“Well, who do you think is pretty?”

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When my daughter Jane was ten and carrying on about the latest Hollywood sensations, John pulled a face at her taste.  “Well, who do you think is pretty?” she demanded.

“You.  Your mother.  My mother, my granny, my sister,” he replied.  Out of all the brilliant things John has said, that was one of the most brilliant.

That was years ago, but this morning I awoke thinking about how our society makes heroes out of quite and very unheroic women, at least as compared to those near and dear to me.  What, I wondered, would I say to anyone asking me, not who was pretty, but who was beautiful, heroic, worthy of praise and emulation in my life?

“My mother, my grandmother, my mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law, my friends, my daughters, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters.”

I remember my dad talking about my grandmother chasing a poisonous snake who was trying to escape under their house.  “You’ll not get near these children,” she shouted as she brought a garden hoe down on it, severing it’s head.  When I was little she used to put The Happy Goodmans on to play for me.  She deftly peeled what may have been the world’s best tomatoes (grown in her weedless garden) with her ever sharp paring knife, sliced them into thick, fat, juicy slices and served them to me with salt.   One day, I vowed, I would do that for someone.

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But how would I ever emulate my momI’ll never be as strong as she is was my silent concern.  She never stopped moving except maybe once on “slow” days for a cup of coffee and a Lucky Strike.  She was up before us to put a fantastic breakfast (a platter full of meat, eggs, biscuits, gravy) on the table, to starch our jeans, and then off (for the second time) to her many-thousand chickens.  She was up waiting when I got home from basketball games (once it was 2:00 a.m. and there she stood, leaning on the kitchen counter for support, smoking her Lucky Strike).  She didn’t say “I love you” she did love.

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And then there’s my mother-in-law who taught my manly man husband to cook, can, sew, clean, iron, and to always be clean, neat, and presentable.  So when our youngest, Seth, was born, John brought the older three to the hospital looking like little dolls.  The nurses went on about it.  “Who dressed those kids?” one asked.  I was bewildered.  Who do you think? 

“John did,” I told her.  “Well, I never!” she said.  “Just look at them.  All spit and polish!”  And so I looked.  Their clothes were ironed, Benjamin’s hair parted perfectly, the girls’ hair curled, their eyes shining.  In other words, looking like kids should look when they’re coming to see their new sibling and their mother.  Did other dads bring the kids to see mom looking any other way?  Evidently.  Talk about dumb as a post.

And who was to thank for that?  My mother-in-law.  Well, and John being smarter than a post.

And then there are my sisters-in-law (brothers’ wives) who stayed with my brothers through thick and thin, who are excellent mothers, citizens, and friends.  As for John’s sister, even when her life was falling COMPLETELY apart, she was fun, kind, and positive.  How many women “leaders” can say that?  These sisters of mine!  All of them are absolutely indispensable to the welfare of all of us blessed by their presences in our lives.  I really could never say enough about any of them.

I won’t even start with my friends, except to say that my dad was right when he said to me years ago, “Bev, you’ve always had truly good friends.”  Indeed I have.  They have filled gaps, dried tears, inspired, listened, commiserated, advised, and loved me through some pretty dark days.  Real women, that’s what they are.

And then there are my daughters, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters.  Let me just say right here that there aren’t a handful of movie stars in history as lovely as these young women, as brilliant, funny, kind, or true.

I’ve said all this to say that we might stop taking note of celebrities who we’ll most likely never even meet, and start celebrating those women near and dear.

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Home Comforts

Room in a historical Bohemian village

Whether or not you homeschool, your children are watching and learning your attitude about homemaking.  If you’re like most moms, things get a bit messy at times, especially in our minds!  We need a bit of decluttering, a little refurbishing, direction, and refreshment.  I give you the beyond-anything book, Home Comforts.

Home Comforts, by Cheryl Mendelson, is one of my two favorite books on making home a haven (the other is Alexandra Stoddard’s Creating a Beautiful Home). Cheryl (she is a friend even though we’ve never met) has done her homework. A former attorney, she’s very diligent and disciplined, and has the intelligence required to make a good job of homemaking.

As this book is over 800 pages long, and covers anything and everything you can think of, I can’t begin to do it justice here. But as an example here’s a quote from the chapter on home cooking: “Good meals at home satisfy emotional hunger as real as hunger in the belly, and nothing else does so in the same way.”

Cheryl goes on to discuss how and why not to use cookbooks–I am vindicated! I believe a recipe is only someone else’s creation, certainly nothing written in stone. Of course, if Julia Child wrote it I will pay attention. But someone telling me to make pumpkin cake without salt, or that you don’t need all those walnuts in your oatmeal raisin cookies? I don’t think so.

As usual, I am loving the sound of my own horn tooting, and it’s time to get back to the marvelous book at hand. Home Comforts covers anything and everything you might ever want to know about homemaking.  You will be sorry when you’ve turned the last page, and if you’re like me, determined to read it again.

And to share it with others, especially family.

Do you want to excel at the high and highly rewarding calling of homemaking?  This book, so aptly named, will inspire and gladden your heart, and perhaps best of all, it will convince you that what you do at home truly matters.

House vs. Home

A house is a place to shelter for the night.  It warms the body, but not the soul.

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A home is a place of refuge, restoration, rest, relaxation, and replenishment.

Do you ever wish someone would come in to your house while you’re gone and clean it, organize it, and best of all, decorate so it feels welcoming when you open the door?

Well, here’s the bad news and the good news.  You’re it.  Yes,  that’s a ton of work and you may feel a little learning-disabled in this area, but the satisfaction gained from cleaning and organizing and making your house a home, a nest, is beyond measure.

Put on some motivational music (Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll should get you going, or Phil Driscoll’s Soldier will work if it’s a real battle you’re facing) and get started.

Put a load of laundry on (if you don’t have a washer begin by gathering up the laundry and putting it by the front door in preparation for a trip to the laundromat) and put the dishes in the dishwasher and/or in the sink to soak as you go on to the next thing.  Now clean the bathroom(s) and then break for fun.  No, I don’t mean bon bons and a TV show (NO daytime TV in a place of refuge).  I mean a break for some decorating.

Rearrange some furniture and hang pictures in places they’ve never been.  Use things in ways you haven’t before.  Maybe even use an entire room in a new way.  Try a different spread on your bed, especially if the one you have is one of those “in-style” atrocities so many of us have, in some fit of insanity, mistakenly purchased (there is a demon grouping in Hell responsible solely for the design of ugly home furnishings).

Now, back to work.  After things are picked up, clean the floors, dust, and wash the baseboards.  Did I say this would be easy?  Anyway, I haven’t said anything about washing windows and screens or cleaning the utility room, have I?  There’s no rest for the best, and as the HOME keeper, you’re the best.

What about your horrid closets and the mess under the kitchen sink?

That’s for another day, a day you need extra therapy.  That’s right.  There’s not a shrink on earth who can clear your mind like a cleaned out and organized closet.

So, now it’s looking lots better, you’re feeling lots better, and the house is feeling more like a home.  What else can you do?

Cook something that smells delicious (bread is always good), or simply put some vanilla and cinnamon in a pan of water and put it in the oven on low heat.  Open the windows and let in the light.  Put out stacks of books that won’t impress anyone with your amazing intellectual tastes.  Include colorful and fun books, crayons and coloring books, easy puzzles, joke books, and especially beautiful children’s picture books.  Don’t have any?  Yay!  You get to go to the library.  Not now!  When you’re finished, or next week, whichever comes first.

Put on beautiful music and be sure there are throws, quilts or blankets on the couches and chairs.  Decorate with Monopoly, Clue, Pictionary and other forgotten board games.  Set one up on an end table, ready for play.

And now, it’s time for tea.  While the water’s heating, go take a quick shower and put on something comfy.  It’s time for a nice cuppa and a not-particularly-memorable but quite easy-to-read book.

If you’re still feeling a little blue after all this (not really likely) change the tea to hot chocolate.  Stir up some raw sugar (or use honey and add after mixture is warm) with a little salt and some cocoa.  Add milk, cream, half-n-half, powdered milk, or evaporated milk (or any combination thereof), vanilla flavoring and/or almond flavoring and heat until almost boiling, stirring often.

Serve in just the right mug with extremely well-buttered toast and don’t even think about calories.  If you think you could use more protein after all that work, go for it – get a second cup of hot chocolate.

P.S.  A little cornstarch will turn this into chocolate pudding – get a recipe – don’t cook like I do with a wing and prayer.

Beware the Beige Blahs

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Do you try and try to brighten and cheer your house, but never seem to get that ah-hah! you’re hoping for?  Perhaps the problem is nothing more than that showroom floor look – the one with the fear of color, fear of originality, and celebration of nonentity.

People actually believe their houses will sell faster if the walls are beige (or worse, still sporting the dugout look – dirt in color).  And if they happen to buy a house whose walls (probably beige) need a new coat of paint, they re-paint them beige, “in case we decide to sell.”

What?  You are living here right now.  Today.  Make it yours!  Make it beautiful!

Then there are those “experts” who advise painting everything white (looks like primer, now ready for real paint) and add “splashes” of color.  Not soothing, not relaxing, not your idea.

Of course, if this is what you truly like, and you get a brilliant white and the splashes are authentic (maybe framed children’s artwork, or your own) you are on to something.  Namely, a home that is, you guessed it, authentic. 

We all like to see other people’s houses, and hope to get a glimpse of who they really are.  But when we see beige, and everything looks as though we’re in a decorating magazine (and not one of the good ones) or on a showroom floor, it’s as if they’re hiding something – themselves!

When we moved into our house the walls were the color of diaper contents when the baby has acute diarrhea, and the trim was stained dark, dark brown.  I painted the walls a golden apricot which actually glows like the sun in the evenings and mornings.  I then began the search for trim color.  After much ado, I settled on blackberry, which is a deep, dark purple.  This color combination went perfectly with this house, and with me, where I was at that time.

Now that I’m considering repainting I may put a bright cream on the trim, or perhaps a brilliant white, and leave the apricot.  Or paint the walls a light-infused pale yellow-green with the brilliant white trim.  Maybe I’ll paint my cabinets a deep moss green and the walls white and the trim whatever seems right.

Whatever I do will horrify a few people, and please most people.  Best of all, it will be MY choice, unhindered by the Made-in-CheapoLand décor offerings in the decorating aisles at the superstores, and uninfluenced by what’s “in” right now.

Your house is your house, my house is my house.  Amen (so let it be so).