Friday, March 11, 2011

Going Nuclear: The Ration Book

The house is not big, but spacious in all of the parts that count when one entertains. This is a home for socialites. So what am I doing here? Oh, that’s right. I used to be social. I will get there again sometime soon. Just not right now.
Anyhow, as I was dusting the china cabinet in the formal dining room (yes, a real dining room as opposed to the informal one) I found these in one of the cabinet drawers. I didn’t think much of the tattered fold until I looked inside.

What I found was names. Three names. Delbert H. Stephens, age 26, six feet tall, 187 pounds, male Caucasian; Maxine L. Stephens, age 22, five feet nothing, 111 pounds, Caucasian female; Douglas Arthur Stephens, thirty-two inches tall, 16 pounds--a six month old male. What I found was evidence of a small family living in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. These ration stamps were nothing exotic or overly interesting, nothing worth an article, a book, or an epic movie. But this family experienced a life and a time that I can honestly say that I have never, or will never, experience.
The instructions on the back of the Ration stamp books were for the most part about how to appropriately use the ration stamps. But the few sentences that concluded on the back of the books changed my outlook on my life in comparison to the Stephens family. 
The paragraph started with, “Rationing is a vital part of your country’s war effort. Any attempt to violate the rules an effort to deny someone his share and will create hardship and help the enemy.”  These two, small sentences had quite an impact on me, but in completely different ways.  The first made me feel almost patriotic. When I read it I felt the tug at my red, white, and blue heart-strings.  My country. Mine.

The second made me feel like I was in first grade, arguing about stealing someone’s glue. But it also made me question my own consumption and my place in the world. To “deny someone his share” is a sentiment that has been lost over the last few years. We have forgotten that “ration” doesn’t necessarily mean that we will not have enough, but that we must ensure that everyone will have enough.
The last sentence really summed it up for me: “If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.”
Ah! There it is! If I don’t need it, I WON’T BUY IT. After moving and getting rid of everything, I have been just itching to buy again. But after looking in the dreaded basement, I’m thinking that I have everything I need. It just needs a little cleaning, a little love, and some TLC. Who knows how many more treasures I’ll be able to find.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Going Nuclear: Day Four. My first real domestic FAIL

A couple of days ago there was a knock on my door. I was sitting writing about being domestic and peeling through Arden Farms Co. Cookbook, circa 1952. The knock shook me out of my trance in which I attempted to fathom the flavor of cheese pudding. 
I went to the door where a young fella, younger than I, stood in the door. He was a bit scraggly, wearing a business tie and a pair of Nikes. I thought he was selling magazine subscriptions, and was already preparing my “No thank yous” when he told me that he wanted to clean my carpets. 
“You wouldn’t believe it to see them, but I just attacked them with the carpet cleaner yesterday,” I said. 
“All the better!” the fella chimed. “I can show you how to get a REAL clean carpet.” It was obvious that he was an old hat with the old lines. Nevertheless, I kept denying. 
“I really have to be going in a minute to pick my daughter up from school in a moment.”
“It will only take a moment.” 
“I’m allergic to cleaning products?” I tried, feebly. 
“This is made from oranges, though!” he insisted. 
“I’m broke.” 
“Have a nice day.”
In a pinch, honesty works. 
After an hour or so, I realized that I had just made my first big retro-active FAIL.  Would June have shooed that poor boy away? Never! She would have made him coffee and a sandwich and then bought three cans of every product available. 
This “Going Nuclear” thing is becoming harder than I thought. No matter. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Going Nuclear: Day Two. Context.

Before I get too far into this endeavor, I'll give you a rundown of the new place. After leaving our lives in Florida, we pulled into Spokane without a clue of what we were going to do. While I went to see family, Eric found us a home. It's big and beautiful, albeit a little dated, and we loved everything about it. But there is this one catch.
A father-in-law.
Yup, I'm not too proud to say that we moved into my father-in-laws home for a while. It's a 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath on 5 acres. It's a lovely place, with hidden piles of history everywhere.

My FIL inherited the house from his late wife, who had inherited the house from her parents in the 90s. That's about all that I knew when we arrived, but the deeper we tucked ourselves in to the new home, the more acquainted I became with the past occupants, as well as their history. After finding pile after pile of pictures, tintypes, letters, and newpaper clippings I have cultivated a relationship with the family.

This is a rather inconspicuous flour bag, but it's full of letters, kind regards, Merry Christmases, Happy Saint Patricks Days, Mother's Days, birthdays, and condolences. Then I realized that what I found has more value than any thing an estate buyer could have wanted.

I have been given an opportunity to witness lives through paper--the last piece of materiality that these people have. There is no memory of the stories within the letters I read, but I can see the faces in the pictures and imagine them living the experiences told. I'm getting to learn lives through a 3,000 square foot puzzle.

I'm happy to say that the pieces are coming together, and I'll share them with you.

It all started with an old War Ration book....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

GOING NUCLEAR: Day one. Damage report.

Day one of the retro-active lifestyle is chaotic. I'm coming to the conclusion that this process will be one of growth and learning, and after my own little Beaver Cleaver doused the cat with toothpaste last night, I figured that for every three steps I make, I will be cleaning up thrity-five. C'est la vie.

So today I have done just a basic inventory of the chaos.
Let's start with the magical basement. Six years ago, a pack of hungry estate buyers ravaged the house. What was left was deemed "junk."
So it seems.

But after looking throught the piles of mouse-poop and dust (this is really a filthy labor of love) I say, "YOU WERE WRONG, ESTATE SCAVENGERS!"

There are plenty of great things in the basement. Like this lovely toilet-lid-shaped clock! What were they thinking leaving this monument to masculine culture down there? Finders kepers, my adversaries, finders keepers.

Now, we move onto the wet bar. Not much to look at. The water isn't running to the sink, but I think I can rework it. The biggest problem with the bar is that it is only full of silly things like 1950's radios and not full of the important things like booze. My picture was horrifying. You'll just have to wait.
No matter.

And finally, for the day, me. This picture was taken in my favorite, yet non-functional bathroom. There is a lot of work that needs to be both the bathroom and the dame in the mirror.

What'd I tell ya? June Cleaver would be crying into her martini if she saw what half-a-century had done to domestic culture.
I'm considering myself as the ultimate work-in-progress. That's it for today. So many wonders, yet not enough time between kids, gym, laundry, etc.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Going Nuclear: June Cleaver Revisited

So it's been a whirlwind of a year thus far: We moved from sunny Florida to snowy Washington, and now we are still on the hunt for jobs. Eric finally scored one, thanks to friends, and that leaves just me, sitting in our newly acquired retro home, sniffing out all job prospects. I had the audacity to whine about being unemployed, a comment that prompted Eric to remind me that only folks that HAVE been employed within the last few years can call themselves unemployed.

What does that make me, then?


Okay, I'm a mom. A stay at home mom. The WORST ever. My children are seldom clean, they are either over or underfed. The house is always in a state...well, let me put it this way: The apocalypse would go unnoticed. But not any more!

And it all started with dog pee.

It started when I found that our two-inch shag carpet had been soiled by our heathen of a dog. As I was looking down in the dark and scary basement, I found boxes and boxes of magazines. But not just any magazines, vintage Sally homemaker magazines, recipes, and newspapers dating as far back as 1925!

As I was sitting amongst the June Cleaver files, I thought, "What a wonderful assortment of domesticity! I should give them to someone who cares." I have never cooked anything from a recipe. I don't wear nylons, much less use them creatively when I'm done with them. This made me wonder if Rose Norton, the antithesis of June Cleaver, could fill her stilettos.

I'm gonna.

I will embrace my inner June cleaver! I WILL make it a point to depart from my sweatpants. DAILY. I WILL BLOG ABOUT IT!

Starting tomorrow, March 1st, I will attempt the near impossible. Here is the "to-do" list:

*Feed the children 3 quality meals a day.
*Maintain the home and redecorate with all of the vigor and zest of June Cleaver.
*"Reduce" by way of the diet fads of old.
*Begin implementing proper language and practice civility in the home.
*Have a cocktail party for every major American holiday.
*Go shopping once a week in high heels and pearls.
*Refurbish, stock and effectively use the poor, old wet bar in the den.
*Wear an apron.

I'm going to embrace my inner June Cleaver and shed my otherwise woefully inadequate domestic nature, or die trying (granted, death by pearls, hairnets and Karo syrup is an interesting way to go). I'll also offer up my favorite ads from my magazines, newspapers, and interwebs to show just how far we've really come. And here's the real kicker: I'm going to try this for one whole year ( *Pangs of anxiety already setting in*).

Think I can do it? Think I can be that fabulous retro mom? Me niether. Good God, this sounds like a train-wreck. Nevertheless, I'll give it a go.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Jungle to Jungle-Gym: Love Advice From Magnolia, age 9

All I know about love, romance and dating I’ve learned from my nine year-old. 
The night before Valentine’s Day, Magnolia wanted to get prepared. She wanted to pick out some “fashionable” clothes, accessories, and makeup. As we smeared “Tangerine Kiss” over our fingernails, Magnolia decided that it was time to teach me about dating. Being the studious and attentive mother that I wish I was, I took notes. 
Here is a selection of Magnolia’s tips for dating, love, and Valentines. 
How to talk to boys:
“If you are desperate, just walk up to him and say, “hi!” However, if you are not desperate, you should ignore him a little. This makes him want to talk to you.” 
Then there is a point that you begin to talk to him.  “The best way to talk to a boy is to exploid them with big, beautiful words, like, “Oh, I was wearing this elegant dress to school. It was very turquoise-ish.” 
Also, if you speak a different language to them, it’s very good. Magnolia told me that she talks a lot about “beignets” in New Orleans. This sounds exotic. 
There are some words that you should use in lieu of others. “Loo,” for instance, should be used instead of “bathroom.” Why? 

“Because it’s more proper and you’re not all trashy or boyish.”
Hard to get: 
“A girl should give boys lots of ignorements during recess...That gets the boy to want to hang out with you. You should say you have better things to do. Like, when a boy says, ‘Hey! Wanna dig up some worms?’ you should say, ‘No, I have better things to do.’ Then he will say, ‘What’s better than digging up worms?’ and you say, ‘I’m going to play Red Rover.’ Then he will come with you to play Red Rover and you can hold his hand.” 
How to “be” around boys:
“If you like him, you should act weird around him. You should giggle a lot, laugh, and flip your hair. When you giggle, it gives off a loud noise, that draws a boy’s attention. They have to look at you. Also, if a boy is talking and you don’t want to listen, you can just giggle a lot and it’s okay.
“Flipping your hair--it just looks stylish, and is gets your hair-do back in order.
“You should wear normal clothes. Neon, mostly. You shouldn't wear shiny earrings because you might blind the boy. You should wear blush and lip gloss. And you should make up a new walk and walk a lot in front of them with your new walk.” 
Valentines that say, “I like you”:

“If a boy gives you a Valentine that says, ‘Be Mine,’ or ‘You’re Doggone Cute,’ he might like you. But really, it’s all about how they write your name on the Valentine. If he has good handwriting naturally, then he may or may not like you if it’s neat. BUT if he writes your name in a very pretty way that’s got beautiful swirls and hearts, he likes you. A LOT. Usually, if they sign the Valentine as a ‘Secret Admirer,’ they love you.” 
This experience proved that, once again, children have an understanding of the world that we as adults cannot fully comprehend. How did my little pre-tween vixen come to these astounding and well thought-out conclusions? I dunno. Maybe life in the jungle is more similar to life on the jungle-gym than we thought. 

“Love can change a raven into a swan. Love is the wind beneath a swan’s wings and makes them fly. Love is a mystery....and a gift.”
-Magnolia, age 9

Valentine's Day: Romance, Love, Dawson, et al.

I'm not big on romance as a pasttime. Nope. Sorry, there are many other less destructive hobbies out there. Romance movies are the worst.
In every romance flick, there is always some stallion that'll do just about anything for their love. And I mean anything, at any cost  (and by "cost" I mean the movie production "cost"). These stories set the average romance-fiending women up for a world of disappointment. Is your Brad Pitt going to cry and do something extraordinary just to say, "hi" to you? Is your Ewan McGregor going to buy a grazzillion yellow flowers to say, "I think you're swell, let's go on a date"?
Is your Lola going to Run for an hour and a half just so you don't get killed by mobsters?
Odds are, probably not. This, my friends, is the plight of the dating and relationship worlds--especially during the Valentine's Day whirlwind of emotions. Everyone is forced to watch insipid romance movies whilst eating entire Whitman's samplers. All the women sigh, looking over at their spouses and thinking, "Why can't he be more like Dawson?"
And there it is: Dawson is the reason that Valentine's Day is so crappy for dudes.
Fortunately, he has vowed to fix this problem:

Your special someone cannot walk on a sea of New Yorkers a 'la Crocodile Dundee just to say, "G'day! Marry me?"
But will yours get you a tissue? Maybe a glass of water?

Romance and love really don't have a whole lot in common. Romance is based purely on the need to acquire something. Love is the thing you have once the romance is gone.

I said "yes" to my husbands proposal, not because he was in a hot-air balloon over my house, but because he realized I was right for him while he was watching Predator vs. Alien. That's honesty! If you have to leave a movie theater mid-alien slaughter to propose to your girlfriend, then I think you're in for a fine life together.

So go easy on your spouse tomorrow if they don't magically develop a Brad six-pack or Angelina boobs. Be gentle if they don't end up reading your mind...again.  And just say thanks for the Whitman's.