Monthly Archives: March 2014
“A perceptive writer who has not always praised the modern women is the anthropologist Margaret Mead. Yet she, in a recent article discussing the results of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, has this to say concerning the home-centered career:
‘Through the ages, human beings have remained human because there were women whose duty it was to provide continuity in their lives–to be there when they went to sleep and when they woke up, to ease pain, to empathize with failure and rejoice at success, to listen to tales of broken hearts, to soothe and support and sustain and stimulate husbands and sons as they faced the vicissitudes of a hard outside world. . . . The young, the sick, the old, the unhappy and the triumphantly victorious have needed special individuals to share with them and care for them.’
“It is [Mead’s] conclusion that not too many but too few women keep their status as full-time housewives. Whether full-time or in part, however, the keeper of the home is the most important woman in the world. That willingness to “soothe and support and sustain,” to make at atmosphere in which the larger, if not the more vital, affairs of earth can get accomplished is singular to our sex. We should feel honored to have this dispensation in our hands. For both those who give it and those who take it, it is the soul’s chief nourishment.
“I have sung, then, and continue to sing the worth of a domestic career in an age when it is terribly needed. We crave light and warmth in this century. Only the mother, the wife, can supply it for the home. To be a housewife is not easy. Ours is a difficult, a wrenching, sometimes an ungrateful job if it is looked on only as a job. Regarded as a profession, it is the noblest as it is the most ancient of the catalog. Let none persuade us differently or the world is lost indeed.” –Phyllis McGinley, Sixpence in Her Shoe, 1960.
What do you think, homemakers? In what ways do you “soothe and support and sustain” and do all the other hard work of providing light and warmth where it’s most needed?
Love this golden oldie from back in the spinning-vinyl days.
“If you have some problems
Don’t let them ever get you down
God’s strength is always around”
Happy Sunday–I’ll be praying for ya!
“Nut roll was the dessert on which Great-aunt Johanna literally based her reputation,” wrote Phyllis McGinley in her winsome book Sixpence in Her Shoe, which the publisher called “the book that talks back to the Feminine Mystique.”
“I remember as a child how we looked forward to being given a taste of[Great-aunt Johanna’s nut roll] once or twice a year after a party . . . It was a delicacy requiring too much labor and exactitude to be wasted on children. It is ironic that I can now make it in not much more than half an hour and with little fear of failure, simply by virtue of the tools I own.
“The recipe calls for six eggs, with the yolks and whites beaten separately; for three-quarters of a cup of sugar, a teaspoon of baking powder, a few grains of salt, and a cup and a half of pulverized walnut meats (or of pecans or hazelnuts, the last being my preference). One must also have on hand a cup and a half of heavy cream and vanilla or rum for flavoring it. Think of the labor involve din preparing those ingredients in 1900! Aunt Johanna had first to shell the nuts, then chop them with a knife and afterwards crush them underneath a rolling pin. The eggs she had to beat by hand. She had no waxed paper with which to line the pan, as I do; and her oven could not be accurately set at 325 . . . . When the roll was baked, she had still to beat up the cream and sugar with which to fill it. All told, it was a morning’s work.”
Mrs. McGinley goes on to contrast her great-aunt’s 1900 experience with her own, circa 1960:
“But I buy the nuts already shelled, pop them into my blender, and out they come, ready to substitute for flour in the cake. My eggs go into the mixer, the whites first, then the yolks; are deftly blended with the sugar; and in a matter of minutes they emerge, frothy or creamy as required, without my having done more than attach the cord and press a button. The oven takes care of the baking, so long as I set it correctly and watch the clock. Again, when I am ready to roll the pastry, I whip the cream in the beater which arranged my eggs. I scarcely deserve credit for the success.”
Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978) produced nine volumes of verse, fifteen books for children, and a collection of essays. In 1961 she won the Pulitzer Prize for a book of poetry, Times Three, although she was criticized by other poets for writing “light verse.” She was married and had two daughters.
Here’s Phyllis McGinley’s recipe for Hazelnut Roll (with her own notes):
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups chopped hazelnuts; hazelnuts are the best for this dessert, but walnuts or chopped pecans will do
1 teaspoon baking powder
Few grains salt
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
Rum or vanilla to tastePowdered sugar (optional)
Separate eggs and beat whites until they stand in soft peaks. Beat half a cup of sugar into mixture and set aside. Without washing beater, beat yolks until thick and lemon-colored. Beat into them the remaining sugar. Mix chopped nuts, baking powder, salt. Stir into egg-yolk mixture. Fold in the beaten whites. Spread batter evenly into a jelly-roll pan about 10 x 14 inches which has been buttered, lined with waxed paper, and rebuttered over the paper. Place in center of preheated oven set at 350 degrees. Bake twenty minutes. Take out of oven and cover with damp towel. Chill.
When you wish to add cream, take cake out of the refrigerator, peel off the waxed paper and cut off crisp ends. Spread whiped cream (to which butter and vanilla or rum have been added) evenly over cake. Roll like a jelly roll. Wrap firmly in waxed paper and rechill. This can even be put into the freezer and used later. Cut in slices or bring to table on long platter. I have now and then tried frosting the whole roll with whipped cream but it really is too rich that way. A little powdered sugar is all that is n necessary by way of garnish.
Photo source: Wikipedia
Recently I blogged about the boundaries of my fiction writing. A fellow author, Rebecca Florence Miller, has penned a thoughtful post that has helped me clarify and refine my thinking on the matter. She writes, “Redemptive art is that which clearly shows the reality of our broken world and doesn’t try to clean it up to make people comfortable. But redemptive art does not stay there in the brokenness. Rather, this art takes us through a journey through darkness to the light of hope.” (Read her whole post here.)
That definition casts a vision of the Christian writer’s role that is broader and more nuanced just “writing clean.” There’s real pain and suffering in the world that needs attention. I write clean stories, not necessarily to make readers comfortable, but to give them hope that there’s another way to live, another way to see things. Rather than just seeking to be inoffensive, I hope my stories help illuminate truth, beauty, and goodness as worthy ideals in a cynical world that calls them outmoded and irrelevant. That’s why, in my earlier post, I disagreed with the author I quoted who wrote, “Everyone has a dark side, and mine truly came out in this book,” as if that alone was a good thing. I understand that the dark side exists, and there are many skilled authors who can explore it redemptively. I just don’t think it’s sensitive to take readers there and leave them there, or to encourage them to celebrate the darkness. As the Psalmist says, “Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” I choose to keep my eyes fixed on the dawn.
Photo source: publicdomainpictures.net
Here’s another installment in Marjorie’s story. The setting is the Corrigan home, to which Marjorie Corrigan has returned after fainting at the Orpheum during a showing of The Big Parade. (To read the first episode, go here )
“If you wouldn’t attend those ghastly picture shows, this never would have happened,” my father’s wife, Frances, scolded that evening, after getting an earful from Sadie Miller, who heard it from Penelope Blake, who got it straight from Eugenia Wardlow herself. “I’m mortified. Simply mortified.”
Feeling more like an obstinate youngster than a woman of twenty-five, I avoided her gaze and watched her hands tense and flex as she kneaded bread dough.
“‘Family way,’ indeed,” she sputtered. “That woman is a—a—” She gave the dough an extra-vigorous punch—whether on Eugenia Wardlow’s behalf or mine was unclear. “Well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say what she is. But she spreads a nasty rumor quicker than ‘one if by land, two if by sea.’ I’ll be on the telephone all evening, trying to set things right.” She straightened up and blew a strand of hair out of her face. “Honestly, if Eugenia weren’t the only florist in town, I’d order your wedding flowers elsewhere, just to spite her.”
“That’s what I hate about small-town life,” I said. “Everybody’s always poking their noses into everyone else’s business and offering up their own skewed versions of things. Since when is fainting a sign of the stork, anyway?”
“Since busybody spinsters like Eugenia decided to liven up the gossip mill.” Frances glanced at the 1925 calendar on the wall. “I suppose we could move the wedding
My heart lurched. “Earlier! That would only make matters worse. Then people would for sure think—would think—”
She sighed. “I suppose you’re right. We’d never be able to pull it off, anyway. So much remains to be done: the guest list, the invitations . . .” She paused. “You ought to see Doctor Perkins. Best make sure you’re not coming down with something.”
“I’m fine, really. The theater was simply roasting, and I . . .”
“Yes, Helen told me all about it.” Frances returned to kneading. “Marjorie, you’re a grown woman. I can’t stop you from going to the pictures, but I can at least insist you stop taking Helen with you. At her age she doesn’t need to see all that romantic folderol and get strange ideas in her head.”
Strange ideas like there’s room for a little romance and adventure in a person’s life. Like there’s a world beyond Kerryville. Anyway, at fifteen, Helen practically knew more about the birds and the bees than I did. But all I said out loud was, “Yes, ma’am.”
The back door swung open and my older brother Charlie shuffled in. “Hi, all. When’s supper?”
Frances covered the bread pan with a cloth. “Ten minutes. We’ll eat early since your father’s out of town.”
“Hey, sis, you all right? I heard you made quite a scene at the Orpheum. Swooning over some love scene?” He batted his eyelashes.
“Very funny. You’d like it. It’s a good war story.”
“‘Good’ and ‘war’ don’t belong in the same sentence. “ His face darkened. “I lived it. Why would I want to watch it?”
I changed the subject. “Where did you hear I fainted?”
“Some fellows were talking about it over at Riley’s.”
“Oh, that’s just swell,” I mumbled, embarrassed to be the object of gossip but secretly relieved not to detect any alcohol on my brother’s breath. When he’d returned from the war, broken in body and spirit, he’d too often drown his pain in whiskey, Prohibition or no Prohibition. With Frances active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, those were some tense years in the Corrigan household. Thankfully, as far as I knew, he’d remained sober for the last year or so. He’d gone back to church, too. Still, I couldn’t break the habit of expecting a whiff of alcohol on his breath and felt relieved when there was none.
“Don’t worry, I set them straight.” Charlie raised his good arm. “I’ll pummel any goon who gets out of line. I’ll go wash up. Glad you’re okay, sis.” He loped out of the room.
Frances pulled a pitcher from the icebox and set it on the table. “I do wish he wouldn’t hang around a tavern on Sunday with all that riffraff. It’s not seemly.”
I set out plates. “It’s not a tavern, it’s a soda fountain. And they’re hardly riffraff. Just friends he grew up with.”
“It was a tavern before Prohibition. I don’t trust that Riley not to keep a bottle stashed under the counter.” Frances frowned. “Charlie’d get farther in life if he chose a better class of companions. You don’t see the Cavendishes wasting Sunday afternoons at Riley’s—or at the Orpheum, for that matter.”
“Who cares what the Cavendishes do?” I muttered, knowing full well that at least one of the two of us cared deeply. The Cavendishes were Kerryville aristocracy. Doctor Cavendish ran Kerryville General Hospital. Mrs. Cavendish ran the Hospital Auxiliary, the W. C. T. U., and practically everything else. Frances, anxious for the Corrigans to rise in society, coveted the Cavendish seal of approval on everything from how we spent our Sundays to who our friends were. My engagement to Doctor Richard Brownlee was a jewel in her crown.
“I dread to think what your father will say,” Frances continued. “Fortunately he knows Eugenia Wardlow’s a ninny. What about Richard? You’d better telephone him right away, before he hears it from somebody else.”
“I’m seeing him tonight for dinner. Speaking of which, I’d better freshen up.” I stood, bone-weary and not of a mind to discuss any more of my personal business with Frances
She crossed her arms. “You know, you two would already be married by now, if only—”
“If only I hadn’t dragged my feet on setting a date,” I finished, sparing her the trouble of repeating herself for the thousandth time.
“He’s wanted to marry you for ages, and you keep putting him off. It’s no wonder people have started . . . speculating.”
Heat rose in my chest. “Let them speculate. Anyway, I’m not putting him off any longer.” September eighteenth, my wedding day, loomed just on the other side of summer.
“He’s a real catch, Marjorie,” Frances admonished, “and you’re not getting any younger.”
“Thanks.” I made tracks for the door, desperate to escape the conversation.
“Marrying Richard is the wisest decision you’ve ever made. You’ll be set for life,” she called after me, “if you don’t spoil your chance.”
On the staircase I bumped into the eavesdropping Helen.
“Was she sore?”
“A little. She’ll get over it. But no more pictures for you for a while.”
“Aw.” She trailed into my room. “Have you finished my dress for Spring Fling?”
Helen would be making her dramatic debut at the high school’s end-of-the-year program, reciting “The Wreck of the Hesperus” to a packed, and likely sweltering,
auditorium. I was her wardrobe mistress for the event.
“Not yet, Miss Impatience. I’ve been a little busy, creating a town scandal.”
“Will you finish it soon?”
“Not if you don’t stop pestering me. Besides, you don’t need it until Spring Fling.”
“Can I at least see it?”
I surrendered. “Oh, all right. Here. Mind the pins.”
She held up the pale violet frock—an old one of mine that I was altering to fit her—and swayed to and fro in front of the pier glass, glowing. “Oh, Marjie, it’s the cat’s meow.”
“That shade suits you. Brings out your eye color.”
“Am I pretty, Marjie?”
“Pretty is as pretty does.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Now you sound like Frances.”
I cringed. Sounding like Frances was not one of my goals in life.
“You might be pretty,” I teased. “Maybe the tiniest little bit. When your horns aren’t showing.”
She stuck out her tongue. “Oh, you’re a hot sketch. Be serious.”
I smiled. “You look like our mother.”
Her eyes widened. “I do? Honest?”
“Honest. And she was stunning.”
Helen was silent a moment as she absorbed that thought.
“But remember what the Bible says,” I said. “‘Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain . . .’“
“‘. . . but the woman who fears the Lord shall be praised, ’” we finished together.
“That’s Scripture,” I added. “Not Frances.”
“I know. Mrs. Varney had us memorize it in Phoebe Circle. That reminds me. She wants to know if you’ll help out next fall.”
“Help out with what?”
“Phoebe Circle. After you’re back from your honeymoon, of course. She says the circle is getting too large for her to handle all by herself. I overheard her tell Superintendent Lewis that we’re quite a handful,” she added with pride.
“I can imagine.”
“Aw, she’s just getting old. Anyway, she said you used to love Phoebe Circle, and she’s hoping you’ll come back and help lead it. She said she’s been planning to speak to you about it at church, but you always disappear right after the service. Which is true.” She tossed me an accusatory look.
I made no reply. Mrs. Varney was right. As a girl I’d been active in Phoebe Circle and other church activities. But that was before the Lord chose to take away everything that mattered most to me. His prerogative, of course. “Thy will be done,” said the prayer I still dutifully recited. But for the past few years I’d found it hard to pay Him much more than a perfunctory visit on Sunday morning. And even that was largely due to Frances’ insistence that “nice people” go to church.
“I’m sure she’ll ask you about it herself,” Helen concluded. “I only said I’d mention it.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“It’d be fun, having you for a leader.”
“You just think I’d let you get away with more high jinks than Mrs. Varney does,” I teased. “You’d be surprised what a tough old bird your sister can be.”
She took one last twirl and handed me the dress.
“I don’t know about that. But you sure are a whiz with a needle and thread.”
As she whirled out of the room, I looked down at the half-sewn fabric in my hand, troubled. If only all of life’s problems could be so easily mended.
(Watch for further installments, coming soon to a blog near you.)
Boston Cream Pie is actually a cake, not a pie–and one of my favorites, too. A chef named M. Sanzian is credited with creating it at Boston’s Parker House Hotel in 1856. Most versions I’ve seen feature a chocolate frosting or glaze on top, but our friend Bettina’s version calls for meringue. Here’s a Bettina story from 1917 called “The Dixons Drop In for Dessert”:
“Come in! Come in!” cried Bob to the Dixons. “You’re just in time to have dessert with us! Bettina, here are the Dixons!” [ed. note: the authors of the Bettina stories were very fond of exclamation marks!]
“Do sit down,” said Bettina, “and have some Boston cream pie with us!”
“Frank won’t need urging,” said Charlotte. “Our dessert tonight was applesauce, and Boston cream pie (whatever it is) sounds too enticing to be resisted.”
“It looks a little like the Washington pie my mother used to make,” said Frank. “Only that wasn’t so fancy on the top.”
“Washington pie needs whipped cream to make it perfect,” said Bettina, “and as I had no whipped cream I made this with a meringue.”
“Dessert with the neighbors!” said Frank, laughing. “Charlotte read me a suggestion the other day that sounded sensible. A housewife had introduced a new custom into her neighborhood. Whenever she had planned a particularly good dessert she would phone a few of her friends not to plan any dessert for themselves that evening, but to stroll over after dinner and have dessert with her family. Wasn’t that an idea? It might lead to cooperative meals! We haven’t done our share, have we? We should have telephoned to you to have the main course with us tonight. Say, Bettina, I like this Boston cream pie! It’s what I call a real dessert!” (from A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband by Louise Bennett Weaver and Helen Cowles LeCron, 1917)
Interesting how folks used to talk about “telephoning to” someone, like “writing to” them. Somewhere along the line the “to” got dropped and we started simply telephoning, then ‘phoning, then calling.
Here’s the recipe:
Bettina’s Boston Cream Pie
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 c. milk
7/8 c. flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. vanilla
Cream the butter, add the egg. Mix well. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly. Add the milk alternately with the flour and baking powder. Mix thoroughly. Add the vanilla. Bake in two layer-cake pans fitted with waxed paper, in a moderate oven for twenty minutes. Spread the following filling between the layers:
7 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg yolk
1 c. milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Mix the sugar, flour and salt. Add slowly the egg yolk (beaten) and the milk. Stir well. Cook ten minutes in a double boiler, stirring occasionally to prevent lumping. Add vanilla and remove from the fire. When partially cool, spread part of the filling over one layer of the cake. Allow to stand five minutes and then add more filling. Allow to stand two minutes. Place the other layer on the top. Spread a meringue over the whole and place in a hot oven long enough to brown it delicately.
1 egg white
1/8 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. baking powder
Add salt to the egg, beat until thick and fluffy, add the sugar and baking powder, and beat one minute.
Did you ever feel strongly about something, but have trouble articulating why you felt so strongly about it? And then you read something that expresses the polar opposite view, and suddenly your own feelings on the matter crystallize and become clear? That happened to me this week.
As I may have mentioned a few (hundred) times on this blog, I’ve written one novel and am midway through writing a second one, both in historical settings. When I write magazine articles, my favorite topics always have to do with exploring some aspect of history. Even the most cursory perusal of this blog reveals that my heart longs for the civility and graciousness and even material culture of times past, everything from cameos to table manners to robust old-time hymns. Do I love these things because I’m a old fuddy-duddy stick-in-the-mud who hates progress? No. (Well, at least I hope not.) But why, then? Why does the past, at least certain aspects of it, have such a grip on my imagination?
With this question rolling around in my mind, I picked up one of my regular reads, a trade journal for the book publishing industry. In it was an opinion piece by a popular author of fiction for young adults. In an impassioned defense of including graphic sex, violence, and language in young-adult novels (which was already giving me the vapors), she wrote, “When I decided to write [my book], I made a conscious decision: I wanted to write exactly what and how I wanted. I didn’t write with the reader, or my agent, or my editor in mind. I wrote for me.”
Okay, I get that. I, too, write for myself in the sense of writing the kinds of things I like to read. Of course, I hope to please readers as well, but since I tend to picture my readers as people who are quite similar to myself in worldview, outlook, and tastes, it boils down to essentially the same thing.
Then young adult author went on to say, “It [her book] was the first time I ever dropped the F bomb in my writing. It was the first time I ever wrote a castration scene (which later got cut from the book). I didn’t censor the sex or language or violence. I pushed the envelope, and then I pushed some more. Everyone has a dark side, and mine truly came out in this book. Do I expect my readers to suddenly become serial killers? Absolutely not. I do expect them to create fan art and express their emotions in a healthy way just like I did.” [Emphasis mine.]
Here’s where we seriously parted ways, this young-adult author and I. A healthy way? Really?
I don’t need anybody to tell me I have a dark side. I’m horrified by it. I don’t care to celebrate it or share it with the world, and certainly not with my readers. I hate it. I want to kill it, to conquer it, to banish it. Now I know I can’t get rid of this dark side under my own power, but only through the grace and love of Jesus Christ. But why in the world would I want to feed it and coddle it and strengthen it and give it more power? Ugh.
That’s what I want for my readers, too–to celebrate life and light and goodness and truth and beauty and duty and honor and nobility and those other mothball-scented qualities. In short, to find faith and have hope and see the good in the world. Not to glory in the dark side and let it consume their thoughts. That’s one reason I look to the past–when it seems these values were more widely and publicly esteemed, supported, and sought after, instead of being mocked and ridiculed and called irrelevant.
The young-adult author went on to encourage the publishing community to “[e]mbrace reality. It can’t be stopped. Embrace the art of entertainment and understand it as a means of social change. It’s supposed to make you think and ask questions.”
I totally agree that entertainment is a means of social change, but I could not disagree more with the kind of “social change” this author seems to want. I do invite my readers to think and ask questions, but is being offensive and “pushing boundaries” the only way to accomplish this? I don’t believe that graphic violence qualifies as “reality” while love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control do not, and I certainly think it can be stopped . . . at least in my books, and those I like to read. That’s why, even though my stories do sometimes address evil, sin, death and all that nasty stuff, you won’t find graphic violence or sex or foul language there. That’s not the brand of “reality” I want to promote.
Do I study and write about the past because I wish I lived back then? No, not really, even though I joke about that very thing. I truly don’t want to return to the days before indoor plumbing and antibiotics and computers and (pre-TSA) jet travel. I want my stories to preserve and promote the best aspects of the past and keep them alive in the context of today’s world, to keep them from being trampled by so-called progress as defined by this author. If that makes me a hopeless idealist and the very antithesis of hip, then so be it.
Your turn: What do you think? What do you hope to find in the books you read and movies you watch?
“Did it ever occur to you to inquire why civilized people have their food prepared at particular hours, and all the family sit together? Why not have the food prepared and placed where everyone can go and eat, whenever he pleases, by himself? One great advantage of having a whole family sit together, and partake of their meals at the same time, is that it brings them together in a social way, every day. But for this, and the assembling of the family at prayers, they might not all meet at once for a long time. But eating together is a mark of friendship; it tends to promote social feeling. In a well-regulated family, also, it is a means of great improvement, both of mind and manners. Your behavior at table should always be regulated by the rules of propriety. If you acquire vulgar habits here, or practice rudeness, you will find it difficult to overcome them; and they will make you appear to great disadvantage.
First of all, be not tardy in taking your place at the table. In a well-regulated family, the master of the family waits till all are seated before he asks a blessing. When called to a meal, never wait to finish what you are doing, but promptly leave it, and proceed to your place. Above all, do not delay till after the blessing, and so sit down to your food like a heathen.
The younger members of the family should leave it for the parents (and guests, if there are any) to take the lead in conversation. It does not appear well for a very young person to be forward and talkative at table. You should generally wait till you are spoken to; or if you wish to make an inquiry or a remark, do it in a modest, unassuming way, not raising your voice, nor spinning out a story. Be especially careful not to interrupt a person. Sensible people will get a very unfavorable impression concerning you, if they see you bold and talkative at table. Yet you should never appear inattentive to what others are saying.
To be very particular in the choice of food is not agreeable to good breeding. Never ask for what is not on the table. Do not make remarks respecting the food, and avoid expressing your likes and dislikes of particular articles. Show your praise of the food set before you, by the good nature and relish with which you partake of it; but do not eat so fast as to appear voracious. Never put on sour looks, nor turn up your nose at your food. this is unmannerly and a serious affront to the mistress of the table. Be careful to use your knife and fork as other people do, and to know when to lay them down. Be careful not to drop your food, nor to spill liquids on the cloth. Do ynot leave the table before the family withdraws from it, unless it is necessary; and then, ask to be excused.”
(from How to Be a Lady: Useful Hints on the Formation of Womanly Character, published in 1846. written by Harvey Newcomb, an American clergyman who was active in the American Sunday School Union and had a heart for young people.)