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What is this soul, and how does it pass?

Education is simply the soul of a society
as it passes from one generation to another. 

–G.K. Chesterton

People who aren’t used to thinking in a Chestertonian way may think this statement extravagant, or overly poetic and ephemeral. I forgive them, because they likely are recipients of a societal soul that lacks perspective and understanding. It takes time and tradition to build a healthy society, and the modernists who taught many of us have lost the moorings of our Christian past. Many people don’t have a concept of passing something on to their children; they just want them to have a college degree so they can get a Good Job.

I have done most of my growing up in the little society of the family my husband and I created many decades ago, and the culture and nourishment has been good. The word soul didn’t come to mind as a descriptor of what we were trying to impart to our children, while we were trying to give them the best nurturing, the best culture for healthy growth, but now that I have for so long been focused on cultivating life in my children and my self, Chesterton’s way of describing it seems perfect.

Of course, it’s frighteningly full of possibilities. How would you characterize the soul of American society? Or the society of your extended family? Are you in a church that is unified and close-knit enough to constitute a society, and is it one that you can feel good about the next generation continuing? The process that GKC hints at brings to mind images of some ghost-like being floating over the globe, and I wonder how much control I can have over that?

At any rate, this thought makes me gladder than ever that my husband and I were able to homeschool our children for many years, and pass on to them thousands of small bites of hearty soul food. We can’t even know for sure which were superfoods and which were maybe just as nourishing, but harder to digest, seeing how God redeems and uses even our failures. But we cooked up the recipe ourselves, in our home kitchen, so to speak, and after all this time, it is still tasting very good.

Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things is hosting a blog event in 2014, Weekends with Chesterton , and you can see more of how various of GKC’s ideas stimulate and encourage bloggers by perusing the pages linked from there.

What I love and don’t fear – domiciliphilia

hyssop beginning to flower

Hyssop is blooming in my garden, reminding me of Psalm 51: Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed. Thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow. Three years ago seeds must have fallen into the ground from the plant I’d bought; why they waited so long to sprout this spring, I don’t know.

The zinnias are going strong, and now the purple coneflowers are coming on. I got distracted and forgot about them when they were dormant and the foxgloves were dominating that space, and by planting the red zinnias I broke my rule about not having red and magenta-colored flowers together. That could have been a disaster!

But they seem to be getting along o.k. Even when the landscape is not living up to my visions, I’m relaxed out in the garden in the midst of my accomplishments. They are really God’s accomplishments; the little contributions I made could never on their own have created the splendor that is right here in my back yard.

An orange dragonfly posed for a picture.

I have joked that I approach agoraphobia, but that was coming at the truth from the wrong direction. I just love being home and working at home. Until I came home to the Orthodox Church, I dragged my feet even about going to church, much as I loved the people there, and God. And though I will gladly drive and fly all over the country and even the world to see and be with those dear to me, it’s annoying just having to run errands in my town and break my concentration, my focus on home.

It’s not laziness, it’s an attentiveness that encompasses many kinds of mental and physical work. You’ve seen the long lists of things homemakers are called upon to do; well, I have my own intensely personal version of that list, and only God knows all that is on it, what burdens I carry and how light they are here in my realm.

No, I don’t fear going out, I don’t have a phobia of The Marketplace. But when I do go, it is always with the anticipation of feathering my nest with things I will bring back, or with the confidence that I will soon return to the place where I am most alive and productive…and the hope that having accomplished those outside tasks I will have a longish reprieve from distractions, and be able to get on with my best work.

I’m not agoraphobic, I’m domiciliphilic.

 

I did it for love of manzanita.

I am reposting this story from two years ago for the Hidden Art of Homemaking discussion at Ordo Amoris. It’s about one of my projects that illustrates some of the difficulties and satisfaction of interior decorating.
 
A botanical theme has emerged.

Decorating is a homemaking job that I wish I could get over and done with and on to other things. This post is about how the realization of that wish is a long time coming. On one level the story bores me to death, even though it’s my own house I’m writing about, the house I’ve been investing in for 20 years. That should warn most of my readers to leave right now and go read something more entertaining.

What’s makes me want to tell this too-long tale anyway is the way it illustrates how an incredible amount of mental and physical labor can go into what seems a simple project. I suppose I’m not used to this precisely because I’m not into home decorating and haven’t applied my perfectionistic creative energies to it so much before. In a way it’s a larger-scale version of my doll clothes effort: what I envision doesn’t come in a kit.

If I could make a kit out of it no one would buy it. It’s just the best that we could do given our priorities, and with a tract house that doesn’t have enough walls to be cozy or enough windows to brighten the view. The story I tell is also amusing if one considers the output of my mental energies compared to the mediocrity of the results.

G.K. Chesterton said,

It is the main earthly business of a human being to make his home, and the immediate surroundings of his home, as symbolic and significant to his own imagination as he can. 

I’m not sure what all G.K. meant by that, but he does seem to give me liberty, and even to tell me it is my duty, to spend time on my house and property with the purely physical and aesthetic aspects in mind.

One year ago

So, I push on. Last year we changed the arrangement of the living room furniture so that the pictures on the wall didn’t work anymore. It seemed that the painting that used to be above a couch was too “heavy” after we moved the piano under it. It was then the largest wall item above the largest piece of furniture. Also, the TV had come out of the closet and found a new and permanent place in a corner, and the emptiness above it bothered me for months while I tried to figure out what to put there.

The first thing that came to mind was a manzanita branch such as I remembered my grandmother having in her living room for a while, a natural curio of sorts. Hers had sat on the coffee table, I think, but mine would hang above the TV to fill some of that airspace and balance out the piano nearby. (We’d need to get a smaller something to put above the piano, too.)

I started looking online for manzanita, but I found only small and twiggy, pale specimens, for use in flower arrangements. So I gave up for a while and spent hours looking for a decorative mobile. Nothing pleased. By that time we were in the middle of the remodel, so it wasn’t urgent.

Then in April we went north to Pippin’s place, where the previous winter’s record-breaking amounts of snow had piled up everywhere. As we walked through her forest we saw several manzanita bushes with large branches broken off. My mind started twirling around the idea that I could prepare my own decorative branch. The others helped me choose a couple that might work and we hauled them home.

Nine months ago

I still didn’t know if I could accomplish what I envisioned; I’ve never been one to do woodworking of any sort. I knew enough to trim off the flowers and small twigs. Then it occurred to me that wood needs to dry out before one can work it. I read that manzanita tends to split, so people have trouble making furniture out of it. Maybe my branches would split too much as they dried?

I left them sitting around in the garage for a couple of months and they only split a little bit. On the Internet I read somewhere to paint them with Danish oil to preserve the wood, so I did that. And one of my children said I should stain the trimmed ends of the branch so the whiteness of the wood wouldn’t distract from the lovely smooth and dark bark.

I think this is the one I didn’t use.

It was B.’s upcoming birthday party that put the fire under me to get the chosen branch up in the corner. We bravely screwed two hooks into the smooth new ceiling, and I painted them white so they would fade into the background. Then three strands of fishing line were tied to those, and to the branch.

Soldier was here and helped me position it just so; he’s tall and strong and could stand there calmly holding it in midair while I fumbled with the almost invisible threads. Then voilà! At last, that one part of my decor was in place (now we only had to ignore the empty space above the piano) and all our party guests could admire it. I began brainstorming on a solution to that remaining space nearby.

Three weeks later I dusted the manzanita with a feather duster and the next morning it crashed onto the TV and to the floor. Nothing was harmed. Guess we needed stronger filament. It took me about two months to get to the store to buy it. Then it took another month before B. and I could make ourselves re-hang the branch. See what kind of do-it-yourself-ers we aren’t?

I was sure I knew how to orient the branch, the way Pippin had told me to, but after B. and I got it centered and hung and he’d gone bike-riding, I realized by looking at previous photos that I had it exactly backwards, and it truly didn’t look the best. I tried just flipping it over, and that sort of worked; I only had to re-tie one filament, and we were o.k….except that now the branch was a little closer to the ceiling than ideal, and the top of it was vaguely lined up with the curtain rod, which didn’t look right. I suffered with that all through Christmas, trying not to care. Of course most people said it was fine because no one wanted to go through the difficulty of doing it over.

I had to buy a piano lamp before I could decide what would go behind it; our old one was shot. Piano lamps are expensive! The cheapest one I could settle on was out of stock for a few weeks, so we waited on that. I had looked at so many paintings or other wall decorations, many hours of browsing over several months, and found nothing I wanted enough to spend money on.

So I thought I would saw and paint some wooden birds to hang up there…they needed to be warm and colorful, because the corner with a black TV and a stark naked branch turned out surprisingly modern and chilly. (Maybe what I need is a branch about five times that big, just sitting on the floor behind the TV and reaching toward the ceiling…and permanently trimmed with Christmas ornaments…? )

But then we must return to how I’m not a woodworker, or a painter for that matter. I think it was on New Year’s Day that I felt desperate to make some progress; I decided to spend money and get something. B. and I knew we needed color there, and we knew the parameters of what the measurements needed to be. I bookmarked some paintings, and when B. came home from watching a football game we chose one and ordered it. Whoopee!

The painting arrived and sat on the floor near its destination for over a week. I knew we needed to be in the right mood to even talk about putting it up. In the meantime, one day I got a burst of courage and all by myself re-did the lines supporting my manzanita. I think it might be as much as an inch lower. A most satisfying inch.

Last week we hung the picture. Those are giant poppies providing the splash of color. I hope Mr. Chesterton is happy and won’t mind if I get back to my sewing and reading now.

Grandma didn’t make pesto.


My grandma of renown was no slacker, and she was the person who taught me by example how to prepare for a trip. When my sisters and I stayed with her in summertime, we usually went with Grandma and Grandpa on a week’s outing to a cabin or camp in the mountains.

Everything was ship-shape on the home front when we drove off early enough in the morning to have breakfast at the Tracy Inn on the way. There was not a speck of dust on the furniture, and the beds had been made up with fresh sheets as soon as we were out of them. Certainly Grandma would have made sure that Grandpa deadheaded his prizewinning flowers.

Liam, whom I’ll see tomorrow!

But Grandma would never have thought to drive down the state to visit one grandchild for a few nights, and then turn around to fly across the country the very next week to sojourn with a passel of other grandchildren for more than two weeks. The way I am doing. I have to keep reminding myself that in a myriad of ways I am not Grandma.

I am blessed to the point of unbelief having so many grandchildren, and Grandma only had a few of us whom she saw twice a year. Grandma didn’t do the gardening, and she didn’t write any blog posts, though I daresay the wonderful letters she wrote are worth more per hour invested than what I put out.

If there had been basil growing in the back yard, I know she would have arranged things so that the pesto was made at least a couple of days before departure, giving her time to sweep and mop the kitchen and get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. She wouldn’t be complaining, because she liked traveling and had Everything Under Control.

Not me. I have mostly been whining about everything, including the reality of all the work undone and how I hate leaving home. I was standing at the sink this afternoon whimpering as I pulled leaves off stems, when it hit me that making pesto is one of my most favorite things to do. How wonderful is it that I have a garden that grows basil, from which a woman can create one of the wonders of the culinary world?

And the people in my life — oh, my! Preparing for and going on trips with my grandma was one of the happiest activities of my childhood. She was so good to provide that for us. Hugging and holding my children and grandchildren is necessary food for the maintenance of cup-running-over happiness. Right now I don’t really care if the floor is still dirty and the bed unmade (and a hundred other negatives I won’t waste time listing even to myself) when I drive off tomorrow morning. What do you know — I’m not Grandma!

If Grandma had been washing basil and found a Japanese beetle in the sink, she’d have said, “Tch, tch!” with disgust, but I saw it as a photo opportunity. I could feel this way because this summer I’m not growing green beans. Japanese beetles have ravaged many a crop of green beans here, and in the past I developed a quickness in squishing them between my fingers.

Grandma would not have written a letter or recipe or anything the night before a trip. But writing is also one of my favorite things to do. So here I am.

I see that I blogged about pesto three years ago without giving my recipe, so I will put it up this time:

PESTO
3 cups packed basil leaves
2 large cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts 
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
 

Mix in the food processor, adding the oil and cheese at the last. Add more salt if you like, or more oil if you need it to be runnier. I’ve had this keep for weeks in the fridge, and years in the freezer, and still be flavorful.

It’s probably easy to guess what is another favorite activity I will indulge in before the sun goes down: gardening. I need to spread some manure around where I thinned the perennials yesterday. Maybe I will run out of energy to clean up all the basil-tinged oil smeared around the kitchen before I fall into bed, but it’s very comforting to have a few little tubs of that tasty stuff in the freezer when we haven’t even got to August.

Grandma wouldn’t understand my style of housekeeping, but she would love me anyway.