Generation Martha

It was a 12-hour plane flight from Los Angeles to Auckland. Then another hour and a half to Christchurch, the biggest city on New Zealand’s south island. With five over-stuffed suitcases and two over-tired children in tow, my husband and I were greeted with an airport billboard in the native Maori language. “Haere mai,” it said. Welcome.

Large statues of Fertility gods guarded a carved wooden archway on the way to security. And like the Maori fertility goddess herself, I was feeling equally powerful: a working mom who can do it all, including vacationing to the other side of the world with three layovers and two children under three. But how quickly I changed my tune.

On a whirlwind trip with a wedding in the middle, I met women who truly do “do it all.” Women who work and raise babies and grow organic vegetable gardens the size of small houses. Who raise their own chickens, slaughter their own cows and garden backyards that belong in landscaping magazines. Women who decorate on a dime, hang their wet clothes on a clothesline and sew all of their bridesmaid dresses. And though I was tempted to think, “Wow, we really are on opposite ends of the world,” I soon realized that these “salt of the earth” lifestyles are not just isolated to faraway island cultures. In fact, many of my female counterparts in the states are finding pleasure in the same activities that at one time seemed old-fashioned.

From sewing your own baby clothes to creating the perfect tablescape, growing your own salad ingredients to making your own hand soap; women are going back to basics. With a blend of new technology and old trades, they’re looking up dinner ingredients on iPads, swapping craft ideas on mom blogs and nurturing their craftiness alongside their careers.  And far from the days of bra-burning and man-bashing, the new women’s movement is toward more practical past times — with “traditional” hobbies also becoming legitimate businesses.

According to the Craft & Hobby Association, “crafting” is now a $30 billion industry — participated in by 56% of households.1 And thanks to shows like Project Runway, even teen girls are getting in on the DIY action, with more high school girls skipping the mall to make their own prom dresses.2 Even our dining room tables are full of stuff we made, with 2009 findings from the National Gardening Association showing that food gardening is on the rise with seven million more households planning to grow their own food.3

But I don’t need statistics to tell me things are changing. I meet women every day who are part of an emerging generation of Martha Stewarts.

Twenty-four old Advertising Account Executive Jessica Roe is just one of these women. Roe looks like she stepped off the pages of Vogue, but spends her spare time flipping through Martha Stewart Living on her iPad. As a newlywed, she pursues her marketing career by day — but in her free time, she’s raising chickens (and slaughtering them for dinner), researching ways to make her own cheese and sewing pillows for friends.

“Our mother’s generation didn’t want to focus as much on being a homemaker,” says Roe, “They wanted to break the mold of their mothers and be more independent. So a lot of women stopped cooking every night, stopped sewing, and stopped creating their own things — but because of that, my generation never learned how. But now women want to be healthier, save money, and actually ‘create’ something that’s not just on a computer.”

The share factor

Though many women turn to more tactile hobbies to escape our virtual world, it turns out that Generation Martha has a love/hate relationship with their ubiquitous computers — devices of connection that inspire many women to be creative in the first place.

And the proof is in the homemade pudding: $38.7 million of goods were sold on in April 2011.4 Almost 90 million women online are active on a weekly basis in social media,5 sharing tips and showing off their homemade creations. And if the potluck was the place where the 1950’s homemaker shared and compared, now the internet is the gathering place for modern Martha’s.

One of the leading domestic power bloggers is Bakerella, a baking connoisseur whose website is visited by hundreds of thousands of unique visitors every month. With photography as edible as her recipes, she shows readers how to make everything from Kermit the Frog Cake Pops to Snickerdoodle Cupcakes. As Bakerella shares online, “I started this website to help keep track of my baking and decorating attempts. I got the bug after taking an introductory cake decorating class and just haven’t stopped.”

And today, going from a cake class to an internet sensation is possible for anyone, anywhere, who has time, talent and access to the online world.

Longing for simpler times

Gathering online is common, but it’s not the only place that crafty women connect.

Birgit Rauschuber is a full-time Project Manager (and “I love Lucy” devotee), but takes an occasional “mom’s weekend away” to go on scrapbooking retreats. Rauschuber got hooked on “scrapping” through a Creative Memories party — a company that hires consultants to sell scrapbooking supplies on local, intimate levels. It started as one book, then two, then three — and soon, this scrapping mom was spending her domestic downtime at long picnic tables full of specialty papers and fellow Scrappers.

“In this hectic, fast-paced life, I think we yearn for those simpler times,” says Rauschuber, “We’re just so used to living life like it’s a Quickie Mart, always taking the short cut. We long for something slower — something more fulfilling.”

For Rauschuber and many other women, this fulfillment is found in the art of making. In a trend that’s grounded in tradition, many women are becoming “homemakers” — even if they work full time in a professional field.

Right where we started

I have a magnet on my refrigerator that reads, “Sometimes ‘right back where you started from’ is right where you belong.” And so it will be for ages to come. Mankind (and womankind) will continue to advance technology, learn new things, and conquer old challenges — but somewhere, when we have traveled far and grown weary, we will arrive back to to the basics. Right where we started.

And when we get there, there will be a sense of peace as the natives who have gone before us whisper, “Haere mai.” Welcome.

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