• the home arts

    Elbow room…

    laundry newmaster schoolroom iconastasis

    We’ve never done a home renovation, though we consider ourselves near experts on the subject after watching years of HGTV, especially Fixer Upper, but I can tell you that the reason they tell you to live with a space for a while before you change it is because you really have no clue how a space flows until you live with it for awhile. I was thinking of this, and chuckling, a few weeks back when we basically re-arranged the whole house, right down to our iconastasis. Even the saints like a bit of elbow room, am I right?

    We’ve lived in this house for three years or so, living in roughly the same way as we did when we moved in. Our schooling was done at the kitchen table. Our Master was on the third floor. The kids all shared rooms. The flow sort of worked, but what could we do? We’re renting. You know, all of those things you think about a situation when you’re looking at it head on.

    But if you tilt your head to the side…

    It was my big boys fault, really.

    They are getting tall. Really tall. And big. They take up a lot of space, teenage boys. And the room they were in, plus their racked bunkbeds…well, they were starting to resemble Alice after she drank the cordial. There was not enough space for them, their beds, their desks. I swore if you looked in the windows you were going to see elbows and knees poking about with no room to move. Bless their hearts.

    I started to wonder what would happen, and if, the beds would fit in the alcoves of the master bedroom. A germ of an idea was forming. James measured, and, sure enough,all four of the boys’ beds would tuck in just right. This would leave a huge space in the middle for all of the boys and their stuff, with plenty of room to spread out with legos and train set ups and a nearly six foot tall teenager could sprawl whichever direction he so chose with plenty of room to spare. We affectionately call it the boys’ dorm now. It always looks like a tornado has rolled through these days, but it’s great! I don’t see it unless I want to, and they like the autonomy.

    That meant James and I moved into the big boys’ old room, which was a perfect cozy size for us with space for a bookshelf and a small seating area. The girls stayed where they were. A bonus room appeared- the little boys’ old bedroom. Could it be? Could we have a school-room/office space? Would all of our homeschooling bookshelves from downstairs fit? They fit so well they practically look like built-ins. My large old IKEA art desk, with trestle legs removed, and snazzy new blue metal legs attached became a perfect work table. Six smart new stools joined the fray, and we were in business! Our school window looks out over our crepe myrtle, and we often joke that we are headed to the tree house for school. They also like to call it the drawing room (i.e. the room in which they draw and create) which makes James and I laugh every time they ask if they can go to the drawing room, like we live in some mansion.

    Our first floor (our dining room and living room) is now strictly for relaxation and meals, and it’s really lovely. I’ll admit, it’s nice to have a clean spot to look forward to some days when the second and third floors are trashed. We all appreciate the fact that we can leave projects out in the school room and not have to tuck them away every time we need to eat. There is a door. And it shuts. It’s revolutionary, people. School mess? What school mess? I don’t see anything, do you?

    It has made our tall narrow house seem to double in size, this change. Everything makes sense now. What is interesting to me is that it used to take about a solid two hours of us all working together to clean the house from top to bottom- sweep the rooms, mopping, dusting, vaccuming, making/stripping beds, hitting the bathrooms, deep cleaning the kitchen. Nothing has really changed except for the new arrangement of the rooms, but somehow we can bless the house (as we call it) in about forty-five minutes, sometimes less. I don’t know if it is because the children’s things are more centralized now, easier to see, and therefore easier to pick up, or if the different arrangement of furniture makes it easier or what, but goodness gracious, yes, I’ll take it! This of course helps with everything else- leaving me to focus more on the children’s schooling and my own interests. More time? How’s that for a home renovation?

    Who would have thought? I think those designer people might be on to something. I do wonder why I didn’t tilt my head sooner…the only thing we actually purchased for this whole house renovation was four table legs and six stools from IKEA- about $25. I bet Joanna Gaines couldn’t beat that budget!

  • daybook,  the home arts,  the kitchen arts

    Keeper of the home…

    sgarden paperavalanche carrots blurryelly rainbowsalad abundancebowl redlentilsoup southernexposure rainbowtwo

    It’s not a surprise to me that after an intense period of upheaval there is an almost equally intense period where everything gets cleaned or scrubbed or cooked. It’s my way of making sense of the world, putting things to order. Some of it is practical of course- things tend to fall by the wayside and need to be put to rights. But mostly, it’s my way of nurturing both myself and my family back to a more even keel. I have been expanding my repertoire in the kitchen quite a bit this go round, inspired very much by Sarah Britton’s My New Roots cookbook and her blog. A dear friend of mine gifted me her Plant Based Nutrition class and it has gone miles towards making me more comfortable in my gluten free kitchen. The artist in me simply loves all the color and texture that is the hallmark of Sarah’s recipes- and the knowledge that they’ll all taste good. We haven’t found a one of hers we haven’t liked yet. I’ve also been ever so slowly editing our belongings over a period of six months, inspired mostly by Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s just something about the way she wrote it, her question- does this bring joy? that has helped me let go of many things that no longer need to be in our home or life. The last stand, of course, is all the paper and memories. As my efforts accelerated over the last few weeks, my little studio/office space became the landing spot for all the paper. I did that intentionally- I knew it would keep the fire under my bones to finish. I am so very close now- I’ve dealt with almost all the piles you see above and have only the medical paperwork and art supplies to finish. I’m sure I’ll be done by the middle of this week, and it feels wonderful to know I have crossed the finish line.

  • creative capers,  the home arts,  the kitchen arts

    Yarn Along…

    yarnalongdec2

    My washcloth stores had gotten rather low, so I’ve been knitting up some replacements. As my husband says, the knitted ones just work better. The machined washcloths are making their way into the rag bucket as the knitted ones come off my needles. It’s interesting- the knitted ones are far more durable and do not seem to wear out so quickly or get as stained. The pattern I am using is an old, old one. Our grandmas probably used the same one. After many fellow Yarn Along friends recommended that I might like Elizabeth Goudge, I finally found her at the library. I made the mistake of starting the first story while in the doctors’ office yesterday with one of my children- the time I had to read was much too short! That’s the first time I’ve bemoaned that we didn’t have to wait very long. Ha!

    Washcloth Pattern

    Cast on four stitches.

    On the next row, knit two stitches, yarn over, knit to the end of row.

    Continue each row until forty-four stitches are on the needle.

    In the next row, knit one, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to the end of row.

    Continue until four stitches are left on the needle, cast off.

    Sharing with Ginny.
    YarnAlongButton1-003

  • explore,  the home arts,  the kitchen arts

    Camp Messicrew…

     rivereggsncoffeegrapegrintoocool Camping with kids is no easy feat at first; camping with a large family makes it even more complex. If your family is interested in camping and you’ve never done it before, I strongly suggest a dry run in a back yard or at a camp ground near to your house (under an hour away, tops). You’ll need this practice run to iron out all the bumps, catch what you didn’t remember on your packing list, and get a good idea of just how long it takes to set up camp. Now, I’m going to be totally honest here. While we are seasoned enough campers, we rarely ever camp in what’s called a primitive camp site. At a primitive camp area there are no showers or bath houses, no running water, and no electricity. We probably could but at this stage in our life it would add such an extra layer of stress to the experience that it just isn’t worth it. We always stay in a state park area. We are lucky to have many beautiful, award-winning options in our state, and all of these parks have tent sites that have access to electricity and running water, with a bath house nearby. Especially now that we are travelling with kids with chronic medical needs, having those ‘comforts of home’ are very necessary. If that’s how you choose to camp, too, you’ll find the amount of things you actually need is greatly reduced.

    Our tent is actually not a tent- it’s a teepee that has an eighteen foot diameter at the bottom. It easily sleeps our entire family (even with mom and dad on an airbed) and could fit probably four or five more people if the need arises. It is much easier to set up than your typical modern tent with all the bendy poles. It is simply a matter of laying it out, extending the center pole, and tying it down. It goes up in about ten minutes, versus the half hour to forty-five minutes of your typical room tent. We’ve made people rather jealous as they’ve watched us pull in, set up camp, and get down to business while they are still wrestling with those cuss-making bendy pole tents. We get a lot of questions about it!

    Everyone has their own sleeping bag, and yes, mom and dad get an airbed that blows up via the van’s cigarette lighter. It is so worth it. I’m all for roughing it, but when parents need to be on top of their game for everyone to have a great time, an airbed is a must for good sleep. No uncomfortable no-sleep nights rolling over and over again on top of rocky soil.

    We carry a camp stove with us, plus the propane to run it. Three propane lanterns light the camp space. We usually bring our cast iron dutch oven and our cast iron skillet, plus a percolator for coffee. Don’t forget a large metal serving spoon and your kitchen knives (which we stick in a traveling block of foam). Depending on the trip we either take all paper products or use our camp dishes, which are metal enamelware. That is worth the investment- we’ve used ours for years and they are far more useful in many cases than paper products. Just remember that you have to wash them and bring a small bottle of dish washing soap.

    Pretty much every camp site we’ve ever been to has a six to eight foot wooden picnic table. I can’t imagine a place that wouldn’t have a table, but obviously if you’re headed someplace that doesn’t, you’d have to prepare for that with a small folding table or the like. (Remember that hot propane stoves and plastic tables don’t mix, so make it metal!) Because of that, we only travel with two adult folding chairs versus chairs for the whole family. I set the camp stove at one end of the picnic table, tuck the cooler underneath, and this becomes the kitchen area. The kids have plenty of room to sit and spread out along the benches, and then James and I usually pull our camp chairs up to the non-kitchen end of the picnic table and we dig in to our meals.

    Beyond on that, there’s not much else we take with us. We carry a toughneck tub that has lots of camping odds and ends (stuff to repair the tent, extra stakes, an extra tarp, paracord, and more). We use the lid of that for keeping dishes to be washed, and then walk down to the bath house to take care of that. Most bath houses have a sink outside just for this purpose.

    As food goes, we’ve found it is far preferable to think through the meals prior to the trip and meal plan- some meals are pre-cooked and then frozen. Sometimes we take the easy way out (obviously kind of rare now) if we know that there is a pizza place like Little Caesars near the State Park. The less food we have to take with us and keep cold, the better. There are certain places we stay that we know have a grocery store nearby, and we don’t get the things we need for meals until we get there. We only keep what we absolutely have to in the cooler and keep it heavily iced. Most camp stores have milk and eggs, in our experience, for example, so we rarely carry those with us. We might be paying a premium price to purchase them there, but we find it well worth the extra cents not to have mess with the keeping them properly cold in the cooler.

    When it comes to kids and camping, realize they absolutely are going to get dirty. If we are just camping and not traveling anywhere else, I only take one outfit and one set of long pajamas for each kid. The outfit and the pajamas get progressively dirtier, till the day we leave. I have them take a good bath the morning we leave, and then trundle them into a clean outfit that has stayed hidden in the van. (So really two outfits+pajamas.) Otherwise it’s just an exercise in maddness. I make sure the kids have their long pant pajamas and sweatshirts because the nights get cool. (Cool sunglasses not necessary, but awfully cute!)

    The whole point of camping is to get outside and spend some good, fun time with your family. Whatever makes that easier and more enjoyable? Go for it! Don’t get locked into the idea that camping has to be done just so. If it’s difficult and hard you won’t want to do it again. Find what works for your family, and you might find you get a bit addicted to it!

  • the home arts,  the kitchen arts,  the mothering arts

    Over the river and through the woods…

    sunflowermountainsaudiobooksbookbasketwholefoods ellyandlorelei tosieanddavid packitup

    “Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go…”

    It seems strange to realize that we have truly entered a season of traveling with children, not traveling with babies and toddlers. There is a pretty vast difference. I did not realize how much of a difference until this trip!

    We’ve been making roughly the same eight hour drive from one state to another for going on fourteen years now- we have the main route memorized plus three or four scenic byways. Most of the time we’re making an end run, driving straight through; this trip is the first time we are wandering our way up and wandering our way back. Honestly, it’s the first real vacation we’ve had in years- the last one was before we moved almost three years ago. It certainly hasn’t been feasible since with the all the hospitalizations for both Ellianna and Josiah. It was only a month ago that Josiah was given the okay to travel (with precautions).

    (Can you believe that sunflower? It was bigger than my head! It was at a rest stop and I loved the silhouette of the mountains behind it.)

    I feel like I’ve gotten packing down to a fine art, even with the additional twist of taking our camping gear. If you look at the back of the van (which is a fifteen passenger), all of our stuff is stored in a space which is about four feet wide and three feet deep. To the left is the camping supplies (tent, camp stove, chairs, first aid kit, camp supplies). In the middle, the clothing tubs. To the right, our food storage, including our cooler, plus most of the pillows and sleeping bags. If we weren’t camping on this trip, we’d need less than half of what you see.

    I’ve gotten pretty rigid about clothing for trips (while we haven’t been on vacation in a while, we do make the holiday runs between grandparents). In this transitional season, they took one short sleeve and one long sleeve shirt, one pair of shorts and one pair of pants, one Sunday shirt (for boys) or dress (for girls), one pair of shoes, one sweatshirt, a pair of pajamas and socks and underwear. James and I take very similar clothes. Our clothing usually fits into just one tub- with this camping trip, we took two, the second of which has mostly kitchen items (pans, cutting boards, knives, etc) and our adult clothing was tucked around it to keep it from knocking about.

    The reason we can get away with this is mostly because we are a large family. We don’t stay in hotels, as they would be uncomfortably expensive; instead we often stay with family or search out house rental options via AirBnB, which almost always have laundry facilities. I can run a load or five. If you were traveling from place to place in hotels our rather stoic packing might not work.

    This vacation was truly a gift from many people involved in the planning and preparation- the cabin we are staying in for most of it was a joint gift both from a family friend and my husband’s parents. So many people were adamant that it was time for us to rest and recuperate, which we are deeply grateful for. This trip wouldn’t have happened without them!

    We’ve also leaned a few tricks for the road. We can’t eat fast food anymore due to the Celiacs, but we know to find certain grocery stores: our favorite mid-way stop is a Whole Foods, which has an amazing salad bar, hot bar, sushi, and the like. We often eat for much cheaper that way than we would eating on the road, with the added advantage that we don’t have to carry the food with us but still eat mighty healthy, which I used to think was impossible.

    Our newest trick, besides the ever present book basket (yes, we are that family- happily guilty!) is to reserve a stack of audio-books from the library especially for the trip. We used to have portable dvd players and the like (our car does not come equipped with such) but over the years we’ve felt that unlimited tech on road trips causes more problems than it solves. This was our first tech-free road trip and it went far better than the similar trip we took at Christmas, and I earnestly believe it was due to the audio-book we choose: The Penderwicks at Port MouetteAs you can see from the stack, we have plenty more: lots of Lemony Snicket and some Harry Potter. We’ve become connoisseurs enough to tell you that the narrator is important. We love The Mysterious Benedict Society but the audio-book for it was not especially good because the narrator had a deep, gruff voice, making the dubbing difficult- it is often hard to hear and understand. The Penderwicks narrator is fantastic- such an incredible voice actor- she really sucks you into the story. The whole series, whether in book or audio-book form, is wonderful for the whole family. We’ve all laughed and cried our way together through the first three books and we will eagerly look for the next one when we get home.

    What I particularly like about our packing now is that our children are not stuffed into the car with lots of things about them; all of our traveling requirements fit in the back space, leaving lots of room between kids. Everyone can spread out. I know that if we were still in a minivan, for example, we would easily fit our stuff in the back cargo area. (If we weren’t camping. I imagine in a smaller car + camping we’d have to use a roof rack carrier.) We don’t have to carry a stroller anymore, which I think is a huge part of it too. I’m not saying that traveling in tubs or laundry baskets is always feasible, but for us, we’ve found it far preferable to lots of bags and luggage pieces.

    So there you have it- road tripping with children edition!