Archive for the ‘housework’ Category

Grateful To Be Around The Table

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Off to run to the store this morning to pick up a few items I still need in preparing my Thanksgiving dinner. It’ll be an all night cooking marathon here at my house beginning today.  We usually drive down to Atlanta to visit family. But we’re staying put this year and setting our own table.

I must say that I’ve come a long way since the first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted almost twenty years ago. It was my first sit down dinner party. I had spent days preparing. When my guests walked into my dining room I mistook their wide-eyed expression for awe at my beautiful blue and white table scape.  I know better now. The table was a stunning blue and white decor. Flowers. Candles. Name cards. And… paper plates, paper napkins, and paper flatware.  I don’t think I was dumb enough to put out paper cups too. But I can’t be sure. I cringe when I remember that first dinner party. Paperware at a formal dinner party seemed like a good idea at the time.

I repeat: I’ve come a long way since that first Thanksgiving dinner I hosted almost twenty years ago.

No more paperware.

Most of all, no more anxiety over things that don’t really matter.

This Thanksgiving I’m just grateful for family, friends, food, good health, and faith in God to see us all through these difficult economic times. With so many people out of jobs this holiday season and leaner times forecasted for the future we should focus on the things that matter most.

God is great and God is good
And we thank Him for our food
By His hand must all be fed
Give us Lord our daily bread

The Martha in me urges me to try my hand this Thanksgiving at making an apple pie complete with a homemade pie crust (thanks to Paula Deen). I’ve put in an order for two cakes to be dropped off here at the house tomorrow, just in case the pie flops. LOL

One thing is for sure: even if the food is horrible my table will be beautiful. I’ve become a sucker for a beautiful table scape.

Hmmm….while I’m out buying more some chicken stock and bay leaves maybe I’ll drop by Pottery Barn for little something extra to go on my table.

Theology and A Cast Iron Skillet

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

I ain’t ashamed. Well, maybe just a little bit.

Some of my best recipes come from the Internet. (Motherless women have to learn how to cook the best way they can.)

I’m always on the Food Network website scouring for recipes. And two weeks ago when I just couldn’t justify shelling out any more money for Thai take out, I went online and taught myself, thanks to a few helpful videos, how to cook a couple of Thai dishes. Don’t even ask. Although the Thai fried rice was the bomb, the basil chicken tasted like grass and rubber sticks.

The point is that this reverend-scholar-feminist/womanist- blogger/writer is cooking a lot more these days. I’m no Bea Smith mind you, but I’m getting the hang of it. internet fookLike Mae who left a comment the other day here on the blog confessing to a love for well-stocked kitchens even though she rarely cooks, I salivate when my seasonal cataloges from Williams-Sonoma arrive in the mail even though I don’t need 93.5% of the stuff in those cataloges. Certainly not to cook the four dishes I cook often and cook well: spaghetti, paella, collards, gumbo, smothered pork chops, and now Thai fried rice.

You’re right if you’re saying to yourself, “Gosh, Renita writes a lot about cooking on a blog otherwise devoted to the loftier topics of gender, religion, and popular culture.” The skyrocketing cost of food is one reason cooking is on my mind. But it is probably also due to the fact that as you age, nesting takes on more and more importance. You’re done with conquering the world. Watching the squirrels play from your kitchen window as you eat a bowl of cereal transforms into a moment of theological awakening when you get to be my age.

Mark my words: this economy is gonna have us all returning to the kitchen before it’s all over. What I need is to do as someone who writes a lot about women is to come up with a spirituality of cooking so it doesn’t appear as though I’m reinscribing old roles for women when I write about cooking and domesticity.

In the meantime, my goal this weekend is to master the high art of cooking fried chicken. That’s right: I’m fried chicken challenged. A real idiot savant in that area. Mine always turns out burnt on the outside and undone on the inside.

It helps to have a well seasoned cast iron skillet, I’m told. (Something I ‘d forgotten because I’m motherless, remember? Toss the stainless steel pan.) I bought a new cast iron skillet a few weeks back. From one of those fancy gourmet cooking stores.

Every woman needs a cast iron skillet. A well seasoned cast iron skillet. Whether she cooks or not. Besides being great for frying chicken and baking cornbread, it makes a great weapon. My mother showed me that trick years ago when my father came in the kitchen barking out orders and breathing threats down her neck. Wham! I must say that my mother’s fried chicken was the best it had ever been that night.

Yep. This economy is gonna teach us a lot of things. About eminent domain. About everyday epiphanies. About why women for centuries have sworn by their cast iron skillets.

The Ministry of Martha

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

I had a decision to make this morning. Write or clean my house.

I dreaded staring at a blank computer screen.

But I also dreaded the thought of stripping beds, folding and putting away my daughter’s clothes, emptying trash baskets, hanging up my husband’s suits from Sunday, watering plants, cleaning off my desk, opening mail, shelving books, thawing chicken and deciding on a way to serve it for dinner, and unpacking my luggage from this weekend’s trip and sorting through my closet for something fresh and clean to pack for this weekend’s speaking trip.

I had to decide. So I decided to write about housework. Afterwards I will do some housework.

I earn enough to hire someone to clean and indeed have a woman who comes in every other week to help with the cleaning, so why in the world would I spend my time on house work when it can be put off on someone else?

First things first: I can’t work in clutter. Some people can, but I’m not one of them. I clean so I can write.  Sure, sometimes I clean the house to put off writing.  But sometimes cleaning reminds me, in ways that writing and being a minister do not, of the holiness of caregiving.

Of the many things she failed at as a mother, my mother who was a country girl took pride in the fact that she kept a clean house. She insisted that her two daughters learn to do the same. My younger sister was better at my mother’s craft than I was. I preferred books over a mop. But my mother didn’t care. I had to learn how to clean (even though I never mastered cooking).  Keeping a clean house (along with being a great cook) was the way my mother who was otherwise shy and not very affectionate communicated her love to her family. “Never eat from the table of a woman with a dirty house,” she admonished us.


Education was supposed to free women from being relegated to domestic work. And talking here about reclaiming housework as sacred work feels somewhat anti-feminist and counterrevolutionary to me. But the daily obligations of having to clean up behind ourselves and those we care about serve as reminders to us of our inherent messiness and ability to wreak chaos around us.  It’s thankless, repetitive work that constantly comes undone and must be redone, and hardly any of us do housecleaning without doing our share of mumbling and grumbling.  Menial labor is how those who scoff at and underestimate its importance categorize it in the workplace. It’s the unpaid labor of generations of women in the home which patriarchy dubs “labor of love.” It’s a shame women have been expected to juggle the obligations of family and work with as little help as they’ve gotten from those around them.

For a long time picking up after and caring for others have been construed as intellectual and spiritual impediments that squander our potential and ties us down. But what if by relegating caregiving to women men have missed out on an important venue through which God speaks and teaches us compassion? Afterall, it’s nearly impossible to stay up all night caring for a sick child and return to your office the next day and sign the papers to bomb villages in a distant land, or sign the order to lay off ten thousand workers, or vote not to provide health insurance for poor children.  The dailiness of caring for others teaches you something about patience, compassion, attentiveness, and the grace of obligation.  Or, at least it should.

Years ago I was condescending toward Martha and her complaints in Luke 10 about being stuck with all the cooking preparations when I wrote about her in my first book Just A Sister Away. Like every other modern woman I saw Martha as a domestic shrew and preferred Mary’s choice of chucking cleaning and cooking for the chance to luxuriate at dinner in Jesus’ heady teachings. I’m still a mystic at heart and prefer reading and thinking over hauling water and slaving over a hot stove. But there are days when standing over yet another chicken laying legs up on my kitchen counter and pondering what new way I can prepare it to make my family notice and appreciate my efforts that I understand just how Martha felt. Taking care of others means risking having the little things you do for them taken for granted.

We need a theology that elevates housecleaning and caregiving as spiritually on par with  studying the bible and sermonizing.

The obligations that come with taking care of a family and serving others is holy work. And the scores of daily, barely noticed rituals women do without compensation to make the lives of those they love comfortable deserves to be honored. When that work ceases, we notice and finally understand what it means not just to be loved, but to have been cared for.