Have I mentioned that my mom's in town? I'm in Heaven! Seriously, two moms and two kids is just about right for me:) With the both of us reading books, prepping dinner, taking zoo trips etc. this mothering thing just seems like a breeze!
We were so excited about her visit and I spent the week or two prior getting all ready, fluffing pillows, arranging things just so, picking up last minute groceries... We have a guest room downstairs, but I wanted it to feel extra homey. I made the bed with the quilt I made before Vivi was born. Sam and Clay picked out some pretty, potted flowers to set on the window sill.Sam got to use my special water color paints (I actually love it when he uses them; the colors are so vibrant and beautiful!) and painted Grammy some pictures to decorate the walls.
And I handpicked a selection of books from my collection that I thought she might particularly like. I also stocked up on movies at the library, lots of British, Jane Austen-y flicks and old movies. I almost picked up Pollyanna because the family joke is that my dad never wants to let my mom pick movies with the reasoning being, "Oh, you'll just pick something like Pollyanna..."
What do you do to make your house feel like home for guests?
PS Speaking of moms; if they do a sequel I have plenty of material, because I tell my mom EVERYTHING! How about you? Would you be able to fill a book easier with stories you've only told your mom or stories you've never told your mom?
So, I have this dream. I almost feel kind of funny putting it out there for all the world to see. But, it's exciting and I want to share it. You have dreams like this too, I'm sure! For I-can't-remember-how-long I've wanted to move out somewhere with some space, some land, room to run wild a little bit. I mean, I guess I always assumed I'd end up out in the country at some point. I'm not a city-dweller at heart, though it certainly has its perks.
In addition to this dream of living on a good-sized chunk of land, I also dream about the neighbors I'll have. We have a few friends and family members that are on the same wavelength about room to roam, home schooling, gardening and whatnot, and I get so excited about the idea (the possibility!) of buying land together, of being neighbors, having our kids grow up together, sharing resources and friendships. I mean, why not? Mostly the home schooling is what I think would be really exciting about buying land together and living near like-minded friends. Not all the families want to homeschool necessarily, but enough that it would be a really great support system and social group.
I actually got pretty excited about pre-fab houses recently and how much less waste is created by building that way. Although, I do have this plan for a house that has been percolating and getting refined and tweaked in my mind over the years. I finally put it down on paper, though, I continue to erase and adjust.
This idea that I have isn't exactly co-housing, or a commune, but rather just the simple idea of having good neighbors who you can trust, who share some of your ideals and who are, well... neighborly, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, the "Norman Rockwell" way:) I'm just excited about sending my kids out to play and knowing that there will be other concerned and caring eyes watching over them. When I was growing up in a small town in Maine, if my friends and I misbehabved, say we went five or ten miles over the speed limit driving through the center of town, you'd better believe our moms would hear about it through the grapevine before we even got home! And that is exactly what I want. Is that a crazy pipe dream? I think there are a lot of crazy pipe dreams out there, except that if you hang onto it, keep thinking about it, keep working toward it, those dreams eventually become a reality. I'm not the only one with wild dreams, right?
By the way, this book is really inspiring me! These ideas about neighborhood design are exactly what I'm talking about...
Remember the sauna? I know, it was started so long ago, we practically forgot about it ourselves. Well, just me really, Clay hasn't stopped thinking about it, he just hasn't had a spare moment to work on it. Until recently. And now, with a finished sauna, and me no longer pregnant (apparently they're a no-no when you're preggie), we've been basking in the warm, woodsy heat of the sauna at least once a week. It sure makes winter more bearable.
There's something sort of primal about the sauna; the dimly lit, cave-like interior; the elemental smell of the heat and the wood; the way you leave behind not only your clothes, but the worries and demands on your time that somehow seem so pressing only moments before you step inside.
It's a funny thing about the sauna, time doesn't seem to hold the same properties once inside. On occasion I've only been in there a mere ten minutes, yet it seems as if time lengthens like melted honey. Other times 30 or 40 minutes can easily drift quickly by.
"When I sit in the sauna," Clay says, "I feel like a king." It's true. Life just doesn't get much better than the simple bodily pleasures: good food, soft beds, healthy bodies. It's a richness that doesn't necessarily come from dollars and cents (this sauna, in fact, was pretty much free, made all from reclaimed materials and the wiring work was a trade). I'm often reminded of the rustic tujs I bathed in while living in Guatemala. Like a stone sauna, one would crouch in through the low door. The same combination of hot rocks and water turned the somewhat ugly, cinder block structure into something of beauty. No spa treatment I've experienced comes close to the relaxing, rejuvenating effect of a simple tuj (or sauna!).
Whenever I go to the thrift store I always scan the bookshelves for good, hardcover children's books. I often find a beautiful Caldecott winner for a dollar or two. Sam and I love digging into our latest treasure as soon as we get home. This latest find was a bit of a disappointment though, as four of the pages were missing! Now, I know the story of Puss in Boots well enough to fill in the gaps, but somehow I thought the pages could be put to better use...
I've been working on getting some art up on our walls. Clay has stacks of beautiful work from art school, we have various pieces we've collected throughout the years and gifts from family and friends. Yet somehow, our walls have remained depressingly bare. But, I've been remedying that very fact these past few weeks! I first gathered up all the art we want to display, then measured the pieces and wrote down the dimensions. Now, whenever I'm in a thrift store I also sort through the frames, keeping my eyes out for the sizes we need (I keep a measuring tape in my purse too). While measuring pieces of art, I decided Puss in Boots would be better served, framed and hanging over Sam's new reading nook. (I recently did an overhaul of Sam's new room and I promise I'll show more details soon! It's been a really fun project.)
With three matching frames from the thrift store and an exacto knife, we had some wonderful new art for Sam's room in no time at all. This was such a satisfying project and Sam seemed to appreciate the touch as it was the first thing he showed his dad when he got home.
Down below, just for fun, is a picture of a wedding present from my parents. It's one of my favorite pieces because of the mysterious story that goes with it. My dad, who writes for the Maine Antique Digest and does a little bit of antique buying and selling, came across a guy with an impressive art collection, which the guy asked my dad to broker. Long story short, the guy actually owned a bunch of fake art with a few real pieces sprinkled in. This piece, allegedly a Chagall (lithograph, I think?), was a gift to my dad from the guy before his shadiness came to light. We never had it checked out by anyone official, and I think I'd rather not know if it's real or a fake. We love it either way, and I love a little mystery:)
Last night we went to a town meeting of sorts. I love town meetings! We used to go to them when we lived in our tiny town in Maine and I always felt such a part of something, so included and optimistic. I love gathering with my neighbors to discuss and make my voice heard, even if the only statement I make is merely by being present. And often just being a warm body in a seat is plenty of statement, expressing solidarity, camaraderie and engagement.
So, yesterday we got a flier on our door stating that there would be a Historic Preservation Open House the next night. Our neighborhood was being considered for listing on the National Register of Historic Places! Maybe I'm just a geek, but I think that's so exciting. At the meeting we discovered that while a whole area could be designated, certain buildings would be listed as "contributing buildings," meaning you add to the historic significance rather than detract. I was holding my breath until we could look at the map and see if we were one! And we were! I felt like I'd won a prize, like I should get some sort of present or something. It was all very exciting.
The funny thing is, being from New England, houses that are under 100 years old (ours is only 85) just seem like baby houses to me, practically new developments! So, it's funny to see our little brick bungalow called "historic." But they gave a great lecture about the development of the area and how the public transportation system, the war, and various periods and styles of development all affected it. Even styles that don't look like much to me, like those plain, postwar ones or even ours, are still significant because of the time period and zeitgeist they represent. All in all it was a fun evening, enjoyable to mingle with our neighbors (we saw plenty of friendly faces), learn about the history of our neighborhood and just to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.
PPS These photos in no way represent our district, these were just so much more charming:) Perhaps in another 85 years our neighborhood will elicit the same feelings as these do. Photos from here and here.
To combat the chilly, winter winds that creep under our door Clay made a new household pet; a door snake!
He sewed a long striped tube lined with batting.
And using a yardstick he flipped it inside out. Then he and Sam took turns pouring rice in to fill up the snake. Awhile ago I accidentally bought a huge bag of white Basmati, thinking it was brown, so this was the perfect way to use some of it up.
Sam just happened to be wearing his green pants, made from the same fabric as the snake.
All in all the project couldn't have taken much more than half an hour or so. Once they had it filled up I tapered the end, sewed on some buttons for eyes and a little ribbon tongue.
Sam is in love with our new pet; I was worried we'd have trouble keeping it on "door duty," with Sam wanting to lug it around everywhere. But he's gotten used to it and let's him lie there, doing his job of keeping us warm and draft-free.
We bought our house in November and have since put up a grand total of one picture. The sorry state of our walls was starting to get to me so I printed a bunch of photos and dug my picture frames out of storage and we got to work. I love decorating with family photos; it's simple, inexpensive and reminds me on a daily basis what great people I get to live with! Sam has loved having the pictures up. His high chair sits right below them in the dining room and and he loves to look up and point to the pictures, naming the people in them.
With our family living 2,000 miles apart, this has been a nice way to remind Sam of my parents, who he sees only a few times a year, and to be able to talk about them on a daily basis. We finally put up some pictures from our wedding, which is such a sweet reminder of falling in love and choosing to spend our lives together.
Now that we've got a little momentum, my next goal is to get a bunch of Clay's art framed; it is currently decorating the floor of his studio...
I’d heard about using vinegar for cleaning (and, of course, in your hair!), but for some reason had never really tried it out. However, recently our dishwasher got possessed and decided to start coating all my dishes in some sort of film. Turns out the city turns on some extra wells in the summer and they're chalk full of minerals. And for the life of me, I could not get that film off no matter how hard I scrubbed! Then the idea of using vinegar popped into my head (domestic inspiration?), and would you believe that film wiped right off? I was amazed! And so happy to see my silverware and glasses gleaming again. I’ve been meaning to try making my own cleaning products. I have a bunch of green products that I’m just waiting to use up before I try making some. Cleaning isn’t one of my favorite things though, so it might be awhile before they run out… But when they do, I’m all about the vinegar! I bet it would great cleaning mirrors. Does anyone have any homemade cleaners they use and love?
Here they are all clean and sparkly again!
(Amy's note: if all the technical woodworking details from my long-winded sweetheart are a big much for you, just skip to the last paragraph and picture; it's beautiful! I kind of groove on all the how-to myself, but that may be an acquired interest...)
At this point in the construction of the table my family came for a visit and all wanted to see what I was working on. I showed them my progress with enthusiasm. I don’t think they understood what was going on, because with just two ends to the base, it still didn’t look like anything. You may be thinking the same thing. I confess that I am reluctant to show anyone works in progress (the same goes for paintings) because it seems like only the person working on it can make the leap from where the project is to where it will be.
I ended up using bed hardware to attach the two ends of the base together based on my brother's advice. With the hardware attached, I “dry-fitted” everything to see how it came together. It all fit very tightly and the whole structure was sturdy and didn’t rock or creak or twist!
The last step of the base assembly was to fit the stretcher into place and trace the edge where it came through the center panel in order to cut a hole in each end for the “keys.” A “key” is little more than a wedge that you tap in and it holds the tenon tight against it’s adjoining piece. Keyed tenons also happen to look primitive and cool.
The top was really quite a lot of work, but the steps were basic. I took the cherry planks that I traded my old boss for, then rip cut them into 1 3/4 strips, glued seven or eight pieces at a time together, butcher-block style, clamped them and repeated this step until I had enough sections to add up to 40 inches. I then planed each section to 1 1/2 inches and glued and clamped them all together being careful to keep the top surface really flat and even. From there it was just a lot of hand planing, and several rounds of sanding.
For the top, we opted for a natural, hand rubbed finish. Lacquer and urethane finishes look beautiful, but they scratch and we didn’t want to worry about keeping it pristine and shiny. That is another reason we made it butcher block style, for the ruggedness.
I used several coats of Danish oil and once that was dry, we used some natural paste wax. The look and feel of it are really pleasing. If in a few years if we want to sand off the blueberry stains and evidence of Sam’s art projects, and rub some more Danish oil into it, it will be really easy.
For the base I did use some regular polyurethane for wood floors. It completely sealed all of the chipping paint, and splintery wood. Sadly, it darkened everything more than I had hoped, but check out the finished product! The only things I purchased for this project were: finish, sandpaper and the hardware. There are ways to make useful, well-crafted things for next to nothing!
That was a lot to say about something so basic as a table. In truth, when you want something to be special, you either spend a gang of cash on it, or you build it yourself. And if you’re going to build it, put some love into it! Important things happen around tables; you eat, sew, read, make art, grow close to your family, get to know neighbors, celebrate. The table is a place to verbalize the bitter things and the good things about life. With luck, your great grand kids will gather around it someday for a game of scrabble and a piece of birthday cake.
I've mentioned our little natural history museum before, so I thought it was about time to explain it a bit more and show you what we've got in there.
Before we bought our house, probably at least fifty years ago, someone added two rooms onto the back. So, what was once the back door, is now a doorway between the kitchen and the den. However, the back door must have had one of those rectangular windows on the side, because they left an awkward rectangular hole next to the doorway. For Valentine's Day this year Clay surprised me by turning it into a little glass cabinet designed to display all the treasures we find.
Sam and I found these pretty robin's egg shells this spring while out on a walk. And for Clayton's last birthday I ordered several of these bugs for him. This was before we had the museum. They came all the way from China in a paper-wrapped box, tied with twine and covered with stamps.
Sam and I brought home tons of treasures from the ocean in Maine. He loved collecting handfuls of 'nai' (snails) and Clayton requested I bring back a lobster claw. My dad found a box of old shells at an auction for us, that's where the big conch is from.
Sam already thinks the museum is rad. He'll often ask to be picked up and point to what he wants to look at or hold; bu' (bug), 'nai,' rah (rock). I think treating these things as something special will help Sam to have an appreciation for the natural world and to maintain his keen eye for little details, that we so often lose as we get older. It helps me remember to look and appreciate things more when we're outside hiking. I even look at rocks and branches and "normal" things differently, considering that perhaps I might uncover something perfect for the museum. Clayton brought home four round, flat stones that look so lovely stacked on top of each other, and Sam and I collected some prickly seed pods from the library lawn that have the most interesting texture. I love the feeling that natural elements brings into our home. I hope we have a natural history museum in every house we live in.