Friday, January 29, 2016

Snowy Sunset

Sunset is gorgeous here right now: the blue mountains in the distance, the white snow, and the pink, pink sky.  Across the lane I see ridges of mountains, beautiful snow, pink eastern sky and our neighbor's house with the candles in the windows, looking so cozy.

This is the view from the kitchen window, in the back of the house.  This land is in my bones, the fields and the ridges and the shallow valley to the north.

No photograph can ever do it justice. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Around the House: Bookshelves

My devotion to books runs long and deep.  In college my friends threw a surprise bridal shower for me....and the gift to give was books.  Each attendee was supposed to bring a book that was meaningful to him or her.  What an amazing treat.  I still have my "wedding shower" books and look back on them, and read their inscriptions, with fondness. 

For a very long time we limped along with one beautiful large bookcase (handmade by my husband's grandfather), a few smaller ones, and many, many books in boxes in our unfinished basement waiting for their day in the sun.  I would go through the downstairs books on occasion and make them promises about having shelves one day.  Our house is quite small (1135 square feet without the basement) and was built with an open floor plan, so my kitchen, dining area and living area are basically all one L-shaped space.  {And you can see my kitchen from both the front and back doors--I mean, ALL of it.  I would never have chosen this design!  But this is our home.}

The open floor plan means fewer walls which means fewer spaces to line with bookcases.

A couple of years ago we finally had our gloomy basement finished, and we had built-in bookshelves crafted and installed.  This felt like a great luxury. It was worth the many years we had to wait. While we drew up plans I worked hard clearing the basement and reduced our personal library by at least half.  This was a big deal for a bibliophile, but the truth was--not all those books needed to live with us!  (Last October I Kondo'ed the books, reducing them yet again...and making way, of course, for more books....)  The bookcases are in an L-shaped configuration.  I think this qualifies as "pretty." 

I am very particular about the organization of my books.  I want to know exactly where to find a book when I need it.  Not being able to find a book offends my inner librarian. 

Most of our "school" books reside on this side of the bookcase.  I have many, many classic books that were passed down to me by relatives over the years.  I am fortunate!  My oldest book pre-dates the Civil War. (We do not use that one for school!)

Also downstairs in the schoolroom is our collection of picture books.  Hardback on the top shelf, paperback in the basket, and board books on the bottom shelf.  I don't worry about the organization of these books--we go with it. 

Just a few field guides by the patio door. 

My great-great-grandparents' barristers' bookcase is in my bedroom.  It holds jadeite, silver, crystal and...books! I keep favorites in here that I want to reference through the year (like Edith Holden's Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, or Donald Hall's Seasons at Eagle Pond, or Sarah Ban Breathnach's Mrs. Sharp's Traditions) as well as books I'm currently reading.  That unsightly file folder is evidence of legal work....sigh. When my father gave me the bookcase the glass in this shelf was cracked--and taped with Scotch tape!  I would like to replace it, but haven't gotten around to it yet. Someday we will!

My collection of cookbooks lives in the cabinet above my stove.  I obviously don't own many cookbooks. We used to have many more, but we kept the ones we truly love and got rid of the rest.

I don't have a bookcase in my living room--no room!  Under the buffet we keep a wooden crate where the library books live.  If you find a library book, it must go in this crate. 

Next to the sofa we have a basket of books that we're just enjoying reading in our free time....picture books, chapter books, etc.  The selection gets rotated out every so often. 

Also in the living room is my beautiful basket of school books.  I keep this here and we rotate through the basket each week.  Some are for Finn's third grade year and some are for Annie's "pre-K/kindergarten" but it doesn't matter with classics--we all like to read them together!

Finn's room presents problems.  This setup was great when he was a toddler, but now that he's a serious reader it's insufficient.  We just decided last weekend to build a custom-made bookcase for his room.  Stay tuned....

Annie's room contains the beautiful handmade bookcase that used to house much of our collection, but it holds toy baskets and not books.  Her books have a little bookcase, but they usually find themselves spread out on one of the beds in her room.  

My husband and I keep our Bibles on this little end table--but his was probably on his nightstand.  I love this corner--it's virtually unreachable because the dog's bed is in front of it, so it stays uncluttered.  And I love my bowl o' yarn.

And for a dose of reality: this is what my dining room table looked like at 4 pm.  Children live here!  I whipped it into shape! I believe this qualifies as happy, funny and very, very real.

{Linking up with Like Mother, Like Daughter today for "pretty happy funny real"....because books and the storage of books are worthy subjects!}

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Choosing the Frames

My Warby Parker box came this week!  As I suspected, the red frames were no good (sallow skin!).  I was surprised to find that the pink tortoiseshells were not happening, either--they weren't quite pink enough for me.  So it was down to the blues:

a thinner-framed, very blue ("Crane" in Atlantic Blue) 

and a thicker-framed mottled black-and-blue ("Simone" in Blue Coral)

Tough choice.  I think the former looks better in person, but in the photo I am liking the latter.  The boys are lobbying hard for the thicker, darker frames. 

I plan to order five more to try before making my final decision.  This is fun!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Back from the Blizzard

Of legal work, of snow. 

One overcast evening I took a walk east.  I stood on the hill and looked out at this. 

Then I walked home past the trees.

Peaceful and pristine.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Wee Break

Suddenly faced with a glut (for me) of several different entirely unrelated legal research and writing projects, I'm taking a short break! 

Once the documents are drafted and the corporation is formed and the assessment hearing is done, I'll be back.  

(Actually, given the pace of the state corporation commission, I'll be back long before that.)


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

In the Mail

Mr. Polly informed me that we still have a fair amount of cash in our flexible spending account (we had a healthy year in 2015!).  Oh goody, I thought--new glasses!

I love Warby Parker's policy of giving a pair of frames to someone in need for every pair of frames purchased, and their "try five frames for free" policy is generous and exciting.  The glasses I currently own are plum-colored plastic frames (cute, but old, and hard to adjust to fit my face--they slide around a lot) and a pair of conservative, smart wire-rimmed olive-hued Coach glasses.  I think it's time for something fun.

So these babies are going to arrive any day now!  I picked two reds two blues and one that is a sort of pink tortoiseshell, because why not? 

I do not think the ginormous red "Preston" frames will suit me at all, but I couldn't resist. 

We'll see! (Literally!) 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Best App Ever: Evernote

It's hard for me to believe that I know what the word "app" is since I'm technologically challenged. But I do know! And my husband gave me a new cell phone for Christmas-nothing fancy, but it has a large enough memory (I have no idea what MB and GB and all that means) for a few apps other than Instagram--the only one I used on my last phone. I'm not a games person and I just want apps that I find useful in some way--it's my practical streak.

Evernote!  How did I live without you?  I love this app!  I have created various notebooks and notes.  It's easy to organize, and I love that I can easily insert web links and pictures.  Pinterest overwhelms me to the point of being nearly unusable; Evernote is a way for me to keep something (an image or website) organized without so much visual busy-ness. I can organize school-related resources (or domestic-related topics, lists, to-dos, or volunteer work, or poems to write or revise or send away) with its streamlined, intuitive interface. 

So now I have all the apps I will ever need: Instagram for photo sharing and Evernote for life organizing.  My smartphone is complete.  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

An Alabama Chanin-Inspired Scrap Dress-Up Dress

Annie wanted an "Anna" dress (from "Frozen").  Dress-up dresses are typically made of polyester, which she loathes, and are overpriced, which I loathe, so I decided to sketch out an idea for an Anna dress out of scrap jersey.  

I made the bodice piece from old tee-shirts, cut the detail for the embellishments and bindings out of random scraps, and used leftover yardage from a different project to create the skirt.  I made the pattern up on my own, and that is evident in the fact that the armscyes are way too big! 

But it's a dress-up dress, so who cares? Not Annie.

I drew the design onto the bodice with a Sharpie.  The flowers and circles are appliqued on in a most appealing homespun fashion, and I taught myself two new techniques: couching (best technique ever!! so fun to do) and feather-stitching for the binding (I typically use cretan stitch, because I love the structural look of it....but that seemed too geometric for a little girl's dress).

And although the dress is meant to be for dress-up, she has already worn it over her leotard to gymnastics and over a shirt and leggings to art and piano lessons, so I guess it's an Around the Town dress, too.  With her hand-me-down rain boots and a pair of braids, the look is most satisfying for wintry days. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What's the Point of Housework?

Housework has a bad reputation as drudgery. Many people simply do not see the point of keeping house and investing time in tasks that have to be re-done cyclically.  I think if we look at housework as an end in itself, that negative view makes some sense. It is easy to fall into myopic sight when faced with the daunting daily rounds of laundry, meals, cleaning, et cetera.

Instead the key is to look at housework as a means to an end.  Vision is the most important element in crafting a domestic life, and all of the smaller goals, practical steps, and tasks need to fall in line with the vision; otherwise, they lose their meaning and worth.

My vision for our home life is to create a space that will allow us--all of us--to become the unique people God created us to be.  Our home is a place of nurturing, peace, rest, beauty and inspiration (for ourselves and others); it is a springboard for us to live an authentic life.  

So for me, for instance, the point of organizing the house is not to have an organized house--and certainly not to have an organized house for the sake of simply showing it to people.  The point of organizing is to create space and breathing room for our family and to allow us to have the time and tools to become the people we were created to be--to become ourselves, as it were. The point of any system should not be the system itself.  

This is not to say that we cannot enjoy the act of housework as we go about it!  There are tasks I genuinely love to do--folding laundry, using my glass-bottled homemade lemony spray for cleaning, vacuuming everything, planning, tidying, ironing.  There are tasks I genuinely do not like, too! I simply suggest that when we feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task (each year I make roughly 900 meals, wash and fold over 300 loads of laundry, vacuum the house around 100 times....) keeping the end in mind is beneficial.

All those meals nourish my family and provide a time for us to gather and talk.
All that laundry allows us to dress in fresh clothes and use fresh linens.
All that vacuuming keeps us healthier.
And so on!

Knowing when to stop housework--having a daily standard that triggers a "good enough!" feeling--is so useful to those of us who keep seeing things to do and doing them all day long.  Figure out when to know it's "good enough" and then spend time on the endeavors that define you--hobbies, recreation, reading....creation of the culture of your home. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

New Year Goals

Resolutions are nice, but I think more in terms of *goals*...perhaps just an issue of semantics, but for some reason goals seem attainable, and resolutions seem daunting.

A few of my goals are along the lines you would expect, regarding health and financial goals, but then there are the ones that I'm calling Soft Goals.  These are fun!

*fresh flowers on the table always
*write one-handwritten letter per month
*sew through a lot of the fabric in the fabric chest
*make a croquembouche
*interview my dad and write down his stories
*paint the buffet some shade of blue
*sew Annie's quilt
*cut a stencil out of pennant felt 

I'm sure I'll think of others as I go through the year, but this is a good start!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Sunday Salad

My husband is the king of caramelizing onions in a cast-iron skillet, and he made some today for his lunchtime sandwich.  I eat a salad for lunch every day, but I wanted some of those onions! So I took a few generous spoonfuls and put them on my big bed of (red leaf) lettuce, added some pecans and a tiny sprinkling of sunflower seeds, and crumbled on chunks of chevre.  Then for icing on the cake I sprinkled on some pink Himalayan salt and raspberry balsamic vinegar.  

Shazam!  That was one good salad. The onions + chevre + raspberry sent it over the top. 

Now it's time for Sunday afternoon: a nap for the mister and creamy coffee and books for me.  (With some intermittent childcare....of course!)

And finally today we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. 

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, 
my chosen one in whom I delight; 
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations..." (1st verse of Isaiah 42)

May it be so. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

On Organizing a Charlotte Mason-Inspired School Day

I have a few criteria for organizing my grammar-level school day.  First, we need to be done by noon.  No one wants to do school after lunch; the afternoons are for lessons, free play, chores, kitchen work, etc. Second, I want to keep the schedule simple.  Because I generally (not comprehensively) adhere to the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy, at least at this age, we do cover a lot of books!  But I don't want it to feel complex.  

The way I've settled upon that works best for us right now is to have two segments of school: morning time and table time. 

During morning time the three of us gather together and read some religious readings, Shakespeare, biographies on composers, history, history tales, historical biographies, recitation, science, picture studies, poetry and literature. (I don't cover all those topics every day, of course!)  We are usually done within an hour or so.

Then the children get a break.  I switch out the laundry, make phone calls, get another cup of coffee, tidy something...about 15-20 minutes.

After the break we do table time: spelling, math drill, math lessons, copywork/handwriting, and Finn's online work (vocabulary, writing skills, sometimes extra literature/comprehension work).  During this time I work with Annie on phonics and math....or not.  She's four, so anything goes. 

Then it's lunchtime and we are all liberated from school!  

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mr. Polly Makes Salad

Last weekend I came huffing in rather late from a strenuous afternoon of errands, after my family had eaten their dinner, and my husband had my dinner all ready for me: a beautiful salad + a glass of chardonnay.  He's nice like that. 

I snapped a fast phone-photo. I have to say that I'm grateful for my husband, who has so many wonderful traits (not just salad-making!).  My children decided to name our family in the manner of kings and queens, attached a suitably descriptive trait to each person's name (inspired by Narnia, of course).  We have King Finn the Great and Queen Annie the Brave.  My husband is most fittingly King Husband the Lionhearted. 

I am trying to get them to name me Queen Pauline the Mean, but they won't do it! 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Sorting the Alabama Chanin Scraps

Back during my trip to Alabama Chanin last year, I bought a 'bundle' of neutral scraps...for $10.  The bundle was hefty, too!  It has lived for the past 11 months in my fabric chest, winking at me every time I paw through the jersey section.  Today I decided to get it out and sort by color, and used my handy AC color card for reference.

Now I have tidy piles of doeskin, parchment, natural, tea (I love this one!), taupe, dove, and sand (plus a couple of others)--all labeled and ready to be transformed.

In other news, I found 100% cotton jersey at my local big-box fabric store yesterday! That never happens....they always have plenty of slimy polyester-blend jersey.  Anyhow, I bought several yards each of a pale grey and a light blue. The grey has asked to be made into a winter dress later this month, and I said yes. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Annie Gets Cake

This pretty baby, sitting in a galvanized bucket and wearing her grandmother's sweet vintage dress, turns five on Saturday.  How did we get to five so fast?

For her birthday dinner she requested black bean soup, so during Finn's art lesson in the city we ran over to our beloved Cuban restaurant to put in our order.  Ms. Zelia, the owner, always greets us with warm enthusiasm and today she asked "where's brother?!"  When we told her that Annie wants black bean soup for her birthday, she instructed me to bring in a big crockpot at 11 am sharp on Saturday and she will fill it up for us.  I love her!

Then she told Annie to pick her favorite cake from the always-luscious display case, and she gave it to Annie as a birthday gift.  Annie ate it with great gusto back at the art studio, under an enormous portrait of Andy Warhol. 

A New Year, A New Term (and Poems for Red-Letter Days)

Sunday night I thought "I am not ready for school to start again!"  Well: I was mentally ready.  I'm ready for routine and predictability, and early mornings with coffee (instead of late nights), and academically I'm ready (new checklists! yeah!), but domestically....not quite.  In my ideal world my house would be at a state of total perfection when school begins.

But life moves on whether we are ready for it or not. I didn't get all the laundry washed last weekend, but I did get to make our poetry list for the term!  I love Poems for Red-Letter Days (by Elizabeth Hough Sechrist), a book of poetry that takes us through the year (poems for everything--from seasons to Presidential birthdays and beyond...including noteworthy weeks {Be Kind to Animals Week? Got you covered}).  


I'm delighting in all the poems we will read this winter and spring.  

Monday, January 4, 2016

All Afternoon in the Kitchen (Again!) & Easy Beef-Carrot-Spinach Curry

My neighbor and I are taking a meal to our other neighbor Naomi, who has a newborn baby. R is delivering the ham tomorrow, but I needed to take my stuff today because Tuesday is always busy around here. My husband is also on his vegan regime now which requires a lot more advance planning on my part. So today I spent all afternoon in the kitchen, making:

*pasta salad with basil-pesto sauce (for Naomi's family--something sturdy that should be fine the next day)
*sweet and sour broccoli-cheddar salad (ditto)
*gluten-free chocolate gingerbread (a house favorite; Naomi loves it)
*pasta salad with basil-pesto sauce, cracked pepper, white beans, garlic and chopped spinach--a huge bowl for my husband for the week 
*chipotle-lime black bean & veggie burritos topped with enchilada sauce (another big batch for my husband's meals)
*a big tray of crudite for our consumption over the next few days
*a simmering pot of coconut-y curried beef with carrots and spinach for my children's dinner (adding the technique below because it turned out so well and my children want me to make it again!  I just made it up on the fly.)

Okay, I'm done for the day.  Tomorrow I think we'll be looking at tilapia and sweet potatoes and broccoli--a quiet, easy supper!


Beef, Carrot and Spinach Curry

*Saute 2 lb. ground beef in large pot
*Add as many carrots as you like, cut into thin sticks, and saute for a few minutes
*Add 2 T. curry powder + 2 T. (more or less) of red curry paste + 2 cans coconut milk (full-fat is nice) and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer...simmer until the carrots are cooked and soft
*If the mixture seems too thick and you want to thin it out (I did), add some liquid until it is the consistency you could use water or any broth (I used vegetable stock)
*Ten minutes before serving, throw in several generous handfuls (or more!) of chopped time I'll add some cilantro, too

You can serve over rice, or just plain in a bowl topped with mango chutney and/or peanuts!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The View from the Deck

The view from the deck this holiday season feels like it has been perpetually wet and foggy. 

But the weather has been unseasonably warm--otherwise we'd have had a blizzard by now!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Good Fortune and Prosperity (and Pevensies)

Tonight we had a black-eyed pea stew (a sort of elevated hoppin' john) + crispy kale chips + brown rice + tilapia. We all did forgo husband forewent the fish, I forewent the brown rice, and the children (who apparently have little interest in luck) forewent the black-eyed peas.  

But between the four of us, we will have communal good luck and prosperity in the new year!

And tonight we celebrated the eighth day of Christmas with a family movie: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."  May I just say that I think that movie is wonderfully-cast?  

While we followed the adventures of the Pevensies, I feather-stitched the binding onto a dress I am making for Annie: an Anna (from "Frozen") dress, hand-stitched entirely out of old jersey scraps.  On the home stretch now!