Posts tagged ‘Home’

10
November 14, 2011 | Featured 2, Memoir, Monday 1, Mr Lady, Nonfiction

Saying Goodbye

{By Megan of Undomestic Diva}

Today is one of those days – one of many recent and one of many more to come – where life’s new twists and turns have me walking out the door of several years of fond memories and unthought of heartache towards a future of Who Knows.

undomestic_diva_doorway

It isn’t a fancy place, this house. And while smaller than many, it was enough; certainly more than many others hope for and at the end of the day it wasn’t just stucco and wood and cement and shingles – it was our home.

This is the house that broke us, in many ways, though of course it’s not only to blame – not one single thing is. But it was also the house of much happiness – where two of the three boys were born, where many Halloweens and birthdays and summers were spent, where Easter eggs were hidden and found, where dinners were concocted and birthday cakes created, where oranges were picked and eaten in the yard, where swingsets were built and ignored, where gardens were planted and bloomed, where Christmas trees sat (and fell), where life moved at a speed quicker than we could register  – all inside these walls that were being fixed and patched and painted as we fell apart.

I slowly circle one more time in the living room. It still feels oddly full, even in its bareness. Though the smell of cardboard boxes and laundered clothes and nostalgia has left in trucks and U-Hauls, a vaguely familiar scent remains – the way the house smelled the day we got the keys – of vacancy and emptiness. It sinks in. The truth is, this house didn’t break us. We did. And this house isn’t haunted. We are.

It’s hard to fathom that I’m taking one last look around our house and leaving it to go to my house. The newness of everything is jarring and yet exciting and the adventure of it all has its moments of hope and its share of fear.

I shut the door. I pause on the porch step, taking in this very moment, soaking in this change like sunlight on my skin, breath in my lungs. There’s nothing left here for me anymore. Today is another reminder of moving onward, this time, literally. I remind myself: A house is a house but a home is what you make it so I have not just packed our clothes and photographs and books and toys but our memories too. They, though the heaviest of all the things to carry, are the easiest to move.

Megan is many things…an incredibly talented writer, a doting mother, a California girl and a photographer I’ve personally admired for many years.  Read the original post here, then follow her journey by subscribing to her personal blog through RSS or Networked Blogs. Follow her on Twitter, like her on Facebook, and circle her on Google + for charm, wit and loads of amazing pictures.

Featured by story editor  Shannon | @mrlady

3

It may be hard to pronounce, but it’s delicious to eat!

Food Blog Nosh Magazine{Originally Posted at Chaos in the Kitchen}

We don’t make many casseroles in the Chaos household. I have nothing against them but the kids don’t eat well when their food is all mixed up together. This is one of the few casseroles that I do make. It is like a lasagna in that it is not a quick, one dish meal-it requires making different things then assembling the final dish, but it isn’t difficult and it makes a TON. I usually take the opportunity to divide this into two smaller casseroles then I store one in the freezer for another night. The great thing is leftovers are just as wonderful, and you will have plenty of them.


This is another Greek dish that I cannot vouch for its authenticity. I will tell you though not to freak out about the cinnamon stick. It is not like putting ground cinnamon in the dish-please don’t do that!-it just imparts a subtle warm, richness to the beef. Honestly I can’t taste it at all, the meat just tastes meatier. Daddy Chaos says he can taste it but not enough to freak him out, he told the kids it was Christmas meat.

I love pastitsio. The meat sauce is flavorful and rich and the bechamel covered noodles are light and creamy. The edges get chewy and browned-a requirement for any good casserole. Try this for the first time on a chilly weekend when cooking and baking seem like the perfect afternoon activity and I promise you’ll be hooked after the first bite.

Pastitsio

serves 12, prep 1 hour, cook time 2 hours

Meat Sauce

Pasta

Bechamel Sauce

  1. Prepare meat sauce first. Heat oil in a large skillet and add onion. Cook until softened and add garlic.
  2. Add meat and cook until browned, breaking up chunks with a wooden spoon. Add remaining meat sauce ingredients, mix and simmer one hour, covered.
  3. While meat sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil then salt generously and add pasta.
  4. Cook pasta to al dente, drain and return to the cooled pot. With the heat off, stir in butter, milk, eggs and cheese. Set aside.
  5. Prepare bechamel sauce by melting butter over medium high heat in a large sauce pan or medium pot. Whisk in flour and cook for several minutes, whisking smooth, do not allow the roux to scorch.
  6. Slowly add milk, whisking constantly until thickened. If your milk is cool and sauce seems thin, bring to a boil stirring constantly then remove from heat once thick. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  7. Beat 3 eggs in a medium bowl for bechamel sauce: slowly add sauce to beaten eggs, being careful to keep from curdling the eggs. I usually start by tempering the eggs, that is I dip my whisk in the hot sauce then whisk those drops into the eggs, then continue doing this a few times before attempting to slowly dribble about a 1/4 cup of sauce into the bowl.  Once you’ve gotten about that much successfully incorporated, you can go ahead and slowly add the rest.
  8. Remove the cinnamon stick from the meat, allow sauce to cool slightly and prepare casserole dishes.
  9. Grease a large lasagna pan or two medium casserole dishes with oil then construct pastitsio by layering: pasta mixture, meat sauce, more pasta mixture. Finish by covering with bechamel and sprinkling grated Parmesan over the top.
  10. Bake casserole at 350°F for approximately 45 min to 1 hour until bechamel is set and golden. I bake two casseroles and remove one at about 30 minutes. Allow it to cool then cover in plastic wrap then foil and place in the freezer for another dinner.
  11. Once casserole is nicely browned on top, remove from oven and allow to rest 20 minutes.
  12. Clean up kitchen, prepare steamed veggies or salad, then cut pastitsio into squares and serve.

Editor’s pick from Christine at byflutter : Katie over at Chaos in the Kitchen makes the impossible look simple. Her food is delicious, creative leaves me drooling with every post. This post is about a wonderful casserole, Pastitsio. Looking for something to make for 2 or 20? Give this recipe a try. It is gooey and simple enough for kids to enjoy, but is a far cry from the same old mac n cheese. Visit Katie’s wonderful blog, or subscribe here.

1

The First Pea

Green Living Blog Nosh Magazine{Originally published on The Green Phone Booth!}

Stretching up to my chin, the trim green leaves blotted out the dirt, the borage that really did reseed itself, the dormant foxglove and even the wide stepping stones we put in last fall. A plump green pea pod stood in contrast against the grey March sky. I reached over and gently tugged it from the vine. White flowers, I noted. Shelling pea. The purple flowers were for snap peas and I let the kids get those. But no one was touching my shelling peas.

Sitting on the porch steps, I pried open the pod. Seven tiny peas lined up like clothes in a tween’s closet. Popping them in my mouth, one by one, I realized that I should have waited until the pod was a bit fuller. I also realized that I had a lot of work to do.

It is March and the garden waits for no one. Not even a mom consumed with school volunteer programs and parcel tax campaigns. I shuffled through the envelopes I’d set out on the bench earlier. Pretty packages of pink and green spilled out. Zinnias. Ice box watermelon. Amish pie pumpkin. Potato runner beans. My hopes and dreams for the summer. My homemade meals for the winter.

In years past, spring marched through the garden with neither pomp nor circumstance. The green lawn stretched out sleepily as in winter or summer. The daisies perhaps a bit perkier. The dearth of bees and sparrows rarely varied with the months. The gardeners came through with a bit more regularity perhaps. March never triggered a flurry of activity before. The urgent need to tie back the passion fruit vine, the “o” of surprise when a toad or ladybugs overwintered in the cover crop, the pink blueberry buds peeking out from autumn’s leaves that, neglected, decomposed in the planting beds.

As I sat on my front steps, surrounded by seed packets and dreams, I realize that living this way is a lot more work. I cannot rely on a gardener to mow and blow through my yard once a week. In fact, that gardener and, with him an $80 monthly expense, is long gone. No one will cut down the cover crop and drag it to the compost bin but me. I’m the only one who will take the time – while the kids are in gymnastics class – to sketch out the yard, the open planting spaces, consult Carrots Love Tomatoes, and figure out just where to put the carrots and the tomatoes, the peppers and the potatoes too. When seeds need to be planted or weeds retrieved, it will be my hands that become dirty and chapped. When the grape vine needs to be trained over the trellis or the pomegranate tree transplanted, the responsibility will fall on me. But I’ll also get the first picked pea of the season.

It is a lot more work than a lawn and some benign daisies. Easing that last little pea out of the pod and into my mouth, I look out at next summer’s garden. It’s more work but worth every bite.

The First Pea

Editor’s pick by Leighann of Multi-Minding Mom: As an avid gardener and lover of eloquent writing, I am amazed at Michelle MacKenzie’s (AKA Green Bean of Green Bean Dreams) ability to express the bond between the gardener and her land. Her post The First Pea is a wonderful description of the effort and reward of growing your own. Subscribe to the Green Phone Booth! feed as well as Green Bean Dreams feed and follow Michelle on Twitter.

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The messy organizing freak: split personality or charming quirk?

House and Home Blog Nosh Magazine{Originally posted on Diary of an Unlikely Housewife.}

For someone so unadept at keeping house, I am surprisingly (some might say annoyingly) neurotic about organizing.

My computer files are organized in folders, sub-folders, sub-subfolders, so are my favorites. My spices are in alphabetical order, with the spice mixes all on one side, separate from the single spices. When I do my grocery shopping I place all produce in one bag, all frozen foods in a separate bag, all refrigerated foods in a third bag and all dry, canned and packaged foods in a fourth. And if I buy any beauty products or toiletries, they go in a small paper bag inside the dry foods bag.

Now, to me this just makes sense, because it makes putting stuff away a piece of cake, and avoiding leaving something that goes in the fridge at the bottom of a bag with dry stuff in it. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m weird. I am messy, I have to actually force myself to put things away every now and then just so I’ll be able to find them again, but if anyone helps me put stuff away, they HAVE to put it exactly where it belongs or it irritates me to no end. I should be thankful for any help I can get, right? Instead I prefer having no help to having to move things to the places where I think they belong.

My poor husband, who has been putting up with me for 11 years (I do have some good traits, you know), after almost 2 years in this house still doesn’t totally get where everything goes when the dishwasher is unloaded or the groceries are put away. To me it’s very simple: the burgundy plates on one pile on the lower shelf – next to them the lavender plates and then the everyday white plates. The Chinese tea set, the bowls and the Mayan-inspired dinner set on the middle shelf, the white porcelain dinner set and Croatian coffee set on the top shelf obviously, because they are only used for special occasions. What is so difficult about that?

Or the arrangement of pots and pans in the kitchen: frying pans in one pile, pots with one long handle in another, pots with 2 short handles in a third; lids on the higher shelf, baking dishes in the other cabinet (on the opposite side of the kitchen).

I don’t know, to me there is a logic to all this – but I guess it isn’t apparent to everyone. My friend K. thinks this is where my Virgo personality shows up, my mom thinks I’m just concentrating on the wrong things and thinks that I’m neurotic just for doing a weekly menu and shopping list, but understands some of the organizing points (and questions others). The only one who understands me is my cool aunt Rox, except it has always been sort of an in-joke in the family, how high-maintenance she is because she wants her things just so – so I’m not sure that her support gains me any points.

Meanwhile, in my universe there is a technique to organize just about everything: kitchen cabinets, pantries, closets, drawers, office shelves, computer files… but when it comes to cleaning, my biggest accomplishments are more often done in form of very specific checklists, compiled and typed up, with check boxes and bulleted or numbered item lists – afterall, for a messy organizing freak like me, writing a list is almost as good as actually doing the stuff on it. So after all that typesetting is done, and my gorgeous checklist is ready and printed, I’m ready for a break – my new book and a cup of tea are waiting for me on the side table, right next to the comfy sofa where I have my pillows just so.

Being misunderstood can be very tiring.

Editor’s pick by Catnip at Catnip and Coffee. I just love Elisa’s writing at the Diary of an Unlikely Housewife, and this post made me feel like my own housekeeping quirks are so much more normal! She has just left New York to move to Switzerland but you can get to know her by subscribing to her feed and following her on twitter.

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this right now

Food Blog Nosh Magazine{Originally Published on Food Loves Writing}

Morning, and the kitchen is quiet, with sunlight streaming across the sink and onto the wood floors, and I pour coffee, grab my lunch, take my keys from the little basket by the door. There will be 20 minutes at least, between me and the office, along expressways of commuters, and I will look at them, talking on their phones, singing with their radios, glancing at their watches, before I park and walk inside, up stairs to my desk, to begin the work day, to talk with my coworkers and double-check spellings at Merriam-Webster and watch the geese fly past my window and onto the roof.

soup

5:30, and I’m getting in my car, like I’ve done so many times, and I’m stopping by the train station, like I do every day, and I’m walking in my front door, and I’m eating dinner, again. It’s spring here—when did spring come? Weren’t we just talking about fall and winter and how I hated the snow? The light lasts longer now, and the days are warmer, rainy. I take it all, eagerly, greedily, like it will never end.

You know, I’m only 26—I find myself throwing the only in there more and more, the way it’s inserted into excuses from guilty children like, I only skipped one homework assignment or I only said that because the other kids did. But as much as I know we are guaranteed nothing, in terms of time, in terms of living, I also know 26 is, usually, not a lot of life to have lived and, usually, it’s not enough time to warrant strong opinions or heavy reminiscing. But I do: I look at the moments around me—the way the grass looks when it’s wet, shiny with dew and fragrant with summer; how my mom makes me laugh when she does, when her mouth closes and her nose widens and her eyes slant, just slightly, as her body shakes, like her mother’s did; the kindness someone shows you when he carries in your bags, so you don’t have to—and I think, I am living this.

This, right here—the morning coffee and the conversation and the drive home in daylight to a cozy evening with a book and blankets—this is life, and it’s a gift, and I am living this.

jar

Sunday night, for my brother, I made this soup. He helped me remove shells from pistachios, unpopping their hard, tan skins and piling their green and purple bodies into a measuring cup, which reminded me of the biscotti I made, almost three years ago for a wedding, when my dad and I shelled bags of pistachios like clockwork on the sofa, for hours. And I chopped an onion and some celery and a clove of garlic, softening them all with a half a stick of butter in a big pot on the stove, and the smell was intoxicating, like music, buttery and fresh and sweet, the scent of Thanksgiving stuffing or a warm night at my grandma’s house. And we ate it, this creamy nutty soup, he and I, while we laughed about something I don’t remember now, in a way that’s everyday and not at all, and it was good.

Cream of Pistachio Soup

Adapted from CDKitchen.com

I have decided, now that it’s ending, that the redeeming part of winter is, without a doubt, soup. This version is pure creamy, savory comfort, with the taste of pistachios and just a tiny bit of crunch from the crushed nuts you sprinkle on top. It’s hot and soothing. It’s milky and nutty. It’s a nice way to spend an evening, especially with people you care about.

As far as the recipe proper, my biggest suggestion regards the broth. I was out, so I used bouillon cubes to make my own, and, although this worked, it made the results a little saltier than I’d prefer. Next time, I’d use a low-sodium broth from a can and just add salt to taste. Play with it, though. Let me know what works for you.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons dry sherry
6 cups regular-strength chicken broth (or 1 49.5-ounce can of chicken broth)
1/4 cup cooked white rice
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 cup heavy cream
Whole chives

Directions:
Rub off as much of the pistachio skins as possible, set nuts aside. In a large pan over medium heat, cook the onion, celery and garlic in the butter until onion is very limp but not brown, about 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add sherry, 3/4 cup of the pistachios, broth, rice and parsley. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until rice is tender to bite, about 25 minutes. In a blender or food processor (or using a stick blender), whirl soup, a portion at a time, until very smooth, pour through a wire strainer and discard residue. Return soup to pan.

Add cream to soup and stir over medium-low heat until hot, 5 to 7 minutes. Garnish servings with whole chives and sprinkle with the remaining pistachios.

Editor’s Pick from Samantha at Samanthics: She had me at dry sherry, but writer and self-taught chef Shannalee T’Koy, the blogger behind Food Loves Writing, plays upon both food and writing like sweet and savory. In Shanna’s self-described “literary food blog”, she “talks about food to talk about everything else, so that things make sense.” Food is her medium. I find that a beautiful way to communicate. Her blog is delicate but piercing. A love of eating, cooking and writing converge in her blog, expressed with awareness of all things around her. Her blend of everyday ingredients with astute observations results in a very filling meal. If you’re hungry for more, slice into the original post, or subscribe so you needn’t skip a meal.

0

Stop, Thief!

Family Blog Nosh Magazine{Originally published on Is There Any Mommy Out There?}

I’ve been obsessed with time lately and how it passes. What a trickster time is, the way he seems to hand me moment after moment of joy and love and life in slow, lazy procession until I pause to look back and I’m cut down by how far I’ve traveled. All the tiny incidents add up to the whole year that my oldest children were three and my youngest was one and my last baby was thought of and conceived. I want to yell at him for the subterfuge, but he’s handing me new moments so fast that I can’t take the time, I’ll miss something important. I’m dropping the present and it’s shattering on the floor, gem by gem as I gaze backwards. I refocus on the moment in my hands and it all slows down again, to that disconcerting, tricky lull.

I tell time I know his game, I’m onto him, but it’s inevitable that I’ll forget until I look back once more. It makes me mad. I wish he’d leave me alone, stop stealing my moments and let me have them for mine. Maybe I’ll keep them in a carved wooden box on my dresser, magpie-like, the way I kept little bits of life in high school, a note, a charm, a worn braided bracelet.

I want to keep the way Quinn walks, steady but unsteady, on his toes, his fat little belly proceeding him. I want to keep the way Garrett laughs, mouth wide open, head back, his round baby face lit from within. I want to keep the way Saige runs to me at preschool pickup, the way it feels when she wraps her little body around my middle and wraps her arms around my neck. I want to keep this baby’s first tiny kicks, barely felt today, miniature popcorn popping inside my uterus.

Determined to stop his constant theft of my moments, I set a trap for time. I know if I turn and pounce quickly enough I can catch the decrepit old man. I wait for a slow, easy moment, a little lull in time’s flow and I spin faster than the earth, outside of time, grasping with both hands.

Then I falter in disbelief, caught off guard that I actually hold him in my hands and that the arm I hold is strong and young. He is timeless, handsome and confident with twinkling eyes and a devilish smile. “You got me,” he raises his hands in mock surrender. “There’s not much time. When should we go?” He leans forward, feverishly eager, “what should we change?”

Go? Change? I don’t really understand, not yet, I want a glimpse, that’s all, to steal some moments back and save them forever to visit at will. But I have this chance and time is staring at me, waiting. I don’t want to blow it. “What if I’d taken the other job out of law school?” I blurt at him quickly. “Would I have loved it? Maybe stayed an attorney? Maybe I’d have a big career now?”

“Maybe,” he fixes me with his too willing gaze and holds out his hand, falsely casual.

“Wait.” I’m suspicious. “What about Matt? He might not move to Houston. Would we still get married before graduation? What if we wait to see and grow apart?”

Time rubs his hands gleefully. “Let’s see.”

“No,” I stop him. “Not then. Some other time.”

“What about your first baby,” he entices, leaning towards me. “The first one you lost. We could go back to when his heart beat inside you. You could feel him again, maybe we could change things. You could know him.”

I am momentarily breathless. In an instant, I know. Games. Consequences.

“But then I couldn’t have Garrett.”

“True,” says Time, “true. It’s up to you.”

“Maybe something smaller,” I plead, “a moment to hold him as a newborn again.”

Time stifles a yawn and curls his lip. “Bor-ring. You’re wasting my time.” He snaps his carefully manicured fingers. “I know. We could revisit the time when you decided to adopt. You could make different choices. You could have a different little boy, he might stay with you. You could adopt two babies instead, or just your daughter. You could miss so much pain,” he tempts.

I picture it. A lot of grief avoided, but I am onto his tricks. “What happens to him?”

“Who?” he asks, all innocence.

“Our son. Does he get adopted? It’s a terrible life for the children that don’t find forever families. They have to leave the orphanage when they’re sixteen. Does he find a family that loves him?”

“I don’t know,” says Time impatiently, “we have to see.”

“His family is so right for him, he’s happy. They never would have found him if we hadn’t adopted him, there’s no other way he ends up with them.”

“Yes I know,” Time rolls his eyes, “that’s how it works.”

Take a deep breath, I tell myself, be smart, you can beat him at this game.

“My twins then. My other baby. That’s only two months back. A tiny change and they both live. They’ll still be inside of me right now. It doesn’t affect anyone but me.”

Time smiles slyly and stands up straighter. “Ready?”

I hesitate.

“What now?”

“I don’t know. I sort of believe, I mean, I like to think that his soul went to another baby. Another mother. Maybe she’d been waiting a long time.” He stares at me, uncomprehending, and I know it’s futile, but I try again. “I pretend sometimes that…the universe…thought, there is so much joy here, they can handle this pain, and so it gave the little spark to someone else.”

Time says nothing and I raise my voice angry and frustrated. “Is that how it works?”

He shrugs, “I don’t know.” His eyes narrow and he scans my face. “Is that how you believe it works?”

“I don’t know.”

“If it was, would you take it away?”

“No,” I whisper, “no, I couldn’t.”

He holds out his hand to me, palm up, fingers spread. “When do we go then?” My arms stay at my side and his arm slowly drops, his smile fades to a crestfallen look.

A tear slides down my cheek, but it is happiness, not grief that fills me. Or, maybe it is sadness, but it’s the good kind. Sadness because I’ve lived the way I want to live, most of the time, fully, optimistically, without hitting the brakes in caution, without wavering or ducking life to avoid potential pain.

“No,” I tell him, “steal what you will, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

He winces with disappointment. “Yes,” he murmurs as he fades away, “that’s how it almost always works.”

Editor’s Pick by MommyTime at Mommy’s Martini. Stacey is a writer after my own heart. She writes long, introspective, beautiful posts and tackles topics that range all over the map. With three-year-old “forced twins” (one adopted, one not), a two-year-old, and another child on the way, she more than has her hands full. And yet she finds time to think deeply and long, write profoundly, and still manages to make me laugh sometimes too. This post, in fact, is somewhat unlike her usual style in its commingling of fiction with her deepest introspection, but that is why I love it. Just when you think you’re getting to know her, she does something new. You may want to see the original comments on this post. I hope you surely will want to subscribe. You won’t regret it.

4

Ecology of the Home

Green Living Blog Nosh Magazine

{Originally published by Coral Serene Anderson on the Green Baby Guide}

“It’s a crisp little block home,” my husband chortles.

He is repeating the brokerage blurb we read together the day before, laughing. At the moment, I don’t feel like laughing. We are buying a house. No, we are talking about buying a house. And I am feeling the weight of adulthood and its enjoining twin, responsibility.

“Crisp. As in corn flakes.” I attempt lightheartedness. “Or a cracker. But a house should not be crisp.”

He takes my hand as we walk over the soggy, uneven stretch of grass between our car and the tiny 480-square-foot house. There is an attractively potted palm just right of the door. Cute, really. In the way that palm trees at Christmastime are cute.

It is wintertime, 2007. There are tenants in the block home and, since the seller is in Mexico, they have to be there to let us in. So at six o’clock on a Thursday evening we are standing inside the house looking around, feeling awkward because the tenant is lingering by the kitchen sink watching us. Are we supposed to engage him? I wonder. Instead, after a brief introduction, I try to pretend he’s not there. It takes concentration to imagine myself living here. My fifteen month-old daughter is squealing and has taken off after one of his cats, which gives me a moment to look around.

The walls are white, textured, and the plaster around each window has been rounded. This last detail gives both rooms of the bungalow a soft aspect. And it is warm inside. Sometimes cinder block structures leak heat like a sieve, but in this home they are insulating. Which encourages me, because efficient heating will counterbalance replacing the cigarette laden, ivy-colored carpet that will undoubtedly mean another chip out of our liquid assets.

“Nicer than I thought it would be,” says our realtor to me in a low tone reminiscent of sharing a secret. I must look stressed out, because he clarifies his statement. “More ample, I mean, for such a small space.”

Small space. The words are another layer on the growing stack of items I need to think about, to mull over. Are we, am I, really committed to the acts of simplifying and downsizing beyond reading Back Home magazine? And why? Lately, these have become earnestly important questions. Even the idea of buying a house has given me great pause. A part of me – let’s call her Ideological Integrity – is calling for reflection. She is demanding that I acknowledge the principles I claim to hold and insisting that I evaluate my willingness to carry them out.

The smallest house in Canada

The proto-type tiny home. Canadian down-sizing!

I’ve negotiated my way around furniture and into the next room, the bedroom, and its adjoining bathroom. The realtor has followed me and turns on the bathroom light; a fan goes on. He nods his head.

“Wired separately. That’s a plus if you’re thinking of retrofitting the grid electricity for an alternative source of power.”

We told him we would love to be off the grid. Another ideological layer to sort through and sift through. Is a retrofit practical? What will it cost? Is it a priority for us?

“For two rooms, a couple of kerosene lanterns and some candles should do the trick.”

I’m joking, but I can tell he isn’t picking up on that since he is nodding rather seriously and looking the other way. So I head back to the living room.

“Can we see outside?” I ask.

“Sure,” says the tenant from the living room. He is already heading that direction with a cigarette cupped discretely in his hand.

I pick up my daughter and plop her securely into our Ergo front pack. The realtor hands me his high-powered flashlight, probably because I’m the one carrying a baby, for which I am grateful.

So now outside, I am the first to walk over a flagstone path and through a tidy little gate, the first to admire the solid old walnut tree that adds grace as well as waves of root- terrain to the textured upheaval of the backyard. We could do so much with this outside space, I think.

A large space. The men are talking about exterior paint. I stand in the middle of the backyard moving the flashlight beam from the east end of the fence to the west. There is space for our composter; space for my husband to build a garage from recycled building materials; space for my dream: a cedar writing cabin with a layer of indigenous greenery, a living roof. In this slice of land, even this humble .20 acre parcel, there seems to me an embodiment of possibility. Possibility for our family ideology to find root-room, and for my daily eco-rhetoric to hang out laundry on a line and build a cold-frame for lettuces. This fraction of an acre seems to me the tangible face of potential.

I turn back to our small company, who have moved on to discuss how to un-mold a roof on the cheap. It is so cold that my husband’s breath and the tenant’s cigarette smoke appear of equal viscosity in the air. The tenant is affable.

“I meant to tell you all to watch out,” he says kindly. “We have a dog.”

He is making a good effort at pretending to smoke outside. Although the carpet has already given his habits away, it is a gesture we appreciate.

“Thanks,” says my husband.

I check my shoes with the flashlight.

“You know, we heat the whole place with one space heater. These block homes, you got ‘em done right and the effect is almost like radiant heating. We pay less for the heating bill than for a tank of gas,” the tenant offers, exuberant about the insulating properties of the cinder block walls.

“And we love small spaces,” I match his exuberance, but my comment is slightly out of context.

But my affirmation is genuine. Natural insulation means a limited need for heating or cooling, a matter of sustainability that revives my excitement about the tiny house. Ecology is more than exuberance, it is a daily choice to interact with my environment in a way consistent with my shoulds. If such a little home reduces our overall energy consumption by at least 75% and eliminates our need for natural gas, it is the kind of home I should chose. A kind of ecology of the home.

We thank the tenant for his time, say our good-nights, hear our realtor list for us the steps to take if we want to make an offer. My husband is squeezing my hand and I am tugging his, eager to go. Small space. Large space. The words are walking with us past a pretty, bare-limbed tree at the front. I notice two weathered bird-feeders on its branches; they appear to be vacant. It is, after all, December.

Now, with the three of us buckled in the car, I take my shoes off entirely.

“I like it,” I say, and my husband nods.

He is driving us away from the modest little house, and the knowledgeable realty broker, and the real estate investment with loads of creative potential that could soon be ours. He is being unusually quiet. A giddy sort of quiet.

Indeed, the crisp little block home has moved up in our estimation from an initial, smug mockery to the vaunted status of an intended purchase. All 480 square feet of it. I know this without his having said it.

“We could tile the floor,” I say , because it seems urgent to me. Up front, if we buy this home and before moving in, something must be done about that carpet.

“Do you know how much work that will be?” he replies. “I’m thinking discount carpet. There’s a store on Martin Luther King Boulevard. Who were those guys who did our neighbor’s floors? Can’t be that much – a day job, maybe.”

“No, no,” I am shaking my head. “Why wouldn’t we do it? We’re not above a little labor. On principle.”

He grins.

“You’re talking about sweat equity.” He seems approving.

A friend of ours is a tile-layer, another friend a contractor, another handy with a welder and good for carpentry. Another friend does drywall. We could scrounge for recycled materials, re-paint the walls inside with earthen plaster – I even saved a recipe for a dusky-rose colored plaster that I found in a 2006 issue of Mother Earth News. By-passing the largess of commercial giants like Home Depot for the modest price of resourcefulness, recycling, and hard work, the act of downsizing would force our ecological hand. And I like the idea of our hand being tested.

These are the assertions Ideological Integrity has been prodding me to make. Daily and in so many areas of my mind, I quiet her. Yet, what other decision in our life could solidify our philosophical commitment to simplicity as that of purchasing a home the size of an average American’s master bedroom?

“How much work can tiling be?” I find myself assuring my husband in an attempt to regulate my involuntary tendency toward idealism with facts, “It is only 480 square feet!”

In the spirit of reductionism among our 21st Century contemporaries, most of whom live as if convinced they need a bedroom for every child and a separate house for their cars, purchasing a house of this size would gain us the verve of being economically counterculture. In terms of ecology, we would be taking from our environment only what two rooms would require, a sort of counter-consumerism. And in the language of sustainability, we would be reducing our carbon footprint by the sheer collapse of square footage.

“What are our principles worth?” I find myself voicing my internal conflict to my husband.

And I am looking for an answer. Because the part of me that is materially honest and not at all concerned about integrity wants new, new, new. It wants the McMansion in Lake Oswego. It wants not to conserve, but to expand. Wants not only to buy my daughter a Barbie doll, but the house and car and horse and Barbie Spa too.

“Our parents are going to think we’re crazy,” he says. A good answer.

“But practically…” I say, not sure where this train of thought is going. “They’ll understand. We’re buying within our means.”

Within our means, at this juncture of our mutual economic life, means to buy a house for under $140,000. Within connotes an economic, ecological, and aesthetic parameter that must encompass the both of us and a toddler who will be sharing 480 square feet of inside space, along with her own assortment of pint-sized furniture and child-type baubles.

Our vehicle rattles past the verdant yards and restoration homes on the cusp the Richmond neighborhood, where we rent.

“Grass or sod?” my husband asks as we pass home after home with well maintained lawns.

“Grass.” I don’t hesitate. “From seed.”

Because we’re working from a premise, I add internally, but can’t find the words to say it. For me, it is a premise beyond economics. And that premise is the concept of Orthopraxy: the orthodoxy – a body of principles comprising our system of beliefs – combined with the working out of those beliefs in daily practice. Orthopraxy.

It’s a lovely word, a lovely ideal connoting personal integrity. And Lady Idealogical Integrity within me would be proud; she would give a deep and charming curtsy in approbation were I to live out of the premise of Orthopraxy. It is a word we apply to the non-hypocritical people of our acquaintanceship, those who live out of principle rather than passion. The kind of people we openly admire and privately envy: Orthopractically perfect people.

My husband starts a round of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” to our daughter’s great delight. He sings, “And on this lot we got some urban chickens,” with a sustained timbre. In 1988, the average cost of a dozen eggs was $0.65. Today, the average is reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be $1.50 a dozen. I don’t know what store the Stats guy at the Bureau shops at, but for cage-free, veg-fed eggs I routinely pay $2.49. We’ve been talking about the benefits of raising your own urban chickens for over two years.

Every family has an Orthopractic framework, even if their values and their actions are not actually lining up, for which the official term is cognitive dissonance. My husband and I experience such cognitive dissonance on an ongoing basis. Take the urban chicken idea as a supporting fact. Our family, to use ourselves as an example of the “every family” model, has a particularly idealistic orthodoxy. Here is how cognitive dissonance appears, fissure-like, in our lives:

Postulate A We believe in simplicity.

Postulate B If we do not actually pursue simplification of our environment and resources -

B Parenthetical (I.e., if in buying a home we do not downsize, if we do not live within our economic, ecological, and spiritual means)

Postulate C …then we will experience that uncomfortable sensation of cognitive dissonance.

In a word, guilt. The sense that the balance of our family principles and actions are not quite stable – our Orthopraxy would experience vertigo.

So, our theory and our practice now have a crisp little block home and a whole lot of uneven yardage to spar in. In order, you understand, to achieve harmony and balance between the two halves of our existence; to attain a commonly held, ecological feng-shui.

We turn onto our street, my husband wailing “E-I-E-I-OOOOO,” and my little girl laughing hysterically, laughing her beautiful little laugh, her head thrown back in joy.

For us, there is an ecology of relationship incumbent within the economy of 480 square feet. A reduction of space in general, and personal space in particular, would force the appreciation of our interrelations. In effect, a smaller house would offer more opportunity to interact. Which would ensure conflict. Like sweat equity, conflict would force the appreciation of our family’s communication. Closer communion in moments of art and beauty, in moments of suffering when one of us takes ill and therefore so will everyone else within a matter of days, in times when our familial, emotional tenor has changed course toward the depressive, or at moments when the pressures of life would instigate us to either erupt or to grasp hands and steady one another.

Our vision for the crisp little block home with its slice of acreage, its scope of possibility, and its invitation toward a sustained Orthopraxy follows us from our car, across the frost-crisp lawn, up to the door of our rental. I notice the vibrancy of the stars, even above streetlights. It is seven o’clock, my daughter’s bath time.

“There’s no tub,” I say.

Although the shower could be fun, I think. Maybe. But bathing a toddler in it would be a challenge. Orthopraxy. What is a consistent value system worth?

“It’s a sacrifice,” my husband answers.

He looks at me as he closes the door behind us. His eyes are bright and warm, like the soft light of the Christmas tree brightening one corner of our living room. He picks up our daughter, her arms thrown about his neck and face spread in a happy smile. We are her home, and our love for her a complete, sustainable ecology.

For her sake, integrity in our Orthopraxy is worth a tidy block home and a dividable lot. It’s worth the sacrifice for the ecstasy of achieving balance between theory and practice. Worth an Orthopractic downsize, an economy of space, and an operative ecology of the home. Such Ideological Integrities are beyond worthwhile.

“Crisp,” I smile. “Can we find a different adjective?”

Editor’s pick by Leighann of Soy is the New Black: I enjoy reading the Green Baby Guide because editors Joy Hatch and Rebecca Kelley offer a wealth of information on not only being a green parent, but also making healthy decisions for your pregnancy and your children. Since our family resides in what most people consider a small home, I was drawn in by Coral Serene Anderson’s article contemplating one even smaller than ours. It seems a constant struggle to reconcile ideals and real life wants. Read the original post here and subscribe so you don’t miss a great green conversation.

7

Remember

Family Blog Nosh Magazine {Originally published on The Extraordinary Ordinary.}

“You’re not going to remember any of it anyway,” was what she said. I felt like she had just socked me in the stomach. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but forgetting makes perfect sense. I do it all the time.

But this? I’m not going to remember this? I guess she would know, she’s been through it.

The sleepless nights, the loads of diapers and laundry, the tantrums, the baths, the food flung across the floor. Those are the things she was referring to, saying I’d forget all of that. She was meaning to encourage me. And yes, I don’t really mind that I’ll forget all of that. I will enjoy my hindsight rose colored glasses when they arrive years from now.

But I would gladly remember all of the stress and strain, fatigue and frustration vividly if it meant I would remember all the rest just the same.

PatacakeBecause it makes me sad to realize that I’m also bound to forget the beauty of these years. That fresh out of the bath smell. That toothy grin. The way Miles says ‘careful’ about five different ways, all of them hilarious. The wiggle of Asher’s shoulders as he does a little dance. The pudgy little fingers holding tight to that blankie. Those pouty little lips. That laugh. Oh, that laugh from the gut that surrounds me and makes me feel hugged. I will miss that. I don’t want to forget.

She said that even though she had pictures and videos, it wasn’t the same. She still couldn’t remember on her own. The pictures were reminders, but not experiences. The videos seemed to be of a child she no longer knows, because she can’t remember.

I suppose it’s like my own childhood memories, vague and a bit fuzzy around the edges. Some more vivid, but always fleeting. Like a dream you wake up from and try to get back to by quickly closing your eyes and willing yourself to remember. Most of the time you can’t. I suppose it’s like that.

I wish I was going to be able to remember it all. Miles and I running through puddles in a down pour at the Farmer’s Market, splashing and laughing. Miles a little unsure at first, then looking at me, reading my face and relaxing, letting himself have fun in the rain. His drenched hair and wide eyes. The slap-slap-slap of his shoes as he ran. The smell of rain, herbs and flowers in the air as I listened to the thunder and my son’s laughter. Oh, how I want to remember.

“You’re not going to remember it anyway.”

I thought about forgetting so much after this conversation. I thought my heart would break at the realization that I’m going to forget.

Then I thought about the future, pictured myself sitting there trying to remember. I imagined it and realized that the mom in that photo in my mind wasn’t sad. This Future Me wasn’t sad. Because these two boys were still there, making new memories with me. They were 6 and 8, or 16 and 18. They were 30 and 32. And I imagined how I will still be there, wanting to eat up every moment, pouring my love on them and watching their lives.

Even if I’m not going to remember it all, I want to live it all. There’s not a thing, good or bad, I want to miss.

Maybe I’ll be blessed with a good memory in this regard, maybe I won’t. But that will not stop me from living fully aware of the details and fine lines, the tones and the under-tones, the expressions and vivid moments full of life and laughter. The scrunched up nose and crocodile tears. The look in their eyes while they make new discoveries. The feel of their skin. The sound of their voices. Right now. Today.

I am living what I might forget. But I am still going to live it. As long as they are mine to hold in this life, I will live it with them. That makes all the sad thoughts of forgetting turn to happy thoughts of living, eyes turned toward today rather than yesterday. And a heart filled with joy in the expectancy of tomorrow.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope that I’ll remember.

Editor’s pick by MommyTime of Mommy’s Martini. Heather’s blog, The Extraordinary Ordinary, is a wonderful mix of stories about the day-to-day moments that make up our lives as parents and deep, beautiful sentiments like this one. She is someone I added to my reader almost instantly, as her writing never fails to lift my spirits. You can check out the original post and all her readers’ comments, or, better yet, subscribe now, so you won’t miss a single one of her funny or heart-warming stories.

9

Punk-in Muffins

Health and Fitness Blog Nosh Magazine {Originally posted on Fit Bottomed Girls}

The Fit Bottomed Girls are all about enjoying all that life has to offer, and sometimes life offers dessert. And the FBGs love us some dessert—and not just the fat-free type. Unfortunately, over consumption of mouth-watering desserts can get in the way of maintaining a fit bottom, and most of them aren’t exactly easy to make anyway. Have you ever actually tried making a Martha Stewart dessert? I did it once in college, and after a whole day in the kitchen, while staring at a smug photo of Martha with her perfectly frosted lemon cake, I began to feel inadequate in all areas of my life. (If I can’t get this dang cake’s icing smooth, how will I ever find a job, let alone start a solid career?!)

The FBGs are here to help (and hopefully save you from any of the above-mentioned self esteem snafus). We have a recipe that is so easy even the baking-impaired can succeed. And I personally guarantee its deliciousness. The muffins may not win in a taste test with Martha’s desserts, but you can make them in less than 30 minutes and maintain your sanity.

For the Punk-in Muffins (“punk-in” has a double meaning here, acting both as slang for “pumpkin” and as a verb: punk-ing desserts Ashton-Kutcher style), you take a regular box of spice cake mix and mix it with only a 15-oz. can of pumpkin. If you can find a reduced-sugar spice cake mix you get bonus points.

Two important points to remember:

  1. Only mix the cake mix and the can of pumpkin together. Do not—and I repeat do not—add eggs, water, oil, etc. The batter will be thick, but it’s right. Girl Scout’s honor.
  2. Do not use a can of pumpkin-pie filling. Get the plain, pureed, boring regular can of pumpkin.

Mix the two ingredients together well, and spoon batter equally into 12 regular muffin tins lined with paper or sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Eat and enjoy guilt-free. Each big muffin has about 180 calories, 2 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein and 4 grams of fat, and is filled multiple grams of pumpkiny spicy goodness.

And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, try the same base recipe with different flavors of cake mix. Lemon cake mix creates a fun, summery orange sherbet flavor, and any type of chocolate cake mix is delicious. You really can’t taste the pumpkin with the chocolate, and it’s super fudgy and moist. I made these last weekend during an intense chocolate craving. You can see the deliciousness!

Trust in FBG. Punk out that dessert. —Jenn

Editor’s Pick by Women’s Diet and Fitness: Not only do The Fit Bottomed Girls test drive the latest workout videos for you, but they have that funky attitude that just keep you coming back for more great fitness tips! This is one blog you want to make sure you subscribe to and don’t forget to check out their original post!

2
August 13, 2008 | BN Channel Homemaking

Soylent Green is People

Homemaking

Originally posted on At Home Redesigns

In my line of work, I help people beautify their homes by using, mostly, what they already own. My feeling is this: Many of us have plenty of stuff, plenty of stuff we really like, we just don’t know how to pull it all together to create pleasing, comfortable, organized spaces. In fact, sometimes too much stuff is what keeps us from creating those pleasing, comfortable, organized spaces.

If that is the case in your home, listen to this: It’s OK to get rid of things.

Cluttered_2

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