Friday, August 29, 2008

Martha and Me on the Relaxed Entertaining of Overnight Guests...

I started to write this sometime last week and then dropped it. I'll finish it now and get busy around the house because, this evening, a houseful of guests-- including my absolute favorite young man, Aaron-- will be arriving for the weekend. I hope your Labor Day weekend will be lovely!


Somehow a library issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine ended up in my home in spite of the fact that I've been avoiding it due to its tendency to bring out my worst consumerist and perfectionistic tendencies. I must admit that Martha is talented and creative. She does good food and has some great ideas. I can see why people like her.

As I perused the magazine and read Martha's From My Home to Yours column on the relaxed entertaining of overnight guests, I could only be in awe of Martha, that Wonderwoman of a hostess, unflagging from early morning til late night.

Everything sounds so leisurely and fine for Martha and her guests, and she tells readers just how this is achieved:

Wander around in the morning in robe and slippers if you like. Hang out at the large kitchen table with a cappucino.Take a very early walk or hike (with the dogs). Or maybe a horseback ride. Then have a big, hearty, leisurely sit-down breakfast with all guests at the table (invite the neighbors, too). Make eggs to order and don't forget to pull out your vast selection of teas. And keep that large Italian espresso machine busy!

Then Martha finds many interesting things to do for the day (make sure you have a long list of activities to choose from). Keep your guests' needs in mind at all times, and make sure you have extra sportswear, shoes, and tennis rackets on hand in case last-minute guests have forgotten theirs. (You never know if they'll want to dash out to your private tennis courts for some vigorous early morning volleying!)

You should, according to Martha, thoughtfully consider all meals, carefully balancing the courses and timing. Don't forget snacks and cocktails. Healthy drinks should be served, too, after yoga. And there should always be fresh-baked cookies and fresh-squeezed juice.

Phew! At this point in my reading, I'm feeling like a real wimp of a hostess. If Martha and I were a Venn diagram, there would be no overlap.

When overnight guests come to visit my family, our house is clean and they can expect fresh towels and sheets (on my more accomplished days, I may have even ironed the cotton pillowcases, spraying them first with lavender spray; this, I think, might please Martha!). I've tried to plan ahead and think about logistics, but when people finally arrive at our little home, all bets are off and we take it as it comes.

I can't cook an even half-complicated dinner when we have overnight company because I'm too distracted by the fun conversation and activity to concentrate in the kitchen. I'm likely to leave the chicken out of the chicken pot pie. And with little ones running around, dragging toys and things everywhere, and people in and out and all around, with purses and books and laptops piled on chairs and tables and whatever space is available, the household demeanor is not conducive to a quiet meal before the fireplace (we'd have to crowd in front of the windowless woodstove anyway).

At mealtimes, we do clear the table of debris and pack as many chairs around it as will fit. No elbow room there, but it's cozy! My large espresso machine is a French press that serves 2 1/2 to 3 people at once. And I don't do eggs to order. I basically serve just one thing for breakfast when company is here, and that is often scones or muffins. (Oh, but I'll likely serve fruit or a smoothie, too, so I'm actually doing pretty well here.)

Toward the end of the article, Martha shares her entertaining secret: "I love to cook, but I generally have someone else do all the shopping and on big weekends with many guests, I have someone there to cook so that I can enjoy my company fully."

I've always felt fairly confident in my hunch that Martha wasn't the one scrubbing her toilets or cleaning the bathroom tile grout with a toothbrush. I couldn't imagine there was any way she did all of that cooking and entertaining of guests and then, afterward, went to the kitchen to scrub the tremendous mounds of pans and dishes. And who sweeps the crumbs and wipes up spills and mops the floors? It's not Martha because she is fully enjoying her company, and I think it's good of her to let us know that.

Martha's Relaxed Entertaining Tip: Hire help.

My Relaxed Entertaining Tip: Relax.

And overlook the mess, if necessary. Eat simply. Share the work with family and even guests. Have fun and enjoy your local area, but don't always go, go, go, do, do, do. It's also good to, at least part of the time, just be. Visit. Play games. And you might actually find time to bake those fresh, warm cookies and set out a pot of hot tea.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mrs. Incredible...

For years I've had a quirky thing going with my mugs. Every morning, while my coffee brews in the French press, I scan the cupboards for just the right mug. There really is only one that seems happy and comfortable for drinking coffee on a given morning, and that "right" mug changes from day to day.

This morning it was this one:

My stretchy Mrs. Incredible mug was given to me for my birthday
a few years ago by my sister's family.

I woke today (last night?) at 2 a.m., and since I was unable to fall back to sleep, I surrendered to insomnia and crawled out of bed for the day at 4 a.m. Maybe this had something to do with my Mrs. Incredible mug being ineluctably ordained for holding my morning coffee. At that hour, I was feeling far less than incredible. Maybe the mug would impart a jolt of energy or incredibleness to my weary self (though I'd be willing to settle for mere coherence). If not, maybe the caffeine would do the trick.

Whatever the case (and I did get through the day in acceptable form), I like this big, bold mug that leans over to one side. It stands out in the cupboard as being quite different from the others around it, which is apropos to the spirit of Mrs. Incredible, I suppose.

And on a day like today, I especially like the fact that it holds a good amount of coffee. Guess who's going to bed early tonight?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"By Wisdom a House is Built..."

See the framed print that sits at the top of the hutch in this picture? It's one of my treasured possessions, filling me with memories and reminders of my years as a mother. It's one of those special "things from my life" that I talked about in this post.

I bought the print at a Christian book store in 1989 when our family lived on the Oregon coast. At the time, Aimee was seven-years-old, Michelle was five, Aaron was four, and Melissa was two. If you could see the picture up close, you would immediately notice the distinct, "country-cute" style of the 1980's-- hearts and angels and ribbons in muted pastels.

The artwork might be dated, but never-the-less, the print has been in a highly visible place in our home since the day I bought it, and it always will be. Where it sits now, you can see it from all over our main living area-- from the living room, the open kitchen, the end of the kitchen counter where we often sit in the tall stools, and the corner of the room with the always-occupied green reading chair near the woodstove.

What's so special about the print? I bought it because of the verses featured on it:

"By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding
it is established; through knowledge its rooms
are filled with rare and beautiful treasures."
~Proverbs 24:3, 4

When I saw it, I thought, "Those are some good words to build a house by, to raise a family by, to live by." I thought it would be nice to have the verses displayed in my home where I could be reminded of them often. There's another Proverb that says, "The wise woman builds her house." The verses on the framed print extend that thought, adding insight into how it is done.

The idea of a wise woman building her home with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge and filling its room with rare and beautiful treasures sounded like joyful living to me. It spoke to me of a home rich in a nurturing atmosphere of good things-- of love and warmth, affection and grace; of gratitude, prayer, and praise; of much conversation and laughter; of celebrations and traditions; of books and music; of many interests; of developing gifts and talents; of learning and knowing and creating; of caring, hospitality, and serving; of developing into the people God means for us to be.

Every day I prayed for God's grace, strength, and wisdom, and I tried to live intently, keeping the idea in mind that our real home atmosphere and my daily outlook and demeanor were going to have a huge impact on my children. They would remember it. They would be influenced by it. They would be profoundly shaped by it. And I certainly had my share of bad days-- oh, boy, let me tell you!-- but with kids you get a bunch of grace points for honestly, humbly, and cheerfully trying! :-)

I deeply wanted to be the kind of woman who would build her home well, and the old print that is now sitting at the top of my hutch was, and is, a perpetual visual reminder of that. Maybe it's something like the Israelites writing God's Word on the doorframes of their houses-- a daily reminder for me and a message to all who enter about what is very important in our home.

Now the kids are grown, and there is a growing population of grandchildren coming into the family. (Yippee-- the more the merrier!) The verses continue to apply in our home. They matter every day, offering a good guiding vision for making a home-- wherever that home is and however many people live there.

On Internet and Blogging Limits...

I mentioned down below that I had pulled a post and changed it because it broke one of my blogging rules. Nicole asked me about those rules in the comment box, but I couldn't give her a quick answer because my rules are just my own boundaries that don't have anything to do with what I think is "right" or "wrong" about blogging. Some of them are hard to explain, and I hesitate to share those. Others are concrete and easy to list. One thing I don't want to do is spend my time talking about blogging :-) , but I'll probably get around listing those "rules" soon. In the past week, I've been tightening up my boundaries and figuring out just how I want to approach blogging (having been at this for almost five months now, I have a better idea of how I want to do this).

I'm older and my kids are grown and mostly gone, and my husband is currently working far away, so it's easy to sit at the computer without it taking away from my relationships or duties. Still, I want the internet to be a very small part of my life because I have so many things in the real world that I want and need to do. Thankfully, a short time on the computer burns me out. And being online for more than half an hour or so is almost depressing to me for some reason. I guess I don't love the computer! :-)

Anyway, while I'm in the processing of thinking this through,
Elizabeth comes along and puts up what I think a really great post on this. I appreciated it very much, and it's already been a help to me. I love some of her rules, and I intend to keep them myself. She's quick to say that her rules are not the rules for everyone, but I think they're very much worth thinking about and can be helpful if you're looking for this kind of help and can tweak the ideas to fit your own situation:

Time Online, Revisited

To Market, To Market...

Sunflowers and tomatoes from last night's CSA pickup.

Yesterday evening, I picked up my CSA produce, and, wow, I brought home loads of good things:

A nice bunch of sunflowers, 3 lbs. heirloom tomatoes (plus a 20 lb. box of tomatoes for preserving), ever-bearing strawberries, fingerling potatoes, garlic, carrots, beets, eggplant (2 kinds), sweet peppers, Walla Walla sweet onions, red cabbage, zucchini, summer squash, cucumber.

Seems to me I've got all the makings for a nice ratatouille. Now it's just a question of which recipe to use-- the one in Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Cooking or the one in Anne Willan's Country Cooking of France, both great cookbooks.

Some of you might remember when I first mentioned the CSA I joined and how much I value being part of this program. The young couple who own the farm that supplies our produce are a sweet, hardworking couple who simply love to farm. They want to run their own small business, grow organic produce, and share quality, healthy, seasonal, picked-the-day-you-get it fruits and vegetables with the community.

It's good to meet face to face with the people who grow your food, to get know their philosophy of farming, to learn what they're dealing with on a day to day basis (last night they talked of the threat of recent near freezing temperatures at their farm) and what they go through to get the produce to us. They'll tell us about the more unusual items they grow and will offer ideas for how we can use them. And they love hearing what we're cooking with their produce and that we are enjoying it.

When I dropped by last our CSA farmers house last evening, I happened to be the only member there, so I had a chance to visit more than usual with our growers. And, as we chatted, they kept adding little bits of extra food-- a small bag of fingerling potatoes a few extra tomatoes-- to our share, and the guy even went into their kitchen and brought out a bowl of blueberries he'd picked yesterday (at another farm) to share a handful of them with Melissa and me.

None of this happens at Safeway. The produce guy there might be really nice and helpful, but he is not going to share blueberries with me from his kitchen. Neither is he really connected to the food he works with except to move it from the storeroom to the shelves. He can probably tell me what country or region it originated from, but he cannot tell me about the land where it grew, the specific growing conditions for that item, or how the farmer is faring.

Once at our CSA, a man was putting his produce into a large bag like this. It's a light-weight, airy, mesh bag that held a lot of food without squishing it. I told the man I liked his bag. He told me he bought it in Mexico. So, I came home and found one online. I'll be buying two of these!

There are local farmers' markets in just about every town or area now, too, and this is another great way to support local growers. It can get expensive to buy at the market, but there's just no way a small farmer can compete price-wise with large retail stores. Instead, the grower is more of a specialist, even an artisan, who provides excellent quality produce that is fresh, in season, often organic or no-spray, often heirloom or an unusual variety, and picked ripe, which makes it far more delicious than what is usually sold in the supermarket, and more nutritious, too.

I like being able to ask the market farmers (who are quite pleased to talk about their produce) about this unusual variety of potato, or that strange cucumber, or what I can do with the tatsoi or garlic scapes (I learned to make garlic scape pesto at the farmers' market). And I think most of us can afford to treat ourselves to at least one delicious pint of fresh-picked strawberries or a perfectly ripe peach or two or just a few beautiful heirloom tomatoes. There's nothing that tastes as good as produce that is this fresh.

When my girls were still living at home, we liked spending a leisurely summer morning at our Saturday farmers' market. We'd shop around for a while and fill our cloth bags with our purchases. Then we might take a short walk to the local used book store, walk on down the street to a coffee shop, and sit outside at a table sipping coffee, chatting, maybe eating a few berries from the market, and flipping through our used bookstore purchases. It's a very nice Saturday morning thing to do. I highly recommend it!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Salmon for Dinner...

Monday night dinner. Blackened salmon tacos with chipotle sauce. From Diane Morgan's great cookbook, Salmon. Yum. If you eat a lot of salmon, you want this book. Trust me.

Our Family History of Chocolate...

If you have a true, deep, and abiding love for chocolate, you can follow the gripping installments of this, if you like.

A Late Summer Sunday Walk...

Across the meadow two weeks ago. The lupine and grass looked
a bit rangy and finished even then, and now the lupine is gone, and there is
no longer any sign of green in the grass.

I posted this late last night, then I deleted it early this morning because it broke one of my blogging rules. I made just a few deletions and some minor changes before reposting it now. And I do want to repost it because one of the main reasons I'm doing this blog is to keep a journal-scrapbook-record of my very ordinary, pleasant, simple, mundane days and thoughts way out here in the middle of nowhere. For those who had commented on this post when it was up earlier, I'm sorry that those comments disappeared with the original post. Thank you for your remarks. Pretend that it's Sunday when you read this because the post is written that way... :-)

An author's comment to her golden retriever got me out on my walk this morning. It was a light, off-hand remark made by Julie Catterson Lindahl to her dog, Lucy, in the acknowledgments section of her book,
On My Swedish Island:

"I thank her for dragging me out into the forest each day and proving beyond any reasonable doubt that there is no bad weather, only bad clothes."

As I read that I was sitting at the dining room table with no intention of moving, but I thought about our dog, Penny, who loves to go off on a walk every day and how much I like taking her. I've always loved my year 'round morning walks down our country road. There's something invigorating about getting out in the fresh, dry air of our desert mountain foothills, even when I have to bundle up on very cold winter days. So, I thought, let's go!

But then I remembered my hip, with its injured joint that often hurts (like today). And I noticed that the red needle on the thermometer had already gone past 70 degrees, which meant I was going to sweat on the walk. :-)

It occurred to me that I should just go for a walk tomorrow because it's Sunday today, and one shouldn't work on Sunday, and a sweaty walk = work. Besides, I didn't particularly feel like like going for a walk, and one should only do things that make one happy and peaceful on Sunday, right?

It was really no trouble at all to come up with plenty of reasonable excuses for not taking a walk.

And then I considered how good it is for me to get outside and move, even if I have a bit of pain in my hip and need to walk slowly. And how much the dog loves the exercise and attention. And how Julie Catterson Lindahl went on a walk everyday with her dog, Lucy, no matter the weather, and benefited from it in so many ways.

Somehow that inspired me, and I admitted I was being lazy, so I grabbed the leash and out the door I went. Penny and I walked at a moderate pace. At first my legs felt leaden and resistant to moving. In fact, I felt lethargic and "bleh" all over. But a daily walk is not a race or a contest, and I can go at whatever speed I like, so I pressed ahead and plugged along.

As I moved down the road, I began to pay attention to the beautiful world around me and felt deeply thankful for our little place in the country. I began to enjoy the fresh air and blue sky and even the movement of my legs, which had loosened considerably.

Much as I'm not ready for summer to end, I couldn't help but notice the unmistakable signs that fall is approaching. The meadow grass is no longer a lush green, or even a gentle yellow, waving about in the breeze, but it has come together in dry, straggly, mustard-golden clumps, tangled and jerking in the wind. The morning air has a hint of that crisp autumnal edge to it, even when it is summery warm outside. Light is shifting in the sky, moving south, appearing later in the morning, disappearing earlier in the evening. The shorter days and longer cold nights mean the air in the house stays chillier in the mornings, so my thoughts turn toward the wood stove and the wood that needs to be stacked in the barn for winter. The squirrels seem extra busy-busy this year, rushing here and there to who knows where. And I can't forget the way-too-early appearance of that v-formation of geese I saw and heard flying overhead awhile back. Seasons are beginning to shift for sure.

Walking along and looking around, I began to get a quiet sense of God's power, love, goodness, and care for detail. The thought that the Creator of all of this cares for me, makes the niggly, pestery things of my life suddenly seem much smaller, much more in the hands of One who is able.

Now this is a good reason to take my daily walk.

I was struck by this shift in my perspective the other night, too, when I took the dog outside for the last time before going to bed. It was late, so it was completely dark. I walked with the dog across the road, and while I was waiting, I looked up at the sky. It was so completely black and lit with stars that it caught my breath. It was just incredibly lovely. I took the dog back into the house, turned out all of the inside lights so they wouldn't brighten the outside, and grabbed a quilt to wrap around myself. I stepped outside, pulled a deck chair into the middle of the yard, and sat down to stare up at the night sky.

As I sat, the stars grew brighter. I have been a night sky-watcher for many, many years, and this was as clear and vivid and impressive as it gets. The Milky Way stretched in a band from north to south (Laura A, you should have been here sky-watching on this night!). The Perseid showers aren't as active as they were earlier in the month, but I still saw quite a few meteors. Even better, I saw a fireball!

I sat outside for a long time that night, not wanting to go back into the house.

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."
~Romans 1:20

When we do see God in what He has made, vision, trust, and faith expand. So, if it takes something as silly as a thank you from an author to her dog in a favorite book to get me past my excuses and out the door for a refreshing Sunday walk, well then, I'll take that as a very good thing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

In Homeschooling, Be the Change You Want to See...

A new school year is always exciting and full of hope and dreams. We have great ideas and good intentions, and most often it happily works out just as we hope it will. But maybe you were never quite sure of your plan or were never really confident in your ability to homeschool. And sometimes, life takes a sudden left turn. Or we get tired. Or things just don't go as planned on a day to day basis. And then we worry and feel behind. We get frustrated and become weary in spirit.

Not to throw water on a nicely burning fire or to start out the year on a negative note (because I mean for this to be positive), but if you need a boost of confidence, or if your homeschool gets to a point where it all seems not to be working well or it's fraying at the edges or is even falling completely apart, let me assure you that it can be okay.

Let me tell you some of what my children learned without curriculum or lesson plans or parent-produced assignments or teaching. Without any memorization or tests or grades.

Home Ec
Critical Thinking
Much Math
Elementary, Junior High, and some High School Science
And a whole lot more.

These were all learned as the kids went along, as they pursued their life and interests, as they read and explored and wrote and talked and observed and let their curiosity lead them down their own interesting paths. And my children are not unique in this. Many, many children have learned this way. Even Rhodes Scholars and Nobel Prize winners.

It can be done. I'm not saying it should be done the way my family did it, but it can be done, and if you get in a pinch or a bind and need to do some letting go, it might encourage you to remember this.

Homeschooling is really not the difficult, complex, scary thing some people make it out to be. It doesn't require a degree, complicated plans, paperwork, and tedious record keeping. It can be simple, relaxed, and lovely.

I'm not trying to dissuade anyone from their planned course of learning because it's good to homeschool in whatever way you feel led, or in the way you feel most motivated, inclined, and confident. For some people that entails a lot of planning and assignments and a schoolish-looking day and year, and for others of us, it means a lot of free-form learning. In between, there are myriad ways to approach homeschooling.

Maybe what I'm saying will be encouraging or come in handy if, or when, life gets complicated or stressful or messy and it becomes impossible to keep up the entire plan. A warm, relaxed, loving, parent is a much nicer guide and example than a stressed-out, burned out, frustrated, or self-focused parent. Don't worry. Trust. Pray. The Lord will not fail you, and He will not fail your children.

I'm not offering excuses for one who is merely lazy, undisciplined, inattentive, or utterly disorganized. I'm offering hope for one whose life really has sent him spinning off his intended course. God is Sovereign. He knows exactly what is happening in your life and why. Trust Him. Rest in Him. Again, He will not fail you.

I'm also offering hope for one who is tired, discouraged, overwhelmed, or even burned out by the intensity of trying to maintain a homeschool program that is just too much. There is a simpler way where the burden is light.

To reduce this to its most fundamental level, because sometimes that's where we need to be, live a positive, enthusiastic, and encouraging life with your children-- a life of warmth, curiosity, and wonder. Fill this life with books and conversation.

Keep learning yourself, even if it's about just one thing-- cooking or baby care or nutrition or education or theology or nature or quilting or that specific challenge that has arisen in your life. Scale back as far as you need to go to keep things as simple as you can possibly keep them.

Read. Think. Do. But don't overdo.

In a life-giving atmosphere, odds are, if you learn, the children will learn. Read, and the children will read. Write, and the children will write. Think, and the children will think. Wonder, and the children will wonder. Explore, and the children will explore. Be curious, and the children will be curious.

Because, besides prayer, the three most powerful tools in a homeschooling parent's toolkit are:

1. Example
2. Example
3. Example

In other words, at the most basic level of all, do as Gandhi said, and "be the change you want to see in the world."

Friday, August 15, 2008

We're Off to the Beach...

We're leaving tomorrow for the beautiful Oregon coast. We're looking forward to picking Aaron up on the way and hanging out with Mom and Dad at their house on the lake. Scooting around in the paddle boats in the early morning. Row boating. Sand dunes. Walking on the beach. Exploring. Seeing extended family. We'll be gone for almost a week.

Here's Melissa (and her cousin) having fun in the water last summer at our favorite beach:

Have a wonderful week!

A Few Questions, A Few Answers...

Beth asked if my vinegar-mop (mentioned in the post just below) is just water and vinegar. Yes it is. Half white distilled vinegar and half water, mixed in an old dish soap bottle. And I put drops of essential oil in to give it a bit of nice scent. Sometimes I'll mix quite a few drops each of orange and lemon and sometimes I'll mix lavender and lemon. Then I just squirt it on the floor and mop (using my great Shhh! mop from Clean Team). I love this stuff!

Tonia teasingly asked this after my ADD homemaking post: "do you think there is something good about this sort of spaciness? is it possibly some hidden quality of a brilliant mind? possibly?"

And I say, of course! :-) I wasn't kidding when I mentioned that Aimee got me semi-officially diagnosed with ADD (when she worked at a doctor's office), but I always tell my kids that I don't have ADD; I have the Edison Trait. :-) I could say a whole bunch on this topic, but I don't have time right now (that's probably a good thing!). Check out this blog for a discussion on the whole topic. It's kind of interesting, and even fun to read, (even if you were just kidding!):

Born to Explore

And Tonia and "The Mom" and Aimee have all asked in recent weeks if I'm going to finish my "homeschooling" or learning-atmosphere series. Yes, but not for a couple of weeks. (No, Tonia, you didn't miss the last three, but I can see how someone wouldn't notice them in this blog given the number of long posts I've written.) For the next little while, we'll be taking some little trips, and I'll be busy with other things, but when I get back into my routine, I'll finish those. If anyone wonders what I'm talking about, if you're interested you can look under the following link for all of the posts with "An Inspiring Home for Learning" in the title. You'll want to start at the bottom and work up:

High Desert Home: learning

There are other questions that have been asked, and I haven't forgotten them, but they'll require a longer answer than I have time for right now.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

High Desert Homemaking: A True Tale...

Here's a photo of our latest CSA flowers,
sitting pretty and orderly on the woodstove.

Sometimes I feel like the mouse in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Only worse.

Yesterday afternoon, for example. The following should probably not be read by the highly focused, super-organized, efficient, machine of a homemaker. It could be disturbing. (And I'm wondering if I should tell this story anyway...) Otherwise, here's how it went for me yesterday in the space of an hour or so (written yesterday, hence in present tense):

I slip on my flip-flops, which are sitting by the front door where they belong, to go outside to move the sprinklers. Before I open the door, the phone rings, so I walk over to answer it, climb up to sit on the barstool, and flip the flip-flops "off" onto the kitchen floor.

While I'm on the phone with Melissa, I open the fridge and spot the Greek yogurt. Mmmm. That's sounds good, and I'm hungry. So, when I hang up the phone, I spoon some yogurt into a pretty dish.

The phone rings again, so I answer it again. After talking, I hang up and notice the flip-flops in the middle of the kitchen floor. Oh, yeah! I slip them on and go outside to move the sprinklers.

I come back in and the floor feels really gritty under my bare feet (must be from wearing the flip-flops in the house). So, I get out the broom and mop, move all of the kitchen and dining chairs into the living room, and sweep (it needed doing anyway). I take the mop to the sink and lean it against the counter while I wet the terry cloth cover that goes over the mop head. Next to the sink is the yogurt spooned into that dish. Oh, yeah!

I'd better not let the yogurt just sit there. It should be eaten now. So, I get out the honey and drizzle it over the yogurt, then I reach for the cinnamon to sprinkle on top, and there's the mop, leaning against the counter, damp mop-cover in place, all ready to go. I'd better mop really quickly before the dampened cover dries out.

So, I squirt my homemade vinegar-mop liquid onto the floor and mop. Then I lean the mop against the fridge and glance toward the sink. Too many stray dishes have accumulated on the counter, so I decide to wash them before doing anything else. I go over and start arranging them for washing, and, once again, I see the yogurt sitting there. Oh, yeah! So I sprinkle the cinnamon on top, and I'm determined to eat it now.

I carry the yogurt to the computer to check email. Yes, there are a couple of emails there... I read them, eat my yogurt, and head back to the kitchen.

The dirty dishes are still sitting there.
The yogurt, honey, and cinnamon containers are still all out on the counter, opened.
The kitchen and dining chairs are still in the living room.
The mop leans against the fridge, wet cover still on the mop head.
The scented vinegar-mop squirt bottle is on the dining table.

I begin filling the sink with soapy water while I put away the yogurt, honey, and cinnamon. Melissa comes home just now, bearing a few grocery items she picked up for me. (Thank you.) She begins to eat a juicy peach. It drips on the floor. Hey, I just mopped that! Good thing the mop is right there, leaning against the fridge, damp covering still in place. I turn off the water in the sink and brush over the stickiness on the floor with the mop.

I notice the vinegar-mop squirt bottle sitting on the table and put it away. Then I put away the food that Melissa brought home. I look at the sink. It's now drained of its soapy dishwater (the plug leaks, so the water continuously drains slowly away). Oh, yeah! Back to the dishes.

I fill the sink and start washing, and in less than a minute, I'm practically in a sweat. The afternoon sun is really too hot at the front of the house, and I don't want to stand at the sink and swelter while doing dishes, so I walk out the front door to roll down the outside blinds on the front windows.

I notice that there are scads of cobwebs all over the window screens, so I get a rag and wipe them off. I turn and notice some flowers that desperately need dead-heading, so I quickly do that, too. Then I notice the way the light is falling on something. I like it, so I go get the camera and take a few photos. Okay, I'm in a sweat now, so I go back into the house. Wow, the sun is really bright in here. Oh, yeah! I forgot to put down the window blinds.

Back outside I go to do that, and then I head back in. I step around the kitchen and dining chairs, which are still in the living room from when I mopped. Oh, and there's the vacuum cleaner I borrowed from Michelle (mine's broken), sitting there by the chairs, still plugged in from when I used it this morning!

At this point, I'm thinking how strange is my homekeeping life. Because this is not just an unusual, extra-spacey day. This is many days, to varying degrees. This is my life. Can we call it puttering?

I sit down to write this list, but from here on I stop adding to it because now I'm conscious of what's going on.

I'm not even going to ask if anyone else out there does this. Because I'm too afraid I will hear deafening silence.

"All in order, sweet and lovely." That's my motto, right? And this doesn't sound very orderly, does it? But you know what? At the end of the day, everything that really needs to be done is done. The house is tidy. Things are in good-enough order. And in the meantime, I'm quite enjoying myself!

Can you see why I like to keep things as streamlined and simple as possible? Can you see why unschooling worked so well in my home? :-) But I have to add that while I seem to wander so distractedly, when I get focused on something, I can have an intense, serious, all-consuming concentration that is very difficult to break.

Maybe someday I'll tell you about the time my daughter got me semi-officially diagnosed with ADD (behind my back!) and how I beg to differ. :-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Libraries, Public and Home...

There are five shelves like this in our living room, and three or four more of this size in the rest of the house. And there are books on tables, books on desks, books in boxes, books in closets, books on chairs, books here and there. Books everywhere. The shelves are not perfectly tidy, but I think books like being a little mussed up and moved around and loved.

Melissa has something she would like to pursue in the future, but it will take four years of her life to do it, and she'll have to spend those four years in a town she does not like. She thinks the town is too remote and removed from civilization and is sort of depressing. I think the town is charming and fun and has a lot going for it, including culture. It's by no means a tiny town and is in a picturesque setting, but, yes, it is sort of remote. Melissa says that living there would be oppressive and she just can't imagine four years of that.

Then last week, Melissa suddenly remarked, with almost a flicker of hope and enthusiasm, "Okay, let's just go visit this town and check out its library!"

I began to laugh out loud because I knew exactly what she was getting at. "You mean if the library is decent, then living there will be bearable?"

"Yes! If it has a really great library, everything will be fine. I can endure four years of living pretty much anywhere if the library is really good."

And that is the way it is with our family.

We've been going to the library at least once a week since the kids were little. Our old town on the Oregon coast had the best children's section and children's librarians ever. The library itself had a character and warmth that was welcoming and comfortable. It was easy to settle in and hang out there for a long time, and on those dark, stormy coastal winter afternoons, it was a cozy place to be. My kids loved visiting that library, and we got to know the friendly library staff very, very well.

The head children's librarian was extremely cheerful, knowledgable, and helpful. He loved how much my kids loved to read and thought they had fine taste in books. He introduced us to some wonderful books and was always so pleased to see the kids eat up his recommendations. "Have your children discovered Swallows and Amazons?" (Oh, my!) This librarian said it was such a pleasure to see kids enjoying the really wonderful, old classic children's books, unlike many of the children who dropped by to look for something to read.

Over time, our family became quite familiar with the library shelves. Name a book, and we could immediately walk right to it and pluck it off the shelf without a pause. We happily left the library after every weekly visit with a large, overflowing box of books to take home.

While we visited the library regularly and were so thankful to have that resource, we also began building our own home library. I collected books that I thought would be beneficial for learning ("living" books and reference books), but mostly I looked for books that would be interesting and enjoyable to read, period. I wanted my children to love books for their own sake and not for their educational value. I wanted reading to be more than a school expectation. I wanted it to be a passion. And I wanted a book-rich home, not just for the children's sake, but for all of us.

So, we went to library sales and, for a quarter each, picked up many of those wonderful old classics that are far too often removed from library shelves. They were simply transferred to ours. And we visited used bookstores. We had a favorite used bookstore in that coastal town, and we stopped there often. The owner became quite friendly with us and would often direct us to whatever was new (if he thought it would interest us) as soon as we'd walk in the door. A good part of our early home library was built out of this wonderful bookstore.

Books became everyone's favorite thing to do and pursue. When birthday and Christmas wish lists were made, they were strongly dominated by books-- highly anticipated unread books or books that were already beloved and the children wanted to add them to their own collections. So, while the family library was being built, the kids' individual libraries were growing at the same time.

"When I get a little money, I buy books;
and if any is left, I buy food and clothes."

Call us consumers ("sticks and stones...!"), but buying books was, and is, a budgetary priority in our home. We believed that having a home library was important. Having reference books right at hand when a question came up was helpful. We didn't have the internet for many years during the kids' childhood years, and, anyway, I think a book is a much lovelier reference tool than a computer program or the internet. But that's just me. And when a person is interested in something and reads about it endlessly, it helps to own a collection of worthy books on the topic. These books are studied and referred to again and again.

So, for a variety of reasons, books began to pile up in our home. New shelves were added often. Many of the books were read immediately, and many of them were not. The ones that weren't were there for future use, and most of them were read or used by someone in the family eventually, somewhere along the line.

When asked if he'd yet read all of the books in his personal library, Umberto Eco almost scoffed at the questioner and said something like, "Of course not-- it's a working library!"

To a person who adores books and reading, it's almost unthinkable not to have a line-up of reading material at hand. The thought of having nothing to read is practically scary. A pile of library books will suffice (and we always have plenty of these piles around our house), but a few books of your own, just waiting their turn to be picked up and perused and enjoyed, is a delight. In my opinion, it's unthinkable not to have unread books waiting in the wings. I love that I have little piles on my night table, just sitting there, ready to go.

When we love a book or an author's works, it's wonderful to have those books on the shelf. Is everyone as particular as we are as to the exact edition and illustrator of the book we want? And do you look for that certain feel-- the weight, the size, the texture of the paper-- to be just right? In the case of my children, they often look for the exact edition of the book that they checked out of the library over and over again when they first read the book. It's wonderful to be able to hold your own copy of those books and read them again and again.

So, in recent months, when I worked through the entire house to declutter and simplify, as I do annually, I made a decision: Books are not clutter. They are our friends. There are certainly many books I removed from the shelves and from around our home when I cleaned out the house. In fact, over the past several years, I've probably cut the size of our home library almost in half. I've given books to other homeschoolers, I've unwillingly lost too many to those who have borrowed and have not returned, I've given some to Goodwill, I've passed many of my kids' favorites along to them. But I don't think I want to whittle away at the book collection any more. Most of our books are so much a happy part of us-- our minds, our imaginations, our history, our lives-- that we are not willing to part with them.

And, meanwhile, we still eagerly walk through the doors of our public library at least once a week. We were just there yesterday, in fact, and we both brought home a fresh stacks of books. For free. Such a happy thing.

Pauline Baynes, Perseids, Olympics, and "Mozart and Mud Pies..."

Illustration from Farmer Giles of Ham, by Pauline Baynes.

(I actually put up this post late last night, but I pulled it because I wanted to add some things to it early this morning. Early morning has come and gone, and I still haven't gotten to it, so I'll post this now and maybe add a second post later. So, when you read "yesterday" or "today", it is now actually "two days ago" and "yesterday.")

I found out today that Pauline Baynes, my favorite Narnia Chronicles illustrator has passed away. My kids love her illustrations. I love her illustrations. And so do many others. I followed a blog trail to the story, and I can't remember exactly how I got there. But there was a link to a very nice tribute to Pauline Baynes by Brian Sibley. If you're a fan of the illustrator, you'll enjoy reading this. If the article has moved down the blog, it's dated August 4, 2008:


At 4:00 this morning, I was outside by myself, bundled in a warm jacket and wrapped in a quilt. I sat on a chair in my front yard, staring up at the starry sky. I was watching the Perseid meteor shower, and I was not disappointed. Early on, I abandoned the plan of looking toward the northeast. It didn't seem to matter where I looked-- meteors were streaking all over the sky, or so it seemed to me. So, I looked straight up, hoping to catch more of them in my peripheral vision that way. It seems to have worked. I loved being outside in the cool, quiet darkness. I could hear an owl hooting, and before I came back inside, I could hear cars way off in the distance, moving along the country road toward town. They were likely headed for work, probably for the early 5 a.m. shift somewhere. I'll be going back outside tonight. The Perseid show is peaking right now, but it will go on for awhile, so if your skies are cloudy, don't despair. And be sure to get out there-- this only happens once a year!


Have you been watching the Olympics? We don't have a TV, but if we did, I would be parked in front of it. I've always loved watching the Olympics, and this year, I'm paying close attention to Michael Phelps and his attempt at a record-setting 8 gold medals in one Olympics. So far, so good, but the 4x100 relay sounded really scary. What an amazing comeback at the end of that race. Five down for Phelps, three to go. I always like to see what's going on with gymnastics, and usually, track and field is my favorite to watch. During the Olympics is the only time I ever get TV envy, especially when Aaron says he made brownies and tea to have while watching them. Wish I could join you, Aaron!


I've been reading the blog Mozart & Mudpies ever since Ann started keeping it, and immediately she became a very favorite blogger. This is a perfect place for new homeschoolers and mothers of young children to visit, but I love reading Ann's blog even though I'm a "retired" homeschool mom.

Ann's way is simple, generous, gentle, lovely, and a whole lot of fun, and I think Mozart and Mudpies is an encouraging place for anyone to spend some time.Ann has a couple of recent posts that I think are just wonderful. She gets behind the practical, lesson-oriented details of homeschooling to the spirit that will feed and nourish a person and help to create a wonderful learning environment. And both of these are so very important.

Go have a look. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Old Nest Box...

Yesterday afternoon, when I walked down to barn and kennel area, I could hear the loud chirping of baby birds in the birdhouse that hangs on the Ponderosa pine tree next to the barn. The birdhouse was built by Aaron and Michelle many years ago, and it's showing signs of age and wear. That first year, it was hung on a tree behind our house a ways, and a house wren family nested in it. Aaron and Michelle were excited to see birds making themselves at home in the box, but they had been hoping it would attract a bluebird family.

The birdhouse has hung in various places around our house and property since then, and year after year, some type or another of small bird nests in it. Often, house wrens make themselves at home there, but this year, the box is inhabited by bluebirds.
Or is it a bluebird? Other birds have blue on them, too. I was thinking mountain bluebird or possibly western bluebird. Photos and drawings in most books are always so pristine, but if you look hard enough you can find a few pictures of scraggly birds, and in the case of this bird, that's helpful! At first I thought it was a western bluebird, but then I didn't know. And now I'm very much guessing this is a mountain bluebird after looking at some descriptions and comparisons at the Cornell ornithology webpage. The beak is longer and more pointy like a mountain bluebird's (I think), and though the western bluebird has vivid rust coloring on the chest, the mountain bluebird can have some russet coloring, too, (at least that's the impression I got from the Cornell page) and the amount on this bird is not significant. Whatever it is, that's a pretty rugged looking bird-- must be molting. At least I know it's not a house wren!

Every day when I'm in the vicinity of the barn, I can hear the baby birds in the birdhouse chirping hungrily, and I see the busy mother bird continuously flying off to find food and then flying back to feed her babies.

Yesterday afternoon, after watching for a bit, I decided to go back to the house for the camera, and then I leaned against the barn and waited. Soon enough, along came the mother bird. She didn't stay at the nest box opening for long, but when she arrived, there was an awful lot of noisy commotion. One eager baby bird put his wide-open mouth right up to the hole. (To me, the mother does not look amused. See how her head is turned away to the side a little, as if to say, "I will ignore that...").

As I watched the box and snapped pictures, I thought of the years the kids observed this same nest box. I remembered the first year it was built and hung on a tree. That was one of the years Melissa and Michelle were publishing their sticker newsletter. Each newsletter had a theme, and there were jokes, book reviews, articles, projects, trivia, contests, poems, and more. Every month, the newsletter was mailed off with stickers having to do with that month's theme stapled into the corner. It was a very creative project, and the girls did it completely on their own.I didn't usually get to peek at the newsletter until it was ready to be photocopied and mailed.

The theme of one of those newsletter issues was "Birds." In that issue, Michelle, then age 13, wrote an article about the nest box she built with Aaron. (If this is unreadable, I can transcribe it.):

Ever since she was fairly young, Michelle has always loved watching birds. She would often go out on the property to birdwatch with Aaron, both of them carrying binoculars. Michelle also usually had a notebook, a pencil, and at least one field guide with her.

One year, probably at around age 11 or 12, Michelle tramped around the property looking for bird nests. (Aaron may have been in on this one, too.) She made a map of all the ones she could find, describing each nest and the birds that made the nest. Then she tracked each one, making notes every day or two about the number of eggs in the nest, when they hatched, etc. It was, as was everything else she did with birds, her own, self-devised project, and she had a lot of fun with it.

Six years ago, when Michelle was a homeschool high school senior, she did a nest box observation project, keeping careful notes and taking photographs of house wrens building their nest (in that same nest box featured throughout this post), the laying of the eggs, the hatching eggs, the growing baby birds, predators that stalked the box, the parent wrens feeding the babies, the day the babies left the box, and more.

Michelle created a pretty scrapbook-journal of this project. Here are two photos I took of pages from that book-- this is the day the baby birds left the nest box. They were quite comfortable with Michelle, who had been peeking in at them every day of their lives.

Wow. Was that really six years ago?! Gosh, have fun learning with your children.

Time flies.

The old nest box has been around for years, and there are a lot of memories and stories to go with it. It's like that with a lot of things around our home.

I didn't mean to go on so long in this post, but one thing kept leading to another. And if you only knew how much I left out!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Notes From Home...

When I took Georgie the cocker spaniel outside last night, the moon had sunk low above the southwest hills, so the clear, dark sky was particularly well-lit with stars. I stood outside for awhile, looking around. I thought of the Perseid meteor showers, which should peak on the 12th-- that's tomorrow. I seemed to remember that the best place in the sky to look for these meteors is toward the northeast, so I stared out that way for awhile but didn't see anything.

Later, when I turned out my bedside light for the night, I lay in my bed and again looked toward the northeastern sky, but my eyes were too heavy to keep open... I'll definitely park myself outdoors tomorrow for some night-sky watching. Be sure to catch the Perseids if you're anywhere close to where you can see stars. It's the best meteor shower of the year.

It was 36 degrees this Monday morning. The sun rose to reveal a clear, blue, non-smoky sky. It seemed so fresh and pretty outside, and I love how the morning light, filtered by trees, shines into our dining area. The light is coming in later and later each morning. We're nearing autumn, and indeed, everything seems to be taking on that glowy golden cast of fall. Soon my favorite reddish-orange Cinderella pumpkins will be stacked on the front porch, a neat pile of wood for the stove will be on the back deck, and leaves and pinecones and other signs of autumn nature will be collected and brought into the house.

We had full, busy days this past weekend. Saturday was the day Michelle had scheduled her garage sale. I knew she was going to need help, at least keeping an eye on the boys, so I got up and began making our Saturday Scones at 5:30 a.m. I brewed a full French press pot of coffee, poured myself a cup, and poured the rest into a thermos to take to Michelle's. I put my small deck table and chairs into the car, and Melissa and I left for town taking the scones and thermos of coffee with us. Michelle was all set up for the sale and ready to go at 7:30. We sat at the little table on her front porch drinking coffee, eating scones, and visiting while garage-salers shopped. It was relaxing, actually.

The little boys loved being part of the garage sale action. At first, Roman was slightly confused about what was going on. "Hey! Why is she taking my stuff?!" But he was his usual self, smiling and saying hello and good-bye to everyone, chatting with all of the adults, inviting the children who were tagging along with their parents to come to play with him (they did). Jayden just watched and occasionally gave a wave and hollered out a "bye-bye," when people left.

Sunday morning. This was the day I promised to watch Jayden and Roman while Michelle, Monty, and Melissa would go shopping in the big town across the mountains. First, I fixed puffy oven pancakes for Melissa and me. She had hers with maple syrup, and I had mine with sweetened creamy topping and what is probably the last of the strawberries. This is a favorite breakfast of ours. (We bake it in fall with apples and cinnamon.) I got a note from a friend recently who told me that she made this for her husband along with some good breakfast sausage, and it was his all-time favorite breakfast. It really is good.

My day with the boys started at 10:30 a.m. and ended at 8:00 p.m. I'm no longer used to having a one and two-year-old in my house for that long all by myself, and it was a full-time job as far as attention went, but the boys were so good and happy all day that it was really a lot of fun. And boy can they eat!

Jayden thinks everything his brother does is hilarious! He's a sweet and happy little guy who calls me a long, drawled-out "Sooo-zeee" and gives me lots of hugs.

Roman loves yogurt with sprouted grain cereal (and he added a few grapes to make "cake"). Here, he's been doing some high-speed coloring while Jayden naps. "Look, Gramma Susy, I can draw ladybugs really fast!"

Yes, I'm taking your picture! Yes, I know your bowl is empty.

Roman telling Georgie that they can look down the road to "see if Momma is coming yet."

"Look, Gramma Susy. I'm making clouds!"

The boys ate lots of food, and we read stories, played with duplos and other toys, sang songs, had quiet time and nap time, went outside to explore and play, and spent some time when each of us played quietly or did our own thing. The little neighbor girl came over for a couple of hours, and the boys adore her, so they greatly enjoyed that. She's taking karate, so she was teaching Roman "how to fight" (oh, great!). Later that day he was flinging his arms in and out, kicking out his leg, and doing the yell that Nicky had taught him.

My bedtime reading last night was William Kittredge's Hole in the Sky: A Memoir. When we visited Powell's bookstore in Portland with
Laura A's family in early July, I mentioned in a post then that, in an amazing display of self-control, I left the store with only one book. This is that book. I bought it because I like to read about Oregon, and this man grew up in places across the remote high desert of southern Oregon-- the most remote parts often being called Oregon's outback. This is the same broad region I'm from.

Annie Dillard calls Kittredge "one of our finest writers." Actually, his writing reminds me of hers. His writing is spare and beautiful, and Kittredge is frank and unflinching about his rough, troubled life, never excusing the behavior either of his family or of himself. Unlike Annie Dillard, Kittredge is not a Christian writer, so I don't know how he'll come to terms with all of this in the end.

And now it's a beautiful Monday, and I have things I need to do-- like watering grass, hanging laundry on the line, scrubbing bathrooms, putting out fresh flowers, cleaning floors, and lots more. So I'd better get busy.

I hope you all had a nice weekend!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Answering Questions-- A List of Books...

"Reading is a sage way to bump up against life. Reading may be an escape, but it is not escape from my own life and problems. It is escape from the narrow boundaries of being only me." ~Gladys Hunt in Honey for a Woman's Heart

Over the last couple of months, I've been asked various questions in the comment box. Most of the time, I've answered those questions there, but there are a few that remain unanswered. I'll address the first of those today, and I'll try to get to the others soon.

Dorothy (who may have just dropped in for a one-time visit and will never see this!) asked for a list of books after she read the following in one of my recent posts:

"I love old books where women journaled about the positive aspects of their daily lives... For some reason, the ones I like are usually stories of country life. They are light and innocuous, but full of more simple, unaffected, practical wisdom than their detractors could imagine. I find these books lovely, enjoyable, and inspiring. And they remind me that the hours, the days, the seasons, the years pass quickly, and we should savor them."

Well, Dorothy, if you're out there, here's a small list of some of my books. When I wrote about this sort of book in that earlier post, I was particularly thinking of Glady's Taber's Stillmeadow books (my best friend introduced me to them more than 15 years ago). Taber is no country bumpkin. She spent a good deal of time in the city and taught writing at Columbia.

" folk learn fast, for they grow up with the habit of thinking and doing. It is possible to live passively in the city, sitting in the theater or looking at pictures or listening to music, but on the farm a man figures things out on his own, creates his own tools, studies the ways of nature, actively experiences every day." ~Gladys Taber

The greater part of the list consists of these books by Taber:

The Book of Stillmeadow
Stillmeadow and Sugarbridge
Stillmeadow Daybook
Still Cove Journal
The Stillmeadow Road
Stillmeadow Seasons

From my bookshelves, here are a few of that sort of book by other authors. There are country journals, humorous books galore, and lots more, but these are books about peope's lives that I particularly think have some real wisdom to offer (and, of course, there are many, many other good books out there would fit the bill here):

Little House in the Ozarks by Laura Ingalls Wilder (articles and musings on a variety of topics)
First We Have Coffee by Margaret Jensen (not really a journal, but worth reading)
Ranch Under the Rimrock by Dorothy Lawson McCall (wonderful!)
Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinore Pruitt Stewart (one of my all-time favorites)

Making Coffee in a French Press...

A longtime friend and I were talking by email, and she asked if I might someday post explicit directions for making coffee in a French press, especially with photos of what I consider to be a "coarse" grind, which is required in a French press if you don't want to drink cowboy coffee. Well, sure! This morning, when I got out the coffee and press, I thought, "Why not today?"

So, this is for you, "J." :-) And for anyone else who cares to know...

I am not a French press expert, but I've been using one for fifteen years, so I'm at least experienced. Sometimes that counts for something, and sometimes it doesn't. As far as the grind of coffee goes, if you buy beans at a coffee place and ask them to grind them coarsely for a French press, they are not going to grind them as coarsely as I like them, so I grind my own. Plus, fresh-ground beans really do make better coffee.

I hope the clarity and detail of this photo will translate over onto the blog! I put a teaspoon in the cup to give some size-of-grind perspective. My grinder is not all that great, so I get some chunks that are bigger than what I'm going for, but I have to accept some of this in order to keep the overall grind the way I like it. Which is that. Above. This, of course, is going to be a matter of taste, so you will have to experiment with your grind to see how coarse, or not, you like it.

I dump some beans (which I store in the freezer, and they don't need to be thawed before using) in the grinder and grind until they look just about like they do above (the more moderately sized ones, that is). Then I dump them in a little bowl (because it's too hard to put the measuring spoon into the grinder) and measure the beans after they are ground.

The ratio of coffee grounds to ounces of water is 1:3. This is not my own version. These are the official instructions that came with my Bodum Chambord press. So, today, I measured 6 T. ground beans into the French press pot. Next, I measured 18 oz. of hot water (let it just reach a boil), and poured it into the press with the ground beans. Then I gave it a quick stir.

Something very important. Do not alter this measurement ratio. And do not alter the four minute time. Both are important for getting just the right extraction-characteristics from the ground coffee beans. If you want stronger coffee, buy a darker roast. If you want weaker coffee, brew it first, then add hot water to taste after you pour your coffee.

Today I brewed Stumptown Roasters' (from Portland, OR) Sumatra beans.
And I used one of my Goodwill Pyrex mugs to drink it.

Put the plunger-lid into the press, but don't press down. Just let it sit above the brewing coffee. This keeps more heat in the press. Now let the coffee brew for exactly four minutes. I'm not making this one up myself, either. It's also from the official instructions that came with the press. See the little black thing at the bottom of the photo? It's a four-minute timer, and it came with my press. Four minutes.

When the timer beeps, gently push the plunger all the way down. This presses the grinds to the bottom of the pot and stops the brewing. And now the coffee is ready to pour and enjoy.

My goodness. That's a lot of clutter and color!
Oh, but look at my CSA heirloom tomatoes! Aren't they nice?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Beauty" for Yesterday...

Flowers from my garden. All are native perennials.

"The garden is full of sweet peas, a tangle of magenta, lilac, white and purple-edged blooms. They look as pretty as a picture in a cream-colored jug. I would never, ever arrange flowers for the table-- in fact I sometimes think there should be a law against it-- but I do occasionally plonk a bunch unceremoniously in a vase if someone is coming. It is not just a 'guy thing', it is a question of aesthetics. There is nothing pleasing to my eye about a mixture of flowers contorted and contrived into a formal display. But then, I feel much the same about food." ~Nigel Slater in The Kitchen Diaries

As much as I enjoy and appreciate pretty, artfully arrranged, flowers, I am with Nigel on this one, at least in part. I am an "unceremonious plonker" of flowers in containers. I move them around just a little bit to make them into a nice-enough arrangement, but mostly the flowers really are "plonked" in the jar. But, of course, we can stretch out and enjoy this gathering and arranging flowers for as long as we want, if we're so inclined...

Early in the morning, I went outside with a pair of scissors in my hand. I love being outside in the early morning whether I'm cutting flowers or not. The air and light feel different to me than at any other time of day. It feels cool, fresh, and clean. The sky is bluer, the trees are greener, everything is more vivid. The only sounds are sweet ones, like the singing of birds and the buzzing of bees, against a still and quiet backdrop. The early morning feels like grace and hope. It's my favorite time of day to be outside.

And because of this, I got sidetracked, distracted, looking at this and that, deadheading flowers because I noticed it needed doing, gazing across the meadow, letting the dog out of the kennel. But I digress...

I walked around the house, choosing flowers and cutting them as I went. My flower beds look a little bit more raggedy and less interesting than usual this year, but there are still plenty of flowers to be cut and brought inside, and I'll happily keep plonking flowers in a jar until they're gone.

(I have to say I'm with Nigel on food, too. Great ingredients and simple preparation make a lovely meal.)

What have you done lately to bring beauty into your life?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A Daybook of Six Simple Things...

This sits just off our country dirt road about a quarter mile from our house.
I took this photo when I was out for my daily walk this morning.

I ran across a daybook I (sort of) kept last year and was browsing through it. I didn't write in it anywhere close to daily, but I did have a long stretch of time last summer when a little to-do list system I kept in the daybook helped me keep on track with daily chores and tasks. I've always been a list-maker. I love lists. I love crossing things off lists. This makes me sound more organized than I am, but nevertheless...

I remember last summer being slightly overwhelmed with the number of tasks that fell to me. I just wasn't getting it all done, and I was feeling so behind that I decided to greatly streamline my daily to-do lists. I started making very simple lists of just "Five Things" to do each day. These were the top five things I wanted to accomplish on a given day (the list was quite different every day), and if I did those things and nothing else, I'd be happy. It kept things simple and streamlined, and I loved doing this. Of course, on many days I did many more things than the five on my list, but the short list kept me from being overwhelmed.

Just lately I've been wanting to establish a simpler to-do list system once again, so I thought I'd resume my Five Things lists. Then I noticed that these lists have developed into something that can be divided fairly easily into six general categories. So, now I guess I could say that I'm experimenting with what might turn out to be a good way to think about my daily to-dos for the rest of my life.

Each day, I'll make a priority of doing at least one thing in each of these six categories. Doing this is really important for my sanity, wholeness, and peaceful mindset. Sometimes many things in one category will be done, but the purpose of the list is to make sure I'm doing at least one thing in each category. Some of them may take just minutes to do on a given day, while on another day, I might make a big project of one or all of them.

Maybe one day for "beauty" I'll pick some flowers or gather some willow branches or find some nice pinecones or fall leaves for display, and on another day I might paint a room or make progress on a quilt or set an extra pretty table for dinner.

But you don't need me to spell it out for you. Here's the list of six disciplines I want to make a routine part of my daily life, however simple they may need to be on a given day. This is not a list for crossing off, but for filling in, and I like that idea (though I must say that crossing off tasks when they're completed feels good!). My focus here is not so much on conquering tasks as living a well-rounded, caring, lovely life:


Do something, no matter how small, to bring beauty into my life or home. Create. Bring nature indoors. Set a nice table. Rearrange something. Spruce up an area that looks stagnant. Paint, draw, quilt, stitch, sew, construct.


Bring order out of chaos. However little, wherever it is needed, whether a room, a drawer, a file, a shelf, a closet, a garden bed.


Grow by reading, thinking, writing, discussing. Contemplate. Wonder. Appreciate. Stretch a bit. Do what I love.


Show extra care to someone. Prayer, thoughtfulness, service, make a phone call, write a letter. Make an effort. Love.


Seek God wholeheartedly. Read the Bible. Meditate. Pray for others. Keep a journal. However short or long the time is for this, hem it in quietness and prayer. Do all things as unto Him.

Outdoor Physical.

Move. Walk, garden, bike, hike. Just move in nature, enjoying the weather (no matter the weather!) and the fresh air. (And if the weather conditions are dangerous, I'll stay indoors and find a fun way to move!)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Things From Your Life...

I wrap myself in this cheerful quilt on chilly fall and winter mornings while I drink my coffee and write in my journal. Even in August, when morning temperatures can drop down into the low 30's in our part of the high desert, I'm glad to have the quilt within easy reach on the living room couch. My grandmother pieced it together years ago, and I often study the old fabric designs and wonder how the cloth was used before it found its way into Grandma's quilt. The quilt is well-made but not flawless, and it's tied rather than hand-quilted, but I love it exactly the way it is, and I'm happy for the special, everyday connection it gives me to my grandmother.

From Christopher Alexander's book, A Pattern Language:

"Decor" and the concept of "interior design" have spread so widely, that very often people forget their instinct for the things they really want to keep around them... It is... fascinating to come into a room which is the living expression of a person, or a group of people, so that you can see their lives, their histories, their inclinations, displayed in manifest form around the walls, in the furniture, on the shelves. Do not be tricked into believing that modern decor must be.. anything that current taste-makers claim. It is most beautiful when it comes straight from your life-- the things you care for, the things that tell your story.

I so agree.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Home Notes for Far-Flung Family and Friends...

It was 30 degrees this morning. It's not the first time it's been this cold in recent days. We need to get our winter wood supply in and stacked. It's not all that many weeks away til the morning fire-building routine resumes, with me in my regular position in front of the woodstove. And, once again, we'll all be competing for the top winter cozy spot in that green chair in the corner. I love the warm, radiant heat of the woodstove...

We still have hazy-smoky days, but we had a haze-free day two days ago. The wind must have been blowing in the right direction. The sky was again, for a day, a clear, bright, lovely blue.

Two days ago, when I was on a walk, I heard honking geese. And then they flew overhead in a V-formation. Going south. What do they know that I don't know? Maybe they were just doing a day-trip or a short-distance relocation.

I'm voting for a mild winter this year as a reprieve from last year's nightmare, never-ending snows...

Mr. Silly inserted himself into the photo...

And he makes a much more interesting subject than a fondue pot (that went straight back into the cupboard after having its picture taken).

The Horse-Whisperer and Rosie-the-Warrior-Dog...

For those of you who emailed (after I posted the following photo) to say that it was not a good enough view of JayJay...

Here's a more direct photo of Sweet Boy...

This is the boy who, while watching his mom make homemade cleaning supplies at our counter yesterday, grabbed a measuring cup and had a sip of Dr. Bronner's (non-toxic) Peppermint Castile Soap. It did not go down easily, and he was a very puzzled boy.

I like this girl (even if you can barely see her face here)...

She read til the wee hours of the morning last night. She barely budged from her snuggly reading spot after coming home with some new books, post-work, yesterday evening. I love that one of the books she brought home from Borders was Gift From the Sea. She's going to love that book. She already talks like she's read it. She just naturally thinks along those lines.

She seriously decluttered her room last week with some good conversation on how much stuff does a person really need? How things are nicer and more enjoyable when they are fewer. How stuff is cumbersome and getting rid of it feels like freedom.

She read Annie Dillard's The Maytrees this past week and got it in much the same way I got it. That made talking about the book fun. And it made me want to read it again.

I love that she's playing the piano more and more...

Parts of Gershwin's 30+ page Rhapsody in Blue for piano are sounding quite nice again. And I'm hearing some lovely Mozart and Brahams and Chopin.

It's fun talking on the phone most everyday with those of you who used to live here. Miss you!