Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Toys With Lots of Bits...

Playmobil figures are great for encouraging creativity. But they're plastic. :( And they have more eensy-weensy fiddly-bits than the Barbie Shoe-and-Accessories Mall. :( :( And since our family was bequeathed a large amount of Playmobil sets by a homeschooling family whose kids had all "graduated" to college -- I have lots of Playmobil.

My solution has been to put the Playmobil (and other toys like legos and the miniature brick set and the marble-ramp set) in large decorative popcorn tins and display them in sight but out of reach (they line the top of our current kitchen cabinets). On a rainy day or when the mood strikes, we clear off the kitchen table, bring a chosen tin down, and let the kids go to town playing with the contents. Since a great deal of the fun of these sorts of toys derives from having lots of them (or having all the parts), I put them all the pieces back in the tin when the kids are done and store them back, out of reach. So far it's been a great solution. And because the tins are NOT clearly labeled, I think the kids forget they're there between-times. So 90% of the time, the Playmobil storage bin is kitchen decoration. :)
Works for us.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Okay, I did it.

Dear P&G,

I have used Ivory for years and love the product.
For years I've wanted to email you and ask you to consider coming out with a prettier dish soap bottle that wouldn't have an obvious "Ivory" name, something more decorative that I would feel good about leaving out on the countertop, where it's far more useful. What I do now is use is a hair gel squeeze bottle from another company, filling it up with Ivory soap, but of course it's small and inconvenient.
I would love to see Ivory come out with a new soap container that was too pretty to hide away. I would buy it!
I just blogged about this at my blog, and I thought I might as well email your company and make the request in writing.
Thanks again for your excellent product.

Regina Doman

Decorating with What You Use

In decorating a family home, it makes more sense to me to decorate using things you actually use. But many of the necessary items of family life aren't beautiful. There are roughly two things I do with every necessary item in my house:

1.Hide Them in Something Beautiful

If the objects I'm trying to store don't look nice (ie: medicines, tampons, toothbrushes) I hide them. That means I put them behind closed doors or I group them in containers that hide their wordy labels and jarring colors.

My hatred of plastic means that I don't like using plastic storage boxes anyplace where I need to see them. To me, plastic just isn't beautiful, so when I do use it, I hide it in closets, in the garage, in the attic and basement.

I love baskets. The neutral colors are calming and they go with almost everything, and I use them lots of times to hide things I use often. I almost always buy them from thrift stores, where they are usually only 50 cents to a few dollars each. I look out for large flat-bottomed ones with high straight sides to hide things in. (Tip: many times a basket is more useful AFTER its handle has been taken off -- ie: ripped off by a toddler using it to haul rocks.)

But the best baby-proof container I've found are large round tins that holiday popcorn often comes in. I have a row of these in my kitchen storing lots of odd things I don't want my kids getting into. Babies and most toddlers can't open these without resorting to (loud) violent striking with blunt instruments or throwing them downstairs.

2. Flaunt Them as Something Beautiful

Lots of times I decorate with what I use. After you simplify and pare down, the next step is to make what you have left beautiful, or replace it with something beautiful. For years I've thought of lobbying Ivory soap to come out with prettier dish soap containers that you could leave out on the countertop, like the ones from Bath and Body Works. My friend simply puts her dish soap in a glass vinegar shaker. When I had less kids, I used to empty new shampoo and conditioner into special bottles with no labels that I thought looked pretty.

I'm not a fan of the "everything in cabinets" look - it's too industrial for me. To me, a house looks more "organic" if you can see useful things set around where they are needed. I like to be able to see dishes and utensils in the kitchen, towels and cotton balls in the bathroom. So I use mason jars to store things like cotton balls, q-tips, and big baskets for bath toys and stacks of toilet paper rolls and diapers. (I think clean white things look nice in open storage in a bathroom).

Our current bathroom doesn't have much storage, just these open shelves next to the shower and a storage unit over the toilet. (I don't like to bend down, so I don't use the sink vanity for anything but trash and the toilet brush and plunger.) The top baskets have medicine and rarely-used items, the middle baskets (that you can see into) have bath salts and washcloths, and the bottom basket has bath toys (mostly wooden boats, another thing I collect) and the bottom basket holds about 16 rolls of toilet paper. I hide boxes of diapers and the vaporizer and little potty behind it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Today's Random Moment of Beauty: Sunday Silver

Following an article in one of our favorite magazines, Catholic Faith and Family on the Sunday supper, we started redoubling our efforts to make Sunday, the Lord's Day, a special day. For years my distaste for plastic has led me to collect silver-plated serving trays as an unbreakable alternative to plastic ones. Tonight I pulled them out for a rather poor way-between-paychecks Sunday feast -- and they added something to pull the meal together. The meal was sausages stacked on a silver tray, leftover pasta, bread (the sandwich kind), butter, and as a treat for Mom that the rest of the family refused to touch -- shredded zuccini from my mother-in-law, fried in olive oil with onions. And homemade tomato sauce, and wine, and as a last touch, a can of olives poured into a silver bowl.

And it was a festive meal, after all.

Blessed art You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who favor Your people in the days set aside to Your honor...

Saturday, January 27, 2007

It's All About What I Have to Pick Up Off the Floor.

Why wooden toys?

Some folks choose wooden toys for their children for environmental reasons -- they don't want their children breathing in supposedly off-gassing fumes from plastic toys, or they don't want to contribute to plastic in landfills.

Some folks have Montessori reasons for choosing wooden toys: they argue that, for their own education, children should be given real things, not fake things, so they can learn about materials like wood, metal, wool, etc. instead of imitation things, like plastic.

Some folks have philosophical reasons for choosing wooden toys: wood is a natural material. As one mother-writer (whose name I forget but who founded the Natural Baby Catalog) wonderfully reasoned: consider a sunny field of daisies. Picture a child playing in the field. The child and the field belong together -- they fit. What sort of toy fits into that picture next to the child? A Barbie Doll? Rainbow Brite? A plastic laser gun? A Bionicle? Introduce those toys and something jars. Those toys don't fit. Now picture a rag doll with the child -- a wooden truck -- those toys fit. They are natural, like the child. Intuition and instinct. That's why they give their children wooden toys.

So why do I give my kids only wooden toys to play with? Honestly, for all the above reasons (though I am not enough of a science-type-person to understand if plastic toys really off-gas or cause cancer). But the main reason, I admit here, is due to my background as an oldest child of ten children: it's all about what I have to pick up off the floor.

I spent the first seventeen years of my life picking up toys, my own toys and the toys of my nine siblings. And I grew to hate so many different kinds of toys (particularly Legos and Fisher Price, sorry to say).

So when I started life as a parent some eleven years ago, I was adamant that I wouldn't be tricked into being in the position of caretaker of a quarter acre of Lock-Blocks, Polly-Pockets, Lincoln Logs, Barbie shoes, and Fisher-Price, no matter what I had to do. I became a Present Nazi to all my relatives, fiercely opposing gifts of Legos and electronic gimmicks with lights and sounds (what child needs more and louder sound effects than the ones he was born with?). I exchanged, I threw out, I gave away, I passed on -- and today, I am happy to say, wooden toys have prevailed in our house.

Yes, okay, we do have some plastic toys, but I'll explain what I do with those later.
But the main things lying around in our house are wooden toys. Brio tracks, wooden baby rattles, wooden push toys, and pieces of the wooden castle a carpenter friend made for my sons a few Christmases ago, which I photographed above.

Because it's all about beauty, for me. Even when they're lying in a dishevelved way on the floor like above, I like looking at wooden toys. Maybe that one writer was onto something when she said they were more natural. They don't jar the senses. They don't scream for attention. They "fit."

For homemakers (or should we call ourselves, "house artists?"), I think this is an important component of crafting a home. Beauty isn't just filigree, decoration, pictures and curtains and knicknacks we put around our home. It's also about the day-to-day essential components of our home. And it's about molding our children's sensibilities to appreciate beauty by surrounding them by what we ourselves find beautiful.

We try to simplify. But we should also remember to beautify.

And for me, at least, beauty is found in wooden toys.

Peace to your day.

Friday, January 26, 2007

What I do with Old Scapulars

A problem peculiar to serious Catholics ... what do you DO with old scapulars? When the strings tear apart and the images of our Lady start hanging -- you can't just throw them out, you have to burn them or bury them. I suspect most moms of large families have a little pile in the corner of their top bureau drawer of these little patches of cloth embroidered with Christ and Our Lady.

Well, here's what I started doing with them: sewing them on the backs of my boys' overalls. This allows me to combine my hatred of name brand dressing ("What? You mean I pay you to advertise YOUR product?") with a desire for covert evangelism. See, the scapulars LOOK like those ubiquitous OshKosh tags at first glance -- but then you look again...

Also, I don't mind having the Blessed Mother and our Lord watching my boys' backs in an extra special way. :)

For non-Catholics: a scapular is two scraps of wool cloth with an image of the Blessed Mother on it worn front and back over the shoulders (it's actually a residual religious habit) as a sign of following the order of Mount Carmel, a very ancient order that traces its history back to the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, a way of fasting and prayer and holiness of life. Once the Carmelites (as they were called) fled the Holy Land before Muslim invaders, they started up again in Europe and the habit of lay people wearing the habit (pun intended) took hold. So lots of devout Catholics wear brown scapulars - you can spot them by the telltale thin brown strips creeping over into the necklines of their shirts, a habitual (pun intended) annoyance that's part of the penance we're supposed to be practicing, I guess. :)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Today's Random Moment of Beauty

"Oatmeal on Checks"

Sometimes the meeting of patterns catches my eye for some reason... when one of my children left their oatmeal bowl on the children's table, the juxtaposition of rectangles and circle with squares (slightly off kilter) and splatters made me stop and notice.

I love random moments of beauty, and was glad to capture this one. Back to the day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Setting the Scene

For the past year or so, my husband and I have been hard at work on a house we bought, a property of some five-and-a-half acres which we named "Shirefeld," after the Hobbit-usage: "county field." Since that's what it is.

Our house is the Black Cat, since we have no prancing ponies, green dragons, or golden perches. But we do have a black cat. And two Siamese. And thirty chickens.
And we had six wonderful children. But sadly, this past summer, there was an accident, and now we are reduced unwillingly to five. And pictures of my son Joshua hang in every room of this house, because we will never forget him.

Right now this house is our work of art, and as of this month, we embark on extensive rennovation. I may post some of our adventures here.

Or I may simply post about beauty and order, since there will be only the hidden sort of beauty and the "eventual" sort of order here for quite some time.

A Disclaimer

For years I have refused to start a blog because I refuse to take the time to tend to it and keep it up. My resolution has not changed, and neither has my "to do" list been lightened.

So I will post sporadically, as the mood strikes me, and when I have time or feel the need to create a bit of order and beauty here.

Thank you, reader, for indulging me in this.

Bathroom details: salvaged star curtain hooks and a doily tablecloth turned curtain gave airiness to our quickly-rennovated bathroom.