Saturday, February 28, 2015

Bloom Where You're Planted

"It seems to me that whether it is recognized or not, there is a terrific frustration which increases in intensity and harmfulness as time goes on, when people are always daydreaming of the kind of place in which they would like to live, yet never making the place where they do live into anything artistically satisfying to them.  Always to dream of a cottage by a brook while never doing anything to the stuffy house in the city is to waste creativity in this very basic area, and to hinder future creativity by not allowing it to grow and develop through use."

                --Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

Friday, February 27, 2015

Midwinter City Treats

Tonight I had a haircut in the city, so my children got a night with Daddy and I got a haircut and then *shopping without helpers*. I decided to invest in a few treats to boost our morale through the end of the winter. I got, inter alia:

*a supply of my favorite soap--Dr. Bronner's.  Almond, as always, for my face, and this time I bought rose for the shower
*an amber saffron candle
*a new orchid (I was tempted by the forced hyacinths, but I just stood and smelled them for a few minutes)
*a bottle of chardonnay
*beads and chalk paint at the fabric store....

I love the city, seeing new people, checking out the shops, and I have an even greater love for driving down my little country lane home, seeing the cattle and the mountains and my quiet little house.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snow Day Cookies (Flourless/Gluten Free-Nut Butter-Oat-Chocolate-Chip!)

If you are snowed-in, here's a gluten-free cookie recipe that will tide you over until spring...or at least until the next big thaw.  This recipe makes a lot of cookies--enough to share a large plateful with the neighbor who plows your driveway and the brother-in-law who pops in for dinner, with plenty leftover for the remainder of the week.

Preheat the oven to 350.

2 sticks of softened butter
1 cup of sugar (I use sucanat, and cut the quantity slightly)
1 cup of brown sugar

Add (in this order, mixing well all the while):
3 eggs (one at a time)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking soda
1.5 creamy peanut butter--or almond butter!
4.5 cups of rolled oats (gluten-free if you need them)

Then stir in chocolate chips, M&Ms, toffee bits, raisins, whatever!  I aim for 2 cups of goodies--usually just plain old chocolate chips, which pair so nicely with the peanut butter.

Place in 1 T. balls 2" apart on baking sheets.  Mine bake between 5-6 minutes in my oven, and then cool for about 2 minutes before moving to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Emblem of Everything

"People say to me: wouldn't you like to see Yosemite? The Bay of Fundy? The Brooks Range?" she wrote in Long Life, a book of essays.

I smile and answer, 'Oh yes--sometime,' and go off to my woods, my ponds, my sun-filled harbor, no more than a blue comma on the map of the world but, to me,

the emblem of everything."

--Mary Oliver, in an interview in the NY Times

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Dinner Olympics

Tonight I had the challenge of making dinner for a group of people who included a gluten-free person, a devoted carnivore, and a lowfat vegan--plus two people who can eat anything (but one of those two is only four years old). I am pleased with the solution I hit upon because it was inexpensive, reasonably healthy and *very* easy:

*onion and portobello mushrooms sauteed together, then cooked in a (storebought) pasta sauce
*local beef browned and then cooked in a different (storebought) pasta sauce 
*whole grain pasta
*roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes
*a big platter of crunchy salad: lettuce, cucumber, red onion, red pepper
*a bowl of mozzarella cheese on the table and a small bowl of chopped basil, for garnishing!

And I was happy that I'd baked a huge batch oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies (gluten-free!) on Sunday because it was easy and gracious to put them all on a plate and serve them after supper. 

I think everyone had a nice dinner, and it was extremely easy to prepare.  

I have decided that if special-needs cooking were an Olympic event, I'd be standing on the podium tonight!

I have also decided that the snow will never melt, but that's okay because it is so beautiful.

Monday, February 23, 2015

On Worry (And Why Not To)

"Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength."

              --Corrie Ten Boom

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Satisfying Sabbath

Church was cancelled today because of the foot of snow that fell down on us all day yesterday, so we stayed home! There was--

*coloring with my daughter in her beautiful, detailed  Godey's Fashions Coloring Book (by Dover)
*baking cookies as a thank-you for a neighbor
*an easy piano practice with my son (whew!)
*shoveling snow--I counted this as my 'exercise'
*lots of father-son k'nex building
*once our driveway was plowed, a trip to the grocery store with my daughter....we wore our red snow boots and skirts and scarves
*potato-cauliflower curry for supper, spicy and warm
*a hot bath and books

This not at all a usual Sunday for us--it was much busier than our typical array of activities--but it was satisfying to do a variety of things and to have an easy day off.  

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Lark Rise Skirt

**This is a slightly modified re-post from my private blog; I originally wrote this in February 2013.**

"There's such beauty possible by human hand, passed down by mothers to their daughters, but now the world don't want it anymore."  --Queenie, in Lark Rise to Candleford (the TV series!)

Ages ago I read an article in a magazine about a woman named Natalie Chanin.  The article piqued my interest because she was from dear Ashley's hometown in Alabama, and Natalie Chanin had left her fashion-design career in New York City to return to her town and start Project Alabama.  I loved the ethics behind the project.

Fast-forward many years.  Now Ms. Chanin runs Alabama Chanin.  She designs garments that are made from grown-in-the-USA organic cotton jersey and then handsewn by local women. 

For my birthday last year (2012) I bought myself a Natalie Chanin book, and almost immediately dove into jersey.  I made a bandana first, then a princess dress for my daughter for Halloween (I just made up the pattern), and then a heavily-beaded black headband.  Finally after the Christmas busy-ness was over it was time to create a garment for myself!

First I cut out the pieces for the skirt: 4 pieces of this heavy jersey I'd purchased a couple of years ago, and 4 pieces from a black tee from Goodwill (that is actually a t-shirt from the film department of the university where I got my master's degree--love it).  I attached the front fabric to the backing fabric with pins, then stenciled the "Bloomers" pattern (found in the book) onto it using black fabric paint.  Then I set the paint with an iron.  Then I stitched around each little leaf--in effect, quilting the skirt. 

Then it was time to carefully snip out the inside of the leaves, revealing the black backing fabric underneath. 

Then I got to sew up each seam by hand, and then fell the seams with a pretty little running stitch visible on the right side. (Some sizing adjustments had to be made--lots of nipping in at the waist!) After all that was done the waistband was finished with elastic fold-over tape and I owned the most comfortable skirt I have ever worn in my life. 

I started it sometime in mid-to-late January and finished it before Valentine's Day--it took about 2-3 weeks of sewing at night--but not every night!  While I sewed I watched episodes of Lark Rise to Candleford, so I'm calling it my Lark Rise Skirt. 

Sewing by hand is so relaxing.  There's an aggression to machine stitching that sometimes feels hard to handle--at night, when my family is asleep, I would rather curl up on the sofa.  I found that I didn't mind that it took me a few weeks to make a four-gored skirt--which I could make by machine in 2 hours (without the embellishments!).  In fact, I relished it. And I identified with Queenie, quoted above, when she mourned the fact that her bobbin lace was being replaced by machine-made lace. 

Purely by coincidence during this same time frame I was reading Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline.  I consider myself fairly well-versed on the outsourcing of textile and garment manufacturing but this thorough book drove home all the points that have nagged at my conscience for years.  It's not just the abysmal working conditions of some garment workers across the globe, but it's the degradation of clothing construction.  As one woman noted in the book "most people today are simply wearing rags, and they don't even know it."  Clothing is no longer well-made.  I remember a few years ago feeling absolute disgust when I found a hole in my son's pajamas after they were washed for the FIRST time.  Last year I bought a dress online that was delivered to my house with a rip in the left side seam.  Last month I bought leggings at TJ Maxx that developed holes after I wore them ONE time.  (I've been darning them, as I darn socks, because I refuse to surrender!)

Instead of paying more money for a few well-made clothes, we are snatching up $5 tee shirts like the cost is low. The price is low.  Thecost is extremely high.  Cline discussed the environmental impact of our frenzied clothing consumption.  Like many people I happily send items to Goodwill after I'm done with them, believing they will find a good home on someone else's body.  

The truth is that even the thrift stores are overrun with 'cheap fashion'.  Items that don't sell are bundled and sent to Africa, where they are re-sold there.  But a huge quantity of clothing is refused there as well as not being wearable.  And that turns into ugly waste. 

I also had not thought much about the fabric content of my clothing. I knew that I preferred the natural fibers of linen, wool and cotton, but I never really thought about polyester or other man-made fabrics.  Now I know that polyester is a non-biodegradable thermoplastic.  Non-biodegradable!

Elizabeth Cline's book convicted me.  Although almost every scrap of fabric my children wear is pre-owned (exceptions: tights, underwear), and I do my own fair share of thrift store shopping, I have internalized a moral imperative.  I now view my clothing through a radically different lens.  New clothing will be natural fibers *only* (possible exception: certain skivvies).  I'm also going to give my clothing a little more respect--in other words, I'm going to be an even better steward.  I already darn socks (multiple times!), sew on buttons, mend.  But I'm going to be more careful about how I launder items to reduce wear-and-tear.   

I love when my interests and passions intersect neatly and brilliantly all at one time: the ethics of clothing manufacturing, environmentalism, frugality (not to be confused with being cheap), sewing, the inter-generational aspect of handwork.  Constructing my Lark Rise skirt has been a game-changer.  Reading Overdressed was a paradigm-shifter.  

Fortunately Alabama Chanin sells cotton jersey that is organically grown in the U.S.A. And fortunately I love sitting with a lap full of soft jersey in the quiet evening. Next up (after I finish knitting a wool cloche hat I'm working on now): another jersey skirt, embellished this time with vintage buttons inherited from my grandmother--and my husband wants me start watching Sherlock.  The Sherlock skirt!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Girl Turns Four

Last month, with owl cupcakes!

Happy birthday to my sweet girl.

Monday, February 16, 2015

"The Joyful House"

I named this blog after reading Nancy Kelly's post on "La Casa Giocosa." My original blog is now private, and the public blog I created was originally named "Beauty Order and Grace", and it wasn't a perfect fit--too prim. I value a joyful home and all that it entails and try to foster a creative and beautiful life for all of us.  A title like this keeps me focused on what is actually important!

In her post, Nancy quotes Charlotte Mason as she described Vittorino de Feltre's 15th Century Italian school:

"Do we desire a wide and liberal curriculum?  This was what he accomplished--Latin and Greek, Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra, Natural Philosophy, Euclid, Astronomy, Natural History, Music, Choral Singing, Dancing, all games for the training and exercising of the body, and a good deal besides.  Plutarch was made much use of as an educational instrument, being employed with the Bible to teach morals...."

This was a well-rounded education, and I seek to provide our family with a well-rounded life. There is a time for Shakepeare and a time for laundry!

Sunday, February 8, 2015


We had a beautiful and productive weekend. My firstborn and I had a date in the city (Cuban food, science program, thrift store, yes!). At the thrift store he chose a princess figurine for his little sister, a little ceramic mill figurine for himself, and I found little goodies like a tall clear glass vase, a bolster pillow--breaking my rules about buying upholstered items at the thrift store--and a couple of pieces of artwork. One piece, an original oil painting, was signed by the artist, whose name is the same as my son's piano teacher.  Interesting! I am eager to have it framed!  The other is a Mary Cassatt print; I usually don't buy prints, but captivated me with its cozy domestic scene and the child's gaze.

Young Mother Sewing

I painted the first coat of white paint on an old chair that needed it, and finally finished painting the mirror for our bathroom.  I hung it last night and it looks so pretty! One step closer....

We also cleaned out my car--my husband spearheaded this effort--which sorely needed some looking-after.  It wasn't *too* bad, but it was sort of amazing how much better it did look after we removed the blanket, the CDs, the random jackets and he thoroughly vacuumed it with the *real* vacuum cleaner (I usually just use the handheld cordless thing....)

We did the usual round of Sunday school and church this morning, and I was able to do a tiny bit of writing in the afternoon.  Then the weather was so gorgeous we got to sit for a while and watch the children swing on the swingset while the sun made an extravagant last hurrah to the west, and then we came inside to a warm supper and reading aloud on the sofa.  I think we're ready for a new week!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Synchronicity and Space

Right now I am working through Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way.  This week she asks is there any room in your home that you could make into a secret, private space for yourself?

Well, I thought, no.

Our house is small and all the space has a specific purpose.  This is not a home with nooks, corners and crannies.  This is not a home with extra rooms.  But I dutifully started to scroll through images just to dream a bit, and as so often happens when the stars align and creative synchronicity happens and God smiles on you, I had a flash of vision.

My laundry area! Perhaps not an inspiring spot for most people, but an antique sink and beadboard we had installed during our renovation two years ago make it a truly pretty place (just ignore the monstrous elliptical trainer--necessary for sanity). The single window looks out on the patio, flower bed, pastures, hills. The walls are mostly empty.  It would not be a secret, private space, per se, but it is not in the flow of traffic, either.  In a house this size, I think it would be private *enough.*

So I am doing a little dreaming. 

One thing I have found to be true is that when I open myself up to possibilities, they land in my lap. Cameron calls this "synchronicity."  Things begin to happen, to snowball.  A friend tells me she had a dream that I was writing a novel; my husband gives me a dreamy trip as a Christmas gift; I find a darling shop in town full of light and a mercury glass bowl that asks me to buy it; my best friend sends me a CD with a song on it that makes me weep with its beauty and truth; visions flash.   I am thirsty for these things after a long, dry spell.  I am full of gratitude for everything I am getting.

I think of Mary Oliver's poem "Thirst": "...grant me, in your mercy,/a little more time. Love for the earth/and love for you are having such a long/conversation in my heart."

I am getting more time.  I am loving this long conversation.