There’s Something About Martha

About twice a year, I indulge in a little secret and guilty pleasure. I buy a Martha Stewart Living magazine. That means twice a year I actually have the desire to own an ice cream machine and make my own stationary. I grew up dreaming of the days when I would host dinner parties with my matching Royal Dalton fine-bone china. The courses would be numerous, the crystal would be Waterford, and the pearls would be better than June’s. I really, really liked the idea of hosting parties. I do not know now if it is something that came with the focus my family and religion put on my being a wife and mother–but I REALLY got into the “hostess” aspect of my expected future–everything else seemed a little too daunting to wrap my brain around (like the actual marriage and motherhood parts).

When I read Martha Stewart, I get carried away to a land of what might have been—still could be. I dream of a place where children are well-behaved and have perfectly curly hair–and they run through fields of daisies with you, hold your hand, and then tell you all their secrets. I dream of a place where my husband (one of which I do not have) would wear a salmon colored tie on Easter because it went with my dress and he likes to match. I dream of the ideals of what I grew up wanting. I’ve never been able to actually face the realities. Perhaps that is why Martha’s monthly publication still holds power over me. It represents something I could never fully embrace, even though I was taught to, even though part of me wants to, even though it sounds more than divine.

Why, in this issue alone I had all of the following thoughts:

1. I want to weave my own picnic mat and then learn how to tie it together with beautiful twine—take it to the beach and eat freshly made custard, berry tarts with little sprigs of mint on them.

2. I want to create a pattern for my very own utensil holders for each place sitting. I will make them out of cute plaid material made of out woven hemp (durable for years to come!).

3. I would like a butterfly stencil. I will use this to cut out various colors of butterflies and attach them to a white table cloth to create a harmonious look for my summer party. There will be butterfly shaped place cards with names written in my perfect calligraphy. I will even make butterfly shaped ice cubes to put in the Wonderful Watermelon coolers I will have juiced myself that afternoon.

4. I will have a lazy afternoon brunch that consists of chive omelets with chanterelles, cornmeal-fried trout (I caught myself), tomato-sorrel-basil panzanella, and fried squash blossoms. Note to self—what is a chanterelle?

5. I will get good at croquet. I will. I promise–in a sundress, with a headband, and a perfect tan.

6. I will grow and pick currants and raspberries and make them into jams and chutneys.

7. I will make fresh lemonade daily.

8. I will learn how to fertilize my peonies…I will first learn how to grow peonies.

9. I really want to tidy up my non-existent potting shed by “sprucing” up the paint and shelving.

10. I really want my sheets to match my nightgown (which is diaphanous).

And while it is hard to write these things without sounding like I’m mocking them (and her)—part of me still wants this life. Part  of me wants to take out my china that was only ever used once and is now packed away in my sister’s basement (along with that crystal I got in Ireland). Part of me wants to make homemade sorbet instead of buying it from my Portuguese friend down on the beach. Part of me wants to make scalloped edged, delicate notes in dreamy handwriting instead of sending e-cards. Part of me wants those perfectly coiffed children and husband in a pink tie. And part of me wonders if it will only ever come true (and rightly so, as I am so perfectly content in life right now that I can’t imagine having the energy for the ten things listed above, let alone babies and husbands) in my daydreams. I’m sort of ok with that. Actually, I’m MORE than ok with that.

*(note to readers—this post was written at two in the morning after I slaved away on a post about the limits of faith—but then I got to thinking– I sort of  just want ONE post on here where I can’t be equated with the anti-Christ. So, enjoy. I’ll save the other for next month. Until then, indulge in something guilty today.)


I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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17 Responses

  1. z says:

    You should read the Caitlin Flanagan article about Martha Stewart that was in the Atlantic Monthly a while back. Normally I can’t stand Caitlin Flanagan, I have a real problem with a lot of her articles and think she’s crazy and kind of a parasite on feminism, but her review of that horrible biography of Martha Stewart is just so perfect and hilarious.

  2. Stella says:

    i shall! Thank you z!

  3. z says:

    I forgot the point of my comment– that in the article, the fantasy isn’t quite really doing project or having the pretty thing, but of having free time for such things and being left alone and not constantly pestered by all and sundry.

  4. Craig says:

    Well you are the anti-Christ. Which is why I like you.

    Don’t worry, I’m way more the anti-Christ. (There’s lots of us).

    And I bloody well LOVE Martha Stewart, even though the commie in me recoils at her commercialism and posessionism. It was one of the best days when she started following me on twitter.

  5. Mommie Dearest says:

    I was so appalled by the ill treatment of Martha Stewart when she quit pursuing her court case and took her lumps in country-club jail. People had such terrible mean fun mocking her career because it was *only* homemaking, and it’s always open season on that. Except that she’s built this billion-dollar business based on HOMEMAKING, fer cryin out loud…so in solidarity, I signed up for a subscription to her magazine, and I’ve been addicted ever since. I have piles of them stashed away in my house, because they’re too pretty to toss out, and besides, the recipes actually work, except you have to have creme fraiche on hand and all.

    So every month when the new one comes, I stop for a moment and browse through it and drool over the photos, the layouts, the food, the outrageous crafts, the impossibly inefficient household tips, and then put it on top of the special MSL pile with the most recent issues, and think I really need to donate them to the hospital or something. Because the people there really could use some fodder for their fantasies.

  6. James says:

    Hey, lay off the home made ice cream makers! I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are true with every fiber of my being.

    Seriously – Cuisinart 2 quart. Exceptionally low degree of difficulty (none of the salt, hassle etc). Exceptionally high level of payoff.

    Think of it as the “Mormon Microbrewer.” 🙂

  7. Two of Three says:

    Fun post, Stella. Also looking forward to your others.

    My aunt gave me a sign that hangs in my kitchen. It says “Martha doesn’t live here. It’s a good thing.” I like to look at it when I get stressed out about the house. Perfection stresses me out. I saw a segment of her tv show where she uses a label maker to label the correct places for the contents of her linen closet. It is a good day for me if I can get the sheets and towels washed and jammed into my too-small closet. Martha has her expertly arranged organically grown flower bouquets. I like my dandilions in a jam jar. Martha has her bacon filled Quiche Lorraine. I dream of a quiet bowl of cereal before the house stirs to life in the morning. I’m glad there is the Entity That Is Martha for those who like those lovely things that she creates. As for me, I will take a scoop of store brand mint chocolate chip, an out of date issue of National Geographic and there will be peace in my world. It’s a good thing!

  8. mb says:

    This post made me smile. Thanks.

    Martha Stewart is single and her child is grown. She employs domestic help and gardeners and expert photographers. Add to that an education in art and architecture and an earlier profession as a stockbroker and years of business experience as well as some well-developed personal talents and you get a prescription for the ability to make things look really, really good and peaceful.

    I think many of us are attracted to cleanliness, order and creativity as well as the implication of having the time to be creative that her work exudes. All of those are worthy elements of a life well lived And it’s fine if you want to yearn after those elements of lifestyle.

    I don’t have domestic help and I am not single nor do I have a sense of color or style or a gift for hostessing or creating a lovely arrangement. And I do not wish for a paid staff. That last one makes life too complicated. I do like looking at the photos that publications like Martha’s display and I also know that there is no way in the world my life or the lives of anyone I know will ever be like the fantasy one in those photos. That said, I have learned that my life can be a down to earth variation on the theme of cleanliness, order and creativity. But “down to earth” is the key operative here.

    What Martha Stewart does is showcase order, cleanliness and creativity in an exquisitely produced way that requires total dedication and a paid staff. Seeing what she produces can remind me of those three elements. Reminders help me remember to create small pockets of those things amidst the chaos of everyday life and then stop and personally celebrate and appreciate them

    Cleaning off the dining room table counts. So do my haphazardly planted poppies in the front yard, bravely fighting off the latest drought (their survival rate has not been very good, but some will make it) as well as whatever view I encounter when I next get a chance to go to a beach. And Two of Three’s comment reminds me that store brand mint chip ice cream really is deliciously smooth and aesthetically pleasing in it’s own right if you stop to consider it.

    I generally don’t see much of Martha’s work beyond what I might catch glimpses of standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. But what she produces indirectly makes my life more enjoyable not because I am able to do the things she portrays, but rather because she emphasises a few principles that I need to stop and recognize in my own, unretouched life now and then.

  9. Stella,

    I hope your dreams of Martha Stewart Living come true in the celestial kingdom.

  10. ZD Eve says:

    People had such terrible mean fun mocking her career because it was *only* homemaking, and it’s always open season on that. Except that she’s built this billion-dollar business based on HOMEMAKING, fer cryin out loud…

    I don’t have strong feelings about Martha Stewart one way or the other, probably because she’s not my particular fantasy. But I don’t think I’d classify what she does as homemaking. I think it bears approximately the same relationship to actual homemaking that a romance novel does to the labor involved in cultivating and sustaining a marriage for 25–or 50–years.

  11. mb says:

    ZD, I like that analogy. Excellent.

  12. Mommie Dearest says:

    I used the term (homemaking) rather broadly, to define her work, and I concede it’s not the Mormon, or even the Relief Society definition. When Martha talks broadly about all her work, she uses the term “homekeeping.”
    I am not championing her way of running a household at all, just giving her a measure of respect for her success in the industry of selling home-keeping to American women.

  13. Moriah Jovan says:

    *raises hand*

    I take Martha Stewart Living. I drool over the eye candy. I’m a sucker for the fantasy.

    I also see hundreds–thousands–of man hours.

    And then I just want a staff.

  14. annegb says:

    Once on The View, the ladies were talking about who they’d marry if they had to marry a woman. And I gave it some thought and decided I’d marry Martha Stewart because she could cook and clean and decorate and she’d be so busy I could do whatever I wanted. Then I realized I’m practically married to her anyway because Bill is a female Martha Stewart.

  15. Stella says:

    Thank you all for your replies and for indulging my guilty pleasure. It is interesting to look at someone so iconic in the homemaking industry in our world. I guess someone needs to make a living from it–and she truly does.

  16. EmilyCC says:

    Oh, Stella! I could have written this post! Every once in a while I try to do a Martha project that turns out awful (I hung my Halloween wreath one year, took it out of the box the next year, and threw it away in embarrassment). That’s when I realize my fantasy Martha world should stay safely in my head.

  17. Gwen O. says:

    My brother-in-law calls Martha Stewart magazine pornography for the housewife! I’ve always loved that.

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