Friday, May 30, 2008


I was reflecting today on the role of the stay-at-home mom and housewife (like I usually do), and find that an ever-increasing conviction about the value of that role is growing in my mind.  It is a vocation that needs to be taken seriously.  

Of course, it is not taken seriously, for so many reasons.  Women who stay home don't earn money (or at least they aren't perceived as wage-earners, even though many of them are), they are lazy, they live outside of the "real world," they are occupied only with children and chores, etc. etc. 

More concerning, though, than the culture not taking the stay-at-home vocation seriously is that many times we don't take it seriously ourselves.  Passion for motherhood is probably the exception to this.  Most of the mothers I know who choose to stay home with their children feel very strongly about the value of that choice.  But the choice to stay home extends far beyond children.

The truth is that women (and men) who choose to stay home have a unique potential to become leaders in our culture today, and we should take that potential seriously.  By staying home, we have the opportunity to support our communities in a unique and vital capacity, strengthening the neighborhood, social organizations, civic groups, the family, and more.  We are positioned to promote the alternative to Big Business and Big Government in our circles, providing some much needed balance in our communities.  We will most likely be the "first responders" when people need help, encouragement, and aid--often a better social safety net than the best-intentioned government programs can offer.  We can set an example in micro-commerce and education.  We can mobilize when called upon for important causes.  And that is only a portion of our contribution.

Staying home is a legitimate live-li-hood because it brings life into our cities and our culture.  This is not to say that other occupations don't bring life--many of them do.  It is only to say that we should take the "home vocation" seriously, and step into the leadership that is there for our taking.  Because if we don't take it seriously, certainly the culture won't, and we all won't know what we're missing.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Grassroots Help in China

I read an article in this morning's news that reminded me of the posts I wrote last week on emergency preparedness, and the value we can bring to our communities when we take the time to plan ahead.

The article was about the success of grassroots organizations in China coordinating the distribution of aid in earthquake-torn communities.  These groups, comprised of Chinese citizens, have organized quickly, and are bringing great help to relief agencies trying to get food, medical supplies, etc. into the neediest areas.  The article explains that China ordinarily frowns on groups like these, preferring large, government-run organizations.  But the nimble citizen committees are receiving some leniency, probably because they are getting the job done.

The ability for citizens to gather and mobilize quickly is something that many governments are slow to recognize, often preferring, like China, to coordinate relief from the top-down (think FEMA).  But as Hurricane Katrina revealed in this country, and as these grassroots organizations are demonstrating in China, the people on the ground are often the best resource to bring relief into a neighborhood in need.

Unsurprisingly, many of the people interviewed in the article were retired or stayed home, and saw the Chinese earthquake as an opportunity for them to use their skills and time to help.  This affirms my conviction that communities need a balance of men and women in the workforce, as well as in the home.  If your choice is to stay at home, like mine is, then you should be encouraged that your lifestyle may one day bring you to the aid of your friends and neighbors.  And for everyone the story is an encouragement to be and stay prepared to help for both good and bad times in the days to come.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Recipe Resource

Since writing about wellness yesterday, I thought I would give some kudos to a great recipe site that I discovered earlier this year,  

This site has not only helped me to organize weekly menus and shopping lists, but the recipes are tasty.  It is easy to search for healthy fare, and most of the ingredients are simple and easily located in the aisles of your average grocer.  And it's free!

Last week I blogged about my growing conviction about food waste.  Incidentally, after exploring some of the ideas on, I was not surprised to see that menu planning is one of the easiest ways to prevent loss.  Fortunately, websites like make menu planning easy.

All of this highlights an important theme that I keep pondering as I post: intentionality.  The lifestyle of a modern housewife is an intentional one.  And the fruits of this intention are (you guessed it) greater wellness, less waste, more creativity, more resourcefulness, more relationships, and apparently better food.  Cheers to that!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


As the daughter of a nurse, and a native Coloradoan, I grew up with the concept of wellness long before it became a popular philosophy.  Not that I always adhere to the lifestyle....but I have learned to value it.  So when I read an article last week about companies launching wellness programs for their employees as a way to keep health care costs down, I agreed that it is a good trend.

So what does wellness, and company health care, have to do with being a modern housewife?  Well, if there is anything I have learned about wellness, it is that it takes time.  Shopping and preparing healthy food, getting exercise, resting, enjoying nature, cultivating spirituality--all of these things take time.  And when practicing them all together, they can take a lot of time.  

This is when working full-time in the workforce can present obstacles to wellness.  The last thing I felt like doing after coming home from the office after a long day was exercise and cook a nutritious dinner.  I might have conjured up the motivation for one, but rarely both.  Being at home, though, provides more time for wellness, and it rubs off, too.  I cook healthier fare more often, which both myself and my husband benefit from.  We take more walks together (even the dogs have lost weight), and I spend a great deal more time outside.  

This is not to say that you can't be well when you are working.  If you work for one of the companies that has launched a wellness program, you might be in great shape.  All I am saying is that staying at home can offer the same benefits that a work wellness program can offer.  You can also take advantage of the same financial benefit that these companies are trying to capitalize on.  A household with healthy people saves a lot of money over one that has unhealthy people.  Have you purchased a bottle of cough syrup lately?  How about Prilosec or Ambien?  These drugs are expensive, and can really add up!  Having more time to cultivate wellness at home will decrease your need for them, thus saving you green.  

To conclude, being a housewife is not traditionally seen as a path toward wellness, but I argue that it really can be.  Since I left the corporate 9-5, I really do exercise more, eat better, garden, sleep well, pray more, and save money.    I'm doing...well.

To link to article on corporate wellness programs, click here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Memorial Day

Happy Memorial Day!  Hope you are enjoying nice weather and good food!

Tune in tomorrow to read about wellness, and how staying home can be a great "wellness program."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ready Part 2

Yesterday a tornado ripped through a small Colorado town about 15 miles from my home, and while hunkering down listening to the news coverage, it occurred to me that this would be an opportune time to write about emergency preparedness.

I wrote in yesterday's post about women being ready to help in times of danger.  Emergency preparation is an obvious example of what I was talking about.  

I have a friend who takes emergency preparedness very seriously, and has committed a portion of her basement to food storage and supplies.  Some people might be tempted to accuse her of paranoia, but I think that her's is the first place I'd be inclined to go if disaster hit our neighborhood.

Even better would be to emulate her model and stock up myself, which we have done to a lesser degree.  Basic first aid supplies, water, food, and batteries are all within reach if we really need them.  Hunkering down yesterday, I felt a little bit of comfort knowing that we had a few important things at hand.  

There are a few things about our communities today that make us particularly vulnerable to disasters:
1.  we depend on grocery stores for our weekly food supplies.  Thus, when trucks have difficulty accessing the stores to restock them, we are left with few resources.  This is in contrast to older generations who were accustomed to maintaining food cellars.
2.  we don't know our neighbors.  Sure, we might know their names, and say hi in passing, but studies show that we don't know their vitals: phone numbers, emergency contacts, allergies, etc., all information that is important in emergencies.
3.  we depend on technology.  High-speed cable internet, television, digital phones--all can be rendered useless in seconds during disasters, cutting us off from everyone else and making aid efforts more difficult to coordinate.

Of course we are fortunate to live in a country that takes disaster response very seriously, and has an excellent network of Red Cross volunteers ready to assist at the moment of danger.  However, even the most nimble Red Cross crew can't begin meeting needs in a neighborhood as quickly as those living there.  

Aim to be a first responder (and pray you never actually have to be one) by visiting Ready, the government's website for emergency preparedness.

Link: Ready


My husband shared a dream he had the other night with me, and I thought it was worth retelling.  He dreamed that he was being pursued by "bad men," armed of course, seeking his fatal demise.  While fleeing, he decided to duck into a craft store and hide out.  Upon entering the store, he noticed that he was in the company of women.

"Oh great," he thought.  "What kind of protection are these women going to be able to offer me against these thugs?" he lamented.

In spite of his doubts, he called out to the craft store patrons to aid him, mindful that the armed assailants were drawing nearer by the moment.  

"To my surprise," he said, "the women all mobilized quickly.  They were like a machine."  Organized, efficient, and effective, the women came to his rescue.  And the dream ended.


Why do I share this dream?  Because I think there is a message there worth noting.  If prepared and organized, women can be a surprising ally in times of danger.  

Of course, most of our husbands will not be assailed by armed men chasing them down the streets of town.  But danger can have many appearances.  Think of the danger of rising food prices we currently face, and the danger of sickness from eating too much of that food (junk food, that is).  Think of the economic troubles we are in, and the challenges of stretching our dollars further.  Perhaps scariest of all is to think of the ever rising tensions abroad, and how military conflicts, be they from terrorists or nations themselves, could transpire overnight.

I don't mean to spark alarm--the media has plenty of zeal for that as it is, calling everything a crisis these days (the economic crisis, the climate crisis, the food crisis).  But I do mean to encourage us as women to use our skills and our relationships to be ready to help if needed.  Ready to provide help to a neighbor who can't quite fill their pantry this month.  Ready to organize carpools if gas gets too expensive.  Ready to bring comfort and strength when our children are afraid of war.  

And in this readiness, I speak primarily to women who are choosing to stay at home.  Just as my husband, in his dream, did not expect to find organized help in a craft store (what can ladies busy quilting and knitting and scrapbooking possibly do to help?), so women who stay home are unsuspecting allies.  Yes, most of us are not bringing in high incomes (the assumed remedy for all troubles), but we naturally create networks of support, practice resourcefulness, provide for our households, and strengthen the community.  

In the months to come, I look forward to talking more about the benefits that women can bring to our communities, particularly women who choose to stay at home (an often overlooked asset).  Feel free to email me your thoughts and strategies for being ready to help when needed at

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I went to bed a little peeved last night due to some brief comments made by my husband about my role in the relationship since I left the traditional workforce.  He was joking (partly)--something about me owing him a back rub because he's bringing in the money and I'm not.  I know it sounds like a petty thing to be peeved about, but it highlights a greater theme that I genuinely wrestle with.

This greater theme is the notion that "contributing" in a relationship is first and foremost an economic activity.  In the case of my marriage, my husband is contributing and I'm not.  Thus, I need to make up for it any way I can.  It's a subtle burden--this idea of "making up for it"--like some kind of imaginary tally sheet.  He earns xxx dollars, and therefore I need to add xxx to my side of the bargain, be it through back rubs, dinners, cleaning, etc.

Now, I'm not negating the value of cooperative labor in a marriage.  We should be sharing the burdens of the household.  It's just that the burden of earning money seems to always trump everything else.

What also bothered me was how I have begun to feel that my concerns or complaints in the relationship suddenly do not have legitimacy.  I'm not earning money, so I have no right to confront or complain.  It is as if the wage-earner gets a free pass.  To be fair, my dear husband has never proclaimed this--it is more my own doing, my own feelings.  But why should I feel this way?  Why should I hesitate to confront, feeling that I have not earned (literally) the right to do so?  

I suppose that this battle has been waged in marriages long before the women's movement struck our fair shores and reoriented the traditional family.  Domestic work always seems to take a back seat to The Market.  I would venture to say that these debates over roles and value are less favorable to domesticity than even a few generations back, though, perhaps because free-market capitalism has intensified it's hold on our lives, evidently creeping into our marriages too.

And what is the remedy for my conflict?  Truth be told, I'm not sure there is one, at least not anytime soon.  We live in a market society, and money still trumps other amiable "contributions."  It is highly possible that my husband and I will wrestle over this issue for years to come, maybe only reaching a compromise when I once again earn income in my own right.  Not that I like that solution.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Food Waste

I was convicted this morning when I encountered an article on food waste in the New York Times.  Since two of the qualities that I admire most about the housewife tradition is frugality and being mindful of waste, I had to pay attention to the reality of how much food we Americans (and Europeans) throw away.  

I confess that I am guilty of tossing food.  I do a good job of planning weekly menus and sticking to my shopping list when I'm at the grocery store, preventing me from buying too much extra food we won't eat.  But still, I manage to toss leftovers that don't get eaten and have been sitting in the fridge for days.  Every time I hit the garbage disposal switch, I do think about the global food shortage and how it seems unjust for my sink to be eating better than many people around the world.

Of course there are things I can do to cut my waste, like composting, for instance.  But wasted food stretches beyond my garbage disposal.  The article in the Times talks about grocery stores and restaurants tossing perfectly good fare, and the gleaning of fields on an even larger scale.  

Needless to say, my interest is piqued and I am making a commitment to learn more about food waste.  To start, I'm going to check out one blog, Wasted Food, and read some of the author's posts on ways to eliminate waste.  I invite you to do the same.

One final note: the issue of food waste is exactly the kind of social issue that I think women who choose to stay at home are particularly equipped to tackle.  We can exercise more control over the resources in our home than many, mainly because we are home more, and we also have more time to devote to our communities (time to, say, become food rescuers).  Please feel free to share your thoughts on conserving resources, food or otherwise, by emailing me at

Friday, May 16, 2008

Overcoming Stereotypes

Our culture loves to caricature the traditional housewife.  Donning an apron and heels, we picture her spending her days doing household chores, raising children, and socializing with the neighborhood ladies.  

Today's stereotypes of the housewife are not much different.  And not especially flattering.  We'll tackle a few of them below:

Stereotype #1: housewives are meek and submissive.  After all, why else would they stay home?  It is common for our culture to assume that a housewife, obviously choosing the opposite role of a feminist, must therefore have an opposite personality.  The feminist is strong, assertive, ambitious, which must mean that the housewife is timid, weak and submissive.  This, of course, is a ridiculous assumption.  Women who choose to stay home have a variety of personalities.  

Stereotype #2: housewives couldn't cut it in the real world.  If they could, they would be out in it.  First of all, the stereotype assumes that the "real world" lies outside of the home and in the work world.  But women who choose to stay home feel that their "world" is just as real as the work world.  Furthermore, many successful women cutting it just fine in their careers have made the choice to exit for a period of time or indefinitely because they valued the lifestyle and role of being at home.
Stereotype #3: housewives are not earning money.  I think we might all be a little surprised to see how many women are operating profitable enterprises from their home.  Certainly a choice to stay home does not exclude the opportunity to make money.  In fact, it might open doors to do just that.  

Stereotype #4: housewives are consumed with their children.  Though raising children can be an all-consuming task, not every woman who is doing it chooses to define herself by it.  Women who stay at home and raise children often have hobbies and enterprise, or they organize social action.  These activities often open doors for stay-at-home moms once their children are in school, or provide creative outlets and community support anytime.  

Stereotype #5: housewives are religious conservatives.  I'm sure that many women who choose to stay home are religious conservatives, partly because the religious culture is more open to it than the culture at large.  However, many women who consider themselves liberal or non-religious are attracted to the simplicity and alternative lifestyle that being at home offers.  

In other words, don't assume that a woman choosing to stay home today carries the above traits.  And if you are staying at home, or considering it, be prepared to encounter these stereotypes, and to prove them wrong.  Modern housewives can be ambitious, assertive, entrepreneurial women who are initiating social change, running businesses, raising children, and having an all-around good time doing it.  

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Wasted Minds

Continuing on the topic of arguments against staying at home, I thought I'd tackle the familiar "wasted mind" concern.  You know the one.  It follows the question, "why bother going to college if all you are going to do is stay home?  What a waste of a degree."  

I guess the response to that question depends on what your view of education is.  If you believe that the purpose of education is to get a job, then I agree that going to college is a waste for housewives.  But if you believe, as I do, that the purpose of an education is to enrich community life, stimulate democracy, nurture culture, and support wellness, then I think there is no such thing as a wasted degree.  

This debate over the purpose of education starts long before we make our decisions about having a career or staying home.  It usually starts when we are eighteen and trying to pick a major in college (or, I suppose, trying to decide whether to go to college at all).  Do you choose liberal arts, which is interesting but probably won't lead to a job?  Or do you choose a technical major, like engineering or accounting, and enter the job force right after tossing your grad cap?  
As for me, I chose the former and studied liberal arts.  And yes, it was interesting, and no, it did not lead me directly into a job.  But it did give me an opportunity to learn many valuable things, like how to critically evaluate statistical evidence, and how to compose my thoughts in an essay, and how to measure the validity of research.  I apply many of these lessons today when I read the news or write for my blogs or operate my etsy business.  

Our culture has a way of suggesting to us that the job force is the only place where our skills and our intellect are needed.  But it occurs to me that our neighborhoods might need them too.  And certainly our children need them.  

I made straight A's in school, and wonder what my professors would think if they saw me now, choosing the life of a housewife.  Would they shake their heads and think, "what a shame.  She could have done so much better."  I suppose that many of them probably would.  And I would agree that an educated mind is a terrible thing to waste.  Good thing I'm not wasting mine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Bottom Line

Probably the most difficult sacrifice of leaving the workforce to stay at home is the money.  There are undoubtedly many women who would like to make the choice to stay home but feel that they cannot afford it.  And in many cases, they probably can't.  

There are a lot of reasons given for why households today might require two incomes rather than one.  One of the most common is that we have grown accustomed to an expensive lifestyle.  A lifestyle that is often funded via credit, and then demands years of work to pay for.  And though I think there is a lot of truth to this argument, I think it is an oversimplification of reality.  Other factors are also at play.  For instance, companies don't offer the same health care and pension plans that were commonly offered during the 1950's, when single wages supported families.  Two wages are often required now to compensate for the those losses in benefits.  Also, real wages (salaries calculated in proportion to inflation) have not risen much since the '50's as well.  This means that more money is required to buy the same amount of stuff.  

Apart from these reasons for why a couple may need two incomes, there are also arguments about why a couple should want two incomes.  Retirement is the most obvious.  The truth is, I could be working right now, saving up my income for retirement.  And with the powers of compound interest, the dollars I earn now could be worth a lot more (A Lot More) than dollars I could potentially earn later on.  

Given these arguments, clearly we can see that choosing to opt out of the workforce is indeed a sacrifice.  I am definitely giving something up--something that is highly valued in our society.  But, what I sacrifice in income I make up for in other areas.  Areas that I suppose do not have the same monetary value, like greater relational quality in marriage, health, and creative energy, but are valuable to me.

In the end, the decision to say adios to income is one that only a couple can make together, based on their own personal values.  I will say that generally speaking, often what we need and what we want are two different things.  In my relationship, the money we need to pay the bills, etc. is far less than the money we might want to retire earlier or fund a vacation.  

Finally, if you are in a situation where a second income is currently required to finance your lifestyle, but would prefer to stay home, I would encourage active planning now.  Sit down and chart out a strategy to pay down debt, save more money, and live on less.  Living on one income is possible, even a modest income.  But short of winning the lottery, it doesn't just happen overnight.  For that matter, I would encourage all couples to try to modify their lifestyle so that they are living on one income, even if you're making two.  Sock away the other income for savings or retirement or vacation.  That way, if one of you decides at some point down the road that you would like to stay home (or if one of you has to stay home due to health, etc.), then the transition will be much easier.  

The bottom line is that your bottom line will suffer with the loss of an income.  Even my cuts in spending do not come close to the loss of my wage.  But for me it has been worth it, and it has been possible.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Beating Isolation

One of the more frustrating things about staying home is that it can be socially isolating.  In spite of the reality of the "grind," working really does force us to get out and interact with others on a regular basis, which for most of us is a positive thing.  Being home, however, provides no such routine.  To stay connected, you have to work extra hard, spending more energy reaching out to people, being involved in important issues, and staying current on events.

This is one of the reasons that I recommend two specific things for women choosing to stay home.  The first is to look for opportunities to create some sort of enterprise.  The marketplace--be it in your town or online--is a great place to use your skills, stay in touch with the heartbeat of the world, and maybe make a buck as well.  The options are endless for what type of enterprise women can do.  Start your own non-profit organization with volunteer help, partner with a multi-level marketing program (Mary Kay, Shaklee, Avon, etc.), sell on Etsy or Ebay, teach piano lessons or tutor children....I could go on and on.  The point is that just because a woman chooses to opt out of the traditional workforce doesn't mean that she can't bring her skills to the marketplace in a creative and entrepreneurial way.

The second recommendation I have is to stay informed.  Know what is happening in your town, your nation and the world.  The culture has a way of implying that if you aren't working, you aren't in the "real world."  It doesn't take long before you can start to agree.  Knowing your current events, and the significance of them, can be a great antidote to feeling isolated.  This is why I also blog regularly on Cigars in the Parlour, a blog specifically for women on current events.  This week I'm writing about the value of being informed, and some things to watch out for in modern media.  Next week I'll pick right back up on covering the headlines, and I encourage you to do the same.  

Yes, staying connected is more difficult when you aren't driving off to work every day.  But efforts made to stay involved can be both fun and rewarding.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What if My Husband Leaves Me?

I thought I would spend this week addressing some of the main arguments against choosing a housewife lifestyle presented in today's culture.  Certainly none of them will be a surprise to you.  And while I am interested in creating a discussion around these arguments, I don't pretend to have perfect rebuttals.  Why?  Because I know that not everyone can or should make the choice to stay at home.  But some can, and maybe some should.  If they choose to, certainly they will have to wrestle with these issues as I do right now in my adventures as a housewife.

The first dilemma that I have encountered since making the decision to stay at home is the financial vulnerability that creeps in as a consequence of my choice.  This vulnerability comes with the question, "what if my husband decides to leave me?  what will I do?"  When I was working I didn't have to ask this question.  My income certainly wasn't high, but it was enough to pay rent and buy groceries and carry a cell phone.  I had a small, if subconscious, comfort of knowing that if my marriage were to unexpectedly crumble overnight, I had the means to move on.  

I am no longer in that situation.  Instead of the comfort of my own self-reliance, I am dependent on my husband to provide for me.  Certainly this dependence is one of the things that sparked the passion of the women's movement.  So many women are taken advantage of due to this type of dependency.  In fact, during my role as a banker, I encountered many women of all ages who were suddenly left in a lurch from a relationship gone awry.  Most of them made the transition to independence eventually, but it was indisputably harder for them than the women with careers.

It is a valid argument, then, that women should work and maintain their own income in order to protect themselves.  It is unnerving to rely on someone else.   In fact, I sometimes wonder if it is irresponsible for me to promote a lifestyle that cultivates this dependency.  In the end, however,  my conclusion is this: being willing to be financially vulnerable is not the worst thing in the world, and can even strengthen the commitment between two partners in a stable, healthy relationship.  That said, I do think that if you are planning to stay home, an economic back-up plan is important.  Important not because you are paranoid that your partner may abandon you, but because it is wise to prepare for rainy days, whatever they may look like.

A backup plan can look like a lot of different things, but there are common elements that I think need to be present.  One is that no woman in a relationship, working or not, can afford to opt out of the finances.  It is really important to have up-to-date knowledge about your assets, your expenses, the due dates of your bills, etc.  Furthermore, it is really important to establish credit in your own name.  Same goes for retirement savings.  Practicing money management, even if you are not the one earning the money, is critical.  

Two, maintaining relationships in the community is important, particularly with business people.  Too often a choice to stay at home inevitably translates into a withdrawal from society at large, or at least a retreat to a peer group in the same situation.  Knowing only housewives and stay-at-home moms will not provide a lot of help to you if you suddenly need work.  On the other hand, being actively involved in the community, where business professionals have had an opportunity to witness your skills in action, could be a great help.  

The same reasoning applies to the importance of maintaining workforce skills.  Keeping a resume up-to-date is important, including any recent involvement in the community, as well as marketable skills like organization, communication, conflict resolution, and knowledge.  Staying at home doesn't mean growing stagnant.  

Finally, consider opportunities to generate income on your own, even if the income is small.  The practice of applying creativity and skill to the marketplace is a great habit to cultivate, and can provide money on the side.  Some especially entrepreneurial women who work from their homes have found ways to generate a modest living in their own right.  I would encourage all women who decide to stay at home to keep their minds open to income earning possibilities, even if they are small.

Will applying the above suggestions completely protect a housewife from financial calamity if her partner bails out?  No, it won't.  But they will greatly improve a housewife's confidence in her ability to provide for herself in the marketplace, and will increase her chances of weathering the transition gracefully.  The truth is that choosing to stay home does increase your financial vulnerability, but it does not negate your responsibility to exercise control over your financial future.  A true housewife knows her dollars and cents, even if she isn't making them.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Cigars in the Parlour

Normally I try to avoid the regular male vs. female arguments, but this morning's headlines tempted me to think about the virtues of women in the public arena (and the shortcomings of men).  

What struck me this morning was how much ego is driving events in international affairs right now.  From a stubborn junta in Myanmar jamming up aid efforts, to a Zimbawean dictator white-fisting his hold on the country, to violence breaking out among rival Sunni and Shiite groups, I couldn't help but see male aggression as the underlying theme.

Women are often criticized for being too emotional and irrational when it comes to political affairs, particularly affairs that involve military conflict.  But after reflecting on recent headlines, I'm not sure the alternative--ego-driven fortitude--is any better.  Granted, these arguments about who would make better public leaders, men or women, are based on generalizations and stereotypes, which are often wrong to begin with.  Still, the absence of female leaders in international politics and business denies us the opportunity to see how the feminine gender might bring different approaches to what is undeniably a male-dominated arena.

It is for this reason that I have created Cigars in the Parlour, a blog on current events, written by a woman for women to read.  It is my personal conviction that women have a lot to bring to the table when it comes to navigating the issues that dominate our contemporary international and domestic politics and economics.  And it is my hope to see more and more females engaging these issues in their communities and beyond.

My goal is to promote awareness and action.  And my target audience is young women, whether working or staying home.  It bothers me greatly to think that we know more about Angelina and Brad than we do about Hezbollah and Hamas.  It bothers me because I believe women have a lot of creativity, compassion and smarts that could be applied to current affairs if we only took the time to get informed.  Political ambitions are not a requirement.  

I suppose it might seem contradictory that a blog about a housewife lifestyle is promoting female leadership in political and economic arenas.  After all, wouldn't the decision to stay home directly negate a life in public service?  Won't more women staying home mean less women in government, thus maintaining the status quo of the "boys only club"?  I don't believe so.  On the contrary, I actually think the opportunities for action afforded by a "housewife" lifestyle might prepare women for public service.  Even more so, my goal is to see women engaged on all levels, but primarily in communities, in civil society.  I realize female leadership in communities may not make the headlines the way presidents and prime ministers do, but that is a flaw of the media, not of society.  

I have a lot more to say on the topic of female leadership, and on civil society, and thus will be revisiting it often, both on this blog and on Cigars in the Parlour.  For now, click here to read "Ego Stinks."  


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Eating Bonbons

I have a friend who is a full-time mom with a part-time career.  When asked by her coworkers, "what do you do all day,"  she would reply "I eat bonbons, of course."  No doubt envious of her seemingly free schedule compared to theirs, their question illuminates a common perception about women who choose to stay home: that every day for them is like a weekend day, full of leisure and movies and walks to the park.  

I can see why they might think this.  I, myself, often wondered what women do all day when they stay home with children (I guarantee it is more than eat bonbons).  Even more so, I'm sure people wonder how I fill my time at home all day without children.  Don't I get bored?  Do I watch a lot of television?  Do I hit the shopping mall or Target to get out of the house?  

So, in response to this secret question I'm sure everyone asks, I will offer a response.  In general, I am busy, all day, every day.  Why?  Because I am doing a lot of the things that we all wish we could do if we had more time.  For instance, I exercise regularly, which is something I was terrible at doing consistently when I worked full-time.  I plan and prepare meals that are tasty and healthy.  I walk my dogs.  I spend a lot of time talking with husband about all sorts of things (something I had far less energy for when working a ton).  I clean the house.  I write.  I make things to sell in my etsy shop.  I visit other friends who stay home, or have lunch with those that work.  I read the news.  I read books.  I go to the library.  I garden.  I haven't started volunteering yet, but I want to, and will.

The funny thing is that I do some things less than I used to--things I used to spend my weekends doing when I was working a lot.  For instance, I watch a lot less tv.  I eat less junk food.  I drive my car less.  I shop less, and spend less money in general.  And I do other things more.  I create more.  I socialize more (a lot more, thankfully), and have more friends.  I have more sex.  I smile more.

Of course, I also make less money.  And I am probably less impressive to people.  But I don't have a boring life, and my days are full.  And quite frankly my weekdays now are better than my weekends used to be.  And now that I think about it, I might have a bonbon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Repurposing Tradition

I read two articles on recycling this morning that impressed me.  The first was on the city of San Francisco and their municipal recycling programs and policies.  The mayor is clearly passionate about the issue, and is apparently invited often to other cities (and countries) to speak on the topic.  The other article was one highlighting options for recycling used garments.  According to the text, a little innovation and ingenuity can turn even the most tattered pair of jeans into something new and useful.  

These two articles illustrate two qualities that I revere: innovation and resourcefulness.  Demonstrated in business, and to a lesser degree, local government, they are also qualities that I think mark a modern housewife lifestyle.  Women, after all, have been cleverly recycling and repurposing things for centuries, sometimes out of economic necessity, and other times for the sheer enjoyment of creative expression.

One thing I was thinking of while reading the above referenced articles is that recycling requires a time commitment.  Sure, you can probably find a place to donate your tattered garments with holes and stains, but who has the time?  Isn't it easier to just throw it away?  The same applies to repurposing.  I mean, I love the idea of turning old fabric pieces into a quilted coverlet for my bed, but when I was working full time, there was no way I'd devote the hours necessary to actually carry out such ambitious deeds.  Instead (as mentioned yesterday), I'd just savor the article written about the idea, complete with adorable pictures of handmade quilts, and never actually follow through with real needle and thread.

My point is this: innovation and resourcefulness require a measure of creativity, and creativity requires time.  Time that most full-time working couples do not have.  I'm not saying that if every woman quit her job and stayed home that suddenly our landfills would diminish and our beds would be adorned with crafted quilts.   But I am saying that women working within and from the home have a long legacy of creative repurposing, and it is perhaps a tradition worth exploring again.  Furthermore, I believe that there is a lot of market potential in this type of "recycled" industry for savvy women with the time and inspiration.  (In other words, an entrepreneurial housewife might find that her knack for reusing things could generate some income in an age where recycling is hip, and people will pay for what they can't do themselves.)

I admire San Francisco's programs, and innovative businesses that turn used t-shirts into cleaning cloths for auto mechanics.  Even more, I think that within women lies a lot of latent potential to foster more of these ideas on perhaps a smaller scale within communities.  And I look especially to women choosing to stay at home to spearhead innovation and resourcefulness.

click here to read the New York Times article on San Francisco.
click here to read the Christian Science Monitor article on garment recycling.  

For more commentary on today's headlines, click here for Cigars in the Parlour.
For updates on the Claremont ladies (just for fun), click here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Lifestyle for Sale

As promised, I am picking up where I left off last week, which is to talk more about the commercialization of taking care of a home (aka: "buying a lot of stuff for our houses").  Recounting briefly from my recent post, I want to reiterate that I think it is important to create warm, welcoming, aesthetically pleasing environments to live in.  I would even go further to say that creatively promoting beauty is a necessary habit for civilization.  I would not, however, claim that loading up my cart at Target with the newest Victoria Hagan housewares is particularly virtuous, nor do I think it testifies to the spirit of caring for a home particularly well.

What I mean is that creating a home (in the true "homemaker" sense of the word) is a lot more than decorating.  I think that we know this, but I also think that our culture sends out a lot of confusing messages.  

Take Martha Stewart Living, for instance.  Martha Stewart's example, delivered to your door monthly in all its glossy glory, has become the definition of homemaking.  Who knew that while feminism was ramping up across the West, a hostess/gardener was slowly building an empire on the very things the feminists were trying to get away from?  Watching Ms. Stewart rise to fame has led many to believe that homemaking is still alive and well.  Coupled with the popularity of publications like Real Simple and the newcomer, Rachael Ray, cooking, cleaning, gardening and decorating seem to be thriving.  However, I would disagree.  I think the appearance of homemaking is not the same thing as the practice of it.

What I mean by this is that I think we as women love to look at the magazines and think and plan and even buy for a lifestyle we don't actually live.  A lifestyle a lot of us probably feel is off limits.  This lifestyle--that of a housewife or homemaker--looks really appealing on paper, hence the magazine subscriptions.  Marketers have figured this out (evidenced by the advertisements stuffed to the gills), and are promoting the lifestyle with fervor.  And what they are promising is that we can buy it.  I mean, we are all supposed to be working, right?  

I think this is the rub, really.  The culture is telling us young women that to live the lifestyle is not really appropriate ("what?  you mean you aren't working?  why not!?"), but to buy it is.  The trouble is that the lifestyle can't really be bought.  And to commercialize it the way that we have is really to lose the heart of the homemaker tradition in the process.  

So, yes, I can decorate my home (it is lovely, though I'm hardly here), and keep my fridge stocked with produce (which I'm too tired to actually cook after working all day), and store up my china for quaint summer picnics (although hosting is one more stressful thing on my to-do list), but that doesn't make me a homemaker.  I'd like to be, I think--at least it sure sounds great and looks pretty in my magazine.  But so far all I've done is spend money on supplies.

Anyway, you get the point.  Being a homemaker is a lifestyle that can't be bought.  I think that our attempts to purchase it just shows that perhaps some of us are drawn to it in spite of what the culture says (we'll talk more about these issues next week).  But for now, most of us will just stick to our magazines.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Making a Home--Lessons from Philadelphia

Picking up on a strand of yesterday's post, I want to talk more about making a home.  It is interesting that we have such a negative association with the label "homemaker" (a synonym for housewife), and yet as a culture we love many of the tasks that fall under that label, most notably decorating and hosting.  

I can remember distinctly when I viewed my first episode of TLC's "Trading Spaces."  I was a college student, living with my parents to save money, and though I had no decorating space of my own, I immediately loved the show.  Sure, some of the designers were kooky, and some shortcuts were cheap, but they were fun to watch, and their transformations impressed me.  

Now, you have to understand a little history about my life just prior to my introduction to "Trading Spaces."  I had just returned to school after living and volunteering for a year in inner-city Philadelphia.  My accommodations in Philly  And because we were all given a monthly stipend of less than $80.00, we had no means to make it any different.  I didn't really think much of this at the time, since we were there to serve the community, not make our home look pretty.  And in fact, I probably would have been highly critical of spending money on such "superficial" things when there were so many other pressing needs in the world.  
But then I met Diane, who also lived in the neighborhood.  Her home, almost identical to ours, was so warm and inviting.  She didn't have expensive things by any means, but she did have furniture that matched, and took the time to personalize each of the rooms in her home.  Diane chose to live in the community to serve as well, and shared many of our convictions about living simply.  But for her, simple included making efforts to beautify her home.  

I soon recognized that I felt totally different there--more relaxed, peaceful, even hopeful.  Whereas my bedroom, with its medical-green plastic roll-down shades that cast a sickly glow onto our faces, was a place I avoided, hers was a place to escape.  It was then that I realized that making a home really is important, even when choosing a life of material simplicity in an impoverished community.  

And so, I carried this lesson with me when I moved back to Colorado, and then later when I married and had a home of my own.  Shows like "Trading Spaces" made sense to me after my lessons in Philly, and I found that decorating was a creative expression for me.  

But...there is a distinctly commercial side this homemaker trend that I find myself tempted by on a regular basis.  It is a side that I will delve into more in the next post.  

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Neat Pantries and Tidy Linen Closets

Those who know me well are aware of my magazine obsession.  You cannot visit any room in my house without finding at least one glossy cover sitting on a side table or in a basket on the floor or stacked on a shelf.  My most favorite are the magazines devoted to the home.  I love them.  Magazines like Cottage Living and Domino and, yes, the bible of them all, Martha Stewart Living.

The ever growing popularity of these publications points to the reality that though women have largely left the housewife role of the 1950's, they haven't left their homes.  In fact, we probably have at least as much information on running a tight ship on the homestead than our predecessors did.  

I was pondering this while reading an article by Cynthia Kling, a staff writer for Domino magazine.  In this installment, Ms. Kling was commissioned to investigate the super organization of the very wealthy.  After peeking into pantries and sideboards (I long for a sideboard), she created a short list, "how to run a perfect household (sans staff)" including suggestions to make a home bible, label the linen closet, and choose signature colors.  

While reading, I was already compiling my home bible in my head, and making my grocery list for the perfect pantry.  "I want one of those homes," I thought.  "The kind where I can host 20 people or throw a birthday party in no time flat."  Ahh...the aspirations of the traditional housewife were alive an well.  

But...and this is a big but...there is something I find wanting from all of this household instruction floating around in the magazines these days.  Yes, running an effective and efficient home is important.  But perhaps like the traditional housewives who eventually asked, "is this all there is?" I have to question likewise.  How does a neat pantry and a tidy linen closet address the greater issues happening in the world today?  Sure, I might be able to host a spontaneous tea party for twelve, but will my guests and I be engaged enough in world affairs to discuss them over said tea?  Will time spent in the pantry steal from time spent in the community?

The truth is that being home more, as I am now, affords me greater time to organize my linen closet, and actually spring clean (although have I done it yet?  No.).  But it also allows me more time to read the news, meet my neighbors, grow a garden, volunteer, etc.  So while I might make a "home bible" listing all the yearly chores that need to be done (we'll see if they actually do get done), I might also make a list of ways to serve my neighbors and organizations in the community that need some help.

Because in my view, being a "housewife" (again, for lack of a better word) does not mean that the house is "it."  I'm sure we'll talk a lot more about this in days to come.

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