Unexpected Bonding

Since I’m injured and ridiculous, I’ve been staying at my parents house. It sure makes things easier to have someone to help you carry things when you are on crutches. It’s also nice to have someone cook for you because standing on one foot while cooking gets a bit painful.

Anyway, my parents had to go to the other farm for a few days so I’ve been left in the care of my younger brother. If you’ve read some of the older posts on this blog, you probably know that my brother and I are NOT the closest of siblings and that it would be easier to do a root canal on a sabre tooth tiger than get my brother to do favors for me. So, needless to say, I was a bit concerned about how this would go since I was going to have to rely on him for a lot of things.

Thursday night I was bored out of my mind so I decided to watch a movie on Netflix. Nothing I really wanted to watch was available for streaming, so I watched The Last Airbender. It was better than I imagined it would be, but not great. Not something I probably would have made a point to watch again. And definitely not good enough to make me want to watch the Nickelodeon anime series it was based on. Except for one thing.

My brother came in while I was watching it and was actually excited. My redneck, cowboy, “I don’t like anything foreign and weird” brother was excited about anime. Granted, it WAS American anime, but there wasn’t much American flavor there. Turns out he used to watch the Nickelodeon show when it was airing and liked it. Really liked it.

So, rather than spending our few days alone together arguing over when he was supposed to feed the animals, we’ve been watching anime together. He remembers so much about the show that he’ll come in in the middle of an episode and say “Oh, that’s the episode where…” or “Oh, that’s so-and-so, I like that character.” We’ve found something to talk about. It’s like a miracle.

So, now I’ve become a fan of a children’s anime show all because my weird brother was so genuinely excited by it. Life is strange. But not in a bad way.

My New Venture

I mentioned in a past post that one of the reasons I’ve been such a bad blogger is that I’ve been pretty busy. More specifically I’ve been busy with wedding plans. Not my OWN wedding plans, of course. Now, that really would be news! No, no, I’ve been busy with other people’s wedding plans. My sister, for one. And now a very good friend.

We have a large covered pavilion with a kitchen and a rather large meat smoker that my great-grandfather had built back in the 1960s. It was added on to a few times since then, and over the years we’ve hosted everything from small afternoon gatherings to company picnics for thousands of people. We’d become well-known in the area for our smoked pork barbecue and my grandfather’s secret recipe sauce. In the last 10 years or so, however, we’ve cut back drastically on the events we host because everyone in the family (otherwise known as the people expected to work these events for no money) had gotten a bit burnt out. And tired of fighting with my famously stubborn and difficult grandfather who didn’t seem inclined to want to spend the money needed to keep the place in good condition or to really utilize the space as it could be.

My sister announced in January that, after changing her wedding date a few times over the past 2 years, she would be getting married here on the farm in June. Which gave us 5 short months to get everything fixed up and ready. The upside was that my grandfather grudgingly agreed to the remodeling we decided needed to be undertaken. He complained loudly through the whole process but he didn’t actually stop us from doing anything we thought needed to be fixed.

As it does in a smallish town, word got around that we were remodeling and possibly back in business. We instantly started getting calls from people who wanted to get married here. One couple was so desperate to have a wedding lakeside that they came out mid-remodel and just put up with the construction.

lakeside wedding

By June, we were all half dead, but it was done. And everything came out quite nicely.

our pavilion, fixed up and decorated

My sister got married under this beautiful arbor our brother built out of wood found on the property.

And the wedding requests just keep coming. We’ve recently had another wedding and are already starting to book things for next summer.

Most exciting for me is that my good friends Lisa and Wes are having their wedding celebration here in September (they got married in February, but neither of their families could be there then). I’m so excited because I’ve known them for several years and they’ve spent so much time here on the farm. It just felt like the place they should get married.

Since they are in Seattle and we’re in Tennessee, I’ve had the added fun of coordinating everything locally. For some reason, this stuff is so enjoyable for me. At the last minute things always get crazy, but the months leading up to it are great: talking about food and china patterns and floral arrangements… These are just things I like to do. Especially when the couple is so much fun and doesn’t mind that I make a million suggestions.

We’ve just made the decision to purchase china and silverware. Previously, we didn’t have anything to offer clients, so they either had to rent china or use plastic. If you’re reading this blog you can probably guess my feelings on disposable plastic plates… they are a NO GO. I hate everything about them. I think they are ugly. I hate that they are almost never recyclable and, even when they are, that people usually don’t bother. I just hate them. I love china, but buying enough new china to feed 100-200 people costs a small fortune. And you end up with a huge, boring set of china, which is almost indistinguishable from what everyone else offers.

But, above and beyond anything else, the very best part of all this, for me, is that we decided to buy secondhand, vintage and antique china and silverware! I had the idea while I was admiring all the photos of weddings with mismatched china. They were just so beautiful and exactly what I would do. I was lamenting the fact that there wasn’t anywhere to rent mismatched, vintage china when it hit me: Why should I be looking for a place to RENT this beautiful china when I could BUY it instead?!?

And so the great business plan emerged. I get to spend the next several months scouring secondhand shops and the internet for cast-off china and silverware. I will rescue these unloved pieces and give them a wonderful new purpose. Rather than sending my dollars to some big corporation, I will give my money to local shops and internet entrepreneurs. I will reuse. And, by basically having the time of my life (oh dear lord how i love secondhand shops!!!), I will carve out for myself a little niche in the market. I will boldly explore wedding decor possibilities that no one else around here can offer.

I’m going to be stinking rich! Well, not rich, probably. But I WILL have the best china of anyone I know. And that, my friends, is deeply satisfying.

So, yeah. I’m a wedding planner/ event coordinator/ china dispenser now. It sure is fun.

And now for some gratuetous photographs of my sister in her dress because it was sickeningly beautiful. And because the farm looks stunning.

Memories on the Land

This is a blog post that I started months ago but never got around to finishing. As you will see, I was going through a mental rough patch. It’s the reason I stopped blogging, because for a while I felt like I didn’t have anything positive to say. And then life got in the way and I got busy (more on why I’m so busy soon) and I just didn’t think about blogging. Hopefully I’m back in the habit.

I haven’t blogged in quite a while. Things have been… kind of crazy and weird lately and I’ve not been able to get my thoughts in order to put anything down. Hopefully I’ll make some sense of a couple of things so I can talk about them but for right now I just want to be a little nostalgic.

Over on one of the forums I read, someone started a thread asking people to post pictures of themselves from their childhoods. It’s a great thread and people are having a lot of fun remembering and sharing. A lot of us realize that our desire to be self-sufficient and close to our food and the land can be traced to our childhood interactions with older people, usually grandparents and great-grandparents, who still embraced older ways of doing things.

This was certainly my experience and I wanted to share it. Mostly, I wanted to commit some of those memories to print so that if I ever start to forget why I’m doing some of these things I have something I can look to. So, this is basically a chronicle of my life on the land.

my mom and I

I was born on a farm in western Tennessee. Well, not ON the farm, but you know what I mean. The farm was owned by my great-grandparents and is where my father’s father had grown up. My parents had grown up in eastern Tennessee, where most of their family lived, but moved to west Tennessee when they got married (at 19) so my dad could run the place. This meant that the only family members I really spent time with when I was growing up were my great-grandparents and my farmer parents.

My great-grandparents with my parent’s at their wedding

My great-grandparents, Ladd and Allie May, had been subsistence share-croppers their whole lives. They struggled a lot but they always managed to make do. When my grandfather made it big as a lawyer, his first order of business was to buy the land his parents had been renting (and as much surrounding land as he could) and set them up for an easier life. But, for them, an easier life didn’t mean grocery stores and modern conveniences (although my grandmother became obsessed with collecting china dolls), it just meant that they didn’t have to worry whether there would be enough or they would lose the farm- there was always enough now.

My great-grandmother’s flour hopper

Growing up, I spent a part of most days with them. Mornings found me, and later my little sister, dodging angry hens while Grandmother collected eggs. She was a serious woman, but not stern, and the most excitable and funny we ever saw her was when she would find a hole in the chicken fence and evidence of a fox intruder. She would scream into the woods and threaten “that damn, infernal fox” with all kinds of horrible deaths if he didn’t leave her chickens alone. After putting the fear of God and an angry Southern woman into all foxes in the neighborhood, we would head into the house to start baking. This is my most indelible memory of Grandmother: the taste of flour in the air, the smell of biscuits rising in the oven, and the whirring arm of an 80-something little granny whipping egg whites and sugar at the speed of light to make the very best meringue I’ve ever eaten. She made those biscuits fresh every day. She made a pie from scratch most days of the week. She bought raw milk from a guy up the street and churned her own butter. She spent hours and hours “putting by” (canning and preserving). And she always took the time to show me how to do what she was doing.

Granddaddy worked a 2 acre garden, growing almost everything we ate, including lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beans, peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, zucchini, peppers, strawberries, grapes, watermelons, cantaloupe, and MUCH more. The back yard was full of tart apple trees, peach trees, pear trees, and fence rows full of wild blackberries. Even when money wasn’t a concern and he was getting on in age, he still gardened his whole plot. It was just in his genes. But his real passion was fishing. He’d take off on his four-wheeler (we’re talking a man in his 80s) with his poles and fish basket and disappear into the trees to his favorite fishing spot. He’d always be home just in time for Grandmother to pop those fish in the skillet and for all of us to sit down to dinner.

My dad brought animals home from the fields

My dad was in charge of all the big things going on around the farm. We raised beef cattle and pigs and grew corn and wheat. I was a serious daddy’s girl. During harvests, he spent so much time on the combine that I started going with him so we could spend time together. He kept a pillow and blanket in the little spot behind his seat and I would curl up back there and go to sleep. Dad was always bringing animals home for me to see. He brought home every dead poisonous snake he found so that I would know how to identify them. He even brought home fawns that he found in the fields.

The most exciting part of the year for me was hog killing time. I know that sounds like a gruesome thing for a little kid to love, but believe me, it was fantastic. It’s a community event with family and friends participating and, later, enjoy the fresh pork. When you kill a hog, it’s all hands on deck. There is a lot to do and time is of the essence. My dad and some of the other men would dispatch the hogs, which can be quite dangerous, and the rest of us would be at our battle stations. First, you have to gut it, but you can’t just go in there and start yanking things about. You want the entire contents of the body cavity to come out mostly intact. This keeps nasty things in the intestines, etc, from tainting the meat. Plus, there are lots of useful organs you don’t want to damage, such as the heart and livers and kidneys, which are yummy, and the intestines which are extremely handy later. Once gutted, the hog is parted up. Most of the cuts are then frozen for cooking throughout the year, but bacon and hams are immediately started in a brine (very salty water) or dry-packed in salt.

where pork cuts come from

The part that I loved was making sausage. Basically, you take all the little bits that don’t really add up to anything (the trimmings from steaks and bits from the shoulders and flanks) and run them through a grinder. We had a hand-cranked grinder, so it was safe for me to operate. This, for a 5-year-old, is possibly the coolest thing in the entire world. Once the meat is ground, you throw it in a big bowl or tub and mix in your flavorings: salt and pepper, herbs and spices, peppers, onions, or whatever sounds good. You mix this up really good and cool for a while. By this time, someone has cleaned and scraped the intestines- a delicate job definitely not suited to young hands. The minced meat mix is then stuffed into the intestines, twisting at even intervals, to create links. These usually go into the smoker. And end up delicious.

Mostly, I spent my childhood outside, growing things and playing with animals. I spent a lot of time around cowboys and bullfighters (commonly referred to as rodeo clowns) because my dad rode the rodeo circuit. I went to fairs and attended the World’s Biggest Fish Fry every year. I had an idyllic childhood. It was wonderful.

good luck kiss at the fair

Me at 3 years old

Fiasco: A Farming Failure

First off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY JIM!

So, the story.

Out of the batch of chicks I hatched last year, I had kept 2 crazy little roosters that were out of my dearly departed Silkie hen, Gretel, and my lovely Easter Egger rooster, Percy. I kept them mostly because no one was interested in a Silkie cross: you either want Silkies because they are cute or good incubators, or you want other chickens because they aren’t tiny. These were beautiful roosters, but they weren’t fluffy like Silkies and they were about the size of my regular sized hens… not a good trait in a flock rooster.

And I couldn’t bring myself to kill and eat them because they have… black skin. Apparently they are highly popular in Asian cuisine, but it was a bit off-putting to my Western sensibilities. It just did not look appetizing.

Anyway, a year went by and they began to be more and more of a problem. They were extremely aggressive with the other roosters and terrorized the hens. These little squirts were major punks. Saturday afternoon when I went to refill waterers, I found my sweet Gulliver, once at the top of the pecking order, with a huge gash along the side of his head and a torn (and very bloody) wattle. I brought him home, doctored him up, and put in him the back part of the coop so he could get some peace and quiet.

I was furious. I have no proof that the little punks did it, but the roosters got along fairly well before those two went crazy, so I blame them. I mean, they were virtually pointless, yet attractive, roosters that I had kept around for ridiculous reasons. THEY HAD TO GO. So, Sunday night I let Gulliver out of the back section and shoved the Silkie crosses back there. They were going to meet the ax (metaphorically, as I don’t use an axe to dispatch birds) the next day.

Monday morning rolls around and I do my morning chores, get everyone fed, and go to collect the soon-to-be-coq-au-vin roosters for their appointment. I open the coop door and see a very unhappy sight: both roosters are laying in awkward positions on the coop floor. My gut sinks because I’m almost positive they are dead dead dead. I start to tear up. Which is one of those unusual things that happens to me as a farmer: there I am crying over two roosters who I was on my way to kill. I walk over to the door that separates the sections of the coop and bend down to confirm my horrible suspicion.

And that’s when a whole horde of wasps slams into the side of my face. The impact and initial stings sends me reeling backwards and I manage to fling my glasses off my face in panic. Once I make it out of the coop (which was miraculous since it’s a 1.5 foot step down and I DIDN’T fall), I have to strip my shirt off because the wasps have made it down the neck and are attacking me from the inside.

So, now I’m SERIOUSLY crying, in pain and surprise and anger. My glasses are god knows where and I’m topless in the middle of a cow field at 9 o’clock in the morning. I stumble to the car and quickly head for my parents’ house a 1/2 mile away (still without glasses, a very dangerous proposition as I am severely nearsighted). I run into my mom’s kitchen a blubbering, splotchy, quickly swelling mess (still topless- thank god I put a bra on that morning or my brother would probably be traumatized). I tell her what happened and she shoves me in a cold shower and goes to get Benadryl.

There I am, crying in the shower, naked, while my mom spoon feeds me medicine. Which is kind of ridiculous, but thank god for her and the fact that we’re comfortable with each other, because I was just totally unable to take care of myself in that moment. These are the times when you really appreciate living next to your mother. She didn’t even point out how silly it was that I was crying over dead roosters that I was planning to kill anyway.

Once I’ve calmed down and we’re sure I’m not about to go into anaphylactic shock, Mom slavers me in watery cornstarch to draw out the pain and swelling. A grand total of 8 stings: one scarily close to my eye, one on my temple, one on my earlobe, three on my neck, one on my shoulder, and one heading uncomfortably close to my armpit.

My dad is dispatched to find my glasses and close the fences that I left open in my haste.  When he comes back he confirms that the roosters are in fact dead. They killed each other. Roosters are instinctively aggressive towards other roosters, but roosters that live together generally don’t become THAT dangerous to one another. They will fight for dominance and fight over hens, but it’s not usually a fight to the death for roosters that have been raised together. I knew they were aggressive, hence the death sentence, but they never really fought each other. I was shocked and horrified. I felt really bad. It made me a bit sick to my stomach to think about. It’s just so gruesome.

Dad also informed me that the wasps probably came from a nest that had been built up on the divider door. There are always little nests in the coop but I’ve never had a problem. The divider door is usually open so I guess I never noticed this bunch. Why they didn’t bother me when I was opening and closing the door the two previous days is a mystery. Maybe the battle royale had put them on edge.

We went down that night to deal with the bug problem. Olive oil and water in a spray bottle was our only weapon (I made Dad go in first). No chemicals because I don’t like them and I certainly didn’t want the chickens getting into them. The olive oil (or veggie oil or liquid soap) coats the wasps’ bodies and wings so they can’t fly or breathe well. The ones that don’t suffocate pretty quickly you just squash when they fall to the floor. The chickens had lots of olive oil dressed protein to choose from the next morning!

Grudgingly, I deposited the dead roosters in the woodlot for the coyotes to clean up. By that time I was mostly past the sadness and on to irritation. Those damn little roosters were so spiteful that they robbed me of a lovely coq au vin, even after all the money I spent feeding them for over a year. And I really hate feeding the coyotes.

I had planned (yes, promised) to post this last night, but, in usual fashion, my internet was down when I got home last night. One of the downfalls of living in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, it’s back today! [Addendum: In the middle of typing up this post, the internet went out again because of a big thunderstorm and won't be coming back until Monday at the earliest. I seriously can't catch a break. Posting from my sister's house.]

The Great Fence-capade

My father is gone for the month to our other farm on the opposite side of the state. My brother and I are picking up the slack while he’s away. First order of business was to find and “repair” the hole in the fence that the cows were getting out of. Easier said than done: there is about 2 miles of fence to check. So, out we go, brother and I, to check the fence and mark that item off our list.

RIGHT. Two days in and we’re in a bigger mess than we started with. Well, that’s not really true. It would be more fair to say that we just didn’t know the size of the mess to begin with.

Technically, my father runs the farm, but it’s never that simple. My grandfather (who is a practicing lawyer at nearly 80) is a bit of a busybody and likes to think he’s still in charge of everything. My uncle has been in politics for 10 years, but likes to be a weekend farmer. Myy brother is a jack-of-most-trades farm hand and I run my own little poultry business. It’s a bit crazy.

You’d think that will all these people “working” on the farm, things would get done in a timely manner and everything would be in tip-top shape. You’d be sadly mistaken. That saying “too many cooks in the kitchen” always springs to mind when I think about our situation. And it’s really true: it seems to take a committee to get a fence fixed.

That stupid fence has been patched together so much that it’s laughable. Too many MEN thinking “I’ll just fix this section right here with this bit of wire I have handy and then I’ll come back and fix it correctly later.” But later never comes.

There was one stretch of fence about 50 yards long that had at least 6 crimps in it (a crimp sleeve is used to connect 2 pieces of fence wire). And each of those crimps is a potential weak spot. Now, you can’t really build a seriously long fence without using crimps, but they should be used judiciously so that your fence stays nice and strong. When you use them to patch the fence over and over and over, you end up with a fence that snaps whenever an unruly cow decides to run into it, which is exactly what’s been happening here.

There was gate where someone had obviously cut the wire a bit too short. Instead of fixing it correctly, they had used two fence handles, connected together, to bridge the gap. Which was really not sufficient. There was one place where a tree had grown into the fence, basically grounding out the electric current.

When I see a problem I want to fix it correctly and attractively and right then. And the guys roll their eyes at me and groan and wander off to tinker with something else. But then they are back patching that same stupid fence a month later. If, instead, they would just fix the problem correctly instead of making it “good enough for now” then it’s taken care of and you don’t have to think about it again for a good long while.

So, what are we doing for the next few days? We’re fixing the fences correctly. And what does that entail? Just cutting down a few trees that are threatening to fall, restranding an entire section, putting in about 15 new posts, checking every fence insulator, fixing two gates that are broken, adding fence strainers to tighten existing wire, and buying a new fence energizer because the old one WASN’T EVEN WORKING.

I started thinking that all those problems were really generational, that my brother was a bit more like me in just wanting to fix what needs fixing. But, alas, he’s got a lot of man ideas too. He got all stroppy with me this afternoon because I asked him to cut down a thick sapling that had grown up through a gate. He argued with me for at least 15 minutes, saying that gate was never opened so we shouldn’t bother. He’s mostly right, the gate never does get opened, but that’s no reason to let a tree grow through it when you can cut it down in one minute with the chainsaw. Especially when you are standing right there with the chainsaw…

At the end of the work day today, we had a completely ridiculous argument about our fencing equipment, which was all in the bed of his truck. It went something like this:

Brother: Help me clean all this stuff out of my truck.

Me: But we’re going to need it all tomorrow morning.

Brother: But I don’t want my truck to be messy. I’m taking my fiance out tonight.

Me: Fine, whatever. [Helps him drag everything into the garage. He goes in to get a drink. I find a handy 5-gallon bucket and neatly arrange all our fencing odds and ends so they aren't just strewn about the truck tomorrow. I go to put it in the bed of his truck.]

Brother: [coming out of the house] What are you doing with that bucket?

Me: I arranged all our fencing stuff so we can just grab this bucket and have everything at our fingertips! It’s great. And now it won’t make your truck look messy. [huge grin, thinking I'm a genius.]

Brother: Brilliant. So now I’ve got to keep a bucket of junk in the truck.

Me: But it’s so handy…

Brother: Just leave it in the garage.

So off I go, muttering something like “Thanks Sis! That’s a great idea. It will make life so much easier. We’ll be fencing at great speeds because of your wonderful ingenuity.” And then I found out he was the one with the brilliant idea to hook the two fence handles together!

I don’t mean to make all the men in my family sound like lazy idiots. I know that they have a lot of things to do other than worry about one fence being perfect. They do lots and lots of things I can’t do, like fix the tractor. And I appreciate a fixed tractor, I really do. But there are things that I think I might be much better suited to than they are and fence management might just be one of those things.

Feminism and Simple Living

I recently came across the book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes. Hayes’ website describes the book as

a book that looks at men and women across the United States who have opted to focus their lives on home and hearth as a political and ecological act; who have chosen to center their lives around family and community not only for personal fulfillment, but as a way to bring about cultural change. It explores what domesticity can look like in an era that has benefited from feminism; where domination and oppression are cast aside, where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

Hayes asserts that radical homemakers

  • redefine wealth in terms of family, community, good food, pleasure, and health
  • reclaim skills lost in the increasing dependence on corporations for our livelihood, including nurturing relationships, setting realistic goals, redefining pleasure, and cultivating courage
  • rebuild society by engaging in civic, artistic, and entrepreneurial activities often in their communities4

Yes, please! I can’t wait to read it. But this post isn’t really about that book. It’s really about what a book like that means in today’s society.

I mentioned the book to some of the wonderful ladies (and gents) over at SufficientSelf.com, a forum that I am extremely pleased to be a part of. Naturally, they put on their thinking caps and went to town researching about the book and the concept. One of these ladies, who I would definitely categorize as a radical homemaker (check out her wonderful blog here), found the article “I’m a Radical Homemaker Failure” by Madeline Holler.

Missing the Point

Holler quit her job to stay home with her daughter.  The family took a significant income cut so that her husband could “fall back on his Ph.D. and start a career in academics, rather than continue earning piles of gold shoveling rocks for Satan.1” In her article, Holler talks about how “spending less instead of earning more nudged [her and her family] toward the Radical Homemakers movement.1” She writes

I hated being left behind. By then, our friends had settled into careers, started families, entered escrow. While they drove new hybrids all over town hunting down backsplashes for new Viking stoves, I was loading up on two-for-one gallons of milk or racing to the zoo before 9 a.m., where I had heard the parking lot attendant would wave me in for free.

In the drop-off line at preschool, tiny mothers climbed like mountain goats into SUVs the size of K2. Our lifestyle came off as quaint or quirky, and these moms sweetly waved down to me in our ’97 Nissan Altima, the difference in altitude fitting.1

I just couldn’t help but feel like this woman was completely missing the point. She and her husband obviously saw that making money wasn’t everything and that it certainly didn’t bring inherent happiness, yet she constantly yearned for the materialistic symbols that society has come to acquaint with success and therefore, however incorrectly, satisfaction. Dreaming of Viking stoves and SUVs? Would she really have found happiness in those things? Um, no. She would have found herself back at a job she obviously didn’t care about and her husband would have been forced to go back to “shoveling rocks for Satan.”

So, radical she is not.

Children: The Best Ally of Masculine Domination

Elisabeth Badinter

Holler references French feminist Elisabeth Badinter and her not-yet-translated book, Le Conflit: la femme et la mère (Conflict: The Woman and the Mother). Badinter has her sights set on what one reporter referred to as “the breastfeeding, pumpkin-peeling, earth motherhood ideologists who [Badinter] believes are a threat to women’s liberation.2” If Badinter is to be believed, children (and a naive desire to be a hands-on parent) have replaced men as the oppressor of women. “Eco-babble” has forced women back into the kitchen and laundry room to be slaves to the whims (not needs) of their children, while the menfolk are left to watch football and revel in their role as breadwinner and head of the family.

The “green” mother, she says, is pushed to give birth at home, to refuse an epidural as the reflection of “a degenerated industrial civilization” that would deprive her of “an irreplaceable experience,” to breast-feed for both ethological and environmental reasons (plastic baby bottles) and to use washable rather than disposable diapers — in other words, to discard the inventions “that have liberated women.3

Badinter argues that all this “back-to-nature” mumbo-jumbo is because women have been burdened with an intolerable guilt if they don’t fit the image of “the perfect mother.” This model of the perfect mother, which Badinter believes is purely contrived, includes breastfeeding, slaving away to make fresh food for baby, constantly washing cloth diapers, never being apart from the child, and giving up all “pleasures” including, but not limited to: a social life, the ability to drink wine and smoke, sex, and all other forms of personal expression and satisfaction.

In a previous book, she even claimed that the maternal instinct doesn’t even exist. She waxes poetic about Frenchwomen (the whole of whom she apparently speaks for) being mediocre mothers who happily birthed children and then farmed them out to nurses so they could continue their own personal lives. “The English tradition of sending children to boarding school from a young age,” she notes, “is like the 18th-century French tradition of sending them to nurses — a way of getting rid of them.2” She equates this with France’s higher birth rate among European countries: 2 children per French woman as compared to 1.3 children per German woman. The difference, according to Badinter, is that almost 100% of German mothers breastfeed, compared to just over half of their French counterparts.2 It’s interesting to note that a higher birth rate is a plus for Badinter.

A Soapbox Moment

So, what exactly am I on about here? Why am I even talking about feminism and child rearing and stove-envy? Well, because I think these women are dangerous examples of exactly what I don’t want to be.

Let’s take Madeline Holler first. She writes that

Not spending money is an incredible amount of work. I had considered — sometimes seriously — canning produce as a way to keep costs down… Just thinking about putting up a winter’s worth of green beans and apricot jam, though, made me want to take a nap.1

Yes, living the simple life takes work: if you want to eat, you’ve got to get out there and plant some seeds, keeping them alive, and harvest. And, if you plan on eating year round, you’ve got to “put some by,” which usually means canning or freezing. The last time I checked however, working at a “regular” job was work too… You’ve got to get up at a certain time and show up and do what’s asked of you and dress appropriately.

And you still have to feed your family and develop interpersonal relationships in your “off time.” Dinner doesn’t just arrive fully formed without any input from you whatsoever- even if all you do is make a phone call and throw the boxes away afterward. Those who work “full-time” are usually so exhausted from “working all day” to actually have quality leisure time. They spend it catching up on sleep, watching television, or doing work they brought home with them. Yeah, super easy and relaxing.

But when you raise and grow your own, every single moment of your day can be family time or personal time or relaxing time. Take a book when you feed the chickens and have a little mid-morning break. Gather with friends and family to process some turkeys and then have a party with great food. Get up early to beat the heat, then spend the hottest part of the day swimming in the watering hole. These “chores,” when done thoughtfully, become excuses to spend time with loved ones and to have a good time. They don’t have to be solitary drudgery.

It seems to me that it is exactly the type of feminism that Badinter subscribes to that has created these women who feel that their only worth can come from working outside the home and acquiring material objects. This feminist culture seeks to view women only as the accumulation of their business accomplishments, rather than embracing the whole image of a woman and her personal journey. A famous female chef is a feminist icon but a woman that cooks for her family is a slave?

As for Elisabeth Badinter… well, her notion of “feminism” is so completely distorted. She falls into that special category of women who think that they own the rights to the term and concept and that you must meet their criteria in order to have anything to say. Exactly what part of “freedom from oppression” did they not understand?

What Badinter fails to grasp is that there is a massive difference between choosing a life of domesticity and having that be the only option society has allowed you. It has always been the choosing that is the most important part. The suffragist movement was about giving women the right to choose to vote, not about forcing women to vote. The sexual revolution was about giving women the right to express their own sexual identities, not about forcing sexual liberation on them. Equality in the workplace was about removing the limitations on women, so that they could fulfill their own potential, not about forcing women into jobs.

And that is exactly what we are seeing in regards to women- smart, educated, free-thinking, and, yes, feminist women- returning to the home to make their lives. These women are choosing to take the power away from the forces that have come to control us, namely corporations. They are embracing the feminist ideology that the most powerful thing you can do, as a person (not just a woman) is to reclaim the power to control your own life.

In her article “Food, Farming … Feminism? Why Going Organic Makes Good Sense,” Elaine Lipson writes

No matter how we rebalance gender roles, women’s lives and health — and those of their families — are intricately connected to how food is produced. But putting food and feminism in the same sentence can make one wary. Wasn’t that part of the whole liberation plan — to make women less responsible for food? And what’s gender got to do with food choices and food production methods?

To [answer] the second question, I’d say, “Plenty.” Every feminist, woman or man, who embraces equality and diversity and opposes violence and domination, should recognize that the foods we eat, and how they’re grown, matter to our environment and to our lives.5

Here’s the thing: women have always been a part of agriculture. But their roles have been ignored and downplayed. Food is one of the MOST IMPORTANT aspects of life and it has traditionally been controlled by men (and now corporations, which are also often controlled by men). All those women who have embraced the “eco-babble” have also pitted themselves against the domination of a basic right- namely, clean, healthy food. They are marching against the overwhelming drum beat of the food monopolies.

And yet, they aren’t content to simply secure their own bit of earth. By refusing to buy into the modern mentality that we must look outside our homes for the fulfillment of basic needs, these women are breaking the iron grip of industry. Those cloth diapers aren’t just saving trees, they are keeping thousands of dollars out of the hands of rich capitalists with their own personal agendas to keep people dependent on “the system”- money that can be spent closer to home. Supporting local, organic foods isn’t just about getting your family fed, it’s about insisting on ethical, safe environments for workers (who have been notoriously crushed in the wheels of the Big Ag machine). Buying a pig to raise in the backyard means supporting a local farming family- a family who might now be able to send their children to college.

I would argue that Badinter’s views on child rearing and family is more of an “ally of masculine dominance” than any woman who chooses to make her life at home. The question that lingers in my mind is “What is the point?” If a person is determined to be unfettered by the burden of raising a child, why have children at all? Could it have been that having a child was what you did because you were “supposed to”? That sounds very much like something other than a woman’s freedom of choice to me. While Badinter looks down her nose at those breastfeeding German mothers who are driving down the birth rate with their new-age touchy-feeliness, it is exactly those German women who seem to have the better grasp on the situation: while almost 100% of German mothers breastfeed, a quarter of German women are choosing not to have children at all, more than twice the number in France.2

The very same “farming out” of children that Badinter has romanticized was not a tool to set women free, it was a way to distance mothers from their children- children that could have taken their focus away from their primary role as attendant to their husband and attentive hostess to guests. Lactating women weren’t supposed to have sex, a situation their husbands must have disliked. Breastfeeding also suppresses ovulation.

Records show that wealthy women customarily gave birth annually while working-class women gave birth at considerably longer intervals, about every three years… In preindustrial England, it was not uncommon for wealthy women to have as many as eighteen children during the first twenty years of their marriages. The near-constant pregnancy experienced by these women was quite debilitating, certainly more incapacitating than breast-feeding would have been. Poor women had far fewer children and were apparently the healthier for it.6

We’re looking at a period where producing heirs was extremely important in carrying on lineages, so a breastfeeding wife, unable to conceive another child for a duration of possibly years, was not a benefit to her husband.

And it, as well as Madeline Holler’s preoccupation with shopping, refuse to take into account the lives of women outside their own financial bracket. Badinter resides in an “imperiously large flat overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens in central Paris,” owns a 10% stake in Publicis, the world’s fourth-biggest advertising agency, and is the wife of a celebrated Justice Minister.2 So, she was born into the financial stability to pursue her womanly freedom, away from the needs of her children. And Madeline Holler’s nightmare is when “[finding] a new shirt to meet up with an editor turned into a soul-crushing ordeal, since [she] shopped nowhere but Target and Old Navy.1” What of the women for whom Target and Old Navy are a luxury? And if children are forcing women back into the stone-ages of feminine emancipation, are the women who are being forced to raise farmed-out babies just collateral damage? This brand of feminism smacks heavily of elitism to me.

A Conclusion: but surely not the only one

So, what is the real answer? This post could go on forever, so perhaps a list is the easiest way.

  1. Simple living is not equal to male dominance. To assume so is to ignore that women have the right to choose their lifestyle and that men and women CAN be partners in a home.
  2. Homemade baby food doesn’t need to be an extra step in one’s life: many mother’s prepare their child’s meals as a part of their own. How hard is it to mash some peas that you’ve already made for yourself?
  3. Birthing at home or without the use of drugs is a decision that women make for various reasons. One of those reasons is because they trust themselves and their bodies to do something that the medical community (remember that it was dominated by MEN) has tried to tell them they aren’t strong enough to bear. They are.
  4. The decision to center one’s live around the home is not necessarily a return to male domination, but rather a reclamation of all the things that really make life good: freedom from (employment) oppression; access to clean, healthy, ETHICAL food; the right to parent as one sees fit; the chance to work together with one’s partner to accomplish good works.
  5. Men can wash cloth diapers as easily as women.

In short, you won’t find me slaving away at a day job to make money (most of it for someone else) while waiting for some corporation to deliver my food to the grocery store and hoping that the baby formula isn’t contaminated with lead.

You’ll find me drowning in tomatoes instead of drowning in work deadlines.

You’ll find me getting up to the sound of a hungry goose instead of the sound of the alarm clock and work bell.

You’ll find me sweating over the oven, making the best bread, instead of sweating over the credit card payments.

And one day, hopefully not so far away, you’ll find a beautiful, happy child, sucking some good old-fashioned mother’s milk from me instead of the modern world sucking the life out of me.

I won’t be a pawn in anyone’s game, especially some self-righteous woman-bashing “feminist.” So, if Badinter and her cronies don’t think I’m a feminist, then maybe I’m ok with that. Maybe me and all those Radical Homemakers are something more. I, for one, like making Mrs. Badinter squirm.

1: “I’m a Radical Homemaker Failure” by Madeline Holler for Salon.com
2: “Is motherhood a form of oppression? Thanks to breastfeeding, organic purees and eco nappies, the baby has become a tyrant, says a bestselling book in France” by Adam Sage for The Times Online
3: “In Defense of the Imperfect Mother” by Steven Erlanger and Maïa de la Baume for The New York Times
4: “Radical Homemaking: A revolution in progress? Are radical homemakers fronting a revolution against corporate America?” by Kimerer LaMothe for PsychologyToday.com
5: “Food, Farming … Feminism? Why Going Organic Makes Good Sense” by Elaine Lipson for Ms. Magazine
6. Wet-nursing on FAQS.com