Friday, October 31, 2008

Seasons, Pumpkins, and Leaves

"When we human beings let go and embrace the new, when we flow with the seasons, and merge with the same basic rhythm that tells the geese when to go, we hear things beyond sound, and feel things beyond touch, and a kind of serenity settles over our spirits." ~Jean Hersey in The Shape of a Year

And, of course, the author of everything-- of the seasons, of nature, of us-- is God. Moving in harmony with His rhythm and His seasons-- both physical and metaphorical-- brings us a special serenity. Things are never static. They're always changing. Embracing changing seasons and enjoying each one for its special gifts-- with openness and gratitude-- makes life richer. And adventurous! :-)

Michelle came today and started free-cutting leaves and pumpkins to make me a simple autumn swag (or whatever it should be called) to hang across my kitchen window. She did a bit of coloring, too, to make the pumpkins glow. She only had three pieces of colored paper to work with, but Michelle is creative, and I love this-- it's sweet. My favorite things are always simple things, homemade things. Things made with love by those I love.

And then Michelle cut some leaves for my mom (because she admired them), who will take them home to use in her house on the coast. And in the meantime, the boys absolutely loved playing with Boppy and Gramma! And we all ate candy corn. And, this evening, we're off to Michelle and Monty's house for a little party, where we will visit the cutest little Dinosaur and Mouse ever.

A very Happy Autumn to you, and don't eat too much candy tonight!


Added later for my friend, Laura A, who asked to see a closeup of one of the pumpkins. Michelle was just cutting freely, quickly designing the leaves and pumpkins with her scissors. I mentioned that there were only three colors of paper (and just a few colored pencils available), but she still managed to make everything cute, even with two little boys crawling all over her trying to help. I'm not sure which part of this pumpkin is the original color of the paper and which part is colored in (actually, if you look at the above photo, you can see the orangey color-- used as veins on the leaves-- that Michelle started with), but I like the loose style of these:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yes, I'm Still Around...

It's just been an interesting week. A good week, but little, unexpected things have arisen. And there have been bigger situations to deal with (like no water and the need for well repair). I'm currently enjoying the company of my parents, who will be here until Saturday (it's been lots of fun visiting and "doing" with them). Good changes for various family members will keep me semi-preoccupied for another week or so. And there is also an upcoming out of town trip (for just a day or two or three).

It's been a good week, but I just haven't had the kind of leisure or space that allows for computer time. :-) When people are in my home, I tend not to post (or even sit at the computer at all), and there have been many people here almost every day this week. I'm still around, though, and I'm sure I'll have a chance to post something soon.

To those who have asked, thanks for asking.

Monday, October 27, 2008


"...morning is my favorite time of day. On that rare day when I sleep in, I awake with a start, feeling as if something has been stolen from me, and I mourn the morning I could have had.

"What I love about mornings is the sense of possibility. I often lay in bed at night, the weight of what's been left undone on top of me like a lead blanket, but I awaken to find that I've thrown that blanket aside. The night has erased my failures, my inadequacies, my mistakes. Today will be the day. My mornings are not idyllic. As a mother, my actions are dictated by the needs of others as soon as I awake. There are breakfasts to be made, lunches to be packed, lost shoes to be found, tangles to be tamed, schedules to be coordinated with my husband. But still, in all these actions, these endless repetitive preparations (of which I am quite often resentful), there is that sense of possibility. We all have morning rituals that give us the comfort of familiarity even if our days are unknowns. My son spilling his milk in the same spot every day is both aggravation and inspiration. That spots says here we are again; we're going to try to have a good day."

~from Stephanie Congdon Barnes' part of the introduction in A Year of Mornings: 3191 Miles Apart, written by both Barnes and Maria Alexandra Vettese

I love morning, as I'm sure you know well by now (and I'm also sure you'll hear about it many more times). It's always been my favorite time of day. And like Stephanie Congdon Barnes, if I wake late, I wake with a strong sense of disappointment, knowing I've missed the best part of the day.

My morning love started, I think, when I was a young girl and would spend the night at my grandparents' house. Grampy was always up by 5:30 a.m., and he'd immediately build a fire in the woodstove. Then I could hear him puttering and humming around the kitchen as he'd cook himself some breakfast. It was always a hearty breakfast, befitting a man who had spent his life doing the hard work of a logger in the woods, and, later, working in other areas of the lumber industry. He'd cook pancakes, bacon, eggs, and, often, potatoes. And maybe his wonderful sourdough biscuits topped with the jam Grammy had made with berries from Grampy's garden. And coffee.

I liked waking in the early morning dark to hear Grampy moving cheerfully around. It felt secure, safe, and cosy. And I liked seeing the sun begin to lighten the sky and bring color to the grey world. I realized even then that many people never care to see the early morning light, and I felt like I was in on some kind of big, happy secret. That mornings are lovely. I'm sure the compelling morning atmosphere was helped by a Grandpa who was always quite pleasant in the morning and pleased to welcome anyone into his day.

My mom was a cheerful morning person, too, and she is also part of what makes mornings seem lovely to me. I'd hear her up and moving around way before she'd let the rest of us know it was time to get up and get ready for school. She'd start a fire in the woodstove, but because our house took a while to heat, she'd hang a curtain over the kitchen doorway and set up a heater in there so we'd be warm at the breakfast table. Mom was always up early enough to pray in the quiet. I saw her on her knees many times. And often, before she'd come to rouse us, she'd put an album of hymns on the record player. It was a nice way to start the morning.

And, since Mom absolutely did not allow us to be grumpy in the morning, we learned not to be. No matter how we felt. I'm grateful for that. Still, there have been times in my life when rising early didn't feel particularly pleasant. Sometimes morning didn't feel like a gift at all. A teenager needs a lot of sleep, and it seems that however much one got, it was always nice to get some more. And in college, particularly on finals week, bedtime often came late, and mornings came very, very quickly. Way too quickly.

Later in life, when I was up all night with little ones and bone tired during the day, facing the morning did not always fill me with wild, unfettered joy. Even later, when the kids were old enough to fend for themselves, I had some off and on health troubles that wore me down and made my body require extra rest. Mornings, through some of these times, weren't always smooth and easy or a source of pure delight. But, still, even through all of that, I loved morning, and I've never wanted to miss it. There is such a peace and quiet about it. A sense of newness, of starting again. To me, early morning light has always felt like hope rising.

Today's morning light just starting to brighten the kitchen.

I love how the morning sun filters through the trees behind our house, creating pretty lines of light and shadow in the air and across the ground. I love how the light creeps into the southeast corner of the house in the morning, bit by bit, across the floor, then onto the table and up the kitchen counters, warming everything it touches in its glow.

Today's early morning found me crawling out of bed when I really thought it might be nice to stay right where I was. But up I got, made my way to the kitchen area, and immediately began going through the familiar motions-- almost mechanically-- of making a fire in the woodstove. As soon as the first crackles of the fire sounded, I'd lost all temptation to climb back into my warm blankets, and I began to feel glad to be up and about.

Melissa likes morning, too. She was out of bed a full two and a half hours before she had to leave for work, not because it takes her long to be ready to leave, but because, she said, she doesn't like to hurry in the morning. She likes to move slowly and enjoy it. I think all of my kids are this way.

While Melissa showered and got ready for work, I moved through my quiet morning routine, and then I sat in my chair across from the woodstove, happily surrounded by a stack of cookbooks. I read about French gardens and Thai curries and various chutneys and the shrimp-red curry soup Melissa and I will have for dinner tonight. I read a selection or two from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries-- the part where October is ending, fall seems established, and cooking is getting cosier. I love Slater's way with food.

The stack of books I perused this morning. Only they were all over and around me, many of them open at once.

I wasn't going to have coffee this morning because I'm trying to cut back, thinking I'd drink it only a couple of times a week. But then I remembered the following (from Mollie Katzen's book, Sunlight Cafe), and I suddenly felt quite justified and cheerful about getting out the French press:

What Do Nobel Prize Winners Eat for Breakfast?

The Nobel laureates at MIT report beginning the day with the following:

~David Baltimore (Physiology/Medicine, 1975): Half a bagel with a couple of slices of Swedish farmer cheese, black coffee, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

~Philip Shart (Physiology/Medicine, 1993): A glass or orange juice, a grapefruit half or half of a melon, a muffin with jelly, and two cups of black coffee.

~Clifford Shull (Physics, 1994): Corn flakes with milk, a melange of peaches, bananas, blueberries, and/or strawberries, black coffee, and an occasional English muffin or roll with butter.

What common thread do we see in all the above? They all drink black coffee... Hmmm... could this be the true brain food?

Yes, Mollie, I think it is! And so I'd better keep my French press busy brewing my morning coffee. I notice, too, that these Nobel prize winners all eat fruit for breakfast. And some raw foodists would say that raw fruit (and nothing else) is the perfect way to eat in the morning. They might say that fresh fruit is the true brain food. As one who brews coffee in my press and a whizzes a fresh fruit smoothie in the blender almost every morning, I say it's both-- black coffee and fruit!

So, I should be winning my Nobel prize any day now... any day...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

In the Kitchen...

"The ordinary acts we practice every day at home are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest." ~Thomas Moore

Tonight I took my time cooking a simple meal. It's Sunday and I wasn't going anywhere. There was nothing pressing to do. The house could have stood a bit of cleaning, but, again, it's Sunday, so the work will wait until tomorrow.

It felt nice to take my time. I put some sweet potatoes in the oven to bake. I had made a vivid-green, fresh-tasting and delicious, apple-mint chutney earlier today and had it in the refrigerator. Half an hour or so before dinner, I marinated filleted Orange-Roughy pieces in lime juice, salt, and thyme. When the sweet potatoes were done roasting, I fried the fish in olive oil, and when it was cooked through after not-too-many minutes, I put it in a dish to keep warm in the oven beside the sweet potatoes. I then sauteed some thinly sliced onion crescents until they were soft and golden, and then I added the chutney to the onions and stirred until it was heated through.

As easy as that, the meal was ready, and it really was delicious. Melissa and I each filled more than half of our plates with sweet potatoes smashed with butter and sprinkled with salt and fresh-ground pepper. The fish was set beside it, and the chutney-onion mixture was spooned over the fish.

I set our places at the counter, and Melissa and I sat together, eating and visiting for a while. Our meal was exactly the sort I enjoy more than any other. Light, simple, wonderfully flavorful, and filling. And, best of all, it was enjoyed with very good company. (The recipe for the fish and chutney came from Padma Lakshmi's book, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet.)

Kitchen work is good work. God has provided a wide array of beautiful, delicious food for us to enjoy, and we have the blessing and privilege of turning it into a meal. Sustenance. Nutrition. Beauty. Enjoyment. Thank God I have good food for today.

It really is no small thing to make a good meal and set the table, whatever the simplicity and perceived ordinariness of these tasks might suggest. I'm convinced that the care and love that go into these routine acts alter them, just as love and care alters everything we do. Making the meal and table nice tends to slow people down. Light a candle. Settle in. Eating together creates closeness and community because hearts are open when love is the behind the doing.

But even if those who come to the table are distracted or rushed, hurrying through the meal and leaving the table without saying much, and not helping to clean up afterward, we are quietly offering them beauty and calm and goodness. It's there. And when it is there consistently, it tends to wear down the defenses, smooth the sharp edges, soften the harried spirit. And even if it doesn't, well, we are offering love, and that is a good thing. We do it as unto the Lord.

And the cleanup afterward brings back peaceful order. I think Blake had the right idea when said, "All in order, sweet and lovely." I know I find something sweet and lovely about restoring things to order. I feel calmer, more at peace, more relaxed. We do well when care and attention are given to planning meals, selecting quality foods, preparing the meal, setting the food out in an appealing, pleasant manner, and sitting at the table to enjoy it with thanksgiving. If we set our minds to see it this way, cleaning up afterward is really a privilege. We have been richly blessed.

I've been extra busy in the kitchen lately, mostly using and enjoying the CSA produce that I'm still getting every week. There's been a lot of winter squash, plenty of greens, tomatoes (yes, Laura A-- tomatoes are still coming out of our farmer's hoop house), lots of sweet and delicious beets, carrots, onions, potatoes, peppers, garlic, and more. This fresh, organic produce is wonderful, and I'm enjoying every bit of it. I hate that the CSA pickups will end in four weeks.

Oh, and I want to tell about something I made yesterday. It's a raw, vegan parmesan cheese substitute. Melissa is lactose intolerant. Not only that, she is now almost certain that she is also allergic to milk (which is a step beyond not being able to digest lactose). So, she has cut every form of dairy out of her diet, even raw and cultured, which she seemed to tolerate fine for awhile. This change is not easy for Melissa, as she loves cheeses and custards, Greek yogurt with honey and cinnamon, ice cream, and smoothies made with kefir. It seems that whenever we think of something good to cook lately, we are stopped short with, "Oh, that has parmesan cheese in it (or on it)." Or "that requires butter." Or "there is cream in that (or milk)."

So, I bought Melissa a little jar of something called "Parma!." It's a raw food, vegan substitute for parmesan cheese. Or, it can simply be thought of, not as a substitute for anything, but as a nice thing to sprinkle on certain foods. On the jar, it says to try Parma! on pocorn, salad, soup, pizza, and more (coming from a raw food company, it's interesting that most of these foods are cooked).

Melissa and I both really like the taste of the Parma!, but it's sort of expensive, so I had a look at the ingredients, and it appeared quiet easy to make. Raw walnuts ground well in the processor. Add nutritional yeast and sea salt, process to mix, and that would be it. We had all of the ingredients here, so I messed around with the amounts until I had something that is pretty close, if not an exact match, to the original Parma!: 1 c. walnuts, 1/4 c. nutritional yeast, and just a little over 1/4 t. sea salt.

Even though I'm happy with the flavor of my homemade Parma!, next time I'm going to soak and dehydrate/crisp my walnuts because they are so much more flavorful that way (and still raw). They're actually supposed to be better for you when soaked, too. And I'm going to order some Red Star Nutritional Yeast-- it's supposed to be the best kind, both for taste and nutrition. I bought my nutritional yeast in a bulk section, so it may not be at optimum quality right now (it may also contain MSG as some nutritional yeast does).

Anyway, if you're into raw food or a vegan diet, or even if you just want to try something tasty and nutritious, this is really good, and making your own is a whole lot cheaper than buying it in the store.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Book, Some Dishes, and Writing in our Family

I'd been looking over part two of the slowing down post, and I got the idea to look through some of my old writing (from when the kids were young) to see if I could find an actual description of our days and routine, written while we were actually living it. I had no idea what a can of worms I was opening! I have more writing than you can probably fathom. It's ridiculous, really. And I got caught up spending my whole morning looking through it. I haven't found what I'm looking for, but I had a lot of fun, and I've found quite a few other things I want to post! I'll get to those soon.

For now, here are a few recent happy things:

I ordered the book, A Year of Mornings, as soon as I noticed it was published and available, and I've been carrying it around with me ever since. I've long enjoyed looking at the 3191 blog, but in some ways, I like having the year of photos in book form even better. Perhaps that's because I don't much like sitting in front of the computer, but I do very much like thumbing through an actual book. I've looked through the book several times, and now I'm using it like a calendar of days, looking at photos day by day according to the date. It's a lovely, peaceful book of photos portraying quiet, ordinary morning things. I love morning, so this is a special one for me.

Old, long-discontinued Mikasa dishes from back before they were making stoneware. Rather, this is called cerastone, and it's the "Gigi" pattern. I bought the entire large set of dishes at Goodwill for $9.99. I came home and did some price-checking online, and buying just that creamer and sugar set alone would cost almost $40. In my set were two different sizes of bowls, almost 20 of them altogether (bowls are all white on the outside, blue on the inside); 12 dinner plates; salad plates; creamer and sugar bowl; and one large serving platter (the platter sells for $30 online). So, I feel like I got quite a deal. Some of the plates show wear and tear, but I thought the dishes were cute and fun (love those colors!), and they fit with all of my 60's things. And you never know if one of those kids of mine will end up needing them...

I like this girl. (Actually I love her!) She is quite dry-funny. Here she is, last night, going through some of her old writing notebooks. She was reading aloud from them to me, and some of the stories she wrote when she was young are, not surprisingly (if you know Melissa), hilarious!

And our family "typewriter stories" are hilarious, too (Melissa had some of them in her notebooks). The typewriter stories were something we used to do for fun. We'd put a blank piece of paper in an old typewriter, and someone would start the story by typing a sentence. The paper would be left there until someone else came along and read it. Then that person would type a sentence to add to the story and leave it for the next person. We'd all contribute to the story off and on over the course of days (sometimes just one day, sometimes many days), and, usually, everyone had different directions they'd want the story to go. So there would be hilarious twists and turns and surprises as different family members would try to turn the story back to his or her own story line (and we can usually tell who's doing the writing). We laughed as Melissa read some of these typewriter stories aloud. She said, "I love it when there are storyline tug of wars in these!" Me, too.

See that fat, white, full notebook (the one that is open in the foreground)? The entire notebook contains plans for, and drafts of, Melissa's Egyptian story (and this is just part of it). One of Melissa's learning passions over the years was Egyptology. She worked on this story for many years, writing and rewriting, often for many hours a day. And now she's working on it again. It's a wonderful story! And writing it was mostly how Melissa learned to write.

Actually, that's how everyone in our home learned to write. By writing.There was a lot of seemingly endless natural narration going on, constant reading aloud, and perpetual individual reading. Words and language were always fun pursuits for our entire family, so writing was a fairly natural thing to do in our home. We loved the dictionary and thesaurus. We love knowing etymology and reading about writing. We loved word games. We loved learning new words, and we learned them all the time as we read outstanding literature. We had a long shelf full of good books about writing, and they were well-consulted and willingly read.

One of my three daily expectations when the kids were young was to write something-- anything-- every day. And, boy, did they find creative and interesting ways to do it. Looking at this writing now is a whole bunch of fun!

We tried an occasional writing curriculum but didn't finish one of them. Honestly, in almost every case, I think curriculums are painful to slog through and produce painful writing to read. The writing my kids produced while trying to do some of those assignments was the worst writing they ever did. It was much better all around when the kids wrote whatever they chose to write.

A lot of people rave about some of the curriculums we happened to hate, but we each need to find what works best, and most pleasantly, for us. We found that a natural, organic way of learning pretty much everything was the best fit for our family. We liked a freestyle homeschool.

My kids were serious about writing and didn't want to fiddle around with writing games and prompts and what they considered to be time-wasting exercises (no matter how much "fun" they were supposed to be). There were no reports written. No assigned essays. No research papers. Nothing. The kids just wanted to get on with the business of writing something that was relevant and meaningful to them, and that was just fine by me. They all thrived doing this. And, no, there were no gaping holes in their writing knowledge or proficiency. They are wonderful writers and have been highly praised in college for their fine papers and stylish writing.

Writing resources and helps we liked for our very young writers:

Any Child Can Write (Harvey Weiner)
Writing From Home (Susan Richman)
Ruth Beechick's little 3 R's booklet on Language.
Charlotte Mason's idea of narration.
Reading and memorizing fun poetry.
Write whatever you want; just write, write, write!

Monday, October 20, 2008

"Slowing Up"

(Just to let you know, no, this is not Part 2 of my "slow life" post, but there is a connection!)

The Shape of a Year is a book chronicling one year-- 1967 (or rather it was published in 1967)-- in a Connecticut woman's country life. I'm just finishing this book now (second time I've read it) and am struck by some things.

I turned nine in 1967, and it was the year we spent the summer with relatives in Alaska. For some reason, my memory of that year-- end of 3rd grade, beginning of 4th, and the summer in between-- are vivid. I remember my hairstyle; the clothes I wore; books teachers read aloud to our class; conversations I had with people; the things we played, our long, slow summer trip to, and in, Alaska; and even how far I long jumped that spring in the "midget" division of an all-comers track meet! :-) It's kind of fun to know exactly what was happening in my life the year the book was published.

I've enjoyed the positive outlook in the book and the joy and gratitude with which the author chooses to describe her daily life. Somewhere along the line, it struck me that there were intense things happening in our country, politically and culturally, in the late 1960's, but there's no sign of that in the book. Not a word. Not a hint. The author is intelligent, and she's clearly not the type to bury her head in the sand, but she chose not to comment on those things. And I'm glad she didn't.

I think it's good to be aware of what is happening in the world and then to do whatever we need to do (or can do) to care, to help those who need help, and to bring about change. But I also think it's wise and good to continue to find joy and beauty in the daily blessings, as long as we have them. To refuse to be all-consumed with circumstances, to overworry about them, and to focus on them so intensely that it keeps us preoccupied or brings us low.

In fact, I think there is something beautiful about a person who can carry on well, with a lovely spirit, in spite of difficulties, big or small, both in the bigger world, and in their personal lives. Those who continue with traditions, rituals, and routines, making the most of what is available at a given time. Those who choose gratitude and trust in the Lord rather than fearfulness and complaining, either about what might happen or about what is happening.

I think of the movie, Mrs. Miniver, where the heroine reads to her children (obviously a bit fearfully) in the bomb shelter while bombs are landing in her neighborhood. Mrs. Miniver carried on and cared for her family. I think of Oswald Chambers and his wife and young daughter, serving with the YMCA (I think?) in Egypt during WWI. Biddy Chambers insisted on giving the soldiers a nice tea on Sunday afternoons, complete with white cloths and flowers on the tables, a lovely meal, and no preaching. What a beautiful gift! The men thronged to these teas, and many of them, because of the loveliness that was extended to them in the form of a very human, very British ritual, had hearts that were receptive to any preaching they did hear.

But this post is not supposed to be about what I just typed! I was supposed to be saying that I read something last night that goes right along with the idea of slowing down (or slowing up, as Jean Hersey phrased it). Of taking in the beauty and joy of each individual thing. I like what she says here, and I think it's an important reason to make sure we take at least some things slowly. It reminds me of what Anne Morrow Lindbergh said about things being more beautiful when they are framed in space. Or her "beauty of the few."

Here's that passage by Jean Hersey:

I usually get into too many different kinds of activities at this time of year. One day I realize I am skimming the surface of everything. There is but hollow pleasure in too crowded weeks. Real rewards come from engaging in fewer activities and experiencing each one more deeply. Loss of alertness and freshness of approach tell me to slow up. Life is best when it is a balance between activities and intervals of aloneness. In the intervals we are able to deepen the meaning of the activities.

The days I like least are those when I pass through my environment superficially almost as if it were a stage backdrop. I scarcely see anything except what needs doing at the moment. Meals become just something to get and nothing has depth. This is living "two-dimensionally."

In contrast, when I am not pressed by a rush of events I move more slowly and savor each moment. Every activity becomes a feature in itself and the simplest routine has its own joy. I feel the texture of the blanket when making a bed, and it is good. I feel the soil when I am repotting a houseplant and it is good. I listen beyond words to what people mean. I look at the sales person in the store and really see her. I have time to write the author whose book I have liked, and I telephone my dinner hostess to tell her how much we enjoyed the evening. This is living "three-dimensionally"-- going that extra mile, doing all the things you are not required to do, but which give added meaning.

Living this way you see not only your goal but the path that leads you there and all the little flowers and ferns that grow along its edges.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I'll Take a Slow Life, Please...

Here's that post that was deleted. Maybe a lot of people do Bloglines or Google Reader or whatever those things are called, and, if so, maybe most of you who read here have read it anyway! I don't fiddle around with my blog settings or how I read blogs or that kind of thing, so I'm kind of clueless about this (and a lot of things!).

I wrote this post quite a while back, but left it sitting in my files. Like I said, there is a part two, but it's only partially written, so I will try to get that finished and up in the next day or two. Lately, I've had a lot of things distracting me and demanding my attention (big, upcoming changes in our lives and other good things), so I haven't posted much that hasn't been written off the top of my head-- mostly lighter, daily things that I like writing about anyway. I shall try to get this finished quickly, though! :-)

Have the loveliest of days!

"The modern world of streamlined transportation, instantaneous communication, and time-saving technologies was supposed to free us from the dictates of the clock and provide us with increased leisure. Instead there seems never to be enough time. Tangential or discretionary time, once a mainstay, an amenity of life, is now a luxury."

~Jeremy Rifkin in Time Wars

"Streamlined transportation, instantaneous communication, and time-saving technologies" have made individual tasks quicker and easier to accomplish, but they've also sped up life. We can move from place to place faster and easier than we could in the past, so we are able to fit more into our minutes, our hours, our days, and our lives. And we do.

We've used up our margins, and we don't even realize they've gone missing. And if we're late for dinner? No problem. Zap it in the microwave. Or, even easier, pick it up at a fast food drive-through.

We can zip off to the store "right now" when we run out of something (instead of making do). Or we can hop in the car whenever we want, to go anywhere we want, possibly as a subconscious effort to brush off our ennui. It's ironic that with so much going on, people seem more restless, empty, and bored than ever.

Technology, meant to simplify our lives and give us more time, has done the opposite. It's made things more complex, and we are more harried. (Generally speaking, of course.) What in the world is going on?

Laura Ingalls Wilder wondered about this, too, in April 1917. Here are her thoughts, excerpted from Little House in the Ozarks: The Rediscovered Writings (ed. by Stephen W. Hines):

"A few days ago, with several others, I attended the meeting of a woman's club in a neighboring town. We went in a motor car, taking less than an hour for the trip on which we used to spend three hours before the days of motor cars; but we did not arrive at the time appointed nor were we the latest comers by any means. Nearly everyone was late, and all seemed in a hurry. We hurried through the proceedings; we hurried in our friendly exchanges of conversation; we hurried away; we hurried all the way home where we arrived late as usual.

"What became of the time the motor car saved us? Why was everyone late and in a hurry? I used to drive leisurely over to this town with a team, spend a pleasant afternoon, and reach home not much later than I did this time, and all with a sense of there being time enough, instead of a feeling of rush and hurry. We have so many machines and so many helps, in one way or another, to save time; and yet I wonder what we do with the time we save. Nobody seems to have any!

"Neighbors and friends go less often to spend the day. Instead, they say, 'We have been planning for so long to come and see you, but we haven't had the time,' and the answer will be: 'Everyone makes the same complaint. People don't go visiting like they used to. There seems to be no time for anything!' I have heard this conversation, with only slight variations, so many times that I should feel perfectly safe to wager that I should hear it anytime the subject might be started. We must have all the time there is, the same as always. We should have more, considering the timesaving, modern conveniences. What becomes of the time we saved?"

Laura seemed confused and frustrated about the rush of life that accompanied the rapid growth of technology. What was so promising and meant to simplify life, to be so helpful and freeing, seemed, conversely, to be greatly complicating things. Laura was trying to sort this out. The inefficient hurry that had begun to plague the everyday person's life was a pretty new phenomenon in her day. The speed of life really hasn't always been the way it is now.

Richard Swenson, in Margin, has published graphs showing the historical growth of technology. For all of the centuries preceding the 20th century, the line of progress on the graph was on a very, very slow incline (almost horizontal), but with the boom of technology in the 20th century, the line on the graph suddenly shoots almost straight upward.

Life, quite suddenly, became complicated and fast. At first, people like Laura Ingalls Wilder wondered about the hurry. She sensed a loss of something good. But now we're used to it. We like the activity. We are even dependent on it.

"Great peace is found in little busy-ness."
~Geoffrey Chaucer

I think that all people, busy or not, need to decide whether an activity has any important or meaningful bearing on their (or their children's) real daily life, what God has called them to, and their relationships. Otherwise, it's just the excitement of "run, do, go, join, network, chatter, do lunch, participate, shop, experience..."

I certainly think that there are healthy, worthwhile activities to commit to, but how many? Are we always rushing, hurrying, behind, a bit stressed? Are things at home getting done well enough? Is our rush preventable by planning ahead better or limiting distractions (computer!), or are we truly overbooked? Is our movement from one thing to another calm? Peaceful? Or are we pushing, pressing, rushing? Are we tired, unmotivated, and behind? Do you too often simply pacify situations with your children (or make threats), or do you have time to consistently discipline well and deal lovingly with the heart? Do the children seem fairly consistently settled in their demeanor?

We can overload our days, and our children's days, at home, too. Like when we make homeschooling too intense, too much (there are relaxed ways to achieve a wonderful, worthy education). Or by allowing distractions to consistently mess up the routine or to keep Mom's mind off the home and the children.

Life used to move more slowly and deliberately than it does today, almost by default. For the greater part of the past, the technology just didn't exist to allow people to live the overbusy lives that have come to seem normal today. And many people have never stopped to question the possible effects of their very busy lifestyles. They don't ask whether or not their pace is a natural one, and, if it's not, what are the possible ramifications. They no longer sense that (at least some) slow-paced living has its benefits.

We all need some slow, unstructured, unscheduled time in our days, no matter how busy we choose to be. We need some completely unscheduled, unstructured time where true leisure exists-- when we have unpressured time and freedom to think, wonder, explore, read, look, listen, and converse without time pressure.

In this day and age, to growing and developing children, unstructured leisure and time to play, wander, and imagine is a veritable gift. Children thrive in an environment that is consistent, relaxed, slow-paced, and offers plenty of free time. It is a gift to us adults, too. We've just lost our sense for it. We accept the tiredness and strain of our lives as normal, as part of being a responsible parent and adult. In these modern times, when everything is so highly structured and organized, true free time has gone missing.

(The second half of this post is about what a slow-paced life looked like in our home-- our typical daily routine-- plus an encouragement that busyness and speed is not inevitable, that it's not" just the way it is." Most of us do have a choice as to how busy we will be. Some people may choose to stay as busy and active as ever, and I'm not about to tell anyone they shouldn't or to insinuate that they are "missing the good life", but, for those of us who feel a pull toward slowing down, we really do almost always have a choice.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Only Things Affixed to My Fridge...

Or, at least to the front of my fridge, are two magnets and one card I made with a quote on it. (Items above, and on top of, the refrigerator are included in the photo for color, and because I like them!)

The magnets are photos of Glenda the Good Witch (from the Wizard of Oz) and Albert Einstein. That's me and Mike. Or at least that's what I tell my grandsons. I point to the magnets and say, "That's Grandma Susy, and that's Grandpa Mike."

We're still working on getting the correct answer when I point to the magnets and ask, "Who's that?" Roman is pretty good about grinning and hollering out the answer, but Jayden just stares at the magnets and smiles.

The quote is one I loved enough to copy onto a card and attach to the fridge forever (it's already been there for years). Again and again, this quote has been a good reminder for me. (I'm 50 years old, and I don't want to be an amateur anymore!) It is from a book by Evelyn Underhill, and it says:

"On every level of life from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur."

So, there you have it!

An Explanation and Some How-To Answers

Living room window, just to have a picture for this post! :-) And it's got some fall spirit to it, so it works, right?

Okay, I feel silly now. I really didn't want to draw much attention to the deleted post thing, but now that I know a few of you saw that post, and you also know that there was going to be a part two, I'm feeling sort of sheepish. You are probably wondering why in the world I deleted it. Simply, because it was written in a way that I'm trying to avoid communicating on my blog. It was close to the line of being okay, I must admit, but I just didn't feel comfortable with it.

Maybe I'm making too much of this, but to me it felt to close to crossing into what would be almost an editorial commentary. Not a polemic, but just too much of an opinion post. I've written a lot of that kind of thing over the years for newsletters and support groups and as speaking notes for women's groups, but this blog has a different purpose, and I'm trying very hard to stay firmly within the boundaries I've set for myself.

This is, first and foremost, a simple, family blog. It was started as a way to communicate with Mike and the kids a bit more creatively than I can in an email or a phone call. So, my fundamental motivation for doing the blog is my family, including my extended family, and also real life friends who didn't live near us. That's not to say that people who find their way here are not very welcome. Indeed you are. And I hope that some of what I share is encouraging to you.

I enjoy posting my thoughts on learning, homemaking, books and reading, cooking, routines, pace of living, raising kids, journaling, etc. (things that can be of general interest to women and homeschoolers), because they are things I think about all the time. In fact, they're the things I've been thinking about, more than anything else, for years (decades, actually).

I honestly think my family lived at a different pace than much of the rest of the world. We did our own thing and went our own way, and it was a good path for us. I'm glad I can share some of that with those who might run across this blog, and that's the only reason that I haven't made it private.

I'm not looking to promote myself or my ideas (in fact, sometimes I want to run and hide; and sometimes I just can't force myself to post some of my more unorthodox thoughts about life and learning because I'm afraid someone will feel dismayed by them). But if someone visits this blog, reads my posts, is inclined to a similar lifestyle as ours, and is therefore encouraged by what I say, that's great.

This morning's post was about busyness and the importance of slow time. Pace of life. This is definitely something I want to post about, but I feel better coming at it from the perspective of me writing about my family. Light and easy. Simply sharing what we found as a very nice way to live our lives. I'm not trying to keep a blog that is provocative or confronting or strong-worded. I don't have any desire to do that. But I don't mind saying things that are countercultural (indeed, much of what I have to say about learning and daily life is not exactly mainstream).

I also blog for posterity. :-) If I were to put all of my posts together in a notebook, it should reflect the life and times of my family, including some of the guiding philosophy for what made our home the way it was. How we live, and how we lived. That's a big part of blogging for me. Keeping a sort of history, and posting about our lives-- photos of home and family, small things, mundane, quotidian, silly, shallow, arcane, and some more philosophical stuff as it strikes-- is the only thing that's going to keep me motivated to keep doing this blog.

It's for my family first (including my whole, big extended family), and that makes it a fun thing for me to do. But I'm glad that others of you have found what I write to be encouraging, too. That's very nice.

So, just to move along, I'll probably go ahead and put that post back up tonight or tomorrow. Then I'll post part two early this next week. Sorry to draw unnecessary attention to this, and I hope you can understand what I'm trying to say in this explanation! Thanks.

Now, down to business! I've had a few requests and questions lately, at least two or three of them from Gail. So here you go, Gail, and anyone else who asked:

1. How to make scented pine cones.
2. Our recipe for Russian Tea.
3. Exactly how to plant bulbs for forcing blooms.
4. The name of the paint color on my kitchen cabinets.


There are many ways to do this, and a quick google search will get you lots of ideas. We've simply dropped cinnamon oil into the cones in the past, but the essential oil is caustic in nature, and crafters do not recommend this. One suggestion, and this is a quick and easy way to do this, is to put the cinnamon oil (or clove oil or whatever), in a spray bottle with some water (a ratio of 1 part oil to 3 parts water, I think). Lay the cones on newspaper, or take outside. Coat the entire cone with spray, place all of your cones in a plastic bag, and tie it shut for at least 24 hours. This is my way. Do look at the link for other ideas. I haven't tried some of the ideas there (because I'm lazy and do things the easiest way), but there are all sorts of scents you can mix and add to make the cones smell wonderful. Maybe I'll have to try something new myself!


My mom made this tea and it's passed down as a traditional fall hot drink. Honestly, I rarely drink Russian Tea anymore, but I do enjoy a cup now and then. It's not exactly a healthy thing to have on a daily basis, even though there is some Vitamin C in the tang and lemon mix. But, as my son Aaron pointed out recently, tradition sometimes must prevail. So, there's no changing this-- either the recipe or the tradition-- and I must admit that it really does taste comforting in the way of long routines and traditions. The tea has a pleasant taste, too. Most Russian tea recipes contain sugar. We omit it entirely, and the tea is still too sweet for me unless I mix it with extra water. Here's how we make it: 1 c. instant tea in a jar (hot kind), 2 c. tang, 6.2 oz lemonade mix (I can't find the recipe card where I wrote down what that measures out to in cups), 1 t. cinnamon, 1 t. cloves. Mix all thoroughly. Store in airtight container. (2 t. tea mix to 8 oz. water per serving, or according to desired taste and strength.)


I'm sure there's information online about this, too, but the guides we've used had us do it this way: The bulbs should be planted about six inches deep. Cover with potting soil and water thoroughly. Place pots in a cold, shady spot-- even a refrigerator (temperature must stay in about a 35-50 degree range). Tulips require 12 to 14 weeks of cold. Narcissus, 10 to 12. Hyacinths and crocus, 6 to 8. When this time is up, place the pots in a bright, but cool (45 to 60 degrees) location indoors. Avoid putting them in direct sunlight. Water them well. When some green growth appears, move the pots to a sunny location (still cool, if possible). When they begin to bud and show some color, put the pots where you can enjoy them. Blooms will last longer away from the sun.


Guess what? I mixed it myself. When we set out to paint the cabinets, I bought a green paint I thought would work, but it was too deep. So I tried another one, but it was wrong altogether. So, I took the first paint I bought and mixed it with a creamy-white color (and another color or two we had on hand) until I had the shade I wanted. I have some chipped spots on the cupboards I need to cover up, so I need to try to figure out how to create this color again. If I succeed, I shall tell you what I did and what colors I used. The thing is, when I painted the kitchen, I used regular paint, but just after that (because of it, actually), I switched to using non-toxic, low or no-VOC paints (preferably no-VOC). This kind of paint is now everywhere. A favorite brand is YOLO Colorhouse (love it!), but their color range is small, and I could no way make a green like the one on my cabinets with their paints.

If You Saw the Post I Just Deleted...

and are wondering where it is, I'll explain later, but I have to run now. The sun is shining and the day is fine, and I've got things to do!

Have a lovely day, wherever you are.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Random Notes on the Day

Up at 4:30 a.m. 24 degrees. Getting up before 5:00 a.m. feels semi-adventurous, even when nothing extraordinary is planned.

Fire building time. No heat can possibly feel as nice on a frosty morning as the heat radiating from a wood stove. I'm happy-thankful for that nice stack of wood sitting on the deck.

A banana-strawberry-orange smoothie tastes really, really sweet first thing in the morning. No sweeteners were added, but, still, the taste, at least today, seems next to mainlining sugar. That banana was too ripe.

Oh, I love the low early morning sunlight when it makes the western hills turn pink. I can't stop looking at that beautiful sight. Morning is such a lovely, fresh, hopeful time. "Your mercies are new every morning..."

Morning coffee. Morning spirit. Across from the woodstove. The sun might be shining, but it's cold outside!

Looking through Donna Hay's book, The Instant Cook, as I stay warm by the fire. I definitely need to cook from this book more often. Her food is so pretty and delicious, and all of these recipes are easy. Have got to try that Carmelized Pear and Rocket Salad because it's perfectly seasonal right now (and I'm getting delicious arugula from my CSA). Why do they call arugula "rocket" in Australia?

An email from my one and only big sister. Sooo nice to read. I have an image of this sister in my head right now. She's just arrived home from a day in first grade, wearing a cute little Swiss-looking pinafore dress, hair braided and sort of mussed. She's standing in the kitchen talking to Mom, and I'm looking at her, suddenly struck with reverence and awe and bursting admiration. I go in the bathroom and try to braid my too-short hair. I want to be like my sister. I love my family and miss them all.

Cleaning the house a day after a visit from Michelle and the boys brings a smile to my face. A stack of picture books on the rocking chair. More books on the ottoman. Another picture book or two on the floor. A few legos strung across the family room. The boys' plastic cups in the dish drainer. The afghan in a messy ball on the big chair. Those boys are spunky little bundles of smiles, songs, dirt, energy, and joy.

This morning's low temperature dropped to only 24 degrees, so why does it feel so extra chilly in the extremities of the house today? Maybe it's more humid than usual?

A fleece jacket is much warmer than a cotton housecoat. Even if the housecoat (last year's Christmas present from Melissa-- sewn from a vintage pattern) is way, way cuter. Warmth eventually trumped cute this morning.

Thinking of Melissa at work, staying warm in her (charcoal colored?) Ugg boots-- the boots that she loves to wear all the time in cold weather. And she looks so darn cute in them!


What is it with me today?! Even a tiny piece of dark chocolate tastes cloyingly sweet. But, I suppose this is not a bad thing...

That was quick. 1, 2, 3, done! I like ordering from Amazon UK. I'm looking forward to reading the book I just ordered-- Elspeth Thompson's
The Wonderful Weekend Book: Reclaiming Life's Simple Pleasures after finding out about it at the Yarnstorm blog. I've enjoyed gradually perusing Thompson's website and blog-- a little here, a little there, as I have time. Pretty, "green," inspiring stuff.

How did the new dental floss dispenser get into the washing machine?

Rake, rake, rake. Then some more. And rake some more. Take a break and rake again. Those pesky, long Ponderosa pine needles (some of them are a good 8 inches long) seem to affix themselves to the ground. Raking them gets to be frustrating work, but it must be done because they are thick across the lawn. And then I have a brilliant idea, an idea that I'm sure everyone else with this pine needle problem thought of long ago. I will suck them up with the lawnmower. Once I lower the mower blade, it works wonderfully well. I guess machines can be our friends after all.

A phone call from Roman that went like this (very quickly, in one breath): "I want to make cookies when I come over tomorrow, okay, Grandma Susy? I love you. Bye." Then he was instantly gone before I could respond. Michelle came on the phone to say that she and Monty and some friends (including Melissa) want to get together and do something tomorrow night. And would I babysit? Of course. And, yes, we can bake cookies, Roman. But you have to take them all home to your dad.
How could I ever say no to babysitting these two (who, by the way, climb on the bench on their own to play the piano together-- they actually look at the music and turn the pages, but they have no idea what it all means)?

Bacon (all natural, no-nitrate bacon, of course) can be burned so badly that there's not even the tiniest remnant of bacon taste left. It can get as black as charcoal, crumble at the slightest touch, and taste like charcoal, too. And, wow, does it smell acrid! It's also very difficult to get that nasty taste out of your mouth. And the smell out of the house.

Arugula has a strong and wonderful affinity for beets, blue cheese, walnuts, and basalmic vinaigrette, especially when they all come together in one salad. Lunch. Yum. (We were going to see how bacon would go with this, but that didn't work out...)

The girl who sells me my raw goat's milk and eggs is a sweetie. Her face is radiant when she smiles.

The lady at the natural foods store is nice, too, even if she did blame the full moon (and its powerful effects) for my recent sleepless night. The folks at the store ordered more Cinderella pumpkins just for me, so I thought I'd better pick up at least one today. And onto the porch it goes.

Melissa and I don't seem to eat actual dinners, or even regular/typical meals, lately. We mostly eat this and that throughout the day, depending on what we have around from the CSA pickup. We don't eat many grains, so toast and cereal get fit in here and there. Like now. I'm eating sprouted grain cereal at 3 p.m. Recently, we've been having smoothies, melons, carrots, beets, greens, squash, potatoes, shallots, tomatillos, sweet peppers, zucchini... and are trying not to waste a thing. But we also try not to overeat, so some of it goes to Michelle's family.

I still love green lemonade. Every day. And it loves me. I definitely feel better when I drink it regularly.

Juice a head or two of romaine, a couple of big handfuls of spinach, two apples, and a lemon. Add a bit of cold water, give it a stir, pour into glasses, and enjoy.

Why is the vacuum cleaner still out? I used it ten hours ago, and it's still plugged into the wall and sitting in the dining area. I must have walked by it 20 times today, and I just now noticed it.

Maple-roasted buttercup squash for dinner. A perfect fall dish. I love that the skins don't need to be peeled (except for the warty spots, of which there were many on this one). Those skins roast soft and tender, right along with the squash. A 3 to 4 lb squash, cut in wedges or chunks (wedges are prettier), tossed with 2 T. olive oil, 3 to 4 T. maple syrup, and about 1 t. kosher salt, roasted in a 425 degree oven til fork-tender (about 35 to 40 minutes), stirring every ten minutes for even roasting, is easy and delicious!

Mapley-gooey yumminess on the outside.

Melissa and Michelle are texting each other.

Took out the garbage, and it looks like fall outside. Lowering sun. Glowy evening. A little pile of pinecones on the porch. A stack of pumpkins by the door (the three of them piled on top of each other look like an orange snowman). Mower in the middle of the yard. The wheelbarrow heaped with chopped up pine needles from the mower bag. (More mowing tomorrow, then I'm done.)

Just a few of the Ponderosa pine cones I set on the porch while I was mowing. They're big (and prickly), but not big like fir cones.

Phone call from Aimee. She got to have a nice dinner last night with some very special family friends from the east coast who were on a quick trip to Portland. I love that my kids call me to chat. (Another brief call from Aimee not long after the first one.)

And now, though it's only 7:30 and there's loads of excitement left in the day, I shall desist, post this, and do some evening puttering.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Autumn List

Some fall color, from this morning at a local park. It's interesting to see the leaves in the process of turning. Tiny dots of color growing and spreading. So pretty.

When I posted about our chocolate chip-pumpkin muffins and autumn traditions, I mentioned that I made a list of fall things I want to be sure to keep doing now that the kids are mostly away from home, living their own grownup adventures in far-flung places. It's nice that Michelle still lives in town and is always happy to join me with any of this. And that means my grandsons are part of it, too, which is always a blast.

Kathie asked me what some of those fall traditions are, so I'll list them here. We do nothing particularly fancy or time-consuming or difficult. These are very simple things that worked easily and naturally into our home and family fall rhythm when the kids were growing up. It's not a checklist to be conquered-- just a reminder of some good things to do before Thanksgiving.

*An asterisk means it's a new thing we haven't done before.

Items highlighted in colored type means we've already enjoyed doing that thing at least once this fall.

1. Make Russian Tea and mail it to Aaron. (You didn't know it was coming, but it will be mailed before long, Aaron.)

2. Make chocolate chip pumpkin muffins.

3. Collect fall leaves and press them for projects and display.

4. Bake leaf-shaped sugar cookies and decorate them in fall colors. Pumpkin-shaped cookies, too. (This will be interesting. My kids always frosted these beautifully colored fall leaf cookies that were like works of art, and mine always looked like stripes or mud.)

5. Put pumpkins on the porch.

6. Make cheddar chowder at least once, plus Mark Bittman's long-ferment, no-knead bread to accompany it.

7. Sign up for Project Feeder Watch. (Yikes, I'm on my own this year! Must get better at identifying birds.)

8. *Make luminaries with brown paper lunch bags, leaves, and spray paint (actually a Martha Stewart idea).

9. Make our favorite chicken pot pie with cream cheese crust and be sure to invite Monty (and gang) to dinner.

10. Make apple crisp, apple-spice waffles, and apple pankaka.

11. Read autumn selections from some of Gladys Taber's books. Pull out Susan Branch's Autumn book. Read Riley's When the Frost is on the Punkin' (and other autumn poetry) and the autumn chapters in Tasha Tudor's A Time to Keep. (The Tasha Tudor book is a sweet, sweet reminder of a time when seasons and celebrations were simple and magical)

12. Take a drive somewhere with pretty autumn colors. *Collect and preserve (in glycerin) small, colorful branches of leaves to use for decoration.

13. Visit a pumpkin patch. (That will be happening this coming Saturday.)

14. Drive to the refuge to watch migrating birds and wildlife. Take a picnic lunch.

15. Plant bulbs to force indoor winter blooms.

16. Collect large Ponderosa pinecones from our yard and scent with cinnamon oil. (I've picked up just a few so far.)

Also, Mike used to build big bonfires every autumn as soon as the summer burning ban was lifted. Big bonfires. I think a man feels his manliest when he builds a snapping, cracking, roaring fire. Anyway, we always roasted marshmallows for s'mores (once it was safe enough to get close to the fire), and sometimes we'd roast hot dogs, too. And almost always in the dark because it's way more fun that way. Then we'd sit around the fire til it died mostly away.

I'm sure there are probably more things I could list... And I'm also sure that most every family has things they enjoy doing together each autumn. Families attend cider pressing parties, get lost in corn mazes, take moonlight hay rides, do pumpkin carving parties, and lots more. We've done some of these things, too. What are some of the things your family traditionally does in fall? (And I realize that at least one or two people who read here sometimes are from the half of the world where it's spring!)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Clothesline Weather and Christmas Music

Today's laundry, clean and fresh and smelling sweet!

It's been cold lately, with morning low temperatures falling below freezing for several days straight. It was ten degrees yesterday morning and 20 degrees today. Daytime highs have been chilly, too, with at least one day not reaching 40 degrees, so we've pretty consistently worn cardigans and jackets lately. Melissa has even worn her Ugg boots to work. Snow was forecast for Saturday, but none came.

Today was different, with the sun warming the air to 70 degrees, so when I went out to pin the laundry on the clothesline, I didn't need to wear a jacket. It was so nice to be outside that I hung the sheets and towels slowly, enjoying the clear air and the warmth of the sun on my back. When I went back into my bedroom to make the bed with a fresh set of sheets, I pulled the window wide open to let in as much air as I could. Light spilled in and a pleasant cross breeze blew through the room.

It all seemed so warm and cheery as I moved around the bed, tugging at the sheets and pulling the corners tight, when I thought I heard faint strains of Elvis singing Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree. I stopped and listened. Yep, that's what it was. Melissa was playing Christmas music in her bedroom.

"Hey, Melissa. Turn up the Christmas music, okay?"

So, I finished making my bed in a pleasant, summery atmosphere while Elvis, Ella, Nat King Cole, Renee Fleming, Frank Sinatra, Josh Groban, John Lennon, Amy Grant, and even Bob Marley, belted out some Christmas cheer. Sacred carols mixed with traditional, fun songs.

Melissa was playing the selection of songs she'd put on a CD for Aaron last year to enjoy during the Christmas season. It was his first college year away from home-- his junior year-- and he was living alone. Melissa got the idea to send him a package of holiday spirit to enjoy throughout the month of December. She spent days searching for just the right songs (music that would remind Aaron of holidays at home) to make a Christmas CD, and she even created a very cool and official-looking jacket for the CD case. Melissa wrapped it nicely and placed it in a box with some homemade cookies and Russian tea and mailed it off to Aaron in early December. He loved it.

(This is typical Melissa behavior. When she was quite young, she was given the well-deserved moniker "The Holiday Queen." She puts a huge amount of thoughtfulness and effort into her part of every holiday and family celebration, no matter how small. Melissa truly makes our lives and holidays special, all by herself!)

Melissa's Christmas CD selections are fun, but listening to the music in early October on a warm and sunny autumn afternoon probably seems to be jumping the gun just a bit. I know people who refuse to play Christmas music until either the day after Thanksgiving or the first day of December because they don't want the holidays to overlap, or they don't want to be sick of Christmas music.

But this is no problem in my family or in the families of my siblings!. We can all enjoy holiday music at any time. It must be my mother's fault. She plays Christmas music on any day of the year she wants to hear it-- even in July-- and she's like an exuberant little kid about it. She mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she'd been having a blast doing some Christmassy stuff and listening to Christmas music while she did it.

It makes complete sense to me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

After-Lunch Quiet Time

Michelle was here with her boys this afternoon. After lunch, at what would normally be naptime, Jayden and Roman became fairly wound up and wouldn't stay settled down, so Michelle had them take a "quiet time" on the couch with a stack of books.

Most days, at home, sometime after lunch, the boys have quiet time on their beds. They are allowed to look at books, but that is all. Jayden always falls asleep during quiet time, so this becomes his nap time. Roman usually stays awake, but he loves books so much he doesn't mind being on his bed.

Roman shows Jayden something in one of his favorite books-- Oh, What A Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa.

While the boys quietly looked at books on the couch, Michelle and Melissa sat at the table and visited. Melissa was writing in her journal and looking through her writing notebooks while Michelle drank tea. And I cleaned up the bit of mess that was left from lunch and snapped a few photos.

All was peaceful.

When quiet time was over, Jayden was right off that couch and moving again! But Roman kept reading. He loves books (Jayden does, too). Roman is starting to tell Michelle what sounds different letters make, and she has no idea how he knows. This sort of thing, though, is not all that unusual with kids who grow up in a very bookish environment and learn to love books.

When my own kids were growing up at home, we, too, had quiet time every day after lunch. It was much the same as the one Michelle has established with her boys. When after-lunch cleanup was done, my kids would go to their beds where they could either read or sleep. No playing with toys. No talking. No getting off the bed.

I should mention that I usually started quiet time by sitting with the kids to read aloud-- from picture books when the children were young and from chapter books when they were older. This helped to calm and quiet everyone and get them into the mode of being still with books.

Once they were on their beds, the children who were tired would fall asleep and the ones who weren't got to read. Ours was also a bookish environment, so all four of our children grew up loving books. We collected books for our home library, and every week we visited the public library and brought home a wooden crate full of books. So, we never lacked reading material.

*The kids didn't mind quiet time. In fact, they enjoyed it. It lasted as long as I wanted it to, most often about an hour, but the kids also knew that it might go longer. We maintained this after-lunch quiet time for years and years.

It was good for the kids, giving them the security of a routine, a time for rest (they played hard all day), a time with books, a chance to learn to be still for an extended time, and more.

And it was good for this mother, who really needed, and still needs, a few spaces of quiet in her day. It gave me a silent while to think or sit or read or attack some tasks that I had trouble doing while everyone was running around. Or I could rest or nap. Basically, I could do whatever I wanted or needed to do.

*I should say, the kids rarely minded quiet time. Once, when Michelle was young, she balked at it. Michelle was our very silly girl-- our happy, energetic, funny entertainer. On this particular day, she didn't want to be still and quiet on her bed, so she kept talking throughout quiet time. She bounced around on her bed, acting silly in an attempt to get the others to laugh.

While Michelle was all smiles and silliness, I was quite serious about no messing around at quiet time, so I continued to add 15 minutes to her staying-on-her-bed- time until she settled down. This went on til dinnertime-- 5:00 p.m.-- when she finally fell asleep!

Yikes. I'd begun to wonder what kind of showdown I'd gotten myself into and if I was handling it wisely. Was Michelle going to spend her entire childhood on her bed?! I tried to avoid getting caught in head-to-head battles with my children, but kids didn't have the right to disobey what was set. And if there's a time it's okay to wield an occasional iron fist, it's when the kids are little.

So, while I had doubts about how this situation was unfolding, once Michelle was finally allowed down from her bed (as soon as she awoke), she was as bubbly and cheerful as ever, and she never did that at quiet time again.

I don' t know if those of you with young children have quiet time in your homes (I'm quite sure some of you do, and I'm also sure that some of you moms of older kids have done this, too), but I highly recommend it. There are many good reasons to have quiet time-- both for the children and for you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Imperfectly Cosy...

To those with an observing eye (who have previously seen this post), I switched the photo to one with some morning light. And now there is a cat in the picture rather than a dog! :-)

If someone were to come into this space and inspect it with a shrewd, cold decorating eye, it would strike them as completely unspectacular. They would see a ripped chair with a fairly unattractive piece of cloth temporarily placed over it, a missing window casing, a brick woodstove area that could use a mantle, cat-scratched table legs, a too-small tablecloth (which I use anyway because it's a vintage one like something my grandma had), a window that needs replacing, a need for new curtains, undone finish work, a chair or two in need of repair and sprucing up, an overhead light that doesn't work, and a whole lot more. They would not see what I see.

I look at this space and see Aimee and Josiah, Michelle and Monty, Aaron, Melissa, and Mike, all sitting around that table after dinner, drinking tea and playing Telephone Pictionary or Apples to Apples while Roman and Jayden run around the table and through the house and I make treats (two steps behind the dining table is the kitchen-- it's an open floor plan). And then I see everyone hanging out there the next morning, drinking coffee and eating scones.

I see a warm and cosy spot where everyone in the family loves to sit. Where countless long conversations have taken place. Where we have laughed and played games and had tea time and eaten warm cookies. Where birthday thrones have been erected and candles have been blown out after we all sang happy birthday and where gifts have been opened. Where pretty Christmas Eve buffets have been set up.

I can picture my kids, as children, sitting in this space to draw, read, sew, paint, write, create, and play games. I see my grandchildren sitting there eating (and making a mess of it), drawing, watching Grandpa Mike's trains.

I see people sitting in those corner chairs on a snowy night, snuggled in a quilt, drinking tea or hot chocolate, and reading a good book with the fire burning warmly nearby (the rounded brick on the right side of the photo is the edge of the hearth). I see pleasant meals together at that table with family, friends, and relatives. I see coffee and conversation. I see happy times, people I love, warmth, tears, comfort, care, and laughter.

In our home, this is the place to be. The place that draws everyone. This is our very imperfect, perfectly cosy, space. We have been richly blessed in the things that matter most, and I am grateful.

*Spelling of "cosy" in honor of at least two of my kids who prefer it that way. This is how it's spelled in some places in the world. Like in Britain, where they were born. :-)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Finding Balance?

Ann posted on her blog about finding balance when things get busier and less serene than we'd like and asked how we find balance. I think she had in mind just a few simple things in reply rather than a long list, and that's why I'm posting my response here instead of in her comment box!

My family chose to live a slow-paced life. It was a priority that required fairly continual evaluation, deliberation, and determination. The whole world is moving at a fast and furious pace, offering us an increasing number of good things to do. More than ever, we need to be discerning and deliberate about our choices. And I realize that some of us have more freedom than others to make choices and to shape our days as we will, but however much choice we have, we can be wise with it.

The things I kept going back to over the years to keep my life feeling pleasant, as unstressed as possible, and balanced on a day to day basis (mostly in random order):

1. Having and recalling my vision. Knowing what God has called me to and, prayerfully, letting that be my guide. My rule.

2. Saying no. Knowing where my boundaries need to fall, and absolutely not allowing my margins to be pushed outward. Even when things change and kids grow older. Margin is essential. When new things come in, they should not be crowded in, but adjusted for. A trade-off or exchange. Make sure it's a good one.

3. Staying home! Making a home is my calling.

4. These things daily-- nature, beauty, order, creativity, reading, hard work, service (even a simple kind act).

5. Journaling.

6. Bible reading and prayer (of course).

7. Creating and embracing daily routines, rituals, and work. Realizing their calming, discipline-building, joy-giving power in the lives of family members.

8. When I feel strained, hurried, rushed, pressured, harried (not just on one day, but on an increasing number of days), I mercilessly hack out commitments and activities and projects (when I have a choice, which I most often do), without guilt. Or I delegate responsibility. I scale back until general home and soul-peace is restored.

9. Finding a healthy tension between leisure and work, involvement outside the home and commitment inside the home, activity and quiet, family relationships and outside relationships, etc.

10. Walking. Exercise. (And healthy eating.)

11. Laughter. Real, relaxed, leisurely laughter.

12. Sharing my life with others through hospitality and caring. Helping in some way, meeting for coffee and conversation, listening, writing a letter, making a phone call, giving an appropriate gift, taking a meal, enjoying friendships. Again, it can be kept simple.

13. Choosing to be cheerful.

14. Choosing to be grateful.

15. Keeping my life, possessions, days, and routines simple and easy-enough to maintain.

16. If I absolutely cannot keep the house orderly and clean, generally speaking and on a regular basis, then something needs to change! I've found that an orderly, clean house adds significantly to my sense of balance and well-being.

I could probably consolidate some of these, and there might be more, but off the top of my head, these are some real things I use (and used) all the time to guide and evaluate my days, my use of time, and my sense of balance. Your list would likely be different.

Prayer, of course, is the real key. God promises to give us Light for the path He's called us to walk. And that is a bit different for all of us, but whatever our path, His burden is light. His way is rest.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." ~Matthew 11:28-30

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Marking My Place...

How can I not mention what I found?! I realize you can't see all of the titles in this stack, but that's actually not the point...

Melissa and I spent a leisurely Sunday afternoon wandering through an antique mall. I wasn't intending to buy anything, but I stopped at a book stall and found a shelf of books by Gladys Taber. Each one was marked for sale at only $2, but then I noticed a sign on the wall saying that everything in that stall was 50% off the marked price. $1 each for these out-of-print, sometimes very difficult to find books, and all in very good condition! Since I'm such a Gladys Taber fan, I happily carried the entire stack of books to the counter to buy every one of them!

It would have been a shame to have separated the books by buying only some of them because they had all previously belonged to one woman-- Caroline Caroll of San Gabriel California. Caroline clearly loved Gladys Taber, as evidenced by the clippings, articles, notes, and reviews of Taber's books she tucked inside the covers of these books. There was even a sales receipt for $18.95 from Books on File in New Jersey for their services in locating The Book of Stillmeadow and mailing it to Mrs. Carroll in 1976.

I began to think about what would be found in my books were my collection to appear in a book sale, as is.

I'm the sort of person who, upon finishing a book leaves a variety of things inside. And usually, they remain inside when I've returned the book to the shelf or bookstack.

As I read, I'll pick up whatever convenient thing is at hand to use as a bookmark. Later, when I resume reading, I'll put that placemark elsewhere in the book so that I won't lose it. But more often than not, instead of using that same placemarker again when I stop reading, I'll grab a different convenient item to mark my spot. So, I'll sometimes end up with several bookmarks in one book when I'm finished with it.

A lot of people have beautiful, special bookmarks that are lovingly and carefully used when reading. This bookmark moves methodically from place to place as reading progresses, and when the book is finished, it is removed from the book and set aside in its proper place to await the commencement of a new book. These bookmarks are well-traveled, working their way through a lifetime of reading. This almost inspires awe in me and certainly a sort of admiration for the careful reader.

I have some special bookmarks, too, and I use them, but more often, it's those things that are right at hand that end up marking my place. I'll confess to dog-earing pages from time to time and even of splaying my book to temporarily hold my place. Anne Fadiman says using a book mark is like hitting the "stop" button, while splaying the book on its face is like hitting "pause." Not so open and closed, but an ongoing relationship with the book! :-) I'm glad to have the moral support of the supreme book-loving Anne Fadiman!

I know that what I've just confessed will horrify some people (especially librarians, fastidious readers, and collectors of rare books), and I want to say that I take very good care of my library books. I don't treat them like I treat my own, well-loved, well-marked books.

Furthermore, I'm more careful with my hardcover books than with my paperbacks, and I am extremely careful with my old and rare books. It's those amiable everyday books that get treated like casual, comfortable, good friends.

Anyway, I had a quick look at my bookshelf and I noted the first 20 or so things I saw sticking out of the tops of books-- the items that marked my place when I read those books. And here's what I found:

1. A short grocery store list, on a ripped piece of notebook paper, for salt, olive oil, tomatoes, greens/spinach, lemons, potatoes, garlic, eggs.

2. A blank yellow post-it note.

3. A Smith Family Bookstore (Eugene, OR) bookmark.

4. An ultra-thin, brown moleskin journal (admittedly kind of thick and hard on the book).

5. The description tag, with the price sticker attached to it, that was tied with a string to my new broom.

6. A Borders' sales receipt for Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, purchased 9/10/2007 at 6:50 p.m.

7. A National Gallery of Art "kids" bookmark featuring the Mark Rothko painting "The Party," 1938.

8. A common tan rubber band.

9. A library receipt for the books we checked out that day.

10. A US Track & Field Olympic Trials ticket for July 3, 2008.

11. A National Archives Museum bookmark featuring Barry Faulkner's 1938 painting, "The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.

12. A sales receipt from a local meat market for $30.83 on 7/29/06 at 12:24 p.m.

13. A subscription card for Sunset magazine.

14. A chocolate bar wrapper (Blanxart Dark Chocolate; the candy bar was given to me by Josiah and Aimee on my birthday).

15. A postcard from a friend who visited Jerusalem.

16. A photo of the remote control sailboat Aaron built when he was a teenager, gliding through the water.

17. A Books of Wonder (NYC) bookstore bookmark (thanks Laura and CZ).

18. An unopened envelope, addressed to Mike, containing junk mail.

19. A privacy policy statement sheet from a local walk-in medical clinic.

20. An unused birthday card with a vintage woman on the front saying, "Just treat me like you would the queen."

21. Multiple little scraps of paper, som with writing on them, some with math work, some with doodles, some with lists of books (one had several Neil Postman books listed).

Well, that was sort of like a fun archaeological dig!

Are you a careful reader who methodically moves a nice bookmark from place to place when reading? Or do you find whatever is at hand and use that? Do you leave things in your book or carefully remove them after reading?