Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Catechism from Apple Harvest

A catechism-of-life lesson I tend to give my children when we go fruit picking is,

"What does this tree tell us about God?"

When He says He will look after our needs, how does He do this? Is He sparing, giving us only what we need? Or is He generous? Does He give us far more than we could possibly ever need

The children look at the branches heavily laden with fruit, and at the fruit scattered everywhere on the ground, so much that you can barely walk without stepping on one, and they conclude

"He is generous!"


Monday, October 29, 2007

Fall Breakfast: sausage and apples

My husband is our breakfast cook on the weekends, and one of his specialties is sausages cooked with apples. Simply fry the sausage in a covered pan on low heat, covered with sliced apple rings and sprinkled with brown sugar, until the apples are soft and the sausage is cooked through. We indulged a few weeks ago: here is one small portion with a buttered scone and cup of tea.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Celebrating the Lord's Day

Following my upbringing in a charismatic covenant community, our family does "Celebrating the Lord's Day" prayers before and after the Saturday night and Sunday night meals. A sort of combination of the Liturgy of the Hours Evening I and II prayers and the Jewish Sabbath prayers, it's a tradition we retained when we drifted away from regular charismatic expression. I love the simple ritual of it, and the aura of solemnity it always gives our Sunday evening dinners.

We made our own booklets out of parchment printer paper, as you can see. To make your own, you can download a PDF of the prayers here. And here is a page that gives some additional links.

(Note: Blogger seems determined to blog these URLs for some reason. So here are the direct links:
The PDF is http://sos-nar.com/Lord's%20Day%20Materials/Celebrate.pdf
And http://sos-nar.com/lord's_day.htm is the additional resources link. Cut and paste them into your browser window if you have to!)

My daughter created our fall centerpiece out of a hollowed-out log she found in the woods while she and her father and brothers were cutting firewood for the winter. And I'd also like to show off my latest acquisition of Sunday Silver: the covered dish I found at a thrift store for about six dollars. :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Clothing Organization part 6: And So It Goes...

Filling out the final categories, casual clothes, turned out to be the hardest for me, because I have a lot of casual shirts. Plus we're still in the middle of "warm fall strangeness" and it hasn't yet become cold enough for me, in Virginia, to definitively put away my tank tops (I'm wearing one now). And there is the matter of my still-expanding pregnant waistline, which makes negotiating the lower half of the wardrobe tricky. So I cheated on the 35-item system - for now. Once the cold weather goes in, I shall banish the final remnants of the summer wardrobe and hopefully will report on having 35 pieces alone in my closet!

Thanks to those of you who read and enjoyed this series: many of you raised questions I'm still pondering: including how to apply this to young children. I think I may do that soon: my toddlers have too many clothes right now. I used to have a system in place when I had two children, but I let that fall by the wayside. When I revisit the question, I promise to post about it.

In the meantime, I'd like to get back to posting about fall and the upcoming holidays!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Clothing Organization part 5: Dress-up clothes

To me, one of the funnest parts of being a woman is being able to dress up. I thank God I am not a man, forced to wear a suit and tie as the only socially acceptable way to celebrate. So even though the life of a housewife might not seem as glamorous as the life of a socialite or executive, I enjoy having some nice things in the till for a night out on the town. And even Sunday Mass, that weekly celebration of a more celestial sort, provides time for adornment.

So, continuing on with the organization, my job was now to cut down my fall Sunday wardrobe to seven pieces of clothing. Fortunately this wasn't too hard this time around: staples for Sunday dress-up for me include my black wool suit (Talbots and going strong!) which fortunately still fits a pregnant figure, and a white silk blouse. I'd purchased a blue print skirt-and-blouse set on clearance (mostly to match a favorite vintage purse) and I can mix and match the suit and that set quite nicely. I also included a brown 80's suit that I pulled out of a giveaway bag which I thought I'd have fun wearing this fall. And it matched the boat-neck print shirt I still had from high school.

Since taking this photo, I can no longer fit into the brown suit, (third trimester pregnancy kicking in!) so I'm having to overhaul the Sunday wardrobe yet again... Actually I find I'm borrowing items from other categories to wear on Sundays because I'm just so big...

For *real* dress-up, I keep a couple of shiny, glitzy things on hand. I'm the type of person who's always thought that velvet was the most beautiful fabric in the entire world, and I've been enjoying the recent comeback of sparkly fabrics to the fashion scene. My dress-up wardrobe includes two long gowns - one for pregnancy and one for being much thinner :), both of which I have packed away, since there are no glamorous occasions in my near future. For the occasional night out at a nice place, I rely on some basic pieces that I can match with black.

My mom handed me down the blue-and-brown glittering cardigan (a pressure purchase, she admitted, that she's never worn, which is now my boon) that matches with the brown nursing dress from the Everyday Mass category. And the silver-trimmed black silk cardigan (luxury) and velveteen maternity top I pulled from a friend's giveaway bag. The cranberry top will probably come in handy for Christmastime too. I found the shiny sleevelss cowl at a thrift store. It's see-through but easy to layer over camisoles and under suits and sweaters.

To round off this category, I have a nice little black dress of a modest length, which didn't make these pictures, plus a brown dress (also unshown), plus some black maternity pants, which I'm relying on these days. Since I'm an accessories girl, I also rely heavily on some glamorous sequined scarves and jewelry to dress up a basic outfit. To me, that's more fun than storing several ritzy dresses in the closet.

To tell the truth, it was due to my husband's adamance several years ago that I finally gave up and cleaned out the bridesmaid's gowns and leftover college dance dresses that I had stored for years upon years, a process that was as painful to me as having a tooth extracted. But the reward was being able to buy fabric for and make the gown I mentioned earlier, which is my standby should I ever be invited to the White House Christmas party or something similarly magnificent. :) Although I can't fit into the gown now, I truly adore it, and one of these days I'll post a picture of it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Random Moment of Beauty: Baby and Cocoa

Just to post to say I really, really want to get back to posting my clothing series, but life has overwhelmed me just now. But I will get back to it, I promise!

In the meantime, hope you enjoy this picture of the baby enjoying hot chocolate milk on one of the rare cold mornings we've been having this fall.... (It's actually the Reliv chocolate supplement, but she thinks it's cocoa, and I don't mind!)

Friday, October 05, 2007

Clothing Organization part 4: Finding Daily Mass clothes

So -- now the challenge after ruthless paring down was to separate each of the remaining pieces of clothing (which still numbered way more than 35) into one of the five categories I'd determined: (see the circle chart below)

1. purple circle: dressing up, the 'glam' clothing
2. red circle: daily Mass and shopping or visiting
3. brown circle: yard work, super casual clothing
4. green circle: ordinary casual clothes for housework (not as casual as #3)
5. blue circle: Sunday Mass clothing

I started with the category of going to daily morning Mass, which right now I do three times a week, and I have this "thing" about not wearing pants to Mass. Like I said, I tend to use any excuse to dress up. If you check the chart below (and ignore how horribly I numbered it) you can see that I was trying to fill out this category by picking eight items that I could wear to daily Mass and for slightly dressy occasions, like visiting. Two of these items had to be able to be worn in other categories -- in this case, the dressy category and the more casual working category.

I started with a navy blue sheath, a purple tank dress, a brown nursing dress, and a vintage 70's dress that I wear once in a while for fun. The trick here is that I won't be able to wear some of these dresses for a while once I have the baby and start nursing, so this category is set to be in flux in the near future.

Then I paired the dresses with three new jackets I had just bought (one new on clearance, two from the thrift store) and an old one. I knew it would be best for me to keep only six of these items.

It was a nice surprise to discover the new pink light jacket matched the vintage dress. Hooray! The brown dress (from Motherwear) I'm keeping, though I'm irritated with it for being so low-cut. I always have to wear a camisole with it, and it's a real disappointment that something so expensive has turned out to be not as flexible as it seems. (I'm going to write to Motherwear about it.)

After trying on each outfit (and matching with shoes, scarves, etc.), I decided to eliminate the purple sundress, whose sandwashed silk I love but --well, on two different occasions when I wore it, my husband said, "Do you HAVE to wear that?" I guess it's just not flattering to my figure.

After some debate, I decided to keep the navy blue silk jacket but retire it to the back of the closet: after all, it's not its fault that dark blue has been out of style for the past few seasons. I know I look good in navy, and it's a basic piece, so I'll let it sit one more season.

Sadly, since I took this picture, the navy sheath dress was ruined in the wash. :( Although I could only have worn it for two more months, I miss it. But maybe I should start looking for a navy sheath nursing dress...
To fill out the eight items in the category, I put in this white sweater and the black silk shirt, both of which I can wear over these dresses. The silk shirt naturally overlaps with the "dressing up" purple circle but I admit it's more of a stretch to describe the white sweater as "super casual" (although I do wear it with jeans sometimes). Or should I have put the pink jacket in the super-casual overlap? Hmmm.... Tweaking the system, tweaking the system...
So -- down to eight items for circle #2 -- four circles and 27 items left to go!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Clothing Organization part 3: Detachment and Appreciation

The first part of organization is ineviably, paring down. And that brings with it the sometimes heartbreaking exercise of detaching yourself from things you once loved. (Yes, loved in the lower, materialistic sense, but nevertheless, loved.)

So, in my effort to cut down my wardrobe, I gathered all my clothes from off-season storage and the cranies of the laundry basket and heaped them on the bed. I did the same with all my accessories: purses, scarves, shoes, and jewelry. Then the winnowing began: ruthlessly purging the unfit: clothing that was stained or getting straggly, clothes that really didn't fit me except in my fantasies, clothes that I never got around to wearing, and so on. Then I further winnowed out the remaining spring and summer clothes (farewell blue and green, till summer when we meet again!) as well any clothes that won't fit my third-trimester-pregnant figure. Also excised were maternity clothes from the last baby that were just too worn or out of style.

I continue to ponder how some expensive garments really do last longer than cheaper ones: a red sweater turtleneck I begged my husband to buy me despite the price is still going strong and unstained, while an nearly-identical blue one of a cheaper brand has become dingy beyond repair, and I sadly retired it. I know that not everything expensive is well-made: but figuring out further criteria is difficult...

I had to make a special post of this particular shirt, which I sewed in high school. When I was about seventeen, I walked into a fabric store, beheld a fountain of patterned green-and-plum flowers on a background of palest pink, and fell instantly in love. I approached, I dug out the price tag -- and flinched. But before I left the store, I gathered my courage, put down the earnings from my waitressing job, and bought three yards of the floral challis, while cringing at the price. That evening I sewed it into a boat-necked, loose-fitting shirt. I still remember how easily the fabric yielded to being cut, folded, and sewn. And it was beautiful. I loved it. I kept it in the back of the closet, and pulled it out for special occasions and fun occasions. I wore it to dances with patent leather heels and a black satin poufy skirt. I wore it to church with a forest green sweater and plum skirt (ah, the colors of the 90's). I wore it with maternity jumpers, matched it with different shades of green and burgundy and purple, and it always worked with black. I just wore it yesterday with black maternity pants and mj shoes.

And the shirt still looks fresh and intriguing and not discernibly dated, even after nearly a decade of use. How often can you say that, especially about a homemade sewing project?

So in a burst of anthropomorphic sentiment, I want to honor this shirt with its own picture and congratulate it on surviving yet another round of wardrobe reductions. And despite the fact that I'm nearly twenty years and six pregnancies older, I rejoice that it still fits me. :)

This reminds me again how Catholic life and love is such a delicate balance between appreciation and detachment. The Catholic soul feels free to delight in the sheerly material: in the color and texture and sheen and grace of fine fabrics and leathers and jewelry.

And yet we understand that even the dearest treasures need to be set gently but firmly in their place: when they come between us and God, or our husbands and children, or our friends and family, or the needs of our poorer neighbors, or even if they are simply interfering with our ability to handle our duties more efficiently -- we need to decide in favor of the higher good.

But as usual, the apparent conflict can become a paradox: complete detachment can peacefully co-exist with complete appreciation.

As an example, this morning my pastor spoke warmly of the beauty of fine, classic clothing -- this from a man who never wears more than a simple black cassock! But even though he himself had detached himself from this particular kind of earthly concern, he could understand how it occupies so much of the mental energy of his female parishioners -- and could applaud the results.

So the struggle goes on -- but sometimes it's worth remembering as you fight to give away that special blue turtleneck that is, nevertheless, stained in a conspicuous place -- that the goal isn't puritan spartanism, but freedom to love the beautiful more fully.

More later...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

No Matter What Happens, Blessed Be His Name

Forgive this intrusion into the Clothes Organization series, but I thought it might be of interest to some...

This past summer, I gave a talk called "No Matter What Happens, Blessed Be His Name" at the Midwest Catholic Family Conference. It was the first time that I spoke about losing our son, Joshua Michael, in public. It was a hard talk to give, but I'm told that it helped people in the audience who were going through their own bouts with suffering. In the talk, I retell the Biblical story of Job and share how I found that God's story about suffering had real applicability to what our family experienced.

I just found out that the talk is available on CD from St. Joseph Communications for $7.00. To order, call Monica at 1800-526-2151, ext. #413. Or, you can email her at monica@saintjoe.com. The item number for the talk is #MWCFC07-CDM#8.

Clothing Organization part 2: Back to the Drawing Board

Thanks for the encouragement, all!

So, in the effort to pare down my thrift store wardrobe, I spent about a week trying to come up with a template that would work for me.

It had to be specific, because my wardrobe is no ordinary set of clothing. No indeed, it is specially tailored to the tastes of one person in particular: my husband Andrew.

Andrew likes two kinds of clothing on me: polished, simple, Audrey-Hephburn style clothing in strong colors and soft textures, and totally casual farm clothing like checked shirts and jeans. No prints, no muted or muddy colors, nothing too dramatic or too flouncy. Just simple, cute clothes. At least that's what his taste has currently evolved to this season.

Of course, Andrew's never actually come out and told me this. Are you kidding?

No, this is based on thirteen years of careful research, note-taking, and stealth inquiry. Because as most women can tell you, men are rarely forthcoming about what they like in clothing, and the question, "What do you think of this shirt?" posed to a man while dangling it in front of him on a hanger is generally met with a blank stare.

Research generally takes the form of careful observation of body language and raised eyebrows, along with meticulously recording any spontaneous and generous compliment, both of which are rare. I've found that compliments that were solicited: ie: "How do you like this outfit?" are generally unhelpful or insincere.

*SO* the wardrobe is an evolving, highly personal project designed for the tastes of one man.

Years ago, I tried basing my wardrobe on seven outfits, which didn't quite work out. But for some Catholic-based reason, I find it hard to abandon the number seven. After all, there are seven days in a week. So, this year, I tried to base this around the five sorts of clothing I own, used for five basic activities.

1. Going out for formal evenings or for fun, when I tend to dress up in something glamorous.
2. Going to church on Sunday, which requires nice clothing, but nothing really glitzy.
3. Working around the house, writing and doing homeschooling.
4. Working in the yard or doing messier housework.
5. Going to daily Mass or out shopping or visiting

I made each activity a "circle" as you can see above, and allocated myself seven pieces of clothing for each circle. Of course, there's some overlap between circles, so as you can see, I have five pieces of clothing that count in two circles.

Now, I find I tend to dress up more than other moms: maybe it's my Italian background that dictates that real women are never caught dead in public without jewelry and makeup (I follow the first, not the second rule). Maybe it's that I still prefer skirts to jeans, though I currently own no jean skirts. And I wear sneakers only for going to the gym or doing construction work. Yes, I tend to homeschool and go grocery shopping while wearing flats, a skirt, and earrings. Maybe it's the "home executive" mentality that's rubbed off on me. I just feel better about myself when I dress up, and my husband has no toleration for denim jumpers and country calicos.

A few years ago when I had my fashion style evaluated by the very fun and very useful Catholic apostolate Elegance in Style, I found I'm the owner of a rather plump hour-glass shaped figure who looks best in a Winter palette with some browns, and my general style is romantic-dramatic (as opposed to classic or casual, both of which I find boring).

After I drew up my circles, I now had the job of justify the continued ownership of each piece of clothing by allocating it to one of the circles. Next post I'll try to show how I did this.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Beginning Clothes Organization...

The change of seasons brings about the inevitable changing of the wardrobe. I'm forever trying to come up with some organizational model for reining in the amount of clothing in my closet. About a decade ago, I first formulated the plan known as the Seven-Dress wardrobe, (also known as Liturgical Dressing) which worked well - for a while! But I confess I found it hard to maintain such a minimalist approach to dressing, and age took its toll on both my figure and my ability to regularly sew myself a new wardrobe.

Now, some ten years after writing the above article, I'm back to my old standby: thrift store dressing, and for some reason, keeping up with the fashion scene has become more important to me as I age. But when you shop constantly at thrift stores and through bags of hand-me-downs, wardrobes have a way of ballooning out of proportion just as much the closets of those who hit the mall every Saturday. I still find myself in need of a template, a directive for how much is enough, and how much is ... too much.

So the field experiment in simple dressing goes on with variations and missteps, and I thought I'd post an update. I don't think I have any terribly new insights, but I thought I'd share my struggle in these next few posts, which at the very least should be entertaining: ongoing posts in the battle to find beauty and order in the modern realm of fashion...