An author spends a year living following the philosophy of Martha Stewart.
Martha Stewart evokes a lot of strong opinions in people.
Some see her as the purveyor of unnecessarily glittered pinecones and homemade soaps. Others devoutly follow her teachings as to the wisdom of an alphabetized spice rack and how to make the perfect roast duck with caramelized parsnips, if such things exist.
And then of course, there are those who can’t forget her time behind bars for charges related to insider trading.
But writer Jen Lancaster holds Ms. Stewart in high regard - particularly after her prison stay.
"She went there, she made friends, she made microwave dinners, she made ponchos," Lancaster says. "She really rose to the occasion. She came back and reclaimed the name Martha Stewart. I began to respect that."
Moved by Martha’s organization, creativity, and spunk, Lancaster decided to emulate the homemaking maven. Lancaster documents the effort to Marthify her life in the new book The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog.
"The thing that started this entire book, was when my husband made the comment, 'I wonder if Martha Stewart stashes her crap in her kitchen gun cabinet,'" Lancaster says.
In many ways, the idea for the project came at the right time.
"I was at the point in my life where making a nice home became important and learning to cook became important, so what she did began to coincide with what I wanted to accomplish," Lancaster says.
Lancaster also knew that she would soon lose her dearly beloved dog, Maisy, and wanted to "stockpile some happiness" by making the rest of her life as organized and peaceful as possible. So she concentrated on only the projects relevant to her life - like knitting.
"Each of the scarves I made took anywhere from $60 to a hundred dollars worth of yarn coupled with my time, so these things are worth about eight grand each," she jokes. "I mean, you could get a used Honda for one of my scarves."
But of course, not every one of Martha's suggested projects were on Lancaster's priority list.
"Martha can tell you how to build your own chicken coop - that's not something I'm going to do, that's not something that's going to enhance my quality of life," she says, "but figuring out how to throw a party where I actually got to spend time with my guests and enjoy them and not think the entire time they're there, "Get out, get out, get out! All I'm going to do is wash your dishes!' - that was important to me."
Even with Martha's guidance, not every dinner party went perfectly, and those were the moments when Lancaster got some insight into the philosophy behind Martha Stewart's method - the Tao of Martha, if you will. From always having a contingency plan to being more thoughtful of others, Lancaster says she took in some key lessons.
"What I found out more than anything was that I have to try," she says. "There were so many things in my life that I had never done, because it seemed hard so I never tried."
Lancaster was in town for a recent reading at the Barnes and Noble in Wauwatosa. She's also the author of Bitter is the New Black, Such A Pretty Fat, and My Fair Lazy.