“All I Want” Syndrome

“Oh I don’t need a big house like everyone else . I don’t want a big grand foyer or a huge closet. All I want is a cottage, with real wood windows. A garden out back, with antique roses climbing over the gate. I don’t need all this fancy stainless steel that people like today. I would rather have a simple kitchen with just some vintage appliances.”


“People today really like a lot of junk food. Not me. All I want is really fresh, local food. Like our grandmothers had. Like an apple at the peak of ripeness, picked off the tree at just the right time. Or a cow butchered by a local farmer, where you know it had a good life. Some local cheese. It is so good that you only need a little bit.”


“Women today sure love to shop. They must be really bored. All I want is some simple, well made clothing. Yes, I look for quality. Just plain colors, and natural materials. I got rid of all my cheap tee shirts and now I have nice, versatile pieces.”


And then, from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters:

“…She is always turning from what has been offered to her to say with a demure little sigh and a smile, ‘oh please, please… all I want is a cup of tea, weak but not too weak, and the teeniest weeniest bit of really crisp toast.’ You see? Because what she wants is smaller and less costly than what has been set before her, she never recognizes as gluttony her determination to get what she wants, however troublesome it may appear to others. At the very moment of indulging her appetite she believes she is practicing temperance…”


C.S. Lewis is using this fictional women to describe how a demon can help her along the road to hell, by wrapping up her sin in a cloak of righteousness.  The woman believes she is denying herself but is being more gluttonous than anyone because she is valuing her preferences over the comfort of others.

It doesn’t matter that what she wants is “simple”.  She wants something other than what she was given.

I am so, so guilty of this!

Trying this year to be happy with what I have.  Not buying beautiful glass jars for my kitchen in an attempt to be a thrifty housewife with a well stocked pantry.  Not turning up my nose at McMansions, or McDonalds.  Trying to control my tendency towards pride wrapped in humility, consumerism disguised as simple living, gluttony hiding as denial.


I bought this apple tree.  But I tried not to pretend I was doing it for the greater good of humanity.


Beef Chili with Beans

My daughters will both eat this, which shocks me, and it’s my husband’s favorite recipe. It seems just very basic and plain, but the flavor is very good! No weird stuff to repel children, all prep done ahead of time, freezes very well for up to two months. I adapted it from America’s Test Kitchen: Slow Cooker Revolution.

I like to make it on my baking day, when I cook and bake ahead as much as I can for the week. I am usually cooking bacon to stash in the fridge, so I have a skillet of bacon grease available. It is great for a busy day.

You will need:

2 slices white bread or hamburger buns, torn into quarters

1/4 cup milk

2 lbs ground beef, 90% lean if available (one with more fat just means you have to skim the top after the chili cooks)

3 tablespoons bacon grease (or vegetable oil)

3 onions, finely minced

1/4 cup chili powder

6 garlic cloves, pressed

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz can of kidney beans, rinsed

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons of canned chiles in adobo sauce, finely minced

3/4 of a bottle of beer


1. Using a fork, mash bread and milk into a paste in a large mixing bowl. Then using hands, Mix in ground beef, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

2. Heat bacon grease or oil in a large skillet. Add onions, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and red pepper flakes, and cook on medium heat until the onions begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 4 minutes more, until the onions are browned.

3. Add the beef mixture to the hot skillet, 1 pound at a time, breaking up into small pieces, and cook until no longer pink. Add half a can of crushed tomatoes, scraping pan to get any browned bits.

4. Pour contents of skillet into slow cooker. Add remaining crushed tomatoes, beans, soy sauce, sugar, diced canned chiles in adobo sauce, and beer. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.

5. Serve with diced tomato, sour cream, cheese, and crushed tortilla chips.

Finding a Color Scheme for the Home

You know how when you are planning a wedding, the first thing you have to do is pick your colors?  Once that is done, everything becomes easy.  It also helps to have a style like “rustic”, “elegant”, whatever.  I think decorating your house might be a little like that too.  Without a style and a color scheme, you are just randomly picking things you like and hoping they work together.

Well after looking at pictures of my house, I finally realized that my color scheme of beige, brown, white, off-white, and grayish beige was not really working.  I was complaining about it being cloudy out and how depressing it was when my mom gently suggested that maybe if I had some color in my house it would cheer me up.


I had tried to “warm up” the house by buying various things.  Baskets (brown), new cloth napkins (white with beige stripes!), some creamware pitchers from a thrift shop (off white), a canvas bag for kindling (tan), and more baskets (brown brown brown).  Well.  She was right.


(Seriously.  Why?)

I didn’t know what to do.  I obviously could not pick out colorful things myself.

But I stumbled upon this delightful blog that said to pick four colors.  A primary, a secondary, a primary accent, and a secondary accent.  And luckily for me, the example given used a rug with the same colors as the rugs in my house.  I might not be able to think of a color scheme, but I could certainly copy one!


My colors are:

Gold/ brown (Obviously.)

Navy blue

Red/ burgundy

Colonial blue (I guess that’s what this lighter shade of blue is)


I think green plants are allowed in all color schemes and don’t count as one of the four.

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Red bowl returns.


Maybe I could make some navy and white ticking stripe curtains?


Found this fabric in my craft closet and THINK it is the right shade of blue.  Going to make springy throw pillow covers.


A blue and white pitcher.  Baby steps!

P.S. My wedding colors were peach and champagne.  (Beige and warm beige.)

Decorating as a way to“people” the home

Have you ever heard of the term in architecture to “people” a space? It was used by the architect Donlyn Lyndon as a way to make spaces feel more human, inviting, and alive. I first read about this in William Hirsch’s book on home design. It was my favorite part of the book. I believe that Lyndon originally intended the ideas to be used to make public spaces more inviting, but they are applicable to the home as well.


These are the ways Lyndon says this can be accomplished:

1. Use of human scale. (No two story spaces, uncomfortably enormous windows, or 20 foot columns.)

2. “Windows of appearance”: a window that suggests that at any point a person could appear. (Picture flat, non-operational office windows and think of how uncomfortable a message they send.)

3. Spaces for planned and unplanned interaction. (Areas where people who run into each other can stop and chat, instead of just rushing from one place to the next.)

4. Use of handmade items, or items that require maintenance by hand. Lyndon says that the craftsman people’s the space with his work. Someone who cares for that item peoples the space with their work as well. (Think of a set of handmade tiles vs sheet vinyl.)


I have always been interested in architecture and what make a home feel “right” and this is one of the most interesting things I’ve come across, along with the book “A Pattern Language”.


But a lot of this is only useful if we are building from scratch. How can I use this to make my home cozier and more inviting if it is already built?


Here are some ideas I have come up with. The pictures are all from around my house but I have a looooong way to go with this.


We have no curtains, hardly any furniture and all our walls are beige!  But as time and money allow, I want to use all these principles as a decorating guideline for our home.


Human scale:

Indoor plants that are the size of people feel almost like a companion

Darker wall paint makes a room with too-tall ceilings a little cozier


Windows of appearance:

Windows open


Window boxes

A clothesline (not in the window, but same idea)


Spaces for planned and unplanned interaction:

Seating in bedrooms where someone could sit for a talk.

A chair in a bathroom so one spouse can sit and talk to the other who is getting ready

Tables cleared of clutter so they can be used for eating dinner, doing crafts, sitting and reading, etc.

Seating in the kitchen- either at a table or counter stools


Handmade looking items, or items that require maintenance by hand (now we get to a lot of ideas!)

Items made my hand:



Handmade looking pottery (planters, bowls, etc)

Original artwork

Embroidered items

Rag rugs

Homemade furniture

Knit scarves, hats, etc by the door

Cut flowers

Items requiring human maintenance:

A fire in the fireplace


A well tended garden

Polished stainless or copper pots and pans

Flowerpots by the house


Bird feeders


They are all just ways to say “humans made this house, and humans live in this house”.


Seems so very simple, but so many items seem to say “machines built this house, and for no particular reason”.



It is nice to have a decorating style at last.  “Human!”

Garden Plan Pro App Thoughts, plus my 2018 Garden Plan

This is probably the 20th version of my garden for this year. I love planning more than anything, and really enjoy redoing it. I had many graph paper versions, but this morning I decided to buy the growveg app for my iPad mini. It was 7.99, and I have been tinkering with it all morning.

Here are my two plans, one for spring and one for fall (only a few changes between the two, as most crops are all season long, like tomatoes and peppers. This is my main garden. I have separate areas for berries, garlic, and fruit trees.



(Onions finish up in July, fall potatoes and broccoli are planted in their place. Spring broccoli is done, and pumpkins get planted July 1st as small transplants.)

I have a few thoughts on the app that I wanted to share.

What I liked:

1. The fact that I can use it on my iPad. This is big for me because I can tinker with the plan while nursing and when I wake up at 4:30 and don’t want to turn on lights and wake up the kids.

2. How easy it was to customize. I could have written out the name of each tomato variety if I so chose. I was able to change dates easily to plan for succession planting. (For example, I said my onions would be in from March to July, and then fall broccoli from July to November.) I was able to change plant spacing easily also. The program recommended tomatoes 18 inches apart, but I like them 30 inches apart, so I changed it and the app automatically spaced them that way.

3. I liked the variety of plants available. After choosing “zinnia”, most of the varieties I plant, even ones exclusive to certain seed companies, were already available to chose from. If one was missing, I could create my own.

4. I think the pictures are cute and make for an attractive plan that would be a nice keepsake if printed out. You can draw shapes and add your own text if you wanted to do a whole homestead plan to include your chicken coop, barn, compost, etc.

5. The automatic spacing is very useful and shows you that small crops like onions and carrots will yield a lot in a small space.

What I didn’t like:

1. When the plan is finished, you are able to print it. But the printed image does not include the graph that shows square footage! So when you take it out to the garden, it won’t be terribly useful. I guess I will take the iPad out with me, or print a screenshot, which is what I have for my first plan.

2. It is pretty time consuming. Much slower than graph paper and a pencil.

3. The gardening “how to” articles are the same old stuff you hear everywhere. (Didn’t buy it for these, so I don’t care.)


I am glad I bought it. It is not revolutionary, but I really enjoy it so far!

How much…

One of my pet peeves is articles about homesteading written by people who have never done it. “It is so easy to grow fresh food for your family!” “Sewing your own clothes will save you money!”, “chickens can provide you with free meat and eggs!”

None of that is true at all. It is hard, can be very expensive, and there will be years that all you do is fail.

And it is completely missing the point.

For example, did you know that a loaf of bread can be purchased for under a dollar?


That eggs at Costco are less than ten cents each?



That land taxes will go up every year?



That free range chickens require you to go lock up them up every evening at sunset?



That tractors, even used, are very expensive?


That heating your home with wood is messy and requires year-round work?


That the further you are from town, the longer it takes your roads to be cleared in snow?


That line drying your clothes will bring pollen and bugs in your house?


That soap at Walmart is cheaper than making your own?



That unless you are making minimum wage, it is almost always financially advantageous to work and put your kids in daycare?




That porches are expensive to build and require maintenance?



That homegrown flowers save you exactly nothing?



So put away your spreadsheet. It will never tell you what is it worth.

Rethinking the Linen Closet

I have been on a mission to redo the storage in my house. After realizing that traditional storage locations make no sense, I have been changing everything up around here. Things are now stored at their point of use, not where the label on the house plan dictates they should go.  I don’t have beautiful linen closet pictures, but I have functional storage.

Our pantry was in our mudroom and it got turned into a closet for coats, flashlights, and other things that live by the back door. The food that was in the pantry went in the kitchen. Pretty simple, but felt like a revelation.

Next up…. the linen closet. We have a large one upstairs full of junk. It held sheets, towels, extra toilet paper and toiletries, and the air mattress. I did not want to rearrange things in expensive crates. I did not want labels. I wanted to store things logically and for free.

My new organizing philosophy, store at point of use, made this one easy.

Storing towels- Towels are used in the bathroom. Obviously. And yet they are almost universally stored in a hallway. Can someone explain this to me. I divided them up and four went under each bathroom cabinet. I rolled them and they didn’t take up much room. I like to keep ratty towels for drying off muddy people or mopping up disasters. So I put them in the mudroom closet. Beach towels… this was a hard one. Our girls get changed into their swimsuits up in their rooms, so the beach towels went in a drawer in one of their dressers with their swimsuits and goggles. If that doesn’t work, I will move them to the mudroom closet in summer to grab on the way out. There will be more room since all the coats will be out of there.

Storing paper goods- a few rolls of paper towels under the kitchen sink, a roll in each bathroom for cleaning mirrors, and toilet paper divvied up among the bathrooms. We buy paper towels and toilet paper in bulk, so we still had extra. These went to the basement, which I like to think of as my mini grocery store. I only put things there if there are sufficient duplicates where they are needed, so that going to the basement is like going to the store to replenish that stock. I’m not explaining this well. Anyway.


(Each bathroom has its own supplies.)

Sheets- they are used in the bedroom. I do not have a lot of extra sheets. In fact for our bed I have only one set. They are washed and put right back on. If someone happens to throw up (or other) in our bed, I strip it and put down throw blankets from the living room until everything is washed. Our kids have extra sheets because they have flannel ones for cold weather. I folded those up (very poorly) and they went in the top shelf of their closet.


(Now it’s easy to clean the bathroom, restock the towels/ soap/ whatever is needed.)

What else- the aero bed went in the closet of the guest room where it is likely to be used. Spare toiletries were divided among the bathrooms. Extra sheets were thrown out, since they were completely useless and ugly. There was a collection of travel size toiletries that I moved to the guest room in a basket. Saved grocery bags for trash went into bathrooms as well. Extra blankets were folded at the bottom of beds or put in the guest room closet.

And now what is this empty closet for?

Well, we have a toy problem in this house, despite the fact that I buy them hardly any! The girls have a little play loft in the upstairs hallway off their bedrooms. So their toys are stored in the old linen closet. I take out a few at a time and rotate them out every week. It keeps them interested and able to clean up what is out (in theory). They are not allowed to open it, but they are welcome to request things. It works because they play right next to it, so the task of rotating their toys is easy. And therefore it actually happens!


(This looks like a disaster, but because there are only a few sets of things out, they could clean it up quickly.)

So down with the linen closet! Unless you have one actually in the bathroom, because that would be perfect. And what is with all these extra sheets! Even if I had no need for a toy closet, I would still arrange my linen closet contents to be stored at point of use. The closet could be for gifts, out of season storage, or whatever else I don’t need easy access to at the moment.


Cleaning day awaits!

Our Favorite Pound Cake


This recipe is from Cook’s Country, called Cream Cheese Pound Cake.  The cream cheese does not do anything other than make it delicious.  You would never guess it is in there.  We like this in the winter and spring, served with berries and whipped cream.

We always bake pound cake recipes in small Bundt pans.  They are 6 cups each, instead of the standard 12 cup large Bundt.  One to keep, one to share.  A small slice holds up well in lunch boxes.DSC02442.jpg


You will need:

12 ounces of cake flour (3 cups, but better to weigh it)

1 t. salt

4 eggs and 2 extra yolk at room temperature

1/4 cup milk

2 t. vanilla extract

3 cups sugar

3 sticks of unsalted butter, softened

6 ounces cream cheese, softened

  1. Heat oven to 300 degrees.  Liberally spray 2 small Bundt pans with cooking spray.
  2. Mix salt and flour in one bowl.  Mix eggs, milk, and vanilla in another.
  3. Cream butter, sugar, and cream cheese on medium high until light and fluffy.  Slowly add egg mixture on low until just blended.  Add flour mixture one cup at a time until just blended.  Scrape down sides and mix a few seconds more.
  4. Scrape into prepared pans and bake about 60 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean.  Remove from pans after about 5 minutes, or else they will stick.  Cool completely on wire racks.  Will keep well wrapped in plastic wrap a few days.




Virginia winters are not bad.  There are always warm patches throughout them, and by late February it all really feels like it is over.

Today is one of those warm days, windows open already, that was so very much needed after a weekend of rain and the stomach flu.  Isn’t it so hard to remember that there are always sunny days ahead when you are stuck inside in the rain?  It feels dreary and eternal.


My brother died of cancer this past October, and I remember coming home after he died and wanting a sign.  He had not believed in heaven as far as I know, but I wanted something from him so badly.  I got home at night, and the next morning looked out the kitchen window.  There was some sort of pink trash in the garden.  Tissue paper, or wrapping paper, something like that.  It must have blown out from the trash cans and gotten stuck on a plant.  I walked out to it, and realized it wasn’t trash.  It was pink cosmos, blooming like crazy, looking absolutely ridiculous covered in flowers.

Not a sign from heaven… but a sign from the cosmos?  I would take it.

I have never told anyone that.

Since then I have tried to dedicate all my sufferings, big and small, to his soul.  They are mostly small, but I hope they count for something.  The church tells us that of course they do, but I feel my doubts daily.  This is stupid, they say, how could could God care whether you eat sweets or not this Lent?  What would some uttered words do for him now?  No one is listening.


But there is no Lent without an Easter, no Friday without a Sunday, no death without a resurrection.  Every turn of the calendar page, every rise of the sun, every change of the season, reminds me of that. On days like this, winter with spring creeping in at the edges, I can hear it, that small voice that prompted my conversion years ago.

“I promise…  ”


“I promise…”


“I promise.”

A Penny Saved #2

There were some frugal misses this week, but some successes too.

  1.  Made a batch of my favorite soap recipe using half mango and half peach fragrance because I had a little of each to use upDSC02396.jpg
  2. Switched to Kirkland brand laundry detergent.  I had been using Tide Pods for the super practical reason of thinking they looked good on the shelf in a clear container.  I realized my laundry room is not beautiful, and went for the big orange jug.DSC02356.jpgOh wait my laundry room looks like this:DSC02347.jpg
  3. We stayed home through a very rainy weekend that felt boring.  But we persevered! DSC02354.jpg
  4. But then… I spent $200 ordering berry plants from Gurney’s, and then since my pepper seeds seem to have at last croaked, I ordered more of those, AND giant jalapeño seeds that intrigued me, AND early girl tomato seeds since I’ve never grown them before, AND a new seed starting set up.  All of this is okay, but AFTER I ordered I read dozens of very poor reviews of the company.
  5. Kept the fire going all week and the heat didn’t kick on once.



Winter is hard.