Archive for 2006

Well, it’s over…

Saturday, December 2nd, 2006

And I have my life back! ;)

But wasn’t it fun! This time last year I was wondering if I could get my act together enough to do something as absurd as writing a novel in thirty days–the month before Christmas, no less. But few things I have ever done have been so rewarding. On this side of NaNoWriMo, I not only have a novel under my belt. I have the carefree and intensly personal satisfaction in my writing that I experienced as a teenager when I wrote like the wind and never thought of anyone else reading it. I have the joy of recapturing those ‘first, fine careless raptures’. And I have a pile of closely-typed pages that no one will ever lay eyes on but my husband and myself–and a month’s worth of happy memories of playing Jo March. :)

My (wonderful, supportive, encouraging…) husband came home with a bottle of champagne and took me out to dinner to celebrate. And yesterday I stashed my manuscript in a pretty flowered file folder and spent my spare time that afternoon scribbling madly in my journal. After all, I had a whole month’s worth of news to catch up on! ;)

Autumn in Dixie

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

After a gentle nudge from my sister-in-law, I realized it had been three weeks since I’d shown my face around here! ;) It has been a delightful and busy November, and apart from keeping house and preparing for the holidays, my spare time has been predominately employed in a most ridiculous scheme…Not to mention the fact that I have temporarily assumed the moderation of the Young Ladies Christian Fellowship

Rathen than attempting to describe the splendors of this lovely autumn we’ve been enjoying, I thought I’d just post a few pictures that my husband took:

 

 

 Along the eastern fence

 

 Looking towards the carriage house

My favorite bit of our morning walk

  

   The hickories have been beyond breath-taking this year

And just a few technical notes in closing–

~I’m sorry for any difficulties with the ‘Contact Lanier’ box. It’s never really worked properly!!

~I’ve actually updated my Links page and I’ve *thought* about updating the Gallery…but no promises…

~And for those of you experiencing a long space with lots of arrows before the text shows up, this site is best viewed in the Firefox browser…

I hope that everyone is having as gorgeous an autumn as we are in the Great Southland! :)

Keeping House

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

October 13, 2006 

This was a day of doors flung wide; of windows lifted like a toast to autumn gusts and sunlight shimmering through sparkling wavy glass. Of shaking rugs in the open air and polishing old wood till it shone a deep amber. It was a day of housecleaning—the kind that only occurs once a year—and of deep satisfaction in my happy lot.

When we were first married and all my long-held and much-cherished ideals of homemaking were finally realized in a house to keep and a husband to love and look after, I approached the great undertaking of a yearly cleaning with relish. I regarded it with much the same energy as that displayed by my sister and me in our annual attack upon our little playhouse in my parent’s backyard: we would drag everything out into the first warm sunshine of the spring, scrub down our ‘Little Tykes’ refrigerator and sink and the small wooden chairs and table, wipe the two tiny four-over-four windows, and scour the six-by-eight floor with a zeal that would have made Cinderella blush. Then we would fill a #2 washtub with good soapy water and fling in our tin and plastic kitchen accouterments with abandon. After everything was dry—just about the time the sun had lowered behind the trees in our neighbor’s yard and the breeze turned suddenly chill and the aromas of supper were wafting out to us from the house—we’d give the floor a last sweep and put it all back in, satisfied that the sanitary standards were up to par for another season.    

But it’s a big jump from keeper of a one-room playhouse to chatelaine of a rambling old farmhouse, and I must confess, that first spring I found myself rather daunted by the magnitude of the task that lay before me. And I didn’t even have my sister to help wash the windows. ;) But I had good examples in the way of books and friends, not to mention those of my mother and my mother-in-law. (Confessions of an Organized Homemaker by Deniece Schofield was a great boon that spring.)

In the years since I have honed my own principles of keeping house; I have learned to simplify my task list and I’ve had it out with my perfectionism (over and over and over again…). And I have discovered that spring cleaning is a chore in the spring. But it’s a delight in the autumn. In the spring I am all about garden beds and sprouting seedlings. I just want to be outside with my growing things. But in the autumn it is an absolute joy to prepare my home for the coming cold weather and inside days with a furious spree of cleaning. Every task carries for me its own sense of celebration, the glorious energy of October mornings and the fluttering joy of the coming holidays. The very smell of Scott’s Liquid Gold can make my heart beat faster…

I’ve also learned that I don’t like to do all of my cleaning in one big block like I used to. It’s just a breeding ground for perfectionism if I think that I have to finish it all within a given (and arbitrary) slot on the calendar. This year I tried something new: the Friday mornings of September and October have been given to the big once a year onslaught, and the tasks themselves have been broken up into reasonable chunks, divided over seven weeks or so. Each Friday I consult my master list and decide what I’m in the mood for that day, which only enhances the sense of pleasure in the work of my hands. And it also silences the clamor of other jobs which will get my attention on the next Friday…or the next…

One of the main points that Deniece makes in her book is that forethought is our greatest ally in the management of our homes, and I am only beginning to realize how true that is. Ten minutes of planning this year saved me hours of wearisome labor; the very act of limiting myself has, inexplicably, made for a joyful and productive autumn. I don’t think I’ll ever do my spring cleaning in the spring again.       

Fairie Lore

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

Of anyone, the great ‘St. Francis of Aberdeen’ ought to know…

“…Those you call fairies in your country are chiefly the young children of the flower fairies. They are very fond of having fun with the thick people, as they call you; for, like most children, they like fun better than anything else."

"Why do you have flowers so near you then? Do they not annoy you?"

"Oh, no, they are very amusing, with their mimicries of grown people, and mock solemnities. Sometimes they will act a whole play through before my eyes, with perfect composure and assurance, for they are not afraid of me. Only, as soon as they have done, they burst into peals of tiny laughter, as if it was such a joke to have been serious over anything. These I speak of, however, are the fairies of the garden. They are more staid and educated than those of the fields and woods. Of course they have near relations amongst the wild flowers, but they patronize them, and treat them as country cousins, who know nothing of life, and very little of manners. Now and then, however, they are compelled to envy the grace and simplicity of the natural flowers."

"Do they live in the flowers?" I said.

"I cannot tell," she replied. "There is something in it I do not understand. Sometimes they disappear altogether, even from me, though I know they are near. They seem to die always with the flowers they resemble, and by whose names they are called; but whether they return to life with the fresh flowers, or, whether it be new flowers, new fairies, I cannot tell. They have as many sorts of dispositions as men and women, while their moods are yet more variable; twenty different expressions will cross their little faces in half a minute. I often amuse myself with watching them, but I have never been able to make personal acquaintance with any of them. If I speak to one, he or she looks up in my face, as if I were not worth heeding, gives a little laugh, and runs away."

I may as well mention here, that the conclusion I arrived at from the observations I was afterwards able to make, was, that the flowers die because the fairies go away; not that the fairies disappear because the flowers die. The flowers seem a sort of house for them, or outer bodies, which they can put on or off when they please. Just as you could form some idea of the nature of a man from the kind of house he built, if he followed his own taste, so you could, without seeing the fairies, tell what any one of them is like, by looking at the flower till you feel that you understand it. For just what the flower says to you, would the face and form of the fairy say; only so much more plainly as a face and human figure can express more than a flower. For the house or the clothes, though like the inhabitant or the wearer, cannot be wrought into an equal power of utterance. Yet you would see a strange resemblance, almost oneness, between the flower and the fairy, which you could not describe, but which described itself to you. Whether all the flowers have fairies, I cannot determine, any more than I can be sure whether all men and women have souls.

George MacDonald, Phantastes

Weary Little Wandering Feet

Friday, October 6th, 2006


 

Philip and I have just recently returned from a New England adventure, consisting of a blissful week in a cottage in Maine and a mad-cap weekend in Boston with my sister and her husband.

Ten days becomes an eternity when there’s nothing to do but feast your eyes on gorgeous scenery and your mind on good books. How wonderful it was to flee for a while to a distant spot on the map, to entrust our home and our animals to dear friends, to be out of range of the tentacles of modern ‘connectivity’ and to be completely quiet. There were days in our little cottage that neither of us would speak a word for hours on end, so engrossed were we in our respective reading and writing and musing. And there were lovely escapades, as well: forays into the breathtaking country-side and the drama of Acadia National Park. Crystalline days and famous Maine fog…

 

I prayed fervently before we left that God would refresh me while we were away. That He would literally restore my soul, dimly realizing that the restoration Psalm 23 speaks of entails repentance as well as rejuvenation, a sort of reinstatement in grace. It’s so easy to lose our footing, even on the firm, sure ground provided for us, and sometimes the only way to see things clearly as they are is to be uprooted from our physical surroundings and familiarities. To wake up in the morning and gaze with wondering eyes on country we’ve never seen before; to sit long on a shore hitherto unknown and drink deep of a breeze scented strangely with evergreen and salt. Some of the most distinctive and clear-sighted moments in my life have been while traveling, and though my affectionate soul will probably always hold that ‘home-keeping hearts are happiest’, I cherish the opportunities I’ve had to see more of the world than the blessed corner of it I call my own.

 

Late in the week I made a pan of gingerbread for breakfast and as the sweet spice wafted through our little cottage I felt a fleeting stab of homesickness. I welcomed it with a thrill, glad to be refreshed enough for a wistful thought of all that I had left behind; glad, too, that my retreat had yet a fine stretch of days ahead, and that what lay at its end was so inescapably dear to me. A happiness beyond my happiness.

 

The re-entry was admittedly rough; there were tears shed leaving the cottage, leaving my sister in Boston, leaving the ground in the airplane. The morning that Philip went back to work was very blue indeed. But there was Caspian tripping me up all day in his delight at our return. There were four cats to be won over again and nine chickens who all came bundling towards me when they spotted me in the yard. There was my beloved brown teapot and my piano and my sun-splashed kitchen. And there was my view from the windows, one I’d not exchange for anything.

 

So, it was a marvelous trip and I am brimming with thoughts to ponder and process, for I knew instinctively even while I was there that I wouldn’t fully receive it all till I was home again. And more than likely some of it will spill over here. :)

 

Ramblings

Monday, September 18th, 2006

Sunday, September 17

We’ve spent the weekend getting ready for our housepainters, who will arrive with the sun Monday morning; Philip has been polishing up the details on our newly converted porch. We’ve called it so many things since the project began back in the spring: summer kitchen, mud room, sun room, keeping room. And the vision has evolved with the name. What began on paper as a utilitarian space has become yet another concession to beauty and peaceful reflection. It’s facing west, commanding a splendid sunset view—in summer down across the pasture to the north, and in winter kindling behind the thick pines on the southern end. And so, instead of a washing machine and dryer, it will contain a deep window seat, cushioned wicker chairs and a sea grass rug. There will be shelves for Wellies and garden tools, a sink for washing vegetables and eggs. But the primary pursuit in this room will be dreaming. Drinking tea and reading. Good conversation. Rest. Of that I am sure.

 

We’re so pleased with how it’s coming. We replaced the screens with wonderful old salvaged windows from a lost building downtown, eight-over-eight with wavy glass and great big pulls. (The actual tale of how they came to be in our possession is a story in itself, and one I’m not sure I’d like to revisit! ;) If anyone is familiar with the notion of ‘dumpster-diving’ they will get a pretty good idea of what we went through to get them.) And yesterday, Philip and his dad finished setting in the old French doors we found for a song. It’s so exciting to see a project come together like this. I never cease to be amazed at what my husband can do! He is a true craftsman and I love what he fashions with his mind and his hands. When it’s all finished, inside and out, I will have to post pictures just to brag on him a bit.        

And so, the weekend winds to a close tonight with a gentle sunset under brooding clouds. The hens have wandered home to roost and have been shut up tight for the night in Fort Poulet. Four cats are prowling about giving me the eye and a hungry dog is awaiting his dinner. Philip is making the final rounds as the dusk gathers, making certain that all is in readiness for tomorrow. (Long-time readers and friends will remember that this house-painting venture has been a saga of almost two years’ duration…)

It is the calm before the storm. In the morning the peace of our farm-in-the-city will be temporarily shattered. But it’s happy to think how beautiful this old lady will be when they’re done with her. A regular face-lift. My painter told me she’d look like Gone With the Wind. ;) I feel quite certain that he is referring to the book and not the film, for while the latter is admirable in itself, it bears but occasional resemblance to Margaret Mitchell’s masterpiece. And nowhere does it diverge more seriously than with Tara itself, perhaps the central character of the book. What Mitchell portrayed as a typical Georgia plantation, modest, sprawling, almost spartan in many respects, was represented in the movie as one of those flamboyant belles along the Natchez trace. Gorgeous in her own right. But not Tara. So, of course, I may assume that my painter has no intention of adding Corinthian pillars and wrap-around verandahs. No frills and furbelows here. Just simple, honest lines, unpretentious contentment with herself and with her surroundings. That’s what I first loved about this place from the moment I saw it. Which is another story, too…   

Such a rambling post! But I am glad to be back, and glad to hear from so many of you dear folk in the past few weeks who are kind enough to drop in to see what I’m thinking about…thank you for your beautiful words and comments. :)

God bless you all this week!

Farm Days

Monday, September 11th, 2006

September 4th

Today was one of our favorite kinds of days: we call them ‘farm days’. Getting up early, a hearty breakfast, a brisk ‘constitutional’ around the property in the fashion of Thomas Jefferson. And a long, productive day of meaningful tasks, either working together or blowing kisses in passing as we delve into whatever projects have been slated for the day.

This morning, my gentleman farmer opted out of the walk because he was eager to get to work. His big undertaking was to burn a bunch of old wood and debris down in the barnyard in anticipation of our cows coming home. Yes, Flora, Fauna and Meriwether will be joining us soon, ‘the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise’, and we are in the final stages of preparation. The last real hurdle—other than locating and purchasing the girls themselves—will be to track down a few vintage cow bells. I can already hear them dingling down across the pasture…

So Caspian and I walked without him. It was evident that Caspian’s every sense was awake to the freshness in the air. He frisked ahead on his leash, darting off to the right or left without warning after some fascinating scent, prancing along with a new liveliness in his step. (He could certainly tell you why they call them the ‘dog days’, or, at least, he thinks he could.) As we came down under the walnut trees a light breeze scattered golden leaves on our way and bore the scent of wood smoke from the bonfire. My heart leapt—it was a moment of pure joy, and potent enough to make me believe that autumn is really coming. I love the burnished season ahead. I love fires and big pots of soup on the back burner and baked apples on frosty mornings. With the coming of each season I always feel at the outset that I’ll be sad when it goes, with all of its unique pleasures and beauties. But autumn is the only one that I really do mourn. And thus, my delight in its appearance is a thing apart. A ripe, golden-hearted joy that just seems to intensify with each passing year.

It made me happy on that almost-cool morning to think of the lentils I had sprouting in a colander in the kitchen in advance of a hearty soup for our dinner that night. Lentil soup is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and so full of amiable associations for me that the very making of it is a joy, simple as it is. And paired with hot carrot muffins, it makes for the perfect early autumnal meal. :)

Here’s my recipe: 

Lentil Soup

Early in the morning, rinse 1 pound of dried lentils in a colander and cover with a paper towel that has been soaked in warm water. Every hour or so, rinse them again with warm water and replace the wet paper towel. By five o’clock they should be sprouted.

In a large stock pot, sauté one onion and two or three garlic cloves in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the lentils and cover with water, up to about 4 inches above the surface of the lentils. Stir in 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt, pepper to taste and 1 big tablespoon of cumin. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for an hour or so. Before serving add a nice splash (okay…1/2 cup or so?) red wine.

You can add sliced carrots to the soup, as well, but I prefer to serve them on the side as muffins. :)
 

Carrot Muffins

 
1 ½ cups all purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

2/3 cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup grated carrots

Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the oil, sugar and eggs in a large bowl and mix by hand until blended. Gradually add the dry ingredients and mix well; stir in the grated carrots. Spoon the batter into greased muffin tins and bake 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

The only real trick with these muffins is keeping your husband out of them until dinner’s on the table. ;)

Of Kittens and Mushrooms

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

 

Sunday afternoon Philip and I held one of the solemn little ceremonies that our year is so happily and liberally laden with. Celebrating the ordinary, homely things that make life both interesting and familiar gives us so much joy. Things as commonplace as a new sweetness in the air and a new angle to the sun’s rays slanting across the backyard. Something as simple as flipping a page on the calendar and finding ourselves embarking on the most poignant month of the year.

We toasted September today, and with it, the coming autumn, with tea on the front porch and readings from Coleridge and Wordsworth. (I managed to work in one of my very favorites, The Solitary Reaper, reasoning that though it says nothing whatever about autumn, reaping is an autumnal activity, thus qualifying it for our purposes. I didn’t even offer an excuse for Surprised by Joy, though. ;) )

We read one that was new to both of us, and particularly apt: Wordsworth’s The Kitten and Falling Leaves. Oh, do, go and look it up, preferably in a nice, worn, leather bound book, and cherish it for yourself, whether it’s known to you or not. There’s just nothing like the precision of poetry, the elegant sword-thrust of perfectly turned words, to make the realities of life so piercingly clear! At the beginning I was laughing at the expressive imagery of a kitten pouncing fierce upon wafting yellow leaves—by the end my eyes were burning with tears.

And I will have my careless season

Spite of melancholy reason,

Will walk through life in such a way

That, when time brings on decay,

Now and then I may possess

Hours of perfect gladsomeness.

—Pleased by any random toy;

By a kitten’s busy joy,

Or an infant’s laughing eye

Sharing in the ecstasy;

I would fare like that or this,

Find my wisdom in my bliss;

Keep the sprightly soul awake,

And have faculties to take,

Even from things by sorrow wrought,

Matter for a jocund thought,

Spite of care and spite of grief,

To gambol with Life’s falling Leaf.

William Wordsworth, 1804

I felt these words to be such a charge: to be resolute in all the things I have to be glad about; to refuse to allow all the grown-up cares of life dampen that sweet, stabbing joy in such little things. How frightfully, fearfully easy it is to let oneself grow too wise to smile at life. The characteristic I love most about the woman of Proverbs 31 is that “she laughs at the future”. She takes no anxious thought; she trusts all to God. Her heart is at rest in His love where there is no room for fear of any kind. I want to be like that—it’s one of my most oft-repeated prayers. And I can only believe that when we are trained to such an upward gaze it will serve us well ‘when time brings on decay’, when cherished plans fail or when our hearts are wrung with pain.

I wonder sometimes if it’s the fleeting nature of so many potential joys that keeps us adults from laughing at life the way we should, from savoring all the adorable pleasures that each day holds. A kitten turning a laundry basket over on top of himself. Squirrels bickering over a nut on some unseen bough. A shower of golden leaves on a sudden gust of wind. A baby’s rich chuckle.

I had a very obvious revelation the other day—all the beautiful and noble and lovely things in life are just as real as all the ugly, horrid things. More real, in fact, for they are eternal. They are of God and His redeemed creation. And, as such, it behooves me to fix my mind upon them with all my might and main and leave the sorting out of this life to God. It’s not naïve to focus on the good. Neither is it wise to prepare for the worst by dwelling on it—in fact, when carried that far it’s sin.

Laugh and fear not, creatures. Now that you are no longer dumb and witless, you need not always be grave. For jokes as well as justice come in with speech.

                                                                        C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew  

 After our tea we took a long, leisurely walk, stopping every few feet to examine the delightful mushrooms that daily showers and tropical-ish humidity have brought forth all over the yard: emerging from a deep loam of leaves under the oak trees, raising puckish little caps all along the drive, springing up on a rich carpet of moss (some people have grass in their front yard: we are quite proud of our beautiful moss). We counted 21 different varieties, all ranges of colors and shapes and sizes. Pure, silvery white to vibrant yellow, rich velvety browns and clear reds—how we laughed at their diversity, and the marveled at the majestic creativity of the God Who made them. A lovely end to a lovely day…

 

Coming Soon!

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

I’m working on my autumn schedule this afternoon, and getting excited about the change of season I feel coming, though it’s still ninety degrees outside and will be for weeks yet. And though this summer has had a routine of its own, albeit a laid-back one, I am almost giddy over the prospect of a new one…The freshness and novelty of even ordinary things, and all the energy that always seems to accompany a turning point in the year. There’s just nothing like the autumn to me for getting things in order and clearing out mental clutter. I feel inspired just thinking about it. But it’s time I went back to the task…I just wanted to pop in and say that I’m gearing up for more regular posting again, probably after Labor Day. That’s when the school year always started for us, and I am a creature of habit.

I didn’t actually keep my readers informed of postings on YLCF like I said I would, but here’s a sampling of this summer’s work:

Eagles’ Wings

Tolkies

Ideals and Expecations, Part One

Ideals and Expectations, Part Two

These Days… 

Summer Drinks 

June Brides

That should be enough for now…just so you’ll know I haven’t been idle! ;)

Summer Reading List

Friday, July 14th, 2006

 

I hope that y’all are having a lovely summer! It’s getting too hot here to go out and garden past ten o’clock in the morning, but there are plenty of pleasant indoor things to put one’s hands to. Not the least of which is a good book when all (or almost all ;) ) the pressing things have been attended to…

Here’s a list of some of my favorite summer reads from years past that I compiled for the Young Ladies Christian Fellowship.

One of the books I’ve read this summer that I didn’t include there was Rumer Godden’s The Greengage Summer. I found myself so tangled up in it that it’s a good thing it didn’t take me long to read it! Rumer Godden writes with great beauty and poignancy…and the fact that the action takes place in an old hotel in the Champagne region of France in the 1950′s certainly appealed to me. Five English children are cast upon the mercy of the haughty proprietress after their mother is taken suddenly ill. When a mysterious and dashing English gentleman intervenes and makes them his charges for the month of August the children embark on what they imagine will be an idyllic and magical summer. Which it is–you feel like you are there, experiencing it with them–until Monsieur Eliot’s behaviour takes a sinister turn. It’s a coming-of-age story, with many of the inuendos and expressions that such suggests, but nothing untoward actually occurs–in that respect, at least. In other respects…it’s amazing what can be hidden beneath the quiet facade of a sleepy French village…   

I usually keep Philip abreast of the plot line of whatever book I happen to be reading. The day that I finished this one, we went out to dinner and I was polishing off my narrative in rather intense tones when Philip cracked a smile and nudged my elbow. The waiter at the neighboring table was listening in with unconcealed interest–apparently he thought I was talking about real people. Perhaps he was even wondering if he should call the police! ;)