October 2008

Melissa Lion

Culinaria Bookslut

The Gentle Art of Balancing Blogging with Reality

In my dream life, I have enough time to sit in front of a fire and knit and my husband reads his book with his feet up on our ottoman and our precocious tow-headed child recites his French lessons with a perfect accent. We’ve just eaten a meal prepared from our vast garden and had wine from our cellar and my wellies are muddy from cutting flowers. And it’s raining and cold. And the tea I’m drinking won’t keep me up all night.

First I’m going to need a fireplace and the energy to turn my lawn into a garden and, of course, time and money. And then I’ll have Jane Brocket’s life. Well, my idea of her life. Brocket is the author of the blog Yarnstorm, a mythical romp through the life of a woman where time and money appear to be extremely abundant and a surprising use of color (or colour – she’s British), sweets and quilts are the most pressing matters.

Of course, this is the problem with blogs. I know very well that Brocket’s life has its down moments, though I’m not sure what they are. And because of the idyllic, rhapsodic quality of her blog, I am totally and thoroughly addicted to it. I believe if I just paint a wall mint-green, suddenly dahlias will spring forth and sewing will become a pleasure instead of a hair-tearing, relationship-ending experience. Sometimes it works.

(Here’s a secret, two springs ago, Brocket posted a picture of her tulips blooming in a narrow stretch of yard. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.  I decided I needed a yard, with a narrow side area to plant tulips in. I then bought a house and moved my whole family to Portland where I planted tulips in my clay soil and watched as they, despite the odds, stretched up, blooming red, pink, and yellow.)

Because this is 2008 and the way to get a book contract is through Wordpress (or Blogger or Typepad), Ms. Brocket has released her blog in book form and called it, The Gentle Art of Domesticity. The book, like her blog, is tantalizing. She covers crafts and cooking as well as simply making a beautiful home.

The recipes are very British -- scones and both rock and fairy buns. I made the Queen of Hearts jam tarts without the hearts and I used jam I made myself from the neighbor’s blackberries. They were a lovely treat on this first fall afternoon.

(I probably would have never learned to make jam, if it hadn’t been for blogs like Yarnstorm that celebrate the handmade. There was something deeply satisfying about picking the berries, making the jam and presenting my neighbors with a jar.)

The book itself is, at turns, annoyingly self-referential and inspiring. The recipes for sweets are about it in terms of instruction on homemaking. She has several great knitted objects (hello, pineapple tea cozy) without patterns, and her quilts are just amazing, but again, there are no instructions.

Instead, the book is full of essays on why the domestic arts are so important to Brocket and her family. She has some movie recommendations for rainy days and her book picks are flawless. She turned me on to Elizabeth Taylor, now one of my favorite novelists.

I am as on the fence about the book as I am about her blog. There are moments when I want to step through its pages and walk a mile in her bright red Birkies and other moments when I look around at my house with its unfinished wood floors and missing floorboards and feel very unhappy that here in the financial world of a freelance writer, I don’t have the luxury of whiling away my hours considering the benefits of pale blue quilt squares against a cherry red background as my hubby brings home the bacon. It just doesn’t happen.

But, I believe Brockett’s point is there are simple things we can do in our homes to create a bit of beauty. Maybe it’s baking some cookies or putting some blood oranges in a pretty bowl. Or, just organizing our books by color instead of author. Something, seemingly frivolous, but still pleasing.

I do have moments of thinking it’s ridiculous. A book about the domestic arts when there are far more important things to worry about. But we can’t all worry all the time. Sometimes we need a little space, a little peace, and for many a vase of homegrown tulips is just the peace we need.