Archive for the ‘Home and Hearth’ Category

For the Commonplace Book: The Hidden Art of Homemaking

December 30, 2007 @ 9:27 am | Filed under: , , ,


"On the route to Aigle from Ollon, where we live in Switzerland, one passes an orchard. Neatly planted rows of trees are beautifully pruned and trained to form straight aisles for fruit-picking, with a grassy carpet beneath. But the thing which causes most passersby to turn and look, and look again, slowing up the car if they are driving, is the touch of an artist indeed. Planted at the end of every row of trees is a lovely rose bush, and in midsummer these bushes are a riot of color in a variety of roses. There is just one rose bush at the end of each line, but this is enough to lift the entire work, which could be merely efficient fruit-farming, into a work of art, enjoyed by hundreds who pass each day—bringing influence into lives as well as being a subject of discussion, and bringing about, in other gardens, results of which the ‘artist’ may never know."

—The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer

Hiding from My Kitchen

November 13, 2007 @ 5:46 pm | Filed under:

I just finished cleaning out the fridge. Allll the way out. The problem turned out to be a broken starter. We found out a day too late to save the food.

Kids: "Mom, isn’t that all the stuff you bought at Trader Joe’s the other day?"

Me: :::groan:::

But to keep it in perspective, one need only recall that over 1200 families in this county lost their homes and everything in them just a few weeks ago. There are harder burdens than having to pitch a brand new tub of Blue Cheese and Pecan Dip.

There is one defrosted item that need not be thrown out. When the weather got too hot for baking last summer, I froze my sourdough starter. It woke back up yesterday, so we fed it and returned it to its countertop crock. Now we must wait to see how our little bacteria buddies survived cold storage. There’s been some bubbling action in the crock, but only a little so far. We fed them some more. We’re hoping for another vigorous starter this year.

Mmm, I can almost smell that fresh-baked sourdough now.

I Would Comment on This, But I’m Too Distracted

December 19, 2006 @ 12:31 pm | Filed under:

You know that thing you do (you KNOW you do) when you’re picking up the house, and you never finish a single room because you pick up the socks on the living room floor and carry them to the bedroom, and while you’re there you notice laundry you didn’t finish folding, and when you’re putting your kids’ clothes away in their room, you are walloped by the mess in their closet, and you hunt them down to make them come clean it up but they are in the middle of a craft project and there are bits of colored paper all over every flat surface in the craft room, so you order someone to start sweeping and you’re still standing there with folded laundry in your hands which is now mixed up with the dirty laundry you started to pick up from the kids’ closet floor before deciding to make them do it themselves…? You know that thing?

Well, there’s an internet version too. Boy howdy, isn’t there.

(Evidenced by the, I’m not kidding, 368 emails in my in-box—AFTER the deletion of all spam, billing reminders, and VistaPrint ads—awaiting a reply. I would answer them, but I’m still holding the laundry.)

Nuts, Bolts, and Pegs

May 7, 2006 @ 3:58 am | Filed under: ,

(Part 3 of The Not Supermom Series.)

Kristie writes:

One quick question…
Language arts…looking at your day, do your kids write, do dictation, read etc. or is this in tides (besides the reading, it is obvious that is the lifestyle in homes where literature is loved..)
Thanks so much

Betty asks:

Now for the nitty gritty. When do you find it best to shower? What type of language arts do you do (I saw that was asked already)? Do the kids do chores? I think half my battle is just getting the children to work on their little jobs and then 2 yr. old starts getting fussy, and soon it’s lunch time and the only thing anybody has done is copywork.

These are great questions, and they cover a lot of ground so I’ll probably answer over a couple of posts. Let’s start with Betty’s nitty-gritty: showers, chores, practical scheduling concerns. (I’ll tackle language arts tomorrow.)

Like many homeschooling moms, I love looking at people’s daily schedules, like the ones in the Large Family Logistics files. It can be extremely helpful to see how other mothers order their days. With that in mind, I thought I’d sketch out part of our typical day’s routine. Mind you, this is our spring new-baby routine. When the community pool opens in June, this schedule will go out the window and we’ll discover a whole new flow to our days. But thanks to what my friend Leonie calls “pegs,” the most important elements of our day will remain in place even if the time of day they happen shifts around from season to season.

It was several years ago that Leonie introduced me and the other moms on the Catholic Charlotte Mason list to her habit of “pegging” one activity to another. The basic concept is that there are certain things that happen in our homes every day: meals, getting dressed, bedtime, and so forth. These things may not happen at the exact same time day in and day out—dinner might be at 6:00 one night and 6:30 the next—but they do happen pretty much every day, occuring within a fairly consistent general time frame. These activities, Leonie explained, can serve as “pegs” on which to hang other activities. An example from my home is the way we have pegged music to breakfast: I pick one piece of music per week, a symphony perhaps, to play every morning while the girls are eating. Breakfast is the peg, the fixed activity which I know will happen every day. Music is the secondary activity I have hung upon that peg.

Most households already make use of pegs, whether the family realizes it or not. If you read your kids a bedtime story every night, there’s a peg: the read-aloud is pegged to going-to-bed. When FlyLady tells you to shine your sink every night or wipe down your bathroom counter after you brush your teeth, she’s preaching pegging, though she doesn’t call it by that name.

Leonie’s brilliantly simple notion was the best piece of household advice anyone ever gave me. Thanks to pegs, no matter how topsy-turvy our lives have become (and believe me, we’ve spent a lot of time upside down), I’ve been able to make sure that the things I hold dear have not dropped by the wayside in times of stress. Children must always be fed, so why not peg music to one meal and poetry to another? If the baby naps every afternoon, it may be convenient to peg big sister’s science experiments or arts-and-crafts time to baby’s naptime. If you go grocery shopping on the same day every week, a trip to the library might be pegged to the outing. If dad does the bedtime read-aloud, mom might want to peg herself a shower at that interval. Pegs help ensure that the important but non-essential activities don’t get lost in the shuffle of essentials.

For me, a really helpful aspect of pegging is that it provides rhythm and pleasant structure without binding us to a strict minute-by-minute schedule. I cannot guarantee that the baby’s nap will be the exact same length of time every morning. But if I know that she will nap every morning and if I’ve pegged, say, a read-aloud and math to her nap, I’ll be sure to grab that read-aloud as soon as the baby goes to sleep rather than fritter away the nap checking mail or chatting with a neighbor. The kids know that they can count on baby’s naptime for some one-on-one with mom. Children like their days to have rhythm; they like the quiet security of a routine. Pegs allow us to provide the routine without getting stressed about the ticking away of minutes on a clock.

So here are some of the pegs in use around here.

• Music—pegged to breakfast (as already mentioned).

• Kids’ morning chores (brush hair, brush teeth, make bed, wipe bathroom sinks)—pegged to getting dressed.

• Kids practice piano—pegged to my shower/dress/make bed/clean bathroom time.

• “FlyLady Time”—not a peg exactly (nothing is pegged to it), but a regular part of our routine. This is when we do our daily housework following a plan based on the FlyLady and Large Family Logistics schedules.

• Morning lesson time. The schedule is fluid and subject to spontaneous abandonment but its chief elements are: morning prayer, Latin, math, history read-aloud, and poetry. Other activities include science experiments, drawing, nature journaling, picture study, German, sign language, geography (with Mr. Putty), or whatever the children are wrapped up in at the moment.

• Morning walk—pegged to lunch. For half an hour or so before we eat lunch, we try to get outside every day. We haven’t gone on a real nature walk since a month before the bairn was born (but I am hoping to return to that before long). For now we are just puttering around the yard or walking to the neighborhood playground…during Grandma’s visit, Wonderboy fell in love with the swings.

• We used to have a read-aloud pegged to lunch, but ever since the baby was born it keeps slipping off the peg.

• Wonderboy’s nap: Several things are pegged to this. First, as I’ve written about before, the girls all have an hour of quiet time (to read or play alone) while I eat lunch, read mail, pay bills, etc. Twice a week Jane does a written narration during this block of time.

• Then (still during the nap) I have one-on-one time with each girl. OK, the nap isn’t long enough for EVERYONE to get one-on-one every day, but I can fit in half an hour each with two of the girls, so we just sort of rotate through everyone. During Beanie’s time, I read picture books to her. During Rose’s one-on-one, she does her Greek and/or I read to her—”A read-aloud all of my own, Mommy.” (Jane often gets computer time while I’m doing those things.) Often, Jane’s one-on-one is spent helping me with dinner prep: an activity she adores and I pretend to. (Jane is reading this and laughing. She knows I don’t like to cook. She knows I know she loves it. She knows I try to put on a game face and act like I’m having fun, and she knows that nearly always turns into real fun. We call this the Uncle Jay Rule of Life in honor of a piece of advice Scott’s brother gave him long ago before some unappealing social event—which is to say, any social event, as far as my hermit-like husband is concerned: Act happy, and you will usually find yourself being happy. As usual, Jay is quite right.)

• After Wonderboy’s nap, he likes to cuddle on the couch and have his yogurt smoothie (part of our endless quest to fatten him up). To this pleasant time of day I have pegged read-aloud time with the girls—either our current Shakespeare play or current novel.

• Afternoon play time—usually pegged to my writing time, but I have one more week of babymoon left.

• Kids’ dinnertime—on this peg we often hang some music: Scott plays guitar and I sing while the kids eat. We used to do this almost every night; now it is more sporadic.

• Dinnertime for Scott and me (we usually eat after the kids)—kids do evening chores. (Put on pajamas, clean room, brush teeth.) They nearly always peg a Jim Weiss story tape to their chores (or if their room is really messy, they put on the Annie soundtrack and belt out “Hard Knock Life”).

• Scott reads to girls—pegged to bedtime. I read to Wonderboy—ditto. And reading is pegged to our own bedtime, too: but I usually fall asleep before I’ve gotten far. (Alas.)

I’m sure we have more pegs, but these are the primary and most consistent ones. The simple principle of attaching a “want-to-do” to a “must-do” has, more than anything else, helped us to keep up with the pursuits we care about and to enjoy our daily chores, even in the wake of a toddler’s surgery, a parent’s book deadline, or a delicious new baby’s arrival.


May 5, 2006 @ 10:51 am | Filed under: , ,

(Part 2 of The Not Supermom Series.)

The Deputy Headmistress directed me toward this post at Dominion Family, and I have come to trust the DHM’s recommendations.

Writing on the importance of educating both mind and soul, Cindy says:

“This does not mean I shy away from rigorous study. I love rigorous study. It is just that I don’t confuse taking a test with learning. I try not to forget the things that can’t be measured: poetry in the heart, deep discussions, time for thoughtful reflections, love of beauty, the fellowship of suffering, the euphoric feeling of using the right word, honest toil, gentle breezes and warm days.”

Beautiful, and right on the mark.

This is exactly what I am getting at when I talk about striving for a joyful atmosphere in our home. As Cindy points out, Charlotte Mason has a great deal to say about the importance of “atmosphere” in education: Education itself, she says, is an atmosphere; it is a life. “Atmosphere,” writes Michele Quigley,

“is many faceted, from the actual physical aspects of the home to the tone and spirit of family life. In creating an atmosphere of learning, the child has easy access to the materials needed. Books are put where the child can get at them, art supplies are easily reached and musical instruments placed in a special but accessible area. There are beautiful art prints to look at and beautiful music with which to inspire the mind and soul.”

There it is again, that mind/soul connection that Cindy spoke of in her post. I am reminded of Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family (Meet the Austins, The Moon by Night, A Ring of Endless Light—which last is one of my three Most Deeply Moving picks from Semicolon’s recent booklist). Life in the Austin household means symphonies booming in the background during housecleaning, family in-jokes about literature and art, animated dinner-table discussions about The Big Questions of Life, evening sing-alongs, a house furnished in books, and car rides punctuated by quotes from ancient philosophers. I wonder, sometimes, just how much my own idea of family life was shaped by my multiple readings of that series during adolescence. I reread them all last winter and found myself grinning at the depiction of an atmosphere I’ve been striving toward in my own home for some ten years. Well looky there, I thought. Here I’ve been trying to Meet the Austins in my own living room, and I didn’t even realize it.

I gave a talk once about atmosphere in the Little House books, for after encountering Charlotte Mason’s writings, it struck me that a large part of what appeals to me about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books is the atmosphere that suffuses the Ingalls home—no matter which little house they lived in. Here’s an excerpt from the talk:

The atmosphere of love and family bonding is so strong, so pervasive, that when you read about this family, you want to be a part of it. And while I’m sure Ma and Pa Ingalls had plenty of off days that didn’t make it into the books, the warm, loving atmosphere of the home they created was consistent enough enough to inspire their daughter to put her childhood memories down on paper so that they would never be lost. Look at the things that stick in Laura’s mind all the way to her 60s:

—Pa ruffling up his hair, playing mad dog;
—Pa telling stories as he greased his traps or made bullets—stories Laura never forgot;
—Ma making vanity cakes for Laura & Mary’s party;
—Ma letting the girls share the grated carrot used to color the butter on churning day;
—Pa’s music, right down to the words of the songs he sang;
—Ma putting aside her work to play games with the girls during the terrible three days when Pa was lost in a blizzard.

That last one is one I think about a lot. Imagine how hard it was for Caroline to keep calm and cheerful under those circumstances. I think she must have seen it as her duty to maintain that atmosphere of serenity and cheer for her children, lest they be consumed by fear for Pa’s safety. How would I measure up in the same circumstances? Would I allow my worry to let me grow sharp with the children? Or would I throw myself wholeheartedly into the task—because it is work—of maintaining an atmosphere of love no matter what?

We all know how hard it can be to maintain that atmosphere. A mother’s mood is the air her family breathes. When I become cross, impatient, distracted, so does everyone else. My mood can poison the atmosphere or sweeten it: it is up to me.

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