent book for people who don’t know what they’re doing and have small children coming up behind them, messing everything up? I’m trying to stick it out, though, because I love her general premises, as when she argues:

“Home life as a whole has contracted. Less happens at home; less time is spent there.”

Yes, Mendelson, yes! That’s some serious Wendell Berry shiz right there —  and that very observation has been shaping the aspirations J and I hold for our home for the last few years. So, if I can stop being so defensive about never EVER dusting, I hope I can make it through this book, because I just know she has good things to say.

Thoughts On Communal Living After Lurking at My Godson’s for a Week

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the week with my godson, his mom, sister, and newborn brother, while J was in New England for a conference. While C’s husband cheerfully called us “sister wives,” doing the stay-at-home-mom thing with another stay-at-home-mom got me thinking about communal living. I lived with maybe ten different roommates in my single days, and while J and I have talked before about the possibility of living in community, since we married in 2008, we’ve only had one housemate. So this was an interesting mini experiment.

unnamed.jpg
Tiny frenemies

While our golden-autumn week wasn’t a perfect taste of life in community — we were guests, not residents, and I was sans husband most of the week — here’s what I found:

  • When there are two parents home during the day, you get to go to the bathroom by yourself. (Or run in and stir the pot. Or carry a load of laundry upstairs without also toting a toddler.) This is not to be undervalued.
  • When there are five kids five and under, there are a lot of brawls. I didn’t get a picture of Pippin’s face, scratched up by repeated run-ins with the two-year-old, but it was a sight to behold.(C and I fared better, even in discussing tricky subjects like the Tridentine mass.)
  • The workday is just as long, but you can delegate to strengths. My kids wake up at 6:30; C and her kids sleep in till almost 8 — pretty essential when she’s up at all hours with a newborn. This meant I could fold laundry and unload the dishwasher before she woke up, and that she’d often run a load of laundry after I went to bed in the evening.
  • Loading five kids into five car seats is a feat and will make you into homebodies. (Presumably installing the car seats is even worse, but we were able to delegate that to the menfolk.)
  • Cooking for twice as many people isn’t much harder, except for figuring out what everyone will eat. Doing laundry for twice as many people isn’t much harder, either, and you can get by with fewer clothes because you’ve always got a full load ready to go.
  • Staying at home all day without leaving the house is easier and more fun with more company handy but snagging introvert time is even harder. My quietest moments were sitting in the yard keeping half an eye on the three or four biggest kids and going on the occasional evening run.

Besides soaking up time with one of my very best friends, the week was most valuable for getting to observe up close and talk shop with another woman about how she runs her household. (She isn’t a dish glove wearing pansy like I am! She makes fewer baked goods, and more stir fry! She has a different system for fitting in newborn naps!) Over the week, I got to see homeschooling up close as my godson did his kindergarten, and in return, I brought up the kids’ old cloth diapers and taught C how to use them on the new baby. We explored the big yard thoroughly and ventured out occasionally for ice cream or apple picking. It was a week of working together with C, talking kids and faith as we wiped down the dinner table or sorted hand-me-downs.

The best part is we’ll get to reverse it next month when C’s husband has a conference in a city nearby to us. I can’t wait!

Battle of the bedheads

 

Godbrothers

 

Books I Love: Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson

unnamed
Please don’t judge a book by its cover because…not cool looking.

I’ve had this book on my shelf for ages — a gift, I think, from my parents, and I finally tackled it this spring. Boy, am I glad I did. Peterson opens with a series of questions I find myself asking:

“But why was it that not a single other one of them had made the choice I had, to keep house with more than leftover bits of time? Was keeping house really a waste of time, at best a hobby to be indulged by people who like that sort of thing and at worst an unpleasant set of necessary chores? Or were there broader cultural and theological factors that made housekeeping seem like all of these things when in fact it was, as I had found it, a disciple as interesting and worthwhile as many other kinds of work?”

Peterson equates thoughtful, conscientious, imperfect housekeeping with caring, a core Christian precept. She argues, “[H]ousekeeping is about practicing sacred disciplines and creating sacred space, for the sake of Christ as we encounter in our fellow household members and in neighbors, strangers, and guests.”

She calls out the isolation of contemporary society, noting “[W]e think it is normal for people to be by themselves and make an exception, as it were, for spouses and young children. But the movement in scripture is toward community, not separateness, and the bonds of community in scripture go well beyond those of the nuclear family.” Her observations highlight the growing conviction I’ve had since first encountering Wesley Hill’s musings on tumblr concerning the obligation of Christian marriages to expand the scope of their households.

Her observations also point to the rude wake up call I received when we had kids and I moved from full-time to part-time to no-time outside employment. Housekeeping had been just something we managed in the cracks of our lives before the huge upset that is a first child, and while we strove to have a cozy home to which we could comfortably invite friends, it wouldn’t have been something we listed as a major part of our lives. She argues, “How much more conducive to the well-being of the household it would be, both before and after children, if housekeeping were treated as an intrinsic and positive part of life in the body and in community rather than as a set of boring and limiting chores imposed on you by parenthood.”

I still struggle, over a year into being home full-time, not to feel like my housework is somehow un-hip, shamefully old-fashioned, and degrading. Peterson offers useful context, here as elsewhere, however: “But if in Jesus God himself could take up a towel and wash other people’s feet, surely we, as Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters, can find it in us to wash one another’s dirty clothes and dirty dishes and dirty floors.” Amen, sister.

 

The bottom line, of course, is simple: “How much more hospitable it would be if our homes were routinely to be places filled with satisfying meals, with shirts warm from the dryer, with smoothly made beds — not because we are trying to win the housekeeping prize but because these are good and pleasant ways to care for one another and for ourselves!” I would do well to remember this myself.

 

 

Cloth Napkins

unnamed.jpg
The napkins that launched a thousand napkins are the ones on bottom. Also, happy Easter, STILL!

When we left Uganda after six months of living on a hospital compound, our friends there gave us the gift they’d given many expats before us: a length of batik fabric.

I was a bit stumped as to how to use our gift — I already had a locally made dress or two. Eventually, I settled on cloth napkins, and my best friend’s sainted mother, who had just made six bridesmaid dresses for me the year before (not to mention my veil), agreed to cut them out for me.

The thing is, if you have cloth napkins, you might as well use cloth napkins. And if you use cloth napkins, you might as well have enough to do a load of just dishrags and bibs and cloth napkins, because you don’t want melted butter or whatever coming off onto your nice clothes in the laundry.

And over time, I’ve really come to embrace cloth napkins as a tiny but not insignificant part of our family culture and our practice of hospitality. I come from a paper napkin tribe, so this is a special Grimm-Bowers thing. I haven’t bought the plain white jumbo pack in years.

A table setting at our house rarely matches, but each set has a story: first the Ugandan napkins, next a few scrounged at a Target after-Christmas sale, then a set from a church sale with Pippin’s godparents, a thick stack from John’s grandmother, a rainbow of vintage napkins snagged at a neighborhood yard sale this fall with my mom and granny.

Once you start looking, cloth napkins are cheap to come by, if you’re not too fussy about matching, and they aren’t much work if you’re not intent on ironing. You can keep a little bin in or near the kitchen (mine attaches to a cabinet) to chuck the napkins and rags into as you clean up after dinner. I do a load about once a week, and fold them in five minutes listening to something fun or watching TV.

It’s a small, green, distinctive touch that helps make our house a home.

Learning to Love Housekeeping (Snippets), 5

 

Things I’ve been fixing lately:

On Holy Saturday, Pippin and I brought Easter eggs around to the neighbors. The weather was dreamy, and we ended up poking around the neighbors’ garden with them. Since it was near dinnertime, I invited them to join us for our simple slow cooker meal. I’m always a little embarrassed by its ’60s vibe, but here is my go-to Easy Chicken and Dumplings:

  • one can Grands biscuits
  • cooked vegetables (carrots, parsnips, potatoes, whatever) and/or frozen peas
  • two cans cream of chicken soup. (This time, I made it myself with this recipe and felt duly wholesome.)
  • couple cloves minced garlic
  • one diced onion
  • a cup or so of chicken broth
  • couple of big chicken breasts, split

Anyway, you combine everything but the biscuit dough and the vegetables. Put on high 4-5 hours. An hourish before it’s finished, shred the chicken, stir in the vegetables and slice the biscuit dough into strips, then nestle them on top, partially submerged. (Experiment to figure out how biscuity/dumpling-y you like it.) The neighbors brought homemade apple sauce, ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce, a loaf of good bread with honey from their bees, and we had an impromptu celebration. Which all goes to show you: don’t worry about being fancy. You’ll still have a good time.

{Pippin on his first egg hunt of Easter 2k16, and on his first ever egg hunt in 2014 with his Aunt K}

Things I’ve been thinking about lately:

 

 

League of Extraordinary Homemakers

The other week, I attended our local chapter’s La Leche League meeting, and while I love offering support and encouragement to other nursing mothers (and receiving it in turn!), I wish there was some equivalent confederation of people trying to figure out this housekeeping-and-childcare thing.

A 2011 blog post I came across recently argues articulately,

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 wish we could meet around snacks — maybe a new recipe we’re trying out, or a tub of hummus we bought in panic on the way to the meeting. Like at LLL, our kids would play in between us, a hum of energy in the background. We’d talk about work/life balance, and the best way to clean grout, and how to use a slow cooker to get the bulk of dinner done while your kids are still sane in the morning.

You’d bring the extra squash from your garden; I’d bring that book I kept meaning to lend you. Maybe someone would confess to yelling and another to defaulting to frozen pizza, and I’d tell you about the time in the depths of January when I decided to throw in the SAHM towel and apply for a full-time job an hour away in teen librarianship, just so I could feel good at something again. We’d leave refreshed, inspired, and maybe a little wiser.

Who’s with me?