Category Archives: homemaking

Reading 2013: Bread & Wine


At this point in my life, it is rare that life should bring me to tears, though sometimes books and movies get me closer to that point (well, along with too little sleep). But a book about food? There were no heaving sobs, but Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist kept simultaneously me laughing out loud and wondering if my watery eyes would turn to flowing tears.

Bread & Wine is profound, moving, deeply spiritual, and deeply human. It’s about hoping and healing, feasting and fasting, learning to love and to accept love, learning when to hold others close and when to let go, and learning to weave together the rhythms life. Most of all, it’s about learning to gather together and embrace community and hospitality, particularly for those of us who are the people of the bread and wine.

This unique book recipe blends part spiritual memoir and part cookbook (although Neiquist insists it is not, maybe a “collection of recipes,” then?) to create a flavor all its own.

Niequist’s book will undoubtedly be on my list of favorite reads for 2013. Although I haven’t yet tried any of the recipes, the spiritual lessons are simmering away on my heart and mind. (And hopefully, I’ll make Shauna’s recipe for blueberry crisp before we eat all the blueberries the kids and I just picked!)

Shauna’s husband discovered that he had a gluten allergy, and many of Shauna’s friends have had to live with food restrictions. Her book is geared in such a way that most of the recipes are friendly or easy to adapt to diets with special limitations, particularly gluten free. (Which is good, since my gluten intake since return to the States has hit me hard with some side effects this week.)

Going into this book, I didn’t realize who the author’s father was, and I hadn’t read anything by Niequist prior to this book. Realizing who she was might have changed my perception of the book, though she certainly doesn’t she bask in the limelight of her father’s religious fame.

This is a book that offers real life and transparency without idolizing transparency or basking in brokenness. Particularly, Shauna deals with his struggles with fertility and body-image.

Evangelicals who hold to the belief that Scripture teaches total from alcohol may be a bit uncomfortable with Niequists frequent mention of enjoying alcoholic beverages (after all, the title is Bread & Wine), but I think even many who take such a position would readily take value in the overall message of the book.




Daily Rhythms with Anchor Points and Pressure Valves


Anchor Points Make Days Predictable and Flexible

These days, I don’t write out a minute by minute schedule to plan each day. Forget minutes–I don’t write out hourly schedules, either. Our days are fairly predictable with expected routines, but they also have a lot unstructured kid free time spaced throughout the day.

We like to call the routines that hold down our day our anchor points. Anchor points are the non-negotiables that tie our days together. We have a few checklist items (e.g., make/eat breakfast, work on article, read book together, take walk, etc…), and then I arrange them within the general time categories when I need to accomplish them (e.g., morning, early afternoon, evening while kids are sleeping, etc…). Wedding this idea with the concept of margin has provided me with more flexibility and opportunities to get things done.

Keep It Simple Schedule

One way to become quickly overwhelmed with small children is to pencil in every minute of the day. When a diaper or potty accident occurs, a shoe is lost while heading out the door, or a child really needs a little more of your attention, the minute-by-minute schedule is thrown off for the rest of the day. Instead, and particularly in this season of motherhood, it may help to focus on times as chunks, and days with routines instead of strict schedules.

In his productivity book Zen to Done, Leo Babuata encourages his readers to eliminate many of the unnecessary items off of their checklists, and just focus on three main tasks for each day. By eliminating others, they are more compelled to actually accomplish the most important tasks.

While such extreme simplification in motherhood (especially the SAHM version) may seem unrealistic, it may help to eliminate the minutia that ends up creating more stress and distracting from accomplishing what is truly important.

Life Tastes Better in Bite-Sized Chunks

Viewing your day as centered around anchor points will also help to break the day into chunks, and allow each section to seem more manageable. Bite-size is easier to do throughout the day than trying to eat a whole elephant at the end of the day.

Mealtimes are great anchor points. Using these as your non-negotiable times, you may choose to break up your day into a breakfast checklist, a lunchtime checklist, an afternoon checklist, and an after supper checklist. Additionally, each day may have its own space for a particular outing or activity. (But when you try to cram in too many, you’ll definitely experience circuit overload!)

Centered around the morning anchor point, you may wish to include breakfast, cleaning up the breakfast dishes, deeper cleaning one room assigned each day, reading through two small books with a child, and answering one e-mail. Of course, with children, there will be a host of other activities that come up: changing a diaper, an emergency bath, or helping an older child work through a frustration or schoolword. With children, flexibility is important–both for your sake and the child’s. Then, push to get all those items accomplished before the next anchor comes up. You can rearrange as life happens, and even eliminate when needed.

We All Need Breathing Space: Margin and Pressure Valves 

We all need breathing space in our days, throughout our days. This breathing space is, as Dr. Richard Swenson titles itmargin. Margin is essential in motherhood, though we don’t often notice it if we’re not intentional about it. Yet its absence often leaves us breathless and wondering why.
In the book Simplicity Parenting, author Kim John Payne discusses the concept of pressure valves. Pressure valves are important parts of the day–they are times during which to release pressure or tension and to sort of “regroup” or “debrief” mentally and emotionally before moving on to the next part of the day. These are important for anyone, but particularly so for the more introverted and easily stimulated child. Such activities can include painting, water play, naps and quiet times, quiet play, or a quiet walk.

Or, as Payne writes about other types of pressure valves:

“For some boys and industrious types, work can serve as a pressure valve. Such work might be doing a project: hauling rocks in a wheel-barrow, digging a hole, building with blocks, catching lizards, or climbing a tree. Ongoing projects that kids are anxious to get back to right after school can be wonderful pressure valves. Any activity a child can “lose himself in” allows for a release of tension, and the mental ease needed to process the day’s events. Whatever the means, active deep play is an excellent pressure valve. As kids reach the preteen years, sometimes hobbies or collections – the beginnings of deep passions – and organized sports can serve the same purpose.”

Personal Experience 
I’ve found that my kids need both unstructured play and quiet times (since naps are not usual for the oldest two) to have a smoother day. And I’ve found that when I am able (not always possible!) my own morning and afternoon with a little quiet space, the day goes much more smoothly on my end, as well. (And if you must live by a minute-by-minute schedule, then schedule these into your day.)
I have watched my children learn to create all sorts of objects with paper, scissors, and glue or in the dirt when “set free” to play by themselves. I’ve also overheard countless stories being relived and enhanced as they become actors in the worlds they create from stories we’ve read, family memories we’ve shared, and totally random compilations of their lives.
As homeschoolers who finished their work quickly, my husband and his brothers (and sister) had many hours with which to invent their own worlds, write and illustrate books in the notebooks, and even make home video movies complete with explosive. I see his creativity then and now, and want that for my children.
But when every single minute is structured, these opportunities are often lost.
As I was working on this post, I noticed that Catherine of The Spirited Mind had a very helpful post that addressed many of the same topics, though from a different angle. I have appreciated her ongoing writing on habit training and children, and benefited from her tying together Charlotte Mason, habit training, and unstructured time.
On my end, I know the coming years will hold more structured (school) time than they do now, but for now we are learning lots with lots of unstructured moments spaced between a little bit of reading and writing. And at present, we are also aiming to grow and learn more habits to catalyze the effects of the unstructured time (and vice versa). I entered adult life with far fewer habits than my husband, so I often feel like trying to instill them both in myself and my children while also living a full life is like swimming upstream. But then again, two steps forward for every step back is still progress!
Do you live by a highly-structured schedule? A flexible routine? Or nothing at all? Or all of the above? :)

Living Room Redo

Here’s the Before:

The After:

How It Came Together

When we moved into this house, all the wall paint was flat paint. There were lots of stains and marks on the wall, and wiping them off didn’t help much. Since the house has an open floor plan, we’ve gradually been painting rooms over the past few months. Our living room, however, was two stories high, and had a lot of area to cover. We’d already chosen Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter as our main paint color, so I needed to come up with a way to tie the room together with that.

I’ve always felt it was wrong for me to spend money to decorate my home with, and still wrestle with that. (Though I realize that some part of that is a conscience that has been bound by confusing teaching.) This is our first house (over the course of 6.5 years), where I’ve really been able to make planned purchases for decorating. We also hope to sell our house soon, so I wanted to essentially “stage” the room, while at the same time creating a space that would work well for our family for the time being. This room functions as both our family room, and since my husband has his home-office in the space where the formal living room would be, it’s also the area where we have guests sit and relax.

The “before” pictures shows our previous furniture–a couch and loveseat I got at a yard sale for $25 and some lamps my husband was given when he worked for a professional moving company. They were great, and particularly fun for my girls to build forts from, but they really clashed with the previous and new wall color. And the rug…looks much cleaner in the above picture than it did in real life.

I started out by making a design inspiration board. I had seen Pottery Barn’s scroll tile rug in some pictures, and that was my center point since it tied in well with the paint color. (However, at around $800 for the size I’d need, it was out of the budget for this particular project!) I’d also seen the black sofas in a newspaper flyer that came from Badcock Furniture. I figured with black would be a good color with 3 little kids in the house, and a backyard garden out the door the next room over.

My husband did an amazing job doing the painting, and since our living room is two-stories, we rented scaffolding, and he made it a weekend project. (He can do just about anything 2-3x faster than the average time, I think!!)

After he finished the painting, I went to peruse the furniture selection at Badcock. Sadly, it wasn’t the lower price I’d seen advertised, and it also wasn’t looking like the floor model was holding up very well to wear–and that was just the wear and tear of a display model! I wondered if maybe doing the entire room in the Ikea furniture I’d chosen for the accent chairs might be a better idea. After getting some reassurance via FB that I wasn’t crazy to choose white slipcovered furniture (the opposite, I’m told, since you can wash slipcovers), I decided to make a quick trip up to Ikea to get some furniture. Since my baby is still breastfeeding (and only breastfeeding), I had to time it just right–I fed him and had Daniel put him to bed, and then hurried up the road the 70-ish miles to Ikea.

I was still thinking we’d get the Ektorp sofa and loveseat and maybe two chairs, but decided to check the as-is section upon my arrival. Well, I was grateful to find that there were 2 Ektorp chairs and then a 2+2 sectional. They were marked down substantially, and that sort of made the decision for me. (I prayed about it, called Daniel to do measurements, and then checked and found out they were out of love seats anyway, so that helped give me some reassurance.) By the time I purchased the furniture, I never even had time to make it into the rest of the store. Then came the fun part–getting it into the van! Unfortunately, I didn’t get much help from the guys who were supposed to help with loading, but managed to convince one teen guy to help me and we wrestled the sectional into our van. (This was good that we were buying preassembled–I don’t think the boxed version would have fit.) But…alas, the chairs did not fit, and so Daniel and the girls went up the next evening after work and picked those up.

For the next two weeks, I scouted out rugs, pillows, and lamps to match. The nice thing about redoing the room around the holidays is that the stores had late evening hours, and so many a trip and return trip to exchange and try out various designs were made. I made the giant picture hangings and the frame with clothes-pinned pictures, as well.

My goal for this year was to have all our Christmas presents purchased and wrapped by the time we began Advent. I finished a couple of days into December, but my beautiful mental picture of a peaceful, laid back December wasn’t quite as restful with redoing an entire room in just two weeks! But it was fun, and we did finish within our timeline and under our budget. And we still celebrated Advent every night with our children.

I still have a couple of things I’d like to do–particularly paint some horizontally striped gray and white curtains, and maybe add a little more on some of the walls. The TV alcove (with no TV) will eventually painted glossy white (matching the other trim) inside, as well. Now that our Christmas tree is gone, there is a huge gaping area. We like the open space, but may end up getting a third Ektorp chair for that corner…not sure.  I’ve never had a coffee table, so probably won’t go for one for now, either.

The area rug is actually two area rugs–I found them at Garden Ridge, and was quite excited since they really tie the room together. (Another time consuming decision–I came quite close to having carpeted installed for the entire room.) I’d plan to cut off the seams of both of them and align them and tape down the seam, but they actually are a little different from each other and wouldn’t match up quite well enough.

Project Details: 

Paint: Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter
Area Rugs: Garden Ridge
Sofa: Ikea’s 2+2 Ektorp Corner with Blekinge White slipcover
Chairs: Ikea’s Ektorp Jennylund with Blekinge White slipcover
Table Lamps: Home Goods
Pillows: Home Goods and Ebay
Floor Lamps: Ikea
Black Table: Home Goods
White Table: Side of the road, repainted white (previously)
Wall Art: made from a yard sale frame, and pictures from wood from Lowe’s and prints from Staples (DIY tutorials coming!)
Silver Garden Stool: Badcock Furniture clearance
Moroccan Ottoman: eBay…but it didn’t come prestuffed–I have tons of towels and old fabric in there, and it’s still not enough!

More Pictures:

(In use, with family, on Christmas Day, top photo courtesy my brother-in-law, Josh.)

looking down from above

while still in progress


Buttermilk Lemon-Blueberry Scones

I picked up a 1/2 gallon of buttermilk marked down to 50 cents the other day, and hoped to experiment with it. When I think of buttermilk, I think of making pancakes, ranch dressing, scones, or mashed potatoes. I know there are lots of other options, but I knew I could at least make one of those options. I went with scones since I’d been wanting to make some for several weeks. I thought they were okay, but Daniel loved them. So I definitely need to get this recipe down before I forget.

Having never made scones before (at least that I can recall), I needed a recipe to work with and used the one here, which is for plain buttermilk scones. I added a few things and came up with this recipe:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 cup blueberries
1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon)

Ingredients for Glaze:
~1/3 cup lemon juice
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons cream (could use water)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grate lemon peel and juice lemon.
2. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add butter, lemon juice, lemon grate, and buttermilk; stir, adding blueberries as a soft dough is formed.
3. Divide the dough into two equal portions onto a lightly floured surface. Press separate portions into two circles, approximately 3/4 inch thick. Cut each circle into 8 pie/pizza-like pieces.
4. Place the scones on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

For Glaze:
1. Melt butter in saucepan on low heat.
2. Once butter is melted, add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Turn off heat and continue to stir as glaze thickens (you may need to add more confectioners’ sugar if not thick enough). Drizzle/splatter over scones after they have cooled.

I used Meyer lemons, but got some new regular organic lemons to try out later this week. (I think I like the “normal lemon” flavor a little better than that of Meyer lemons.)

The Joy of Coming and Making Home

This week marks a unique point in my life. No, it’s not my anniversary, my husband’s birthday, or even my own birthday.   It’s the week I began as a full-time homemaker, one year ago.  I’m at home because I’m Hana Kate’s Mommy, but I’m also at home because I Daniel’s wife.