Friday, October 31, 2014

Dark Basement: Before and After

Last year we had our (dark, spidery) unfinished basement finished.  We had lived here for 12 years.  It was time!

This is what was: 

And here is what is!

Much better. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beauty in the Rubble

Our family enjoyed a little Sunday afternoon autumnal agritourism recently--hay rides, pumpkin-picking, corn maze.  But the best part was the old decrepit house!  As we walked up to the hay ride waiting area I saw this beauty basking in the sunlight. I quickly made observations to my husband--it has been moved, it's pre-1900, the little bit on the back was added much later--and before we left the farm I deposited the children with their father and went to take a closer look. 

When it comes to old houses I'm like a moth to a flame.  I cannot stay away, even if they are clearly jacked-up on cinderblocks, loaded with old junk and sagging.  I have more stories of me elbowing my way up to an old house.  I may be getting a reputation in these parts.

Evening shadows and light.

Rusty chrysanthemums. 

Old tire. 

The best part is that the owner of the farm saw me taking photos and started telling me all about the house.  It had been moved in the 1960s when the main road came through, and back then it was on top of the bottom story of the house, which was stone (and thus couldn't be moved).  It was built in 1853. The bit on the back? Added-on as a bathroom.  I just nodded my head; I'm a semi-pro at this by now!

So then he took me inside!  We went across the bouncy front porch into rooms crammed with old apple boxes, canoes, construction debris.  Plaster torn, crumbling; ten-foot ceilings and thick beautiful moldings around all the doors and windows.  The fireplaces had been ripped out when the house was moved and he wanted to show me what he considered the unique construction of the interior walls--inch-thin planks horizontally placed, with some kind of mortar in between, then covered with a thick layer of plaster.  

Standing there in the dust and shadows with the fading October light outside I thought of all the families who had lived here.  Babies were born; people died.  I thought of all the griefs and the joys, the stories that are lost in time but linger in the air of the sacred space of a place that people used to call 'home.' I tried to describe this to my husband later--I just think about how the people there were just as real as you and I are now, but they're no longer here. It is sobering to think how fleeting their times were, and how fleeting our times are. It is such a privilege to get a glimpse into the past.   

I see so much beauty in the rubble of life. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The View Down the Valley

The mundane chores like tossing scraps over the fence for the cows are a lot less mundane when you have a view.  I never tire of the view down the valley, which is ever-changing and always lovely. 

Soul food. 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Special Delivery

Wednesday was delivery day around here!  Our cabinetmaker arrived in the morning to install the new vanity in our bathroom. He brought two of his seven children along--and one of them was the youngest, who is two!  The other one was an early-teenage son, who was an enormous help with fetching tools, lifting heavy things, et cetera. It is always so refreshing to see a family working cohesively.

I went with a very simple and traditional design--the same design I chose for our cabinets and bookcases in the basement. I love crisp, classic white. 

One step closer to brushing my teeth in my own bathroom.  Luxuries!

Friday, October 24, 2014

An October Baby Shower

Several years ago my dear friend was pregnant with her second child--who is 17 years younger than her first child!  I threw a baby shower for her and it was such a pleasure. Things worked out so perfectly that the shower fell in autumn--her favorite season and an easy time of year to work rustic beauty into the scheme.

I decided to use my brown and cream china and work forward from that.  I wanted cream and brown invitations, and found these--perfect!

Layered the table with a white cloth and then a long rustic piece of fabric the thrift store presented me with a few weeks before the shower. Set it up with my china, supplemented by more cream plates I had gathered at the thrift store to fill it out.  A couple of cream candles and some flowers and that was that!

The menu was good and very easy: vegetables and dip, pumpkin-chocolate chip mini-muffins, mushroom and leek mini-quiches, chicken salad with pecans and cranberries in phyllo cups, traditional cucumber sandwiches, hot ham and swiss rolls, M&Ms, carob raisins, salted almonds. 

I set my buffet with a tablescape that I loved, with a long swath of thrift store fabric along the top. 

The cake's top layer was lemon and the bottom layer was spice.  At the last minute I gathered twigs and berries from the yard to garnish the bottom. 

My emptied-out hand sewing basket held the favors. 

White pumpkins and gourds, a few leaves a rustic fork holder!

We drank hot spiced cider or Perrier and got very, very cozy in my small main room. It was a sweet afternoon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My Kind of Decorating

"I'd be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." 
--Anna Quindlen 

(That rogue yellow chair was waiting for her white-latex facelift!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Cozy Tuesday

The weather was gorgeous and moody here today with that changeable October sky, blustery winds and leaves blowing off of the trees.  Inside the house we were cozy, staying home because my son was under the weather. I wore my housedress-avec-leggings and an apron all day, washed and dried laundry nonstop, the heat kept us plenty warm and I busied myself making *two* soups (13 bean and black bean), a pan of cornbread and our favorite chocolate-chip gluten-free peanut-butter cookies! After a short nap and many phone calls--my sister is dealing with a complex and risky medical issue at the moment and I'm cheerleading and reminding--and some hand-sewing while talking to an insomniac child....I am ready for bed.

Because: tomorrow morning the craftsmen deliver our new vanity!  Joy!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Domestic Comforts

The last chapter in Victoria Moran's book Shelter for the Spirit is entitled Comforts, and I love it so much that I gravitate to it over and over again.  I would call these 'comforts' either treats or little pleasures, but they are all the same: the precious bits of our domestic life that give us solace and keep us healthy and content. 

"Comforts aren't confined to home, of course, but at-home comforts have an advantage in being readily available and, for the most part, already paid for.  I recently rode with a taxi driver who told me that driving was a second job so he could pay off debts.  His strategy for financial independence?  'I don't go anywhere and I don't do anything.'  I asked if this spartan lifestyle was difficult.  'Oh no,' he said. 'I've never been happier.' He explained how he had become an excellent cook....was playing trumpet for the first time since high school, and refurnishing much of his house by refinishing attic heirlooms.  Going 'nowhere' and 'doing nothing' can lead to a high-quality life." (Emphasis mine.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Autumn on a Plate

Fall pumpkin and gourds on an antique autumnal plate--this china was a wedding gift from my mother fifteen Octobers ago.  I love to use it in the fall!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Happy at Home: My Ten Essentials

I'm an affirmed and unapologetic homebody, but this has not always been the case. I've always longed to be home, but there was a season in my life when I ran away from home a lot--frankly, I didn't know *how* to be at home.  When I was at home I distracted myself, and I had a hard time putting forth the initiative to actually create the home I wanted to have.  I don't mean the physical act of decorating, exactly; I mean nuts-and-bolts--functional routines and ambiance. I never learned this when I was growing up, and I entered adulthood with a deep desire to create a home but no actual skills!  When we were first married I had no idea how to hardboil an egg, and I was bemused to the point of giving up when I thought about how to clean regularly.  The routines I eventually began to create and follow were deeply informed by Cheryl Mendelson, in whose debt I will always remain.

Unfortunately housekeeping gets a bad rep as drudge work; I grew up with the idea of a homemaker as an oppressed and pitiful soul who whiled her life away on the most mundane tasks--even though I loved the idea of cleaning and organizing.  Somewhere along the line my attitude was rehabilitated, probably because I began to want to create a home for my family that mimicked the love my own childhood home had...but with more order and passing-on of skills.  I began to see the inherent dignity and value in domestic work.

This past summer my thoughts centered somewhat on home routines and particularly how to stay happy while engaging in home-based learning.  I created a list of 'ten essentials' that I try to do each day: 

1. Cook good food and stay on top of the kitchen.  Every day we have to eat, so kitchen work is essential.  I make an effort to serve nutritious meals. The kitchen is clean before bed each night.

2. Stay on top of the laundry.  For me in this season of life this means doing laundry on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays--with any residual laundering done on the weekend.  When I had a baby I did laundry nearly every day, between the clothes and the diapers!  (Note that this is my ideal. The reality is not always aligned with the ideal.)

3. Figure out the daily tasks that make things pleasant and make me happy, and try to do them.  For me: getting dressed in clothes I like, making the beds, keeping the main rooms and our bedroom tidy (the main room often gets cluttered during the day, but my children do their tidying before bed and all is well), and keeping the main bathroom fresh are the essentials. When everyone is in bed, I want to sit down in the living room and rest in a tidy room. If I want a hot bath at night, I don't want to feel grossed-out by the bathroom!  

4. Learn with my children.  Don't just administer learning to them; partner with them.  Come alongside and figure out concepts or learn something new together.  It is more fun for everyone that way--and also more effective. I love to engage in wonder with my children. 

5. Play with and/or read to my children each day. 

6. Go outside, even if it's just to read a book or walk around the yard or to pull some weeds or check the garden.  Kick the soccer ball to a child, take a walk, eat a snack. Fresh air is a cure-all. 

7. Make something that lasts or engage in a soul-filling activity.  Sewing, writing, reading, praying, playing piano, and gardening are all on my list.

8. Stretching.  I have noticed that stretching (in the form of yoga or pilates--or just plain old stretching) helps me stay happy.  

9. Rest. The days when I feel the most strung-out are, not coincidentally, the days when I've not rested enough.  I like to stay very busy, and I'm amazed at how refreshing it is to have a cup of tea and a little reading for 20 minutes in the afternoon, or how much better I feel if I stretch out for a 10-minute catnap.  Carving out a couple of short rest periods every day, instead of racing to the bedtime finish-line and then collapsing, makes my day so much better.  Getting to sleep at a decent hour at night is so helpful, too.

10.  Pausing.  I try to pause frequently to just observe a child's smile or look out the window to see what the sunlight is doing or check in with myself to see how I'm feeling.  Pausing for a moment keeps me focused in the moment.  Mindfulness reaps many benefits.

Those are my own essentials during this season of life!  I don't always achieve them all every day, but if I can order my day around them, things are just much better. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

In Our Spare Time

In our spare time my husband and I have been redoing our master bathroom.  Caulk gun hanging in the shower?  Indeed!

We ripped out the old linoleum and put down wood floors, which I stained and polyurethaned diligently after my husband sanded them.  I love the floors!  My husband installed the beadboard and trim.  The cabinetmaker is still crafting the cabinet, and I haven't picked out light fixtures yet. 

It would be just lovely to replace the shower, but we do not want to spend the money for tile and I don't want to replace it with another fiberglass shower!  This shower is quite adequate, and it is a nice practice in moderation and restraint (not to mention self-discipline).  Cultivating the art of contentment is valuable.  So I am content with the old beige fiberglass shower.  It serves us well! We did remove the nasty old doors and will be purchasing fresh new doors, which will be so nice. 

I haven't finished painting yet and am a little uneasy about continuing to paint, because I'm wondering if the blue of the ceiling will blend with the countertop I chose.  I painted the walls and ceiling in this room three and a half years the beginning of the makeover process.  We practice 'slow renovation' in our home. I like to think it's like the slow food movement.....

My spare time this week will involve finishing beadboard painting and painting that last wall to the right--I hope!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Grandparents and Ferns

My rabbits' foot fern is a conversation piece!  Several friends have inspected it dubiously and one friend, a horticulturalist, said she had never seen anything like it.  It is perfectly normal to me because my grandmother has always had them; they recently became pot-bound so my aunt and uncle brought me some of the divided fern.  So far it is surviving!  The ferns are old as the hills. 

The painting depicts my grandmother's father--my great-grandfather--asleep in his chair holding me when I was an infant.  

I love hand-me-down everythings. It ties me to my ancestry!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Pretty, Happy, Funny and Real: A Retrospective

Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life--this concept is perfectly aligned with my ideals.

A flower arrangement from my sweet neighbor--goldenrod, boxwood, purple weeds.  Create beauty with whatever you've got!  

This makes me happy: a flaming sky over the pond and hay field.

We celebrated the end of the first week of school last month with a water balloon war.  I filled up every balloon I could find in the house, put them in a dishpan, armed my son with a soaker-gun and we went at it.  He was a happy boy that day.  

My laundry counter has looked like this for far too long; my husband claims it began two weeks ago when we provided six days of care to my sister after she had major oral surgery, but I know the truth. The truth is that everything went downhill once school started in September and our busy autumn schedule began!  I keep washing and drying clothes, but the "folding and putting away" part seems to have stumped me entirely for several weeks now.  I shall prevail!

And one more thing that is pretty, happy, funny *and* real: 15 years ago today my husband and I were married! I will attempt to add a photo soon--we got married in the days before Digital Everything.  An anniversary is a wonderful reason to celebrate!

Monday, October 6, 2014

We are an Art Form

"....we are an art form. I do not mean that we produce art consciously now, but I mean we arean art form, whether we think of it or not, and whether we do anything about it or not.  We are an environment, each one of us. We are an environment for the other people with whom we live, the people with whom we work, the people with whom we communicate.  And in this sense we do not choose an art form and create something in that form; we are an art form.....people who come across us or walk into our presence, become involved.....we should have thoughtfulnes concerning our responsbility in this area.  We should be artists in doing something about the environment we are creating..."

        --Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

Friday, October 3, 2014

Preliminary Notes: The Why, What and Who

This site is born out of the notion that there is a place in modern life for domesticity.  I believe that both men and women can and should enjoy a rich domestic life and that children benefit from the cultivation of domesticity.

Homemaking is an art that imparts dignity to humans and deserves respect--and perhaps even a revival. Unfortunately in modern culture 'homemaking' sometimes equates to only decorating, or crafting, or do-it-yourself projects, or foodie-style cooking.  I have seen blogs that imply that homemaking is gender-specific.  I have seen impossible standards of decor or organization heralded. Decorating, crafting, projects, cooking, and organization can all be valuable aspects of home life, but they do not hit the root of domesticity. 

What's the point of all this domesticity? I believe that the purpose of a home is to foster us as humans as we grow and become who we are meant to be.  It is a place where we can continuously become ourselves. This is as true for a retiree as it is for a child.

I am a Christian, so I believe this means it is a place where we become who God created us to be; however, you don't have to be a Christian in order to believe that your home is a place for growth, comfort and "becoming."

I hope that this space will be a place to encourage anyone in their domestic pursuits and the development of a graceful and healthy home life.  It is absolutely a place for imperfectionists. 

Who are you? I am a writer (also: poet, philosopher, and attorney-on-longtime-sabbatical) living in the mountains with my husband and my two young children.  At this time our household also includes our big, wonderful dog Bosco, a petulant cat named Anastasia and two one fish.Updated as of August 2016: we now have a sweet and darling indoor cat named Alice as well!

What is your home like? We live in a very average ranch-style house that was built in 1993. Before our basement was finished in 2013, our living area was 1135 square feet; with the finished basement we are now living in a whopping (it feels like it!) 1800 square feet. We live in a semi-rural area on a farm that has been in my family since the 1930's; our children are the fifth generation to live here. Our house is nothing spectacular, unusual or posh.  I love it!  But it took years for me to love it, which I'm sure I'll discuss sometime.