Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last Evening...

"The gift within every gift is always opportunity. Most of the time, it is the opportunity to rejoice and to delight in the moment. Not often enough do we pay attention to the many opportunities we have each day simply to enjoy: the sun shining through the trees, dew glistening on a just-opened flower, the smile of a baby, the embrace of a friend."

"Life is given to us; every moment is given. The only appropriate response therefore is gratefulness. When we wake up to the fact that everything is a gift, it is only natural to be thankful and to look on everything that happens as a chance to respond to the Given Life."

"...joy is our wholehearted response to whatever opportunity is given to us in any moment. It does not depend on what happens."

"We think that people are grateful because they are happy. But is this true? Look closely, and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful."

"...if we start with easy things, then the habit of gratefulness will gradually become second nature..."

~David Steindl-Rast in The Music of Silence


Last evening, I enjoyed with gratitude: soft light and shadow, a pleasant space to work, simple seasonal gifts, quietly dramatic skies, nourishing and abundant food to eat.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Simple Woman's Daybook, Slightly Modified...

A picture thought (above)... Well, this isn't much of a thought, but it was a fun Goodwill find! We stopped at Goodwill on Sunday afternoon, and there was this set of dishes (8 place settings and a creamer and sugar) on sale for a grand total of $14.99. It is a really cute vintage set of dishes (the photo is a disappointing representation), and I was thrilled to find something for Melissa, who will be leaving home not too far in the future.

I am wearing blue jeans, a short-sleeved t-shirt with tiny blue and white stripes, socks, a half apron (a pretty, colorful one from Anthropologie-- they have adorable aprons-- given to me as a gift by one of my children at a Christmas past).

I am reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Simple Sewing by Lotta Jansdotter. Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen.

I am hearing quiet, quiet, quiet, which I love.

Learning all the time... I will sign up for Project Feeder Watch, and this year I will be forced to identify all of the birds by myself because my living field guides (Michelle and Aaron) are no longer at home. I suppose it's time to become independent of my children! :-)

I am thankful for God's grace and small daily blessings. Right now, as I sit typing, I'm enjoying, and am thankful for, lemon-chocolate chip scones and sumatra coffee and a quiet morning.

I am hoping my parents really can make it here for a visit soon.

This photo doesn't show any of the casual, comfortable ambience of the popular bakery (I didn't have the camera with me when we were there earlier that morning), but here's our group, walking along in front of it later in the day. Melissa, then Mike, then Aimee, and Josiah. Aaron was somewhere...

Eating... We went to Portland Friday to visit Aimee and Josiah. We walked to Ken's Artisan Bakery and sat inside for awhile visiting while we had coffee and pastries. I had a killer flaky almond croissant and a delicious cappucino (made with Stumptown Roasters' coffee). In the kitchen at home, last night for dinner, we had a pureed carrot-red pepper soup that I sort of made up, tweaking two Deborah Madison recipes to give me my basic idea. I added Indian spices, including just enough Indian chilly (this is how it's usually spelled-- "chilly"-- in the Indian stores) powder to give the soup a bit of heat (Indian chilly powder is much hotter than the chili powder that is most often used in America). I liked the soup.

I am creating a list of things to do in October. I already have more than fifteen things written down, and Michelle says she and the boys will join me (and Lissy, too, when she can) for part of them. These are simple things-- mostly, fall traditions that were done when the kids all lived at home-- and things I don't want to miss this year. Like making pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, enjoying the shifting night sky (moon and stars), going out to collect fall leaves, forcing bulbs for indoor winter blooms (must do right away), signing up for Project feeder watch, making my once-a-year chicken pot pie with the cream cheese crust, etc., etc.

I'm bringing beauty to my home, first with increased order and cleanliness, then with a few minor autumn touches, then with plans to make a few things (future beauty, I suppose).

Around the house... I'm working at being consistent with my entire daily housekeeping routine. If I'm mindful about it, and go at it with a happy attitude, it doesn't take long, and I actually enjoy the process and the results. Everything feels nicer to me when I the house is clean and orderly enough. And with Mike doing so much outside work recently, I am now freer and more able to maintain the inside well. Feels good!

Outdoors... Mike has worked really hard catching up on things outdoors, in the yard and in the "barn." He's made neglected areas look nice and tidy again. He had someone deliver wood to our house, and he stacked it in the barn. And he hauls loads of wood in the wheelbarrow to the back deck for me.

I am thinking about that cougar, whose "very large" tracks our neighbor, a government trapper, said he saw on his front property this past week. And I haven't forgotten, either, that he also saw "huge" bear tracks on his back property. I think I shall avoid wandering around, exploring our back acreage, for awhile. I'll stick to the road for my walks and nature time.

Aimee, trying on a cute apron at Anthropologie in Portland on Saturday. It was fun to visit Aimee and Josiah, even though the visit was far too short.

One of my favorite things... Hanging out with my family. Going to Portland and spending a very nice time with Aimee and Josiah, who always make us feel welcome and are so gracious about having us there. We had fun. We went to a new Indian restaurant Friday evening and hung out there for a long time. Then we walked to Powell's bookstore and were there until 11 p.m. We visited til late, and in the morning, we walked to the bakery, where we sat enjoying our pastries and visiting about politics (though all of us hate discussing it) because the debate was the night before, and there was an Oregonian newspaper sitting there with the debate as the front page headline (of course). Then we walked around town a bit in perfect weather and went into some stores. We were in town to take care of business, so our stay was brief, but it was fun!

A few plans for the rest of the week... To start those forced bulbs for winter blooming. To write some letters. To get very serious with my Christmas planning (I scaled way back last year on gifts, and I want to make the entire celebration even simpler and lovelier this year). To clean out my closet and evaluate my warm-weather wardrobe to see what I need. To read as much as I can. To invite Michelle and Monty over to dinner. To do fall clean-up in the garden beds.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

From Our Library Shelves...

A bit of Presidential love of family (along with a bit about my own family)...

I grew up with four siblings in a little house in the country on the Oregon coast. The five of us were very close in age, with spacing between children at 14 months, 14 months, 18 months, and 15 months. Mom was 25-years-old when the fifth child (my brother, the only boy) was born.

Know what that meant? Lots of fun! My mom and dad were both athletic and active. They were both exuberant and playful. So we grew up playing sports and running all over the neighborhood and having a grand time, whatever we were doing.

Dad forgot that four of us kids were girls, and he had us shooting baskets, smacking baseballs, tarring the roof, chopping wood, throwing bales of hay on a truck, and doing all sorts of things that many girls probably didn't do.

Mom did remember we were girls, and she was quite pretty and fashionable, so we also curled our hair and wore dresses and liked to do things in the kitchen. We learned how to shop clothing sales with the best-- Mom, who saw no shame in good-naturedly tearing (sprinting?) through the department store when the doors opened for The Hub sale (now legendary in our family). We thought it was great fun and admired our mom like crazy for her lightening-fast sale-shopping finesse!

My siblings and I had lots of energy and spunk. When neighborhood baseball or football games were going on, we were right in the middle of them, even when it was tackle football. We also played tackle basketball and tackle tag! (My dad was proud.) We could build forts and go-carts with the best of the boys. We could run faster than them and beat them in bike races. We explored the woods and canyon and knew where the best berries were. We could climb trees like we were monkeys.We'd come in the house, flushed and tired and happy, at the end of a day's hard play.

Mom and Dad were often out playing with us, too. In fact, Mom was such a hit with the neighbor kids, that they'd often knock on the door and say, "Can Wanda (that's my mom) come out to play?" She taught us to play volleyball (she played on a team and had a killer serve). She taught us a lot of fun, old-fashioned games.

My parents gave us a good amount of freedom and encouragement to use up our energy, as long as we were respectful and well-behaved. When the weather was bad-- and on the coast winters are rainy and windy-- we'd play hard inside. We were never stopped from roller skating through the house hard and fast (almost the only way we kids knew how to play). We'd sail from the corner of one bedroom, out the door, down the hallway, through the living room, and around the corner into the kitchen. We'd share the skates and skate with just one, pushing off with the other foot, like riding a skateboard. That way, we could race.

We played "stuffed animal wars" across the hallway from one bedroom to another, throwing stuffed animals as hard as we could at our "enemies" in the other room whenever a head would pop up. And we'd play hide and seek in the dark in our bedroom. There were two bunkbeds set up in there. We'd cover the windows and get the room as "pitch dark" as we could. Everyone would hide, and the seeker would then feel his way around the room to find the hiders, who were allowed to move around. Scary! :-) There was a lot of screeching and banging around going on in that room when we played this game, but my parents didn't seem to mind.

I love that my parents didn't have the view that children must be seen and not heard. Or that "polite" means too-docile and passive. I'm glad they respected our God-given energy and allowed for it. I'm glad they played with us. I'm glad they laughed and, in spite of the imperfections of our family, gave us such a fun childhood. I'm also glad that they expected us to obey and to be respectful. They built a wonderful family camaraderie that continues even now. I love my family!

I think we were raised with the same idea in mind that Teddy Roosevelt had for his own children-- a robust righteousness. Yes, we were robust, but we were good kids.

"Father plays tennis with Mr. Cooley (Father's shape and spectacles are reproduced with photographic fidelity; also notice Mr. Cooley's smile.)"
~detail from one of TR's "picture letters," scanned from
Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children

Have you read Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children? Because if you haven't, I think you should stop what you're doing, locate the book, and read it. It is charming, heart-warming, funny, and refreshing. And everyone should read The One Bad Thing About Father aloud to their children, a little book about the rollicking good times had by the Roosevelt children and their father in the White House (they played hard in that building, and all sorts of animals-- including ponies-- came in, too!). The narrative of this children's book was derived largely, I believe, from Teddy Roosevelt's letters to his children.

This afternoon, something reminded me of the book of letters, so I went looking for it on my bookshelves. I have an old copy, printed in 1924, that I bought in a used bookstore many years ago. (I believe it has been republished in recent years.) The entire thing is made up of the letters Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his children, complete with the charming and humorous illustrations he included in those letters. I think the book struck me extra well because it was something of a serendipitous find-- I'd never even heard of it before the day I found it, and when I began reading, it was just the sort of thing I like best.

The book still makes me smile. Reading it years ago made me see my own children, and their needs, in a better way, and it inspires me still-- to respect childhood, to live life fully, to make the most of each day, and to value family relationships (time flies). If you haven't already, read those letters Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his children. If you're anything like me, you'll love them. (Yes, I'm raving. I tend to do that.)

I'm sure at least some of you have read this book already. Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

(See number one on my blogging guidelines below. I did not succeed with this post.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My 10 Blogging Guidelines...

Okay, by overwhelming, popular demand (well, two people liked it... and I miss it, too...), the return of the original photo for this post (and it does fit the quote):

"...the Code is more what you'd call 'guidelines' than actual rules."
(from Pirates of the Caribbean, the movie)

I'm listing my guidelines only because someone asked about them awhile back, and I promised to post them. I listed these guidelines for myself when I first started blogging, and they really are just for me-- because I know what I need to do and why-- and not a matter of what I think is right and wrong for any other blogger. Some of my favorite blogs work outside these guidelines, and I certainly don't think they should change a thing.

1. Keep posts mostly short. (Surprised at this?) This is relative. And it's something I'm working on.

2. Don't get a site meter. Don't keep track.

3. Stick with the original aim of the blog-- to keep sort of a family scrapbook and journal of our very ordinary daily lives, what we're reading, thinking about, doing, etc. Our routines, rituals, traditions.

4. Limit computer time.

5. If it's not fun, don't do it. It's not a job.

6. No obligations. Don't force a post through. (I pulled a post once for breaking the second half of this guideline.)

7. First things first. Family, home, relationships, real life, hobbies and interests, routines, reading. Blogging can fit into that, but it's not the priority.

8. Be positive. Be thankful. Be light.

9. Be real. But don't post my deepest thoughts and struggles. Don't aim to be preachy, teachy, wise, or deep.

10. Be myself. Don't look at other blogs I like and emulate them. I am not them. I am me.

Answering Questions...

1. Tonia wondered what I do with the Sal Suds (a Dr. Bronner's all-natural cleaner). This smells slightly like Pine Sol, but not nearly as strong, so if you can't stand the smell of Pine Sol, you might not want to try this. Today was the day to deep clean my kitchen. I filled the sink with warm water and suds made from the Sal Suds. Just a squirt does the trick. And I proceeded to clean-- inside and outside the refrigerator and freezer, small appliances on the counter, large appliances, walls, window trim, cupboards, floor, everything! It really is an all-purpose cleaner. You can even do dishes with it. I really liked using this today.

Heather asked what I have for breakfast on the raw food diet if I start the day with coffee. Well. When I was doing Natalia Rose's version of the raw diet as a detox/health thing, I had only fruit in the morning. Usually no coffee, but sometimes I did. Now I combine raw food ideas with some Nourishing Traditions ideas (they do have some overlap). My breakfast is either all-fruit (usually a smoothie). Or I'll have sprouted grain cereal with whole, raw milk. Or I might have sprouted grain toast with raw honey and cinnamon. Very rarely I'll have oatmeal. And sometimes I'll make waffles from using grains/flour I soaked overnight. And occasionally I'll break out of the plan altogether!

3. Silvana (I think it was Silvana!) asked me about homeschooling older kids. She wanted to know if we kept doing things the same way we did when they were young (free and loose and relaxed). I've tried to write something several times about the way we homeschooled our older kids, but my posts keep getting unnecessarily long and unwieldy. I'll continue to try to write a simple answer to the question to explain a few things, but for now, I'll simply say, yes, when the kids were older we continued on just as we had from the beginning-- all the way through high school.

4. I've had some questions (in the past and yesterday) about early mornings, finding time for quiet time (busy moms), and sleep. The questions aren't necessarily connected, but they can be, so I'm going to connect them!

I was a busy mom once. I know what it's like to have sleepless nights, sick babies, and busy, full days. I've done the round of diaper changing and chasing after exuberant toddlers and then doing all of those things a mom does all day long, every day while her children grow from infancy to adulthood. I know what it's like to be oh-so-very-tired. I remember times when I would have given my right arm for a chance to lie on the floor and sleep if I could know that my little ones, crawling around and exploring, would be safe. I remember trying to read a story book, but my eyes would blur and my eyelids would droop and my head would nod and jerk.

I also, and mostly, remember very well the joys of those days.

I've had years of health troubles. There were times when I could hardly keep my head up, when my body and joints ached and hurt, and it was a struggle even to move sometimes. I needed nothing more than I needed sleep. I did not try to get up early when I was feeling extra poorly in the mornings. I realized that I felt better and stronger if I'd stay in bed, so I often did, especially if I hadn't slept well the night before. I didn't feel guilty about this. I made quiet time where I could.

I established a mandatory, after-lunch, daily quiet time when the kids had to be on their beds, silent, lying down, either reading or sleeping (no other options). Sometimes my own devotional quiet time happened then, and, if not, at least I had some refreshing silent time in the middle of the day when I could think my own thoughts for a while. (And so did the kids.)

I don't have great advice for finding quiet time or getting enough sleep. I've had different quiet time routines, depending on my life situation at a given time-- sometimes in the early morning, sometimes after the kids were in bed. Sometimes outdoors, sometimes sitting on the bathroom floor with the door shut. I did try to make it a routine, though, and thankfully, most of the time, I didn't have trouble finding something that worked.

Every situation is different, but I will say that when you find yourself with a bit of quiet time in your day, take it, and when you don't, make it (very early morning, late at night, during the kids mandatory after-lunch quiet time on their beds...).

When I don't have much time for solitary quiet, I remember what Amy Carmichael said in her devotional book, Edges of His Ways: "Bishop Handley Moule used to say, 'Even if you have not a long time to spend in the morning with your God, hem it with quietness.'" Be prayerful. God knows your heart. He knows when we seek Him. He knows our situation. He is faithful to give us what we need.

If there really is no time for solitary quiet and prayer, we can follow the advice Catherine of Siena had for her spiritual children: to "make a cell within their own hearts and dwell in it." According to Frances de Sales, Catherine, when deprived of opportunity of time and place to be alone in prayer and meditation, learned to shut herself in her interior closet even while she carried on with her duties.

We can all be like Brother Lawrence (of Practicing the Presence of God), who, when working at his tasks, turned everything into an act of worship, even the turning of an omelet in the pan. When you are up with sick children, pray. When you are rocking your babies, sing. When you are working at your tasks, be thankful, think, pray. When you are answering a million needs and questions, live an abiding, prayerful life, asking God to love through you.

The truly spiritual life is simple. There are no forms or rules or patterns to follow, thank goodness! This life is made up of a heart that seeks God throughout the day; a mind that acknowledges Him, giving thanks in everything; actions that mean to please Him and to show His lovingkindess to our own family and to others.

When we can, we sit and read His word. And if there is time and peace, we sit in the quiet, for however long we have. And we pray without ceasing. And we sing. And we offer all things up to Him as we do them. And we see Him in every single thing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

An Autumn Early Morning Routine...

This morning I built a fire in the woodstove for the first time this fall.

I was up at 4:47 a.m. today. Melissa was getting ready for work, and it woke me, but I didn't mind because I like to get up that early. The first thing I do every morning is check the thermometer right outside my bedroom window, and today it said 22 degrees. Not the coldest it's been this month, but it's definitely chilly, and the house felt colder than usual this morning-- too cold-- because days are getting shorter and recent weather has been cool.

So, for the first time this fall, I built a fire in the woodstove. And the first fire seems to usher in the new season. This is when I know that fall has truly arrived. Wood will now be perpetually stacked on the deck and in the reddish wood container by the stove. I won't be spending mornings out in the sunny backyard any more. My life will increasingly move indoors, but that's okay because I have routines for the cold seasons that I enjoy, just like I do in summer.

Pleasant routines are something we can mindfully create, aren't they? Over time, we realize what we very much enjoy and how we like to do things. We set up an atmosphere that stimulates and inspires us, making it as pleasant and warm as we can. I do my best to make all of my daily routines nice-- my seasonal morning routines, my chores, meal times, my afternoon coffee break, whatever I do.

One thing I really do enjoy is my morning fire-building ritual in cold weather months. Each night, before I go to bed, I carry in a pile of wood to put next to the stove, and I make sure there are paper and matches on hand for making a fire. And, in the morning I get up in the dark and head straight for the woodstove. I like getting up in the dark. I get to watch the world wake up.

I start the fire and tend it until it's crackling, and then I establish a bit of morning atmosphere. I like all of the rooms to be tidy. I like the table to be clear of everything but what is pretty. I turn on lamps for gentle light. I heat water in the kettle and brew coffee in the French press, then I pour it into just the right mug. I place my familiar morning things in the area where I'll sit (whether it's at the dining table or in the comfy green chair that is adjacent to the woodstove).

I take my Bible, journals, notebook, and devotional book from the little standing shelf that sits on my reading table, and I find a pen that writes just how I like a pen to write. Then I wrap my grandmother's quilt around myself, sit down, and settle in to sip coffee, write in my journal, and be still. I love that it's always silent in the house in the early morning except for the snapping and crackling of the fire in the stove.

This might seem contrived and unreal to those who can't bear to look morning in the face, but it's my general fall and winter routine, and I like it. I follow it pretty faithfully, but there are days when it varies or doesn't happen at all. Whatever is going on, I try to begin each day with a grateful mind and heart, listing my blessings and thanking God for them. (No matter what is happening, there is much to be thankful for.) I spend some time reading, writing, thinking, praying.

Eventually, I pull out the notebook containing my (very simple) autumn housekeeping plan and look it over. I decide what we'll have for meals, what household work needs to be done, and check to see what errands or activities, if any, are on the schedule. Today is a stay-home day, and besides routine tidying and cleaning, my focus is to get bedrooms deep-cleaned. Dinner is planned-- Pan-Roasted Halibut with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Butternut Squash (from Sara Foster's cookbook, Fresh Every Day).

Once my quiet time is over and the day's tasks are noted and my coffee is finished, I get up from the table and get busy. I've learned that I get much more accomplished when I do my chores in the early morning. That's one reason I like to be up extra early for quiet time. Things go much better when I have my quiet time first thing and then carry on with my day. So, even on days when I don't feel like getting up in the morning, I choose to get up. And then I do what I can to make a good day, and by God's grace, it is.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Scrubbing Pans and Learning...

I wrote this one morning awhile back and then shelved it because it struck me as slightly silly. But I do think the main idea is important, so I'll go ahead and post it.

I made oatmeal this morning, and, immediately afterward, I washed the breakfast dishes. I scrubbed for a while to remove the cooked oatmeal from the bottom of its pan, and although some of it was coming off, it was taking a lot of elbow grease, so I let the pan sit in the warm, soapy water while I washed the other dishes. Then I began scrubbing the pan again, but it was still requiring more pressure than I wanted to put to it, so I walked away to let the pan sit in the water for a while longer. When I returned to the pan this time, the sticky oatmeal problem had fallen entirely away. I simply swished the rag around to make sure the pan was really clean, rinsed it, and put it in the dish drainer.

I could have stayed at that sink right from the beginning and scrubbed on the pan until it was completely clean and shiny, but it was a lot easier to let it happen naturally in the warm, soapy water. No strain. No unnecessary effort. The problem took care of itself.

In life and learning, many things (not all things by any means) come "unstuck" all by themselves, as if by magic, with a bit of waiting in the proper environment.

John Taylor Gatto said that when a child is ready and willing, he can learn the entire scope of basic math in less than 100 hours. I believe him. When it comes to learning, readiness is everything. And-- contrary to what the scope and sequence programs of our schools suggest (dictate)-- all children are not ready to learn the same things at the exact same age. God has made each child unique, with his own scope and sequence for learning and developing. (I read in a book that Einstein didn't speak until he was four years old. Can you imagine how much a modern parent would wring his hands and fret over this and search for the best therapies and "help" for their child?!)

I don't think it's necessary to worry and press a child, to the point of tears and frustration, to learn something. We shouldn't watch him literally break into a sweat when trying to grasp something he's not quite ready to learn. Study might be hard work (of a rewarding sort), but learning is a gentle art. It should be a lovely thing.

I knew a little girl who was a late reader. When she was eight-years-old she still wasn't reading, and her mother was quite stressed out about it. This mom had tried many different reading programs with her daughter. She had pressed forward, gently, faithfully, and consistently, in an attempt to help her daughter learn to read. Nothing worked. The little girl could very slowly and painfully sound out basic words, but she was not improving or becoming fluent. She was often in tears, and her mother was increasingly discouraged that her daughter was "falling further and further behind."

One day this little girl's mom asked me what I'd do in her situation. Okay, this is different than asking me what one should do, so I told my friend what I would have done: "Nothing. Just let your daughter keep doing the other million interesting things she's doing, and keep reading and reading and reading aloud (the girl loved it). Read aloud "living" history, science, literature, everything! And have fun."

So, the mom, mostly out of a sense of powerlessness, did just this. About six months later she called me and said, "Guess what?! She's reading! All by herself, she's reading. I don't even know how it happened. I just caught her with a book and asked her if she could read it. She said yes, so I had her read aloud to me. She's reading chapter books!"

This kind of thing is not as unusual as it might seem. I could tell more stories similar to this one-- about spelling, about other late readers, about math, about writing, about lots of things. Sometimes all that is needed by a child who is truly not getting something is to stop working on it and let it sit. Surprisingly often, the sticky problem completely disappears, as if by magic.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Husband, the Bug Guy...

Mike and Jayden outside exploring today. There's a bug in that jar!

Mike has been collecting insects for years now. I can't remember exactly when he started this in a serious way, but he's at least gone on bug explorations and searches for as long as I can remember-- always for himself, then with his own children, and now with his grandchildren. Both Jayden and Roman are fascinated by the insect world that is opening up to them thanks to Grandpa Mike.

Mike and Roman on our back property today, looking for bugs.

Mike really has a beautiful collection of pinned insects in boxes (I'll try to put up some photos eventually). I'd say that most of Mike's insect collection consists of beetles. That seems to be his main interest. He even joined the Coleopterist Society. He's also taken college entomology courses just for fun. And because he has traveled all over the world for his job, he has collected insects in many places, including the Amazon.

Co-workers have told me that they were at first startled by the sight of a light, pointing seemingly aimlessly and randomly (sometimes jerking around strangely) outside at night, wherever they were staying, but it didn't take long to realize, "Oh, that's just Mike wearing his headlamp, searching for insects." (I think we're an eccentric bunch!)

When Lisa L's son saw the above photo of Roman with Mike, he was inspired, so Lisa asked if Mike would be willing to write a post on how a child can start his own bug collection. I asked him if he'd be willing to do this, and he said, "Sure!" So, I don't know when this will be ready, but, hopefully, we'll have that for you soon, Lisa (and anyone else who might be interested).

House Cleaning Recipes...

Michelle came over with the boys today to have Saturday morning scones with us, to visit for awhile, and to make homemade cleaning supplies to restock her housekeeping basket. And, while she was at it, I let her refill my almost-empty containers, too. :-) We got out the baking soda, distilled white vinegear, castille soap, Borax, essential oils, and Clean House, Clean Planet, the book we use for most of our household cleaning recipes, then Michelle got busy!

Actually, this really is a lot of fun to do with others. Michelle and I always get together to mix our cleaning supplies, and once we had a friend show up to join us because she wanted to get jump-started by mixing her first batch of cleaners with someone else (she'd kept putting off making them because she thought it would be more time-consuming or complicated than it is).

Michelle and I both love making and using homemade cleaning supplies (Aimee makes them, too), but we do purchase some "green" products at the store occasionally. For instance, I just bought some Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds, and I really like it, but, mostly, I mix my own cleaners. They are non-toxic, and you can save a lot of money. Some products that you'll spend $3 or $4 for in a store cost mere pennies if you make an alternative at home.

In this photo, Michelle is mixing baking soda with lavender flowers from the yard for sprinkling on the carpets before vacuuming. It makes the house smell good.

Michelle also mixed some "Alice's Wonder Spray," an all-purpose spray cleaner that we both use as a basic, mainstay cleaner:

To make this, you'll need liquid castile soap (don't use detergent), white distilled vinegar, borax (which is actually mildly toxic), purified water, an essential oil for fragrance (unless you use scented castile soap), and a 16 oz. spray bottle.

Mix 2 T. vinegar with 1 t. borax in the spray bottle. Fill the rest of the bottle with very hot water (shake until dissolved; be sure to use hot enough water to dissolve the borax, or it might clog the spray nozzle). Add the 1/4 c. castile soap last. To scent (if needed), add 10 to 15 drops essential oil (a mix of lavender and lemon is nice). It's best to use purified water for this recipe because minerals in water inhibit cleaning.

To use, spray and wipe as you would with any other all-purpose cleaner.

Here's my "Housekeeper's Box" re-loaded and ready to go! I love this box, and I do tote it around the house with me when I clean.

Another homemade cleaning recipe that Michelle and I both like to use is "Earth Paste Tub and Tile Cleaner." I love mixing this one. It foams up and looks like frosting. Since we use peppermint scented castile soap, it smells really nice without having to add any essential oils to the mix. We use this one to scrub the tub and tile in the bathroom and to do any other scrubbing jobs that require something more hard-working than the all-purpose spray:

To make this, you'll need baking soda, liquid castile soap, white distilled vinegar, and water.

Mix 1 2/3 c. baking soda with 1/2 c. liquid soap in a bowl. (Don't use detergent.) Add 2 T. water. Mix with a fork til smooth. Stir in 2 T. vinegar last. The mixture will foam nicely. Use a spatula to scoop your homemade scrub into a plastic or glass jar (we use a little Rubbermaid container). Add warm water if the paste dries out. When mixing this paste, don't mix the vinegar and soap directly together or you will make gunk instead of scrub. Add the vinegar last.

To use, scoop this fragrant, enjoyable scrub right out of the container with a soft cloth or sponge and start cleaning. Rinse well. If you find you are leaving a baking soda residue, use a scented vinegar rinse and your tubs will be squeaky clean!

And here's my new broom, at rest against the counter just after sweeping the kitchen.

And after sweeping the kitchen with my

fine new broom, I squirt some mopping solution on the floor, and mop with my Sh-mop. Michelle and I were both out of this, so today she made "Momma's Earth Mop" by mixing equal parts white distilled vinegar and water and dropping in several drops each of orange, lemon, and lavender essential oils. We both use empty dish soap containers to hold our mopping liquid. Give the container a shake, squirt some on the floor, and mop. It works great!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Yesterday was the day to take Aaron back to his college town, so we loaded up the car and the four of us-- Mike, me, Aaron, and Melissa-- headed out early to allow lots of wiggle room in the trip schedule. Good thing, too, because our first route across the mountains, and then the second, was closed because of a large forest fire. We ended up going far enough out of our way that we added two hours to the drive.

A wildfire, typical in the arid west.
No, I did not take this picture, yesterday or ever.

And that got us to Eugene 15 minutes late for Melissa's hair appointment, but not so late that her appointment was canceled. Whew. Mike, Aaron, and I toodled around while Melissa got her hair done.

First, we went to a little coffee shop that sells Stumptown coffee (I bought a bag of coffee beans) and makes a decent cappucino (a rarity).

Then we went to Borders to wander and browse. We bought Aaron a copy of Mark Bittman's
How to Cook Everything. I got myself a Barbara Pym book, A Glass of Blessings. And Mike bought the latest issue of The Economist magazine.

We went back to the hair salon to wait for Melissa, where we sat in the car and read. After a while, I decided to walk across the parking lot to have a look around one of my favorite home and garden stores,
Down to Earth. And I found something I've been looking for for quite a while. A good broom.

When my old broom broke months ago, I put it back together with strong tape and began my search for a nicer one. I had decided quite a while back that when it became necessary for me to replace any household item that I was going for craftsmanship and quality, good aesthetics, sustainable materials, etc. I wanted to shop for household items with the following idea in mind:

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." ~William Morris, British craftsman whose designs generated the Arts and Crafts movement

Even when it came time to buy something as utilitarian as a new broom, why not go for both useful and beautiful instead of buying another plasticky broom? Actually, my old broom had a wooden handle and natural bristles for sweeping, but it was cheaply put together, never very sturdy, and held together with cheap plastic. I was guessing I could do better than that, so I began looking for a useful and attractive new broom but found nothing that appealed to me. Then I went into Down to Earth and came across this:

It's a
Sweep Dreams broom. Handmade in Thailand with all natural, renewable (sorghum and bamboo) materials. Dyes, when used, are non-toxic and natural. My broom has green and yellow tinting (very pretty), but I think I would have chosen this plain broom had it been available. At any rate, the brooms are attractive enough to display in the open. I think I'll eventually get one of their pretty dustpans, too!

I'm sure it must seem silly to be enthused enough about a new broom to write a blog post about it, but that's the way I am. Easily pleased. Sweeping will be ever so much more fun from now on, I'm sure! When we arrived home last night, I immediately gave the broom a test drive on the kitchen floor, and it worked even better than I'd expected (but compared to my old broom, anything would have been an improvement).

Anyway... When Melissa's appointment was finished, we had a late lunch/early dinner at our usual spot,
Cafe Yumm!. I had my usual Smoky Yumm! bowl and asked for it "vegan" with avacadoes on top. Cafe Yumm! (a "green" company) is as quick as fast food, but the food is really healthy-- whole, mostly organic, real food. The Yumm! bowls are vegetarian and can easily be made vegan. And the food really is delicious.

Next, we dropped off Aaron, and his things, at his apartment. We looked at TripCheck on the computer for road closure information, and sure enough, the main routes home were still closed because of the fire. So, we chose an alternative route that would add only an hour to our drive and headed home. As we started toward the mountains, we found ourselves, once again, in thick smoke. Uh-oh. And as we began climbing, we could see clouds of billowy smoke and a bright orange glow ahead of us. Another fire. But we drove on, and, to our relief, it became apparent that the fire was far enough north of the highway not to threaten our passage.

We finally reached our driveway after 9 p.m. Ahhhh, home! (But we sure do miss Aaron...)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reading Domestic Fiction...

"Domestic literature is both gentle and gently rewarding... Domestic novels reveal the textures of women's lives and the infinite possibilities and permutations of the domestic space." ~Jane Brocket

I mentioned a couple of days ago that, in need of something comforting and domestic, I began reading Fresh From the Country, a Miss Read book. I'm just finishing that book now and was pondering what to read next. Because there is currently much going on at home and more than a few distractions in my life, I'm not looking for something serious, academic, or intellectual to read. Instead, I'll continue reading what is light and fun but that also offers something to chew on or to inspire me in a good direction.

As I was thinking about this, I remembered the section in The Gentle Art of Domesticity called "The Domestic Library" and how appealing Jane Brocket's descriptions were of her favorite domestic novels. This is where Brocket lists "some of the books (she chooses) to read when in need of encouragement, inspiration, and laughter."

I've already read a few of the books on this list. One of them, Mrs. Miniver, is a favorite, and I liked the heroine so well that I used her name as my pen name for our secret, just-for-fun, family newsletter. I think my view of Mrs. Miniver, though, is a combination of her character in the book and the portrayal of her in the movie (which is slightly different from the book). At any rate, I used the Mrs. Miniver name again for my little used, family-only blog, "Coffee With Mrs. Miniver."

I've read another book on Jane Brocket's domestic reading list-- Jane Eyre-- but most of the others, I haven't. I haven't even heard of some of them, probably because they're written by British authors who are somewhat obscure in the U.S.

A book that is not on Jane's list, but that I would put somewhere near the top of my own "fine domestic reading" list is Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, another British writer. Excellent Women is an excellent book! Miss Read is fun and light and worthy for good, clean, uplifting reading, but Excellent Women is more literary. I think that Pym's writing is wonderful. I've meant to locate more books by her (our sad public library shelves held no other Pym books), and now I'm reminded to do so.

The Miss Read books may be something akin to the Mitford books in literary quality, but I'm just guessing about that because I haven't read Mitford. I've tried, but, for some reason, I haven't been able to get through that first book. I'm determined not to pronounce judgment on the series, though, until I actually finish at least one of the books because there are too many people whose opinions I respect that love reading Mitford. George Grant and Lauren Winner, to mention two. (It was actually George Grant's positive review in World magazine many years ago that introduced me to Miss Read.)

Kathie from
Island Sparrow recommended D.E. Stevenson to me in the comment box. I've never read Stevenson, but Kathie knows her stuff when it comes to books, so I'll trust her opinion on this. I know there are some good bloggers who love Grace Livingston Hill, like Anna at Pleasant View Schoolhouse and Michele at Cherish the Home. I don't know Grace Livingston Hill's writing, and I think I would have brushed her off as being merely another mediocre Christian romance writer, but apparently there's more to her than that. (I'll be straightforward and say that I do not go into Christian bookstores. I'm just not interested in anything I see there, even the popular modern Christian fiction writers, though these books are recommended to me by friends again and again.)

In the comment box below, we touched on inspiring, heartwarming, cozy, domestic scenes in children's literature, and that is a worthy topic of its own! I can certainly say that my own children have great fondness for the books that give them a warm and cozy feeling-- anything in a story involving tea and cakes, sitting cozily in front of a warm, glowing fire while rain or snow falls heavily, cheerful rooms and domestic work, pleasant rituals and routines of home, nice meals together, etc. In fact, I'd say that this element is present, in varying ways and to varying degrees, in most of the books my kids would call their favorite childhood books. The Wind in the Willows, Brambly Hedge, Swallows and Amazons, Gone Away Lake, Narnia, and countless others. But the topic here is the domestic novel featuring the grown woman, so I'll not take a detour into children's books!

Following is a list of books and authors Jane Brocket (who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in French, Russian, and Victorian literature) loves and recommends for good domestic reading. Obviously, there are other authors of domestic novels that make good reading, but these are the ones Brocket mentioned in her books (she often recommends the entirety of these authors' works and not just the titles on her list). I don't know some of these novels. If you do, and you have an opinion about them, I'd love to hear it:

Mrs. Miniver (Jan Struther, 1939)
They Knew Mr. Knight (Dorothy Whipple, 1934)
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte, 1847)
Family Roundabout (Richmal Crompton, 1948)
Cranford (Elizabeth Gaskell, 1853)
The Diary of a Provincial Lady (E.M. Delafield, 1930)
The Home-maker (Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 1924)
At Mrs. Lippincote's (Elizabeth Taylor, 1945)

*Artwork featured at the top of this post is Roses (The Artist's Wife in the Garden at Skagen), 1948, by Peder Severin Kroyer (Danish, 1851-1909).

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Simple Woman's Daybook (Tweaked)...

Jayden (who wanted to keep that dusty cowboy hat on his head all night) is helping Aaron play guitar. Aaron is leaving Wednesday to go back to school, and we'll miss him!

I am wearing a light blue button down t-shirt, blue jeans, warm socks .

I am reading Out of Solitude (Henri Nouwen). Fresh From the Country (Miss Read).

I am hearing silence, my favorite sound.

Learning all the time... Besides keeping my regular daily journal, I've started a simple nature journal. And I really do want to keep it simple, not bound by rules and expectations, but as a place to jot my happy notes and observations as they strike me, even if it's just to describe the day's weather or to mention that the sky was extra clear and pretty tonight. Here and there, I hope to include photos, clippings, artwork, and other things.

I am thankful that Aimee and Josiah found a nice, clean, affordable (!) apartment in a charming, older (1920's?), well-maintained building. Downtown is a quick walk away. Perfect. It's an answer to prayer.

I am hoping for a winter that is as lovely as, but gentler than, last year. (Please.) I love it when the countryside is blanketed in the beautiful quiet of snow, but we were almost buried and were literally snowbound too many times, which wasn't good when household members needed to drive off to college or work in the morning.

From the kitchen... Bangladesh-style beef curry. Apple spice waffles and coffee. Sweet potatoes simply smashed with butter and sprinkled with salt. All-fruit blueberry smoothies.

I am creating quilted throw pillow covers for the couch. This is my get-the-rust-out-of-my-quilt-piecing-fingers practice. After this, I want to make a simple quilt, but I definitely won't start with applique or curved seams (not enjoying that at all is why I stopped attempting to quilt years ago). For this pillow cover project, I chose colors that made me think of the natural countryside that I love around our home.

Bringing beauty to my home... I'm making those quilted pillow tops I just mentioned. I cut a spray of fresh flowers for the small bottle on the kitchen windowsill whenever the old flowers start to go. I've put a Cinderella pumpkin (my favorite) on the front porch and have requested more from the natural foods store owner (he gets them locally). I'm cozying up the house with warmth and color for the coming colder months. Just simple things.

Roman watches Grandpa Mike do a museum beetle "search-and-destroy" mission with his insect collection. Roman thought the dead insect in that jar was enjoying a swim, and he told the bug that it was "doing a really good job swimming," that it was "cute and sweet," and that he loved it "so very, very much." Okaaaayyy... :-)

Around the house... Mike is home. Aaron is still home but will return to his apartment in his college town on Wednesday. There's a lot of family around and plenty of noise (grandkids) and fun going on! Everyone but Josiah and Aimee were here for dinner last night (wish you guys could have come, too!). Then Mike showed Roman his amazing insect collection, and Roman was utterly fascinated. For dessert, we had ice cream-- Karmel Sutra (Ben and Jerry's) and Green & Black's dark chocolate.

Outdoors... Dark at the moment. (Adding this later... the morning sky is just starting to brighten, and the moon is absolutely beautiful as it is about to sink, huge and yellow, below the western hills. Wow.) The seasons are shifting. I've moved my little cafe table to the front porch rather than the back deck. It's too cold to sit out back in the early morning, and I enjoy sitting out front in later morning, maybe with coffee or tea and my journal, and at lunchtime with a book, before the sun reaches that part of the house and heats up the porch. I can look across the meadow and out to the hills. It's pretty out that way. The squirrels quickly empty the bird feeder every time I fill it, so not many birds are there yet. The sky is blue. Nights are cold. Days are warm. The almost full moon has been rising beautifully low in the sky on recent evenings.

I am thinking that if I don't do a better job writing letters and keeping up with special friends and relatives, I have no business keeping a blog. So, I'm working on that. It's important. First things first, you know! :-)

One of my favorite things... Lately, Carr's Ginger Lemon Creme cookies for tea.

A few plans for the rest of the week... To enjoy the people in my life and the routines and rituals and work of the days. Take things as they come. I have no pressing obligations or particular plans other than taking Aaron back to college.

The Simple Woman's Daybook,a feature of The Simple Woman blog.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Happy Birthday, Dear Mom..."

There she is. My mother. And my siblings and me. I'm second oldest-- the one just to the left of the baby, my brother, the only boy.

A good life for a child... An orange Studebaker in the driveway. Laundry flapping high on a line in the coastal breeze. Cowboy suits for all, complete with lariats. A home in the country with lots of room to run the range. Patchy grass in the yard because we played on it. Four amazing, smart, and talented siblings who are the best friends anyone could ever have.

And the thing that pulled it all together-- a mom with her arms wrapped around her little bunch of kids. An adorable, happy, energetic, positive, playful, good, affectionate, warm, memory-making mom who loved her family very, very much. One who has loved the Lord and has made her children want to love Him, too.

Proverbs says of that the children of the wise woman will rise up and call her blessed, and we do. Blessed Mom. Thank you for loving us so well, then and now.

I love you, Mom. Happy September 13 Birthday!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

I'll Take My Motivation From Wherever it Comes...

Moved by Miss Read to do something homey and cheery, and asked by Aaron to make scones, I got busy in the kitchen!

When I was a young girl, I loved books about other girls and how they lived their lives. For some inexplicable reason, I particularly loved the descriptions of houses and rooms, especially the girls' bedrooms-- their space. I can clearly imagine the description of a room in a particular book, though I can't recall the title of the book or even much of the story. I do know that the girl, probably about 12- years-old, had been in an orphanage, and she was going to stay with a family in their home for a short time (which, as it always does in the best children's stories, had a happy ending, with the girl staying forever and becoming part of this family).

I remember the description of the tree-lined street where the house sat. I remember the girl walking in the front door and up the stairs with the small bag containing all of her worldly possessions, and, finally, her first glimpse of her supposedly temporary room. Of course it was utterly charming with its airy lightness and cheer, its bed and fresh white spread, the crisp white curtains blowing gently in the breeze from the open window, the simple, sweet-smelling bouquet of flowers sitting on the table.

When I'd read passages like this, I'd sigh. My own mom made a sweet home for us, but, still, these passages somehow affected and warmed me with their homeyness. They always made me want to clean my room. And, over the years, I've continued to love descriptions of cozy, orderly homes and rooms-- rooms that glow with warmth and care-- when I read fiction.

This might seem utterly silly to some people (others will understand), but these writings can motivate and inspire me. They make me want to be about my own business of homemaking. They can make me want to clean into the corners. They can even give me greater cheer as I go about my tasks.

Am I living in a dream world? A fantasy-driven life? Do I need false motivation to keep me going? Is it not enough to know what I am called to do and to take my joy and stimulation from the Lord?

My spiritual beliefs about homemaking are the impetus that sustain my efforts and vision for sure, but these simple, little daily motivations are helpful. So, I don't know what to say except that I'll take my motivation for doing good from wherever it comes. Sort of like Paul saying that for whatever reason the gospel is preached, well, glory be to God, at least the good news is going out!

Vermeer's and Chardin's paintings (and those of others) have inspired me toward domesticity. The reading of a quote can light a fire under and in me. Blake's "all in order, sweet and lovely" used as a caption next to a simple work of art in a book I often peruse, has more than once gotten me on my feet and moving again in a domestic way. A well-taken photo of a simple and orderly room, a pretty chair, or a door that is ajar, allowing light to fall gently indoors, can do it. Reading Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God has sometimes moved me to work cheerfully and with renewed effort. Home magazines used to help, too, but more in the way of cleaning and decorating and buying in order to produce a look rather than an atmosphere! :-) So, I've had to do away with those.

I've been moving mostly-pleasantly through my daily tasks and chores lately, but not always with enthusiasm and not always cleaning into the corners. Today (and the past few days) my motivation waned. That's okay. I can still do what I need to do. I don't always have to feel like it. But lately, while I actually do feel cheerful enough, I have been, beneath it all, a bit weary in mind, body, and spirit.

So I decided that it was time for a break; it was time to read an old, familiar light book just for fun. A comfort book of sorts. I walked straight to the bookshelf that holds my line-up of Miss Read books. And I selected Fresh From the Country. About two lines in, I was already feeling the weight of "stuff" lifting away. It was soothing to be holding one of Miss Read's novels again. Maybe I'll read through them all!

After reading only six pages or so, I ran across the very simple passages that got me right back on my feet and moving things around and cleaning under and behind things and sprucing up the place and wanting to go right out and pick some of the last of the flowers or something from nature for fall. It made me want to clean up the woodstove and get it ready for the first cozy, warming fire, which will be built any morning now. It made me smile at my solitary daily walks and how I love them.

"...she baked and mended and ran her boisterous household with method and cheerfulness... Poetry she loved and the wild flowers and animal life of the countryside. Limp-backed editions of Browning and Tennyson lay beside her bed and in her gleaming drawing-room. Bowls of primroses scented the air in spring, and the tang of autumn was carried into the house with the great sprays of tawny leaves which she bore home from her solitary walks."

If that seems underwhelming to you, it doesn't to me. Yes, it's simple, and it's fiction, but it's written by a real person, and I think I would have liked Miss Read. She had to have lived (or is she still alive?) a simple, good, homey life to have continuously written about it so pleasantly and well.

So excuse me now, but I need to go. I have a house to make gleam and flowers to pick. And I'm looking forward to collecting "great sprays of tawny leaves" to carry "the tang of autumn" into the house.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

10 Things I'm Enjoying...

Not much to jump up and down about, decorating-wise,
but there's a pumpkin or two there (this is from last fall),
along with my Susan Branch Autumn book!

1. Fall-like days. 70 sunny degrees or so for a high, which means I can take my walk at any time of day. The temperature is dropping, normally, to just above or below freezing at night. And I'm getting enthused enough about fall that I'm just about to hit the decorating tipping point. Actually, I don't think anything I do could accurately be called "decorating," but I do like to give my home some fall spirit and warmth.

2. Having my son home for a visit. This is one nice young man. I enjoy that continual sound of guitar playing. And books lying open here and there with pencil and paper beside them. And tea being made much more often than usual.

3. The Brambly Hedge tea set I bought in England. I took a break from looking at its cuteness, removing it from my hutch shelves this summer. It's back on that hutch, the place it sat when I first began collecting the dishes in the 1980's. There are alot of good memories associated with this tea set and the hutch and our home in England and our young kids... I really do like it.

4. Eating more
"raw" food again-- not 100%, but I'm aiming for at least 50 to 75% for now. (While I'm saying I enjoy it, I must admit to a love-hate relationship with this way of preparing food.) Eating raw is not about eating rabbit food (ick!). Raw recipes are now very well crafted, and the food can be delicious. Both my eating and the way I was feeling have been getting increasingly "off" lately. (You should have seen me eating way too much cupcake batter when I was making cupcakes for Roman's birthday last Friday and Saturday! And then there were the finished, delicious cupcakes with almond frosting...) This is the third or fourth time I've decided to lean hard in the direction of raw food, and each time I do, things change. I feel clearer-headed, my skin gets smoother and softer and clearer and brighter, I feel lighter, I get a renewed energy and strength, I sleep better, my allergies improve. And more.

5. That cobbler or smock apron I mentioned yesterday. It makes me smile (I'm quite easily pleased).

Here's a smattering of the pyrex I have. There are many other colors and patterns stacked in my cupboard-- green, gold, orange, blue... This photo was taken last spring.

6. My pyrex collection. I'm glad I started this. I now have a cupboard full of mugs, odds and ends, bowls and flat-lid containers of all shapes, colors, and sizes. I use them for all sorts of things every single day. I use them when I soak nuts, seeds, and even grains overnight on the counter for sprouting. I use them for refrigerator storage (no plastic!). I use them for baking.

7. Sungold cherry tomatoes from my CSA. The best. I will make my goat cheese today and then have my favorite tomato salad from Patricia Wells' book
Vegetable Harvest-- halved cherry tomatoes (a mix of sungold and red cherry), slivered or chopped basil, crumbled goat cheese, sliced kalamata olives, lemon juice, sea salt. It all combines wonderfully. The sum is definitely better than the parts.

8. Kim's
Starry Sky Ranch blog. This is a wise woman who has raised, and is raising, a whole bunch of kids, with another one on the way! I don't read many blogs every single day (don't have the time), but I do check in at Kim's. Here's a worthy post from a couple of days ago, just as a sample of what's at the blog.

And Kim is the one who introduced me to...

Not my ideal, but still pretty keen!
If someone gave it to me, I'd gladly take it!
This kind of thing is getting hot.

9. Retro Renovation blog. Light, cheerful, and fun to browse, this is home style from the 40's, 50's, and 60's. (I happen to be a relic from the 50's and 60's myself.) Some of the Goodwill stuff I've bought can fall into the retro-mod decorating category. But how to mix English scrubbed pine antiques and cheery, charming things with the clean, mod lines and colors of the 60's? I have a crazy-eclectic (not always, or particularly, in a good way) collection of stuff in this home-- there's absolutely no coherence whatsoever, but I'm sure having fun!

Yogi Egyptian Licorice tea (sounds odd, tastes great, especially if you're fond of anise or licorice). For some reason, I'm not feeling like having coffee every single morning lately, so, on some mornings, I'm enjoying this tea instead. LIke today. Every tea bag has words of wisdom from the Yogi on it. Today, my tea bag says, "Your mind is energy. Regulate it." Okay, whatever. I like Proverbs better.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

An Apron for a Messy Cook...

When I was growing up, Grammy and Grampy lived a mile or so away from us on a one-acre country property in front of a lake. Theirs wasn't a grand lake home. It was the simple home of a logger and lumber mill worker, and it was the best place in the world to visit.

When we'd arrive at our grandparents' house, I'd hop out of the car and bound up the steps and through the side-door that opened into the little entry room. There was a woodstove there, often with a cheesecloth bag full of apple slices drying above it. The washer and dryer were off to the side, frequently holding pans of Grampy's rising sourdough buns.

And against another wall was an old pine dresser that Grammy used for storing her kitchen and table linens, and this was where I was headed. One drawer of this dresser was dedicated to aprons. Grammy had lots of them. Some of the aprons had come from her mother, and, others, Grammy had collected herself over the years.

We were allowed to wear an apron when we visited, and I always chose a golden yellow plaid skirt-style apron that tied around the waist and had nice, big pockets in front. Grammy let us wear the aprons as long as we were playing inside the house, but we couldn't wear them outdoors.

I loved that plaid apron, and when I went to college, Grammy gave it to me. I baked many batches of chocolate chip cookies in my dorm kitchen wearing that apron, but, sadly, by the time I left college, someone had taken it.

I posted this not long ago-- my $1 Goodwill aprons.
I also have several pretty new ones my kids have given to me.

I occasionally run across nostalgic writings about aprons and their past uses, like carrying eggs and wiping noses, pockets holding clothespins and string and safety pins-- the 101 practical uses of an apron! I'm not making fun of nostalgia. It's nice actually. I have a nostalgic memory of Grammy and her aprons, and part of the reason I enjoy wearing one is because of my memories. I'm sure the nostaligia has also fueled my inclination to amass aprons!

Aprons seem to have made a comeback in recent years, coming in all sorts of attractive and creative styles. I have some of these really cute aprons, given to me by my children and others as gifts, and I love them, but I think aprons are not always used today in the same way they were used in the past. I get the feeling that aprons nowadays are sometimes viewed as another layer of cute apparel to be kept neat and clean.

And I'm all for cute, clean aprons. In fact, I think they should be attractive (it's way more fun that way), but the purpose of an apron is very practical, very down to the nitty gritty of homekeeping. This is obvious for cooking, but aprons make sense for wearing throughout the day.

Cheryl Mendelssohn wrote in, Home Comforts: "...nothing beats a real apron or smock with several pockets for carrying coins, paper clips, pins, screws, and othe small objects back and forth, for wiping your hands on without remorse, for keeping your midriff free of oily stains and grime, for sticking pins in, and the like."

That part about "keeping your midriff free of oily stains"...

Most of my aprons are skirt-style aprons that tie around the waist, but you know what? If I'm going to splash or spill food on myself, it never splashes on the apron! After cooking or baking, my cute little skirt apron ends up immaculate, and my shirt is spotted with this and that.

Chefs often wear aprons (white!) that reach high toward the neck and down to the knees and all around. I do have one apron with a "bib" that reaches up from the skirt, with straps that go around the neck. My friend, Julie, made it for me many years ago, and I wear it often. It's more practical than the others and catches a few more cooking splatters.

From an old pattern for a cobbler apron.

But even more practical, especially for a cook like me who seems to end up spilling and splashing no matter how careful I am, are the cobbler-style aprons that cover the upper body and wrap all the way around. I bought one of these aprons at an antique store recently, and I'll probably buy more when I run across nice ones for a good price (aprons usually don't cost much). A person needs more than one good apron because a well-used apron needs washing often!

Come to think of it, these cobbler aprons were the ones Grammy wore every day. I think I'm finally catching on as to why. I'm sure that there are tidy homemakers who simply need an apron for an occasional hand-drying or to use the pockets for catching odds and ends. The skirt-style aprons actually do make nice working-around-the-house-aprons, but for messy cooks and homemakers like me, especially when it comes time to get busy in the kitchen, the cover-up aprons make perfect sense.

(I had to smile when I saw
this post at Pleasantview Schoolhouse because it's exactly the style of apron I bought recently. Only the fabric of mine isn't as cute.)

Why, oh why, does every short, little post I intend to write turn into some kind of longer commentary?!

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Simple Woman's Daybook...

Here is a picture thought I am sharing (above). I hope it's okay to take this painting from the webpage of an artist I discovered through my friend, Laura A (I am sending you his way, after all). I love his domestic paintings. I've always particularly been drawn to art that features simple, ordinary, daily life and objects. People going about their routine duties. I enjoy this man's art, and I thought I'd share it with you.

Outside my window it is absolutely dark. The only thing I've seen out there this morning are the headlights of my daughter's car as she drove off to work.

I am thinking about something my son told me. Estonian composer Arvo Part asked a janitor somewhere how a composer should write music. The janitor said quietly and sincerely, "Oh, he should love every note!" Arvo Part loved that, and he took it to heart. I want to live my life loving every note. I've been thinking that I want to see the things I do as mattering enough that I'll put in the effort to ensure that they are not "off" notes, meaningless notes, sloppily written or sloppily played notes. Or to put it more positively, I want to play notes that are meaningful, purposeful, beautiful, crafted, careful (caring!), always mindful that each individual note matters. I want the notes to by guided by, shaped by, and marked by love. If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. And, quite rightly I think, as Chesterton suggested, if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly. But always with effort. Always loving each note.

"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father... Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord..." ~Colossians 3:17, 23

From the learning rooms. Oh, we have been done with our official homeschooling years for a while now, but my grown kids continue to learn. Always. It's what they do, and that continued and joyful pursuit of learning and growth and becoming all that God created them to be is a joy for a mother to watch. Aimee and Josiah and Aaron were all here this past weekend, and Michelle, Monty (I need photos of these two!), and family hung around, too. And I watched my kids interact and talk about things. Each of them still loves learning. They each pursue something in particular with passion, but they also have many diverse interests and creative gifts. Literature. Music. Art. Cooking. Writing. Languages. Many other things. And it's not just my own kids, but the girls married young men with passion for their interests and a desire to learn and grow. And it's a joy to watch my little bookworm grandsons enjoy their books more than anything else.

I might resume
Project Feeder Watch here this year. The kids and I did it for many years.

I am thankful for the little gifts of every single day. The routine. The quiet. A country life. My family. Laughter. God's care and provision. Good food on the table. Funny grandboys. God's created world. Physical health. Four walls and a ceiling around me. A car that runs. Sight. Smell. Hearing. Taste. Touch. Breath.

From the kitchen. An abundance for which I am immensely grateful. Lately, more raw food. Even more vegetables than usual. Green lemonade. Smoothies. Raw zucchini "spaghetti" with creamy lemon-chive dressing. Grated, sauteed cumin carrots. New "Waldorf" salad from a raw cookbook. Heavenly chocolate-cinnamon cupcakes (fairy cakes!) with mini chocolate chips, topped with yellow almond frosting and "Happy Birthday to Roman" sprinkles. In the oven right now are "coconut sprinkles" (from a Sally Fallon book) that I use to top my sprouted grain cereal in the morning. Today, I intend to make chocolate baked custard with this week's leftover raw milk, sweet potato salad, and probably some kind of seafood for dinner.

I am wearing. Oh, drat! I should have dressed before coming online. Okay. I'm wearing my pink nightgown, pink pajama bottoms, a blue polar fleece jacket, and bare feet. Today will be a shorts or skirt day, though, because it's supposed to reach close to 90 degrees.

I am reading The Gentle Art of Domesticity, The Perfect Hostess (a reprinted from 1930 or so, light-handed look at hostessing), New Gardens of the American West.

I am hoping to get in all of this winter's wood supply very soon.

I am creating a home. A life. Meals. An atmosphere. Order. Beauty. And with my hands, I want to make a simple quilt. I want to make curtains for the dining area of the house. Slipcovers for the ottoman and ugly chair. I want to begin planning and making gifts for Christmas. But one thing at a time. I know how important it is for me to focus on one thing at a time, or none of it will get done.

I am hearing the hum of the hard drive and the refrigerator. Nothing else but the clicking of the keyboard. The quiet is nice. It's peaceful. (And the sky is brightening just a bit as I sit here.)

Around the house. Aaron is visiting and will be here for another week. Michelle is coming out with the boys today. Roman will certainly want to make "suh-foomies" (smoothies), so we'll probably have my favorite blueberry ones. I'll water the grass. We'll go to the dump with garbage and recycling (the boys love watching the heavy equipment and getting a sucker from the lady at the pay station). Scrub bathrooms. Clean out and organize the freezer. Play with the boys. Work outside. Sit outside. Drink coffee outside this morning.

One of my favorite things is, oh, let's see... Getting up early in the morning. I like the quiet. It's quieter than at other times of the day, it seems. Peaceful and lovely. A nice way to start a day.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week. To write some long overdue letters. To clean out the overgrown, messy herb garden. Not to miss my daily walk. To dry some lavender. To cut the grass. To enjoy my son during his visit. To have Michelle and Monty over to dinner.

And now it is light outside, and I don't want to miss a lovely morning. Time to get up from this chair and make some coffee. There's good stuff to do!
The Simple Woman's Daybook,
a feature of
The Simple Woman blog.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Domestic Comforts...

The Gentle Art of Domesticity by Jane Brocket

"The gentle arts are all about comfort. They are soothing, relaxing, consoling and caring. They benefit both the maker and those around her with the creation of a comfortable, creative, tactile environment in which individuals can feel secure, at ease, happy-- even if it is only a temporary respite from more pressing cares." ~Jane Brocket

I've been waiting for this book for quite a while. I haven't been a regular reader of
Yarnstorm, Jane Brocket's blog, but I have visited there to have a look from time to time and have always thought it fun, interesting, and pretty. So, I had my eye on Jane's book as soon as I heard it would be coming out. I almost ordered it from Amazon UK but decided to wait for the less expensive American version (the current exchange rate is a killer, not to mention the shipping costs).

And now the book is here. It's been sitting open on the dining table for days, and when I have some extra time, I sit down to read another essay or to look at photos and ideas. I don't like the cover of the American version of the book as well as the UK version (isn't that always the case?), but that doesn't alter the inside, which is a whole bunch of fun to read and browse.

If I was ever going to be finally inspired to knit (for the first time) and quilt (again) and bake (which doesn't take much prodding) and do all sorts of homey things with my hands, this book is just the sort of thing that's going to tip me over the edge.

I'm already planning a trip to the quilt store, and maybe I'll actually take a knitting class so I can make myself an afghan! It's easy to persuade myself to make fairy cakes (I like the British moniker, "fairy cakes" much better than the unimaginative American name "cupcakes") because I'd rather be in the kitchen than anywhere else. Actually, I'll be making some of these for Roman's birthday party Saturday, and maybe I'll put a few candies on top just like Jane does (and so many other British bakers).

I love the domestic artwork featured in The Gentle Art of Domesticity (Jane loves the same kind of art I do, for the same reasons), and I've made a library list to check for her favorite domestic novels (the ones I haven't already read). There's much in this book that is interesting, fun, and stimulating.

The author is an educated woman who was surprised to find herself passionate about home arts. She is honest in saying that she isn't inspired by domestic household cleaning chores but merely does them to make home pleasant. As a Christian, I find much merit and potential in moving through the daily household routine, but that's beside the point.

I'm thoroughly enjoying this book and do recommend it. It's meant to discuss and inspire one toward the domestic arts and comforts of home, and I think it does, but if you look to the book to find patterns and recipes for the projects that are pictured inside, you might be disappointed. Jane indeed shares some recipes, but mostly she is simply sharing, through her writing as well as her photos, her own domestic life and encouraging us to find our own happy way.