A reader wrote a comment on my blog a few days ago, asking me why I call myself a bad housewife and although I figured it was obvious to anyone who has ever been to my house for dinner, it's probably not obvious to those who haven't.
I recently stopped working after spending many years as an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles. My husband and I agreed that it would be nice for the whole family to have me at home for a while. With that decision in place, I took up my old dream of becoming a domestic goddess with newfound fervor. Ever since I became a mom - first to my step daughters, then to my own daughter - I've been trying to provide a home where a good home-cooked meal brings the whole family together at supper time. But sadly, that never happened. I'm just clueless in the kitchen. I would attempt making these elaborate meals for my family and never quite get it right.
It's harder than it looks. One of my daughters is a vegetarian, another dislikes veggies and considers herself a hardcore carnivore, and the third one favors cheese and butter dishes and American diner style food. My husband and I like ethnic foods, but our preferences were never first priority. Whenever I cooked a meal someone was always trying to hide the food in their napkin so they could throw it in the trash. My daughters mastered the art of moving and rearranging food on their plates so that it looked like it had been eaten. Sometimes the last morsel would “accidentally” fall from the fork and the person would be unable to eat it. My husband always eats my cooking and always says it's delicious but that’s a biased opinion. My daughters soon figured out that my feelings were being hurt and would always tell me how yummy things were before complaining that they had eaten way too much at the previous meal and couldn't have more than a bite or two. Five minutes after dinner, the smell of microwave popcorn would waft through the air.
But all that would change now that I was at home in Phoenix with the Food Network. Day in and day out, I was surrounded by my mentors: Rachel Ray, Elton Brown, Sandra Lee, Ina Garten; they made it look so easy. The Food Network was always on at my house and hope sprang anew. I bought myself a microplane and a mandolin slicer because the new tools gave me confidence and once again I started cooking on a daily basis. Every meal was an adventure, an adventure in trying to make my food look and taste as good as the dishes my mentors were producing on TV. But meals that took Rachel Ray 30 minutes to prepare took me 3 hours. The fancy dishes that graced Sandra Lee's television “tablescapes” looked and tasted like rejects from a high school Home Economics class on my table.
I tried to distract myself from the truth. After all, a good housewife does more than cook. I decided to add cleaning and sewing to my domestic goddess agenda. If you're failing at one goal, why not just add more?
I must confess that I never learned how to do any of this stuff when I was growing up. I always got out of it because I was working and going to school, and my parents were thrilled enough by that to give me a reprieve from household chores. So, lacking previous experience, I did what I always do. I found a book that explained it all to me. Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping would show me the way. The first thing I did was make a schedule and buy the proper cleaning supplies, then I set to work.
I started off great. I could sweep, vacuum, load the dishwasher, sort, wash and fold laundry, vacuum, clean the toilet, scrub the tub and Windex the mirrors with the best of them, but Mrs. Dunwoody wouldn't let me off the hook with that. No, she wanted me to wash the windows, air out the books, sun and air the mattresses and pillows, clean the lampshades and blinds and miter the corners when I make the bed! Fuck that.
To console myself, I've taken up sewing. My daughter got a little basic sewing machine from Santa a few years ago and after making a little Teddy Bear and stuffed Lady Bug, she decided to take up archery instead. So, I borrowed her sewing machine and set my sights on becoming a seamstress.
A friend of mine provided some additional inspiration when she lent me a book called Generation T. It has all kinds of ideas on how to cut up and recycle old tee shirts and make new things out of them. The author assumes you know nothing and takes the time to explain a few different types of stitches. She also has a real punk D.I.Y. attitude which is empowering for beginners, like me. So I cut up a few tee shirts and soon felt confident enough to do some real sewing. I took my daughter to the fabric store with me. Being the Gothic Lolita girl that she is, she promptly picked out an elaborate Victorian dress pattern complete with bustle for me to sew. I steered her back to the Sewing for Dummies section, but she flatly rejected those patterns as boring, so we left the store without buying anything. A few days later, I went back on my own and picked an easy-looking summer dress pattern to make for her for 4th of July. I bought some fabric from the clearance section and got to work. My handiwork is pictured below. The model has requested anonymity.
So, I guess now you know why I call my blog the Diary of a Bad Housewife.