Monday, November 30, 2015

Rainy Monday Chili

We had a dreary day of rain + cold, which was fine when we were cozy inside near the Christmas tree, but wasn't so nice during the grocery store run.  We got home shortly after 5:00, cold and damp, and I knew that chili was the only answer for dinner.  

Here's my Rainy Monday Chili technique:

*In a large soup pot, saute one well-chopped onion in some olive oil 
*add 2 lbs. ground meat of your choice (we used turkey tonight) and let it brown
*throw some chili powder in with it...anywhere from 1/4 c. to 1/2 c....I find that I like turkey with lots of chili powder, but beef doesn't need as much
*then add a couple of chopped zucchini (or diced eggplant....or carrots, if you want....or diced red pepper....) and saute a few more minutes
*add 1 large can of crushed tomatoes and 1-2 cans of chickpeas (you could use other beans, but chickpeas are the only legumes my husband can digest without suffering from severe heartburn! And I love them in chili!)

Simmer for as long as you like, until the vegetables are soft and everything is tasty. 

I like mine with some shredded mozzarella and a few long dashes of crazy salt. 

Tonight before bed during our family "thankful for" time, Annie said she was thankful for "a cozy supper."  Indeed!!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Happy Hymn

Our pastor pointed out today that "Joy to the World" is not actually a Christmas hymn; we sing it as such, but it's a song based on Psalm 98. 

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.

We had a happy first Sunday of Advent: after church the children played, my husband slept, and I stretched out on the sofa under a blanket with a cup of hazelnut decaf coffee (and plenty of half-and-half) and read a book next to the Christmas tree...for a couple of hours! I also napped and prayed.  This helped refresh, renew, and revitalize me for the week ahead, which is good because the calendar tells me we'll have a houseguest, an Important Doctor's Appointment, a Christmas singing group practice, a playdate, yet another interview with a pastoral candidate, a meal to take to a new mother, two church meetings, and two birthday parties....on top of school and lessons!

I will be ready for my nap by the tree next Sunday!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

November's Roses

This edition of Roses of the Month featured peachy creamy roses in my brown and white pitcher. 

They were gorgeous!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Christmas Tree Day

This happened today!  The children were extremely excited. Over her waffle this morning Annie said "oh! Christmas is in my heart!"

Christmas tree hunting...which one to choose?

We picked this concolor fir. It has a wonderful citrus scent and a blueish-silvery hue.

(And a tiny bird's nest.)

The trunk is silvery and smelled like oranges. 

We decorated the tree tonight, and I have to say that our children have reached the age where they are actually helpful.  Trimming the tree took no time at all because Annie and Finn were on top of it.  I love their enthusiasm and exclamation over all the familiar ornaments.

We listened to Maggie Sansone's Sounds of the Season and Sufjan Stevens' Songs for Christmas and after we were done the children ate leftover Thanksgiving chocolate pie.  I am grateful for a sweet day with my family.  Advent, you may begin!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

(This is a great little book full of historical details, plays, stories, children like "The Pumpkin Pie Procession" for all the grit and determination of two girls who are tasked with making pies and looking after their siblings while their parents are helping an ill neighbor...not to mention the humor inherent in trying to manage kitchen tasks while trying to manage children.)

Thanksgiving is so easy for me because my mother-in-law does all the real work.  She hosts, cooks a (wild) turkey {watch out for the pellets from the shotgun....they're in there}, prepares the ham, dressing, rolls, and a pie.  Aunt Charlotte brings mashed potatoes and a pineapple casserole (?!), my husband's sister and her husband bring green things like brussels sprouts and kale salad and red wine, and everyone throws in a pie. 

My contribution this year is eerily similar to my contributions every year:
*green beans (my husband is making them)
*butternut squash-kale gratin, with lots of parmesan
*sweet potato casserole with buttery pecan topping (my signature Thanksgiving dish)
*gluten-free chocolate pie
*a bottle of Clos du Bois chardonnay, because it's one of my favorites

I do make my contribution by washing her fine china at the end of the evening...unless my husband beats me to it!

I love this holiday because I can cook in the morning while the children watch the parade, everyone is full of merriment and anticipation, and it's totally low-stress and low-expectation: all we do is cook and eat (that's so easy!!) and then we have three more days left in the weekend.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Paper Day

As it turned out, the day before Thanksgiving was a good day for clearing up loose ends related to paperstuffs.  This afternoon I spent my time:

-addressing Christmas cards (whew! it's over 100! I'm not done yet...)
-working on drafting a legal document
-finishing up our travel journal from last week's trip
-writing a couple of thank-you notes
-checking up on the Christmas list to be sure all the gift-buying is under control

It was also a good day for making a healthy soup to eat tonight to offset all the rich stuff my family will be eating tomorrow!  And tonight was a good night to have a long phone conversation with my grandfather, catching up on all the tidbits of life that have happened in the past couple of weeks.

We put two very happy children to bed tonight.  It's not, as I explained to my grandfather, that they love Thanksgiving for itself; it's that they view it as the Gateway to Christmas.   The gate swings wide open after tomorrow and my children are ready for it!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Dignified Dog

On two different October days.

Also the best dog who ever lived. 

We are happy to be home, settling back into schoolwork, enjoying this short week before Advent begins.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Gluten-Free Thanksgiving Dinner Menu (the Abbreviated Version)

After road-tripping for a few days we are in Charleston, my home-away-from-home, for a long weekend with my father and stepmother.  He broke his back in October and cannot travel for Thanksgiving, so we surprised (stunned! shocked!) him yesterday by showing up on their front porch.

Tonight my husband and I are planning to treat my father and stepmother to a Thanksgiving dinner.  It's an abbreviated version since it's just for six people, and my parents are at Mepkin Abbey with friends for part of the day enjoying the Creche Festival (an annual tradition), and we'll be poking around the city.....but still, it promises deliciousness.

*Brined and White-Wined Turkey (my stepmother cooked it yesterday!)
*Sweet Potatoes with Pecans--my own concoction which we all adore
*Green Beans
*Butternut Squash and Kale Gratin We didn't make this--we rolled into the house at 5pm and I cut it from the menu! I will probably make it for Thanksgiving next week.
*Mashed Potatoes--a concession for Finn, who loves them
*Kale & Apple Salad with Candied Pecans--it's amazing, trust me
*Chocolate Pie with whipped topping, because the men here prefer it to pumpkin

Everything is gluten-free except the rolls.

Now we are off to walk the peninsula and work that dinner off in advance!

Friday, November 13, 2015

October Roses

These are last month's roses, a dozen hot pink in a hobnail milk glass vase.

I'm sure I got them on clearance at the grocery store for a pittance.  I always do!

Monday, November 9, 2015

How Do I Love the Kondo Approach?

The books and (business-y, non-sentimental) papers are done! 

It took five days of fairly steady work.  I also painted some furniture, took children to art and music lessons, cooked dinner, washed laundry, cleaned here and there, had a ladies' tea at a tea shop on Friday, and Kondo'ed my makeup and skincare.  I sent about a dozen boxes of books to new homes.  My husband had to take a special trip to the recycling center on Saturday just to get rid of all the paper I generated. 

The amazing thing was that I'm a purge-er by nature, and had in fact done a major purge of books and a major re-organization of papers two years ago when we had our basement renovated!

How do I love Marie Kondo's approach?  Let me count the ways:

1.  The benchmark for 'sparking joy' is so useful.  When I pick a book up, do I feel a surge of happiness? Or do I feel vague regret that I never finished it, a pang of resentment that I didn't like it, or perhaps guilt that I don't follow whatever it directed me to do?  Now I get to gaze upon a collection of books that make me happy by their very existence in my home.  

2.  She advocates avoiding purchasing storage and organizing bins because she believes that once the possessions are whittled down to only what sparks joy, the simplest and most basic of storage containers (she loves shoeboxes) are all that one needs.  Late in the week as I finished filtering through books and tackled the papers I saw how true this was.  Suddenly my house was presenting me with containers.  It was weird!  And it was great. 

3.  By going by category and not by room you really tackle EVERYTHING.  One night I opened my husband's nightstand drawer and gasped "a book! I didn't see this one!" and he replied dryly "you are totally obsessed."  But this process is genius. It works because you face every item in that category that you own: you see the magnitude of it.  And then, because all the books are off the shelves (or clothes out of the dressers and closet, for instance, or papers out of the filing cabinet) you have to pay close attention to what you put back on the shelves. This is a totally different approach than looking at bookshelves and selecting a few titles that you don't think you need anymore.  Putting all items in that category together, picking up, and handling each one forces you to connect with the item and decide whether you truly want it to grace your bookshelves.  

4.  In assessing items you can determine what role that item has played in your life, express gratitude for it, and then pass it on.  She notes that sometimes an item's role was to teach you that you don't actually need it.  Isn't that true at times!

I did not follow her advice to a T on getting rid of all paperwork.  For instance, she suggests that you do not ever need the owner's manual for various household items, but my husband and I actually *use* our owner's manuals.  Just this summer I mowed the lawn for the first time ever and I taught myself how by sitting on the mower and reading the manual! I did get rid of any manuals to items that are simply intuitive or easy to operate.

I had dreaded working through the books, but am so glad I did.  Now I can tackle some easier categories--but first I'm happy to slide back into the regular school routine for a while. Autumn is here, we have many great books to read, and I found a cute book on pies that I'd forgotten all about--so I think I might bake my way through the season, now that I have more breathing room!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Ox-Cart Man, by Donald Hall

A few years ago I stumbled upon Ox-Cart Man, by contemporary poet Donald Hall.  I knew Hall's work ("Summer Kitchen" is a poem that has lived on my refrigerator for months at a time at various times of my life) and was intrigued by the fact that he'd written a children's book, and even more intrigued when I saw that Barbara Cooney had illustrated it.  As soon as I read it I knew we'd found a classic.

Hall's language is sparse and poetic.  His description of the ox-cart man's simple, resourceful life of making, harvesting, and selling resonated with me.  The book's pace is slow and calm.  I am happy to read it as many times as my children want; it's wonderful. 

So imagine my delight when I found "Ox-Cart Man", a poem by Donald Hall, in my contemporary poetry book from college a few days ago!  I stopped everything, called the children to me, and read it aloud. It's a wonderful poem in its own right. I was giddy over this find!

Here is where you can hear Donald Hall reading the original poem.  

And finally, this week while I was doing my work I found my copy of Hall's Seasons at Eagle Pond.  I brought it upstairs to rest in a place of honor in the barrister's bookcase in my living room, where I can pull it out and enjoy it as the seasons change. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Marie Kondo Wrecked My Life

No, I'm sure she hasn't.  It just feels like she has!  This was my "during" photo yesterday.  Today it's even worse.  (Ironically the 'before' photo is much nicer....since all the books were on the shelves.)  Not pictured?  The tent pitched in the adjacent room, the papers and projects my children have pulled out to amuse themselves while I work, the precarious stacks of books on the floor....and the chocolate I'm hiding behind the essays....oh dear. 

The good news is that the pile of books to donate is growing, and the "sparking joy" analysis is working pretty well.  Some books I must keep because they are simply instructive (my husband would not appreciate it if I got rid of the Honda Pilot repair book, for instance, although it sparks no joy in my heart).  I am almost done with the adult books, and am about to start the children's collection, which is even more daunting to me!

I'm also totally re-organizing: I formerly had 16 shelves for adult books and 8 for children's (plus a few other bookshelves around the house).  Now I'm going to mix the two together.  I think?

I keep reminding myself that the end result will be worth it...... 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Cozying Up (and Tidying Up) the Schoolroom

We had a fun weekend out of town....staying at my best friend's new house in the woods (which is beautiful, perfect for her, and even has a cool secret attic that is accessible from a staircase in the guest bedroom!), front-porch sitting, pumpkin-carving, evening church on All Saints' Day, a lot of coffee-drinking, hours of children playing nonstop, a lot of tea drinking, and hand-sewing, too!

Now my mind turns to November.  I decided that this week we are taking fall break and I'm going to reboot.  We've done 8 weeks of school and I feel the need to do some nesting. We'll take the pause that (hopefully) refreshes, and then have another 6 weeks of lessons before we stop for Christmas.

Last week was all about catching up on sewing, and this week my plan is to attack the books-to Kondo them, if you will.  I also hope to rearrange the schoolroom and cozy it up a little more.  I love our schoolroom, but it can feel a little chilly in the winter months. I'm still thinking of ways to make it feel cozier and warmer as winter progresses, because we do ALL of our schoolwork there this year (in past years we did our schoolwork in our dining/living room, and the schoolroom was mostly a repository for books and supplies).  I will probably go hunting for a lamp or two, pull out a wool blanket, and hang curtains.....

but not until those books are done!