Spring Wreath Conundrum

The hardest part of saving money is that I continue to want things.  All the time. This time, it was a wreath for above the fireplace. Specifically, this one, from Frontgate:

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It is $149 for the thirty inch version. Of course I wanted the big version, we have ten foot ceilings and the proportions would be right. I was feeling very snobby about artificial flowers and figured an arrangement of dried herbs and flowers would be tasteful.

So I asked for it for Mother’s Day, and was told to go ahead and order it. I just could not actually bring myself to do it. It was too silly.  And then I learned that it would only last a year, or two if I were lucky.  Nope.  Not paying what amounts to over $10/month for a stupid wreath. I continued to stare at my mantel, which really needed a focal point.  Poor me.  We have a lot of beautiful, original art that Matt’s grandmother painted, but he did not want to hang a picture above it because it would require drilling into the stone.

Then, in my basement of horrors, I found this thing that I made probably six years ago. I’m sure at the time I thought it was beautiful. It is only 22 inches is diameter, but there is was, unused. I had even been wanting some more red accents in the house.

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It takes a special kind of skill to take a blurry photo of a stationary object.

So I took off the ribbons and flowers, and put them up with my wrapping paper to decorate presents.  I wired on dried cornflowers that were hanging in the mudroom. The old me would have run to the craft store for more tasteful fake flowers, but instead I pulled apart what I had and added tiny sprigs here and there.

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So it is done. It is small, and hardly noticeable because the flowers on it are so tiny.  No one has hung up a hook in the stone yet, and I am not going to ask.  So there is sits.

In the summer I will have statice and celosia from the garden, which both dry very well and will add a lot of life and color.  My sage is getting big, and I think that might look pretty too.  And in the late autumn I can just rip off the old dried flowers and start wiring on holly and ivy.  One less thing purchased, one less thing in the basement, and all throughout garden season I can have bundles of things drying in the mudroom.

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Very…shall we say… subtle.  But it is free, and good enough.  And instead of feeling yucky about spending a bunch of money on something stupid and disposable, I feel good about using what I have.  Happy Mother’s Day to me!

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Enjoying the Process

When we lived in the old house on this property, we had a dishwasher. That is, until a rodent chewed through some kind of water tube or wire, and then we had a built in dish drying rack.

And suddenly, something that was so easy became a big production. I agonized over whether every spoon was worth the use since I would have to hand wash it. I bought paper plates for the kids. I considered styrofoam coffee cups, but instead just rinsed out my coffee mug and ate my cereal out of it to avoid doing another dish.

But little by little, I realized I did not hate hand washing dishes as much as I thought I did. I enjoyed the smell of the dish soap, the feel of the hot water. I enjoyed getting out a clean towel to dry them, and then putting them away, instead of having them waiting in the dishwasher to be unloaded. They seemed cleaner and shinier. There was a sense of satisfaction when the sink was emptied, and then it got cleaned and dried. And it is hard to hate a task that you do every day. I had learned to enjoy the process.

There are a lot of things in life, especially in the domestic sphere, that are made out to be terrible chores. Such terrible chores, in fact, that either someone is hired to do them or a machine is purchased to do them. Sweeping and shaking out rugs has become vacuuming, and then creepy robot vacuums or cleaning ladies. I vacuum my floors. I never sweep anymore. I have never shaken out an area rug in my life. But I wonder, was it maybe not so terrible a job? Maybe it was something fun to do on a sunny day and made the kids laugh. Maybe after you were done, you rearranged the furniture a bit and felt good about yourself? Maybe not. I don’t know.

Or consider something like heating your home. Most people today use electricity, oil, or gas. We heat almost exclusively with wood, and sometimes it feels like it consumes our life. For example, this weekend we are going to visit my parents and will be returning with a huge trailer full of oak from a tree they just had taken down. We are always on the hunt for more, even though we hav plenty of trees, you can’t just keep cutting them down forever. Then it will need to be split, and dried. Then stacked. Then as winter approaches, some will need to be re-split into small kindling pieces. We will start hoarding newspaper. We gather sticks all year long and put them in the old house to dry. And for all this work, we have not started a single fire yet. Or cleaned one out.

But if I could somehow magically heat my home to 75 degrees all winter for free, I would not. I don’t just enjoy the the heat and the ambiance. I enjoy waking up on a dark and chilly morning, setting the logs just right in the back, watching the kindling catch and adding wood bit by bit. I enjoy polishing the glass after scooping out cold ashes, and then restarting an afternoon fire after the sun has weakened. It’s not just the beauty of the fire itself, it’s also the work that is enjoyable. Even the splitting can be fun. Matt does it with a friend, who brings a big powerful splitter to borrow, and he stays for dinner.

There is paid work of course, which can be rewarding, but that is not the point of it. Then there are hobbies, which generally cost money rather than being productive, but are done for sheer enjoyment. But there are also things in between, that are necessary, and can either be hard and satisfying, or automatic and mindless. Homemaking encompasses so many of these things.

So I will try to stop looking for ways to make my life easier, and instead look for ways that I make my tasks… well, not harder, but more satisfying. Why get a gift already wrapped when you could choose the right paper and ribbon, wrap it neatly, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done? Why turn on the air conditioning constantly when you could savor the routine of opening the windows at night, closing them when the day heats up, drawing the curtains against the sun, and reopening after a thunderstorm has cooled things off?

Just now I came back from getting my mail down the long gravel road. My neighbor was across the street, sweeping his driveway. I gave him the silent neighbor wave, while thinking to myself this guy is a nut. Isn’t it going to rain soon? Why does it matter if there are bits of leaves visible to the neighbors on your driveway? He didn’t return my wave. He was under the shade of a tree, admiring his handiwork. I get it my friend. You weren’t sweeping that driveway for me. Just enjoying the process.


Springtime Homemaking

Switching out things for new seasons is one of those fun homemaking activities that seem hard to come by on some days.  Not spring cleaning, just spring puttering.  Save the deep cleaning for winter.  Here are some things I have been doing now that the weather has turned.

Seashells and sea glass from the kids instead of pine cones and acorns.

Blue and aqua pillow covers and placemats instead of olive and burgundy

Spring scented dish soap and cleaners

Wildflowers from the children placed in the kitchen

Hummingbird feeder on the deck, where we can watch from the living room

A little furniture rearranging to have seats that face the windows

Sweeping the porch and back deck and straightening the furniture

Windows and glass doors cleaned and opened

Wool hats and mittens put away, sun hats and bubbles by the door

A basket in the kitchen to bring out seeds and bring in eggs

Bookshelves arranged and books that I want to reread set in their own section, to grab and bring outside

Sewing machine put in a closet to revisit in the winter: now is not the time

Searching grilling books for meal plans, it feels summery even though nothing is ready from the garden yet

Making sure canning supplies are ready for the summer

The humidity hasn’t set in, pollen doesn’t bother me, and nothing in the garden has disappointed me yet! A wonderful time of year.  Soon it will be time for fireworks, tomatoes, sunflowers, and days in the pool, but for now we are enjoying the present.

I am coveting a big wildflower wreath for above the fireplace mantel, as it looks so bare this time of year.  I also think a big crock in white or cream would be beautiful to set on the hearth and fill with flowers, but I don’t see it ending well with a baby in the house.

I would love to hear what you do around your house as the season changes!

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Foolproof Flower Pots

This is not the way to have amazing, professional looking flower containers like the ones you see at Disney World.  It is how to have flowerpots that do not look completely silly.

I just love flowers in containers on porches, decks, walkways, steps. They’re in the book “A Pattern Language” as something that makes a home feel right, and so they do.

But mine have always looked dumb. Mismatched, odd color schemes, looking exactly like what they were… the result of grabbing a bunch of things and mixing them together.  Every year I would find “inspiration flower pots” and what was available at stores would not match up with the inspiration at all.

For five years I only did red, white, and purple petunias. So I guess that looked okay, but boring.

Last year I did red white and blue but changed the plants. Stupid looking.

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That is just awful, and why I took a picture of it, I will never know.

One year I did yellow and hot pink. Yuck.

Yes I know the advice, “thriller, spiller, and filler”, which always results in something like this:

No thank you. Actually this one looks okay compared to most of the spiky plant ones.

And then, while watching the show “Escape to the Country”, (sort of a British “House Hunters”), and admiring the containers, I noticed something.

Those British geniuses plant one type of flower per container. One. Then they are arranged in groups. So one pot of all white petunias, one pot of red geraniums, one pot of some weird leafy thing. And when they are arranged, they look natural and beautiful.

I was further inspired by how they looked on my porch, waiting to be arranged.  Pretty good.

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So this year I gave it a try. I was able to pick out whatever flowers struck my fancy. They sort of coordinated, but I didn’t worry about it too much. I put some herbs in too.  Each got it’s own pot.

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As they grow, they will look better and better, spilling over the sides, and the basil in the bigger pots will give it some height.

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The more interesting flowers can stand alone and look lovely, instead of making a mixed planting look busy.

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The small pot has blue lobelia that I started indoors, and looks like it will bloom in approximately 100 years.

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Even the mudroom entrance got some.

And at last, I have flower pots I can be proud of! Or at least not embarrassed by. They will look better as they fill in a bit more.  And if I find that I need more contrast, more height, whatever, I can buy more plants, pot them up, and rearrange.

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Switching Up the Kids Bedrooms

While we were saving to build this house, and actually building it, we were in a 900 sq foot two bedroom cottage. There were only two kids at the time, and they shared a room because there was no choice. We were so, so against it at the time. We even considered giving each of them a private bedroom and putting our own bed in the living room. Well, my husband wanted to, I refused.

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(This is what the property looked like.  I can’t believe we bought it!)

Anyway, there wasn’t even enough room for two beds. One child was still in a crib at the time, but when she needed a bed we had her share with her older sister. They shared a dresser. There was one small closet in the room with no door, and half of it taken up by the HVAC return. And it was where I had to keep my own clothes, so no help there.

I was so excited for them to have their own room when the house got done. We planned on a downstairs master and an upstairs with three bedroom with a private bath each (please consult my tab on “simple living”….oh dear). I couldn’t wait for the storage space, the sparkly new bathrooms, the separate and quiet spaces so they would both nap. But as we put the build off, and off, and off, I came to see the benefits of the shared space.

They chatted with each other for an hour each night before falling asleep, so we started putting them to bed at 7. Everyone got some relaxing time before bed, me included. They shared a lot of books, and their baby dolls shared clothes, and they traded stuffed animals back and forth. There was very little middle of the night crying, or being afraid of the dark. They never resisted bedtime. Once they were in there they resisted sleep, but they were happy to get their pjs on and head in together.

And so, when construction began at long last, we decided they would continue to share. It never even really felt like a decision. It was just what everyone wanted, and was never up for discussion. I saw matching vintage iron beds for sale outside a thrift store, and that was that.

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This is our upstairs floorpan.  They have the large bedroom in the bottom left.  The “office” is their small play loft:  The large hall closet now holds their toys.

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When they are older we are thinking we will put some arm chairs here and make it a cozy reading spot.

The wide hallway holds their bookshelf, which needs a little more space:

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They have enjoyed a sweet shared bedroom for a year and a half now. They have fought over certain nightgowns, toys, the music they want to listen to, the stories they want to hear. They have read to each other, told each other about their days, and discussed what they will be doing in the morning. They have a had a nice shared bathroom with a big window where they attempt to style each other’s hair. They have occasionally come down at night when they are scared of storms or winds, but they have mostly been content.

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But last week, they asked a for a change:

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And we were happy to oblige.