The divas aiming to prove happiness isn’t a chore
Two master cleaners and expert bakers plan to bring domestic bliss to Irish homes with a new RTÉ television show. One of them tells us what inspired their mindful approach
On the home front: Aisli Madden and Cat Lawlor
This story began one morning three years ago, when 2FM’s show Tubridy was inundated with requests from listeners, who were unified in their attempts to get hold of a textbook that had gone out of print more than a decade before. The book was written by my late mother, Deirdre Madden. However, All About Home Economics was more than a textbook; it was a compendium of domestic knowledge, a how-to guide to being a grown-up, and most of all a security blanket for those leaving home and starting out on their own. My sister Kate and I were so moved by public demand that we decided to self-publish and reprint our mum’s book. When it became a Christmas best-seller that year, it was clear that Ireland was crying out for domestication.
The opportunity to impart my fine-tuned brand of home life came a few months later when I answered the phone to producer Bill Hughes, who asked if I’d be interested in doing a TV show based on the book. I agreed, of course, and spent the next two years working with Mind the Gap films to create Domestic Divas.
Getting the show off the ground was a little like baking a cake; we needed the right ingredients to make it work. With a dash of style, a good glug of craftiness and the domestic know-how from my mother’s book, the mixture was nearly ready, but one very important ingredient was missing – another presenter was needed to really put the icing on the cake. Or cupcake, as it turned out.
Enter Cat Lawlor, the uncrowned cupcake queen of Ireland. It’s no wonder The Cake Cuppery wins awards with someone as talented as she is at the helm. Cat has brains to burn, but she’s also down-to-earth and has a great sense of humour. We became friends within minutes of meeting. We think the same way, are both self-employed, hugely motivated and passionate about what we do. Now we finish each other’s sentences and laugh at each other’s jokes, even when they’re not all that funny.
Everything we know about domestic bliss we have our mothers to thank for, and we both hero-worship them unashamedly. Both our mothers worked diligently to raise and nurture their children, while being glamorous aficionados in their respective lines of work. They taught us to be independent, capable and strong. We were educated in the art of domesticity from an early age and we were both baking and cooking when we were children. So in preparing us for the future, our mums also gained an extra pair of hands to help around the house.
Mindfulness in the home
My mother died when I was 23. Kate and I were well-prepared on the domestic front, but nothing can prepare you for the pain of losing your mother. It was around that time that I discovered the term mindfulness, and concluded that my mother had been practising it for years.
Focusing her attention in the present, she could find satisfaction in even the most mundane tasks. She encouraged people to believe in themselves and their capabilities by teaching and writing books. Kate and I were incredibly lucky to have had her in our lives. Now I walk in her footsteps as a domestic educator. You increase your odds of happiness if you strive to be the best you can be. Healthy, happy lifestyles can begin at home.
Something I have learned over the years is that most people aren’t lazy; they are afraid. They listen to the negative voice in their head that says, “There’s no point in trying because I’ll probably fail.” They convince themselves that their problems are too complicated to be worth even trying to solve. This leads to a spiral of guilt, causing people to feel even less motivated to make changes, and their problems get worse.
It’s this kind of negative thinking we’ve been inspired to change. In our new show, Cat and I, armed with rubber gloves and whisks, are going to whip the country into shape and put an end to negativity. We visit homes around Dublin, Wicklow and Mayo, sharing housekeeping hints, money-saving ideas and simple recipes that even the least venerated domestic god or goddess can manage.
If you can read, you can follow a recipe. If you can follow a recipe, you can cook. We show Michelle Dillon, a mother of two, the basics of cooking. She has grown up eating a lot of banana sandwiches and cereal, and isn’t confident in the kitchen. I take her to a greengrocer and show her how to pick the right food, and Cat makes up a meal plan of seven simple recipes, from chicken casserole to home-made pizza. It’s easy once someone shows you how.
Cat and I have been likened to an Irish Kim and Aggie, the duo who analysed hygiene and who cleaned up messy homes on the UK television show How Clean Is Your House? I’m not too sure how I feel about that but we do clean, and we mostly use home-made cleaning agents.
Twenty-year-old Lauren Battersby was amazed to learn you can clean windows with a 50-50 mixture of water and vinegar. Her mother, Ann, got in touch with the show because she wanted Lauren to take on a share of the housekeeping. Lots of people have adult children still living at home, so sharing chores is a common issue, but Lauren didn’t even know how to use the washing machine. After we were finished, she had learned how to make a bed to five-star hotel standards and how to whisk up a hollandaise sauce.
Previous generations had great knowledge when it came to home-making and doing domestic chores, and in most families that knowledge was passed on. Your grandmother taught your mother, and she taught you, but without a doubt this know-how was diluted as it passed from one generation to the next.
People’s lives have become busier, and sometimes it feels like there is barely time to get the essentials done, never mind spending 10 minutes extra showing your son or daughter how to clean the windows or unblock a drain. On top of that, more technology and more money means we don’t have to do as many things by hand, so the skills have been lost.
A breadmaker is the perfect example. If you want to make bread at home, many people would think you need to buy a breadmaker. Cat and I want to show people that they can do things themselves without the expense. To make bread, you can follow a recipe, mix the ingredients and kneed the bread by hand; you just need a little confidence.
Keeping a beautiful, healthy and happy home matters. So, if you yearn to demolish the drudgery, embrace domestic divadom.