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Happy Homemaking

If the Perfect Housekeeping Channel ever did a show about how NOT to maintain the perfect house, my life would give them enough fodder for 10 seasons of episodes like “How to Create Clutter in only 5 Minutes a Day” or “Make It from Microwave”.

The irony is that as a mom with one of those highly-coveted working-at-home-for-very-pleasant-people jobs, you’d think my husband would walk in the door of a perfectly-ordered house, with two smiling, clean kids and a perfectly-coiffed and aproned wife waiting to hear about his day. Instead, he drives down a dirt-and-gravel road to a dirt driveway and walks up the gravel pathway to our door where it seems that our unfinished concrete floor has acquired magnet properties that allow it to attract any type of mineral or organic material as long as it’s in toy form or has already been converted to dust.

I didn’t start out like this. When we first moved to Vermont and to our first real house, I was going to be the perfect country mom. I didn’t work from home back then (my husband got to be Mr. Mom for a bit), but a 40 hour workweek and a one year-old were not going to keep me from growing all our own heirloom gourmet vegetables, making my own bread from Vermont made flour to be served with homemade maple syrup in our perfectly-restored (and clean) 200 year-old farmhouse decorated with quilts I was going to make by hand. And it was all going to happen while we prepared our perfectly-mannered toddler (who had not yet hit the terrible twos) for private school and then, naturally, Harvard.

We did get the garden going, and even managed to find time to make a couple of gallons of maple syrup, but the quilting quickly became an excuse for collecting fabric that looked nice in clear plastic boxes in a shelf, and we were buying our sliced bread at the country store before the first snow fell. I had already mastered the art of maternal guilt by then, and each successive little concession was just another reminder that I was failing SuperMom 102 (I had only made it through 101 on probationary status).

And then, on our first anniversary as Vermonters, we went to our first Ox Roast – the town’s annual potluck feast whose centerpiece is a spit-roasted side of beef fresh from the field. At the time, I thought the homespun meal and the square dancing with our new neighbors were just what I needed to get my country skills back on track. But it wasn’t until a few nights later, when the hostess of the party called with 75 pounds of extra beef to sell (at $1 per pound), that I learned the most important country – and mom – skill of all.

Even divided into 75 single pound packages, 75 pounds of beef takes up a surprising amount of room in your freezer, and it was just the excuse I needed to buy the appliance I coveted most – another freezer. Our budget was tight so I turned to the Want Ads and found a promising listing for $50. It was just a town over, so one Saturday morning I strapped my almost two-year-old in the car and took a little field trip. When we got to their farm, my son and the seller’s adorable daughters toddled around her yard while she showed me her garden and the freezer, which was sitting in her barn right beside its successor. Possibly just to reassure me that she was selling because of a desire for better features and not any malfunction, she opened the new freezer which was already fully stocked with produce from her garden and healthy selection of distinctly unhealthy, un-homemade pre-packaged dinners.

“Have you ever tried their fried chicken?” She asked, pointing to a bright red box of frozen fried chicken. “It’s not as good as mine, but who has time to make it from scratch every night? I have too many other things at the top of my list.”

After that, I didn’t make concessions. I slaughtered sacred cows.