Saturday, February 2, 2019

WEEKEND COLUMN: Confessions of a homebody

"It's housekeeping that makes your home alive and turns it into a small society in its own right." ~Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts

Cindy La Ferle


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The first major snow prediction of the season might inspire some people to retrieve their ski equipment, while others book flights to warm-weather destinations. Not me. I throw myself into domestic overdrive – at home. 

Making a hearty bean soup or lentil stew, for instance, is one of my favorite winter rituals. By late afternoon, my deadlines have been met, and you'll find me chopping vegetables in the kitchen while talk show hosts grill their guests on TV. Like cookbook author Molly O’Neil, I find “reassurance in the aroma of baking bread and simmering stews.” 

Life doesn’t get much cozier than a snow day spent puttering around the house. 

Years before HGTV made it cool to be a homebody, however, I was reluctant to flaunt my domestic side. That changed when I was introduced to the work of Cheryl Mendelson, an attorney and college professor who once described herself as a working woman with “a secret life” -- a woman who adores making a home. 

Mendelson is author of Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House (Scribner). Weighing in at 884 pages, her hefty guide is the first of its kind to be published by one author in nearly a century. It contains everything you need to know (and some things you don’t) about stocking a pantry, choosing the right kitchen utensils, setting a proper table, hemming a skirt, building a fire, and deodorizing pet stains. 

“By the time I reached young adulthood,” she explains in her introduction, “modern suburbia had little interest in housekeeping and even less respect for it.” 
Cindy La Ferle

Like many female baby boomers, Mendelson devoted herself to a full-time career and spent a few years posturing as “anti-domestic.” After work, while poring over her collection of vintage cookbooks and housekeeping manuals, Mendelson began to suspect that men and women of the post-Betty Crocker era could use some basic home economics training. It didn’t take much research to prove her theory. 

“Over and over I found myself visiting homes where the predominant feeling was sepulchral, dusty, and deserted, or even hotel-like, as my own had once become,” she recalls. “It’s housekeeping that makes your home alive and turns it into a small society in its own right.” 

Mendelson’s standards are a lot higher than mine. She lists, for example, more than a dozen “common” food pathogens that were never covered in my biology classes. She also insists that the “most effective” floor-washing is done on hands and knees. Not in my house. Yet she’s right on target when she claims that the domestic arts deserve some respect. 

Apparently many homemakers agree, since sales figures for her book remain healthy -- years after its first edition was published. This bodes well for other homebodies who’ve secretly reveled in tending their nests. And just imagine: If a Harvard law school grad can practice the domestic arts and publish a best-selling manual about it, well, maybe the rest of us can finally come out of the broom closet. ~Cindy La Ferle

Note: This post is adapted from an earlier essay first published under the title, "Domestic Diva Comes Clean." The original piece is included in my book, Writing Home. The housekeeping manual, Home Comforts, is still available at bookstores and online. 

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