I’m off for a spell and won’t be posting again until later in March. Warm wishes everyone.
Category Archives: Modern life
Heading into this winter, I knew that in my heart of hearts what I most wanted was to get the inside of the house better organized. In the warm months, we absolutely live outside and the house tends to become neglected. On top of that, when we moved into our new home just over two years ago, we left a number of key areas unfinished, and I went into this winter still battling a pervasive sense of chaos in the house. While I totally accept that the chaos will never go entirely, I was sorely in need of even a false sense of organization, particularly when life got even more hectic with homeschooling our youngest.
As seen in previously posted pictures here, what I think of as the back wall of the large, open central room in our home, was never really finished properly. We didn’t put any cabinets for the kitchen on that wall, and a makeshift bookcase and desk at the kitchen end of the room made the space practical if not ‘complete’.
When I became the main teacher of our youngest in November, my little four-shelf bookcase had to give up two shelves’ worth of cookbooks in favour of schoolbooks, and my tiny Victorian desk quickly experienced overwhelm. We made it work, but my desire to create more storage and increase the workspace in that part of the room ramped up hugely. This isn’t the best ‘before’ shot, but you get the idea.
I’ve been known to lunge at the nearest possible solution when feeling pressed: when heavily pregnant with our older boy and trying to quickly furnish our first house I voted to buy the first sofa I sat on and that’s exactly what we did. Over the past two years I had resisted a number of antique dressers and cabinets that would have looked lovely in the space – and been a wonderful way to reuse an old, existing piece of furniture – but done little to lend the much needed organization. The wait has been well worth the short term increase in chaos caused by the necessary removal of my workstation while the new unit has been built and painted over the past two weeks.
It was certainly worth it to see Reggie meeting a new friend (the stuffed lab of our youngest son, which predates our real live lab by a few years).
This dog loved having visitors in the house and seemed to have a lot to say, if only with his eyes, about the whole process.
For a while, the chaos in the kitchen seemed to invite that inevitable companion, even MORE chaos, when youngest son decided to set up shop with half of his Lego collection. I’m oddly proud to say that losing a good chunk of the kitchen island to a world made out of Lego for several days didn’t rattle me too much (and then one day I reached my limit and kindly demanded that the removal process begin).
The painting was done yesterday, and now we’ll have to wait about a week until we can put anything on the painted surfaces. We’re also missing the worktops (wood), haven’t yet decided about tile for the bit of wall below the open shelving, and we’ll have a magnetic board framed above the desk. But none of this has stopped me from setting up shop again at the desk and enjoying this much longed for bit of infrastructure in the heart of our house.
Taking time to live with a gap in the busiest part of our home was such a good idea; when it came time to sketch out what I felt we needed there, it came quickly and almost drew itself. And now we’re almost there. I already feel more organized just looking at what came into being in just a few short days.
My husband reflected recently that many people today, ourselves included, live like kings. We had to agree that in fact we live better than kings, when you consider the cold, drafty castles of the past and everything that went with them. All of which is just one way to consider how fortunate I feel to have all of this.
I was listening to an author being interviewed on the radio today about his new novel, in which he wanted to focus on the chaos of modern life. He referred to the ‘agony of raising children’ in modern life, and this resonated with me. There is so much of modern life that is complex and unnaturally chaotic, and much of it feels unnecessarily so. We most surely do not need all of ‘this’ in order to live good lives, raise our children effectively and yet this is where we have got to in our society at this point in human history. It’s pretty hard to break that down, as this is where we are.
I really didn’t intend to turn philosophical with this post, but it’s hard for me to put this post together without doing so, and the least I can say is that I’m grateful to have the means to alleviate the pressure I feel in my own life.
Sunday was a perfect day. Fresh powdery snow, mild temperatures, bright blue skies. Somehow we haven`t really managed to fit skiing into our winter this year. Perhaps the snowshoes that get us around our land so effortlessly have made the preparation required for a ski less attractive, perhaps the really cold days we experienced when we could ski put us off. I`m not sure, but it doesn`t matter.
This past weekend, we made up for it with a wonderful ski outing on a local trail in the most perfect conditions. Our youngest, chronically tired this year, went shooting off ahead of everyone. He tired for the return trip but not before enjoying the peace and quiet of gliding through the woods and a few fun hills along the way. His grumbling disappeared as we finished up our circuit, ready to head home for a well earned snack.
I wrote recently here about comfort food (not my first post on that topic, and definitely not the last), including a brief reference to a cinnamon breakfast loaf. I promised to come back and post the recipe, and today is the day.
My baking older son, pictured here, made the original version of this recipe from the hilarious and tasty cookbook, Bite me. I`m providing the original, very indulgent recipe first, followed by the more nutritious but still deeply delicious version that I concocted last weekend.
Cinnamon Swirl Breakfast Bread, from the cookbook Bite Me
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp melted butter
1) Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat a 9×5-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2) For the batter cream together butter and sugar on medium speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and sour cream and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt just until moistened and the flour has disappeared.
3) For the cinnamon swirl, in a small bowl, stir together sugar and cinnamon.
4) Spoon half of the batter into the prepared loaf pan and sprinkle with half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Pour remaining batter over the top. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar and drizzle with melted butter.
5) Place the loaf pan on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any drippings. Bake for 55 minutes. Let cool in the pan 10 minutes before removing. Serve warm.
Healthier Pumpkin Cinnamon Swirl Breakfast Loaf
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup cottage cheese (but sour cream, low-fat yogurt or ricotta would work equally well)
1 cup pumpkin puree (I actually used roasted squash)
2 cups spelt flour (I love spelt for its high fibre content and it`s much less gloopy than plain whole wheat flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup finely ground nuts (walnuts are a good choice)
The method is pretty much the same as in the original recipe, but with the additions and changes noted above, which really come down to reducing the butter and sugar, swapping out the plain flour for fibre rich spelt, and adding pumpkin or squash puree, as well as ground nuts to the topping.
I was very interested to see what my older son thought of this version, having first tasted the butter and sugar laden original. I was thrilled when he gave it two very enthusiastic thumbs up, declaring it ‘absolutely delicious’. For our after-ski snack on Sunday I paired slices of it with apples sauteed with cinnamon. Generally, I think this combination – particularly with the sauteed fruit – makes this a much more appealing option for breakfast (empty carbs aren’t really a great idea, as we know) or tea-time.
It is late on a Sunday evening and the weekend is coming to a close in a way that I like. I have just deposited in the oven the red chard pasta dish with cream and Parmesan pictured here, next to the cinnamon breakfast loaf that my older son whipped up for the week ahead. Both are due to come out of the oven in about ten minutes.
This weekend I fell on the ice, we fixed up our hoop house after a bout of apparent mild vandalism, my husband and I fit in a long work meeting and I plodded through our finances for our little company’s year end, but we also fit in many chapters of our family book, made a crazy outing for doughnuts, and enjoyed some good moments together, with lots of laughter.
My kitchen is in chaos as we’re having some work done, and I’m staring down another busy week, but I’ve got comfort food. Here’s hoping you do too, whatever you’re doing.
Some time back I promised to come clean about one of the ‘slow’ habits that I’ve chosen to give up, at least for the time being. Having written about my morning grind and showcased our lovely old manual grinder here, I was actually sad to give it up in favour of the modern, electric model seen next to it in the picture.
In my defence, after choosing to combine working from home with homeschooling one of our children last November and experiencing many days in a row when I just never got to have a cup of coffee, I had to make the leap. So, for now, I look fondly at the old hand grinder when I get up in the morning, but I gratefully reach for its modern counterpart while I try to do three or four other things at the same time.
Just in case we’re losing a lot of our old-school street cred, however, I’d like to point out that our family still elects to manually shovel this driveway. Even with both grown-ups and our 14-year old working at it solidly, it takes quite a long time to clear, especially if the snowfall was particularly big or heavy.
What you don’t see here is the section in front of the gate leading to the road, or the turn around to the right of the house and drive in the picture. In a big snow, my husband thinks we clear between 60 to 100 cubic yards; apparently older son will actually do the math tomorrow. Just in case you actually care!
Previous posts on Keeping it Old School
Looks like it’s going to be a true white Christmas here for us, and we’re grateful for it. It’s not uncommon now to have rain or just a general lack of snow at this time of year, when once it was pretty much a sure thing. This year, we’ve got storms out of the way and just have the peacefulness of a lot of snow blanketing the ground to enjoy.
Warmest wishes to you and yours for 2013.
At 1.30am I realized that we’d been graced with more snow, thanks to my dog and his currently loose bowels, which found me outside at that extremely early/late hour. Snow that looks as though it could stay, although who knows, with the yo-yo-ing temperatures we are prone to experiencing here in Eastern Ontario at this time of year. When I grabbed my camera this morning, I wasn’t exactly in the most cheerful mood, largely thanks to the dog, but that changed as I trudged along and gradually started to notice things around me, like the clear morning light.
Our delightful nine-month old puppy is experiencing some tummy woes, which is a drag for him and us, but worse still he has recently discovered gaps in the fencing around our property, along with bouts of wanderlust that cause him to ignore our calls and put his life at risk as he heads for the highway. Don’t call us lazy – fencing 28 acres to keep a wandering dog at bay isn’t exactly easy or cheap, no matter how you slice it. So, for now, while we consider our options, Reggie is firmly on a leash or a rope at all times.
Which is how I came to finally get a picture of him pointing this morning, a characteristic which is fairly unusual in labrador retrievers.
At the water’s edge, it was hard to imagine that I’d taken this dog retrieving in our pond just three days earlier. Clearly he was entertaining the same memories, as he reached up for his usual target, nestled in a young tree nearby. He might have been game for a swim, but I certainly wasn’t going to let him try.
Morning light when combined with snow is so pretty, and I’m always stunned by how some things in nature are able to carry what seem like impossible snow loads for their delicate forms.
Up at the house, our youngest took a break from his new homeschooling routines to play elaborate games with his trucks in the snow, something he thinks about longingly during the rest of the year. This is one of his special times and I won’t lie, it can lead to tension as he worries about clumsy adults tripping over the roads he carves out and now about hapless dogs churning up his carefully worn paths. So, the dog – on a shorter leash for the moment anyway – stayed inside, and I watched from a distance.
His father was allowed to indulge his British enthusiasm for the first snow heavy enough to warrant skis, and later they took a tobaggan down the hill for a spin and a spill or two.
I stayed inside and worked, as I have to grab a few minutes wherever I can now. I know, you are feeling very sorry for me.
The chickens seemed happy enough in the mini shelter out in their run – this funny little box started out life as home for Esme and her brood of eight tiny chicks when they arrived back in September. Since moving into their much larger digs, it has been standing empty and forlorn, until this weekend when older son took off some of the side boards in an effort to create a more open form of shelter for these now big birds when they are out in their run. They absolutely loved it today, as it kept them off the cold ground when they weren’t actively foraging and moving around.
I love that the chickens seem to find the ramp at the end of their tunnel from the coop completely redundant; this shot was taken after all nine chickens were in the yard for the day – clearly jumping off the platform before reaching the ramp is the preferred form of egress.
Sometimes, life is just messy and it helps to keep a sense of humour about it. Honestly, it was hard to know what I was thinking. Last year I took on NaBloPoMo as a way to carve out more time for myself and writing. It worked, and it was good for me. This year I took it on, almost without thinking, and I made it halfway but can go no further.
This November may be the busiest and toughest one I’ve had yet, and it doesn’t make sense for me to stick to a schedule of daily posts just for the sake of it. I need to turn my attention back to some fundamentals for a time.
Being brand new at homeschooling is taking a lot of attention, and my day to day work is suffering (or at least I am); I know it will get easier, but right now is the crunch time, as I figure it all out. I trust in figuring it out – getting a feel for things and mastering them (or feeling like I am!) as I do them is how I tend to work best, and I can see it happening already.
I don’t plan to go far or be away for long, but feeling the weight of what I will post about tomorrow become a burden is not good, and entirely against the point of blogging in my book. When I come back, I’ll have more news on our chickens, and winter gardening (if our greenhouse is still going!), and probably a recipe or two, and who knows what else.
I also need to say a big thank you to uberdish and baking bohemian, both of whom have nominated wuppenif for The Sunshine Award (not fair Jen, as I was just about to nominate you!). I will try to get to that soon.
In the meantime, thank you for reading and commenting – you are a terrific bunch of readers and fellow bloggers.
This time last year I wrote a post called Remembering through role play, which was as much – if not more – about brotherly dynamics as a nod to Remembrance Day. This year was a big step forward for our family, as our youngest, until this year only a spectator at Remembrance Day events, carried a flag for the local Scout troupe in the parade that followed our town’s ceremonies. He has seen his big brother take part in this and other public ceremonies for the past five years, and it was very special to see him stepping up for his turn.
In truth, he was a wet rag when it was all over, and in need of hiding away from the world when we brought him home. The previous 24 hours had been spent at his first ever sleep-away camp with the Cubs, and it was a big deal for him. It’s the sort of rite of passage that will be appreciated anew from a distance; right now, he is exhausted from the effort of doing so much that is new, and taking on a new level of responsibility. So very different from his big brother, but thank goodness we understand him (mostly).
Tomorrow we officially start homeschooling this boy; grade four has been a big transition and one that, in the end, we feel hasn’t worked for him. Homeschooling is really something that I believe we have been working towards all along with this boy, and now is the time. I’m both daunted and exhilarated, and very grateful for the very generous homeschoolers in our community with whom we’ve already connected (and family who have vowed to pitch in).
A quite lovely reminder of what today is about can be found on the blog Sailors Small Farm.
My own father was a baby during WWII, but my husband’s father was stationed in North Africa and spent the war servicing Lancaster bombers. Our boys are very fortunate to have a grandfather who returned home largely unscathed (at least outwardly) by the war, and who survived into their early childhood. He left us a few years ago, but Grandad Roy is remembered as an amazingly resourceful man who could fix or make anything with his bare hands and ingenuity.
I remember all too well the elderly man who spent hours upon hours pottering in his workshed at the bottom of the garden, a cigarette pinched between his lips as he concentrated on the workings of something or other, but love to imagine the stories that live on of him as a young man, a person I never knew. Always restless and full of focused energy, Roy was known in wartime for foregoing essential daytime naps under the hot African sun in favour of hunting. I can imagine how popular he must have been, showing up with some fresh meat for a meal, after endless rations of bully beef.
Remembering one individual in this way is, for me, a tremendous reminder of all of the unique and individual lives cut short by war. Lives that might have been.
The clutter levels at home seem to have risen to epic levels, and I’ve reached the point at which I tend to get freaked out. The clutter exists for mostly good reasons, and I’m a firm believer in a life well lived over a house well cleaned, but I have my limits. In truth, I crave a certain order, although I certainly never want to feel that I live in a magazine spread (though I bet it would feel great for a weekend!).
A clean house is the sign of a misspent life. Author Unknown
A man builds a fine house; and now he has a master, and a task for life: he is to furnish, watch, show it, and keep it in repair, the rest of his days. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing. Phyllis Diller, Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints, 1966
Please don’t feed the dust bunnies. Author Unknown
If I take stock from these pictures, they are good reminders that we are busy doing good and interesting things, but I could not rest this evening until I’d spent a good 90 minutes just blitzing all of the clutter seen in these pictures, taken last evening.
Does anyone else take small comfort from the quotes that I’ve shared here when the clutter threatens sanity and general well-being? Is your threshold for chaos generally low, high or somewhere in the middle? Of all these quotes, I do believe that Ms. Diller’s is the most spot-on (certainly for where I am in my life), and it’s something I remind myself of almost daily. Although I love this closing quote almost as much.
My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you? Erma Bombeck