I love looking at the links in my blogroll, so even though I’m neglecting my writing (a lot) lately, I’m still popping in here daily.  Maybe I’ll be back someday soon.

If you know me, you know I haven’t been away from the computer much this Lent.  Here we are coming up to Palm Sunday and I really only made it a couple of days without email, Facebook, etc.  I decided right off that in this day and age, giving up the computer is like saying you’re not going to answer the phone for 40 days.  Whether cell phone or land line (and yes, my brothers recently made fun of me because not only do we still have a land line, but our phone actually has a cord), no one would do that.  Would they?

Well, I realized I’m not Jesus and can’t go off into the wilderness for 40 days.  At least not yet, maybe someday I will.  And while I completely and utterly failed at my quest in practice, in theory I did change the way I am doing things over the past several weeks of Lent. 

I have been more intentional about quiet time.  And about thinking about spiritual things.  And about looking my family in the eye for more of the day.  When I make breakfast and have tea with Rose in the morning, the computer is safely tucked out of sight and turned off.  When George comes home in the afternoon, I try to stop reading and talk to him.  And there are many hours in the day when I’m taking care of my daycare baby (soon to be, babies), or chatting with Elijah about books and other “educational” stuff. 

So that’s all good.

I’m also learning to do only what I really ENJOY online.  That is, not so much bad news and political arguing (always tempting and hard to resist but I got tired of the angry feelings that come with it).  And MORE time reading uplifting blogs, news stories and Facebook postings from friends and organizations I like.  I often say, I’ve always been a HUGE reader and before the internet it was novels, magazines (always tons of magazines) and newspapers.  Now, I get most of that with way less trees cut down for paper.  I’m trying to find the same “feelings” online that I felt while reading the hard copies of things–pretty pictures in magazines can now be found on blogs and certain websites, for example.  I’m searching those things out, instead of reading about the latest conspiracy theory (that got old during the Bush administration, didn’t it?  And now it’s getting really old under Obama). 

I am more interested in Facebooking than blogging these days.  I consider Facebook a briefer, more interactive form of blogging but boy would I be sad if all my favorite bloggers gave it up.  And that is to say, you may not see me here much but I’m still around.  And if you have a blog, I’m likely reading it!

Some bills will need to be paid, and bank accounts checked (for that tax refund), and I’ll try to read email once a week, but otherwise I’m giving this modern time-suck up for Lent.  Which begins tomorrow, February 17 and goes all the way until Easter Sunday (what day is that?).  April 4.  I’m expecting some major withdrawal symptoms for a week or so, and then quiet.  Quiet.  Quiet.  Quiet.  A think thing (Freudian slip, there) I used to have.

Quiet is a thing I used to be able to deal with.  Long stretches of quiet.  But in the last few years, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten as uncomfortable with quiet as the rest of America seems to be.  And I don’t like that.  I want my silence back.  I want my time back.  So, as much as I love my laptop, I’m going to try and find the silence again.  The long stretches of reading, or thinking, knitting, sewing, or just watching the kids at play.

So, for the next 40 days, please call me on the telephone.  Or email me but don’t expect a reply quickly.  And if you need to get a hold of me and don’t have my phone number, I’ll bet you can Google it.

Happy Lent!

I’ve been thinking about that question quite a bit lately.

My kids are ten and twelve years old, and now I find myself caring for a 4-month old baby most days as a way to earn some money.  This fall I advertised to provide child care for one infant, thinking it’s one job I know how to do and I can make some money at home while doing it.  Anybody would be happy to have their baby in my care all day, I reasoned.  I hold the baby.  I don’t let him cry it out, ever.  I feed him when he’s hungry, and I’m very attentive to when he needs a diaper change whether he’s wet or poopy.  And when he’s awake (which is sometimes all day long), we play and talk and bounce around the room.

I’m doing, by my own estimates, a pretty good job with this little guy.  And, also to my own thinking, having him around justifies my “still” being at home now that my own kids are growing older.  (Never mind that I’m homeschooling my twelve-year-old Asperger kid, in the world’s eyes I don’t NEED to be doing that as there’s a school just blocks away.  He could be there all day while I go out and get a job like the rest of the world…or so they say.)

There is so little respect for a woman, or man, staying home and doing the domestic things.  The other night on 30 Rock, there was even a joke about this.  Southern boy Kenneth gave one of his usual witty sayings. “That’s about as useful as a mom’s college degree!” was the joke, implying a mom had no use for a college degree.  I laughed, thinking yeah, what did I get that college degree for?!  I can take a joke.  It didn’t offend me, but it certainly spoke to me of our culture’s general perception of homemakers and stay-at-home-moms.

All joking aside, I would never give up that college degree.  It’s as important to my life as raising my children has been.  I miss those days of studying and hanging out with friends 24/7.  I miss the intellectual conversations I could have just by plopping into a chair in my college house living room and engaging one of my housemates.  I miss being able to sit and read British Lit. or theology until tears streamed down my face from the eye strain.  I have often wondered why I ever left college!  It was my “glory days”, for sure.

When I look at my kids, both son and daughter, I picture them going to college.  I imagine Eli as an engineer of some sort, maybe designing video games, maybe presiding over a wood shop making bows and arrows all day.  I imagine Rose as the CEO of some fashionable company, able to boss people around and get things done, leading a life of continual busyness and socializing because that’s what she loves.

What I hardly ever take the time to imagine them doing is raising babies, or vacuuming the floors, or cleaning up dog vomit.  Those are just things we DO in life.  Nobody talks about them.  Nobody makes plans for them.  (Well, maybe the HAVING  the baby part gets planned, but after that who can imagine all the stuff you’ll have to do with those babies?)  And nobody seems to respect that they’re as much a part of our necessary life as all the college degrees and high-paying jobs we dream about.

Making and keeping a home and family take a lot of time.  It used to be that EVERYBODY was home.  Men, women, children, babies, animals.  Everybody was doing housework, whether out in the field or garden, or hunting/gathering in the woods, or tending the fire and soup pot.  The focus was on home, food, staying warm and dry and alive.  It wasn’t until the industrial age that men started leaving the home in droves, to seek jobs building the railroad or manufacturing goods.  And just a century or so later, women in large numbers wanted to “get out” too.

To my mind, that’s no surprise.  Our highly mobile society had cut women off from not only their husbands who were at work all day, but also their families of origin and even friends and neighbors they might’ve had a move or two back.  It’s lonely being the only adult around.  And once some women went out of the house to work, it got even lonelier for the other women “back home”.  I look out the window at my neighborhood and see almost no adult my age, male or female, during the hours from 9 to 5.  (I see no kids, either, much of the time because even at the day care homes on my block the kids are inside or in a fenced-in backyard.  When adults stopped being home, it seems kids lost a lot of freedom.)

When George and Rose were home for Christmas break last week, I enjoyed their presence more than ever.  They became more arms to hold the baby, and more smiling faces to entertain him.  I declared then and there that “one adult alone with a baby all day is insanity.  Babies are meant to be shared!”  It was like an epiphany for me, little good that it will do me.  I don’t see society changing any time soon, to make more of us at home (depending on how bad the so-called Great Recession becomes, though).  And now George and Rose are back at school and it’s just Eli and me home with the little guy all day again.  It will be fine, but it does seem over-bearing and I feel as if I’ve lost all freedom (the key word is “feel” there–I think it has more to do with cultural pressures than actual loss of freedom).

So to get back to my original question and the title of my post…Why don’t we think more about raising our children to be parents?  Why don’t we see it as the highest calling that it is, and get as serious about preparing them for it as we are about preparing them for the “real world”, aka school and jobs?

For indeed, most of us do become parents, college degree or not.  Most of us do end up vacuuming floors, cleaning up after pets, and doing what has been called the “hardest job of all”, raising babies.  Yet in today’s world we do it woefully unprepared and woefully short of respect, support and help.

I know there is a fringe culture, namely Christian fundamentalists of a certain ilk, who are raising their girls to be submissive wives and doting mothers and homemakers, and their boys to be providers and heads of household.  I have had many glimpses into this world as a homeschooler and a curious seeker into the lives of others through their writings.  A few blogs on my blogroll come from this fringe group, and there’s one I found recently, The Aspiring Homemaker, which is written by a homeschool graduate girl of 18 who calls herself a “stay-at-home daughter”, learning the so-called “gentle arts” of domesticity and waiting for her knight in shining armor.  (That sounds derogatory, “knight in shining armor”, doesn’t it?  Not a hundred years ago the majority of young women lived at home until they found a husband, doing exactly what The Aspiring Homemaker is doing.  It should certainly be her right to choose to live her life in that way and I don’t mean to put it down.)

But should it be that only fundamentalist Christians (and by no means all of them), with their limited views of gender roles, are the only ones raising up the notion of the domestic arts?  Indeed it’s not the only place you find it.  Martha Stewart gets much credit for doing this, for placing value *again* on so-called woman’s work of cooking, baking, sewing, keeping house, etc.  But she does it all, perfectly no less, while running a Fortune 500 company and sleeping four hours a night.  She presents a model of “having it all” that is all too common and all too exhausting in the current Western, particularly American, world.

I think there can be a middle ground between the submissive wife/homemaker that goes along with the head of the household husband, and Martha Stewart’s model of perfection and having it all.  We hear talk of there being “seasons” to our lives, time to go to school, time to work, time to have babies and raise them, time to pursue a career.  This can be a middle ground, but only if the time of being home doesn’t take a lesser place than the rest of it.  By no means do I suggest all women should again stay home, anymore than I suggest men do.  But I would like to find ways to elevate what I’ve been doing for nearly 15 years now, namely being home, and make it part of the conversation with my children.

I’d like to raise my children to become parents, and maybe do other stuff too…

How can we go about that?  I’d be interested in any ideas you might have.  But one way I’ve been thinking about it is to at least start talking about it with them.  At least as often as I say to them, “you must do this to get into college”, I’d like to say to them, “here is how you hold a baby”.  At least as often as I dream of my daughter running a company, I’d like to talk to her about establishing a housekeeping routine.  With at least as much emphasis as I put on her about making money someday, I’d like to show her how to balance a checkbook and budget for groceries.  At least as often as I imagine Elijah being some guy in the woods building his own cabin, I’d like to see him (and talk to him about) bundling up his baby and carrying him/her in a backpack through those woods.  And at least as often as I picture my son being a computer geek, I’d like to picture him making beds and cooking dinner too.

I need to start PICTURING my kids as spouses and parents, in order to help them get there.  And whenever I talk to them about it, I’m sure to add that this Grandma will want to help out as much as possible!  I’ll be there.

I originally submitted this to a magazine but it seems they didn’t want to publish it, so I’ll put it here.  A funny piece, my writer’s group liked it so I’ll consider it a “free” blog entry for the day because I don’t have to write anything new.

On Gaining Weight While Remodeling the Kitchen:

Our kitchen just got a lovely new French Country remodel…

…and I got a good old American-style dough-nut around my middle in the process.

Partly it was the depression I felt. The kitchen job we just completed wasn’t even really a remodel, just a fresh coat of paint and some tile work. But this turned the entire house upside down, and what I envisioned as a one-week quickie took my perfectionist husband, with my inexpert help, nearly four weeks to complete.

I’m seriously affected by my environment, you know? Which is why I like to remodel and make things prettier in the first place. But having the kitchen mostly in the dining room, and the front porch furniture piled into the living room (so we could paint doors and drawers out there), and my husband—not to mention two kids, a puppy and the cat–constantly underfoot drove me into some very bad moods.

So I ate carbs. Lots of them. And chocolate. And sugar. And whatever other foods made me forget, if only for a second or two, about the mess my house was in.

With the kitchen and rest of the house all askew, we knew we wouldn’t be cooking much. I attempted to budget for this. By my calculations, one week’s dinners of pizza, deli food and Taco John’s should cost the four of us about 80 bucks. But soon the first week was over, we were still without a kitchen and money was scarce. (After blowing some of it on beautiful new kitchen linens that would coordinate the new colors in the kitchen with the dining room which meant I HAD to have them, well, spare cash for more eating out was low.) Do you know that those five dollar large pizzas they advertise are actually quite tasty and filling, not to mention convenient, for a family of four without a kitchen? We must have had pizza four nights the second week. Nobody even complained.

On the muggy, hot day we sanded the cabinets, we ran to the deli for an 8-piece chicken dinner with all the trimmings and hurried off to the beach to get away from the dust and grime. After a day of tiling and grouting, we spent an hour at the sub sandwich shop eating five dollar foot-longs because why get a mere 6-incher when you can get twice as much food for only two bucks more?! Besides, sub sandwiches are diet food.

One night when we felt brave enough to fire up the one-burner on top of the washing machine, what did we make? Pasta, of course. It couldn’t get much simpler than that. Just boil up some water, throw in the noodles, strain them through the colander into the utility sink (never mind the paint brushes and other gross stuff in there, it can’t be helped), throw on some sauce and grated parm and you’re set. Pasta is the perfect remodeling-the-kitchen food.

I was told by a nutritionist once that carbs and sweets produce a calming effect. It’s no wonder people crave them to relieve stress then. But the effect doesn’t last long, and when it goes away one is left with nothing more than a low mood, a sluggish digestive tract, and after four weeks of this, an extra five to ten pounds around the hips.

I’m happy to say that my kitchen is done and it’s bright and beautiful. And now I feel just a bit obligated to spend more time in there, keeping my cute new French Country cookie jar filled and turning out delicious dinners. After all, I always said I’d be the perfect wife and mother cooking in the kitchen if only the room were prettier.

But on second thought, I’ve got a dough-nut to get rid of. Maybe I can put weight loss affirmations in that cookie jar? Somehow, I think my family will complain.

I adore the blog Clover Lane and read what Sarah has to write every day.  Even though I haven’t been blogging much lately, I’m still here and still checking out the blogs on my list.  Well, Sarah has inspired me today to write my own “Christmas Trivia” list, as she has done here.

1.  Best childhood gift from Santa–I got a lot of nice gifts, few of which I remember.  One I do remember and know I loved is my avocado green, metal kitchen set.  I loved it!

My cousins, brothers and me with the glasses and "muppet puppets" made by Grandma Marjorie Barber, Christmas 1982.(My cousins, brothers and me in the glasses–I thought I was so stylish!
Christmas 1982, with “muppet puppets” our Grandma Marjorie Barber made)

2.  Best childhood memories–baking cookies with Grandma June each year.  I remember once I became concerned because I had not washed my hands before starting to bake and Grandma calmly said, “that’s okay, the germs will bake out in the hot oven”.  I still think of her words anytime I realize I forgot to wash my hands before cooking (for shame!).  I loved to help Grandma roll out the dough and sprinkle the sugar.  We never frosted our cut-outs.  My favorite decorations were the little silver balls we put at the bottom of each bell, which you’re not supposed to eat but we did.  We also made Santas and trees and reindeer.  Unlike me, my Grandma had infinite patience with us kids when we baked and never cared if we made a mess.

Christmas 1987, with my Mexican exchange sister Anglica, cousins, brothers and Grandpa and Grandma Adams.

3.  Favorite Christmas cookie–Grandma June’s sugar cookie cut-outs, of course, which now my husband or I make because Grandma is 92.  I like them really thin and slightly over-browned.

4.  Icky Christmas memory–this one stumps me because I don’t recall any really bad Christmas memories.  I’m not sure if the time we brought our new 3 and 4-wheelers to Grandma and Grandpa’s farm was at Christmas, but I think it might have been and that’s a bad memory.  I got going too fast on my little 3-wheeler and put my foot down to brake, like on a bicycle.  Of course that motored thing was not a bicycle and my foot got stuck between the tire and the foot rest and my brothers had to run for my dad to come help me get it out.  I don’t remember if it hurt, but I was scared.  I hate ATVs and have never ridden once since.

5.  It’s not Christmas without–many people say snow, but growing up in Minnesota I’ve learned never to depend on any particular weather because it’s so variable here.  We are as likely to have snow at Easter as at Christmas.  For me it isn’t Christmas without a nativity set with the baby Jesus and, now that I’m an adult, an Advent wreath with three blue candles to light on the first three Sundays of Advent, one red for the last Sunday, and one white for Christmas Eve.  My husband grew up putting the baby Jesus in the nativity scene on Christmas Eve and having the Wise Men move closer and closer across a room to the nativity scene each day from Christmas until Epiphany, so we do that now with our kids.

6.  Our Church service–my parents were not big churchgoers and neither were my grandparents.  As an adult, I like to attend church each week but fitting in a Christmas service is sometimes hard.  We are going to the 2 p.m. service this year and hopefully that will become a tradition, because we can make it before the drive to dinner.  Many years, we also like to attend a wonderful choir concert/worship service put on by my alma mater, Augsburg College’s Advent Vespers.  Having been part of it for the four years of college, it is very special to me, as is Velkommen Jul, the first Friday in December chapel service at Augsburg.  The kids and I will drive down to Minneapolis on Friday morning to take part.  They’re there for the treats St. Nick will put in their shoes outside the chapel, and the “little lunch” of Scandinavian goodies afterward–krumkake, lefse, kransakake, rosettes, etc..  I’ll be there for the memories, the tradition, and the gawking at all the beautiful Norwegian sweaters!

7.  Christmas pet peeve–feeling obligated to spend a certain amount on gifts for others, and trying to figure out what to get people who have everything.  I prefer spending time with people to giving gifts, but I do like to pick out small and special things to give.  My kids’ gifts from the Dollar Store mean the most to me (often they involve chocolate!).

8.  Favorite Christmas CD–This seems silly because I’m not that into Christian contemporary music, but I love Amy Grant’s CDs because she has a low voice and I can sing along.  Same with Ann Murray–remember her?  I like the beautiful Christmas music my husband brought to our marriage, which is more formal choir and orchestra music.  And I adore the hammered dulcimer recordings of our dear friend Paul Imholte.

9.  Real or fake–It was always fake growing up, but a few years into our marriage I got rid of my husband’s fake tree because I couldn’t stand storing a giant tree in my house.  We now get a real tree every year, and I love it.

10.  I spend Christmas Eve–with my husband and kids, my mom and dad, aunt and uncle, Grandma June, and brothers and cousins at my aunt and uncle’s house in Plymouth, Minnesota.  Christmas Eve was always our big family night, and Christmas Day is quieter (though if we could afford it we’d always fly to Virginia to see George’s family Christmas day).  My aunt and uncle cook us a big meal complete with lutefisk, Swedish meatballs, turkey and ham, lefse, potatoes, Grandma’s scalloped corn, green jello and more.  Then we open gifts, chat, and eat some more in the form of cookies, including the sugar cookie cut-outs and Norwegian krumkake, and ice cream treats.  It is simple and nice.

Now it’s your turn!  What are your Christmas memories?  It seems this year, the kind of snow around our house in the photo above, may be just a memory!

Rose is growing up so fast.  She’s in 5th grade now and usually she is up and ready to go for school without any help from me.  But this morning she was so tired, I had to wake her up.  Sitting on the edge of her bed, trying to rouse her, I took a long look at her angelic, sleepy face.  I realized with some shock that when she’s sleeping her face still looks like it did when she was four years old.  The baby comes out when she’s at rest…it was bittersweet for me to notice that.

Rose age 4 or so, in front of her play house

Rose age 4 or so, in front of her play house

Because I really miss that sweet little girl with the apple cheeks.

2004-2006misc 006But I really love the big girl she’s become, too.

Rose age 10, spending morning tea time finishing homework

Rose age 10, spending morning tea time finishing homework

She’s beautiful, and sweet, and I find so much to admire about her.  She’s smart and athletic and talented at so many things.  She makes beautiful art and has been putting together the most amazing, flattering outfits for herself since she was two.  Some days, I wish I was her.  In fact, she’s so many of the things I’d like to be.  While I grew up with Garanimals and still find it hard to purposely not match my outfits, she’s got this style and flair so naturally.  She’s strong and strong-willed and never afraid to speak her mind, while at the same time being polite and kind.  She’s far from perfect, but I think she’s great!

More photos today…

Home Tour! 022It was foggy outside on Saturday morning, but I’m not sure how the mist got into our front hall.

Home Tour! 010The living room.  This is Elijah’s favorite chair, but when we bought it it was going to be MY favorite chair.  The print above the chair is an old photograph of Gloucester, Virginia, my husband’s home town.  I found the lamp at a garage sale for $5.  The table is an auction purchase, a 1970s/80s Thomasville Furniture piece that I painted black.

Home Tour! 011The dog’s favorite chair, with washable slipcover.  Is it any wonder I never get to sit down?!  This is one of a pair of wing chairs we inherited from my parents.  My dear friend Kim made the quilt for our wedding.  The print above this chair is by a local artist, Flora Schinkle, and it’s the church steeple and water tower in the last town we lived in, Richmond, Minnesota.  It’s part of a series of small town steeples and water towers that she’s painted.

Home Tour! 012I took many of these photos in the early morning before the Home Tour started, so they are dark.  It was a foggy start to that day.  The living room walls are “River Rock” blue/gray by Behr and do not normally look periwinkle like this.  We painted both the front and back porch ceilings the same blue.  The trunk/coffee table is an antique with the name Jules Thorner carved into it–likely it traveled from Scandinavia to America in the late 1800s.  I bought it when I was in college and already an antique lover (have been since jr. high, really).

I sewed the curtains the day before the tour, and they turned out lovely.  They are upholstery fabric I’ve had for ages, with a backing of light blue gingham sheets I’ve also had stashed.  These are so easy to make, just put the front and back wrong sides together, sew around all sides but leave a little opening so you can turn them right side out.  Turn in and sew up that little bit, then hang from clip rings.  I got many compliments on them so I’m glad I got them done and hung.

Home Tour! 013

The print above the bookshelf is by a local St. Cloud artist, Nona Huyler, and it is ice skaters on Lake George which is our neighborhood lake and is just a couple blocks from our house.  I framed both the Richmond and Lake George prints in cheap 16×20 frames and mats from Michaels.  You can see we are just using cheap tray tables from Bed, Bath and Beyond for end tables on either side of the couch.  We also use these for lunch and weekend breakfasts all the time because I grew up eating lunch in front of Sesame Street at my grandma’s, so it’s kind of nostalgic for me–bad parenting or not.

George used shoe polish on the leather couch the night before the tour, covering up the cat scratches which were bad but not horrible.  I saw him doing it and said, “that better look good in the daylight”, and it did.   A new idea!

Home Tour! 056The dining room, later in the day when the sun shone through the west piano windows.  George made the table during a weekend class several years ago at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  It is a family heirloom now, with a pine base and a top made from huge fir beams from an old Lutheran church in Wisconsin.  The benches were bought for half price at World Market, and at $100 each they were much cheaper than buying six chairs.  I sewed all the curtains in here the day before the tour, as well, with fabric I’d had-again-for ages.  The bookshelf in the far corner was a dumpster dive freebie; it was ugly plywood that I painted Cranberry (the paint was also free, from our county’s hazardous waste site where they give away paint that has been brought in for disposal).  It is now just a nice basic bookshelf that holds a lot of stuff.

Home Tour! 036Here I have just sewed a bottom from the calico fabric onto cheapie Target tab-top curtains that came with our house.  I was going to do something fancier, but then I came up with this idea at the last minute, saving time and actually looking better than my original idea.

Home Tour! 039And more curtains made at the last minute, inside this old cabinet/secretary desk which was a $25 auction buy.  It came with no doors so I had them made (roughly) for $65 and then painted it the same Cranberry color.  You can see we have french doors between living room and dining room, and from the living room into the hall.

Home Tour! 017The freshly white-painted back porch.  I promised a photo of a window seat with cubbies a few posts back.  Well, here’s how it went.  George had the top cut out of an old ping pong table from the neighbor’s trash pile.  He was making a frame from some oak 1x2s from another neighbor’s pile.  Sitting in bed the night before he was going to install it, I said, “Now,” (and you know how that “now” went), “the window seat will have a base, right, so it can sit up off the floor with a 1×4 as a baseboard around the bottom and then quarter-round and stuff?  Right?”

Well, somehow I had not been clear enough when I telepathically showed my husband my vision for this window seat (which I had to stop calling a bench because it was to be taller than a bench so that had been confusing him all along).  And as you can see, the window seat/bench/cubbies that were to hold these blue bins and NOT SHOES, no not shoes or boots or anything like that because that wasn’t what I wanted either.  Well, anyways…you can see I made do with a bench from the front porch to hold the bins (which I hope to replace with similarly-sized cuter baskets someday).

Home Tour! 021And the kitchen.  You’ve seen this angle, but here it is with mums and lemon balm in the pitcher, and a bowl of tomatoes on the counter so you know it’s now September.  I also added a little Tirolean wood carving/wall hanging of Mary and Jesus to the wall.  I’m not even Catholic, but I got this recently in a box at a neighbor’s auction and I think it’s so sweet and adds patina to the wall.  Also, it adds a 5th item because any grouping should have an odd number of items, correct?  Well, who cares.  I still need more old stuff in my beautiful but too-shiny kitchen, though.

Home Tour! 043And another kitchen angle, now that the windows are in and painted.  On top of the fridge I have an old crate with my cookbooks in it, something I’ve done in all our houses.  The basket is from an Amish woman’s home in Harmony, Minnesota.  The curtains are a $2 garage sale find.  The cookie jar is Goodwill.  The breadmaker is $5 garage sale.  The toaster was purchased with wedding money 14 years ago and is still going strong.  And George thought $65 for a toaster was too much!  My kids and I are huge toast people, so it was an investment.  Ha Ha.

Oh, and where it looks like there’s a hole under the sink, it actually WAS a hole because that piece of cabinet keeps falling off.  But George put a double layer of hardware wire/chicken mesh in there, spray painted the same brown as the cabinet handles.  It is dark so maybe we’ll paint it the cabinet color someday.

So there you have the main floor of our 1925 Foursquare here in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  This type of house is very common in Minnesota and we have tried to do both its history and present usage justice.  It’s fun to have it “done”.

Soon I’ll show you the second floor.

The Home Tour is over.  We are breathing sighs of relief and enjoying our sparkling clean house.  And I do mean sparkling, like a Mr. Clean commercial.  It will not likely ever be this clean again; for now I’m just relishing it.

This morning I wrote up a magazine article which I hope to have published in the new Urban Farm magazine, and I don’t feel like writing much more.  I’ve decided to just show you a photo or two taken on the day of the tour.  Nearly 200 people visited our house on Saturday–200!  I’ll show you more photos in coming days.

Home Tour! 023

The other day I wrote about how we have just 77 bucks for gas and groceries (and spending in general) for the next two weeks.  A big part of that is because we had the unusual expense of Rose’s choir tuition, a couple hundred bucks for the year of choir (a bargain in kids’ activities, really).  We actually have a little money in savings, and even some more in the checkbook, but all that is untouchable except in an emergency!  I can make do on that 77 dollars because of a few tricks I’ve learned on how to stretch a dollar, so I’m really not worrying about it.  Well, maybe we worried a little when the final tally came in, but not much.

In the not-too-distant past, when we had a shortfall like that, we would’ve made up the difference with a credit card, “just until the next paycheck comes in and we’ll pay it back”.  Well, when the next paycheck comes in, invariably there are a million other things to spend that money on and the credit card bill hasn’t arrived yet, etc. etc. and eventually you’re up to your eyeballs in credit card debt just because of a few large and lots of little “oh this doesn’t count” purchases.

Been there.  Done that.  Much of my “adult” life.  And we’ve got to change our ways!  Is it really worth taking out a mini loan and paying big interest to that huge bank just to have that meal at Taco John’s?  Or those school supplies which are “on-sale-now-and-won’t-be-in-two-weeks” when I actually have the cash?  (Could you hear me hyper-ventilating with fear there in those quotation marks?  Our consumer culture loves to have us quaking in our boots about sales, “buy now!”, “get it today!”, “prices will NEVER BE THIS LOW AGAIN”!)  And you start shaking and think, I’d better get these notebooks now while they’re only 10.cents.each!!!

Oh my gosh, have I fallen for that one.  I was RAISED to fall for that.  Weren’t we all?  Those of us in our pre-teens, teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s seem to have been, at least.  At least since the 1940s.  Since TV, maybe even before.

George and I are really trying hard to stop it, though.  He has a better background than me, having been raised frugally, but one can’t say he’s been the perfect “Frugal Freddie” either (I made that up).  Both of us really know how to stretch a buck, though, when needed.

Some helps I have found are, first, Amy Dacyczyn’s The Tightwad Gazette.  I read this early in our marriage, when we were trying to merge two people with huge school debt (mine) into one income (his).  What I got out of Amy’s books wasn’t so much about how to use juice can lids in 101 different ways, or what to do with old tinfoil, but more a philosophy of thinking.  A philosophy I’ve only been sometimes good at, because sometimes you just gotta rebel and spend some money, eh?  She calls that “spendthrift” thinking, of course…But the main thing that won’t leave my mind from The Tightwad Gazette’s pages is the questioning of each purchase, “is the value of this item to me worth the effort it took to earn the money for it?”  I try to teach my kids to ask the same question.  Do you love it?  How much does it cost you in time to earn/get that money?  Fortunately, I think my kids are really good at it!  Hopefully better than their parents…

Some online sites I’ve found very helpful are:

Hillbilly Housewife–I actually took the time and ink to print out her entire $45 a week meal plan (though those recipes were priced just a few years ago in 2006, in 2009 the same items cost $70 a week–there’s some major inflation for you and no wonder we all feel strapped!) and all the recipes for that menu.  I love her Rock Bottom Salmon Patties, even more than my old Salmon Patty recipe (the most searched for post on my old blog, The Zahn Zone, by the way).  Hillbilly Housewife has lots of good recipes and ideas for feeding the family on a low budget.  For us, of course, having a pantry stocked with good foods purchased on sale, and gardening, has made a big difference in our budget.

Frugal Girls! and Money Saving Mom have been helpful for some “fun” freebies and coupon deals that I otherwise wouldn’t know about.  For example, through them, I heard about and signed up on the Noodles and Company website and got a free birthday meal and a BOGO coupon for another meal, which allowed for some fun lunches out I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

I also love Brenda’s pantry posts at her blog, Coffee Tea Books and Me.  Brenda and her husband live on disability and occasional jobs, and she’s very forthright with how they do it and still have a bit for those “simple pleasures” in life, such as coffee, tea and books (the very same “simple pleasures” that I will spend my last dime on!).  She has many links to her pantry-stocking posts, and other frugal living sites, on the side of her blog.

And lastly, I got most of my stocking the pantry motivation from Sharon over at Casaubon’s Book.  There are reasons other than saving money to have a full pantry, and if you want more information on that do some searching through her excellent blog.

I also like to decorate my house on the cheap, as you know from my kitchen post.  And in thinking about how I’ve learned to do that, I have to say most of it comes out of my own imagination.  I do search for bargains in fabric, or at garage sales, but a lot of it comes down to imagination.  I get a big rush from making something look nice for very little money.  Whereas some people paint, or play music, or scrapbook, making my home look pretty (with as little sewing as I can get by with!) is my “art form”.

Fortunately, I have a husband who’s a willing participant in my art form.  He can take a piece of old ping pong table plywood from one neighbor, some oak 1×2″s from someone’s scrap pile, bead-board we got through freecycle, and some free paint from the county hazardous waste site, and transform it into the back porch window-seat-with-cubbies of my dreams…You’ll see photos of that hopefully after this weekend!  Having a handy husband is essential to my decorating “cents”, though I suppose I could learn to do that stuff myself.  Nah, I’d just do more garage sale shopping and make do with what I found.

Use it up.
Wear it out.
Make it do.
Do without.

~old New England saying

I love that one!

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