Friday, August 03, 2007


Megan and I were recently discussing a phenomenon that she says she has observed lately among people in their mid and late twenties, namely an obsession with domesticity. She tells me that her peers have suddenly gotten all immersed in household life, so that not only are they into such potentially creative and useful pursuits as knitting and cooking, but that topics like tea towels and heirloom vegetables have (she says) ousted social responsibility and politics, which were previously of great importance to most of her friends.
I can't speak for them, as it is all news to me, but on the positive side, I think it is relatively normal for people of that age to take some interest in their immediate personal surroundings and conclude that it is no longer quite enough to have a towel, a change of underwear, and a Swiss Army knife. After all, many of them are cohabiting and some are even beginning to produce offspring. In those circumstances, a degree of interest in one's home life is desirable.
On the negative side, certain generations do seem to develop an excessive interest in domesticity, and I would be disappointed if Megan's generation proves to be one of these. The domestic arts have their place and their value, but they should not be the focal point of most people's lives, should they? (I'm open to discussion on that since I can't really speak for the world's population as a whole.)
Being close to moving into a new place, my own thoughts are somewhat more home-focused than usual. The thought of rejoining my furniture, towels, dishes, and so forth is rather appealing, while at the same time visions of decorating a new space seem much more interesting than going at another chapter of the dissertation. This prompts me to go flip through decorating books and magazines in the hope of finding exciting ways of doing something new with my belongings.
In that frame of mind, I happened across a tome called Home Comforts, by one Cheryl Mendelson. The thing is supposed to be the domestic equivalent of The Joy of Cooking, a volume I have never actually owned (I do have a Betty Crocker cookbook from 1950 and various other cookbooks). The author claims, somewhat unbelievably in my opinion, to take great pleasure in keeping the house running perfectly. (I am not calling her a liar, as she clearly finds the subject interesting, but I am skeptical. My mother is the perfect housekeeper, but I am certain she would rather be reading a good book most of the time, or at least gardening.)
Well, whatever the truth of the author's claim to actual pleasure in housekeeping, I am all in favor of having a good place to look up things like how to clean drapes and blinds or how to prevent clogged drains. And I would say that this book seems to offer a good deal of that, although this afternoon when I checked for tips on how to keep clothing from eternal bleeding (I have been hand-washing a certain silk top for about 5-6 years, maybe even 8-9 years, and it still leaves a copious amount of dye in the sink), I did not find anything on this perpetually important subject.
Actually, while few have ever regarded me as likely to win a housekeeping prize, I was intrigued to find how much in the book seemed like the kind of thing I have always done or know I ought to do if I ever get around to it. I rotate my canned goods, although if I were more careful I would mark them with the purchase dates. For that matter, I always have something edible on hand. It is not my custom to run out of staple foods without replenishing them. Nor do I wash colors with light fabrics, although I do have some towels that seem to be permanently green rather than brown due to the implacable desire of a green T-shirt to bleed despite having been repeatedly washed by hand. And, while the author regards the cleaning of mirrors to be a low priority, I do not like them to accumulate spots.
We all, however, have our own little peculiarities. I do not find dusting very interesting, and would rather be oiling the furniture than dusting it. If there is an easy way to put away coat and shoes the minute I come home, I will do these things, but if not, well, too bad... which causes me to wonder about the facilities in my new apartment, which I have not seen in person. The floor plan shows a closet inside the front door, which is good, but will the closet be easy to use? Will it have a convenient space for me to keep shoes away from inquiring lapines?
One can only wonder about these things. In the meantime, I suppose I should turn my attention to the dissertation.

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Blogger Julia said...

I have that book too and it is quite useful for some things, but I take other bits with a large grain of salt - after reading her cleaning schedule I was exhausted and ready to take a nap!

August 04, 2007 10:37 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

Well... cleaning schedules... I have certainly never been able to put myself on one, no matter how fine an idea it might be. Reading the list of things that ought to be done first thing in the morning was more than enough for me. Currently I'm impressed that I manage to empty and prepare one litter box nearly every morning, and I'm not even employed.

The section on pet dander seemed a bit much as well for those of us with no allergies. It did make me realize that the rabbits probably have more of a reaction to my skin oils than I do to their dander, as eventually they always have to interrupt petting sessions to scratch and groom themselves!

August 04, 2007 4:30 PM  
Blogger Kristen said...

Get some Synthropol for that blouse. It's used by people who dye fabrics and yarns for removing excess dye. (I've got a sweater project going on right now that's leaving my fingers purple. I may have to resort to Synthropol for the final wash before giving it to its intended.)

And I think heirloom vegetables can fit under social responsibility in many ways.

August 04, 2007 8:59 PM  
Blogger Dr. Zaius said...

I rotate my canned goods too! I rotate them to point the label face front for easy reading. The Joy of Cooking is actually a good book. There is a detailed illustration on how to skin and cook a squirrel, and everything!

August 05, 2007 10:18 AM  
Blogger Karla said...

I'll keep Synthropol in mind (where is it sold?).

Heirloom vegetables are great, it was the context. I gather the heirloom vegetable person was deflected from social activism by a stint at Chez Panisse. I normally approve of Chez Panisse (not that I can afford to eat there unless subsidized, which has happened twice), but not of food-snobbism, which seemed to be what happened to Megan's friend.

As for Joy of Cooking, it is a classic, but is Dr. Zaius hinting that since removing to the land of his forebears he has taken to eating squirrel?

August 06, 2007 5:46 PM  
Blogger morskyjezek said...

Heirloom vegetables? It does seem that there could be more pressing social well as culinary ones.

August 09, 2007 10:47 PM  

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