Monday, April 30, 2007

Storage Box System

Because we know we'll be banging them up a lot during finish work, our contractor built us a set of temporary steps out of thick pine boards and plywood. And since I suddenly have access to the second floor of our addition, I've started moving things into the new space -- particularly the storage boxes that have been stacked in our bedrooms ever since our move nearly two years ago. That's what's kept me occupied -- moving boxes and the inevitable sorting and re-sorting. Hence the blogging hiatus. (Well, it doesn't make sense to neglect one's house in order to maintain a blog on house beauty, does it? At least, that's what I keep telling myself...)

Quite some time ago, a blog reader asked me how to store things in small spaces, and I felt I simply had to share about the Storage Box System our family uses. I didn't create it: a dear friend introduced me to it, and I believe she got it from Sandra Felton, founder of Messies Anonymous and a real inspiration to me for House Beauty.

Here's how the system works. It begins with making an investment in good sturdy storage boxes. Our first time doing this, we bought 22 stackable plastic file boxes: identical boxes that could hold either files (my husband and I are compulsive filers) or loose items. We arrived at the number 22 by going around the house and counting all the cardboard boxes we'd been hauling around since high school and college and marriage. It was a big investment, especially for newlyweds, but the boxes paid for themselves in headache relief (our first set lasted almost ten years! We upgraded shortly before we moved.) File boxes were a great size for us: they held everything we owned but the largest kind of Christmas decorations. When we upgraded, we got clear ones with double-sided lids from Office Max.

Next, we labeled the boxes. You can use numbers or letters. Since we started this system back in the days of 1.5 kids, I had time to print out lovely calligraphy capital letters on our computer printer and methodically tape them to all four sides of the boxes with clear packing tape. I really do recommend this if you can do it: somehow making the storage boxes beautiful was enormously empowering to me. Nowadays I use a permanent marker, but I do try to attempt calligraphy, still.

Third, fill the boxes. It was such a relief to sort through years of high school notebooks (writers keep everything) and organize. Simply making every storage box a uniform size freed up lots of space: ten file boxes stacked into a space where we had crammed five or six odd-sized cardboard moving boxes.

Fourth (and this is the key) make the list. The list gives a short summary of the content of each box: for example 1- High School Diaries 2 - Art sketchbooks 3 - Letters 4 - Christmas 5 - Easter decorations 6 - Stored Toys.

Fifth: You post the list in the closet where the boxes are stored. Every time you open the closet to search for something in a box, your list is there, ready to help you. It really works -- I've found my husband's high school diploma in less than five minutes with this system!

I've adapted this system for our off-season clothing storage too, using those huge bins for kids' clothing and a permanent marker for the number labels. And I use another set of boxes (green lids) for homeschooling materials. And another set (white lids) for Christmas decorations. You can see examples of several boxes I've used in the photo above, with the list posted above for reference.

The beauty of the system is this: since the numbers on the box are permanent, but the list is not, you can easily change things as you need to. I just redid my Big Box list a few weeks ago: you can see it above: now Box 9 holds the Nativity scene instead of Off Season Coats. No more crossing out and re-labeling boxes! The numbers stay the same, but my list changes seasonally (though our long-term file boxes have stayed constant for the most part -- Box 3, sporting the original calligraphy label, still holds Easter and Thanksgiving decorations).

I'm glad to share this system! I hope it helps make your life easier too!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Plastic Elimination Campaign: Vinyl Shutters

Part of the reason that I haven't been blogging much this week is that the happy coincidence of time and good weather meant I have been doing a lot of painting. This week we were aiming to finish siding and trim.

Fake shutters -- meaning those vinyl plastic ones that are only decorative and don't open and shut -- are one of my pet peeves, because I have this constant desire to want things to be REAL. I would like to have real shutters on my house -- the sort that you can open and close -- but they are expensive, and not really necessary for us, since we don't live in a windy area where windows breaking in a storm would be a concern

But fake shutters serve an important function: they outline and emphasize the windows of a house. Without some kind of emphasis, windows are reduced to bland square holes-in-the-wall (to see the difference, compare the rear windows of a standard suburban development house with the front windows of the same house, which generally are outfitted with shutters or heavy trim).

So -- I wanted to have our windows emphasized, but not with something fake. My solution, since we were doing wooden siding, was wide board trim. We are trimming the house in black painted 1x4 boards. I asked the contractor to cut lengths of 1x10 boards and use them on the sides of the windows to suggest shutters. I put up a picture of the bathroom window here -- you can see that the office window to the right hasn't yet been done.

If I did it over again, I would use 1x12 boards instead, but I really do like the way it looks. Even though painting all the boards (which we did ourselves) has been a real job! I hired some teens to paint the bulk of them, but I've been doing all the touch-up work and additional painting, and it's a lot of work.

And yes, we're doing every window on the house this way (since my other pet peeve is houses that have trim in the front but not in the back, like your typical suburban development house!).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Favorite Things: Old Books

I couldn't resist taking some photos of Doran's collection of antique books, with their gilded covers and heavy, clearly-printed text. My brother-in-law, who has librarian training, once explained to me that books printed after 1910 (or thereabouts) tend to be printed on wood pulp paper, which deteriorates. But books printed before 1910 are usually printed on paper with a rag or cotton content, which preserves beautifully. Usually you can tell the difference just by picking up an old book: cotton-page books are weightier.

He started me on a passion for beautifully printed books, and I've collected a small handfull of old poetry and novels. But I was blown away by Doran's family collection. This is one case where the photos definitely don't do it justice, since the joy of old books is in the smell and smooth paper as well as in the delightful covers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Golden Silence

Be still and know that I am God."

God asks us to rest one day a week, and at times that's difficult to do. But sometimes, when you've been working hard, and suddenly stop, stillness and silence flood inside you with such power that you can't move, can't do anything but sit and listen... listen to the silence.

We experienced that on Saturday, after a hard day's work, when while finishing up some outside work, my husband and I both sat down and stopped.

Beauty and silence. What would we do without a good healthy dose of that in our lives?

I know it's Monday, and we're all rushing ahead on the work week. But if you haven't had a few minutes of silence to yourself to rest in God, do so. Soon.

We all need it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Random Moment of Beauty: Bird House

Last Christmas, Rose got a birdhouse kit. I lost sight of it after the unwrapping, and then, a few days later, I looked out of the girls' bedroom window and was surprised to find the birdhouse, fully painted and hanging from a branch, awaiting a bird. But sadly, a storm blew it down a few months ago.

I finally got around to repairing it for Rose, and then I lost sight of it again. But a few days ago, walking out to the pasture, I looked up and saw it -- in a new tree, happily aloft and waiting expectantly for a bird. Hopefully this spring it will find an inhabitant!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Red House

I know a family who builds and sells custom homes. When I was visiting their red-sided house the other day, which they are putting on the market, I asked if I could share their home with my blog readers. Doran and her husband designed and built the house themselves, using salvaged materials and antique doors to add character whenever they could. And since they have a large family, they omitted cathedral ceilings in favor of ... more bedrooms! In a day and age where larger homes (this is a massive four-bedroom on nearly five country acres) aspire to mansionhood, I appreciated the honesty and simple beauty of this family home.

You can't see it in the pictures, but one detail that caught my eye was that all the doors have black hinges and knobs. It's amazing how that little detail made such a difference. Doran admitted that she did it herself, to age the home and give it simplicity. Though of course few of us have the chance to build our own homes, it's interesting how that small change enriched the house. (And I admit now I've been entertaining serious thoughts of changing all our doorknobs now...)

Since we're rennovating our own home, I find it fascinating to see what other people are doing, and how castoff materials can find a new task in beautifiying a very new home.

PS: oh, and if you happen to be looking for a house in the Front Royal area, you can see additional details about this home here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Favorite Things: Wooden Boats

Wooden boats for the bathtub are something I'm always on the lookout for. Through the years, I've found them at handcrafts stores and flea markets, like the brown and red tug boats, above. But I'm happy to report that you can buy the red sailboat, on the left, above, including a cloth sail, from Nova Natural for a very reasonable price. I like that it's waterproof, sturdy, and big enough for passengers, like the duck and frog above. Ours went sailing in the stream this past weekend. I took this photo of the crafts and their pilots after the races were over.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Last Day of the Divine Mercy Novena

On Good Friday, a fellow parishioner was handing out bunches of nine thin beeswax candles (homemade) for praying the Divine Mercy Novena. What a treat! We drilled holes in a log to make a candleholder, and each day we've lit a new candle before we pray the novena prayers. Tonight we lit the last one in the middle. It was so lovely I'm saving the log for our Pentecost novena.

It occurred to me that this might be a wonderful fundraiser or craft for a youth or parish group to do for promoting devotion to the Divine Mercy: make candles and log holders, and sell them with a Divine Mercy booklet to encourage folks to do the novena. At least, our family loved it! I'm already wondering how I can get more candles for next year.

Friday, April 13, 2007

End of the Lenten Clothing Fast!

As a follow up to my previous post about the "Lenten Clothing Fast," I wanted to share how much fun it was to finally wear spring colors on Easter in celebration of the Lord's Resurrection joy! Being a former girl, I love pink, and I usually wear pink and white on Easter. Since this year was chilly, a cotton sweater in drive-me-crazy green was in order over the pink silk blouse and white skirt I'd chosen. The jewelry is vintage, from my late grandmother, but my mom gave me the watch for Christmas. And my aunt, who is always helping me stay fashionable, brought me the little-girl-beribboned tote, which I promptly claimed as this year's Easter purse.

It's fun to change colors along with the Church at the changing of the seasons!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Easter Table: Shopping With Your Guardian Angel

Guardian angels make the best personal shoppers. My spiritual journey has taught me over and over again that material possessions are easy for God to provide -- that whole "lilies of the field" verse in the Bible is really, honestly true. It's things like conversions, healing of addictions, etc. that take years and years of agonized prayer to accomplish. But material possessions? Simple. No problem. If you really need it today, God will provide it for you. Then too, we are in America, a country awash with material possessions. If you're in the right place at the right time, people might even pay you to take things away.

So, trusting in that, during the times when money is scarce at our house, I've come to ask my guardian angel to find things for me -- you know, those little relatively unimportant things that sometimes come to play such a huge role in the heart of a housewife -- new curtains, a fashion accessory, the perfect gift for a child or friend... The sheer amount of times that I've craved or wished for some sort of fabric or dress or place setting, and then stumbled upon it a few weeks later at a garage sale or giveaway pile are so numerous that I've been forced to rule out coincidence, luck, and my own savvy.

And it makes sense, doesn't it? After all, if God clothes us better than the lilies of the field, why shouldn't He provide for beauty as well as necessity? "If you, who are evil, provide good things for your children..." What parent doesn't provide toys and comforts as well as food and shelter to their kids?

All He asks is that we cultivate the "necessary detachment" from these extras, which I think we all realize we need anyhow.

So, anyhow, since I am one of these maddening Martha Stewart people who needs to have a new "color theme" every Easter, I had been thinking of trying to create a blue-and-white table this year. And of course, I didn't have much money for extras like that, or time to create something handmade.

But when I dropped by the Salvation Army during Holy Week looking vaguely for some sort of centerpiece, my eyes were drawn to the blue-white-and-pink china, six plates, ten saucers, and stacks and stacks of teacups, saucers, and cake plates. "How much for the big plates?" I asked the girl in charge. "I'll charge you eight dollars if you'll take the whole set out of here," she answered. "I'm sick of looking at them." Sold! Then, hunting for a white sheet to use as a tablecloth, not only did I find a lovely soft cotton sheet with only one spot, I found a vintage-looking square blue-and-white tablecloth as well.

And to top it off, my daughter spotted a wire egg basket in the shape of a hen, in the same blue as the china and the tablecloth (and it happens to match the blue in my kitchen too!). A trip to the dollar store discovered 3-packs of "washcloths" that certainly pass as napkins, though I bet one washing will shrink the lot -- again, in the same blue-white-pink theme. Almost eerie, eh? And the flea market had matching white hyacinths, $4 each.

The whole shebang set me back $19. $27 with the flowers.

And I hadn't even prayed. But of course, I did afterwards: "Thank You, Father God!"

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter Angel

In my husband's family, after their renewal in the Catholic faith, there was no Easter bunny to bring candy in their house: the Easter Angel came instead. (Makes much more sense.)
So when my oldest daughter created an Easter egg hunt for the other children on Easter morning, she dressed up as -- the Easter Angel. With a little help from a pair of homemade fairy wings.
I caught her on camera as she flew by on her joyful errand.

Blessed Easter to you!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Seder Meal

This is probably the moment to confess I am an ardent Philosemite. I love the Jewish people, Judaism, and anything remotely Jewish. I don't know why -- I just get excited whenever I encounter Jews or Judaism. I've never lost my childhood delight in Jewishness, and I am perpetually in mourning for only being a "spiritual Semite," not a genuine one.

While I was growing up, my parents always held a Pascal Meal, a Catholic version of the Jewish Seder meal, during Holy Week. This is one tradition that we've been happy to pass on to our children. On Wednesday night, we gather with other families and hold the Passover service. The prayers we use are a version I admit I compiled myself, using several different Passover services and melding together the elements I liked best (all the while feeling a holy fear of being so cavalier with ancient tradition) and drawing out the Catholic foreshadowing in the Jewish prayers.

Following Doman tradition, our family prays the Passover service on Wednesday night, simply because rushing out to night Church service after holding an elaborate dinner was too exhausting. Our Seder meal has ten pages of prayers and readings, and it's a meal that deserves to be eaten slowly and with leisure to savor it.

This year was a hard year because of missing Joshua. Together with the stresses of current demands, if it had been up to me (and if I hadn't invited our friends over) I couldn't have done it. But this year Rose made the Haroset (apples peeled, chopped fine, and mixed with cinnamon and wine to resemble the mud of the Egyptian bricks), as well as a tasty kiwi-mint-and-honey relish for the lamb (not traditional, but we love it!). And my son Caleb made the Matzo (unleavened bread) of flour, olive oil, salt and water. And my friends helped me set the table. I forgot to take a picture but I set up a plate above so you could see what it looks like. The other items on the plate are Moror (horseradish, symbolizing the bitterness of slavery and sin) and the green herb (a friend made a seven-herb salad for the Seven Sorrows of Mary), which is eaten dipped in salt water to symbolize tears and hope.

If you haven't ever done a Seder meal, consider it! Holy Thursday is the traditional night to do it. Mary Reed Newland had a very very short version of it in The Year and Our Children. You can find another short version at They have directions for making the Seder foods here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Today's Random Moment of Beauty: Fence

Yesterday evening I was sitting in the corner of our fence at the back of our pasture, and looking to the right, I saw that our perfectly straight new board fence -- wasn't perfectly straight at all. But it was beautiful, in its own erratic way.

Are we sort of the same, in our attempts to walk the straight and narrow? Imperfect, but still managing to get where we're trying to go? I hope so.

A blessed Holy Week.