Commonplace Book, 33 (Week 23)

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:

  • My granny visited! And it was her birthday! And Pippin is obsessed with baking birthday cakes he refuses to eat! And Scout is obsessed with eating “party cake” she refuses to make! So we made a molasses spice cake with buttercream icing and it was pretty delicious, if unusual for a July birthday. It makes just one 9″ round — I just love small cakes, instead of leftovers lingering for days to reproach me (or be consumed in a fit of heartburn). Also, question for readers: do you think I could sub butter for shortening next time?
  • Almost not a recipe at all but in case you’re craving what I’m craving in large quantities with minimal work: pesto mozzarella chicken in the slow cooker.

Granny humors me and smiles with her (Pippin-decorated) cake

 What I’m reading:

When I come to town with my kids, the table is extended to its maximum size and my dad makes a quintuple batch of crepes before sitting down to drink a few cups of strong coffee with  splashes of cream. When he brings the mug to his mouth, he overlooks a table full of two generations of his making.

We only have a few pieces of really grownup furniture, but one of them is the dining room table J’s grandma bought us when the original homeowners were selling it along with the house, and we already have so many happy memories gathered around it.

  • Children of Godthe sequel to The Sparrowwhich is making me excited and full of dread at the same time because I’m so invested. Also, let’s talk about The Sparrow — this piece is a good starting point.
  • Middlemarch as an audiobook read by Juliet Stevenson and I’m actually enjoying it this time! Like, excited for dishes-washing and tooth-brushing, when normally I’m just counting down till I can flop over.
  • A Severe Mercy for a book club. I’ve read it before and enjoyed it back in college, but to look legit I should probably stop calling it A Separate Peace.

Everyday Use and Spending It Down

Today’s post combines two of my favorite things: the short stories you read in college and cute pictures of babies. Double win, right?

As discussed, I’m trying to be less clingy to material objects. Since my impulse is to hoard and preserve beautiful special things, it’s not easy to actually use the handmade items people have given me for my children. But I try! And look how cute!

Easter bonnets, hers and his — my granny made this little owl cardigan for Pippin, with a boy and a girl bonnet should we ever have a little girl, and I made sure to have them each wear it for their first Easter. It worked great for both, since Pippin was a chubby baby born in October and Scout was a petite thing born in June.


I think we’ve finally retired this green sweater, also by my Granny, now somewhat felted, but we got two good seasons out of it for Pippin. Here he’s sporting it at the lovely Mount Holyoke College greenhouses when he was two.

Finally, I’m not completely sure of the provenance of this little green cardigan, but I think it was mine when I was a baby. And here are both my cuties sporting it! You get the idea.

The old church ladies always assess the kids’ hand-knit and crocheted clothes with an air of professional appreciation.

In my attempts to be more adventurous, J and I use the shorthand reminder: everyday use. It’s from the Alice Walker story of the same name. In it, a woman must decide between her two daughters who will inherit the family’s heirloom quilts — the educated daughter interested in displaying them for their history, or her loyal, homebody daughter, who would use them on her marriage bed. The enlightened, stylish daughter argues, outraged, “Maggie can’t appreciate these quilts! … She’d probably be backward enough to put them to everyday use.”

Her mama answers her, “‘I reckon she would,’ I said. ‘God knows I been saving ’em for long enough with nobody using ’em. I hope she will!’”

And…that’s the point. Clothes, even beautiful handmade things, are made to be worn. They won’t pass pristinely down to future siblings or future generations, but their felting and snagging and staining will tell the story of their everyday use, and that’s a story worth telling.