21 May 2010

The 50s Housewife Goes Outside

As the title says, I ventured outdoors yesterday. Yes, I went three full days without sunlight and fresh air as the prison daily schedule of 50s housewife chores kept me so busy that I couldn't leave. Oh, Vitamin D, how I missed you.

My planned stops included:

  • The Bank
  • The Drug Store
  • The Department Store (looking for ramekins for an upcoming dessert)
  • The Library (to pick up Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, a book about veganism that I've been in line to get for some months. So not the sort of thing I want to read while "living" in an era that espoused the virtues of milk, gelatin and organ meat)
  • The Video Store (returning something from the pre-50s experiment days)
  • The Liquor Store (you can never have too much booze!)
  • The Market (for fresh produce, meat)
  • The Grocery Store (for canned and packaged "food")
With my list and many coupons in hand I was ready to go, but not without taking some extra time to look "properly and pridefully Mrs." Now, I realize that I mentioned that I would not be wearing 50s era clothing as I didn't really have any, but for this outing, I decided to make one self-hating exception: the undergarments.

In the 70s, women were told not to leave home without their American Express Card. Up until the 60s, women were not to leave home without their foundation pieces. So, on went a rather structured longline bra, a girdle (just me, or is that word gross?) and nylons, held up with garters. Yes, I am ridiculous.

In the ads of the time, these pieces are described as "hugging" the body and curves. It feels about as much like a hug as I imagine a straightjacket would. No, binding is really a better word. Or suffocating, if you prefer. While I won't deny suddenly having a super-defined waist was pretty cool, it came at the cost of breathing and graceful movement.

So all that, along with a dress, heels, full make-up and hair trotted out into 30 degree weather.

First stop was the bank to pull out some cash. No, not at the ATM: In line, with all the elderly people who were doing the same thing. For some reason, I expected some kind of double-take or a "Ma'am, that's what the machines are for" but I received nothing of the sort. I guess they're used to that and are possibly even appreciative to serve someone who is there with her bank card and ID in hand who knows exactly what she'd like to get. My behaviour was a touch different than the 80-year old man in front of me in line, who fumbled with his cheque book, didn't understand what kind of identification he needed to provide and after a lengthy conversation about how much he disliked service fees, eventually withdrew $24.85 from his account - not without mentioning that he'd probably be back tomorrow to take care of something else. Newly added on the people-I-feel-sorry-for list: bank tellers.

The rest of my errands were relatively uneventful, except for the fact that I was really feeling the curse beneath my dress. Breaking in a girdle while walking around in the hot sun and carrying many objects is not the best of ideas - something I'm sure you all already knew. To put it mildly, I was sweating like a pig and losing circulation throughout my body. My beet red face and Frankenstein-like shuffling was the furthest thing from looking proper or prideful and I have a feeling I made it onto other peoples' people-I-feel-sorry-for-list.

The saddest thing was that I actually had to stop home partway through to drop stuff off as I couldn't carry everything. Oh how I was tempted to not go back out. But, no, I just had a glass of water, refreshed my make-up (which involved cleaning the mascara off my CHIN), took a deep breath and carried on.

That resolve made my return that much more heavenly as I felt I had really earned the right to immediately rip everything off the instant the door shut behind me. Off went the heels, the nylons, the dress - and finally the girdle and bra. As I unfastened each hook, parts of my body exploded out, in a way baking bread would, provided it contained live yeast.

If you're keeping score at home, that makes two times now since the 50s Housewife Experiment began that I've wandered around my home sweaty, defeated and nude in the middle of the afternoon. I wonder how that compares to the real wives of the time?

I then had a shower - and yes I washed my hair and it was GLORIOUS - and changed into what is generously referred to as "Jen's MuuMuu" - a dress of mine that makes the Snuggie look formal.

Patrick had a soccer game after work and hoped to have a beer with his teammates immediately after that, so I was off the hook to get dinner ready right away. That gave me time to do some much needed research. You see, last night's planned protein was liver. I knew that if Patrick was going to freak over anything, it would be that. It was the one time that 50s cover-and-smother cooking techniques would come in handy; to my total dismay, liver was apparently the one meat housewives treated with reverence and respect. Every recipe I found allowed the flavour of the liver to shine through, untainted by Campbell's Cream of Crap. This was not good.

Finally, I found a section in one of my household guides that discussed cooking for children, and in it, it referred to ways to make liver more acceptable to young eaters. There were three suggestions and I used them all: Soak the liver in milk for at least one hour; Flour the liver; and cook some bacon, reserve the bacon, and cook the liver in the bacon fat - tossing the cooked bacon in with onions when nearly done.

Along with the liver I made "Sweet-Potato Volcanoes" (why they put the hyphen in there, I'll never know). The illustration of this dish from Good Housekeeping's 1958 "Book of Vegetables" caught my eye because it looked totally bizarre and because the children seemed so wowed by it. Whatever floats your boat, kids. I also took a picture of it before it went into the oven as I figured correctly that the cooked marshmallows would likely not stay in place and would in fact make the dish look revolting. Each of those mounds in the that "after" picture makes me think of every over-simplified film on evolution where some wretched sea creature claws its way onto the beach so that it could sprout legs.

When Patrick got home, dinner was ready. When he asked what was being served, I said "beef" - WHICH IS NOT A LIE. Then I waited and watched.

"Mmm! This is good!" he said between bites. I nearly fell on my ass.

Maybe it's because I knew it was liver, but to me, it was not good. It was livery liver liverstein, a meat I've probably only suffered through three times in my life (besides pate) for good reason.

"Well, that's great. I was worried," I said.

"Why? I love beef. Mmm ... beef," he said.

"It's a different, um, cut than we usually get," I continued.

"Like what?" he asked.

"It's liver," I fessed up.

"Oh. It's still beef though, right?"

"Yes. Well, it does come from a cow," I said.

I was also pleasantly surprised when he didn't complain about the sweet potato things - as they contained pineapple (another thing he hates). I never mentioned that fact though, and he'll only find out that when / if he reads this.

Dessert was jello (you knew that would be making an appearance sooner than later, right?) - a "quickie" recipe called Grape Cooler that involved grape and lime jello and some fresh grapes which promised to be a "pretty-picture dessert." The jello really did not like those grapes being in there because the mold didn't entirely set, as you can see (that's what I'm presuming. Jello can't go bad, can it?):

How appetizing. It looks like I gutted a jellyfish that had been eating olives.

The rest of the evening was spent watching the remainder of the Habs game with a very happy husband - happy for their win and to have cold beer in the fridge (because I'm wonderful that way).

It's now Friday before the long weekend so I have a bit of planning (and cleaning, of course) to do. Off I go!

Image Source: Food of the Fifties


Lemur 9:34 am, May 21, 2010  

Jen, I am dying laughing reading this, and loving this series of blog posts. Hilarious. - Sarah

psychsarah,  11:09 am, May 21, 2010  

The previous Sarah said exactly what I was going to say... I'm laughing out loud at work reading about gutted jellyfish and olives. Keep these posts coming, they are providing much needed entertainment!!

Jen 7:09 pm, May 21, 2010  

I'm surprised about your husband's reaction to the liver too! Wow, good for him. As for the sweet-potato volcanos... LOL... I can't stop laughing at the ridiculousness of them! And you put pineapple in them?!?! Strange...

I had no idea the 50's were so.... off. They always make it look so idyllic on TV...

I was wondering if you were going to don the corset look... ouch!

dinah34 11:51 pm, May 21, 2010  

do any of your books address housewife nudity--specifically housewife nudity in the middle of the day while your husband is at work?

Jen 2:07 pm, May 22, 2010  

Thanks, Sarahs!

Jen: I also don't get why they'd put pineapple in those sweet potatoes. The recipes often feature a lot of random "fillers" - so bizarre.

Dinah: No mentioning of the unmentionable in these books from what I can tell!

Susan J Barker 9:15 am, June 01, 2010  

I know I am posting late to your blog, but I thought I would mention, that in the '50's, few women actually knew how to drive -- all those errands would either be done via bus or by waiting until hubby could drive you around -- yeah, I know the movies show women driving, but it wasn't until the early sixties that women driving a car became more common...

Jen 2:28 pm, June 01, 2010  

Hi Susan! Love the insight!

I actually did all those errands on foot (we don't own a car) - but I also happen to live in an area that has all those conveniences very nearby.

Many of my guides referred to waiting for / putting away the deliveries (of milk, groceries) as well as doing the "mid-day marketing" - I opted to just do the latter as it seemed crazy to get groceries delivered with a store so close to my home. Unfortunately, on this day in particular, it meant making two trips to get everything done!

Jenne 12:22 pm, October 29, 2010  

Someone pointed to this experiment from a blog I read, and I'm loving it.
Of course now I have to try the sweet-potato volcano recipe though. My family will love the volcano aspect. :)

Anonymous,  6:46 pm, December 10, 2010  

I'm thoroughly late but can't resist telling you why the hyphen! It forces you to parse the recipe name as "volcanoes made of sweet potato" instead of "sweet volcano made of potato." This seems important, though you'd hope any misunderstanding would be clarified by the ingredients list.

Cheryl,  11:51 am, January 11, 2011  

I'm seriously late to the party, having just discovered your marvelous blog a couple of days ago, but I must ask: where on earth did you get that girdle? I might be crazy, but I want one!

Jen 4:32 pm, January 12, 2011  

Hi Cheryl - yes, you may indeed be crazy. Har. I found mine on eBay - it's a vintage style with corset backing. While you might not be able to find the exact one I have, there's lots of similar styles available!

Cheryl,  10:11 pm, January 25, 2011  

Thanks very much!

amber 7:48 pm, May 11, 2011  

Loving your experiment!

But I'm slightly scared by the fact that most of the food you're describing is what I grew up eating - in the 80's.

I guess my mom hated cooking so much she couldn't justify buying new cookbooks and just used my grandma's instead. I read them when I need a good laugh.

photoquilty,  11:25 am, June 24, 2011  

The hyphen in sweet-potato volcanoes is there to imply that the volcanoes are made from sweet potatoes, not that they are potato volcanoes that happen to be sweet.

I am LOVING your posts. As a very lazy housewife and mommy, I don't understand the inclination to add more work to my day, but really enjoy living vicariously through you.

Jenn 10:53 am, November 28, 2013  

I came upon your website looking for 1950's house wife living. Your posts are so funny and informative.

With me it's Jenn but never Jen..lol

Love your blog!


Unknown 10:55 am, November 28, 2013  

I came upon your website looking for 1950's house wife living. Your posts are so funny and informative.

With me it's Jenn but never Jen..lol

Love your blog!


Anonymous,  12:38 am, January 08, 2014  

Your post has brought me to tears.I don't remember the last time I laughed so hard. Thank you!

elle 11:23 pm, January 14, 2014  

The comment about the jello made me laugh out loud--the real deep smoker's hacking cough laugh out loud kinda laugh. Also, I think it's interesting to look back in hindsight at your older posts, because your ex seemed ridiculously childish and picky about so many things. But that's just my sensible midwesterner nosy opinion of that.

Keep up the posts--and maybe you could do stand-up comedy too!

Alyssa 10:08 am, February 04, 2014  

So glad I found this series of blog posts. They;re making my morning infinitely better and full of hard, hard laughter.

doe853 7:38 pm, June 05, 2014  

Hi Jen, I just found this and am having trouble reading it what with the tears from laughing. If you haven't found it by now you should check out the apron revolution.com.
Donna really lived the 50s for a couple of years and blogged about it.

Anonymous,  11:58 pm, September 19, 2014  

I have 5 kids and their list of things of things they didn't eat as little kids doesn't touch your husbands. I am so anxious to see how you managed to sustain him with 50s cooking [it's how I cook now, but like my grandma, and no canned conveniene stuff - can't afford it] Kids have a much stronger palate and thus don't like the strong tastes of things. But an adult develops a palate.

I am floored he likes liver. You cook it like I always have - and the kids always ate it, still do - hubs loves it, but I just said "MEAT". giggle...you were much more clever.

I am so loving your blog. You are a wonderful writer and I love that you took this experiment on ...such an inspiration. [Can I add - you're quite pretty too! :) ]

dirtyduck 8:33 pm, January 10, 2015  

"Newly added on the people-I-feel-sorry-for list: bank tellers."
i almost died, then continued to laugh all the way through this post. we were pretty much besties after you mentioned your disgust for the word girdle.

Anonymous,  2:49 am, July 09, 2015  

Livery liver liverstein! ...Like a jellyfish that had been eating olives! Thouroughly enjoyed this!! Thanks :D

Kristin 1:46 pm, November 08, 2015  

Oh my gosh...I have literally laughed until I cried on this post!! My favorite part was the Jello mold -- gutting a jellyfish -- oh goodness! I am loving this series of posts. Bravo to you! :)

Krista,  11:37 am, March 11, 2016  

This was hilarious! I really commend you on the efforts you went to just for this experiment! Very impressive, and very entertaining. Thanks for taking the time to write!


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