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I found this article by a friend on a remote and challenging mission field (to an unreached tribe) very worthwhile reading, and thought it might be an encouragement to some others here:

Motherhood is Ministry

Our own dear Lauren’s book, Good Housekeeping for the Chronically Fagged, has appeared in kindle edition! Lauren has a number of painful, often prostrating, very demanding, illnesses and is both an excellent housekeeper and writer, so she is well qualified to take on such a book: this expert guide is well worth the token amount she is charging for it! I am quite excited about delving into the first chapter: ‘a house is not a home without a routine’ (something I have long thought to be true, but Lauren often puts things into words for me), which starts off with an acknowledgement of that first insurmountable thing one comes up against in chronic illness: that our strength is so erratic we simply cannot keep to a steady pace.

Yours truly has contributed a smallish essay to this book. What could I possibly contribute to a book on housekeeping you might wonder, especially one already authored by Lauren? I wondered the same and said as much :-). What more I said is protected by copyright! I cannot reveal it to you here! You must buy the book!

Congratulations, L!  You will notice, by the way, if you visit Lauren’s ‘author‘ page on Amazon that she has also burst upon the astonished sight of the world a most fanciful book of poetry about cats (also very enjoyably priced), which is just the sort of thing Lauren would do, just when the world was least expecting it.

Except to Heaven, she is nought;
Except for angels, lone;
Except to some wide-wandering bee,
A flower superfluous blown;
Except for winds, provincial;
Except by butterflies,
Unnoticed as a single dew
That on the acre lies.
The smallest housewife in the grass,
Yet take her from the lawn,
And somebody has lost the face
That made existence home!

Emily Dickinson

Today has been a slow cooking kind of day. I made chicken stock for the first time since fall, so that we can have Thai chicken soup tomorrow. Funny thing is, I’ve never been that motivated to make from-scratch American chicken soup, and when I’ve tried it hasn’t been the greatest. But a spicy Thai chicken soup is much more interesting to me.

I also made stromboli for tonight. In the pizza dough, I swapped out a quarter of the bread flour for white whole wheat, so we will see whether we can tell the difference. I’ve made this recipe several times before. It is slow and easy, and quite tasty. Today I applied a trick I learned from Peter Reinhart’s book, the stretch-and-fold technique, to make the pretty sticky dough much easier to handle. As I was sending the recipe to someone who requested it, I did a search for videos illustrating this technique, and guess who should appear? None but Peter Reinhart himself. One would think he would outsource his instructional videos, or just not make any in favor of letting people buy the book to find out more—but he makes them himself. This is compelling. I am further drawn, as Heidi so aptly put it, to be his bread disciple. And now I have found a video he made to demonstrate shaping a boule, which I am still having trouble with. Oh joy.

With resources like The Fresh Loaf (where actual expert bakers, as well as very experienced home bakers, hang around and delight in answering stupid beginner questions) and instructional videos by Peter Reinhart (himself!!), reasonably committed culinary autodidacts can learn a lot—and that while listening to beautiful Handel arias.

I thought this article was worthy of a post here. It’s by J. R. Miller from the GraceGems site.
http://gracegems.org/C/Miller_motherhood.htm

The Lord bids each of us in all life’s actions to look to his calling. For he knows with what great restlessness human nature flames, with what fickleness it is borne hither and thither, how its ambition longs to embrace various things at once. Therefore, lest through our stupidity and rashness everything be turned topsy-turvy, he has appointed duties for every man in his particular way of life. And that no one may thoughtlessly transgress his limits, he has named these various kinds of living “callings.” Therefore each individual has his own kind of living assigned to him by the Lord as a sort of sentry post so that he may not heedlessly wander about throughout life. …
It is enough if we know that the Lord’s calling is in everything the beginning and foundation of well-doing. And if there is anyone who will not direct himself to it, he will never hold to the straight path in his duties. Perhaps, sometimes, he could contrive something laudable in appearance; but whatever it may be in the eyes of men, it will be rejected before God’s throne. … From this will arise also a singular consolation: that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God’s sight.

— from Calvin’s Institutes Book III Chap. X

I feel like I can always use further insight, even particular directions, as to what my calling as a married woman entails. I hope that is not an unhealthy “law-thirstiness”: a desire to “discover” and adhere to man-made laws that go beyond Scripture, in order to build a case before God and man that I am especially righteous. I’ve never been guilty of that before, but there’s a first time for everything. *ahem* Of course, this question, which essentially boils down to, “How do I use my time and gifts as a married woman in the 21st century?”, arises much more readily for a woman without children, whose constant demands pretty well answer the question before it can be asked (assuming there is time and energy to ask it). But I am not the only childless married woman here or in the potential (hypothetical?) audience, and perhaps my questions and musings will help you too. I simply want to know better what it looks like for a married woman to “keep to her sentry post,” and what it looks like to stray—not to judge others but myself. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that this seems to be yet another matter of wisdom rather than law—“yet another” expressing my natural aversion to doing the work of praying for and getting wisdom. Reading a book or an article would be much easier.

From my limited historical studies (more like occasional observations; I do always invite correction), I gather that even into the 1950s, when it was not absolutely necessary that someone—whether the mistress of the home or a trusted servant—be at home ensuring that the family had food and clean clothes (and had clothes, for that matter), the average young woman was either active in her family’s home and community, in a school of some kind, or busy with some outside occupation (such as teaching) up to the point of marriage. At this point, she regarded herself as fully employed in homemaking. She typically quit her job if she had one and took up the very happy duties of managing a home for her best friend. Of course the feminists in the 60s called all this into question, arguing that this supposedly noble aspect of womanhood was rather demeaning; it imprisoned a woman in her house and her life revolved far too much around the man, the domineering, self-serving, pig of a man who perpetuated this unthinkable inequality. Why shouldn’t the woman have the recognized, fulfilling career, while the man stays home to keep house and watch the children (if they must exist)? Well, why not?

Do we not as Christians have to deal with the fact that Eve was created as a “helper suitable to the man”—that “the woman was made for the man, not the man for the woman”? That this suggests at the very least a certain orientation towards serving her husband that her husband is not obligated to reciprocate? Is not the married woman called by God, in the very sense in which Calvin speaks, to manage the home and serve her husband and children with all the gifts and strength she has been given (Titus 2, Proverbs 31)? A thousand qualifications come to mind: chiefly that a Christian woman is also to be of real assistance to the church (Romans 16, etc.), to her parents and older relatives (1 Timothy 5, etc.), and to non-church friends or neighbors in need (simply part of being a Christian, besides the many “proof-texts”). She is still a church member, daughter, friend, neighbor. But she does all this as a married woman, very often drawing from the resources that her husband has earned, serving such people on behalf of him. She does it with his blessing, and with his guidance and oversight as to the time and effort committed to these abundant opportunities.

With that much clear, then, one of the more practical questions I have is about the role of domesticity in my calling as a Christian wife and homemaker. There are the inevitable chores involved in managing any home, like laundry, paying bills, and cleaning the tub. Then, thanks to technology, there is the “discretionary time,” when chores have been done. (I am sorry, homeschooling moms or any moms of young children; it probably feels like they are never done for you, and as an aside I think that unmarried or even married childless women in the church should be ready and willing to offer themselves as help when that is overwhelmingly the case.) So if you don’t have children to watch and/or teach, you could either get a job to fill up your time, or find other ways to invest in the home beyond the necessary chores. Those are the only two options that I can see, other than idleness, which we will consider an invalid option for obvious reasons.

On the one hand, you have the ideal of domesticity a la Martha Stewart. You put effort into and learn skills pertaining to all manner of domestic comforts, for the enjoyment of family and friends. Martha Stewart herself is no paragon of biblical femininity, yet I think this sort of domesticity, in its place, is worthwhile and commendable. I love that it values domestic happiness and peace, at least in a superficial way. I love that it affirms, contra feministas, the inherent value of housework or homemaking done to this end. One of my favorite excerpts from an old housekeeping manual echoes this: “A bedroom, in a way, represents the girl or woman who occupies it and cares for it. If it has an atmosphere of order and simplicity and repose, it is beautiful and tells of a personality that dominates worldly things and is not confused by them. … Everyone has seen a bedroom so full of charm that she longs to know the person who is responsible for it.” Surely we do well to appropriate the spirit of this domesticity even if we have no natural gift or even inclination for crafting paper lanterns and painting intricate designs on them, after filling each with the scented soy votives that we made last week. On the patio overlooking our 3-acre garden and arboretum out back. Etc.

Yet in defense of women who are less than attracted even to a toned-down version of such domesticity, a wife is only called to obey God and please her husband as she manages the home. Period. If God hasn’t prescribed craft-making, hobby gardening, or the cultivation of mad pastry skills, and the woman’s husband has not expressed an earnest desire for any of these (can you imagine a husband with a fever for more crafts? sorry, strikes me as hilarious), then it is up to the woman to decide whether or not these would be profitable for her family. So what I am sure of is that changing and sometimes arbitrary standards of domestic skills are not to be equated with good homemaking. “Order and simplicity and repose” can be preserved in a home without a Martha Stewart at its head. (Certainly the simplicity bit might exclude a Martha Stewart from even applying. End of MS jokes.) But it does require someone in the home, with a clear sense of her responsibility to preserve that order.

I have too many thoughts on this subject to corral, and many of them are way too uncertain and ill-formed for public blog material. As was hinted earlier, I am finding that much more of the Christian life consists of matters of wisdom—as opposed to hard and fast rules—than my lazy and legalistic flesh would like. I want my life—my daily work—to reflect biblical principles and priorities, but I do not want to endorse or even hold myself to a certain standard of domesticity or “home-centeredness” as if it were divine law. Surely biblical femininity is much more complex: both more elastic and more rigid, more liberating and more difficult, than the world and our tricky hearts would have us think. Discuss amongst yourselves, if you even have time to read this rambling essay.

As often happens in the wilderness of the Internet, I was traipsing about on some cooking forums last week and began to follow, off the beaten path, one interesting link after another. It grew dark and I began to feel I was losing my way. I had forgotten to bring something crumbly, for marking the path behind me. Somehow I found myself at this NY Times article from last December, and I rested there for the night. When I woke up in the morning I found my way back home, much wiser for the bewildering experience.

The article is called “So Your Kitchen is Tiny. So What?” Who wouldn’t be drawn to that? I almost titled this post “in which a pagan eclipses me in contentment,” but a) I don’t know that the author is a pagan (to whom, in case he reads this, I mean no offense; in my vocabulary “pagan” is a rather specific term for a non-Christian, not a demeaning moral judgment) and b) he does confess to complaining every now and then at his lot, which is a kitchen looking like this. What you should know is that this man is the author of a cookbook entitled How To Cook Everything, and from the looks of the thing it doesn’t lie. The contents are critically acclaimed. And he says he does most of the testing for his books in this glamorous space.

I am humbled. I mean, I am almost-perfectly happy with my kitchen. It suits our basic needs and we have a dishwasher to relieve me of backbreaking labor (smirk). I know it would be ridiculous for me to have a showroom kitchen before I really know how to cook. I am the type of person who leans on the ceramic stovetop two minutes post-use; I don’t deserve, or need to be in charge of, any remotely complicated appliances. But I am humbled because I am covetously inclined like everyone else, and longing for a better kitchen, or house for that matter, is not even something that I could be tempted to justify. Coveting the clothes on someone else’s back when you have *none* involves some mitigating factors that simply are not there when it comes to completely optional upgrades on concepts that already work pretty darn well, such as the standard refrigerator or the microwave.

I was kind of hoping that that article would provide some practical, TIPical Mary Ellen-esque space-saving hints. It doesn’t, but it *does* motivate you to apply your own mind to how you can reorganize/declutter/otherwise improve the efficiency of your kitchen, to the end that you are less inclined to grumble about its idiotic layout or utilitarian aesthetic and more inclined to make do and make good food. As one celebrity chef said in the article: “Only bad cooks blame the equipment. I can make almost every dish in my restaurants on four crummy electric burners with a regular oven — as can just about anyone else who cares to.”

Since we’ve talked a bit around here about pro-life issues, I thought I’d pass along a link to the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They have papers and other resources on their site, as well as a directory of members throughout the U.S. (sorry that our Australian and any other foreign readers may not benefit from this). I was happy to find several doctors on this list in my area.

Have I put in a recommendation yet for Home Comforts? This book was written ten years ago by a lawyer and professor who secretly enjoyed keeping house enough to write the first single-author housekeeping manual (and an 800+ page one, at that) in 100 years or so. It is fascinating. At first I confess I was put off by the tone; sometimes it sounds as if the author is trying to evoke the housekeeping manuals written 100-200 years ago. You know how the Victorians sometimes reviewed an obvious point several times in different words. She goes off on philosophical tangents (or so they seemed to me) of why to dress the table with linens rather than leaving it bare, for example. I read what I could of it the first time (I have been checking it out from the library) skipping over those tiresome parts. But now I have it again, and I am actually enjoying some of the more philosophical commentary. I read in some of the post-release interviews that the author was disappointed by the way people received the book as an offense to their intelligence–as if it were about how everyone should clean or set their tables. But the book is clearly about homemaking, about why it is so important to families and even to society that people learn to keep house well. It mixes a bit of philosophy in with a LOT of useful information; above all it is thorough and answers just about any housekeeping question I have in a day.

An excerpt from the introduction:

To the contemporary mind, the idea that happiness depends on good housekeeping might seem quaint or odd. A century or two ago, and in fact until the past few decades, it was taken for granted, and the quality of housekeeping was not beneath the attention of such great novelists as Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy. Several of Charles Dickens’s novels present an interesting variation on the whore/virgin theme when they contrast good housekeepers, who are lavished with praise, and bad housekeepers, who are described with appalled fascination. David Copperfield’s first wife, Dora, who ties a basket of housekeeping keys to her waist in a childish imitation of real housekeeping, all but wrecks their marriage through her infantile incompetence. And though David realizes that he must forgive and love her anyway, Dickens helpfully kills her off and remarries David to Agnes, a genius of a housekeeper who even in childhood brought order and cheer wherever she went with her own little basket of housekeeping keys. In Bleak House, the horrible Mrs. Jellyby serenely abandons her family to domestic squalor and confusion while she attends instead to charitable enterprises serving people a continent away. In contrast, Esther Summerson trips about creating comfort and order to the merry jingle of her little basket of housekeeping keys, and her guardian proves his good sense by appointing her his housekeeper within hours of meeting her.
. . .
Much housework is discretionary, but not all housework is. Minimum standards of cleanliness and order are inescapable necessities for health and happiness. It is up to each of us how to choose the dimensions of “necessary” in our own case. If this means that we can jettison without guilt a mother’s or grandmother’s idea of adequate dusting, it also means, on the other hand, that we still have to figure out just how much dusting represents the rational compromise between health and comfort and available time and resources. It is as true as ever that a dusty home is unpleasant and unhealthy to live in.

The fire need not blaze like electricity nor boil like boiling water; its point is that it blazes more than water and warms more than light. The wife is like the fire, or to put things in their proper proportion, the fire is like the wife. Like the fire, the woman is expected to cook; not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better than her husband who is earning [their living] by lecturing on botany or breaking stones. Like the fire, the woman is expected to tell tales to the children, not original and artistic tales, but tales–better tales than would probably be told by a first-class cook. Like the fire, the woman is expected to illuminate and ventilate, not by the most startling revelations or the wildest winds of thought, but better than a man can do after breaking stones or lecturing. But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school-mistress, but not a competitive school-mistress; a house-decorator, but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should not have one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests. This is what has really been aimed at from the first in what is called the seclusion, or even the oppression, of women. Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one of mass narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was able to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades. But the woman’s professions, unlike the child’s, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful; so tragically real that nothing but her universality and balance prevented them being merely morbid.

This is the substance of the contention I offer about the historic female position. I do not deny that women have been wronged and even tortured; but I doubt if they were ever tortured so much as they are tortured now by the absurd modern attempt to make them domestic empresses and competitive clerks at the same time. I do not deny that even under the old tradition women had a harder time than men; that is why we take off our hats. I do not deny that all these various female functions were exasperating; but I say that there was some aim and meaning in keeping them various. I do not pause even to deny that woman was a servant; but at least she was a general servant.

The shortest way of summarising the position is to say that woman stands for the idea of Sanity; that intellectual home to which the mind must return after every excursion on extravagance. The mind that finds its way to wild places is the poet’s; but the mind that never finds its way back is the lunatic’s. There must in every machine be a part that moves and a part that stands still; there must be in everything that changes a part that is unchangeable. And many of the phenomenons which moderns hastily condemn are really parts of this position of the woman as the centre and pillar of health. Much of what is called her subservience, and even her pliability, is merely the subservience and pliability of a universal remedy; she varies as medicines vary, with the disease. She has to be an optimist to the morbid husband, a salutary pessimist to the happy-go-lucky husband. She has to prevent the Quixote from being put upon, and the bully from putting upon others. . . .

The final fact which fixes this is a sufficiently plain one. Supposing it to be conceded that humanity has acted at least not unnaturally in dividing itself into two halves, respectively typifying the ideals of special talent and of general sanity (since they are genuinely difficult to combine completely in one mind), it is not difficult to see why the line of cleavage has followed the line of sex, or why the female became the emblem of the universal and the male of the special and superior. Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally *could* not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment (even when freed from modern rules and hours, and exercised more spontaneously by a more protected person) is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worthwhile to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. But when people begin to talk about this domestic duty as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up the question. For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colourless, and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labours and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books; to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

But though the essential of the woman’s task is universality, this does not, of course, prevent her from having one or two severe though largely wholesome prejudices. She has, on the whole, been more conscious than man that she is only one half of humanity; but she has expressed it (if one may say so of a lady) by getting her teeth into the two or three things which she thinks she stands for. I would observe here in parentheses that much of the recent official trouble about women has arisen from the fact that they transfer to things of doubt and reason that sacred stubbornness only proper to the primary things which a woman was set to guard. One’s own children, one’s own altar, ought to be a matter of principle–or if you like, a matter of prejudice. On the other hand, who wrote Junius’s Letters ought not to be a principle or a prejudice, it ought to be a matter of free and almost indifferent enquiry. But make an energetic modern girl secretary to a league to show that George III wrote Junius, and in three months she will believe it too, out of mere loyalty to her employers. Modern women defend their office with all the fierceness of domesticity. They fight for desk and typewriter as for hearth and home, and develop a sort of wolfish wifehood on behalf of the invisible head of the firm. That is why they do office work so well; and that is why they ought not to do it.

From what I have seen of and heard from this world, very few “modern” people would have any patience for an argument like this. It is not black and white; it is not an irrefutable syllogism that proves that women should do this or not do that. In my exasperating experience most people will try to turn your position, no matter how you express it, or even if you don’t express it directly at all, into a black-and-white matter, if it is not sufficiently so in their eyes. “You think a woman should stay at home—are you saying you believe it’s wrong for a woman to work outside of the home?!?” “You say men are the ones to provide—are you saying if a man is disabled and the woman can work that it would be wrong for her to do so?!?” I want to tell such people, as Pastor Al Martin once said from the pulpit in response to the same kind of manipulation: “Stop that stupid nonsense!” But it would not be very womanly. *bats eyes*

Just thought you might enjoy Mr. Chesterton’s very non-P.C., very reasonable defense of domesticity. It’s the chapter called “The Emancipation of Domesticity,” from a book of essays entitled What’s Wrong with the World. It is fully available on Google Books.

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