Queen of the Do-Bees 

Martha Stewart seizes the day

Martha Stewart seizes the day

By Kay West

Martha Stewart doesn’t want to hear your whining. She doesn’t want to hear your complaints. Don’t tell Martha that you don’t have any time. She’s heard it all before. “I totally understand how busy we all are,” she said recently, as she addressed a group of 500 enraptured women at Vanderbilt Stadium Club. Clearly, each of those women already knew something about time management. Each of them had managed to find a few extra hours in her busy day and an extra $100 in her pocketbook so that she could come hear Martha lecture.

If she had checked out the latest issue of Martha Stewart Living—and it’s a safe bet that virtually every one of these women has her own subscription to Living—any woman in the room could have told you that Martha was coming. It was right there on Martha’s Calendar, Page 6 of the October issue: Oct.17, 10:30 a.m. Lecture, Nashville, Tenn. Right after “Harvest all the pumpkins before first frost” on Oct. 15—Martha is a northerner, you know—and before “Bring in garden furniture and gas grills from outdoors” on Oct. 19. There was Martha’s visit—set in stone. Or at least committed to print.

When it comes to Martha Stewart, you either love her or you hate her. And, God knows, there are plenty of people in both camps. But, honestly, I neither love nor hate Martha. I admire her accomplishments, but I feel sorry for the sacrifices she has had to make to build her career. I empathize with the compulsive inner drive and the inner demons that compel her to be Martha Stewart. I really do understand. I am, after all, the daughter of a woman who stripped the beds every Saturday. Only one time in her life did she make a mistake and strip the beds on a Friday; when the gaffe was pointed out to her, she put all the sheets back on the beds. I am the daughter of a woman who tapes little pieces of paper to the bottom of her Venitian blinds so that she will have a record of when they were last washed. I am the daughter of a woman whose own father used to come into her home and run his finger over the tops of her picture frames to check for dust. Don’t tell me about Martha Stewart’s compulsions.

I am not intimidated by Martha Stewart. I own only one of her dozen-or-so books, The Martha Stewart Cookbook, but I admit that I use it. I’ve never seen her TV show, but I do tune in when she’s on Today, and I enjoy leafing through her magazine at my mother-in-law’s house. (I seldom actually buy it.) On occasion, I have actually been inspired to take on a Martha Project. Most recently, it was the spring gardening issue of Living that got to me.

I love having fresh flowers in the house, but even Smith & Rogers can get a little pricey if you visit them every week. When I looked at Living and saw Martha’s layout for a cutting garden, accompanied by gorgeous photos of the cut flowers she had grown there, I knew I had to have a cutting garden too. The plan looked pretty simple, and I thought I had just the spot for a garden of my own. My husband rototilled a 5-by-15-foot rectangle, and I headed to the gardening store. I bought candytuft, dahlia, salvia, cosmos, zinnia, and verbena. Following Martha’s instructions, I arranged my rows of plantings by height and color, painstakingly marking each row with stick and string and labeling it with a little tag. I worked all day, and when it was done, I stepped back and admired my accomplishment.

The very next morning, it rained like I had never seen it rain before. It rained so hard I could barely see out the windows. It rained all day long. Even before I waded down to the end of the backyard the next day, I knew what had happened. All of my seeds and most of my row markers had washed down to the bottom third of the garden. What a mess.

Now, if I were Martha, I probably would have started all over again. But I’m not Martha. I’m the working mother of two small children—I don’t have assistants, and I’m pushed to the limit nearly every single day, early morning to late at night. I was disappointed, sure, but I just murmured, “C’est la vie,” and waited to see what would happen. In a few weeks, things started to sprout up in the garden. My mother-in-law was kind enough to stop by and point out the difference between the weeds and the flowers. By late July, I had some pretty zinnias, some cosmos, and some salvia. Nothing else made it. But that was OK. Now it’s late October, and for months I’ve had at least one bouquet of fresh flowers every week. If it hadn’t been for Martha, I never would have done it. And I’ll try again next year.

“Don’t try to do it all. Pick just one thing and do that,” Martha told us during her lecture—right after she had told us that she understands how busy we are. “You will be amazed at how good it feels to accomplish one thing at the end of the day in addition to your chores.” And you know, Martha is absolutely right.

Here are a few other Martha Tips that I picked up that day. (I’m only too happy to pass along, in case you were too busy or too broke to be there yourself.)

Holidays. In Martha’s World, every holiday is big, but Christmas, of course, is the biggest. Martha and her people start working on Christmas in July—so that you don’t have to. You can wait until the November issue of Martha Stewart Living arrives in late October. Or, if you insist on waiting until the last minute, you can procrastinate until the December issue hits the newsstands in November.

Here’s a sneak peek for this year: Think silver. Think glass. Think red berries. Do not think, “How in the world can I cope with Christmas with everything else I’ve got going on?” That’s the wrong question, according to Martha. Instead, Martha suggests, think, “How am I going to enjoy Christmas this year?”

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. On Martha’s menu? Deep-fried turkey, made by Rena, who lives in South Carolina. You can buy your own fryer at Home Depot. Be sure to use enough peanut oil, about five gallons, and make sure it’s the right temperature. That way, the meat is seared, and it doesn’t soak up the fat. At least that’s the way it works in Martha’s World. Side dishes of the moment? Sweet and spicy. Dessert? Think pumpkin cake with white chocolate frosting and macadamia nuts. (Recipes in the November issue of Martha Stewart Living.)

Martha revealed that her favorite time to entertain is on Sunday mornings, at her own house. (Apparently, Martha doesn’t do church.) She does breakfasts for about 18—outside, weather permitting, or even if the weather is unbearable. Martha buys big canvas umbrellas when they’re on sale (like maybe now); then she stores them. If some uncontrollable act of God happens, like a cloudburst, you can whip out your umbrellas, put them over the grills and tables and simply soldier on.

Then there’s chicken wire. Martha suggests that you keep a roll of it in your closet. It comes in really handy for flower arrangements (from your cutting garden) and for other decorating projects. If you’re smart, you’ll store it right alongside the two-sided sticky tape.

Pie crusts? Keep them (homemade, Martha insists) in your freezer, already rolled out and stored in pizza boxes. If you have a few minutes before you put dinner in the oven, just pull out a frozen crust and pile some fruit on it. Your family will love you. Martha says so.

Outdoor tables: Now is the time to call your tin man. In the winter, tinsmiths don’t have much to do, so you shouldn’t have any problem getting one of them to stop by and cover the tops of your wooden tables with tin. While he’s at it, get him to cover the feet of the table and chairs too. Who wants wood rot?

Martha’s Tool of the Moment—a small propane blowtorch. Perect for browning meringues (Martha loves meringues) and getting frozen things to slip out of their molds.

Martha’s Tool of the Moment, No. 2—a Drennel drill. Perfect for drilling small holes in nuts so that you can string them for holiday decorating. Watch your fingers when you’re drilling, and keep your drill away from small children.

Finally, Martha’s How To’s: In Martha’s World, it’s very important to know how to do something, even if—or especially if—you’re not going to do it yourself, so that you can tell someone else how to do it. If you know how to do things, you can really be just like Martha. Because that’s what being Martha is all about. Teaching and learning. Learning and teaching.

Martha’s World, after all, is a place of constant self-improvement, a place where there’s no guessing about the how or the why of anything. It’s a nice place to visit, but, I ask you, who has the time to live there?

Martha’s World, after all, is a place of constant self-improvement, a place where there’s no guessing about the how or the why of anything. It’s a nice place to visit, but, I ask you, who has the time to live there?

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