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I’m so glad Susan linked to her Etsy shop — I have been meaning to add it to the blogroll but have been so remiss online recently!  So just a note that it is there now (Susan, I hope to get an image for it soon :-).

I love Susan’s cards — they are my favorite stationery.  As correspondence is one of the accomplishments of every Jane Austen heroine, I highly recommend these products to all sensible ladies.

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.

One of the reasons I am happy to be a “full-time” wife and homemaker is because I have the time to indulge my super-organizational side. I know organization can be an obsession, but I assure you I am only slightly, harmlessly obsessed. Right now I am creating a spreadsheet with all the recipes in all the Cook’s Illustrated and other cooking magazines that I have–which, thankfully, is not too many, but there is a surprising number of recipes hidden in the pages of these issues. This way, if I want a reputable recipe for something I’d like to make, I have a searchable database of what’s on hand—I don’t have to go sifting through dubious internet recipes (I’ve wasted a little too much time and money already going off of recipes published without review or good editing) or sit down and look through all my magazines in search of something that will work. I also don’t have to bother cutting out or copying the recipes I try and want to put into the menu rotation; I’ll know where they are just as I would if they were in my recipe binder (which is probably next up on the organization project schedule . . . I have to weed through recipes that no longer appeal or failed their entry test about every year).

Besides an unfinished cat toy I am knitting (on double-pointed needles!!), I have a few (too many) Martha Stewart-type projects started, but at the top of the list is learning to make botanical prints (an idea from MS herself). I can’t even draw stick figures gracefully, but I can color within the lines, and that’s about all this sort of artwork requires. It has my name written all over it: plants and flowers, tracing with colored pencils which I already have, onto tissue paper which I already have (discretionary spending needs to be cut back after some other little projects I decided to undertake all at once, so. . .). I’ll pass on the details to whoever’s interested, as it doesn’t appear to be on the MS website.

My mom had the perhaps not-so-bright idea, bless her heart, of dropping off her 1980s sewing machine (with manual) for me to learn how to use. I have made a couple of simple things with her help before, as recently as a year ago, but it’s taking me a while to poke through the manual and refresh myself on how everything works. In the meantime I might have messed up the chamber for the bobbin; I started threading the bobbin while the chamber was still open, and as the needle went down it knocked two pieces (not including the shuttle, which I somewhat know how to operate) out of the chamber. I put them back in in a way that made sense and am standing by until I can ask my mom what just happened.

And finally, I have added Southern Savers to the top of my weekly coupon and savings roundup. She does deal lists for various regional grocery chains, matching sales not just with coupons in the Sunday paper but with printables, those found in mail-outs and booklets at the front of the store (which she names and tells you how to find), etc. The “Extreme Couponer” series is a must-read as well. I especially loved the more whimsical (most contain practical advice) cashier profiling post: avoid middle-aged women, they tend to be grouchy and don’t want to mess with your stupid coupons; go for any age male who can appreciate a frugal woman, or apathetic teenagers who will just manually override any problems rather than dealing with an assertive customer. :D

Up until last fall, my only sources of coupons were the occasional in-store flyer and the remnants of my Mom’s Sunday stash. I would cut out all the interesting ones and try to keep a mental note of what I had and when they expired. It wasn’t a very good system. I saved much more by trying to stock my pantry chiefly with Publix’s buy one get one free deals (especially when I found out that their “BOGO” policy actually means, buy one half off, get another half off…in other words, you don’t have to buy two to get the deal, a plus when the item is already-expensive olive oil and you have a budget to try sticking to). These days, I happen to live in a location central to almost all of the big drugstore and supermarket chains, so I have a number of possibilities when it comes to choosing where to shop each week. The key to making the most of that, plus maintaining a much more effective coupon system, without spending an entire day planning for my shopping is to use CouponMom.com. This is a free service that takes a huge chunk out of the work involved in “couponing,” and it is simple enough that, should I be without Internet access or should the site close, I could replicate what they do with just a little time and patience. I am nowhere near what some people can do with it (paying $10 for $60 worth of groceries is not unheard of), but I regularly save about 30-40% on groceries and other household items by collecting coupons and buying what’s on sale— preferably both at once (using a coupon on a sale item). You can find all sorts of tutorials on using coupons all over the web, but I thought I’d offer my take on it, since I remember well what it was like to be overwhelmed and turned off by the apparent effort for such apparently small gain. After a few months “in the business,” I feel like it is something I will be doing long-term, and which will only get easier with practice.

So the website linked above has a couple of databases to help you save time. You do have to register at the site to use them, but it is free, and you can create a junk e-mail address if you don’t want to look at the weekly newsletter or any resultant spam. The grocery deals database contains all the advertised sale items (both weekly and longer promotions where applicable) for a number of national and regional stores, showing where any coupons for those products can be found (for example, in the Red Plum circular that came out on 12/7). In order to make this work for you, all you have to do is get the Sunday paper (leftovers on Monday are sometimes slightly discounted), take out the two coupon circulars (Red Plum and Smart Source are the regular, “multi-brand” ones; sometimes Proctor & Gamble or General Mills will put out a coupon booklet for their products), date them, and put them away until shopping time. Then you look up the store(s) you go to in the grocery deals database, check the items to make a list, and note where coupons (if any) for the item are found. Cut them out and head to the store.

The grocery coupon database is a searchable database for when you want to find a coupon for something that doesn’t appear in the weekly ad or the grocery deals database. It gives a description and expiration date for all the non-expired coupons that have come out in the Sunday papers, plus coupons from online sources (which I am not as familiar with, lacking a working printer, but you can find some at smartsource.com and couponsuzy.com). Of course this also tells you in which circular the coupons can be found.

I save a lot of time using those two databases: not only that of going through each coupon circular, cutting out the desirable ones, and storing them; but also having to pick through them in search of the particular ones I want when it’s time to shop. Getting that chore out of the way was a huge motivator for me in starting this system.

A couple more tips:
– I don’t buy everything that’s on sale, or great quantities of it, unless we’re talking a 75% discount or more. At that point I will start considering if a product we really don’t use is worth the fraction of its original price. You might be surprised how often name-brand items can be bought on sale with coupons for a discount of 75% or more. From time to time you can get such items for free with coupons when they’re on sale. I have got a ridiculous amount of Pantene Pro-V shampoos and conditioners in my spare bathroom right now, because lately the sales and coupons have, as it were, aligned. Ditto with Suave, but that’s less remarkable because they’re significantly cheaper than Pantene anyway.
– Fifty cents off an item may not seem like much, but: 1) some stores double coupons up to a certain amount (usually 50 cents), which means you get a dollar off the item; 2) we all know that even pennies add up after a long period of time. So if you look at coupons as money (since you are in fact redeeming them as such), and realize the truth of “a penny saved is a penny earned,” you can get pretty motivated to stick with it even when you’re not saving a stunning amount of money from week to week.

And a motivational story for good measure: One of the friends who got me started on this has quite a stash of pantry and household items she has gotten for very little, for nothing, or–get this–in exchange for store credit, which means that buying the item made her money. You can really get into that at the drugstores like CVS (which has an instant store rebate program) or Rite Aid (which I don’t understand very well but which also employs store rebates). She not only has provided well into the future for her household, but she also has an abundance to give to needy friends or neighbors without any notice and without having to buy those items at full price. There’s nothing wrong with using thrift when it comes to giving, especially when the gift’s quality isn’t compromised in the least.

I’m curious as to how large the “chocolate” and “coffee” tags in the sidebar can get. With enough mentions, maybe this whole blog will be taken over with CHOCOLATE and COFFEE. Worse things could happen. The following recipe is more an assembly job than anything. You can play around with it, add fruit, subtract coffee, etc. Ultrapasteurization will not make your mousse fall on its face; it’s just a flavor thing. I would summarize the UP/P difference as slightly artificially creamy (most brands add carrageenan to thicken it) vs. melt-in-your-mouth creamy.

Mousse a la Mocha
1 c. heavy whipping cream, pref. pasteurized (not ultra-pasteurized), well chilled but never frozen
4-6 oz. dark chocolate (around 70% works great), to taste
2 Tbsp strong brewed coffee

Chill beaters, spoon (for scraping sides of bowl), and bowl for beating cream (and holding finished mousse) for 30 minutes or so. When the 30 minutes is about up, melt the chocolate in your preferred way. I like to set a metal mixing bowl atop a small saucepan filled halfway with water, which I keep at a simmer until the chocolate is mostly melted. Then stir in the coffee.

Take the chilled apparatus out of the freezer and immediately whip the cream until it achieves soft peaks (when beaters are lifted straight out of the bowl, soft peaks will curl over). Do this by making violent circles with a hand mixer on high speed, trying to keep the cream inside the bowl, for a couple minutes or however long it takes. (Discerning the “soft peak” point seems to require anexperienced eye. I have made it too soft, so that some of it returns to liquid while chilling in the fridge, and too stiff, such that the texture—though thankfully not the flavor— approximates creamed butter. As long as you don’t beat the cream straight into Butter Land, it’s pretty forgiving.) You can then fold in the chocolate/coffee mixture, or alternatively, stop beating just before the soft-peak point, add the chocolate, and then beat until you’ve reached the right consistency. Refrigerate at least a couple of hours and serve. Makes about four servings.

Just as an aesthetic consideration: though it doesn’t bother me, I have not figured out how to avoid having small chunks/bits of chocolate floating around in the mousse, even when I melt it thoroughly. If anyone knows the secret to making it nice and smooth, please advise.

———-
To try and balance out the tags, I will talk a bit about my discovery of the addictive hobby that is BIRD-WATCHING. As we cannot currently have “real” domestic pets, last week I bought a cheap feeder and some not-so-cheap bird seed in order to attract some cute creatures to our lonely domicile during the day. it took the chickadees and the squirrels only a couple of days to locate the feeder. I’ve found I can stand three feet away from the whole situation (which now includes a makeshift bird bath, per the bird seed bag’s instructions), and as long as I remain perfectly still, the birds have no qualms about coming to feed and chatter and even kiss right in front of me. Who needs a snuggly kitten when you have so many feathered friends? Well. . . I can still want one. But having happy, chirping, beautifully colored birds in view all day makes it even easier to love being a housewife. If anyone is interested, I’ve collected some homemade bird feed ideas from various websites that I could pass on to you here, though I haven’t tested any of them myself yet.

——–
Finally, a Trader Joe’s update/unofficial ad. How I love that store. The unsweetened baking chocolate at $.99/8 oz was sadly no more (now $2.50 ea, I think), but their “Pound Plus” bars (17.6 oz) are $3.50-$3.99. That’s $.20-$.23 cents an oz, folks, and it tastes just fine to me. Lest you begin to suspect that I try to feed us on coffee and chocolate, with an occasional vegetable, here’s a sample of the other good buys I found today:
* TJ’s Pomegranate green tea (64 oz), $2.99 — so refreshing, and a very subtle tea flavor; I usually hate cold tea
* Chicken drumsticks, $.99/lb — and no, they do not package them in 10 lb cases as a cruel trick.
* TJ’s peppermint Castile soap — a longtime favorite. As the label says, use it for your body, your hair, your body and hair on a camping trip (? whatever), your hands, your dishes, your floors, your countertops, your baby’s bottom, etc. It smells great and, on top of the overwhelming versatility, has aloe vera to moisturize whatever surface it ends up on. (I’ve always wanted creamy floors.)

Well, a couple days after I asked for a 12-step program—er, advice about shopping frugally for coffee, I made a trip down to our local (sadly, as in “40-mile-radius” local) Trader Joe’s, sort of a middle-class gourmet store with an emphasis on organic products. There were some great finds, as expected: I spent just about $20 on 5 good-sized bags of frozen produce (some of it organic), enough oranges and lemons to last me two weeks, organic celery, bananas, and a couple organic apples. As for the cost, sure, I could do better at Wal-Mart, but I have been repulsed by the usual state of their produce department around here. I don’t think I could do better at Publix, my regular standby, even though they have their own store-brand organics line, for which kudos to them, I guess.

Best of all, though, Trader Joe’s turned out to be a great place to buy coffee. I do remember that the selection was quite limited: what I left with may have been the only full-caff, whole bean option. Not a problem; I don’t need lots of brew variety. Consistent drinkability is all I ask. I am not a demanding connoisseur capable of detecting “high” and “low” notes and sniffing for obscure olfactory characteristics and swirling it around in my mug, or whatever coffee connoisseurs do. But I have tasted some simply unpotable coffee in my day. And after opening the Experiment this morning, I bring you good news of great joy: a $4.99 12-oz canister of ultra-dark Sumatra whole bean coffee is, my friends, quite potable. It goes down all the more smoothly with a little heavy cream and the sweet knowledge that I am drinking a mere .25 cent cup. I will say that I am glad to be the only regular coffee drinker in this household, as we would otherwise be replacing it every 10 days (a 12-oz canister comes out to about 20 12-oz servings using a French press). Still not the cheapest habit, but I remain unconvinced that I need to kick it for any reason.

Oh, um, speaking of un-cheap habits. . . let me just put in one more plug for a TJ’s product I chanced upon in this visit, a product near and dear to many a female heart. Tell me, where can you find decent, let alone absolutely satisfactory, bars of unsweetened (and semisweet) baking chocolate at .99 cents for 8 ounces? And that not on sale, but at regular price? . . .

My name is Laura, and I am addicted to gourmet coffee. I knew I should have declined the bag of Arabian Mocha Sanani that Kilby brought as part of her wedding gift. I was already hooked on Starbucks but was going to try and downgrade for the pocketbook’s sake—never mind that I had tried this once before and was absolutely disgusted with the other options. We stocked up on the Good Stuff when it was on sale last month, and I just opened up my last “stash bag.” Yes, I suspect I am, and rather hate, merely paying for the Starbucks name. I don’t think I need gourmet, per se, to make me happy; I just need drinkable, ideally slightly pleasurable coffee. Any recommendations would be appreciated.

I don’t mean to make my first post off-topic. I see this as a matter of frugal shopping, something I am pleased to use some of my time to accomplish while my husband is laboring away to keep us fed and sheltered. My strategies so far are: 1) make weekly grocery lists from the sales circular, not the gourmet cookbook; 2) shop around, but sensibly—gas prices now easily offset any minute savings from the store further down the road; and 3) try to make everything possible from scratch. It does help to “cost out” the actual bargain if I make something myself rather than buying it ready-made to any degree. For example, I can make pretty good scones, which are also pretty healthy for scones, for $.29 each, or $2.32 for a batch. A certain favorite cafe sells scones for upwards of $3 a piece, and if you ask me they’re better off sticking with coffee anyway. Maybe I am just compulsive, but doing this sort of math makes me feel powerful and useful—and is consequently a bit addicting.

I have been a full-time housewife for exactly two months, currently residing in my native South with a displaced (and endearingly disgruntled) Yankee. I will try very hard not to show you all up with my, as one has already put it, vast expertise. … Really I am hungry for all sorts of housekeeping wisdom, and as I come across particularly ingenious tips I will share them here.

August 2017
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