Monday, June 26, 2017

Hospitality in a Tiny House

Since our basement was finished a few years ago, our house isn't as tiny as it once was!  But we still have a small area for receiving guests and having dinner, and my kitchen is tiny.  The house my family lived in before my mother built my current home featured a galley kitchen, though, with almost no counter space, so when we moved in to this house we thought we were living in a palace!

It's all relative.

That being said, hospitality in a small home is a challenge.  I've lived as a married woman in this house for 16 years now and I still struggle from time to time with the best way to do things.  But here are my tips:

*Make everything you can ahead of time; in fact, plan your meal around things that keep well. I'm talking about sliced cheese and crackers for an appetizer, a big salad made in the morning, something easy to heat and serve (lasagna, curry, masala, baked pasta), and a dessert that can hang out nicely in the fridge (key lime or chocolate pies are favorites here).  My kitchen gets messy *very quickly* because it's so small, so I like to get everything made well in advance of the actual meal so that I can clean up without rushing.

*Make all that food, and clean the kitchen, particularly if you suffer from an open floor plan.  My kitchen is fully visible from the front door, the back door, the living room, and the dining area, so I like to have my kitchen nice and clean before anyone arrives.

*Try not to procrastinate.  Procrastination is never the housekeeper's friend.  If you're having dinner guests over on Friday, try to get some things done ahead of time.  Enlist the help of children if you need assistance cleaning house!

*Remember that only the main living areas and a bathroom need to be tidy. I do like having a tidy entry, too.  The layout of my house means that every single bedroom is visible from the living room or the guest bathroom. But I am not above closing bedroom doors if needed!

*Tidy doesn't mean perfect.

*Take time to set a nice table or put out flowers--just something to give it a pretty touch.  This time of year I usually have a small bouquet of lavender in the guest bath, a small bouquet of other flowers on our coffee table, and something on the dining table.  During the winter I might have an orchid in the bathroom, pinecones in a bowl on the coffee table, and candles on the dining table.  It doesn't have to be extravagant.

*Think about seating a few days beforehand and supplement if needed.

*For large parties, use the dining table as a buffet, serve finger foods, and provide lots of seating outdoors, if possible.

*Keep the house as tidy as you can on a regular basis, so you don't panic the day of an event. On the other hand, if you have young children or other difficult circumstances, cut yourself some slack. Most guests want to see you, not a perfectly decluttered home.

*Allow enough time to get ready yourself before guests come.  I like to reserve the last hour for my own grooming, lighting candles, choosing some music, and relaxing.

 I've learned all of this the hard way.  The event where we spent all day cleaning?  The birthday party where I was sitting on my bedroom floor embroidering a onesie for the baby as the guests arrived? The mad rush to get the food ready?  Yes, yes, yes.  But now that I've worked out my general guidelines, I find that hospitality in my tiny house gets easier and easier.  This month alone we've hosted a birthday party, overnight guests (twice. or maybe three times? one of these times we hosted four people we didn't know--but we loved!), my husband's co-worker and his wife for dinner (neither of whom I'd ever met), several tea + play dates, several drop-in visitors, a luncheon, and I forget what else.

And there was no panic or last-minute embroidering to be had on any of these occasions!!

Thursday, June 22, 2017


The morning glories are tackling the porch quite nicely, I must say.  

I absolutely love them.  I love the way they greet me when I go out to feed the cat in the morning.  I love the way they curl and close later in the day.  A few times a week I pull them out of other plants (today, a hosta!) and train them to climb the porch instead, and so far it's working!

Vigorous and indestructible: even the ones I transplanted (to the other side of the porch) are twining their way around the porch rails now; they're just smaller than this.  

For now......

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Summer Solstice, Summer School

...and the pool!

We took a couple of weeks off from school after standardized testing.  (Sometimes I enjoy resting on my laurels, and Finn gave me that opportunity yet again this year.  For a child who doesn't seem to do more than a sliver of school each day, and is so absent-minded I don't think I will let him have a driver's license, he sure does well on those tests.)  But today we began afresh: summer school.  

Summer school exists because Finn needs an extra hand to hold in math computation.  We also added in Bible, poetry, recitation, and nature study today because those things are just plain fun.  The whole shebang took an hour and a half and then we spent three hours at the pool.  Not bad!

His summer art class begins tomorrow.  It's our only consistent obligation this summer, and I'm happy to have weeks of low-key living spread out in front of us. Although I had grand visions of the projects I would do during our time off (painting the kitchen cabinets!), I actually don't think I'll do much. I want to soak in these halcyon days of summer, and be sure they are halcyon. Just tonight during our family gratitude time my husband was reminiscing over his idyllic summer days and evenings: the pool, the unhurried schedule, playing games in the yard, catching fireflies, playing in the creek.  

My kitchen cabinets can be smudgy for a few more months (or years?). Because babies don't keep.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Camp Whatchamacallit

So my bestie Allison and I have hatched a plan! She was visiting yesterday--she lives out of the state--and she latched onto a passing comment I'd texted to her a few days ago about having our own "camp" here on our farm.  She loved this idea and as we talked about it, we realized it's completely feasible. 

So we're working on dates for our yet-unnamed camp (aka, Camp Whatchamacallit), which will include her son (age 7), Finn (10), and Annie (6).  

Our brainstorm list takes up nearly a whole page in my planner already.  We'll have homemade camp t-shirts, crafts, a nature hike with a botany and butterfly and bird expert (my father-in-law!), fossil-hunting with a mountain man (my brother-in-law!), pool time, kayaking on the lake, archery, BB gun, morning and evening devotions, a camp Bible verse to memorize, a service project, camp songs, a hymn to memorize, S'mores......what wonderful memories we will make!

Now we have to actually organize and pull it off.  Planning together will be interesting, since I'm very much a linear thinker and Allison is more creatively circuitous.  We'll play to each other's strengths, I think!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Rainy Street Scenes

This evening on the way into the city for a haircut I was caught in the worst rain of my driving life. The interstate was a mess, but it wasn't until I got to the city that things were really bad.  I started shaking on the freeway (60 mph wind gusts?  sheets of rain?  visibility of only a few yards? yes!) and exited onto the high street, then drove up the hill--which involved crossing a main thoroughfare which had become a tiny stream. I found a side street at the top of the hill and parked there. I called my hairdresser, who reported that the road in front of his salon was a creek, and that I should not come. 

So I sat in my parked car.  And I waited.  And waited.  And prayed (not just for myself, but for anyone caught in the maelstrom).  And waited. 

This was my view when I parked.  The rain was so loud.  The lightning and wind were epic.

When I saw the mountain, I felt a surge of relief. 

And after nearly an hour perched on this hill, the sun erupted.

When I finally got home, a rainbow arched into the valley....but I don't have a photo of that blessed sight!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Two Views of the Mountain

We returned my in-laws' truck this evening.  When we arrived at their house, the backyard view was full of grey.

And as I sat chatting with my mother-in-law, while my father-in-law showed the children all sorts of photos of Ecuador on his camera, I saw that the light outside had changed.

This world is so beautiful. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Three Reasons to Celebrate

First, my enormous mulching project is done! I don't know how many square feet of flower beds I have to mulch, but it's A Lot.  What's time consuming is the weed-pulling, the plant dividing and transplanting, the planting of new plants...and did I mention the wire grass? I've been steady at it for a couple of hours a day for several weeks. 


Second, we had 15 minutes at the thrift store today and I walked out with two milk glass lamps, a cashmere sweater, a huge milk glass footed bowl, and the piece de resistance--a vintage handbag, navy blue, in buttery Italian leather, in pristine condition.  I spent $16 on all of it!  And each item filled a need I had specifically thought of over the last week. Thrift stores are a blessing. 

Finally, last night in the shower I heard something fall and immediately realized my pearl earring had dropped.  I put my foot over the drain, turned off the water, threw on my bathrobe, and called my husband...but to no avail.  The earring was gone.  I was sad, because not only do I love my pearl earrings, they were a gift to me for my high school graduation from my beloved Grandma Polly

But I still said a prayer, because things are wont to turn up in my life. My husband's wedding ring, which he lost in the yard?  Turned up the next year in the tomato patch.  My diamond and sapphire ring, which I thought I'd lost in the yard? Turned up *in the sofa!*  My beautiful gold earrings which were a very costly gift from my father many years ago?  Turned up in my sister's jewelry box!!! My husband had forbidden anyone from using the shower until he could get home and look more closely at the situation after work today.

I was on the last few square feet of weed removal this evening when Annie came outside with a smile on her face.  You married a genius, she said, and held out her hand.  My earring!  My husband had gotten the shop vac out and 10 seconds later it was in hand. 

 "I kind of wished it had been more of a challenge," he said wistfully.  Only an engineer would say that!

A 1950's Nightgown for Annie

Sewing my way through my collection of size 6 vintage dresses from my grandmother, I started the process with something simple: a nightgown.  I used leftover fabric from my Crepe dress; Annie had requested a long dress for playing outside, but I decided to go with a nightgown instead. 

Unfortunately, I realized that the skirt pieces were missing from the pattern envelope!  So I just cut my own; the only tricky part was including an armhole curve at the top of the skirt pieces.  

I skipped the lace trim because I didn't feel like fussing with it, and because my fabric is already very busy.

So ideally there would be more fullness in the skirt, but I used the largest pieces I could cut, and gathered them into the yoke, and self-bound it all (including the waist seam! I enjoy making bias binding), and Annie truly loves it. She floats around the house in the morning like a real lady of leisure!

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Evening Song

This evening I turned a mulching corner and suddenly the end was in sight.  Literally: I rounded a corner and can now see to the end of the last flower bed!  I'm not *there* yet, but I can see it. 

On free evenings I spend a couple hours in the flower beds, pulling up all the fussy little weeds like clover and wire grass, and then spreading fresh mulch. On the east side of the house I'm serenaded (every evening!) by a mockingbird who perches on a post and sings and sings and sings to me. This evening I noticed that when the mockingbird wasn't singing his heart out, a mourning dove to the east called, and another to the west answered. And then slowly the fireflies began blinking into the dusk.

Finally it was time to move the big red truck back to the driveway, and pack up the tools, and water the tomatoes, and tuck the chickens in, and call it a night. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Sour Cherry Pie

My grandfather and his daughter-in-law came down for lunch today--to visit, to watch Finn's birthday video, and to meet the new neighbors (our eight chickens!). 

After lettuce topped with chicken salad and pecans, a tray of crackers and cheese, and a big bowl of fruit salad, I served dessert: sour cherry pie.  The original plan was shortbread, but when my father-in-law and brother-in-law brought a few gallons of sour cherries over yesterday, the plan changed. 

Picked yesterday, pitted last night, and baked into a crust today: I think this is the best sour cherry pie I've ever made *or* tasted.

My husband emailed me to ask if the pie is vegan.  "The pie is completely vegan, except for one stick of butter," I replied.  

We'll see how that plays out after dinner tonight.....

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

God's Grace to Me

Finn turned 10 today. Ten. We celebrated with a chilly afternoon at the pool, Thai food, a chocolate chip skillet cookie in lieu of cake, gifts, and maybe best of all, a movie of photos set to music (Dar Williams' "The One Who Knows") and ending with one of my favorite quotes.*

I hadn't anticipated Finn's reaction to the video.  Oh, his tears.  Oh, the way he buried his face in my shoulder.  Oh, the way it lasted and lasted. My sweet boy.  He loved it.  

And we love him. 

Truly, thanks be to God for this decade of our lives.

*From Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson: 

"I'm writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you've done in your life, and everyone does wonder sooner or later, you have been God's grace to me, a miracle, something more than a miracle."

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Vintage Sewing Box

Today my neighbor emailed me. "Do you want this old sewing box? It's just too big for me and I don't need it. I'm selling it for $10."

Within minutes Finn had run the money up to her and brought the box back down the hill.  

The foldout drawers are fabulous. I love the legs.  

Her name is Gladys, and she's a keeper. 

Monday, June 5, 2017

Morning Glories

We let last year's morning glory (singular) go to seed. As a result we have over a dozen new morning glories ambitiously inching their way to the front porch railing.  Tiny picket fencing hasn't been within my usual aesthetic parameters in the past, but my neighbor was giving this stuff away for free, and I threw it down as a boundary line for the morning glories (wonder if they'll obey?) to keep them out of the herbs. 

Some of the morning glories have already started tackling the porch.  

My vine-covered summer veranda dreams may come true!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Wrapping Up & Untying

While the rest of my family appears to be scurrying all over creation (in-laws just got back from three weeks in Peru and Ecuador; my father is currently living the high life in Belize; my sister-in-law and her family are adventuring in Costa Rica), I've been wrapping things up here at home--and untying a few new projects for the summer.

*Tonight we finished our co-op with a family gathering: reviewing the things we did this year, enjoying a few recitations, presenting some Shakespeare, and socializing over potluck. I was in charge by default and whew, I'm glad that's done.  Emceeing is not my natural talent. 

*Finn finished his standardized testing and the test is en route back to the grading center. This generally signals a downshift in schooling for summertime. Ahh!

*I'd like to say I'm wrapping up the mulching.  In reality, I'm about halfway through. But there's less to do this year than most because we're ripping out the huge (now-weedy, because I've transplanted most of the plants that were there) bed in the back to make room for a larger patio.

*This week we talk to our contractor about that deck and patio demolition and reconstruction: a new project for summer.

*Wrapping up a dress for Annie, about to hatch a new one for me.

*And best of all,  Wednesday we celebrate wrapping up a whole decade of Finn's life.  And untying the next.

Tomorrow's agenda is simple and relaxed: church + puttering + maybe pool + dinner out + special houseguests.  I'm ready to enjoy that Sabbath rest.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Annie Throws a Party

Yesterday Finn wrapped up his state-required standardized testing (a homeschool obligation we must fulfill).  While he was working his way through the language usage section, Annie was on a chair getting into the kitchen cupboards.  Then mysteriously taking things to her room.  Then she was quiet in there for a while. Once he finished that last section of the test, Annie informed him that she had a party planned for him in her room.

She had set out snack plates and filled tiny cups with water.  She had also set out a stack of clothes on her bed--well-organized, with one for each of us....labeled. (Did I mention she's very much her mother's daughter?)  We were all to change into these assigned clothes and return for the party. I wore my purple dress, a scarf, and lots of dress-up jewelry. 

After the food she and Finn worked a puzzle while I read a book to them.  Then we went outside to play kickball. 

She's so thoughtful!