On Mentors

Emo photo of Willingham straight out of 2004

I attended Mercer University from 2004-8. It was an exciting time to be a student there, but maybe it’s always exciting to be an undergraduate. Beneath the heavy, humid stillness of Middle Georgia, the college was in upheaval, and discussion cropped up all over campus over what, exactly, it meant for the institution to be Southern Baptist, to be situated in that hazy, noble thing called the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I was a scrawny student watching from the sidelines, becoming increasingly vocal in our round table classes on Paradise Lost and Pascal and Jane Austen. But I was perhaps most captivated by the children’s literature class I took with a young and dynamic professor, Anya Silver.Read More »


Camping, Roots, and Other Mixed Home Ownership Metaphors

One of the kindest things anyone ever said to me occurred in the kitchen of my newly bought very first home. The previous owners hadn’t listed the house, so it hadn’t gotten realtor-ready before we bought it. I had hoped, since the owners were friends-of-friends and had met us and seemingly found us charming, that they would clean it up nicely before we moved in. They had apparently decided that leaving us flowers and champagne was enough (and this was v nice, to be sure, but also my baby’s onesies were grey with someone else’s dirt and dog hair).

We had lived there for several weeks, and I had been trying, inexpertly, to deep clean the house while chasing a three-year-old and crawling baby. It wasn’t going very well, and when I mentioned my frustration, my truly lovely sister sent me money as a housewarming gift to hire a cleaning service.Read More »

Hospitality and Home Design in Crunchy Cons

Guest room dog sheets definitely contribute to a feeling of homeyness.

Soooo, to go back to Crunchy Cons, which I read earlier this summer, in addition to his words on materialism, I was struck by Dreher’s meditations on homey homes. In the passage below, he reminisces about a friend’s genteelly crumbling old plantation house:

“Aside from the generosity of its mistress, what people respond to in Weyanoke is the deep feeling of homeyness it conveys. To be there, even as a stranger, is to know that this weary but big-shouldered country house under a canopy of live oaks is the kind of house we secretly long for: a shelter that harmonized perfectly with its natural environment, and is as beautiful and therefore pleasing to be in as it useful.”

He goes on to outline parameters on his ideal house, and I was pleased to find, as the friend who’d loaned me the book had pointed out, that ours qualified. We sneak under Dreher’s age requirement (pre-1945) by about five years; we have the sort of Craftsman house he lauds. In short, he describes, “the kind of place a hobbit would be tickled to call his own” — and I dare to think our little Cottontail Cottage with its cheery green front door qualifies.

What I liked best about Dreher’s ideal was that it didn’t just glorify the sort of lucked-up ancestral luxury home he first describes in Weyanoke. Of his own house, he says, “What’s compelling about this is to learn that the little house we’d fallen for was standard lower-middle-class housing a century ago. It stood as a plainspoken rebuke to the idea I had growing up that loveliness and grace are architectural qualities only well-off homeowners can aspire to.”

I decided to think of the places I stayed on this last trip around the South, and here were their qualities, from most to least importance to me as a guest:

  • Relaxed atmosphere. I don’t know how to turn this into a single-word attribute. Imperfection? Homeyness, as Dreher calls it? The feeling that you won’t immediately break anything in the house, and if you do, it’s no big deal.
  • Thoughtfulness. Someone had really put thought and effort into considering what a visitor might need. This could be the WiFi password on the wall, an extra blanket squirreled away.
  • Doors!! It kind of doesn’t matter where we are stowed away as long as we get a little bit of quiet time alone. We stayed five to a room in one friend’s apartment guest room and stretched out over three rooms in a friend’s spacious house — which incidentally is more space than we occupy at home. But you’ve already heard me talk closed floor plans to death.
  • Elegance. This kind of didn’t matter at all in our day-to-day life, but it was a treat, as long as it didn’t make us afraid we’d break something. But I loved my sister-in-law’s regal old wood floors and my childhood friend’s huge windows, letting in the morning sun, and the airy master bathroom of our beach house.

Plainspoken and lovely seem like goals worth aspiring to; beautiful and useful seem like qualities to establish a house around.

Commonplace Book, 51

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

Chocolate Rose Cake. I’m just getting around to posting this from Scout’s birthday mid-month. This recipe/tutorial was written by a lousy cake froster for a lousy cake froster like me — seriously, I try to enlist Pippin to frost cakes so I can pass the lousiness off as charming. And after all that reading and diagram studying, J ended up doing the fancy icing for me after I put on the crumb coat. But I’m not mad about the results!Read More »

Homeschooling Manifesto, Take 1

Recently I was reading through a loaned copy of Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy and it was all I could do not to break out the highlighters and marginalia as I read:

“It is especially strange that we burden children with this question of what they will one day do when so much of our lives is already prescribed. What will my children do? I can already see most of it. They will sleep. They will eat. They will live in relationship with others. They will celebrate special days and live ordinary days that tick with repetitive tasks. The truly important question seems not to be what they will do but how they will do it.

There — in a book not about homeschooling, in a beautiful book by a mother who doesn’t homeschool — is why I want to homeschool.

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Tanya Berry and the (Wo)man in the Wings

Photo by Ann Thompson from On Being’s flickr

Lately I’ve been thinking about Tanya Berry. The thing is, I need more models for her kind of quiet and unfussy intellectual endeavor with only behind-the-scenes contribution to output. I admire, too, that it’s combined with a commitment to place and community, but I guess because it’s by definition a quiet life, there are few publicized examples. I think maybe the Rev John Ames might be one fictional example. And maybe Anne Shirley Blythe in later years? Or Jane Austen in her own lifetime, mostly writing for her family’s amusement?

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Read Your Own Books Update

In January, I vowed to work on reading all the unread books I currently own. Read on to learn how I’ve fared in the first half of the year.


Books I buy myself: I forget and buy The Last Policeman kindle book when it’s featured on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s newsletter of sale kindle books. I unsubscribe to the (excellent) newsletter so I won’t be tempted again.

Books I actually read this month: Strangers and Sojourners (book club), On Pilgrimage (book club), The Turquoise Table (OWN), The Essex Serpent (OWN), Anne’s House of Dreams (OWN).

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Closed Floor Plans

I’d like to take a moment to speak in favor of the lesser known closed floor plan.

While the Gaineses rule the world, eliminating one non-load-bearing wall after another, we cheerfully survive in a smallish house stuffed full of walls. And what’s more, we’ve added back doors!

How can this be? We want to promote family togetherness through maximizing shared space BUT

  • J is a night owl and we are a young family
  • At least two of us are introverts

What’s more, “If Dwell Magazine ruled the world, our homes would be one big open warehouse, and then I’d have to be tidy.” (via) I’ve lived the open floor plan, most notably in a beautifully sunlit, impossible-to-keep-clean pool house, and I prefer my dim warren any day.

Cottontail Cottage is a small Craftsman built in 1940, decades before the trend of open living. Our many small rooms allow us to parcel up space more efficiently. We once had a lecture in the living room while behind two doors a half dozen small children romped. And while I was pregnant, J could often have friends over to visit in the evening while I slept undisturbed, two doors away, upstairs.

There are also concerns about open floor plans I had never considered. Apparently, open floor plans have also intensified home fires. And I have anosmia, as we’ve discussed, so I’ve never had to contend with the permeating odor of the kitchen wafting throughout an open living space, but apparently that’s a thing, too. (To be fair, we don’t currently have the door between our kitchen and dining room up, but you never know–maybe someday!)

The only time we really feel the inconvenience of this set up is when we are entertaining more people than can comfortably fit into one smallish room. But so you mingle! And that’s only a few nights out of the year–for family life, this set up suits our everyday life much better.

What is your house like? What do you prefer? Would you ever take out walls or add doors?