Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Learn Something New

When does an apron become cool? Try 2011.

I put away some Christmas things this morning and discovered in the back of a drawer several gingham aprons made by my aunt Mabel. These are old fashioned June Cleaver pleated aprons that tie at the waist with hand stitching in little patterns on each. Those pink checks peeked out from the drawer and reminded me of a time not so long ago, when women wore aprons in the kitchen and cooked at home. In recent decades for many, that has been merely a quaint anachronism in the modern day of past-paced living and technology-driven lifestyles. But I feel a bit of connection to my forebears when I don a good apron and get in the kitchen to cook.

Just last night I listened on the way home from work as the public radio program's guests - hip young north easterners - touted the new value of 'reclaiming domestic competencies.' They used this phrase and others like it frequently, describing what it meant to a (I suspect) domestically illiterate audience. Growing your own food - even in pots or window boxes in the city, knowing how to cook healthy meals at home, discovering how to care well for one's self and others, living responsibly to manage natural resources and leave little waste in our wake are discussed in 2011 as though this is new discovery. They sounded a clarion call to a generation to 'wake up' and live well.

Sustainable agriculture and responsible lifestyle choices figure largely into the scheme of a new generation's mantra they called domestic skills. Seems like everything old is new again. Pepper a conversation with organic, reclaimed, and sustainable, and you're golden.

Serving farm fresh local produce is hailed on menus in swanky eateries.

Eating live grains (dating from Biblical times) is celebrated for health's sake, while buying highly-preserved, transfat-impregnated, artificially flavored food was last decade's triumph of convenience. (Note: Try Ezekiel cereal mixed with two parts Vanilla Almond Bare Naked granola - 1/4 cup total - for Doc's power breakfast for health, convenience and protein staying power.)

Swelling lists of courses and blogs are devoted to teaching a new generation how to farm organically, sew clothing for the family, eat fresh and local food, and live in harmony with nature and one another. Many are working to address the fact Americans really do not make anything anymore; we merely consume at an astounding rate. And we know how to do very little independently.

So, tell me...why did they do away with home economics?

I remember it well. Back in the day, junior high and high school girls took home economics and the boys took shop (or agriculture preparedness and maintenance courses) as electives. We made an apron, sewed our kettle cloth shift, studied cooking fundamentals and learned budgeting. The guys built a bookcase and picnic table and tackled welding among the life skills. My friend, Betty, said today that she took shop for a semester, and one benefit was that it demystified the unknown: "When you know how to use a hammer or saw, you are not intimidated by one."

Designed to equip them/us to face a future as a farmer or homemaker, this model remained entrenched until the social and political discord of the 60's and 70's caused tremors cracking fault lines in curricula across even the rural South. I was caught in the crack, so to speak, with one foot in two worlds.

Graduating from high school in '73 as the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow (yes, there was such a thing), I spanned a changing landscape in that decade to begin practicing law in 1979. Most all of the women law students I spent the next few years with eschewed anything having to do with homemaking or confining women to traditional roles. We were trail blazers - fighters all - for the greater good of womankind! Power to the people, doncha know. I knew how to fall right in step, keeping my association with Betty Crocker well hidden.

Last month, by sharp contrast, I read the law school newspaper where a talented orator and award-winning competitor and law student wrote her Baking for Barristers column about chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. I stopped in my tracks, slack-jawed and mouth agape, as my father in law says. That would never have happened in the seventies. We were too defensive for our own good in the collective quest for more options for women. But this is now, when over half the nation's law and medical students are women. So maybe they are not as hypersensitive as their less numerous counterparts were decades ago; they exercise their options.

Time and life have a way of either mellowing us or hardening us. Our response makes the difference. I want to mellow gracefully.

Learn a new skill. Identify a domestic deficiency and do something about it. The internet is replete with advice for domestic divas who are discovering this concept for the first time, because they never had it in school and alarmingly few have had it modeled at home.

There is immense value - for both men and women - in having the skills to manage and maintain one's home and personal finances, to create a place of warmth and hospitality for family, and to provide healthy eating patterns and relationships. They are calling this new, essential body of knowledge domestic competencies, and they are saying we had better learn some soon, or no one will remember how it is done.

Where is Betty Crocker when we need her?

Note: Kudos to my friends, Vicki Daughdrill and Martha McIntosh - widely accomplished and fun women who have parlayed their college major of home economics into careers of world travel and textile promotion, and newspaper and book writing and publishing, in addition to being excellent cooks and having wonderful families. Who knew you would be so cutting edge this year?


  1. great post! i'm hoping 2011 is my year of becoming more of a domestic diva :)

  2. Oh my thankful to now be receiving your blog automatically!! What fun to read. I LOVE an apron and I LOVED Home Ec!! My dear friend Rhonda just showed me a couple of weeks ago the coat (complete with lining) that she made in Home Ec her Senior year. They were way ahead of us in Florida!!! I did make a darling dress that I will never forget. Keep writing my friend.....I love reading!!

  3. Go girl! Awesome! Wish I still had my kettle cloth shift and yellowed recipe for Angel Biscuits. I think we discussed the Home Ec. fashion section where your height allowed you more "points", therefore more accessories!! Yay!!

  4. Love the writing, love the topic. I would also love to recommend Devi Titus' book The Table Experience. Her research will amaze you--her findings from Scripture about "the table" will knock your socks off!
    -sockless Sallie Kate

  5. I should have included this:

  6. Hi, I found your adorable blog on the Ultimate Blog Party 2011 and I'm a new
    follower. Hop over and say Hi if you get a chance, Jennifer from Just

    Our church just finished the Bible study called to be a Keeper and I was shocked at how many of the young mom's didn't know how to do anything but it was great to help mentor a couple of them! This is a great blog, I'm going to share with some of the ladies!