Can this woman be for real?
Frustrated wannabes need to know.
She looks perfect, from her blond hair to her gleaming smile to her lithe, fit figure.
Her house is gorgeous. We know this from all those photographs in the glossy coffee-table books she writes.
She sets a stunning table, laden with flowers and wonderful foods. She grows those flowers in a garden overflowing with color, and prepares the foods in a kitchen boasting every cooking convenience.
She's famous. And rich.
Her books and videos on home entertaining country-elegant style collectively sell in the millions. She's the celebrity spokeswoman for the K mart stores with her own line of table linens and other home furnishings, and she stars in, and produces, the TV commercials that promote them.
Now, a slick new lifestyle magazine with her name in the title Martha Stewart Living has hit the newsstands. She's the editor-in-chief.
From the covers of her magazine and books, her image gazes out, smiling, lovely, perfect in every way.
Can this woman be for real?
Stewart, 49, certainly looks real as she addresses an attentive audience at the Bellevue, Wash., Red Lion Inn. With slides and talk, she's sharing her holiday-entertaining secrets, as she's done in many cities. She's elegantly dressed in a slim, short-skirted suit and high heels.
The big room is packed with nearly 900 women who paid $30 to $100 apiece for tickets, many no doubt drawn by Stewart's eight sumptuous books, including "Entertaining," "Weddings" and "Martha Stewart's Christmas."
Many surely hope to fill their own homes with the look of warmth and tradition that permeates her Christmas book and its photos of her 19th-century Connecticut farmhouse.
But those who go all out for the look will soon learn this: It's one heck of a job.
You know those psychologists who warn us every year about working ourselves into a frenzy in a futile quest for holiday perfection? The Martha model is what they're talking about.
Try this on for size: Get yourself a helper and make 300 plum puddings, each serving 10 people. Stewart did it.
A few pages later she's covering gingerbread cookies with copper leaf for tree ornaments. Then she makes a gilded centerpiece from seed pods and pine cones dipped in metallic paint. Soon comes a gingerbread house fashioned after her own house, and an account of the "hundreds" of gift baskets, each unique, that she gives away each year.
All of this leads up to a cozy Christmas party for 175 at the farmhouse.
Are you tired yet?
Does the real Martha Stewart actually do all of this?
What's easy to overlook is that Stewart, unlike most of her readers, makes her living concocting homey gorgeousness. And she has help. For the Christmas book and the party preparations it featured her staff helped with the planning, the elaborate decorating, the cooking, baking and serving. She credits them all at the start of the book.
"I have my staff helping me, but basically the ideas are mine," she says.
Stewart says she needs only three or four hours of sleep and is up most mornings at 4. "I probably am an insomniac," she says, but instead of tossing and turning she gets up and writes or does the laundry or washes the cats. At 6 each morning her fitness trainer arrives to coach her in a 90-minute workout.
Stewart's energy seems to infuse others.
"She gets people to do things they never thought they could do like publishing a magazine in six weeks," the editor says.
Associates call Stewart brainy and inquisitive. "She's the kind of person who, when she's driving down the road and sees a cranberry farm, will stop and find out how it works," says Neuseld.
Despite such praise, some reports have it that Stewart is not a perfect dream to work for. A Seattle woman who attended one of her catering seminars in Connecticut recalls her as "very nice but very chilly," and says she demanded perfection of her staff. "If she didn't get it, she yelled at them."