A Sparkling Vintage Life

Monthly Archives: March 2019

What the Heck is Home Ec?



According to several reliable sources, home economics classes are being added back into the curriculum at a number of schools. What is home economics, where did it go, and why is it now coming back? Tune in as Jennifer waxes nostalgic (or not) about her own middle-school home ec class, and lists five reasons why home economics matters.

If you’d rather read than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.

Show Notes:

Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping by Miriam Lukken

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

Transcript:

Today we’re talking about home economics, which is making a comeback in some schools after being basically ousted as a field of study for a couple of decades. What’s that all about? Grab your saucepans and your seam rippers and find out.

But first, a little news. My short story collection, SONGBIRD AND OTHER STORIES, is now available in paperback in addition to the eBook edition. This is especially gratifying for me, as this was the first book my husband and I self-published under our new imprint, Mountain Majesty Media. It was a learning experience and took longer than expected due to hiccups along the way. But it’s here now! So hop on over to Amazon or wherever you buy books and grab your copy. If you’ve not been introduced yet to my fiction, the short stories in SONGBIRD are a great way to sample my writing and see if you like it. It’s also a lot easier to give someone a print book as a gift, rather than an eBook. Hint, hint.

Also, You’re the Cream in My Coffee and Ain’t Misbehavin’ are getting some good attention with their spanking new covers. So check them out as well.

And now back to our topic:  What the heck is home ec?

If you’re of a certain age, or if you talk to your mother and grandmother, you know about the home economics classes girls took in junior high or high school. It was also offered as a college major in some universities–one of the first college majors available to women. More on that in a minute.

The dictionary defines “home economics” as “the theory and practice of homemaking.” Wikipedia expands that definition into “a field of study that deals with the relationships between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.” That’s so broad as to be virtually useless. In essence, if you manage a dwelling of any type, within a community of any type, you are practicing home economics. Over the years it has been called by various other names. My school called it “Home Arts.” My grandmother told me her high school called it “Domestic Science” back in the 1920s. But it was all basically the same thing: classes meant to teach young women how to be homemakers. Boys in those days were assigned to shop class instead, where they learned sturdy things like carpentry and welding and fixing engines.

Now, before we go any further, I must confess that I was a home economics failure, with a capital F. I attended middle school in the waning days of home ec, as it was being phased out of the curriculum.

I did all right at the cooking part of home ec. I have some good memories of making applesauce, chocolate pudding made with cornstarch, and Cornish game hens. My Cornish game hens were a great triumph, as I recall. But sewing was a complete and total disaster. I couldn’t sew a straight seam to save my life and spent many tearful hours with a seam ripper in my hand. I now know that I have real issues with spatial perception. I can’t envision at all how the pieces of a pattern are supposed to fit together and was forever attaching sleeves upside down or a neckline inside-out. Also, at age 12 or 13 or whatever it was, I had the patience of a gnat, and so rebelled at the tedious work of pinning and basting and hemming. Today I fervently wish I could sew, so I wouldn’t be limited to wearing the clothes that are available in stores, which are often poorly made and rather ugly besides. I’m terribly envious of those who sew well. (Is the word sewers? Because that looks like sewers when it’s written out. Are they still called seamstresses? Sewists? Anyway, people who sew. I envy them.) But even the words “inseam” or “facing” or “mercerized cotton thread” are enough to make my blood pressure spike.

When I reached high school, home ec classes were elective. So I elected to stay as far away from them as possible. Sadly, that’s been to my disadvantage, as I’ve had to learn so many homemaking skills the hard way over the years.

Over the centuries, of course, these skills were usually learned at home from mothers and other female relatives. Home economics as an academic field of study got its start in the 1800s as a means of teaching girls how to cook, sew, and manage a home economically. At that time it was assumed girls would be homemakers and boys would become breadwinners of the household. The field got a boost by the Morrill Act of 1862, which started the so-called Land Grant colleges to teach vocational subjects like mechanical arts, agriculture, and home economics. In the early 1900s home economics was organized into a formal field of study. Prominent women such as Catherine Beecher and Ellen Swallow Richards were at the forefront of the movement. Richards helped form the American Home Economics Association, today called the Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Catherine Beecher was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s sister, for those who are curious. Harriet, of course, was the author of the landmark novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Beecher and Richards and their ilk organized Home Economics around seven areas: cooking, child development, elementary education, home management and design, sewing, budgeting, and health and hygiene. I only recall studying cooking and sewing at my school, although it’s possible we touched on other subjects that I simply don’t remember. I do remember one memorable unit on how to buy a bra, with a bright pink booklet issued by one of the major bra manufacturers, like Maidenform or Playtex. I kept that booklet for a long time.  Wish I still had it; it might fetch a pretty penny on eBay. I also remember all of us girls laughing at each other as we applied beaten egg white to our faces, so I suppose there must have been a unit on skin care. But mostly I remember cooking and sewing. I definitely don’t remember discussing child development or elementary education topics.

But back in those early years, home economics emerged throughout the early 20th century as a movement to train women to manage their households and to sort of professionalize job of homemaker. Some schools had “practice homes,” where students would live together and work in actual homes. Some childcare classes were taught using infants temporarily borrowed from orphanages, or from daycare centers set up at the schools for mothers who worked. At the same time, more and more consumer goods were becoming available to the general public. Interestingly home economics moved from an area of production–producing things for the household, such as cooking, sewing, and gardening,–to consumption–how to buy things and become an expert consumer.  

After World War II, the so-called Second Wave Feminism led first to home economics classes being opened to both women and men, and later pushed them out entirely as being sexist. Vocational courses in general declined during this period as high schools focused on preparing students for college instead of vocational work, and especially for taking tests in the “No Child Left Behind” era. Then as now, homemaking in general was derided as being somehow less important or less valid than pursuing a professional career outside the home. First of all, that’s hogwash. Homemaking is extremely important to our families and society at large. Witness the range of problems, from childhood obesity to fractured family relationships, that come from a devaluation of homemaking and caretaking. And–newsflash–even professional career people need to make a home, unless they live in a hotel and eat all their meals in restaurants, which is unlikely. So getting rid of home ec to guide women into careers was a bit short-sighted, in my opinion.  

But now, some schools are incorporation home economics back into the curriculum, often rechristened as “life skills.” They’re teaching kids of both sexes how to balance a checkbook, how to boil an egg, how to sew on a button. They’re teaching good nutrition, personal finance, and basic childcare, as well as topics like environmentally responsible house cleaning methods that weren’t a “thing” back in 1955. One downside is that there seems to be a lack of qualified teachers working in the field. With home economics eliminated as a college major, in many areas the demand for teachers outstrips the supply.

 I think there are several good reasons that home economics needs to be fully reinstated in schools under whatever name. Aren’t schools supposed to prepare for adulthood? What better way to prepare than to learn the practical details of taking care of yourself and those you love? Here are five reasons.

1. Things all adults should know. There is no benefit in not knowing how to feed yourself and your family, or how to wash dishes or do a load of laundry.

2. Eco-friendly. Kids should learn how to fix things vs. replace them, to replace a button or repair a torn sleeve rather than buying a whole new shirt. It’s also better for the environment if they learn how to care for a home without using harmful chemicals.

3. Budget-friendly. Kids can learn how to save money by fixing things or making them instead of buying them. I think home economics went off track when the focus shifted from household productivity to household consumerism. Let’s bring back the production angle: to grow food, sew clothes, be well prepared and resourceful instead of running to the nearest big-box store for everything. Along with learning how to save money, we can also teach kids financial literacy, from how to balance a checkbook to how compound interest works.

4. Practical, applied use of other subjects, particularly math and chemistry. Working in the kitchen or at the sewing table teaches practical application of fractions or geometry or physics in a way that textbooks don’t. How do you follow a recipe, or a sewing pattern? How do you halve or double that recipe, or adjust that pattern to fit your particular body? What happens when you mix various elements of salt, fat, and heat, as a popular book addresses? These are practical applications of scientific and mathematical principles.

5. Safety. There are a lot of latch-key kids coming home to empty houses these days. They should know how to do so safely. How to cook a simple meal without starting a fire. How to handle the fire extinguisher if that first option fails. How to prepare and store food properly without getting sick. How to handle a sharp knife. And so on.

Those are just five reasons I think home economics should be reinstated in schools.  What do you remember about home economics classes? Do you think they should still be part of the curriculum? Feel free to leave a comment at sparklingvintagelife.com/podcast. Look for episode 7, where I’ll also leave the show notes. And I’ll be back in a moment with today’s grace note.

Today’s grace note is a fun book called Mrs. Dunwoody’s Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping, by Miriam Lukken. The jacket copy describes it as “a delightful  compendium of homespun advice, cleaning, and etiquette tips, traditional recipes, and Southern wit.” In it you’ll find vintage cleaning hints, kitchen and laundry tips, social advice, and ideas for entertaining, drawn from a variety of old-timey sources. In the spirit of this very podcast, the book promises “Now you can bring the wise, unhurried ways and charm of an earlier time into the 21st century.” Isn’t that what we’re all about?

And that’s it for today. Have a lovely  week, enjoy the spring sunshine, and tune in again next Thursday when I’ll be back with another topic on A Sparkling Vintage Life.

Historytellers Scavenger Hunt!

***UPDATE*** The winner is CHRIS KEMP-PHILP of the UK. Congratulations, Chris!

Welcome to Historytellers Scavenger Hunt! This is a hunt dedicated to novels historically set in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s where all genres are welcome. You’ll get the opportunity to discover new authors, new stories and to meet and talk to other readers who love this time period, not to mention that you’ll have the opportunity to win the grand prize which include a digital copy of all the novels participating in the hunt.

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The hunt will be online only today 17 March 2019 from 00:00 to 23:59 EST.

Go to the Historytellers Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. 

How to hunt
Authors participating in the hunt
Entry form

Here’s how it works:

***THE SCAVENGER HUNT***

Directions: I’ve included my lucky number on this post (You will spot it!). All my fellow authors participating in the hunt will include a lucky number on their posts. Collect the these numbers and add them up.

Entry Form: When you have that lucky total number, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Anyone can take part. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by Sunday 17 March 23:59 EST. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

LET THE HUNT BEGIN!

ABOUT ME:

Hi! I’m Jennifer Lamont Leo.

My goal in writing historical fiction is to capture readers’ hearts through stories set in times gone by. My first novel, You’re the Cream in My Coffee, won an ACFW Carol Award for debut novel, and the sequel, Ain’t Misbehavin’, is a finalist for a Selah Award. My latest book, Songbird and Other Stories, is a collection of short stories penned in the same Roaring Twenties series as the novels. In addition to writing fiction, I’m a freelance writer, copywriter, and editor. Although I’m a native of the Chicago area, I now live on a remote mountain in beautiful northern Idaho with my husband, two cats, and abundant wildlife.

Visit me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.


Introducing SONGBIRD and Other Stories

A speakeasy singer longs for a better life than the one she’s always known.

A department-store clerk finds that the robe of her dreams may cost more than she bargained for.

A young girl wrestles with the pangs of growing up as she reunites with an old friend.

In Songbird and Other Stories, you’ll find a delightful array of charming stories set in simpler times. From the grand department stores and smoky speakeasies of Prohibition-era Chicago to the pristine shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene, these winsome characters will capture your heart and sweep you back to the Jazz Age.

Look for it on Amazon or your favorite online retailer.

What the well-dressed jazz singer is wearing in 1928!

Dot Rodgers (yes, she does bear a striking resemblance to actress Louise Brooks)

Meet Dot Rodgers, the heroine of Songbird. Let’s take a sneak peek into Dot’s closet. She won’t mind!

One bathing suit–only semi-scandalous–for sunbathing on Oak Street Beach. Purchased from Marshall Field’s with her employee discount.
An adorable hat. Or six. Because what good is it to work a day job in Marshall Field’s Millinery department if you can’t take advantage of it?
Several string of pearls, long enough to tie in a knot and swing while dancing the Charleston. Louie is so generous with his gifts. Or is he just trying to keep her quiet about the goings-on at the speakeasy he owns?
A darling ensemble for spending the Fourth of July with gal-pal Marjorie.
A photograph of dreamy Charlie Corrigan. (Gee, how did that get in the closet? Oh, yeah, so Louie wouldn’t see it).
One wedding dress, as yet unworn. Because a girl can dream!

My lucky number is 32!

Add up all the lucky numbers in the Scavenger Hunt and you’ll have the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

***CONTINUE THE HUNT***

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, CHRYSTYNA LUCYK-BERGER!

GOOD LUCK!!

For the Love of Antiques Shops



Do you enjoy browsing antique and vintage shops? Join Jennifer as she thinks about what draws her to surround herself with old things, and also hear her review of the Amazon Originals series Vanity Fair.

This is a podcast episode. If you prefer to read rather than listen, scroll down to find the transcript.

Show notes:

More about VANITY FAIR

GIVEAWAY: If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts..Stitcher, Doggcatcher, etc.  Then shoot me a message telling me you did so, along with which of my books you’d like to be in the drawing for (You’re the Cream in My CoffeeAin’t Misbehavin’, or Songbird and Other Stories). I’ll be drawing names at the end of the day on March 15, one for each book. You can send the email either to jennifer@sparklingvintagelife.com or jenny@jenniferlamontleo.com.

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

 

Florence Lindsay’s painting “Song of the Lark” and my mother, Patricia
My cat Lucy, taking over my reading chair. I miss him very much.

TRANSCRIPT OF EPISODE 6

I’ve just returned from a short overnight jaunt to a small town not far away from me called Bonners Ferry, Idaho.  I visited a couple of antiques shops while I was there, and the feelings I got while I was in those shops inspired today’s topic.

But first, a bit of personal news. I’m sad today because we just lost our cat, who passed away this morning. He was nineteen years old, which is elderly for a cat, but still, my husband and I are going to miss him very much. We weren’t blessed with children, and while I won’t pretend that raising a cat replaces raising a child, he did fill a little bit of that nurturing instinct in our hearts. I know some of you have lost beloved pets, too, so you know what that’s like. But life goes on.

And now on to our topic for today, which is antique shops. I love them. I love how they smell, that musty, fusty odor. I love the hunt for just the right treasure to bring home. And I love the memories that are sparked when I see a set of dishes that look just like Grandma’s, or a china shepherdess figurine like one that she might have had in her house. Usually just looking at it is enough to satisfy that nostalgia urge. I don’t necessarily need to buy it and take it home with me.  But at the antique store, I get to “visit” it.

I have met people, though, who detest antique shops that, as one woman declared, “are filled with dead, useless things.” I don’t think antiques are dead at all. Nor are they useless. But, to each her own, I suppose.

As I get close to sixty years old, I’m in a mode of downsizing my possessions more than I am adding to the clutter in my home. I’m becoming a lot more minimalist in my thinking than I used to be. But once in a while something catches my fancy and I do have to buy it.

A few years ago in an antique mall near my house, I fell in love with a painting. Actually it’s a print of a painting.  It shows  a young girl looking at a bird. She’s dressed in what looks like 1920s or 1930s clothing, with her hair and ringlets, and looks very much like a childhood photo of my mother. I found an image of the print online, so I’ll put both it and the photo in the show notes so you can see what I mean by the resemblance. Anyway, the print was a little out of my reach financially, but I liked to go into the antique mall occasionally and “visit” it. It always gave me joy. Well, one day I went in and it wasn’t there. There was just a big empty space where it had been hanging. Well, I tell you, I almost burst into tears right there, that someone else had purchased my beloved picture. But to my great relief, as it turned out, it hadn’t been sold, only been moved to another location. But I figured that if I had that strong of a reaction to the possibility of losing it, I should buy it, and so I did. It now hangs in the room where I write, and it gives me joy every time I see it.The point of this story is, one of the joys I get from browsing in antique shops is just that thrill of finding the perfect thing. Even when I come away empty-handed, I feel richer for the experience of looking at so many beautiful old things. And of course it’s good to actually buy things once in a while, when they’re the right things, to help support the store owner and keep the shop open for future browsing.

But sometimes I feel a pang of sadness as I look at things. It’s a feeling of loss, as if something precious has been lost and we can never get it back. It’s a little hard to describe, but it’s a feeling I get way down in my gut. It often happens when I look at old sepia-toned photographs of people, knowing this was someone’s loved one at one time. Maybe the photograph had a prized position on a wall or piano in a home. Maybe it was given to a sweetheart or to proud parents or grandparents upon an occasion like a graduation. Maybe it’s someone’s wedding photo, capturing forever a special event that no one left on this earth remembers firsthand anymore. I find myself feeling lonely, missing the people, even though I never knew them.

Another thing that makes me sad in antique shops are the inscriptions in books, say from a mother to daughter or from one friend to another. I don’t think people give books as gifts as often as they used to, although as an author, I think of course that they should. Even when I do give someone a book that I think they’ll enjoy, I tend not to inscribe it, in case they want to return or exchange it. I could do a whole episode just on interesting book inscriptions I’ve come across. Maybe I will do that sometime.  

But the thing that makes me saddest of all in antique stores is the sense of loss to our culture, our society, of certain ways of living. Maybe sad isn’t the right word. A better word might be wistful. I’ll see things and think, the times just aren’t like that anymore. Once in a while that’s a good thing, but sometimes the thing we’ve lost seems precious to me. I’ll see a set of formal china dinnerware, and that will lead me to think about big family Sunday dinners people used to have, and that will make me wistful for a more gracious era when such things as china and silver mattered and people made the time and effort for big Sunday dinners. I understand that fewer brides nowadays even choose patterns for china and glassware at their weddings. They don’t ask for these things as gifts anymore. Family dinners are much more casual, and even entertaining has gone the way of paper plates and cups and sitting on the floor. Our more casual lifestyles have their good points, to be sure, but at the same time, something precious has been lost that so many of us have stopped making special occasions out of meals by bringing out the china and crystal. Do you ever feel that way?

I also love looking at feminine frippery like hats and gloves and jewelry. So many people today mock things that are dainty and feminine. They treat them as jokey, or cheesy, declaring they wouldn’t be caught dead wearing or using such things. When I was looking for podcasts similar to this one, I found so many that make a joke of femininity, or give a derisive third finger to traditional  womanhood.  And so, as a result, I started the podcast that I wanted to hear.  You’re listening to it (or reading the transcript).

As I browse in antique or vintage shops, I think, why does all this gentle graciousness have to be over? Why can’t we turn back the clock in certain small and thoughtful ways? We can adopt some of the calmer, gentler, slower behaviors and customs of the past. I believe they will serve us well even–or maybe especially–today. And taking home that china plate or that crystal goblet or that tarnished locket might just be the first step.

Do you like to browse in antiques stores or vintage stores? How do they make you feel? Feel free to leave a comment at jenniferlamontleo.com/blog.

Today’s grace note: I’ve been binge-watching and highly recommend the Amazon Original series, Vanity Fair. It’s beautifully done, with gorgeous costumes and delightful acting. Above all, the story drives home the message of the futility of striving for things in this world that don’t matter. It’s a message that seems as timely these days as it did when William Makepeace Thackeray wrote it in 1848. At that time he wrote, “Vanity Fair is a very vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions.” That sounds like it wouldn’t be very fun to watch, but on the contrary, it’s very entertaining. The main character, Becky Sharp, played masterfully by Olivia Cooke,  is not a heroine in the traditional sense of the word. True to the name “Sharp,” she’s an amoral, scheming social climber–conniving, brilliant, and cold hearted, in contrast to her saintly friend Amelia. I’ve read that her character may have been Margaret Mitchell’s inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, to give you an idea of what she’s like. Again and again, Becky Sharp and other characters must face the consequences of their rash and ill-considered behavior, but it never comes across as preachy or didactic…just good fun.

Set in England against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, Vanity Fair is a story full of intrigue and scandal, and yet it’s not disturbingly graphic. Much is left to the viewer’s imagination, which is a great relief nowadays, so kudos to Amazon for that. If you enjoy historical fiction and costume dramas, I highly recommend it. You’ll find it on Amazon Prime.

Episode 5: What is Charm? part deux



In this follow-up episode to “What is Charm?”, Jennifer shares a list of twenty “shortcuts to charm” written by actress Arlene Francis in 1960. Surprisingly, these tips are as relevant today as they were almost sixty years ago, focusing on kindness, respect, and courtesy.

GIVEAWAY: If you enjoyed this episode, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts..Stitcher, Doggcatcher, etc.  Then shoot me a message telling me you did so, along with which of my books you’d like to be in the drawing for (You’re the Cream in My CoffeeAin’t Misbehavin’, or Songbird and Other Stories). I’ll be drawing names on March 15, one for each book. You can send the email either to jennifer@sparklingvintagelife.com or jenny@jenniferlamontleo.com.

The Sparkling Vintage Ladies’ Reading Circle

Jennifer’s fiction:
You’re the Cream in My Coffee
Ain’t Misbehavin’
Songbird and Other Stories

Jennifer’s blog

 

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Jennifer Lamont Leo