Friday, January 31, 2014

Random Moment of Beauty: Vintage Afghan

A "random moment of beauty" is a post which features something I see in my day-to-day housework which catches my eye and makes me pause and just wonder at it, and reflect. In this case, there is a story behind the moment.

When deep-cleaning my room the other day, I decided to wash the vintage afghan which I have had on my window seat for years (I believe I've posted it on my blog before, but it wasn't fully visible). It was crocheted of pure wool in the 1960s, and this was the first time I had ever dared to wash it. When it came out of the wash, the colors were so bright and unfaded I just sat for a while and looked at them, as though seeing them for the first time.

You see, I've seen this afghan all my life long, since I was an infant. It belonged to my father, who kept it on his bed for years. He had received it as a gift when he was in the hospital recovering from his Vietnam war injuries. It was made specially for him by a kind older lady who wanted to do something to show her appreciation for a young soldier who had just lost his leg in the service of his country. She also knitted him a Christmas stocking, which he later gave to me, his first child, and which I still use every Christmas.

When the afghan became fragile with age, my mother packed it in a chest, and years later, after I married, I found it and asked to have it. For a long time I kept it in a cedar chest of my own, but I finally decided to take it out and use it in on a bedroom window seat which is out of the traffic-ways of our busy home.

All these years, it has been a thing of beauty that I never really noticed, and it still is. I wish I knew the name of the lady who made it. Her act of kindness is a gift that has kept on giving throughout the years.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reorganized Office

I had to do some photography this morning, and I thought I would take a picture of my recently-reorganized office. We installed shelves made by The Strong Oaks Woodshop, but not on my side of the office. However, this allowed me to have more space on my desk, which is now beneath the round "Hobbit window," our single splurge when we built the addition some years ago.

Yesterday's trip to the Salvation Army yielded some office enhancements for the princely sum of $3.65: wooden document trays, a little red metal tub for correspondence, and curtain panels, two for a dollar.  I love the salvaged lamp with shade spray-painted brown by my daughter, the picture of Blessed John Paul which the Pope sent to us from the Vatican in 1994 in response to receiving our wedding invitation, and baskets and tins of small toys to entertain my children when they make official visits (every 45 minutes or so). 

A close perusal of the desk (click on the photo to see) might inform the viewer that I have yet to correct typos on Rapunzel Let Down (in anticipation of the hardcover edition) or another manuscript, that I am revising our wholesale catalog, as well as revealing my source of inspiration for our website redesign. The black cat speakers do not work as well as I hoped, but I have a hard time surrendering them. 

And of course, there is always a cup of tea close at hand. (The biscotti are on the other side of the computer.)  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Little Good Shepherd

This year's Christmas centerpiece, the children and I tried something ambitious and made sheep out of wooden blocks covered with fleece, and a little Baby Jesus to guard them. 

While the Christ Child Shepherd was a bit more complex and I'm not sure if I could replicate him, I wanted post a short tutorial on how we made the sheep, which was quite fun and led to a quite finished product. You can click it to enlarge. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

House Art Journal Now on Pinterest!

As some of you have noted with delight, I've had time to post more often on House Art Journal these days, and today I spent some time updating forms and links, and I decided to open up a House Art Journal board on Pinterest.  Now all of my photos should be pinnable, and I hope it will make the journal entries easier to share and organize!

I went through several years of House Art Journal and pinned the posts I believe you all found most interesting to the board, so hopefully you will find it easy to find older articles you enjoyed, and newer readers can enjoy getting filled in on older posts.

Once again, I want to thank all of you readers who have encouraged me in this "occasional project" throughout the years, and who have been kind enough to express your delight that I am once again able to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes.  Thank you, and enjoy sharing!

Healthier Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate is the traditional drink served after outdoor playtime on snow days, but moms like me sometimes find it problematic, since American hot chocolate is really high in sugar. After all, sugar lowers the immune system, and is that what my child truly needs, especially after exposure to frigid temperatures?  Why not a vitamin boost along with something naturally healthy, like milk?  Here's one strategy that our family has used for several winters, and I'm happy to share it, even though it represents a significant exception to my preference for whole foods and my avoidance of brand names!

Several years ago, I was grocery-shopping with my husband, who is a label-reader when he has time to indulge in the practice. I wanted to get some baking chocolate to make the low-sugar hot chocolate mix (similar to this one) we used to make from scratch. He began by comparing prices on powdered chocolate and then began inspecting labels of various products, going back and forth between several aisles while I wondered what in the world he was doing. Finally, he announced to me that from now on, instead of buying chocolate mix ingredients, we were going to buy Ovaltine. "Look at all these vitamins!" he said, "And you can't beat the value!" So we began a stealth campaign to convince our younger kids that hot chocolate was actually Ovaltine -- and it worked marvelously.

So ever since that year, our family has made hot chocolate mix by mixing Ovaltine with powdered milk. Until this year, when we bought a milk cow. Now we just mix a bare half-teaspoon of Ovaltine in a little child's mug of fresh milk and warm it on the stove or in the microwave for 44 seconds. It has become our breakfast staple. This Christmas my husband conspired with one of our former little children, now a teen, to buy all three kinds of Ovaltine as a family Christmas present, and our kids enjoyed trying the different flavors. It tastes great with a candy-cane stir-stick too for a snowy-day treat. 

I hadn't quite realized how much we had changed our children's palate until I overheard the five-year-old conferring with her older sister about the holiday packet of cinnamon hot chocolate Baby Jesus had left in her stocking. "It's way too sweet," the five-year-old informed her older sister. "So when you make it, just put in a tiny teency bit, okay? Then fold it up and save the rest for later."  I think she made that one-serving packet of hot chocolate last a week, and now she is happily back to drinking Ovaltine

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Season of Little Christmas

Our family calls the days between Epiphany and Candlemas the season of "little Christmas."  During the days of Little Christmas, we still sing Christmas carols before morning prayers, wear red sweaters (my husband continues to sport  his Santa Claus hat), nurse along the Christmas tree if it's still thriving (this year's spruce is still going strong), and enjoy our Nativity scene and festive garlands. 

Baby Jesus remains the center of Little Christmas. The several images of Him around the house, such as this one owned by the little girls, bring Him to mind, reminding us yet again that The Lord of all Creation was a tiny child who waved tiny hands in the air, nursed and needed changing, was cold and sometimes cried, and many times smiled at the wonders around Him... And yet was still God. This little God, so great in His smallness, could be carried about and cuddled by another child, the very children He had made... The mysteries go on and on. So as the dark days of winter continue, we in our family are grateful for little Jesus, and the small lights of little Christmas.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Happy Cat Drinking Cream

The other day, I spotted one of our cats, Hotaru (his name is Japanese for 'firefly,' and it suits him!), helping himself to the cream pitcher. Since the cream is from our own cow, I can understand his enjoyment. I was also fortunate to have my phone on hand to record his somewhat covert theft for posterity.

Hotaru is the friendliest and most playful cat in our home, the Black Cat Inn. He literally wears a "heart" on his sleeve (his black shoulder spot is in the shape of a heart) and he tends to spread joy wherever he stalks.

Living Thrift the Jane Austen Way

Last year I was delighted to receive this book, Jane Austen's Guide to Thrift as a gift and after many leisurely hours reading it, I finished it last night and can pronounce it a very fun read. Written by Jane Austen aficionados Kathleen Anderson and Susan Jones, this book has a plenitude of good advice for living elegantly on small budget, how gracious manners can augment a limited income, and many other useful snippets for finding bargains and creating beauty. The enjoyable part of the book is that most of the chapters are written from the viewpoints of some of Jane's most memorable characters. For instance, Catherine Morland of Northhanger Abbey has advice on how to be a good traveler and houseguest, Lizzie's youngest sister Lydia Bennett from Pride and Prejudice is queried for advice on fashion bargains, Lucy Steele of Sense and Sensbility has sharp advice of investments, and even Mrs. Norris of Mansfield Park is praised for her perspicuity in seizing a good deal, although she is rightly chastised for her busybody-ness.

I recommend this book to all lovers of Jane Austen, and I have to mention I particularly admire the creative paper-art cover by Natasha Molotkova, which made this book a welcome companion on my bedside bookshelf. I also credit this book for making me pick up my copy of Mansfield Park, which I had never read, and launching me on a most enjoyable read. And that's a wonderful thing for a book by Austen-lovers to inspire.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Random Moment of Beauty: Washing Lampshades

In am attempt to curb my dust allergies which are troubling me during the winter season of indoor living, I decided to deep-clean my bedroom, and finally gathered up the courage to wash my lampshades. I had been afraid they would be ruined by dousing them in a bath of mild detergent but behold! They survived and are drying nicely on strings over the tub.

Admiring their beauty even in this temporary setting reminds me once more of the importance of having even the most practical components of your house be things you believe to be beautiful. It encourages in you the poverty of taking care of what you have instead of tossing it in favor of something new. It discourages unhealthy updating, and brings about contentment and gratitude. I still remember picking out the red checked shades at Target years ago, and they still bring me joy.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

For Goodness Soap

I wanted to share one of my favorite products with you - homemade laundry detergent from, made by a local mom with tons of care and professionalism. She has many other useful products including bar shampoo (yes, you read that correctly!), and luscious hand soaps, plus tips on how to make your own bug spray and window cleaner. My favorite product so far is the Clean Simply laundry detergent, made with Castille soap and lavender scent. Enjoy browsing her site!