The rise of the new domestic goddess
By Janet Arnold-Grych
Known the world over, she has elevated table settings, tea towels and lemon chiffon cake to high art. Appearing with force in the 1990s, Martha Stewart led a resurgence of interest in the domestic arts with a watchmaker’s eye for detail. While many still look to Martha for inspiration, a new breed of household artisan has arrived — one focused less on perfection and more on expression and connection. Enter the new domestic goddess.
Ryff is director of the Institute on Aging and a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin. She has been examining the question of personal well-being for decades and created the “Ryff Scales for Psychological Well-Being,” which have been translated into 25 different languages. The scales distill well-being into the successful integration of six elements: Autonomy, environmental mastery, personal growth, positive relations with others, purpose in life and self-acceptance.
Amid the frenetic pace of today’s schedules and expectations, as well as the jolts delivered by the economy, it’s no wonder many of us feel we’re coming up short on a lot of these elements. To regain some equilibrium, the desire arises to control, create and savor.
À la mode
“The world today has become so fast paced with less personal interaction,” says Katie Kregel, one of the local creators of the blog, Haute Apple Pie. “Fast food. Text messaging. The quicker, the better. We think people are feeling overwhelmed. The domestic arts help people to slow down and enjoy the simple, important things in life, like family, home and health.”
Kregel, together with Anne Mueller and Stef Wade, are the self-declared domestic goddesses who collectively produce Haute Apple Pie. Friends from their days at Marquette University, they have remained in contact through careers, marriages, dogs and babies. In time, they were sharing household tips and recipes not only among themselves, but with other friends. “After a while, we thought it would be fun to have a platform to share our ideas and Haute Apple Pie was born,” says Kregel.
With their “musings for the modern homemaker,” they’ve tapped into a market of growing interest. Their blog — which premiered in September 2009 — and Twitter accounts already draw hundreds of viewers seeking their playful and helpful take on cooking, baking, decorating and the simple things in life.
Perhaps part of the bloggers’ appeal is that they are just like us — they are not Martha Stewart. “I think a true domestic goddess will make mistakes all the time, but stays calm and has a back-up plan,” says Mueller. “My husband I still joke about an infamous dinner we call ‘macaroni mess.’Within 15 minutes, we had Chinese takeout and shared a wonderful dinner.”
But this isn’t just about food. Some of us want to slow down but don’t even consider the kitchen as venue. Patricia Colloton-Walsh, co-owner with her daughter of Loop Yarn Shop in Milwaukee, has seen growing interest in fiber arts, for example.
“There seems to be a renaissance in knitting and crocheting and it is understandable in this day of heavy and fast technology,” says Colloton-Walsh. “Whether knitting or crocheting, the fiber literally ‘runs’ through your hands and encourages creativity, resourcefulness and focused attention. All people wake up to creative endeavors. Because fiber is so tactile, it soothes and calms, and the repetition of stitches has been compared to meditation.” Colloton-Walsh has seen so much interest, in fact, that she’s had to add more beginning knitting classes to her lineup to keep up with demand.
Lose the income focus
Shannon Hayes, Ph.D., embraces a view of connection through the domestic arts and raises it to a moral imperative. Author of the 2010 book, Radical Homemakers, Hayes grew up on a farm at the edge of the Appalachians in New York. She learned to raise animals, cook, garden and resourcefully respond to the surprises offered by living self-sufficiently.
She and her husband Bob assumed they would embark on a “normal” dual-career path. But when Bob was fired, they took a step back to recalculate the cost of their lives, both literally and figuratively. They compared the costs of resuming career plans with a more self-sufficient lifestyle model. Adding the costs of car payments, a mortgage, professional wardrobes, buying rather than raising food etc., they determined they would only be $10,000 a year ahead financially, and less engaged emotionally, if they resumed a traditional path. They opted for the less traditional choice.
They joined Hayes’ parents on the family farm, augmenting their income with Hayes’ cookbooks and speaking engagements. Hayes sees their choice not so much where to live, but how to live. To describe themselves, Hayes coined the term “radical homemaker.”
“More than simply soccer moms, radical homemakers are men and women who have chosen to make family, community, social justice and the health of the planet the governing principles of their lives,” says Hayes. Essential to embracing this lifestyle is proficiency in the domestic arts.
Hayes writes, “Mainstream Americans have lost the simple domestic skills that would enable them to live an ecologically sensible life with a low or modest income … the greater our domestic skills, be they to plant a garden, grow tomatoes on an apartment balcony, mend a shirt, repair an appliance, provide for our entertainment, cook and preserve a local harvest or care for our children and loved ones, the less dependent we are on the gold [income].”
Possessing the household skills to do these tasks shifts the money/time continuum, which is one of Hayes’ central arguments for embracing this lifestyle. She believes too many people become ensnared in an escalating cycle of earning and spending money that nets them debt and distances them from what really matters. “In the end we end up cash-poor and time-destitute because corporate America accumulates our wealth,” says Hayes.
She advocates removing income as the determinant of success and replacing it with a broader focus on that which is meaningful to one’s sense of self, one’s family, one’s community and one’s environment — all elements Ryff would agree are important to personal well-being.
Whether your brand of domestic goddess is placing the domestic arts at the center of your life, or just adding more homemade dinners or sweaters knit with love, it’s all about finding those experiences that nourish your spirit. “We believe that being a domestic goddess is more than just good cooking,” says Kregel. “It’s really about slowing down and enjoying the people and the world that surround you.”
Where does that leave the picture perfect lemon chiffon cake? Even if yours is lopsided, the true prize may be in simply making it at all and sharing the outcome, and a good laugh, with a friend.