Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

Domestic Engineering – Part 2 – Benchmarking

Benchmarking.  I remember my amazement at this concept when first introduced to it at the company I worked for after college.  It was actually someone’s job to find out what the competition was doing, in some detail.  One of my current colleagues used to work as an industrial spy in another country.   There’s something exciting about that to me, something daring, something risky.  

But, as I was cooking breakfast this morning, that wasn’t the aspect of benchmarking that came to mind.  Nor did the ideas surface that I teach in class about benchmarking being a process of identifying best-in-class companies and trying to emulate their practices to achieve similar performance levels. 

I thought of my friend Sherry telling me how she cooked her delicious scrambled eggs as I ate them with her family in her country kitchen.  (I had never heard of anyone adding water instead of milk.)  I thought of my friend Barbara who let me help her prepare a spaghetti dinner one evening and exposed me to how fresh garlic was used.  I had never seen this before or even considered this, though I did have a garlic press in my drawer.  This has transformed my ability to “embellish” recipes to suit our tastes.  I remember my friend and roommate Saylisse who exposed me to delicious plantains and Puerto Rican cooking methods. 

Benchmarking.  Don’t we all do it?  Find someone we admire and try to work to be like them?  Whether it be developing the skills to make your grandma’s chocolate chip cookies or fried chicken, aspiring to keep your home like someone who does a great job in that area, or following your favorite blogger who offers encouragement and ideas from her life.   There can be many benefits in learning from others.

There can also be dangers in this, too, at least for me.  I can be intimidated by great women.  I avoided pie-baking attempts because that was my mom’s specialty in the extended family, and I didn’t want my meager tries to be compared to her perfect pastries.  (This spell was broken last year, though, when my desire to have holiday pies exceeded my fear of failure.)  I can beat myself up for not being as organized as Miss Such-and-Such or as as good at sewing as Mrs. So-and-So or as creative, articulate, hardworking… the list goes forever on. 

But, the the ladies I mentioned weren’t intimidating.  The times together in the kitchen were sweet times of fellowship and friendship.  There was no scoffing at my inexperience or even much real instruction.  We were just being together, and I was learning and growing through it. 

As I think of leaving the workforce and focusing on my home and family more, I question whom I should benchmark.  The answer shouts from my heart today:

JESUS!

He is the only one that is truly perfect.  He is the only one that truly knows what this balance I’m searching for should look like.  I do not doubt His love for me, even in all my insufficiencies and sin.  Yes, I will try to learn as much as I can from those of you who are experts in your fields and those of you who are sharing the lessons you have learned, but may my foremost desire always be to make my life look more like Christ’s. 

~Dana

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Domestic Engineering – Part I – R&D in the Kitchen

Perhaps you’ve had someone tell you that she’s a domestic engineer as she cares for her home and family.  I imagine few know how appropriate that term really is.  I plan for this series to share my thoughts as I reflect on the role I am about to take on full-time at home.  Yes, I’ll be a domestic engineer, but (and I hope I don’t lose readers over this!) I’m much more the engineer than the domestic artist, so my perspective is perhaps more technical and much less experienced.  Those of you with more common sense than I have (I’m guessing that’s all of you!) will understand what I’m talking about though, I think, and I hope will laugh with me at the time it takes me to learn homemaking basics.

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Perhaps it was my mom’s insistence that I didn’t have to do a lot of cooking for their visit.  Perhaps it was realizing that my planned meal wouldn’t be ready in time for my sister to eat before she had to leave to pick up a student.  Whatever it was, the last few weeks helped me learn something about myself.

I like Research and Development (R&D) – perhaps to a fault.  When company comes or when I have the time, I am more interested in trying new recipes than in fixing a simple meal.  I spend time searching my recipe books for the perfect combination of foods, make an extensive shopping list, litter the kitchen with dishes, and end up rather worn out from my efforts.  My motivation is in trying to bless my guests or family and in revelling the excitement of trying something new.   (Oh, I like to eat good food, too!)

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  My first job out of college was in research and development.  I’ve studied designed experiments in depth at graduate school.  I have always liked starting new projects much more than applying the discipline to finish them.  I like being creative and learning something new, and I do get a little bored without a challenge. 

With my experimental cooking efforts, the time and trouble are worth it, but I will not have the luxury of avoiding the “production” aspect of my homemaking in the months to come with Baby #2 arriving this spring.   My “system” of evaluation to this point has been to make brief notes in the recipe books, which are then too often closed and forgotten about until the next time I begin searching for something delicious and new to try.

Can you see the inefficiencies?  To complicate matters, instead of working to design a system that will work better for us, I’ve been pondering the design and use of mixture experiments to develop a new chocolate chip cookie or pecan pie recipe.  (Sigh.)  I’m definitely a work in progress!  Praise God that

“…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, RSV).

I look forward to seeing what He has planned in this new challenge and to the refinement that will undoubtably come through the process as Christ continues to work on my heart!

~Dana

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