We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. ~Isaiah 64:8

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Daybook - November 20th

outside my window . . .  most of the leaves have fallen, but the trees are still clinging to quite a few.  The raking will continue for a few more weeks.  Today is beautifully sunny and makes the remaining leaves look like amber jewels.

listening to . . . dogs excitedly running to the backdoor for their morning romp.  Hubby trying to quietly let them out.

wearing . . . still in my fuzzy blue robe, soon to be in my running clothes.  Later?  No idea.

pondering . . . appreciating moments, activities, and things for their simple "goodness" with no thought to achieving some goal through them... and productivity as vanity

creating . . . a crocheted infinity scarf for myself, and soon to start the same for the girls.

around the house . . . laundry has piled up in the laundry room and den.  Time to get my laundry-helper (Kalliope) on the job!  Still have towers of boxes to dismantle. 

from the kitchen . . . leftovers tonight for dinner.  Need to make pasta salad for lunches at CC the next two days.

real education in our home . . .  the girls and I finished A Samurai's Tale  last week and have now started Watership Down.  I'm sure Kalliope doesn't get most of it, but that's ok!  

rhythm and beauty in our home . . . still finding my footing here in this new house, and in this new phase of life (teaching outside the home).  I'm finding it is very odd how a home can shape your family life. 

the church year in our home . . . Advent is just around the corner.  We had a family meeting last night to discuss some of our Advent and Christmas activities.

one of my favorite things . . . my new favorite tea: cinnamon spice.

recent milestones . . . Athos has submitted his first two (of about 8) college applications! (Elon U and Chapel Hill)  

the week ahead . . . the week is half over, already!  School and co-op preparation today, Challenge tomorrow, and Foundations on Friday.  Need to prepare my tutor gifts for the Foundations group as Friday is our last day before Christmas!

picture thoughts . . .
Our Artemisia-designed All Hallow's Eve pumpkins

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Red Wine Beef Stew

Recipe from Southern Living One Dish Meals, Jan 2011.

This is so yummy and warming!  It is a fairly simple recipe, but does take several hours to cook.  (ie., It isn't something you can decide on for dinner last minute)

4 lbs beef boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into 2" cubes
4 T flour, divided
1 3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 T veg oil
1 c dry red wine
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans beef broth OR 1 (32 oz) carton (I prefer the cartons)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1 small turnip
1 8 oz pkg fresh mushrooms
1 16 oz pkg baby carrots

(I use slightly less beef and quite a bit more veggies just for my family's preference.)

Pat beef with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.  Combine 3 T flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp paprika, and 1/2 tsp pepper in a bowl.  Toss beef with flour mixture to coat.

Cook beef in batches in hot oil in a dutch oven over med. high heat, stirring often, 4-6 minutes or until just brown.  Remove beef from dutch oven.  Add red wine, stirring to loosen particles from bottom of pot. Return beef to pot; add broth, thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 hour.

Meanwhile, peel turnip, and cut into 1 inch cubes.  Halve mushrooms.  Add all veggies to pot (including carrots) to stew.  Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until meat is fork-tender.

Whisk together remaining 1 T of flour and 1/4 tsp salt until blended.  Whisk 1/2 c of hot broth into flour mixture until smooth.  Whisk flour mixture into stew until smooth.  Cook, stirring often, 20 minutes or until thickened.

Serve with thick crusty bread, or rice to soak up all the gravy.  Don't forget a nice glass of red wine for the adults!

Productivity and Stew

You know how you enter a house where someone is making something delicious for dinner, and the whole house is filled with that aroma?  Earlier this evening, I stepped outside for a minute to talk to some roving missionaries, (the good kind -collecting donations for Thanksgiving meals) and when I stepped back in I was enveloped by the overwhelming scent of beef stewing in a rich red wine sauce.   It is so nice when that good smell is coming from my OWN kitchen!

My pathetically-congested eldest son, Athos, actually commented on how good it smelled..and that is saying something coming from someone with little sniffing ability left.

This recipe is actually one of my favorites - "Red Wine Beef Stew".  I discovered it several years ago in a  "One Dish Meals" magazine while I was looking for good meals to make in my new-at-the-time dutch oven.  And while it isn't a difficult recipe, it is quite time-consuming. In fact the directions state: "This takes some time to prepare, so make it on a day when you have a bit of spare time."

Spare time?  Who has "spare" time these days?  I've been feeling a distinct LACK of spare time in the past several months.  The sale of our home, the crazed search for another, the complicated move from home to apartment to home (and all the storage and moving details), and then the start of college visits and applications on top of our eldest's high school football season (his first!), and trying to homeschool and direct our Classical Conversations Challenge 3 level!  Honestly, when I start to really think about it, I start to get heart palpitations.

Beyond the heart palpitations, I also realize that I have done what I set out NOT to do...become too overburdened with "doing" leaving me with very little "spare time".  I've not even had time to really unpack from our move!  There are still boxes filling my sun-porch, dining room, and upstairs hallway.  Which wouldn't be so bad, but I've no hope of really making much headway until the late spring when our classes end.

All this "important" stuff, stuff that is leading to some worthy goal, is keeping me from getting to the "good" stuff, stuff that is just good in itself: reading a good book, taking time for favorite hobbies, having time to make our new house feel more like "home", etc.  But the tyranny of the "to do list" keeps me ever pushing forward.  If it isn't a productive use of my time, I'm forced to skip it, or suffer the consequences.

Liz Horst, in her article at Human Pursuits, makes a case for the "good" being goal enough.   Imagine that, reading a book just for the sake of the enjoyment of it!  Not to check it off some "BBC List of 100 Books Everyone Should Read", or to complete some assignment. Ms. Horst's ideas about things being "good" in and of themselves is something I do believe, but have not been living out lately, maybe not ever, really.

Well, that isn't altogether fair, but perhaps it is fair to say I've only succeeded in fits and starts.  Perhaps fits and starts isn't so bad in this day of uber-productivity and multi-tasking (which it turns out may not be so productive after all).  Ms. Horst even goes on to make the case that it is vanity to pursue productivity.  I'm inclined to agree.

I read her article while the Red Wine Beef Stew was simmering away, and it made me wonder about other areas in my life where I seek productivity or some "goal" over simple enjoyment of an activity or moment, or even worse, where I encourage (or force) my kids to do the same.  And, darn it, that isn't why we started homeschooling!  Their education was to start a fire (ie. desire to learn) rather than fill a bucket (industrial/productivity/checklist - cram it all in model).  Credit to William Butler Yeats.  My recent focus on the pursuit of productivity in our homeschool, church, daily life, hobbies, and work needs to be reconsidered.  

What is good?  Seek it.  If something productive comes of it, all the better.

So, in an hour when I serve up that delicious Red Wine Beef Stew, I'm going to really enjoy it - not just as fuel, but as a delicious meal.

Want the recipe?   Red Wine Beef Stew

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

the small things

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.

JRR Tolkein,  The Hobbit

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Oh, the un-boxing (a school-year planning post)

It goes so slowly.

Of course it doesn't help to have school to plan for.  And with a start date only 1 weeks away....well, the boxes (those not homeschool-related, anyway) are languishing while I get all the books in order, pages copies, files prepared, and notebooks set up.

Want to take a peek?

The girls will be studying the Middle Ages and Renaissance in history and Ecology & Astronomy in science.
Most of these books I've read with one or several of the kids before, so it is really fun to cycle back through them.  (see my boxes peeking out back there...mocking me.)

Here's my new homeschool set up.  No homeschool room means we are juggling with where to store our daily needs.  This cabinet is in the laundry room just off the kitchen where the girls and I will mostly do their school work.  The boys may work here or in their rooms.  Age has its privileges!

Part of the set up is a set of files for storing their work.  In the past I haven't always been good about sorting this out and keeping up with it during the year.  Usually it just goes into a general file for each child to be sorted (or not) at the end of the year.  But this year I did this:

Each child has his or her own color: Red for Athos, Blue for Faramir, Yellow for Artemesia, and Green for Kalliope.  (Extra yellows in the back for general or group records)

And my Challenge Director supplies are looking good!  I've discovered Washi Tape - so much fun!  I'm using it to jazz up all those boring black and white binders.  It does make a remarkable difference...makes everything seem so coordinated and intentional.  All for $3 a roll.

Also, dolled up the girls' binders with their own design of Washi tape...

And then there are the boxes... and boxes.  I swear I'm never moving again.  Not until I've graduated the last child, anyway.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

From "draft" to new home

This draft post has been waiting here since sometime in April, I think.  Boy, did life pick up steam quickly.

On, or about, March 2nd (yes, one day after my last post) we noticed that a house in our neighborhood that had been on the market had gone under contract ... in less than 2 weeks.  And for significantly more than we'd paid for ours - and ours is larger!!  We did the math and decided that we just might benefit financially by bumping up our future plans to downsize a bit once boys started going off to college.

The problem would be, with such low inventory in the housing market, finding a house that would still fit us *now*...and that we could afford.  After a quick MLS search, we discovered that, while it would require some sacrifice of space or location, or both, it could be found.

What happened next was a flurry of activity which has only just come to an end.

We were able to get our home on the market within a month, and had a contract in no time...less than 2 weeks.... and for our asking price!  Truly amazing in this economy, and nothing short of a miracle.  Closing was set for June 14th, so we had some time to continue our search for our next home.

You'd think that was easy, right?

Well, it took about 4 months from the time we listed to the time we finally closed (and our closing only took 30 days).  We saw so many houses they began to blur and we had to give them nicknames...party house, 70s house, old house, fancy house, big house.  Of those, we attempted to purchase 3.... the first house was a no realtor situation, but fell through due to a very low appraisal.  Second house was won away from us by a cash offer (major renovations needed).  And the third house is now our home!

All I can say, is that while I loved many of the houses we saw...and especially the ones we placed offers on, I'm so glad that we ended up here.  This house suits us so well!

It does need some updating, minor repairs, and exterior work (cleaning and yard work).  I'm terrible at taking "before" photos...and already missed the window on some of our projects. So, here are the  photos  from the MLS listing:

1987, Custom built, all-brick Cape Cod.
Obviously, the front.  Yard is pretty compacted...and very mossy.  But there are some azaleas in that front bed.  Next week those blue shutters come down and will be replaced with charcoal grey.  Needs a new roof in the next couple of years.  We'll completely pressure wash the entire house...including the walkways and driveway.

Here's the kitchen.  Faces the front yard.  I LOVE kitchen sink windows....been missing one for years.
Granite is new, but added in order to sell.  Dishwasher and stove hood are original to the house.  In the next year or so, we are going to have the cabinets repainted and we'll replace the light fixtures.  Notice that little kitchen desk to the left?  Love!

The breakfast area.  Faces the backyard.   You can't see the wallpaper.  It was pretty unoffensive, just dated....and partially (and poorly) painted over.  

Dining room.  The wallpaper is original (and when we stripped it, we discovered it was signed by the installer)...a pearlescent, textured paper.  

The family room.  Despite the brass, I love this fireplace.  It has a gas insert, which we will replace with gas-ignition system (wood-burning).  The paint throughout the house (other than the wallpaper) is this stark white...and needed refreshing.  The white really washed out the wood work.  Carpet, while white, is very nice THICK wool carpet.  We'll keep it until we destroy it and then put down more hardwoods.

The foyer - all the rooms downstairs have wonderful trim work: chair rail, dentil moldings, and hefty baseboards.  All could use a little polish.  Nice hardwoods (not laminate!) through foyer, dining, kitchen.  The front door was really worn on the outside - with most of the varnish deteriorating.  We've already had it sanded and recoated with a nice tinted varnish.

Off the family room and overlooking the backyard is a heated/cooled sun porch.  The brick floor has a sealant on it making it easy to sweep clean.  Already love this room!  

Sadly, no MLS photos of bathrooms and bedrooms - all pretty dated with 25 year-old fixtures, vinyl flooring, oak cabinetry, but all in good shape!

I'll start posting photos as we clear rooms so you can see the paint (pale dove grey - really warms up the wood trim) and other updates.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Happy Saint David's Day to you!

My CC Challenge 3 class is just at the tail-end of Shakespeare's Henry V.  Saint David is mentioned, as is wearing leeks.  I posted this on our class blog for them to enjoy, and thought I'd like to share them with friends and family, too.  So, here are two videos about the beloved Saint David of Wales.
The first one is short and read by a child (a very British child), but gives a quick explanation of Saint David's historical importance to Wales.

This one is a bit longer.  Produced by BBC, it gives a more complete history and great on-location footage.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Early Morning Paintbrushes

Feet hit the floor a little later than usual this morning.  Been sick on and off with a cold, or something, for several weeks, and I decided to let myself sleep until I woke on my own today.  Clock said 7:48 when I rolled out of bed.  Usually the clock says 6:05.  Or 6:14 if I've hit the snooze.  Or 6:23...you get the idea.

Down to the kitchen to make my morning tea.  House is a bit of a mess.  Having teens who stay up later than I is frustrating.  I can tell what they had for a late-night snack.  Going to have to speak harshly, AGAIN, to them about cleaning up before they go to bed.  

Perhaps Chai this morning instead of my usual Constant Comment tea. While the tea steeps, I feed the fish when I notice the paintbrushes left on the table from Artemisia's watercolor work.  (Must speak with her about cleaning up, too.)  The light is hitting them just so, making the bristles on that well-used (and mis-used) Chinese calligraphy brush stand out so beautifully.

I look.

Then I think about my camera.  I've got a lot to do this morning before I head out the door for a day of errands and classes and a talent show.  Lately life has been a real whirlwind...and my photography has withered.  Lately I'd have noticed something beautiful, but rushed on to the next thing.  But not today.

Today I searched out my camera and snapped a few photos.  Loaded them up to PicMonkey and cleaned this one up.  Decided I liked the black and white (although it was hard, the colors were so pretty...but the black and white made the bristles pop).

So, why did I take the time to do this today? 

If you've been around this blog for very long you will remember Dear Neighbor.  Well, Dear Neighbor has FINALLY started a blog.  She's blogging about her particular creative pursuit, quilting and sewing, but also about creativity: Windsor and Main.  (She's also a home educator.)

Last week she had a post about creativity and just "doing it", not waiting for "inspiration".  And I was reminded of that this morning while looking at those paintbrushes.  Of course, I was practicing the opposite of "doing it", being inspired in the moment ...but I did have to force myself to pick up the camera and frame the photo.  And sometimes inspiration does just happen...but so much more often it is just regular work where the "magic" happens.  I'm reminded that I need to make a regular practice of looking for photos rather than waiting for them to happen. 

Check out Dear Neighbor's blog - it's fun reading even if you aren't a seamstress!