Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Off to the Land of Live Oaks

We leave for Charleston tomorrow morning to visit my family,

which means today my to-do list is almost as long as the Cooper River Bridge. 

Viva la road trip!!

Monday, March 28, 2016

What Do You Need?

Lately I have been asking myself this question: what do you need to feel good during the daily grind of life? 

This is so helpful and clarifying.  Sort of like my delineation of my "Happy at Home Essentials" but dealing with smaller details--the tiny, seemingly inconsequential things that actually feel big to me when they are undone, not addressed, or otherwise messed-up. 

As I move through each day I notice what bothers me...and what does not. (And the answer to this question cannot be "everything." That was my answer to this question for a long time.) My philosophy is that I need to notice the things that I really need to have done in order to feel sane, balanced, and optimistic, and then I need to take responsibility to do these things myself or help others help me (such as asking my children or my spouse to help with something, but not requiring them to take primary responsibility for it). In other words: I do not expect other people to meet my needs. As a result, I am careful to identify what is a preference and what is truly a need for me.

*Math and piano practice.  In terms of homeschooling, I am comfortable with lots of flexibility in terms of implementation and execution.  Making math and piano practice the spine of our school days helps me feel more creative with the other subjects we study.

*A small, carefully-attended wardrobe. I love having a carefully-selected wardrobe of clothes so that when I open my closet, I am not puzzling or stressing over what to wear (the feeling of "a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear" is a bad feeling for me).  With fewer clothes, it's easier to know when I need to do laundry, which items are wearing out and need to be replaced, and what types of maintenance each item needs. 

*Watered plants.  I like to think I am caring for my plants; it just makes me feel good.

*Time in the morning to get fully dressed and have decent hair.  I don't even always do this before the children get up--but I do need about 15 minutes to myself for this.  (When my children were babies/toddlers, I almost never had this!  And I accepted it as that season of life!)

*Caller ID and voicemail. We use a landline as our primary phone, and I screen my calls.  I do not answer the phone whenever it rings.

*Full water in the pet's bowls.  I do not like it when I walk into the bathroom and see that our dog's bowl is empty or even close to empty. Having a full bowl of fresh water makes me feel like I'm doing a good job.

*Tidy bathrooms.  Just a quick tidy and wipe-down daily.  I feel cranky and unsettled when a bathroom is gross. They aren't spotless--they are just neat and clean and sanitary enough.

*Made beds.  Even if a child's room looks like a toy tornado hit, if the bed is made I feel alright.

*Fresh air and light. I open the house up every day and let the breezes circulate air.  Even in winter, I crack a couple of windows for a couple of hours.  

*A clean litter box for the cat.  Enough said.

*A plan for the day and for the week. A flexible to-do list (on paper!) and routine for each day gives me peace and encouragement. I am not a strict scheduler, but I also like to know what to expect and when!  I also like to have a solid plan for each week (a basic outline of dinner options, a grip on when we will have meetings, lessons, classes, outings, etc., a basic idea of our school goals, etc).  I implement this with flexibility, but I take the time each week to have a solid grasp on what needs to be done and what my goals are. 

*Staying on top of the kitchen as best I can--not just in terms of cleaning and keeping the fridge organized (I recently re-organized the refrigerator and...labeled it and that has been such a game-changer!), but also in terms of having a well-stocked pantry, clean aprons, and a healthy supply of clean dishtowels.  For some reason a well-stocked dishtowel drawer makes me feel cared-for and happy!

What things do not stress me or bother me?  Smudgy windows (I used to clean them every I happily wipe them down whenever I start to notice them)....stacks of books (as long as I basically know where all the books are, I don't care if they are in stacks on the coffee table or on someone's bed).....fingerprints on my stainless steel fridge (I wipe it down every week or two, and that's enough).....dirty laundry (as long as it is in the hampers, and not on the floor, I know it will get done!)....stacks of folded clean clothes ready to be put away (it'll get done!)......scattered weeds in the garden or flower beds (as long as I have flowers blooming, I pull weeds when I can and ignore it otherwise) or materials left out for a "project" or involved play activity (I see these as signs of a creative life).

All of this is quite unique to each person and each season of life, but I encourage you to ask yourself what you need (even if the needs are seemingly minor--it's a nice act of kindness to yourself to identify your minor needs) and how you can order your time and life to make it all work.  

Friday, March 25, 2016

Good Friday Reflection: Keep Telling the Story

"We praise you and thank you, Lord, for the gift of yourself on the cross.  On this somber day of remembrance, as we contemplate Christ's suffering for us, help us find meaning in the wounds we endure and in the travails of the world you created.  You have called us to accept our common mortality, and to serve one another in love, keep us firm in our faith as we are called to suffer for others.  You have called us to keep telling the story of your salvation in the unjust and violent world we have made, help us to see past the limits of our vision to your limitless love, which transcends death.  In the prophecies, gospel stories, and apostolic witness of our scriptures may we always find consolation and hope, never faltering in our certainty that you are the God of a kingdom of justice and the author of life. Amen."

   --Kathleen Norris

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Polishing the Silver: A Tip

Tonight I took it upon myself to polish our silverware.  We use our "nice" silverware every day because I cannot stand the idea of having a set of unused, gorgeous flatware in a closet somewhere.  So yes, I do have to hand wash it, but it is totally worth it to open the silverware drawer and find that warm glow shining back at me.  (And it is not sterling silver, but is only silver-plated. It is still beautiful!)

The set we have is from my husband's grandmother, and my cursory research dates it to 1953. The pattern is "White Orchid," which is perfect for me because I love orchids.

Daily washing and drying keeps the silver well-polished, so I only need to polish the set once or twice a year (and even then, it's only minimally tarnished--so lightly tarnished that I doubt anyone else would notice but me).  

The tip that I have is to use latex medical gloves!  I do not like to use my regular kitchen gloves because they are so thick; the thinner medical gloves are perfect for keeping the silver polish off of my hands, but allowing me to do a great job getting the silver well-polished.  And then I can just throw them away--which is perfect because they are pretty gross after polishing all the silver.

I find that polishing the silver is like ironing your clothes or shining your shoes. These are jobs no one seems to want to do, and our culture generally regards as a complete waste of time, but to me they are the perfect domestic tasks: they aren't done every day, they provide instant results, and the end result is deeply gratifying!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

On Living the Good Life...Long Term

Here is something to listen to while you dry the dishes or fold the laundry!  Just a little peek into a 75-year-long study on what constitutes a good life. 

(Spoiler alert: it's all about relationships.....)

A good reminder to love others, forgive wrongs, foster healthy relationships, and keep it going for a long, long time!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

On Nobility and Thrift

Today I took the children to a Civil War museum exhibit. We were so fascinated by the stories of soldiers, slaves, and ladies that we read about and heard.  My children waited patiently for an hour and a half as we slowly worked through the exhibit and spoke extensively with one of the docents.  She asked about my family because she is interested in genealogy and is in the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I told her about my great-times-10 grandfather who was one of the founders of Nantucket Island.  When I told her his name her eyebrows arched and her eyes widened.  "Oh, you absolutely predate the American Revolution," she noted.  "You could join our chapter of the D.A.R. The {family surnames} are everywhere in the historical records. In fact," she mused, "you may be a Pilgrim."  (Note: I don't think so--that ancestor did not sail on The Mayflower.) Then she sized me up again.  "Frankly, I think if you did the research, based on that family name, you would find that you are descended from royalty." 

Well, she is only affirming what I have been telling Mr. Polly for years. It explains everything.  You can't hide nobility, you know? 

(Finn told me later "Mommy, I have always said you are a queen.")

But in order to prove that I am not merely a decorative figurehead, in spite of being to the manor born, and probably some sort of long-lost European princess, today I scored a fabulous midcentury walnut desk for Finn's room redo, for $35!!  People, if that doesn't prove another sliver of my ancestry--that is, my proud descent from a long line of Scotch peasants, I don't know what does.  

Because we highlanders are known for our thrift! 

Monday, March 21, 2016

A White Vinyl Chair for Finn

What happened?!!  One day Finn was a baby in a nursery and now he's looking forward to his ninth birthday.  So I am planning a little room redecorating for him, because his bedroom needs to get a little more sophisticated.

Here's my serendipitous thrift store find today: five dollars, vinyl, rolling, and amazingly comfortable.

Maybe I am feeling a midcentury vibe.  Who knows?!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Camille Saint-Saens

Wow!  In 24 hours I have ordered two spring dresses, slept on the floor of Finn's bedroom in a sleeping bag (he is sick to his stomach), done a thorough tidy and cleaning of our main floor (except Finn's room: see "he is sick," above), shared goldfish crackers with a US Marshal (don't ask!), tidied our basement, and dined with a United States Congressman and his wife at a fundraiser tonight. 

In the midst of all this: Camille Saint-Saens, my newest composer-obsession. Although best known for his "Carnival of the Animals," a piece he apparently did not like, I have been devouring his Piano Concerto No. 2 (for one incarnation, look here).  This is only the tip of the iceberg as far as Saint-Saens is concerned and I am looking forward to many more listening hours.

And please, please, please, let no one else catch Finn's stomach bug.  My poor boy is sick. But tomorrow is a new day!!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Warby Parker Winner Is....Chilton in Blueberry Buckle

I took full advantage of Warby Parker's at-home try-on program and tried on fifteen different pairs of glasses, before settling on the Chilton.

In "Blueberry Buckle," which you can sort of see in this silly picture. 

My smartphone isn't smart enough to have the selfie capability, which suits me just fine, but does mean I have to rely on my mirror. 

Fortunately, the glasses are chosen and thus endeth my string of taking bathroom mirror photos and inflicting them upon my friends in an attempt to get opinions on which glasses everyone likes best.  At the end of the day, I didn't send these two photos to anyone.  It's like shopping for your wedding dress: when you find The One, you just know.

I loved Warby Parker's customer service, too.  They are tops. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Just a Tuesday Night

Last night as I drove down the lane after a pastoral search committee meeting I saw a bonfire in my backyard.  Sure, it was 9:15, but I'm not above a late-night-Tuesday-s'mores-fest. 

I roasted a marshmallow while the children did what children do at bonfires (stuff themselves with s'mores and run around like crazy people) and I settled into the chair next to my husband to talk about our days.  He had a bad day at work, so we discussed that.  We talked about the pastoral search.  We looked up and found constellations.  We laughed. The spring peepers are going strong in the pond and the night was quiet and peaceful--a crackling fire, the frogs, the children's voices. 

At one point I looked up over my husband's head and saw one of the brightest, biggest falling stars I have ever seen.  It was gorgeous!  So I made my wish.

Just a Tuesday night opportunity to burn brush, but it was a miracle. Everything is.  Just like Donald Hall says

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Enjoying Our Children

Today is my grandmother's 90th birthday.  She died last August, and today I took my grandfather a Mason jar of daffodils and a few brownies. The view down through our valley was glorious. She always loved this view! (She lived on the hill above us; we live down in the valley. This is what life looks like from our deck.)

My grandmother had wonderful advice on child-rearing for me.  She was an immaculate housekeeper with a keen attention to every detail of domestic life. Once she called me when Finn was a baby and said, in response to my sigh about the condition of my house, "if you have young children and a perfect house, you're not doing your job."

I never would have expected that from her, and it was so liberating--I am a natural perfectionist, and I needed this sage reminder. 

Another time when Finn was around two we were visiting her and he started to put up a fuss about something and defy me.  "Oh!" she exclaimed happily, "he is independent and has a mind of his own! That's what you want, you know!"  Since she had raised three children who turned out to be great adults, I decided to look at his two-year-old self with new eyes: he was developing a mind of his own.  Yes, that is a good thing!

 (My aunt recently told me that when her daughters were teenagers and would gripe about not being allowed to do things their way, my aunt would say "you are so right...this is great, you're preparing yourself for living independently and on your own, and you have your own ideas about how you want things to be done. For now, you're here and have to do it this way, but I can see how ready you will be for your adulthood!")

And finally, after nearly every conversation we had about children and childrearing, she just said "you just want to enjoy your children...I enjoyed having children so much."  I think this is such wise advice in a day and age when we seem to take parenting so seriously, with a hyper-focus on the future--on training them for adulthood, for their educations, etc. 

 Since then I have thought of her words often.  I genuinely enjoy my children.  They are clever, hilarious, fun, caring, and thoughtful people.  I enjoy being with them every single day.*  I do not just love them; I genuinely like them.  Although its not a popular thing to say in Serious Parenting circles, my children are my friends!  And I enjoy them now.  I do think about their futures--who doesn't?--but I do not focus on that at the expense of today.  If losing my mother at a young age taught me anything, it was that today is a gift. 

To enjoy a child is to see the child for who he or she is right now, and to choose to relish that

(Yes, Annie is wearing red Dr. Seuss Chuck Taylors.  Oh yes. I enjoy her shoes immensely.)

*That's not to say that you can't look forward to bedtime or running off to the coffee shop for some silence, or that every single day is roses and sunshine....we are all human.  And some of us are introverts!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What If You Hate Your House? (Part One)

I was recently privy to a discussion about houses. The overarching theme was that many people in this discussion were quite discontented with their houses, some even to the point of saying they "hated" their homes.

Sometimes this is justified (the floor falling through to the crawl space? I would hate that, too) and sometimes it is whiny (the $20,000 kitchen remodel that gets redone because after two years of living with the sleek trendy new kitchen.....the owner hates it...I have less empathy here).

I have been somewhere in the middle: in a house not falling apart, but that needed a lot of cosmetic work, not the style I would ever choose for myself, but yet full of memories and coming without a large price tag.

Here's what helped me during my years of House Discontentment.  (I should add that I love our house now!)

1. Painting! Walls, trimwork, furniture, anything. When we moved into this house the walls were unpainted.  Unprimed.  Stark white. Here's our first Christmas in the house, for reference--which was 2001.

Same view, after painting--the room just seems so warm, even without any curtains. (I lived with that blue lamp and its shade for years and years.  It was a hand-me-down from my father, and we were just working with what we had!)

(Circa 2006)

Finn's room, before it was Finn's room, was a guest room and my office. (This is circa...2002.)

Sage green walls warmed it so much (2007).

Painting furniture can liven it up a lot.  I remade yellow yard sale chairs (bought around 2008)....

Into bright and fun chairs (2011ish).

I have painted walls, trimwork, ceilings, cabinetry, furniture, even a refrigerator.  Paint is magical.

2.  Flowers...or anything from the Great Outdoors.

 The cheapest of the cheap grocery store roses, on clearance, half of them faded, are still rescued if they're in individual (thrifted) vases.

These are fake. I bought them in law school, so sometime before 2004.  They now live in a large white pitcher on top of the refrigerator, and I like the way they look up there. They are the only fake flowers I own, but I like them!

Alstromeria in an estate sale pitcher...these are my go-to cheap flowers. They usually last two weeks and they cost very little per dozen. 

You can see the yellow forsythia living very large in the photo of our living room, above. 

In winter I sometimes just turn to pinecones and candles.  I always ask for an orchid for Christmas from my father-in-law, and he always obliges (he loves them, too). The blooms last several weeks.

You can buy bulbs and force daffodils and hyacinth during the dark winter months--very cheaply!

Rocks on a tray.

And I once decorated for Finn's June birthday with leaves. 

Goldenrod from the pasture.

I find that clearing the table and setting out some flowers, rocks, pinecones, leaves, or weeds makes the house more beautiful and more likable. 

3.  Focus on what you can do to make things more functional during this season of life.  

Once upon a time we converted the corner of the living room into a play area for Finn.

This was such a minor thing, but it helped so much to have his primary toys in the living room (easier cleanup because they always migrated there anyhow).  He loved to sit and play there while I cooked nearby, and it worked so well during that season.  The corner now looks like this and features our dog's bed.  Seasons change!

I once read about a woman with many children who needed to solve the problem of hats, gloves, scarves, sunglasses, etc. getting lost, so she bought a second-hand dresser with one drawer per family member, and put it beside their back door.  When each person came into the house, they put their belongings in that drawer!  Simple, inexpensive, and effective.

Thinking hard about your needs in your current season of life (small children? empty nest?  teenagers? living alone?  elderly parents? busy career? lots of travel?) is the key.  What looks great on a blog or in a magazine may not work great in your home because we are all so unique, and need to come up with solutions that meet our individual needs.  Making one problem area more functional and more suitable for your life as it is right now--not as it is ideally or will be in 20 years--is so helpful!

4.  Embrace old stuff.  I will write more about this in the future. But there's value in trying to embrace the items you have, or that you can afford, instead of longing for things you do not have, and cannot afford.

The vast majority of my furniture is used.  The only things we have purchased new were our blue sofa and chair (now living in the basement), and our bed, nightstands, and cedar chest.  Every single other piece of furniture in my house is an heirloom, a gift, or something I rounded up from an estate sale or Craigslist.

 For a long time we used this table and these chairs (they were my mom's), until I found a farm table at a consignment shop. I didn't love the set, but it worked for us and we had many celebratory meals around that table until I found one I preferred.

Then we sent this set to Goodwill.  Hooray!

There is charm in the used--I love being surrounded by items that have a story to tell, even if they are not what I would necessarily choose if I walked into a furniture store.  Used furniture is often sturdier than new furniture. If the finish is not great, you can paint it with impunity.  I have bought original art at thrift stores and estate sales, and it looks so much better to my eye than generic mass-produced "art." 

 If you have patience and the ability to take a little time to pop into a yard sale every so often, go to the thrift store for a few minutes once or twice a month, and spend a little while checking Craigslist, you will find gems.  Slowly, over time, you will get good at it, too!  

So that is part one of how to deal with house hatred: use paint, flowers, functionality, and secondhand items to your advantage!  Small changes, like a painted dresser, a tray of pinecones, tidying up a pesky corner, and finding a $5 end table, can cultivate positive feelings about your home that may eventually snowball  At least that's what happened to me!

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Cloud of God

I love this time of year; the golden edge of spring, the fields are the color of Annie's hair, but we can hear the spring peepers and mourning doves sing on warm evenings. 

On our hike yesterday in late afternoon, we all walked 80 minutes through tiny woods and over vast fields and hills.  It felt like England.  The boys mostly stayed to the front, and Annie and I hung to the back.  Mr. Polly snapped a huge branch I found and gave us walking sticks.  

Annie told me she wasn't afraid because she likes to talk to her friend, her friend who is always there.  "What friend?" I asked. 

"God," she answered.  "He is everywhere.  When we are at home he is there.  Now he is here. Right now while we are walking we just push through the cloud of God."

You have to admit, it's not a bad way of looking at life.  

Friday, March 4, 2016

Barn Raising

Here's a fun time lapse video of an Amish barn raising.  I like the fact that you can tell when they took their break to eat! 

I'm not raising any barns at the moment, but I am quite busy!  We host houseguests (another pastoral candidate, and his wife!) tonight, and my husband is working extremely long hours this week.  Of course we have the full and usual round of school + lessons + classes + chores.

In my spare time, I am, inter alia, reading That Hideous Strength, going over lines for Finn's acting class with him, sewing a circle-spiral applique jacket, and planning Annie's Easter dress. 

Watching the Amish work hard reminds me that I can do this!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Finn Feeds a Baby

This baby is six weeks old, weighs one hundred pounds, and drinks a half gallon of milk at a time.

Such a sweetie!!