Home Work: Time for a micro-vacation?

I have once again failed to schedule a vacation for after I’ve finished a lot of work. Last summer, after submitting my 96,000-word manuscript, I turned to all the freelance assignments I’d put on ice. Now I’m writing freelance assignments and moving. (Anyone want to buy a double shotgun in New Orleans, let me know.) So after my book release, I took a breather, not a break.

Lest you think this stunningly modern, the influential magazine Illinois Teacher of Home Economics got there in 1966, when they covered “THE MINI (OR, IF YOU PREFER, PETITE OR MICRO) VACATION.”

“There are mini-skirts, mini-blouses and, according to a recent fashion magazine, even mini-parties. Why not the mini-vacation for those too pressured and dead-line bound for a full-blown vacation?” the journal suggests. The editor proceeded to interview various University of Illinois staffers about their favorite mini-vacations. The list is an inspiration for us all.

One of the hosts of the Comfort Food podcast keeps a list of quick little things she likes to do—really likes, not ought to like—because otherwise when she has 15 minutes she’s too brain-dead even to come up with an idea. (Comfort Food, which I adore, is on hiatus because the hosts are … too busy with paid work and pandemic childcare.)

Some respondents suggested worthy activities such as restoring furniture, gardening, reading and playing a musical instrument—activities we all ought to do. However, my favorites, listed below, are totally and wonderfully useless, and thus ones we might really want to do in our micro-moments. Perhaps one will join your list.


Mary Mather, associate professor
- Observe selection of groceries in baskets at the supermarket and speculate about the situations in which they might be used.

Hazel Taylor Spitze, assistant professor
- Go to a new hairdresser.
- Arrange to be alone in absolute silence for an hour.

Sharron Moody, typist
- Slide down the banister (3 flights).

Joe Burnett, associate professor
- Wish my mini-vacation were not so mini or that I had many more mini-vacations.
- Wonder what I have forgotten to do in order to feel free to take a mini vacation.

Stewart Jones, educational psychology chair
- Daydream about the me that could have been.

Joan Lorenz, clerk-typist and receptionist
- Walk barefoot in fresh-cut grass.
- Look at my old snapshots and cringe.
- Drive without a particular destination.

Pat Esworthy, clerk-typist
- Sit and watch my new dishwasher madly scrubbing my dirty dishes.

J. Myron Atkin, associate dean
- Nostalgic for an accent from another part of the country, I call “information” in that area.

Betty Richards, secretary
- Browse through the latest “Antique Trader” to see what “antiques” I would love to have but couldn’t possibly afford.

Robert D. Cottingham, assistant
- Put on a record by Johnny Rivers and do the twist with only closest friends looking on.

I myself lay in bed for a day and binge-watched RuPaul’s Drag Race, too tired even to read. I feel certain that the university staff would have approved.


Book News

I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive reactions to and reviews of The Secret History of Home Economics. If you want to read it in a group, perhaps you’d like Norton’s downloadable book group guide? If you’re driving to the beach for a real vacation, you can now get the audiobook. And I have an event coming up in early June, via Zoom:

Wednesday, June 9
6:30 p.m. Eastern
Ferguson Library — sign up
Stamford, CT
Conversation with Carol Werhan, home economics professor and smart cookie


Recipe of the Month

When I got my copies of the book, I quickly sent some out to various people I’d interviewed. But with Evelyn Birkby, a 101-year-old “radio homemaker,” I waited. As I discuss in the book, radio homemakers were a media mainstay from the 1920s through the ‘60s, at minimum; like today’s shelter bloggers, they were professionals who posed as just-folks housewives. Birkby also wrote a newspaper column, which ran for 70 years. She lost her vision a couple years ago, and I planned to send her the audiobook so she could read unassisted. Tuesday morning, as I wrote that excited email with the audiobook link, I learned that she passed away in February.

It’s Birkby who told me (and everyone), “always include a recipe.” Ironically, she was a pretty crummy cook when she began writing newspaper vignettes in the 1940s. She admitted it, and asked readers and listeners to send their favorites, which they did.

From Birkby’s obituary: Evelyn's son Craig remembers that when his mother was testing recipes, the family never saw the same dish twice. "If it was good, she put it in her column and moved on," he said. "If it was a disaster, you could go get a bowl of breakfast food out of the cupboard."

Alas, her obituary did not include a recipe. So here’s one of Birkby’s late husband’s favorites, taken from her website. I made an ice cream parfait sort of thing from the remnants of my Old Buggaz Martini Club book party cake, so this speaks to me.


Crispy Ice Cream Bar

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
4 cups crisp rice cereal
Vanilla ice cream

Melt butter or margarine. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Turn off heat. Add nuts and rice cereal and stir to coat. Spoon half the mixture into a 9-by 13-inch pan. Slice squares of vanilla ice cream and make a layer of the squares over the rice crispy mix. Sprinkle remaining mixture over top of ice cream layer. Freeze. Cover top with aluminum foil to store for any length of time in the freezer. When ready to serve, cut into squares.

Alternatively, you’re taking a micro-vacation. Get takeout! Ellen Swallow Richards, a founding mother of home economics, would approve. She opened a proto–Boston Market in the 1890s so that working people didn’t have to cook at night.


When my birthday fell during Passover as a kid, I had a Carvel cake (I guess we ignored the cookie crumbs?), and I still love them the best. Ice cream cake competitors? Memories of radio homemakers? Email me. You can order my book The Secret History of Home Economics, out now for summer reading! If someone forwarded this email to you, you can subscribe to it here.

Copyright 2021 Danielle Dreilinger/DreiGoods LLC

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