Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Favorite Things: Basket on my Dresser

I admit it, I'm a jewelry person. I love accessories, especially if they're shiny. Last year I was wearing a lot of homemade necklaces with glass beads, and I decided to heap them like a pile of treasure, in a favorite round basket with makeup and hair accessories and brush. And of course I couldn't resist taking a picture to capture the exhibition.
Mom's dresser, as the largest horizontal surface in most bedrooms, too easily becomes the catchall for all sorts of odds and ends, important things saved from the toddler or the cat, important-looking things whose proper destination other family members are unsure of -- my dresser quickly becomes cluttered.
The final step in cleaning my room is always cleaning my dresser. My constant battle is to keep it uncluttered and home only to the things I need and things I find beautiful, as William Morris said. This basket was last year's attempt to make the necessary things beautiful. This year, the struggle continues.

Monday, February 26, 2007

House Dreams

Well, after three weeks of construction, the outer shell of the addition for our house is done. We can hardly believe it -- we've spent months and months planning this addition, and it's startling and odd to see it looming up above our old carport. And it's amazing that it's up -- given the wind, freezing rain, and snow we've had over the past weeks. But our construction crew (Klassen Construction, great guys) didn't quit until the job was done.

Lots still needs to be done -- if the weather lets us, the standing seam metal roof will be put on this week. And then we need to scrape together the money to get it wired for electricity (need to chase down our electrician friend), insulation, roughing in the plumbing -- and then, yes, finishing. We're anticipating that finishing will take us a while.

But that's okay, because not having a lot of money means lots of time for dreams. And that was what I was doing last night, as I walked through the bare studs, lit only by some Christmas lights we strung up to see by. We have a floor plan and some ideas, but now is the serious dreaming stage - mentally putting up one finishing, then another, then another -- hanging up paint chips (which are fortunately free), collecting samples, rearranging, more dreaming -- Andrew and I have discovered we prefer having more time than money when it comes to decorating. When we take our time and go slowly, instead of rushing to have a magazine-shoot-ready house in record time, we enjoy the process more.

And it leaves time for God, too. When my mind wanders over curtain fabrics during the rosary, (as it often does) my spiritual director says to include God in that distraction. What do You want, God? Do you prefer red over beige? (God has His opinions on curtains too, though I've always found Him very gentlemanly and hesitant to share them unless pressed.) So I try to include Him in the process, asking His guidance and help, to keep even the most mundane parts of life ordered under His Fatherly will. I've no doubt that some of the unexpected finds in our remodeling -- such as stacks of barn wood offered to us, for free, at just the right moment -- were thoughtful gifts from Him.

An important part of work is dreaming.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Plastic Elimination Campaign: Kid's Dishes

From Stephannie:

I'm fascinated by the idea that with fewer and nicer toys the kids will respect and treat them properly...and I'm wondering if that applies to dishes and tableware, as well. I liked your use of "Sunday Silver" and was wondering about your thoughts on this subject. I've seen families who use enamelware (which doesn't break, but chips and rusts), melamine (aka, plastic), fiestaware (sturdy but still breakable), and mismatched corelle (very breakable, but cheap to replace at garage sales and thrift stores). Others, like us, have plastic kid-sized stuff for the kids. I don't mind the colorful plates and bowls so much (they match our colorful fiesta dishes) but am ready to toss the plastic spoons, forks, and awful collection of sippy cups that I currently regard as a necessary evil.
Thank you,

I respond:
Hi Stephannie! Sorry it took me so long to respond! I favor using a combination of enamelware, which (as you said) chips and rusts, but which has recently become more and more available inexpensively, and breakable dishes for kids.

Using breakable dishes is the Montessori approach, which reasons: children need to know that some things break. Letting them use breakable dishes quickly teaches them this, and they learn to handle china carefully. I have found that the Montessori approach has worked with *most* of my kids. (I'll explain the asteriks in a moment.) The key is having a supply of small breakable dishes and being willing to spend some time monitoring the child who is using the dishes. I collect mismatched china, and I've frequently found stacks of saucers and dessert plates at flea markets for about 25 cents a plate. I pick ones that match our existing china (usually plain white) and try to practice detachment towards their continued existence. You can see the stack of red and white restaurantware above that has survived the last three children. What I used to do was use these dishes for the current baby or toddler when setting the table and model holding and setting down the plate carefully. Inevitably, the baby would drop one, and I would react with consternation (not anger, just polite sadness). "Oh no! The plate broke. See what happened?" Then I would carefully sweep up the pieces and throw them away, shaking my head sadly. "You have to handle dishes carefully or they break."

For my first four babies, this worked like a charm. They would watch in wide-eyed dismay as I threw out the dish and from then on, they would move their plates carefully (it was really something to watch a nine-month-old child set a plate down carefully). Then God, in His wisdom, bestowed on me two strong-willed children who found that destruction was interesting and awe-inspiring. After sweeping up the fourth or fifth plate that Joan had hurled to the floor, my husband said wearily, "Look, I know you're trying to do this Montessori thingy, but could you please not do it at the supper table?"

So for Christmas this year, Joan received her very own enamelware set from my favorite toy catalog Nova Natural. I love this set, which consists of the green-and-beige cup, bowl, and plate, trimmed in dark blue, made in Poland :) ( I'm married to a man who's half Polish). (note: I see they're out of the green set (temporarily?), but check out this one.) I've noticed the enamel on the green set is particularly durable, and despite Joan's daily dashing them to the ground, they're barely dented. We had gotten our previous baby another one of Nova Natural's set three years ago (white with blue dots) which is a bit chipped but still in circulation.

An alternative to enamelware are sterling silver or stainless steel baby cups, which I happily receive as baptismal gifts or pick up at flea markets (you can see one above). For older kids, you can sometimes find those neat stainless steel tumblers in various colors, if you like that look.

As for sippy cups -- I'll leave that to another post.

Friday, February 23, 2007

From Charlene: More Cool Toy Links

Thanks Charlie!

Hi Regina,
I love your blog. In the comment section of your topic about expensive toys you asked us to send you some links to the children's toys we love. I don't usually buy toys (they just seem to keep marching into our house from outside sources), but here are a couple of my favorite ready-made toy links: and

I really prefer homemade toys to store bought ones though, and so I'm including some sites that show parents how to make dolls for their children.

Corn Husk Dolls:

As a child I grew up on a farm, and one of the main things we grew was corn. Each year at harvest time, my sister and I were able to make new dolls from the corn husks. I think my mom still has some of our better creations, and I'll see if I can get some pictures up on my blog. I found the above website, that has a very good pattern for these unique little friends, which can be embellished with cloth clothing and painted faces.

The doll I had mentioned in my comment looked a lot like this one. I had wonderful fun making her dresses and bonnets as a child, and am planning to make one for my own little girl for her second birthday.

These little dolls, like the other two mentioned above, are great for families on a budget that still want their children playing with things other than the generic plastic baby doll. These are great for toddlers and younger little girls.

Americans are imbued in a disposable culture. I think that a lot of the cheap plastic toys that we give our children could be replaced by toys made from items that would have gotten thrown away. (My grandma always would make her granddaughters dolls with the Aunt Jemima bottles.) This is just a matter of my personal opinion, but I would rather my children playing with cars made from old matchboxes than Matchbox brand cars. I like toys that children can make for themselves because it fosters independence and creativity. When I do buy toys, I want ones that are unique and beautiful, not ones that every other child in America has. I also love toys that help foster a greater sense of ethnicity and Catholicity in children.

Okay, well that's enough on my little ramblings. I hope you find this links useful and enjoyable.

In the love of Christ,
Charlie Chautin

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The First Thing You See In A Room, 2

Sorry it's taken me a while to finish this post. Life intervened, as they say....

Here's how we rearranged the room. This time for a focal point, I used the wardrobe (from IKEA). Since it's kind of high for a horizontal surface, the kids don't tend to put so much clutter on it. On top sits a dollhouse log cabin (since it has glass windows, I like to keep it up high) and a plant. The girls use the wardrobe for clothes (there's no closet in the room) and it's easy to close the doors when it's messy. As for the shelf for toys, I decided to use it as a room divider to section off my older daughter's art area. We painted the back green to match the walls and hung up artwork on it. It's still usually a messy area, but this time the shelf hides the mess instead of displaying it. :)

Probably an idea focal point for a child's room would be something large that contained no horizontal surfaces, such as a painting or a large plant (though plants have their own set of problems when used with kids.) Another tactic for keeping rooms looking clean (when "being clean" on all occasions is near impossible) is to locate the messy areas (the toy box, the desk, the dresser) in areas out of the immediate line of sight, usually on the wall behind the door or on the same side as the door.

You can create a focal point by painting a section of the wall and hanging it with a display of pictures. Resist the temptation to put a bulletin board or a chalk board as the focal point - it will quickly become messy! We have a magnetic board section for kids' artwork on the wall behind the desk (visible as the dark wall in the desk picture). A high shelf for special toys (like an heirloom china doll or a ship model) is another possibility.

Let your children in on the secret of focal points, and let them know that a good way to keep you happy as room-cleaning inspector is to a.) make the bed and b.) make sure the focal point is neat. And if they're able to handle making the bed, make the bed the focal point with a brightly-colored wall behind it, a mosquito-net canopy (we got ours from IKEA), or fabric hung on the wall behind it like a tapestry. Point out that they can make their rooms beautiful with a little daily effort on their point, and you're raising the next generation of house artists!

Friday, February 16, 2007

From LeeAnn: Four Loves Figures

Hi Regina,
The photos are of our Valentine's Day afterschool tea and the little house in the middle is one of those foam craft kits from Michael's. It has a slot in it for sending valentines and the base comes off to get them out. I just love it because it reminds me of Tasha Tudor's "sparrow post" in "A Time to Keep." The wooden figures are made by Ostheimer from Germany. I bought them through which carries the entire Ostheimer line. I love that link in your post about the dolls! I'd never seen The Blueberry Forest before and just drooled over their Kathe Kruse line. (note from Regina: sells some of these toys too)

...The Four Loves theme was really serendipitous. I have four children and Iwanted to order a pair of figures for each and only after that did I realize I could group the figures into a theme. I tried to place the figures around the house in positions that reminded me of what Lewis wrote about each of the loves. The romantic figures facing each other, gazing into each other's eyes, hands touching. The siblings looking at a common viewpoint, side-by-side, representing friendship. The animals are near each other but not looking either at each other or at the same thing, representing affection (really, Lewis had it as our love for animals is this sort of
affection, not the animals feelings--such as they are--for each other. I suppose I could have gotten a human figure and a dog or something but that would have muddied the fourth relationship.) And lastly the unicorn and the maiden are facing each other--although I would have liked it better if the unicorn's head was up instead of bowed. But I'm sure I could come up with all sorts of imagery for a bowed head too--representing Christ's burdens? his submission to his Father's will? the horn pointing at the maiden's heart? and on and on.

Glad someone else enjoyed the idea!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The First Thing You See In A Room

In the light of recent discussion on dolls, I thought I'd use this photograph, taken on one of the rare times when my girl's room was clean, to illustrate the idea of the Focal Point, a term used by designers. An easier way to illustrate the Focal Point is to say it's the first thing you see when you enter a normally-shaped room. Generally it's the largest piece of furniture - in a bedroom, it is usually the bed.

But sometimes it is the object that is directly opposite the door. For example, the tub is the largest object in our bathroom, but it is tucked into an alcove. Our bathroom's focal point is the window opposite the door.

Now, this is why we "house artists" with children should understand this: one easy way to keep a room "clean" is to make sure the Focal Point (the first thing you see in a room) is tidy. (This is one reason why you should always make your bed.) My bathroom tends to look presentable, so long as the curtains on the window are neat and straightened.

This picture below illustrates a failed focal point. I placed this pretty decorative shelf, salvaged from an old china hutch, opposite the door on a play table, and topped it with a picture to draw the eye away from my daughter's tumbled bed and open bureau drawers. But this shelf, containing toys used frequently by the children, was perennially empty or messy. It looked nice -- but only when tidy, and it was beyond the abilities of my small daughters to clean it every day. Plus the play table was constantly full of art projects, doll furniture, and books (as you can guess, noticing what was stored there.) So we rearranged the room a few months later. I'll show you what we did in the next post.
BTW the toys are: a bear my daughter made from a make-you-own-teddy kit, two Beanie Baby cats (I love these), the Little Blossom Doll made from a Magic Cabin doll kit, a dressed cat from a Plow and Hearth clearance, and a teddy bear which was found abandoned in a rental home, which my son Joshua immediately adopted as his own. The slices of logs are Magic Cabin Dolls' cherry tree blocks.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

On Costly Toys

Since it is St. Valentine's Day, a holiday beloved by females and resented by males (who always want to point out that it's no longer a canonical saint's day), let's talk more about dolls and beauty. To set the tone, I couldn't resist posting this picture of a Kathe Kruse Mini-It's-Me-Elf (which I don't own but enjoy looking at).

I wanted to share some thoughts I had about a comment a blog reader sent me about yesterday's post ("Favorite Things"), wondering how I could possibly consider spending so much money on a toy. I feel compelled to answer her quite reasonable question.

How can you justify spending circa $100 on a doll? True, it's beyond the budgets of many of us. Normally, it would have been for us too, but this was an unusual Christmas for us in many ways. This is the main reason why I've made Waldorf dolls for years instead of buying them, because they are handmade and do tend to be very expensive (this sweet doll above retails for $50).

But let's consider another expensive doll that it's far more typical for even frugal families to purchase: an American Girl Doll (retailing at about $87). This Christmas, I could have conceivably bought two of these dolls for my daughters, and I considered doing so.

But in the end, I choose the Waldorf dolls from Nova Natural over Molly or Kayla or the other American girls, and I feel better about the purchase.

For one thing, now we’re not locked into furnishing and dressing a doll with official American Girl accessories found in the catalogs helpfully mailed to us every gift-giving season. And to my delight, my oldest girl is now setting out to design and sew clothes for her doll (thus bringing up the refrain of toys that "fit with children." I strongly suspect that if we had welcomed Nicki, the American Girl Doll of the Year into our home, she would have "begged" to be outfitted in the latest catalog styles instead of a homemade patchwork skirt.)

And I really like the thought of Peruvian women sewing the Waldorf dolls in a village cooperative, bettering themselves and their families in the meantime. I'm sure it probably added an extra $20 onto the price of the doll, but how often do you get to give a Christmas gift to a child that enriches another family, instead of the Mattel Corporation? I admit it, I justified the price in my head with that sort of reasoning.

And again, the Nova Natural dolls are very well made. Sort of like a piece of fine art that can stand up to your girls playing with it.

I think my girls treasure these dolls, sensing some of their value. Like some other special homemade toys we own, they understand these dolls aren't "replaceable" the way a Polly Pocket would be. The dolls don't travel outside of the house or make trips outside. Most of the time when I see them, they're in some sort of place of honor - the top basket on the toy shelf, on the bed, or inside the latest play fort.

I suppose my philsophy is that a few simple toys (even if they are expensive) are better for kids than dozens of cheap ones from KMart and Target. Buying one expensive toy like this one meant that the other presents for my girls were less expensive -- such as a $3.99 box of paints, and a cooking set piece together from dollar stores and the secondhand store. It comes down to a matter of how we choose to spend our money, which is a highly personal decision for families.

Beauty often has a higher price tag than ugliness and banality.

One time our family needed bunk beds, and we went to a discount furniture place and bought a set, wincing at the price tag. But the bunkbeds were so difficult to set up and and so flimsily made, that we were frustrated with ourselves for spending the money. We agreed: never again. We would use cast-off and hand-me-down furniture in the future, until we could afford to get Amish-made beds of hardwood. We still haven't reached that point in our finances, but we are trying to be content in waiting, and determined not to spend money on something that we personally find ugly but fits in the budget

And for those who are waiting, making Waldorf dolls (some years out of socks!) has been very rewarding for our family. (Those interested should check out the wonderful kits from Magic Cabin Dolls or the books Making Waldorf Dolls and Toymaking With Children.)

There is a hidden, sometimes intensely spiritual quality to beauty. It is elusive, and difficult to quantify, and so often expensive in time or money. This is because beauty doesn’t come easily for any of us, except for God.

Creating or owning or maintaining beauty takes effort. It often means yearning and waiting and working.

But I have found that if you set your heart on beauty and work towards it, beauty will come to you.

Sometimes, it just doesn’t occur to us to ask.

I'm breaking my personal resolution to not write a lot of copy on this blog! But having done so, I welcome thoughts from blog readers about this post.

Happy Valentine's Day!

I thought I would share this cartoon by my daughter Rose, one of our resident artists, colored by me. I don't know if she originated the idea or not, but I think this is charming. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My Favorite Things: Waldorf dolls

Ever since I learned how to make Waldorf dolls when I was first married, I've loved these cotton wool-stuffed dolls with their basic faces. To me, the face is a modicum of perfect simplicity: not faceless, like the Amish dolls; not super-detailed like today's typical baby dolls. Since a Waldorf doll has only the simple suggestion of a face, the child can choose for herself whether the doll is happy or sad, instead of being locked in by the dollmaker's choice.

(Side note: these types of faces are wonderful for dolls representing the Blessed Mother or the saints, being subtle enough to represent solemnity and/or joy. In my experience, it's hard to make a "holy smile" without looking ghastly, simpering, or smug.)

I've made about ten of these dolls, but this year at Christmas, feeling the need to do something extra-special, I invested (once you see the price, you'll understand my choice of the word) in these finely-crafted heirloom-quality dolls from Nova Natural for my older girls. From a dollmaker's point of view, I have been delighted with them. These particular dolls, made with fair wages by a village cooperative in Peru, are button-jointed so their arms and legs can move, and the hair is sewn cleverly so to avoid the "bald spots" that usually plague dollies of this kind, and can be braided or hang loose. The price of the doll includes white underthings, a jumper dress, a handknitted hat and sweater and shoes. (You can see the jumper on the left doll, but the red plaid dress is one I made myself.) And I have to admit I have been enchanted with their sweet expressions. And they are just right for hugs.

And my girls love them too. Which is, of couse, the main thing. ;)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Surprised by Goodness

I've been meditating lately on how God brings good out of evil -- and not just one, single sort of goodness (ie: moral), but usually a variety of goodnesses, ranging from the simple to the humorously ironic to the deep and weighty and lasting variety. Can I say that He seems to allow evil in order to have the opportunity to create more and different kinds of goodness?

For example, bitter cold seems to have been (in some ways, bear with my theological opinions here) the result of the Fall. But out of bitter cold, He brings a goodness as specialized as the mere simple action of coming from cold into warmth, which is about the most delicious of feelings, one I suspect Adam and Eve in Eden never knew.

And after days of bitter cold and chill, numb fingers and chilled feet, our pond finally and thoroughly froze to my husband's satisfaction. So on the weekend, he took our kids sledding on it -- or more properly, sliding.

Some trials are worth going through.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Anna's Shoe Shelf

When I walked into Anna's house, I couldn't help noticing her new shoe shelf. When I complimented her, she said, "When we were moving furniture around, I realized that the bookshelf that was in my bedroom was actually the shoe shelf I had been wanting for years!" It's simply made, out of rough planks, but it does a great job organizing boots and shoes for two toddlers and two grownups (our family would need a longer, taller unit for all our footwear!) and I like that she has the basket of kid socks on top for those quick rushes out the door.

Right now our shoe bin is outside in the cold (I exiled it when I got frustrated with the piles of galoshes everywhere) and shoes are frozen so that they have to be thawed before they can be worn. But the garage addition with a mudroom is being built around the bin of frozen shoes, and hopefully I will someday soon have shelves for them all! In the meantime, I am admiring Anna's.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

When the Weather Outside is Frightful....

During the "cold season," there's nothing our family likes better than a generous helping of "rubies you can eat" -- also known as Cranberry Relish. Made of cranberries, oranges, apples and honey, nearly pure Vitamin C and very good for you. I follow the recipe my mother-in-law uses, which she got from the outside of a package of fresh cranberries aeons ago: put one package of fresh cranberries, one whole orange, and a cored apple into your food processor. Chop till fine and mix with honey till it tastes fine to you. (Cranberries are bitter, so the amount will vary from person to person!) Sugar works too, in a pinch (as you can see, I had to use here).

But I have to admit I love Cranberry Relish not only because of its goodness, but because of its beauty. Especially in a blue bowl in a spot of winter sunshine.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Snack Table

For years I've had a toddler snack table in a corner of my kitchen or dining area, a little place with a small wooden table and chair where kids can sit in a chair sized just for them and have snacks in a somewhat civilized manner, or color or play with table-sized toys. Currently we don't have an area like this in our kitchen, but my friend Anna Hatke does. She made hers with an end table and mismatched chair, but by prettying the area up with a colored oilcloth and a fairy-print plaque it's a spot of beauty in her dining room -- just for small children.

Monday, February 05, 2007


This is my idea of luxury, one that makes me feel that our house (with its partial siding, construction project at the back, two closets, and plastic bins stacked on the porch) is coming along just fine. Since we ditched our furnace, our central heat is the wood stove we bought. Cold early mornings, my husband comes down, lets the chickens out, brings in wood, and lights the fire. It's the most natural thing in the world for us to congregate around the growing warm spot for breakfast. And when the breakfast is tea and toast, and sausage cooked over the fire, and when the kids start their homeschooling without a fuss, then I feel that life really couldn't get any better.
Peace to your day.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Happy Last Day of Little Christmas!

Feb. 2 is Candlemas, the last day of what our family calls "Little Christmas," from Epiphany through the Feast of the Presentation. I thought I'd post a picture of my miniature Nativity scene in honor of the last day of this past year's Christmas.

This Nativity scene is a replica of the one that was stolen from me when I lived in New York and thieves stole a trunk from the back of my car an event I wrote about years ago shortly after it happened. After lots of searching, I found a replacement on Ebay a few years ago and have been trying to add one piece a year. It sits on my dresser now every year and my girls love arranging it.

Enjoy the last remnants of the Feast of the Incarnation!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Away Room

I just wanted to share a picture of our "Away Room" as it looked last year when we had just moved into a house that had been carved up by rennovation, plaster and plywood and electric wires everywhere. We had two rooms carpeted before we moved in and dubbed this one "the sanity room." Nothing was allowed to be stored there, no boxes, just books and furniture for resting on. It still looks pretty much the same - the bookshelves and chair are in the same place, but we moved the couch.

The term "away room" was coined by Susan Susanka and her team when they were designing the "Not So Big House." It refers to a room attached to the main living area where you can go to be "away" -- to have a private conversation, watch a movie, listen to music, play video games, etc. She came up with the idea because with the trend for open floor plans, the only place to have a private conversation was a bedroom!

So when we rennovated the first floor of our farmhouse which was a warren of tiny rooms, we left this room intact as an "away room." We watch movies and listen to music in ours, and yes, have the occasional private conversation. And it's still an isle of sanity (usually).