Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Plan

I have never considered myself an "exercising" sort of person. Perhaps it's due to the prejudice of my upbringing: memories of my private high school include the principal intoning, "Christians work: pagans exercise!" So I've always tried to make my work my exercise: unfortunately, most of my work these days requires sitting at the computer, and the "fasting" diets I used to follow no longer work now that I'm approaching my fortieth birthday and my seventh pregnancy.

So I am hesitantly about to try to make a change: I am commencing the 12-week Body For Life diet, in an effort to get into shape (I am of course, modifying it to account for the pregnancy). In a way this is nothing new: being a home-birth veteran, I'm used to a different diet during pregnancy: all my midwives enforced one. The difference is counting calories, rigorously drinking water, and (sigh) exercising. As of this writing, I can say I have been taking morning walks on our country roads for about a week and a half now, and can actually do about a mile or two without breaks.

Although I cringe at the "workout" culture, with the necessary ugliness of water bottles (I'm toting one now, and wishing it were beautiful), there is a certain beauty in the plan of a diet and exercise regime. Unlike the stereotypical free spirit, plans for life fascinate me. I'm not afraid of being put into a box: boxes have always seemed to be wonderful things, like the cardboard ones my children cut holes in and make into houses, cars, robots, anything their imaginations can dream up. The highest forms of art are the seemingly effortless formation of patterns: sonnets, Golden Rectangles, symphonies. So although I dread gyms, I read with absorption the day-by-day dietary instructions and routines and wonder if the sprawling chaotic monster of my daily life could be harnessed, gentled, and run eagerly ahead with the help of schedules and patterns like these.

Alas. We can always try. "Fail to plan and you plan to fail," intones this book, so I made a plan, a grocery list, bought multivitamins, protein-rich foods, and a tolerable-looking water bottle. I admit I do like diet foods, what this book lovingly calls, "women foods": spinach, cheese, almonds, brown rice, hummus, herbal teas, beans, seafood, chicken breast, even tofu. They look like food (except tofu, which I admire as a Master of Disguise: seasonings can turn it into anything!). And since my default mode is: skip breakfast, skip lunch, eat a vast amount of dinner and dessert; it's nice to eat six meals a day like a hobbit. (Next meal: pasta, eggplant tapenade, imitation crab meat, and salad. Yum!)

I remember having a vision once (after dreamily reading too many idealistic books) of distributism, whole foods, Craftsman philosophy, the Montessori method, rural living, and Catholicism all merging together into a beautiful and harmonious way of life that Thomistically, encompassed all and made everything lovely. I smile now when I think that I could accomplish such a synthesis. But how nice it is to plan!

So I am planning, and trying. Fortunately this book urges striving for "80% of perfection," so maybe it's doable even for me, a sanguine who loves new things but whose stamina and attention span are ... not as great.

But then again, I did walk a mile today without a break. So maybe there's hope!

Wish me Godspeed!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Elrond, RIP

We buried our Siamese mix cat, Elrond, this morning.

He had been missing for about four days, and since we also recently lost our male Siamese, I had been fulminating over the wandering habits of male cats when I took my morning walk. Then, as I passed the old church in front of our house, I spotted his body, lying under a bush, as though sleeping in the sun.

It was so sad to find him there, but I was sorrowfully glad to find out what had happened to him. I'm still worrying over Earendil, our other male cat, Elrond's nephew, who has been missing for two months.

We don't know how Elrond died. He was only four years old, born the same year as my youngest son. He was a large, hefty cat but luxuriantly fit, despite his habit of sleeping most of the day on our bed's patchwork quilt. His ancestry was of the esteemed Castellan line of Front Royal, Virginia, from a long line of friendly and easy-going Siamese-blend cats who have provided many family pets to this area for some time. Elrond's father was a white stray, and as you can see, he inherited his mother's striking blue eyes. I admit, I picked the pugnacious kitten out of the litter for his looks.

Elrond himself was not easy-going, aloof and with a tendency to bite, so we considered giving him away. This was back when we owned seven cats and found the need to downsize (we have since concluded that three cats is the perfect number, and strive to own three whenever possible). So after neutering Elrond, we gave him to a friend, who kept him for a year in an apartment. But when the friend married, he offered to give us Elrond back, and we took him.

To our surprise, we found that a year in solitary confinement had mellowed Elrond considerably. He now had a wonderful tolerance for toddlers pulling his tail, and genially followed the family on walks, keeping baby Joan company (as you can see in this photo above). He was a changed cat, changed for the better, and became not only a delight to the eyes but a real family friend.

So we are very sorrowful to have lost him, although the children have concluded that Joshua wanted to have Elrond with him in heaven, where he joins Gandalf, Sharkey, Mithrandir, the unnamed stillborn baby kitten, and our other good cats. Perhaps Joshua is showing him around the fields of heaven even now, where the streams run with fish that are easy to catch, and where there are always brother cats and laughing children to play rubber-band tug-of-war with.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Wedding Present Put to Use

(I feel this should be a headline!)

If my kitchen were bigger, I'd have this very useful cake stand on display all the time, even just to hold dried flowers or small statues. This was a wedding gift from a dear childhood next-door neighbor, who gave every Doman bride one of these cake stands, which reverses to make a punch bowl. Even though these days, it usually sits on top of my refridgerator gathering dust, it can be uncommonly useful, especially today, when I wanted to keep a decorated birthday cake out of the refridgerator and also out of reach of little hands.

And, as a copywriter in the late-and-returning Victoria magazine wrote, desserts displayed under glass heighten anticipation. This is definitely true of my children, including the birthday girl, who, having sighted her cake, is setting the table for her party this afternoon now. (Say a prayer for her and her party if you think of it! I hope to blog about it later.)

At any rate, I would put this cake stand down on my list of entertaining necessities, and yes, I would definitely recommend it as a useful and pretty gift for a new bride.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Maypole Dance

Created and cheoreographed as the end to our May Crowning of Mary by my eldest daughter, whose love of Tasha Tudor's books has been a great boon to our family.

While May lasts --

Sing of Mary, pure and lowly, virgin Mother undefiled
Sing of God's own Son most holy Who became her little Child.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Summer colors: Blue and Green

I do a polychrome palette for my home (a little decorator lingo, there), as opposed to the trendy modern way of using mainly neutrals with one or two accent colors. My three favorite colors, which predominate in my home and in my wardrobe, are red, blue, and green (you can see the red and green I love in the fabric sample on my right sidebar). I love living with these colors. In the winter, I tend to use more red, but as the weather gets hotter, I gravitate instinctively towards green and blue. They're the colors of the outdoors - green leaves, blue sky -- and seem cool and restful to me. For fun, I made a "clothing collage" the other day of some greens and blues. Enjoy, and stay cool!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Novena to the Holy Spirit Starts Today

The "original" novena starts today. I was delighted to learn a few years ago that the whole concept of the "novena," nine days of intercessory prayer, came from the nine days between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost. You can find a traditional Pentecost novena here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Vintage First Communion Veil

My daughter received her First Communion a few weeks ago, and once again I had a guardian angel to thank for providing for her. My second daughter is quite the fashionista in the family, and while I had micromanaged my first daughter's First Communion outfit, my second daughter had her own very adamant ideas of what she wanted. It was clear she, being built like Audrey Hepburn, wouldn't fit into her older sister's dress. But she didn't say anything until she spottted a vintage lace dress in an antique mall as we were browsing: "Mom, I could wear this for my first communion!" The lady was charmed by her, and promptly dropped the price five dollars. Of course, the problem with many vintage dresses is that they're so tiny. No problem there: the dress fitted my petite daughter perfectly. So we bought it for $15.00.

But what to do for a veil? My oldest daughter's super-white veil wouldn't work, and my second daughter decidedly wanted a crown. Then the next day, I happened to be discussing First Communion matters with another mom, and I asked her where I could find a crown veil. "Oh, I have one that I wore when I was a little girl," she said. "But your daughter will be wearing it," I said. "Actually, no - her dress was too white. The crown is vintage, so of course it's a little off-white. Would your daughter want to borrow it? Why don't you take it home just to see if it matches?"

And of course, it matched the dress perfectly. And my daughter loved it. Thank you, Susan! Thank you, Guardian Angels!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

From a Reader: Toy Storage Ideas

I wanted to share this email from a few weeks ago from a blog reader (sorry this took me so long, Kira! Thank you!). She shows how you can corral the sometimes hopeless mess of baby toys without hassles. I really love the baby toy shelf in the second picture, by the way.

These are some pictures of how we are arranging our toys for our daughter. My father made all the honey colored furniture for us and we purchased the dark piece at walmart. I only put a few toys out at a time and then rotate them (I keep the toys we have put away in a small white armoire in her bedroom (we share a bedroom with her, but it is set up as a 'nursery' for her and we just keep our clothes in a walk in closet). It works pretty well for us!

I've been enjoying your blog!

Kira Mello

Monday, May 14, 2007

Random Moment of Beauty: Old Wood

We finally cleaned up all the construction mess around our house, and one thing Andrew did was stack all the old wood we collected during rennovation and construction. Some of this will be going into the new addition, hopefully making it look older and more part of the original house. The rough muted colors of blue, red, and the natural golds and grays caught my eye as I passed by at sunset. The low light didn't allow for a very good photo, but you can still see the colors in the dimness.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Before: Porch

I'm going to try sprucing up our front porch now that we have all the siding up on the house. Here's a picture of the porch last month, before we put up the black trim. I'll try to track my progres on this project here, since we're taking a hiatus from finishing the house interior. So this is the "before" picture. Unfortunately, my daughter is too cute to be featured in a real "before" picture (which should be black and white, drab, and blurry). At least she's only wearing one shoe. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Beautiful Functionality

Sometimes just the right piece of furniture solves so many problems. For instance, we have a small bathroom, and I needed a place to store diapers there. And the kids needed a way to reach the sink. I used to store the diapers in a big picnic basket, and the kids had a bulky plastic stepstool. But two objects on the floor in one small room wasn't working, and I longed to get rid of the plastic stool. Then, one happy day on a trip to the craft store, I spotted this inexpensive unfinished wooden box with a hinged lid. The label called it a toy chest, but I took it home, varnished it, and now it's our diaper storage/step stool. And when the lid is closed, it just looks like a beautiful little chest. I love it!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Signs of Hope

After years of living in whitewashed churches, it can be depressing to stare at the blank walls and abstract art and wonder what sort of decorations have been obliterated in the name of spartan simplicity. But in our parish, young artists have finally found some employment: our pastor, Fr. Edward Hathaway, hired two aspiring female painters, Mandy Hain and Michelle Scheibel, to redecorate our Eucharistic chapel, a historic Gothic chapel that underwent a monochrome rennovation in beige and brown sometime in the 70's. After weeks of Lenten working, creating faux marble finishes on the walls, gilding the soaring beams overhead and painstakingly applying elaborate stencils, the artists finished on Holy Thursday, in time for the Tridduum. During the restoration, our pastor replaced the sterile wood resin Mary with this hundred-year-old marble Madonna, and he has plans for the stained glass windows as well.

It is breathtaking to see how beauty has been brought back to this holy space. And a sign of hope for the cause of beauty in the American Catholic Church.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Best Days

The best days
aren't worth counting.
They go by without notice
or event, an easy shuffle between brain songs
and ladder marks on the sides of houses.

- David Craig, from "The Apprentice in His Groove"

Ain't it the truth. Enjoy the work of the spring.