My Housekeeping Commonplace Book, 7

So, some people thought the dining room in the post earlier this week was ours because FB made it the main image. LAWLZ. This is our dining room at presstime.

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:

  • Easy Batter Fruit Cobbler — a recipe I rediscover every so often and adore. It’s extremely easy and you can use frozen berries still frozen and it tastes like a PopTart made out of real food. Pippin helped me on one rainy afternoon recently when we had a bunch of aging blueberries to dispatch, and it felt so wholesome and healing to be together in the kitchen, getting along, after a week of threeiest three-year-old behavior. And then after dinner he eagerly tried a bite and had to claw it out of his mouth in rueful disgust. So there you go. Katherine approved, Pippin rejected.

Not the most stylized kitchen countertop, I’ll admit.

What I’ve been reading:

  • Mixed reviews of Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld’s updated take on Pride and Prejudice. This one is favorable, and I love Curtis Sittenfeld (especially Sisterland), so I’m hopeful. So many of the Austen modernizations overlook the strong morality of Austen, just emphasizing the romance or satire and there’s a lot to be said for Austen being interested in doing the right thing.
  • My friend Haley’s piece on audiobooks for little kids. I’m thinking about trying this for Pippin, especially because nap time continues to be a huuuuuge source of stress and anxiety for both of us, just as it’s been from the get-go. (Fortunately, Scout is a dream of a napper, or else I’d have to call it quits.)
  • Why are Southern porch ceilings blue? (Ours is.) A few theories trotted out here.
  • Frankenstein, for Well-Read Mom. Chalk this one up to one of so many books that’s a lot harder to read as a parent. Victor is such a diva!


Crafting a Craftsman (general house updates after a month of homeownership)

Look at our fancy Montessori floor bed…which has stayed this way for two weeks while we try to figure out what to do about our box spring not fitting up the stairs.

So, at the end of March we entered the ranks of homeowners, and mid-month, on a random Thursday evening, we decided just to get it over with and move. That means we’ve been sort of camping out here and bringing carloads over, setting up slowly as J rounds out the semester and fights a terrible case of not-flu.

One of the important things we had to settle was what to name our house — we loved the idea of our home having its own name. We consulted the names of some of our favorite literary houses (Ingleside, St. Anne’s on the Hill, etc.), and this British list of house naming conventions. Some possibilities we considered:

  • Avonlea Cottage (I’ll just have to wear J down into letting me use this for a baby girl someday.)
  • Benison Cottage (discarded because J thought I was saying “venison” and I doubt he’d be the last one)
  • Dogwood Cottage — our yard is pretty bare of vegetation, except for the two dogwoods outside Pippin’s window.

We eventually settled on Cottontail Cottage, because like a lot of this town, it’s overrun with the little guys.

We also spend waaay too much time trying to figure out how to incorporate our mostly mid century modern furnishings with the Craftsman bones of our house. Apartment Therapy has been a good resource here. Behold this looker:

view into dining room wood trim modern chairs
Not our house, but sort of what we’re going for — link below.

{a big inspiration is this house here}

A friend mentioned that she’d read the advice of keeping in mind friends’ houses you love, and I’ve tried to do that. I often think in particular about the home of Scout’s godparents. It’s not fancy or even especially intentionally decorated, and children are piled in. But if you run into one of the parents on campus, they’ll invite you to dinner and slide over to accommodate your whole family — the food is always unfussy and excellent. You’ll never worry about your kid making too big of a mess, and you’ll always feel welcome.

I think too of the houses I’ve found most beautiful, and most clearly a reflection of their owners’ taste: my grandparents’ light-filled Danish modern treehouse in Sarasota when I was growing up; the lovely Alabaman Craftsman that perfectly expresses my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s eclectic antique tastes, my sister’s densely layered apartment, filled with art made by her friends. There are more, of course. We are lucky to have such warm and hospitable friends.

And let me say right here — and hold me to this — I promise you I won’t go around talking about how we just need the exact right shade of linen curtain, how I’ve looked everywhere for the perfect piece of art for that wall, how frustrated I am that I’m stuck with this kitchen layout. Because I’ve never been very tolerant of people who complain at length about the enormous privilege of getting to feather a nest that belongs to them. So while I’d like to talk to y’all about my adventures in homeownership and making this place our own, I’ll try not to be completely insufferable. Mmkay?

Grad Season

It’s that time, bittersweet from the inside, a little ridiculous on the outside. Driving through downtown, there’s a pack of college girls trailing a photographer, each wearing a matching flower crown. At the front of campus, a girl in platforms steps gingerly as she positions herself for photos in a picturesque clump of tulips. The restaurants are crowded with raucous college students.

We’re in the end of the school year homestretch.

I remember that nervous energy, that exhausted relief, the giddy excitement and intolerable sadness. Walking across campus and trying to soak it all in, turning in last papers, the Middle Georgia humidity hanging above our heads like a curtain about to fall. For me, May 2008 was an especially bittersweet time: I was leaving the college I loved and two weeks later, marrying the boy I’d loved for five years. I didn’t want to leave; I couldn’t wait to go.

Life doesn’t have those set definitions, the concrete end points, anymore, as I walk the park in a drizzle that feels too cold for May, even up here in Virginia. Grown up life, after undergrad, is different. Library school, for me at least, was kind of a thing I did in my spare time until I didn’t have to do it anymore, passed alongside people who all finished at their own pace. My last three jobs sort of petered out with the arrival of each of my kids. In this most recent move, I didn’t know I was waking up to my last sunrise over those ridiculously beautiful mountains until we decided to nip Pip’s anxiety in the bud and moved to the new house that very night.

That’s the way it works, in Grown Up Land. You won’t know the last day before you’re pregnant, or the last day before your baby comes, until in hindsight. Endings mostly sneak up without fanfare.

Watching those 22-year-olds crossing items off their bucket lists, snapping memento shots, I live that strange May month all over again, with all its sadness and anticipation. There’s such beauty and ache in knowing something is your last time. I’m not sure I’d want it back.


No fancy photo session needed: some of my most beloved Mercerians (and J the interloper) celebrating the end of college at the Otis Redding statue
Some of the same girls with me in Tallahassee two weeks later, for the start of a new chapter

When Your Life Is Actual Poop

When Pippin was a baby, every Monday, J would get home early from work and there would be a changing of the guard, where I’d fill him in on the day so far while I packed my dinner and work stuff and headed out the door. As I raced around the house gathering library books to return, a cardigan, my supper, we’d exchange information in bullet points. My day was good! It’s getting cold out there! Bonnie’s been fed and walked but didn’t poop! The baby probably needs a new diaper!

And at some point, J pointed out that a lot of these conversations centered around the pooping of various creatures. And that at one point in each of our lives, we only had to be concerned about our own personal pooping.

Fast forward, and now we worry about an aging dog, a (mostly!) potty trained three-year-old, and a baby fast developing a taste for solid foods. I spend a lot of time changing diapers, carrying plastic bags around the park, and removing unsavory stains from articles of clothing.

Let’s just say, it’s not anyone’s favorite part of grown-up life.

And it’s optional, of course. If I’d played my cards differently, I might have gotten another fifty years where my poop and only my poop was my private business. That’s the way a lot of us do it now.

But the way I see it, historically, that’s an anomaly. The world used to be a lot more community-based and a lot more hierarchical. If you weren’t concerned with the nourishment and cleanliness of a whole household, then probably, someone was tasked with worrying about yours. Maybe you lived as a nobleman in a castle and had to worry about the sanitation of, I don’t know, the moat, and keeping everyone fed and plague-free in a siege. Maybe you lived in a little sod hut on the prairie with your five children and your chickens and your cow, Hilda, and things got pretty ripe in the long winter months, you all squeezed in together. (But then, I may just be traumatized by stupid Giants in the Earth.)

Sometimes it’s easy to think I shouldn’t have to deal with all this, well, shit. I MADE GOOD GRADES, I sniff to myself with intolerable snobbishness. I could maybe outsource some of the diapers and cold weather walks to daycare, doggy and otherwise, although I’m coming up short on someone who would tackle the most harrowing of the laundry issues.

We are burdens to each other, and rightfully so, in the beginning and end of our lives, if not, sometimes, in the middle. As an old First Things piece argues, “Is this not in large measure what it means to belong to a family: to burden each other—and to find, almost miraculously, that others are willing, even happy, to carry such burdens?”

None of us likes to think of the disgusting, lowly things someone did for us when we were babies, or even worse, the humbling care we might require at the end of our lives. We as a culture want to opt out and pretend we are exempt. But you know, I feel a sort of kinship with all those blessedly crowded folks from long ago, who I’d imagine as I stomped my feet to keep warm while Bonnie took ages to find the perfect pooping spot, out there on the edge of the cold, moonlit New England woods. It is the humblest act of loving someone, a privilege with which I’m entrusted by those little weirdos in my care. I hope I’m up to the task.



What Works For Us In This Season

I think there are a lot of good ways to attack housework. Before we had kids, we’d take a desultory whack at the most egregious spots on the weekends, together, especially right before someone was coming over. When Pippin was a baby, we’d set a timer for 20 minutes every evening after we’d put him to bed, then accomplish as much decluttering, sweeping, dog-walking and dishwashing as we could before the timer sounded. Now that Pippin stays up till 8 and I’m no longer balancing library work in the evenings and we have all of us making an unholy mess all day long, we’ve developed a new approach.

Some of the set-it-and-forget-it work of the household I accomplish in the gaps of my day with the kids: starting the slow cooker or bread machine, tidying the bedrooms, running the dishwasher or a load of laundry, slapping together the rest of dinner in the dreaded 5 o’clock hour.

But the bulk of the housework — cleaning up after supper, putting away everyone’s clean laundry, vacuuming and wiping down surfaces and taking out the recycling and a thousand other small tasks — I knock out with one fell swoop in the space between finishing dinner and Pippin going to bed, with a small break somewhere in there to put Scout down.

And here’s my secret to enjoying it: THERE ARE NO CHILDREN AROUND.

I put on an audiobook, and I carry with me any leftover bit of wine or cider I might have from dinner, and I tackle whatever seems most important at the moment, steering clear of the playroom or yard, wherever the rest of the clan is hanging out. Unlike the rest of the day, I’m not simultaneously answering impossible questions (“What are you made out of, Mama?”) or removing choking hazards from a baby’s clenched fist, but can work uninterrupted. I can think things through, and choose my own (humble, cleaning-related) adventure.

This requires not getting mad at J for not helping. He made the mess, too! When is the last time he even used his dishwashing gloves? These are not helpful thoughts. During this time, he’s still working, because he’s spending time with our children in a way he can’t during the workday, roughhousing in the way they love and I hate, or adventuring outside, or visiting the neighbors. It’s important to remember that we are both working in these evenings, and also both having fun, because our evening work is different than our daytime work. It’s divide-and-conquer time, and I want the housework part, because by 6:30 I can use a break from the kids.

And then, finally, both the kids are in bed, and we’re finally free, free for real, to catch up, and to relax in the order and calm we’ve created together.

Real talk: One evening assignment is periodically tackling the clutter and toddler toothpaste foam of our bathroom vanity armed only with half a cider and a bottle of Windex.

My Housekeeping Commonplace Book, 6

I’m switching formats on this feature slightly after being inspired by Abbey pointing me to this post on the value of a commonplace book. I was familiar with the term as a longtime reader of Alan Jacob’s tumblr, and historically my own tumblr more or less filled this niche. So I’ll shift these posts just slightly to be 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:

  • 4-ingredient Nutella cookies: because I realized I had three jars of Nutella and I didn’t want to move them all. Also, because YOLO.
  • Nothing else. We’re moving in stages and since I am lacking big pots, the rest of my plates, a working oven, etc., I’m pretty limited.

What I’m reading:

  • The anxious parent (First Things) — We used to talk a lot about this in our growth group back in Amherst. How do you balance risk with raising your kids the way you want them to live? The answer, this author suggests, is all about taking the eternal perspective — and particularly timely, as I’ve just started letting Pippin play outside where I can see him while I do chores. I feel proud of him that I can trust him, and proud of me that I can let him stretch his wings a bit, and just scared to death.
  • In Kerry Weber’s Mercy in the City, which we are reading for our small group:

As we stand there [at the Stations of the Cross], our own group is included in that tradition, all of us part of a long line of people in love with, pained by, suffering for, and taking part in the church. There can be a strange beauty in suffering, but, more important, there is beauty in having a community that helps us overcome it, to move forward toward that resurrection.

  • I just plowed through The Lake House in the moments when I was too tired to unpack. I LOVE the atmosphere in Kate Morton’s books, and while I think I liked The Secret Keeper better than this one, I’m still a fan. Who doesn’t like musings like these?

The thought pleased him; Anthony pictured layers of time and usage, yesterday’s ghosts making way for today’s players. Buildings were so much bigger than one man’s life, and wasn’t that a happy thing? It was what he liked most about the woods and fields of Loeanneth. Generations had walked them, worked them, and been buried beneath them.

  • In Margaret Kim Peterson’s Keeping House: A Litany of Everyday Lifeshe insightfully points out the subtext of many women’s housekeeping magazines:

    The message is clear: keeping house is not about mastering a set of complex and worthwhile skills for the sake of doing a good job at something that needs to be done. It is about being perfect without even trying.

Does anyone else need that reminder, like, constantly? I’m mastering a set of complex and worthwhile skills, not striving for perfection. Phew.


if I homeschool him and he doesn’t get to ride the schoolbus he will never forgive me


The Walk and Talk

We moved into our new house, and recently, on a warm spring evening, Scout and I set off.

The menfolk were at the old house, gathering up enough stuff to last us through the night, and in the squalor of our partially unpacked house, I couldn’t find the leash to take Bonnie along with us, so it was just me and my daughter, and though my shoulders ached under the Ergo from a week of packing and lifting and moving, the walk around our new neighborhood with my daughter felt right.

Long before I was introduced to the Aaron Sorkin walk and talk, I was an accomplished walk-talker with my mother. When I was seven, we moved from out in the country where we lived beside a busy highway to a sleepy outer suburb of a bigger city. And I don’t remember how or when it started — maybe when my mom started doing Weight Watchers? — but somewhere along the line, we started taking walks together.

Because the origins are hazy, I don’t remember why it was nearly always just me and my mom, and not my sister. In the same way, I don’t know if Pippin will ever be my walking buddy; he’s so focused that right now, at least, he seems always to prefer hurtling or bike riding or playground-clambering to anything as mundane and poky as a stroll. (And then he has the gall to complain his legs hurt as soon as I do convince him to go on a walk.) Maybe Scout won’t be a walker, either — but I hope so.

Over two decades of walking with this lady, and this is the only photo I can find from our walks. (Also, that walking stick goes with us everywhere and has warded off many sketchy dogs.)

Just as they say that the car is an excellent place to have a conversation with your child — something about the lack of eye contact paired with sheer proximity — so my mom found, I guess, that walking was a great time to have conversations with me. I breathlessly related, in painstakingly dull detail, no doubt, the plot lines of the books I was reading and the little dramas of my schoolyard life. She told me about work frustrations, and we worked out elaborate mythologies for the neighborhood: its white squirrels, its odd dogs, that perpetually marshy corner. She’d knick my knuckles with her engagement ring as she swung her arms, and I’d get all huffy about it.

We walked through my school days, and when I was back from college in those still, oppressively hot summers. Now, when we’re visiting, we walk still, usually with a stroller or Ergo or both. We make the same loops we always did, sometimes with me in wheezy postpartum shape, sometimes with me in the lead. We talk about the neighbors who have moved, what I’ve heard the kids I grew up with are doing now, whether we like new landscaping choices. My parents have lived in the same house since 1993, but it’s different now from how I remember it: the yard sunnier after those trees had to be taken out, the garden more lush now that my parents have more time to devote to it. Sitting on the porch glider after a sweaty Florida walk, though, sipping water from a glass slick with condensation, it all feels about the same.

I want that for my own daughter, too.