Christmas, Real Simple, and modified domesticity

Long-time readers of this blog know I have a love-hate relationship with Real Simple. The magazine is beautifully laid out, I’ve subscribed for years, and the essays (few as there are) are usually awesome.

On the other hand, there are some jarring moments. Every issue has a feature about doing housework more efficiently; for instance, January ‘s page 44 features instructions on how to speed-clean your fireplace in 15 minutes. Yet page 32 (thanks to Jen from Laughing at Chaos for pointing this out in a Facebook conversation) touts a $1,100 Anya Hindmarch leather satchel. Page 120 highlights a $1,240 task lamp.

Note to Real Simple readers: If you can pay four figures for purses and lamps, you can afford to pay someone else to clean your fireplace.

But anyway, I think Real Simple captures the worries of a certain demographic quite well. Which is why I enjoyed a recent online package on “15 Easy Christmas Decorations,” that you could make yourself. The modern woman is very nostalgic about Christmas crafts and the like. She also isn’t going to take all Saturday to do one. The compromise? “Crafts” that amount to putting pinecones on a table or apples in a glass bowl and calling it a day. You get the effect, without spending time in a way that takes you away from more important priorities.

There’s something to this. I was thinking that this weekend as I made Christmas cookies with my 3-year-old, Jasper. On Saturday afternoon, we found our Christmas cookie cutters and decided to go for it. I had wanted to do some baking with him this year, but baking with 3-year-olds still isn’t exactly easy. So we popped into the store across the street. As I was standing there in the aisle, I had a thought roar up from the depths of my brain that Christmas cookies are supposed to be made from scratch! Was I really about to buy cookie mix and pre-made frosting for such a hallowed event?

Yes, yes I was. A mix let us get to the fun part — cutting out shapes — quickly. Jasper paid attention and helped the whole time. The cookies tasted good. The frosting is kind of eh, but small children turn out not to care. We had so much fun that I’m pondering doing simple Christmas crafts next weekend. We already have apples and glass bowls!

In other 168 Hours news:

  • I have a column in USA Today this morning called “When’s the right time for Christmas carols?” Singing Christmas carols during Advent is controversial. If you didn’t know that, read on to find out why!
  • Thanks to Tim Brownson for choosing 168 Hours as one of his Ten Best Self-Development Books of 2010. We’re in good company on that list!
  • Star Lee magazine reviews 168 Hours positively in the current issue. As they write, this book “caught our attention and kept it.” (This magazine is aimed at women entrepreneurs; for more about it, read here).


6 thoughts on “Christmas, Real Simple, and modified domesticity

  1. I will check out this magazine. Thanks for mentioning it! I am always looking for stuff to motivate female entrepreneurs.
    It is also good to remember that most women entrepreneurs and others can’t afford to spend 4 figures on that stuff — especially once you have a family and have financial goals for your family — and might either have to clean out the fireplace — or let things go. Most people –statistically speaking — and the statistics on women entrepreneurs back this up — are not financially in a position to outsource everything — nor would they want to, for example, in terms of their businesses or more obviously in terms of child care — getting your husband to take your kid or grandma or you doing stuff with them is still better than a nanny or stranger beyond say the 40 hour week and a working woman is still doing 3 jobs — the paid job, the childcare job and the maintaining a home job. Hopefully with help from spouse and supportive family — but not always – and she is still doing it — and it is a lot, and she cannot do everything, even if she can buy a four-figure bag, which most probably and statistically speaking she cannot.

    To encourage entrepreneurship, and the growth of female businesses as well as earning power and intellectual engagement of women in our society — (remember many women are still way stepped out of the workforce once they become moms or cut back) — it is important to change the conversation about the “ideal worker” status etc. That is what does it mean to be an ideal worker — flexible shifts, focus on projects not time,

    I enjoyed the Christmas cookie story. Sounds great!

    I am not quite clear on the nostalgia for all home made and for our current generation of mom’s obsession with organic and with a certain “Magazine Cover” perfection of the home. We have to be careful as many of these images do romanticize housework and aspects of the traditional woman role that cost women in other areas — and are oppressive. You can’t do all things at all times, and there isn’t shown to be happiness in some of this — and you do get into areas of overparenting and say underworking in the professional sense, if you are not careful!

    It must come from women whose mother’s stayed home and did this — but we really should be beyond this if we want women working for money and we want women and mothers empowered. It’s not that people shouldn’t do these things but let’s be realistic about the opportunity costs and goals — as you say here..t he point of a mom of a young child baking cookies with them is only in part about the cookies, right? So please magazines, why the long articles about different kinds of cookies? One day when your kids are older as a grandma, you can make a different kind of cookie for them not with them. But not now. And if you are really that good or into cookies maybe you should start a cookie business.

  2. I am totally looking to buy those “magazine kind of sugar” cookies so would love to support a mom entrepreneur in my area… I do not want to bake them a, b/c I am not that good at baking and b, b/c that would cost me a fortune in lost work time or lost time with my kid or both — but love how they’d look on the table… I would make them with my kid if she were old enough but your version.. not the magazine version I want to see on my table like to entertain my adult friends!

  3. @Laura–I have the same issues with Real Simple. I go back and forth every year as to whether to continue subscribing or not. They talk about being green, yet much of their artwork is done with paper cutouts. Recently, one article told how to speed-clean your bathroom, in 5 minutes–using a total of 7 disinfectant wipes!! A few pages later they had an article on saving money on something else. How about saving the earth and money by not using 7 chemical-laden wipes to clean the bathroom!!

    @Cara–I agree, there are few people who can afford, or would find the value in a 4-figure purse, even if we aren’t entrepreneurs.
    The over-romanticized version of the home is definitely a problem too. My mom was a 2 job single mom and she did it all–meals from scratch, homemade cookies, washing kitchen walls once a week, she even sewed my Communion, Sweet 16 & prom dresses herself! I am a slacker compared to her, yet she often tells me that she spent no time with us b/c this is what Moms of her era did. I am glad to be changing that in my family, but for a long time it was hard to let go of the pressure of what I felt I had to do, especially as a stay-at-home mom. My mom will be the first one to tell you now, that she’s glad things have changed and she wished she had the courage to do things differently when we were young.

    1. @Denise: Would love to hear more about how things have changed since your mom’s day. It is true that parents used to play less with kids. Of course, now we’re a bit funny about it. I read an article in American Baby in the doctor’s office the other day where a mom was asking how she should play with her baby the “right” way. Ummm…. stop overthinking it! As for Real Simple, I enjoy looking at it, and I think the concept is so appealing to a certain demographic that it has done extraordinarily well. But it really shows the disjointedness about time and money that I’ve tried to write about. Upper middle class women love to think of themselves as busy busy busy and so starved for time and nostalgic about a simple (a real simple!) era. The magazine never challenges these notions. Then again, that’s probably why it’s successful.

  4. The funniest thing I ever saw in “Real Simple” (a magazine I see only in waiting rooms) was about hair care, and the shampoos they recommended were over $5 each. My idea of simple hair care involves buying shampoos & conditioners that are less than $1 at places like Big Lots.

    Concerning baking, I consider myself extremely fortunate. My organist mother had a highly irregular schedule: a typical week might include playing two or three Sunday morning services (more during Holy Week and Christmas), teaching piano and organ, helping brides pick out wedding music (usually requiring her to transcribe music to accommodate soloists unable to sing in the key for which the music was written), choir rehearsals (often more than one), weddings, and accompanying recitalists and community choruses (along with the necessary rehearsals). I’m sure I’m forgetting something … oh, yes, attending seminars and conferences which helped her grow professionally, and indulging in the odd lesson for herself. (And to think people believe church organists are only using the gifts God gave them and shouldn’t have to be paid.)

    Anyway, she was also a scratch cook and taught us four kids how to cook. We’d often spend a good chunk of time on Saturday precooking casseroles and things for the week so we could get the meal started after school while she was teaching piano, and when she came home early on Sunday afternoon we had lunch ready to serve.

    She was also a child of the Depression, which meant that, in addition to clipping coupons like a fiend, she put up a lot of food and taught us all how to make grape jam and can peaches.

    As a result, I’ve been making things like egg & cheese souffles for almost fifty years, and I put up jams, relishes, sauces, tomatoes, and soup stocks faithfully. They make great Christmas gifts (even the stock) and sell terrifically at our church fair (well, maybe not the stock).

    Memories of baking and canning with my mother are some of the most precious things I have, and since she moved on to that great organ gig in the sky, it’s all I have left of her.

    I was never blessed with children myself, but my husband was and now we have two grandsons who love to help Grandma in the kitchen. I work 40 hours a week, but we cook nearly everything from scratch, and when the grandchildren visit they make a beeline for the child-sized aprons we keep on a hook. My nine year old grandson can make biscuits (with minimal assistance) that put the Pillsbury Doughboy to shame.

    I say all this simply to encourage everyone here to bake with their kids and/or grandchildren. Start out small: just learn how to make one thing (like biscuits or pancakes) from scratch, and keep doing it until you don’t need to look at the recipe and it has become part of you. Then pick another simple recipe (like sugar cookie dough) and do the same thing.

    One easy scratch cookie technique involves making icebox cookies. Just make the dough, roll it into 6″ logs about 2″ in diameter, wrap the logs in plastic wrap, place all the logs in a freezer bag or container, write something like “oatmeal cookies 8-10 min @ 350” on the label, and toss it in the freezer. When you want freshly baked cookies, you can take out a log, cut it into slices, and voila: a quick dozen or so cookies. Believe me, when kids learn that trick they feel immensely proud, and I say that both as a former child and a grandmother.

    Children learn what they live. If you want your kid to read, then they need to see you read or else they won’t think it’s important. Same thing with baking.

    Start small. You can do it!

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