Making Room

The other day, I was pretty annoyed with the family at large for not doing their share, or any share, really, of the housework. I’d spent the whole day working, and the whole lot of them were gone. Disappeared. Two of them cp-henry-play-blockshad an acceptable reason: they were at work! But the rest of them? Not so much. And they heard about it.  Later that evening, as we went about our Advent devotions, I suggested the song “People Look East”.  The older children got the message right away, but the younger ones were cheerfully oblivious.

Actually, I really like that song, don’t you?  It’s hopefully expectant.  We make time to prepare our hearts and our homes for the coming of our Lord, and why not?  I would tidy up the house for any other expected guest!  Maybe we shouldn’t go quite so far as Old Befana, who is so focused on cleaning that she misses the Lord entirely, but a little prudent cleaning, I think, will not go amiss.cp-tommy-play-living-room Our hearts are very much influenced by our environments. It’s a challenge to feel at peace when the home is cluttered and messy. It’s easier to be calm and recollected when one’s spaces are well-ordered and attractive.  At least, I think so.

It’s a constant battle for me to keep things neat, partly because I have a very large family, and partly because I have a bit of my father’s propensity to collect and save things.  I go through cycles of accumulating and purging, and my desk is almost always covered with books and papers and the detritus of my daily life.  If you want to know what’s going on with me, just glance at my desk! img_4945

This Advent, I’m looking for breathing room. I’m trying to work around the challenges and find space to be the me that doesn’t just spend her days taking care of an active family. There’s a me who loves to write, to photograph, to make art, useful and otherwise. There’s a me who makes home nice and enjoys it as a creative activity. There’s a me who reads and takes bubble baths, sometimes simultaneously. And there’s a me who has time to spend in quiet prayer with my Lord.  I’ve been missing this version of me.

Today, my desk is tidy and stocked with art supplies. My camera battery is charged. The main areas of the house are actually pretty neat.  There’s room to think and create and be.  And this is just where I want to be.  Today and always.

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Make: Chunky Bobble Garland

I do not know what possessed me to want to make bobble garland, but make it I did!  And it looks adorable on my “Advent” tree.  (An “Advent” tree is an artificial tree that you put up as soon as possible after Thanksgiving, even photo-nov-27-11-35-46-amthough your husband doesn’t care for “Advent” trees, and would prefer that you wait till the family goes out to find a real one closer to Christmas.  Husbands.)

So anyway, back to the Advent tree.  My vision has always actually been to use the Advent tree to hang our Jesse Tree ornaments, except that we’ve never had any Jesse Tree ornaments, nor have we ever been disciplined enough to make it through the whole Jesse Tree saga, anyway.  But, hope springs eternal!  I’m drawing some ornaments this year, because I can, and I like to, and they’ll be just exactly what I want them to be, more or less, as my skill or lack thereof dictates.

I thought the garland would look nice while we waited for the tree to fill up with the devotional ornaments, but the children hung up all of our New For 2016 ornaments right away.  And I still think the garland looks really cute.  It has potential as a year-round decoration, too; I see similar types of things adorning walls and mirrors and whatnot on fashionable home-dec blogs, so there’s that!

Would you like to make one?  It’s really easy.photo-nov-27-5-51-09-am

I used Lion Brand Wool-Ease chunky yarn and a size P crochet hook.

Start with a chain of eight or nine stitches.  Triple (or treble) crochet into the fourth chain from the hook, but don’t finish the stitch.  Leave the last loop on the hook.  Make three more triple crochets into the same chain stitch.  You should have five loops on the hook now.  Yarn over and pull through all five loops at once to form the bobble.  (Photo instructions follow.)

Now slip stitch around your last triple crochet, and again into the chain stitch you’ve been working in.  Chain 6 and make another bobble in the fourth chain from hook.

For some of your bobbles, you want to push them inside out and then flip your work.  Your first slip stitch will be around the three chain stitches at the beginning of the bobble, and then into the chain you worked in.  This will give some variety to the garland, so keep them a bit irregular!  Finish up with a few chain stitches at the end.

One skein makes about 8 feet of garland.  If you want a little more distance between your bobbles, you can make a longer chain in between.  Just make your next bobble in the fourth chain from the hook.

Let me know if you make any garlands of your own!

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Kitchen Work

I have always genuinely enjoyed housekeeping and homemaking.  Well, maybe not always.  We’re each of us, after all, products of our families of origin and the larger culture, and neither one really encouraged a love of homemaking in me.  So, in the beginning, homemaking and I had an uneasy relationship, really, because I did enjoy it, and I could see the value in it, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to.  Then, one day, I met Edith Schaeffer.  My deepest suspicions were confirmed, my efforts applauded and encouraged.  On that day, I embraced motherhood and housekeeping wholeheartedly and did not look back.

That doesn’t mean it has always been easy.  My family has grown and changed, with people in all sorts of life stages demanding more from me than ever before.  The number of “hats” I’m wearing has increased drastically.  But, still, I see the value in keeping house and preparing meals, and I am most relaxed when I get to dedicate myself to those tasks.  I just don’t have as much time for it as I’d like.  Because of that, I’ve been actively working to streamline and minimize my kitchen work.  I might be mentioning a few things in coming weeks.

On the Henry front: I mentioned that he was waking in the night specifically to spit up, but really, it had more the quality of vomiting.  Spit up doesn’t seem to cause any discomfort, but these nighttime episodes were uncomfortable beforehand and the vomiting offered relief from that discomfort.  He’s been doing pretty well with that, until last night.  Last night, I had pizza with tomatoes, onions, sausage and bell peppers, and I think it might have been the peppers that caused our problems.  I blame the peppers because that was the only ingredient I hadn’t eaten in the past two weeks.  Most members of the nightshade family are highly poisonous, but a few are only slightly poisonous and more or less edible.  Maybe for Henry, he leans toward the less.

The hunt for the source of Henry’s tummy troubles continues!  By the way, there’s no particular heroism in this for me; I am inspired and energized by a good challenge!

 

Rendering Lard

One of the nice things about a homestead type of farm is that you can raise a lot of your own food. We’re in the throws of chicken butchering now, but we also raise up a couple of pigs each year for our own use. We hire out the butchering still, but I always ask for the organs and the fat. We’ve grown quite a taste for liver; I’ve learned how to cook it perfectly. Heart is incredible, intensely flavored of whatever animal it came from. (We’ve had sheep, beef, and pig hearts.) I haven’t steeled myself for tongue yet.

But I do render the fat into lard.

It’s a time consuming process, usually done in the heat of summer when you least want to do it, and I confess I always wait until the last minute. You know, when I need the freezer space. Right before we start processing chickens. Autumn is very hard on me.

In years past, we rendered by chopping the lard and simmering in a slow cooker. It worked all right, but it took a long time to work through all the fat, and multiple women with a knife. Last year, I bought two roasting pans from Walmart, and we chopped the fat and baked at low temps in the oven till melted. It was faster, but it still took a couple of days and two to three of us to get through all the fat. Chopping is tedious work.

This year, I read Moby Dick. Gosh, that book was long. And tedious. Just as tedious as chopping hog fat. But I can’t say I’m sorry I read it, really, and it did speed up my lard-rendering time considerably. Not quite enough this first year to make up for the hours spent reading, but I’m sure it will come out even eventually.

See, the Pequod had a mincer on staff, and his job was to, well, mince the blubber before it went into the “try” pot. Why, yes! I thought, reading along. The finer it’s minced, the more “oil” we should be able to render out of it, and more quickly, too. But I don’t have a mincer on staff, and I don’t want to spend even more time chopping fat. I’ve got cows to milk, children to educate, dinner to cook, and babies to hold, you know? So I got onto Amazon before I even finished the chapter and ordered an electric meat grinder.

That did the trick! I rendered two hogs’ worth of fat by myself in two mornings.

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How To Render Lard

Equipment Needed:
2 roasting pans (Mine are just like this, but purchased at Walmart for $10 each.)
electric meat grinder (I got this one. I’m very happy with it.)
sharp knife (This is a fine choice.  Get a sharpener, too. This one is great.)
cutting board
large bowl
ladle
fine-mesh strainer (Like these, but check Walmart.)
canning jars or 5-gallon food safe buckets*
oven

What To Do:

  1. Thaw your fat, if you’ve been storing it in the freezer and dreading the day you have to do this job.
  2.  Preheat the oven to 300°.
  3.  Slice the fat into strips that will fit into your meat grinder.
  4.  Put a roasting pan under the grinder blade and process the fat through the meat grinder. I found my grinder liked it cold, but not partially frozen. It could handle warmer or semi-frozen stuff, but not as well.
  5.  Spaghetti-like strands of fat will build up in your pan. Move it into all the corners so as to fit as much as you can into the pan. It will shrink somewhat in the oven, so it can be a little heaped, but you don’t want to be worried about sloshing oil around later.
  6.  Bake at 300°. It’ll probably take about half an hour to render down. I put the first pan in, then start in on slicing and grinding and filling the second pan. By the time I get that one into the oven, the first pan is melty enough that it needs to be stirred.
  7.  Do stir periodically. It helps to break up the clump of fat that will form as it melts and render more completely.
  8.  When you’re tired of waiting or the fat looks as completely melted as it’s going to get (browned bits stop rendering) pull it out of the oven.
  9.  Position a fine mesh strainer over your storage container* and begin ladling the liquid fat into it. You don’t want any leftover bits of fat or meat contaminating your finished product.
  10.  Rinse and repeat until all of your fat has been rendered!

*Storage Containers: I have used quart canning jars to store the lard, but it takes a lot of jars and it can be difficult to get the lard out later. I think there is no way to speed up or improve upon this process except by using 5 gallon food-grade buckets. That’s what I’m going to do next year.

The rendered lard should store fine at room temperature for as long as it takes you to use it up.

What To Do With Lard

Lard can be used in many recipes that call for butter or margarine. It makes the flakiest pie crusts and the fluffiest biscuits. It can also be used for deep frying delicious things like donuts or apple fritters. Lard is the primary ingredient in homemade soap, too. (I don’t know how to make soap yet, so don’t ask!)

I’m sorry I can’t include any pictures of the process; my hands were a bit greasy.  It’s pretty straightforward, though, and I know you can do it!

Taco Week!

Harrell's nice old pick-up.

Harrell’s nice old pick-up.

When you let the kitchen helpers plan the menu for the week, and they choose meals they have been craving instead of meals that kind of make sense together, you might start noticing a certain trend forming by the time you get to Wednesday.  In our case, for this week, the girls were feeling very taco-ish, and every single dinner features – you guessed it – homemade tortillas.  For a family our size, that means we’ll be making something like 150 tortillas this afternoon.  Now, normally, I would have adjusted their suggestions to make for a bit more variety, but sometimes it’s just fun to run with it.

I’ve been planning monthly for several years now, but I’m trying to go back to a weekly schedule, just stocking up on pantry essentials and frozen veggies once a month, and doing all the rest of the marketing on Fridays.  And, because this is the sort of thing we women shared back in the old days of blogging (ten years is a lifetime on the internet!), I’m sharing my menu plan.  🙂

Socializing

Socializing

First, we’ll need lots of homemade tortillas, which we’ll make all at once today.

Saturday: potluck picnic at the neighbors’ 4th of July party
Sunday: Chicken Enchiladas
Monday: Chicken Tacos
Tuesday: Chinese Burritos
Wednesday: Greek-Style Burritos (recipe coming)
Thursday: Ordinary Tacos (recipe probably coming)

Most of these will be tripled for making freezer meals.  I’ve used all of mine up and I miss them!  Also, there’s no sense in making just one pan of enchiladas.  They’re too much work and mess to waste the effort.

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Down With Food Waste!

“I fixed the refrigerator,” I announced.

“What was wrong with it?” a daughter asked.

“Well, you know how we buy more vegetables than we can fit in the drawers, and so we put them on the shelf, but then they kind of start getting pushed to the back where we can’t see them or reach them, and then, after a while, they turn into this disgusting puddle of smelly brown goo?”

“Yes,” said another. “I’m well acquainted with what happens to vegetables in the back of the refrigerator.”

“So,” said the first, “we need to get rid of the back of the refrigerator!”

“Yes, ” I replied, ignoring her sarcastic tone.  “Exactly.  I got rid of the back of the refrigerator.”

They both looked at me skeptically, until I explained my solution: two more “drawers” to put the veggies in!

That bottom shelf cracked ages ago, under the weight of milk jars, I think.  Eight gallons of milk in glass jars is heavy!  The crack makes that one drawer hard to open.

That bottom shelf cracked ages ago, under the weight of milk jars, I think. Eight gallons of milk in glass jars is heavy! The crack makes that one drawer hard to open.

See?  Two extra drawers!  The one on the left is for greens and things, the one on the right for other sundry soft and quickly-turns-to-goo veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, and mushrooms.  The built in drawers are for root vegetables on the left and, on the right, sturdier veggies, like cabbage and peppers.  Because you have to pull the whole basket out to access the veggies, there is no longer a back-of-the-refrigerator.  At least not on this shelf.  So, presumably, the vegetables will get used instead of lost, cutting down on my frustration level when I can’t find something I know is in there.  I mean, cutting down on food waste.

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In other news, I made chicken broth in my crock pot this morning.  I made roasted chicken last night, because my friend Barbara said she had trouble getting hers to brown in her roaster oven.  Mine were browning all right (at 350°) but I had them too crowded, so I had to cut them apart and finish them in the oven.  Next time, I’ll cook them directly in the roaster pan instead of wedging them in a casserole.  We eat three chickens at a time and I think they’ll be okay if they aren’t touching.  The rotisserie on the grill, though, is faster, even if you do have to watch it the whole time.  And I could cook six at a time, if I wanted!  Which I don’t, usually, but you never know.  It’s good to have a plan.

Anyway, I was surprised that those three carcasses, plus two uneaten leg quarters, actually fit in the crock pot!  It’s an 8-quart model, which is bigger than I thought; there was even room for the appropriate broth-making veggies and a gallon of water.  And it tastes great.  So, more unwasted food.

Now, if I could only figure out how to keep the bread from going moldy atop the fridge, I’d be all set.

How about you?  Any kitchen wins at your house this week?

*I’ve been reading this book, which didn’t exactly include the basket-drawer idea, but it did inspire to me to think about our food losses and how I might reduce those.  It’s a pretty good book, and one I might add to our homemaking library.  I borrowed my copy from the library.

{pretty, happy, funny, real}

{pretty}

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We got new patio furniture last week.  We’ve been squeezing around one table meant for four, and, well, we stopped fitting there years ago.  I’d been looking for two rectangular tables, but couldn’t find anything in the material I wanted that didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  One day, I stopped in at Walmart to see if they had anything.  Nope!  Nothing.  So I sat down to nurse the baby, and as I was looking around, I spied these up on a shelf.  Excitedly, I sped across the garden center, nursing baby and all, just to make sure.  Sure enough, they were exactly what we wanted!  Well, except for being round.  They didn’t have any on the floor, and there wasn’t a price, so, Walmart employees being notoriously unhelpful, I went home to check.  The price was too good to pass up, so round is what we’ve got!

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This furniture is made of a powder-coated metal mesh, and they are indestructible.  We’ve had our old set for 10ish years, our swing and two other chairs for eighteen, and they have just a little rust where parts rub.  A fresh coat of paint would completely solve whatever minor problems they have after all those years and multiple moves, some international!  We thought about going with something cheaper, just to save some cash, but when you factor in how long these will actually last, the price is just unbeatable.

This isn’t their final home, though.

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This is.  We have high hopes that it will be done soon.  (We had a minor setback regarding concrete and are now switching to paving stones.  Stay tuned!)

{happy}

bread

I just tried baking my go-to quick-and-easy bread on my favorite bread pan in my new roaster oven, and it worked great! The bread came out even better than it does in the oven, crustier on the outside, and more tender on the inside. If you try it, there’s no need to add any hot water to the roaster pan; the roaster holds in moisture so well that the bread itself makes its own steam, producing a most wonderful crust. I’ve only had my roaster a few days and I’ve used it to cook breakfast casseroles and bake potatoes, too.  Everything has turned out even better than in the oven.  It’s big enough to hold a regular 9×13 baking pan, or two loaf pans, so very versatile! I’m loving it.

{real}

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I’m especially loving it because that roaster pan means I don’t have to cook inside. If you’re cheap like me, that means less heat in the house, and less chance of succumbing to the allure of the air conditioner.  The AC consumes vast quantities of discretionary monies, which, of course, I’d rather spend on books.

{funny}

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Speaking of which, this is where I’ve been hanging out most of the time since Henry’s been born. It’s actually looking pretty good today. Usually, the book piles are higher. There are also often pens, notebooks, and glasses of water scattered about. But there are always books.

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These are my current and just-finished reads.  The Green Ember and The Black Star of Kingston I just finished reading aloud to the kids – simultaneously, though that wasn’t my intention.  See, I started the Green Ember one night, and as I’d already read it myself, I thought I’d start The Black Star.  Well, I was reading them both from the Kindle, and they were both on Chapter 2, and they are both about rabbits with swords, so the next night, I was several chapters into Black Star before I thought to wonder aloud, “What happened to Heather and Picket?!”  And that’s when I realized my mistake.  We were already hooked, though, so I read them both.  Now we’re reading On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and I’m not sure how I feel about this one.  Too many made up words, but silly made up words.  I like my humor a little more sophisticated, and so do the kids. (They take after me.)

I’m mostly reading Moby Dick on the Kindle, though I have a hard copy someplace.  I’ve got all the kids reading it, too.  (Actually, I bribed them.  Melville was inspired by this real life event, which is now a movie starring Chris Hemsworth, and who doesn’t like Chris Hemsworth? I’m just saying.) Also, Ishmael kinda cracks me up.  I’ve shown up in the girls’ bedroom in tears to read them a passage I found too hilarious to keep to myself!  But I have commitment troubles, and so I’m also reading After the Prophet, The Waste Free Kitchen (from the library) and The Living Page (thanks to Anne).  All are good.

See you over at Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {p,h,f,r}!

All black and white images are part of my Real Life series, and you can see more by scrolling down the homepage.  The patio sets can be found here (several people have asked already, so I’m linking for your convenience!) and this is my huge roaster.  I’m also using an 8-quart slow cooker, though not as often.  It is sufficiently huge to feed this family of eleven, though!

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What Morning Brings

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“Where’s Evie?” I asked in sudden alarm. I was nursing the baby on the couch, but I heard the tractor right outside the window, and some shouted directions, and a very loud, very distressing crunch. Delaney jumped up to find her, safe and sound upstairs, and then we watched the deck pull slowly away from the house and collapse to the ground in surprisingly slow motion. No one even came close to getting injured, which is another surprise, albeit a happy one.

This thing has been a thorn in our sides since we moved in, and has become too terrifyingly rotted to even consider stepping on. It was also built over a downstairs window, effectively blocking most of the light into what is already a fairly dark room. None of us shall miss it! Eventually, we’ll replace the door with a window. There’s another family not far away who’ve had a similar doorway to nowhere that we’ve been laughing at since we moved here seven years ago. They got it replaced with a window this year, and it looks great. I’m not sure, but we might be able to get the job done a little faster. We’ll see.

On Fire

hay day

I set my alarm for five o’clock this morning, as per yesterday’s discussion, but it did not turn out to be a quiet or peaceful morning at all. First, I forgot to reschedule the coffee pot, so I had to wait for my morning cuppa. (Oh, the horrors!) Then, the baby woke for a nursing shortly after I rolled out of bed, but before the coffee finished percolating. So it was that I found myself awake, but uncaffeinated, tending to a baby at 5:30ish in the morning, which is when I heard the siren. The local fire station was calling in her volunteer fire fighters, and a few minutes later, I heard the sirens of the trucks rolling out – and heading our way. When I got the baby back to bed, I grabbed a cup of coffee and stepped outside to see if I could tell where it was coming from. We have lots of friends and acquaintances within range of those sirens. At first, I didn’t see anything, but then I caught a glimpse of red taillights through the trees. I headed up the driveway for a better look, and sure enough, the trucks were parked at a neighbor’s house two doors down! I watched smoke pouring from the far side of the house, and I watched the smoke become flames licking through the roof. I listened to more sirens coming out from town and I saw another truck come in from another tiny station nearby. Then I had to go back inside to cook breakfast for a large family with places to go today. I was able to find the family that belongs to that house later in the morning. They weren’t home at the time of the fire, and don’t know what happened, and they haven’t had a chance to evaluate their needs just yet. The Red Cross is going to take care of them tonight. The house is a total loss, but nobody was hurt. That’s a comfort, but it’s a sad thing to lose all those little treasures a family accumulates: the photographs, the Christmas ornaments made by kindergartners, the china handed down from a grandmother, the birth certificates… It’s just hard.

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I have some experience with a house fire and all the trauma and drama, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to offer some helpful reminders:

1. Make sure you have working smoke alarms throughout the house. They only work if you’re home to hear them, but they do work. Change the batteries twice a year, whether they need it or not. You can reuse the batteries in other, non-critical devices, like alarm clocks.

2. Make sure you have at least one fire extinguisher, though I’d recommend one for each floor of your home. If you can swing a big, quality one, great, but even a $10 disposable model from Walmart is better than nothing. Make sure it’s an ABC extinguisher that can squelch all kinds of fires. If you’re able to catch the fire when it’s still small, you might be able to save your home.  Also, make sure it’s in an obvious location.  I know they aren’t very decorative, but if people can’t find them, they can’t use them.

3. Invest in a fire safe. You can keep your important documents in here, and maybe film negatives or backups, so that you don’t completely lose vital information and precious memories. They usually come with keys, but don’t lock it. The fire protective qualities work just as well locked or unlocked, but if you get robbed, a thief can rifle through an open safe and see that it’s just paperwork. If it’s locked, he may run off with it to open later at his convenience. We have found ours to hold moisture, though, so add a desiccant. You can get a container in the closet storage department at Walmart.

4. If you have kids and no easy way out of second story windows, you might want to get a fire ladder, too. Better safe than sorry, no? Like insurance, it seems like wasted money all those times you don’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.

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Here’s a reprint of a story I wrote back in 2007. It’s called:

The Very Long Tale of How I Burned Down My Mother-In-Law’s House

It was September of 1996, and my sister was getting married in New Jersey, so we made the journey from Colorado Springs to be there. Brenna was only six months old then, so we were still a small enough family to stay with relatives without causing too much inconvenience. So it was that we pulled into my mother-in-law’s driveway one bright, clear morning, full of excitement at seeing our far distant loved ones again. My dear mother-in-law gallantly gave up the master bedroom for our planned week-long stay and bid us make ourselves to home, and we did. Little did any of us know that things were going to take a terrible turn before too long.

Now David is not one to see the value in rising early if one does not have to be at work at oh-dark-thirty. The in-laws had already left for work, and so it was that Brenna and I were the only ones awake in the house at a quarter to seven. Well, not quite. There was a fat bunny, too. The fat bunny was permitted to hop about the house as he pleased and, as anyone who knows anything about bunnies knows, left many, many presents all over the carpet. The residents of the house and owners of the bunny seemed not to mind this situation and were quite adept at walking around this bounty, but I, the new mother of a small baby, found this to be absolutely intolerable. So I vacuumed up the multiple gifts, laid a sheet on the floor which I did not consider to be anywhere near clean, and set Brenna upon it with a few toys.

At seven in the morning, having already done all this work just to get up, I was more than ready for a cup of coffee, so I left the vacuum where it was, went into the adjacent kitchen and began the brewing process. By now, it was slightly after seven, and it was the day the bride was due to arrive, so I called my mother to hear the latest wedding news. The coffee still wasn’t done when I hung up, so I took the opportunity to use the powder room. It was, after all, first thing in the morning. For an instant, I considered brushing my teeth, too, but, providentially, I did not.

Now the bathroom opened off of a tiny alcove, along with the two other bedrooms, adjacent to the living room where Brenna was still playing. As I stepped out of the bathroom and into the alcove, I smelled something. Something hot, like a curling iron, perhaps. For another instant, I thought to check the two bedrooms for the source of the smell, but decided to look in on Brenna first. ‘Twas a good thing, too, for my little angel was sitting on the floor, playing happily with those ubiquitous Fisher Price keys, in front of a burning couch!

It’s funny what adrenaline does to you. It seems like everything is happening in slow motion, like you have all the time in the world to make decisions and take action. To an observer, though, it would all seem to happen so quickly! So it was that I assessed the situation, scooped up the baby, kicked in the bedroom door like some sort of Hollywood action star, yelled, “Fire!” at my sleeping husband, and twirled around to grab the phone. It was beautiful, really, efficient and graceful. One of my shining moments! I dialed 911 and watched David hop out of the bedroom and into his pants. He, too, assessed the situation, and decided it called for a comforter. He dragged one off of the bed and threw it onto the couch in an effort to smother the fire before it spread. He did well; in just a moment the couch was out, but, unfortunately, the wall had caught. We decided it was now a good time to leave, so we headed out the back door.

As we came around the side of the house, I noticed with surprise that the electric company was already out there. Then we stood on the front lawn, milling about, wondering what to do while we waited. David moved the bunny hutch away from the house. Then he suggested I call my father to come pick us up, as our car keys were currently inside melting away. After a while, the police came and blocked off the street, and let us wait in the back of one of the cars. The volunteer fire department got to work shortly thereafter. My dad sweet-talked his way through the road blocks to collect Brenna and me. David stayed with the house and the car and waited for his mother to arrive. He knew she’d need him.

Now the other funny thing about adrenaline is the absence of fear. Although you can see and understand the danger plainly, you are detached from it, almost like it is happening to someone else. Until, that is, the danger is past. Then it all comes down on you like a ton of bricks, and the what-ifs are staggering. I spent the rest of the day feeling completely and utterly helpless, holding Brenna and wishing I could hold David, too. That night, though, when I lay down beside them, all of us safe and together, I realized that I knew for certain something I’d hoped was true: My love was strong enough that I’d willingly brave death for them.

Of course, my sister, the bride, arrived that same afternoon. I was her Matron of Honor, which made David mad for some reason, but eleven (now 20!) years later, I still don’t know why. We moved his parents into a temporary house, and the surrounding communities were very generous in furnishing and provisioning it. The fire inspector declared it an electrical fire, which I have always attributed to the vacuum cleaner. Eventually, the in-laws bought their own home, a big step after all those years of renting. The bunny lived to a ripe old age, and was succeeded by more and bigger bunnies, and a cat. David went on to serve his year in Korea, managing to create another child during mid-tour leave. He is now the father of six healthy, happy children. And I, the chronicler of this misadventure, have always since owned at least one fire extinguisher, planned out every fire escape situation imaginable, and refused to vacuum other people’s houses.

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{p,h,f,r} The Tidy Desk Edition

phfr desk areaThis is my desk. We picked it up at a yard sale a few years ago for $60. It came out of a local government office building, and while it’s quite unattractive, it is extremely sturdy. I have plans of maybe someday painting it, but that will require emptying it and not using it for several days while primer and paint cure, and, well, it’s just not that high on my list of priorities, you know?  I got the chair at a yard sale, too.

It looks really neat right now, doesn’t it? Like maybe I cleaned it nicely just for this shoot? I sort of did. I had a couple of papers to put in my filing drawer, a bill to mail, and Evie left a board book on the corner, but that was it. My desk hasn’t needed more than a five minute tidy since mid-December, when I spent an entire morning on its last deep clean.

This is an achievement of unparalleled greatness for me! Until lately, it was just assumed that Jennie’s desk is a mess. It always is! I have so much going on, so many interests, so many things to manage, that there were always piles of papers and books covering every inch of the surface. What changed all that for me?

These two drawers:

drawers that make it happenI used to just toss stuff in them that I wasn’t using and didn’t know what to do with. Odd office supplies. Random papers. Craft projects in progress. And then, one day, I realized, “Half of my desk storage space is held hostage by things I don’t even need here!” So I tossed them or moved them. Every single thing. Now, the top drawer is my “money drawer”, where I stow bills, cash for the kids’ allowances, the checkbook, the credit card we use for internet purchases, and other monies that come in from our farm business. I also keep stamps and address labels here.

The second drawer houses my art supplies, since I decided to make creativity a focus for myself this year. There are sketch books and watercolor papers, paints and drawing pencils, and some note cards in the back for mailing to friends.

There is a third drawer on this side of this desk. I keep things like packing tape, the three hole punch, my label maker, and a small photo printer in it. On the right, there is a small drawer for tape, scissors, hole punches, and the like, and a larger filing drawer.

Making those drawers work for me has made all the difference in my desk top!

right hand desk phfrWell, I did come up with a few more organizational tweaks, too.  Instead of keeping my favorite writing implements stuffed in a drawer, I put them in mason jars and candle jars on this lazy susan.  I love the Sakura Micron pens, both for art and everyday writing, and there are colored pencils, sharpies and highlighters, too.  In between, I tuck a pad of sticky notes.

Behind that, I keep my planning and informational books – you know, internet passwords, addresses, and the like.  They are supported by a pot lid rack turned on its side!  It was only a couple of bucks at Walmart, but it makes it easy to drop the book I was using back in the appropriate slot.  The neighbors don’t fall over and block the space so that you need both hands to put it back.  Very helpful!  I also keep a jar of chocolates here.  I like to spoil my little guests.  (I really don’t eat them myself.  I may in the future, but this pregnancy, I just can’t stomach chocolate.)

My most used camera lenses are over here, too, for quick changes.

left hand desk phfrOn the left is the phone, a lamp, and some February flowers.  Usually, my camera sits here, too, for easy access, but I was using it. 🙂  I made the lamp out of fabric scraps!  I disassembled an old, ugly lampshade, added a few extra wire supports, and wrapped torn strips of fabric around it, tying on a new strip whenever the last one ran out.  It’s cute and cheery, I think.

phfr magazinesI got the idea out of one of these crazy expensive magazines that I think are so pretty.  I buy them sometimes during extended rainy seasons, or February, or other times of drear and melancholy.  Thanks to adult allowances, I don’t have to feel badly about this little pleasure.

plannersI use a two part planning system nowadays to keep my family, my home, my farm, my homeschool, and myself running efficiently.  A weekly planning calendar helps me manage appointments, older children’s work and college schedules, calf due dates,  and usage of our single vehicle.  It wouldn’t do to have it needed in two places at once.  I also sometimes write notes about my day.  Those are my happiest spreads, but I don’t do it as regularly as I ought.  The meat and potatoes of my planning is a bullet journal.  I tell you, this thing has revolutionized my life!  I can make lists and notes to my hearts content, and it is all easily accessible in a single volume.  I actually use two per year, I make so many lists.  I love lists.  It can be endlessly tweaked to suit your needs, which is the real beauty of it.  I wrote a planning post a while back, which is still relevant, except, sadly, for the Catholic planner.  I really haven’t been able to incorporate that, so I don’t think I’ll buy another.

real computer phftI don’t want you to go away feeling like everything is too good to be true over here at my desk, so this is my computer.  It’s a laptop.  There is an external hard drive attached, because the native one regularly goes haywire.  I’d hate to lose any of my stuff, so all important files, photos, and backups are stored on the external drive, and I make it a point to drag things over there at least once a month.  The keyboard quit working some time ago – not the whole thing, mind you, just the space bar, b, n, m, and right hand shift keys – so I got a wireless keyboard, and once I needed a wireless keyboard, I needed a wireless mouse, too.  Also, because it regularly freezes up and won’t shut down unless the battery is removed, the battery is now permanently removed.  So my laptop, basically, is a glorified monitor.  It doesn’t move anymore.  I miss that mobility, but I’m hoping it’ll limp along for another year or two, because I’m not looking forward to the expense of replacing it.

Visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {p,h,f,r}.  I really liked Deirdre’s desk tour the other day, and I loved her idea for having a written down plan before visiting the internet.  So much distraction out here!  But so much goodness, too.

Lots of love!