Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A Nice Cup of Tea and a Good Read

I've been wanting to write this post for some time now; perhaps I'm expressing a need to synthesize my main preoccupations and passions - homemaking, books, and books about homemaking! So when I finished reading Susan Schaeffer Macauley's For the Family's Sake, and noticed that in her appendix she includes a list of books to inspire and inform homemakers, I couldn't resist compiling my own list, especially since some of her choices are ones which I myself love, not just for their depictions of home, but because they express something vital and truthful about the human condition.

I suppose my first choice should be For the Family's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macauley, simply because when I was reading I felt myself nodding along with everything she writes. The book offers a Christian view on the importance of family life and homemaking, and is inspiring and wise without being excluding and dictatorial. She understands, and indeed champions, the vital importance of home in everybody's life, but is wise enough to acknowledge and embrace that families and homes are as different as the individuals within them. Macauley stresses that a homemaker's focus is essentially a social one, and one in which we can give and serve as Christian adults; rearing children to be confident and responsible people, offering care and nurturing to our spouses, helping our older relatives to feel secure in a changing world and offering help and hospitality to our friends and neighbours. Here's a quote which I hope you'll enjoy.

"...the child needs old-fashioned basics. Parents, home, land. Love, boundaries, routines. Family friends, community. Seasons, earth, sky. Activity, sleep. All stirred with warmth, fun, and lots and lots of enjoyment. The main ingredient of this "stew" will be talking together, communication..." The next book on my recommendations list is Veronika Van Duin's Homemaking as a Social Art. This book is remarkably similar to Schaeffer Macauley's book in so many ways as she too sees homemaking as an occupation (and a noble one to boot) which has an important social function. However, Van Duin's background is in athroposophy, and this can make for for heavy-going reading, as her work is rooted in a language and philosophy that only hard-core Steiner/Waldorfers will understand. It is worthwhile persevering with though, particularly for her chapters on love and relationships and the artistic environment in the home. Here is a little something from her introductory chapter.

"When we choose work as artists bringing fresh and vivid colour and form into the home, then we are creating anew kind of community. There are no blueprints for creating the perfect homemaker, neither does this book lay claim to any...and developing homemaking as an expression of the social art can bring social renewal a step nearer to fulfilment."

So far my choices are about the theory behind homemaking being a force for social good. I like to read books on theory...when I was a young Eng. Lit. student I gobbled up literary theory, as a young teacher I devoured the latest books on pedagogy, as a new mother Biddulph and Leach were on my bedside table and as a more mature homemaker I find homemaking theory to be useful, inspiring and enjoyable. But homemaking books aren't just about the whys and wherefores but the how to-s and must do-s! And, practical inspiration is perhaps not as easy to find as you'd think. Often cook books, craft and decorating books emphasize the accomplishment of cooking, crafting and decorating, rather than the pleasure of cooking, crafting and decorating. This I think brings in an element of unnecessary competition, whether it's with our neighbours or ourselves (a must "do the best and be the best" psychological state which sometimes women are apt to fall into). Whereas, the more pleasurable aspects of homemaking are meant to be just that, pleasurable. There are few people out there today who can honestly say that they have a truly creative job...but homemakers can. We may please ourselves by serving others and picture book competitive perfection cannot come into the equation, it is damaging to ourselves and damaging to our home lives. But enough of this rant! Here are a few practical books I have found useful.
All Year Round. Christian Calender of Celebrations, by Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes -Clinton and Marije Rowling; How to Cook, Books One, Two and Three, by Delia Smith; How to Save Cash and Save the Planet, published by Friends of the Earth; Raising Happy Children, by Stephen Biddulph; The New Vegetable and Herb Expert, by Dr Hessayon. There are more books I love on my shelves, but if I were to choose the most useful for general homemaking it would be just these few.

Finally, let us talk about literature. There are some books I've read which have given me great pleasure as a homemaker (not just as a reader, a woman a mother etc, but as a homemaker) and there is only one which has given me real and true inspiration in my work. If you'd like to read a few books where you can recognise a genuine and often amusing rendition of homemaking then try: Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym and Some Tame Gazelle, by the same author, House-Bound by Winifred Peck, Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E M Delafield, The Herb of Grace, by Ellizabeth Goudge and Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Which brings me to my very final recommendation The Home-Maker, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. This book, written nearly a hundred years ago now, features a family which I think we would call nowadays "dysfunctional" and it is an absolutely inspiring read. The mother is somewhat of a tyrant; an excellent homemaker, in the sense that her house is spotless, her meals are wonderful and her sewing is perfect. But she terrorises her children with silent disapproval, she sees her husband as ineffectual and enjoys the "martyrdom" that comes with her situation. She feels no pleasure in her occupation. Her husband is equally unhappy, he is a poet and has found himself working in an accounting job which he hates, the children are sickly, scared and bad tempered in turn, feeding off their parents discomfort and anger. The situation changes when the husband falls off the roof and injures himself, and we see gradual and wonderful changes in the home-life of the family and the well-being of all. Like Macauley and Van Druitt, Canfield Fisher sees homemaking as relationship management; a job where we aim to bring comfort and acceptance to others, no matter the state of our floors or the dust on the mantle, it is a people first occupation.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed reading my recommendations. Are there any homemaking books which you'd like to recommend? If so please let me know in the comments box.


Marie N. said...

I think these would be good for me as well as fun to read, thanks for your insight!

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Marie
I'm glad you enjoyed reading about them!