40 bags of stuff. · Food · Fun · Mary Mary and Martha

More this and that

Woman in Rocking Chair Thomas Pollock Anschutz
 Finally my site traffic seems to be going back to normal.

About Comments: Please note I have closed all comments on the posts about the Adam Race/Carol Race story from last week and I do moderate comments on other postings.   I will be posting updated information if and when I get it.  I want to thank again all the very good and kind people who have contacted me about the situation.  Also I ask that you all keep the Race family and their parish community in your prayers.

Stand-mixer Whole-wheat Bread Recipe:

1cup very warm water
1 tbsp yeast
1-2 tbsp sweeter (honey, sugar)
2 tbsp oil or shortening (butter, lard, olive oil)
~1 tbsp salt
mix until blended and then let sit for 10-15 mins, switch to the bread hook.
then mix in:
4 cups flour (I use 1cup bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, and two cups whole-grain white)
1 cup warm water
alternate the flour and water until the flour and water are all in then continue to add flour until the dough forms a single mass.  The dough will still be sticky to the touch but shouldn’t be sticking to the bowl sides.  Let your machine kneed the dough for about ten minutes then stop and let it rise for about 30 mins.  (optionally: Knock the dough down and let it rise again for about 30 mins.)  Place the dough in loaf pans and let rise 20-30 mins and then bake at about 375 for about 20 minutes. 

40 Trash bag challenge:
I am on week 8.  I will be moving the challenge to the side bar so you can still keep up with it.  It has been a lot of fun especially as the children have gotten involved.

One Space a day Challenge:
I have had so much fun with my bags that I am starting an organizing challenge for myself.  The goal will be to de-clutter and organize one small area a day for thirty days in six weeks.  One shelf, one drawer, a desktop, counter top or cupboard.  I plan to do before and after shots for this round. 


Homemaking · Mary Mary and Martha · My world · Simplicity

Getting clothing under control

The Young Seamstress by Heinrich Hirt

You may have noticed that in my laundry articles I have referred a few times to my clothing lists without going into detail about the lists themselves.   This is a response to the inquiries I have received about the lists.  It explains what the list is and how it works, I have provided my lists as an example and explained the process of developing the list in case you want to create your own.

The clothing list was developed using several different lists and by observing my own family’s needs.  The philosophy behind the list is simple: there is a minimum amount of clothing that my children need.  Having more than that doesn’t improve their quality of life, and managing an excess is a burden for our family.   The list serves two very important purposes for me.  First it gives me a frame work to enable me to see when we have too much.  The second is that it makes planning of my children’s clothing needs a breeze.

Creating my first list:
When I gave birth to my fifth child my mother and father-in-law stayed at our home with the other children.  My mother-in-law made the observation that we own too many clothes.  And we did.  Between school uniforms for my oldest, the endless boxes and bags gifted to us by friends and family and our own purchases for the children our closets were stuffed, drawers overflowing and the laundry baskets bursting at the seems.  The laundry cycle was broken, mostly because it was overloaded.  I had to do something.  I was quick to admit that my mother-in-law was correct and that a large part of the laundry issue was the amount of clothing we owned, but I really didn’t feel that I had a sense of what to do about it.

We had just finished purchasing school uniforms for my oldest and as I looked at the list I had a small inspiration.  If I could make a list for uniforms for school surely I could apply that basic concept to clothing as a whole.  Then came the realization that somewhere online a list like what I wanted probably existed.  But I couldn’t find one.  The closest I came was a list of the bare necessities for children in foster care or the lists for children attending boarding school or camp.  But these all helped me figure out what was needed.

I came up with the following items:

Casual clothing:
Romper/ sleeper
Short Sleeve Shirt
Long sleeve shirt
Turtle Neck/ Sweat shirt

Sunday Best:
Dress shirt
Dress coat

Nice dress up:
Dress or nice outfit
Nice shirt

dress socks

Weather Wear:
Rain coat
light weight Jacket

Warm coat
winter Hat
sun hat

Sports and athletics:
athletic shorts
Sweat pants
Sweat shirt
As needed  for sports or lessons (might include martial arts uniform, ballet leotard, or sports uniform)

casual shoes
Hiking boots
Rain boots
Winter boots
dress shoes
athletic shoes

I wanted to be sure that I covered the basic needs of my children for the full year.  This base list covers all ages.  From this list for any individual child I knock out those things that don’t apply to them, then I work on the quantities.

Figuring out the quantities:
Once I had the master list the next thing to consider was the laundry cycle.  Typically the longest an item will be in my laundry cycle is four days.  An item worn the day I wash the type of clothing the item is will be washed again within four days.  For example: Hannah wears her favorite pink top on Tuesday.  Tuesday I am washing light weight light-colored clothing the top she is wearing belongs in so it isn’t in that load.  If Hannah puts her top in the laundry Tuesday night  I won’t wash light-colored lights again until Thursday or Friday  and it will be folded and in her drawer again by Friday or Saturday.

Every family’s wash cycle is different.  It is determined by the type of clothing your family wear, the number of people in your family, your load size and the time you spend on laundry.  The larger your family the more laundry you have, but the less time it takes to accumulate a full load of any particular type.   The more consistent the type of clothing your family wears the less time between that type of load.   If you have four boys who live in jeans you might find you wash denim every two days and whites once a week, in this case you would need three jeans for each boy but they would need seven pairs of socks and underwear

Your cycle will be the major determining factor in how many items you need of each type.  Basically you need clothing equal to the number of days between washes plus one. If you wash everything everyday you need two changes of clothing, but if you wash each load once a week you need eight.   Since I wash almost everything in four days my family has five days worth of clothing.   Other things you might consider are: Do you have multiple clothing changes per day (infants?)  Are you consistent in your laundry cycle?  Do you have religious or personal times that you can’t do laundry during?  Do you wash some loads more frequently than others?

An example of adding quantities:
Let me show you an example of how I go from the general list to a specific list for a child.  Let’s look at Hannah.   She is a six year old girl who loves pink and frills and takes ballet and swim lessons.

First, I knock out all the items that aren’t appropriate for her age and gender.  Gone are the baby things, the nylons for a teen girl, the shirt and tie for the boy.  I add in the leotard, tights and slippers for ballet.

Second, I go through and fill in the things that we just need one of,  dress clothing, coats and shoes among others.

Third, I figure five days clothing on some things, like underwear, which are worn each day.  Other items I split the five days over two or more seasonal options, for instance 2-3 long sleeve shirts plus 2-3 turtle necks or swear shirts.  For pajamas, at this age I default to two as we wear them more than one night in a row.   I also include notes on some items, like the note that at least one pair of tights be nice for mass.

Finally, I go in and finish the list by adding two slips, three to four bloomers and two pair of dance tights (so we won’t be scrambling if one pair has a run on dance lesson day) The final result can be seen below:

Casual clothing:
Tops  2-3
Short Sleeve Shirt 2-3
Long sleeve shirt 2-3
Turtle Neck/ Sweat shirt 2-3
Sweater/Cardigan  1
Skort/Skirts/Jumper 2-3 (per season)
leggings 2-3
Shorts  2-3
Jeans   2
Pants 2-3

Sunday Best:
Dress   1
Dress coat 1

Nice dress up:
Dress or nice outfit 1

socks  2-3
tights  2-3, one day pair for mass
Underwear/panties – 5
Slip  2-3
Bloomers 3-4
Undershirt – 5
Pajamas 2
Robe 1
Slippers 1

Weather Wear:
Rain coat 1
light weight Jacket 1
Warm coat 1
winter Hat 1
Gloves/mittens 1
Scarf 1
sun hat 1

Sports and athletics:
t-shirt 2
athletic shorts 2
Swimsuit 1
Sweat pants 1
Sweat shirt 1
leotard  1
tights 2
ballet slippers 1

casual shoes 1
sandals 1
Hiking boots 1
Rain boots 1
Winter boots 1
dress shoes 1
athletic shoes 1

Each age has special consideration.  Babies go through more clothing a day and some mothers wash their clothing separately.  Toddlers and pre-schools might have more nighttime accidents and need extra changes of pajamas.  School age children tend to need an extra pair of basics (jeans, shorts etc.) because of their tendency to get messy outside.  Teens may have more definite taste considerations, work or school uniforms and or hand washables.    You know your family and nothing can substitute for your own judgment, but hopefully this creates a starting place for you if you are interested in the clothing inventory list system.

Homemaking · Mary Mary and Martha · Simplicity

Laundry part three

Francisco De Zurbar


This is the third of the laundry series parts one and two are:
Simply Lovely Laundry

Laundry – The System



Washing, drying, ironing and all that sort of thing

This article is a continuation of my other laundry articles: Simply Lovely Laundry and Laundry – The System.

In those articles I explained that the root struggles of laundry in our household.  Large families generate more laundry, but we had complicated our problem by having an excess of clothing and linens.  To solve this problem I created a lists of clothing for our family and lists of linens, towels and other washables.  By eliminating and limiting the amount of clothing we own I simplify the laundry. 

To manage dirty clothes we have hampers in dressing areas that are sorted into hampers in the laundry room before they are washed.  We have five baskets, four tall ones and one small one.  The tall baskets sort the laundry into whites, light colors, heavy/dark colors and towels.  The small basket holds the kitchen towels.  This makes it easy to keep the loads sorted and to see what needs washed “right now”.   Even the little kids can handle this sort of sorting system. 

The machines: we invested in the most energy efficient and high capacity washer and dryer we could afford.  Not a matching set,  because we found that often one item of a set was rated far higher than they other, so they don’t match but after doing the research on the models available to us and within our budget we ended up with what we have.  When we bought our first energy efficient washer I noticed a real drop in our electric bill.  I think it paid for itself in less than two years.  I am not going to recommend a particular brand here because by the time you read this something else will be better, but we have Whirlpool washer and Kenmore dryer.  If you are in the market for replacing your washer or dryer do the research to find an energy efficient, quality machine. 

Each of our tall baskets hold about one and a half loads of laundry.  To keep absolutely on top of the laundry I do two to three loads of laundry a day.  At one point I would be behind if I wasn’t doing three loads a day.    But I instituted some common sense practices that helped me greatly.

Hang up bath towels after they are used.  Towels used to dry off a clean body can in fact be used again.  The same goes with the pool towel.  As long as it is clean hang it up and let it dry, use it again.  Here is the math.  I put 10 bath towels in a load.  If each person uses a bath towel one a day and we go swimming twice a week that is 63 towels a week and 6.5 loads of laundry.  If each person hangs up their towel and uses it twice it cuts that in half.  

Change bedding all on the same day: I find it easier to have one, big, linen washing day then to have sheets dribbling in with the regular laundry.

Rules for lovely daughters:  You will not change your clothing three times a day not even twice.  If you are playing dress up you will put your clothing back on when you are done.  Yes, that means the same clothing  you had on before.  You will not eat, drink or do arts and crafts in your dress up clothing (exceptions may be made for tea parties).  

Rules for dashing sons: Please do not roll in mud, dirt or dirty leaves.  Do not throw mud, dirt or anything else at your siblings.  Do not hose down the dog in order to play “sprinkler” dog.  I don’t care that you were playing farm and got to be the pig, the mud rule still applies.  If you start getting hot bring your jacket or sweatshirt inside, please don’t leave it outdoors, drop it in the dirt or mud or put it on the dog.

Rules for all children: If you dig through your drawer to find a favorite item put everything back, in no circumstances should you leave clothing on the floor.  Hang up your bath towel and wash cloth.  Wear an apron when cooking and a craft smock for painting.  Use your napkin not your pants or shirt.  Use a tissue not your sleeve. 

I follow the manufacture’s instructions with my front loader and use the recommended detergent.  Some people don’t and their laundry comes out fine and their machines don’t appear to suffer.  Some people swear by certain brands, some buy whatever is cheapest, some people go for the environmentally sounder option and some people I know make their own.  I have no strong opinion on any of it.   If it gets your clothing clean and doesn’t break the budget isn’t that really what matters?

Hand wash: There is a surprising number of hand wash detergents.  Perfume companies sometimes make laundry soap in your favorite scents. 

This is a big one for me this summer:  Dryer vs. Clothes line.  Living in the wet Northwest there really isn’t much of an option for hanging laundry outside from about October to May, but during the summer months we have enough good weather to make outside drying a possibility.  If you check this calculator  you can see how much it would save to dry clothes on the line.  For me it is about $22 a month.  Considering that line and two packs of pins will run you about $12 that isn’t a bad deal. 

My daughter Hannah loves the outdoor line.  On sunny days we hang the clothes out and then forget about them for awhile.  I have considered purchasing an umbrella line, but I haven’t cost proven it to myself yet.


I really try to avoid ironing as much as possible.  Kyle does a very good job with ironing his own clothes for work. 


Food · Homemaking · Mary Mary and Martha

Eating with the seasons

In my menu planning article I mentioned that one of my goals when planning my family meals was to use in season and locally grown food when possible.  The first question I am asked about this is “How do you know what is in season?”.  Portland, Oregon has a Department of Sustainable Development  and part of their mission is to promote Sustainable Food.  If you do a google search for  “in season produce” + “your state” or “your city” you (hopefully) will find something similar.

Some websites you might want to look at (I am not vouching for the content on these sites, but they look interesting and topical,  if you know a good site please shoot me a link):

Local Harvest 
USDA Farmer’s Markets


Homemaking · Mary Mary and Martha · My world

Menu Planning Part 2

In the early 1960’s my mother sat in a home economics classroom thumbing through her “Betty Crocker New Picture Cookbook” like so many young women her age.  It was the colorful 3rd edition, the reprint of the trusty classic.  She kept that old book, in fact she still owns it.  When I was a girl I used it to learn to make bread and cookies and read through it.  For years I had wondered why housekeeping was so difficult for me and then it dawned on my sometimes thick skull,  I had no idea what I was doing. As I mentioned in my last menu planning article I didn’t learn the skills I needed to have to run a home a my mother’s knee.  I actually had to learn many of the most important things later and on my own which has been rather daunting and something I am still working on.   One thing I did that helped me was to purchase my own “Betty” from e-bay.  I had love my mother’s old edition.  When I left home my mother bought me the 6th edition, which had been sadly gutted to fit the “modern woman’s” needs.  So I eventually bought the older edition for myself. 

It was then that I started to see how much I was really creating extra work for myself simply by running my household so inefficiently.  Menu planning was one of the first things that I set my mind to fixing.  I started by just listing the meals my family likes and randomly fitting them into meals over the course of a few weeks.  This was far better than nothing, but still had a ways to go.  Kyle and I used the South Beach Diet.  Its menu plan covers everything from breakfast to desert and I found this to be even more helpful.  So I carried it farther.  I have used my Betty Crocker cookbook and two nutritional sites to help me develop my new menu plan templates you can read about the process behind that here.  

For my family and our nutritional needs this is the basic outline I use:

·     Vegetables:  at least 5 servings per day
·     Fruit:  2-4 servings per day
·     Whole grains: 4-11 servings per day
·     Legumes: 1-3 servings per day
·     Soy: 2-4 servings per week
·     Oils, nuts, seeds, olives: 3-9 servings a day
·     Dairy: 1-3 servings a day
·     Eggs: 1 per day
·     Fish 2-4 servings per week, with at least 2 being omega-3 rich or having omega-3 in something else
·     meat 1-3 servings per week


That is the goal.  Each day we have three meals and two snacks to fill.

·     Breakfast
·     morning snack
·     lunch
·     tea
·     dinner


So over a week it looks like this :








Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast Breakfast
vegetable Fruit vegetable Fruit vegetable Fruit Fruit
oils Dairy  Dairy Dairy Eggs Eggs  Eggs
Dairy Eggs Eggs Eggs Dairy Dairy Dairy
Morning Snack Morning Snack Morning Snack Morning Snack Morning Snack Morning Snack Morning Snack
Fruit vegetable Fruit vegetable Fruit vegetable vegetable
  Dairy oils Dairy oils Dairy  
Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch Lunch
vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable
Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit
Legumes oils Legumes oils Legumes Legumes oils
oils   oils   oils oils  
Tea Tea Tea Tea Tea Tea Tea
vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable
oils Legumes oils   Dairy oils Dairy
Dairy   Dairy        
Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner Dinner
vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable
vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable vegetable
Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit Fruit
Oils Legumes meat Legumes Meat Dairy Legumes
Dairy oils oils oils oils oils oils
meat Dairy Dairy Dairy Dairy Fish Dairy
  Fish         Chicken or Fish

Whole grain at every meal, work soy into the menu at least two or three times.

This menu template covers the basics of good nutrition as I see it.  You might disagree or have some other important idea to work in.   But this more about practice than theory.   No matter what theory drives your menu plan at some point the theory has to work in practice.  Pretty much how I got the template was to list out what needed to be served, how many times per day or week then distributed the amounts over the day and week.   Any nutritional plan will lend itself to this method, though some will require more work than others.  

I list out my families favorite dishes and then place them into the menu.  Note that for vegetables the amount is unlimited the daily minimum is 5 serving.  A bean and vegetable soup for lunch with a whole grain roll with olive oil to dip and a piece of fruit will cover a legume, vegetable, whole grain, oil and fruit slot.  With that in mind it is easier to get all those servings in than it might at first seem.  Two vegetable servings can be covered as easily as having salad and steamed broccoli at the meal.  Peanut butter and celery or cauliflower bits with hummus for a snack fill both the slots for the tea-time snack.   I also don’t get overly stressed out about breaking the menu a little bit.  A slice of Canadian bacon at breakfast a couple times a week, a slice of lunch meat to make a veggie-turkey roll-up or even hot-dogs on a Saturday night is not something I worry about.  The menu plan is to serve me and my family with nutrition in mind, not become something rigid and painful.

All that said there is more to eating than vitamins and calories.  The Smart Homemaker of my Betty Crocker cookbook, of course she realizes that good nutrition is the cornerstone happy family meals, but she also knows that it takes more than just the “right” foods.  She stressed that our menus should be Appropriate to our situation, Be appetizing in appearance, be satisfying and that we should be mindful of cost.  To this list I personally add seasonal, local and as sustainable as possible.

Appropriate: Each family is different.  I am home during the day and this allows me to devote more time to meal preparation than some families.  We have a larger family, small children, we homeschool and we live in the city and we don’t have any allergies or food sensitivities.   If any of these things changed our meals might look different.

Menu planning has to also be appropriate to my brain.  For me it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel each week.  I am a thinking junkie, in fact I can over think just about anything as all my friends and anyone who has read this blog can attest to. I like to weigh every possibility and find out all the facts and making a commitment to a decision gets me a little nervous.  Consequently I can burn a lot of time making choices.  Knowing this about myself I realize that every time I can remove deliberation out of the process I am saving myself a lot of time.  Set menu plans are a good thing for me, going through a stack of cookbooks and searching online for new recipes each week is going to take me too much time.  It is much better for me to use set menus.


Appearance:  Betty’s advice is to prepare, serve and present each meal attractively.  Plan ahead so that you serve a variety of colors an textures.  This adds both nutritional value and visual appeal to the meal.   Take the time to eat together, use the good china more frequently, set the table for dinner.   I was listening to a discussion on food several months ago, it may have been Michael Pollen who was speaking about how food has become less satisfying us, and part of the decline in that is how we have made eating so utilitarian.  It requires a certain time commitment to serve  a lovely meal at an attractive table for the whole family, but it is worth it for so many reason.

 Satisfaction:  This section could have been called “prepare with care” and it is closely related to the suggestions of appearance.  Well seasoned, carefully prepared food in variety is more satisfying.  I remember having read the little poem as a girl:

Something soft and something crisp
Should always go together,
And something hot with something cold
No matter what the weather;
Something bland needs the complement
Of something with tang and nip.
Follow these rules and all your meals
Will have taste appeal and zip.

  It really does make sense and isn’t as complicated as it seems, warm bread, a crispy salad and a well seasoned soup makes a perfect meal that follows the above suggestions to the letter.   Macaroni and cheese with peach slices and cooked carrots lacks variety in color and texture.  I served this once and my children, who usually are not the type to protest about any of those menu choices all looked at me sort of funny and complained:  “Everything is orange, mom”  caught off guard I had to come up with a quick reply, “ummm, yes, it is ‘Orange lunch’ today”.  They thought that was cool and happily ate it, but it does illustrate the point:  Even my little ones prefer a little variety of color and texture on the plate.

Wine: I know some people dislike wine or have some sort of objection to it.  We have wine, usually red, several times a week with dinner.  It is inline with most of the healthy eating plans I have seen and both my husband and I enjoy a glass with our evening meal.  It is a highly satisfying touch to the table for us.  As the children reach their teen years they are allowed a bit of their own on occasion and we are comfortable with this.  I have one acquaintance who drinks a small amount of red wine, for health reasons, but only when her children can’t see.  I suspect this sort of secretive behavior sets a worse example than pouring a glass at dinner would, but to each their own.

Technique: Cooking well make preparing your family meal more fun for you and more satisfying for everyone.  If you are new to cooking or haven’t had much success in the kitchen I highly recommend taking the time to learn basic kitchen techniques.  Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here for the Food” is one of my favorites; there are websites that illustrate basic techniques and possibly even classes through your local college or home extension office.  Don’t be afraid to try something new from time to time.  I try to work one new recipe every two weeks or so.  Food in addition to being prepared to be satisfying can be very satisfying to prepare.

Cost: Food costs have gone up rather sharply lately and there are many places where you can cut family food budget.  Menu planning just by itself will help you save money.  You can plan ahead what to eat, you can stock your pantry when things are on-sale, take advantage of seasonal food, coupons and “loss leader sales”, you can shop at bulk and discount stores and you can basically eat better for less.  You might want to try cooking ahead or freezer cooking in order to save even more.  But the biggest differences for us are cutting out what I call “Oh, crap, dinners”  — those times when it is 5pm and I have no idea what to cook and nothing quick in the house to prepare which results in a last minute trip to the store or drive through.  When I am on top of my menu planning we aren’t making last minute trips to the store (saving time, gas and not purchasing impulse items) and we aren’t resorting to fast food and eating out which are both budget and diet busters.

Appropriateness, appearance, satisfaction, nutrition and cost are Betty Crocker’s list of important menu planning considerations.  But a lot has changed since the 1950s.  We are more aware of the impact our actions as a society have on our health and the environment in which we live. The University of Michigan Integrative Medicine’s Healing Foods Pyramid states that it emphasizes (among other things) “Support of a healthful environment”  the way in which our food is grown, the amount of pesticides, hormones and fertilizers all affect the health-value of our food and health of the land it is grown on.  Supporting local farm families in turn supports our communities economically.  All these things matter when put together.  While I am certainly not militant about being organic or “green” I view these ideas as personal lifestyle choices and I offer them up for consideration.

Seasonal, local and sustainable: Eating food that is in season locally allows you to take advantage of what is available in your farmer’s market and in local u-pick and small farms near you.  You might even be able to grow some of your own vegetables and seasoning.  Herbs are especially easy to go and require no more space then a window box or small platter; salad greens, radishes, green onions require very little more and tomatoes will happily grow in a large patio pot.   Learning to freeze, can, dry and/or pickle is a great way to save money, support local your local economy and avoid pesticides and other unwanted chemicals.   You might even be lucky enough to be able to purchase eggs, meat and dairy from small operations.   A side of beef in the freezer can provide meat for a year.  For items beyond your local market keep an eye open for fair-trade options to help ensure that more of the profit goes to those who actually produce the product.  Consider researching the possibilities available to you, you might find yourself happily surprised at the variety and quality. 

On a seriously Catholic note, you might also, when possible try top purchase from religious orders. The Anchoress has been raving about her sponsor “Mystic Monk Coffee“.   Many orders have some sort of food items they sell.  Hopefully I will be able to work up a list soon.  If you know of one please send me a link.

I will be continuing this series.  Next in the works is an article on Pantry and Shopping Lists and I will start posting completed menus later next week. 


40 bags of stuff. · Homemaking · Mary Mary and Martha · My world

40 Trash bag Challenge


So far I have managed to get about 17 bags of stuff out of my house for good.  Most of this is old clothing and sheets.  In part because I haven’t even gotten out of the bedroom closet area.  Today I am heading into the bathroom and then on to the girl’s room. 

I was about to write that I hadn’t learned anything insightful so far, but that isn’t true.  When Kyle and I were going through the closet (I didn’t want to toss anything of his without his input) one thing we both noticed was how ofter we said “Wow, I forgot I owned that”.  We have some items that we more or less store in our closet and somehow things we like had dissapperead behind things we didn’t and before long they were completly forgotten.  So, the lesson I take from this is pretty straight forward.  Don’t store things you rarely use with things you use all the time.  Seperate them in some way.  Put them in a storage bag or box, move them to a storage area in your home, but sperate them in some way.  This lesson was reiterated with the linen closet.  Things had more or less been put back in a rather haphazard manner and so it was difficult to find sets, pillow cases had taken to hidding in the oddest places and a good portion of this problem was simply that there were too many items not regularaly used mixed in with the items I need every week.

Blogs I Know · Homemaking · Mary Mary and Martha · Simply Lovely Fairs

Simply Lovely Windows

This week the Simply Lovely Fairs are featuring Simply Lovely Windows.  You can find links to many other articles about this topic at Paula’s Blog.


I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Superior–for Doors–

Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnate of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–

Of Visitors–the fairest
For Occupation–This–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–

Emily Dickinson

I attended a conference for Catholic Women several years ago where there was a speaker who’s talk was about decorating a Catholic home. There were two things that I walked away with that have stuck with me ever since. The first was the question “would a visitor to your home know you are Catholic just by looking around?” and the second thought was something more vague about your kitchen sink and window being an altar.

I have to admit that my “modern woman ears” hear the words “kitchen sink” and “altar” in the same sentence and the feminists alarm bells start sounding. There is something oppressively patriarchal about the idea that your sink is some sort of altar isn’t there? How could doing the dishes have anything to do with religion unless it was in some sort of “keeping women barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen”? But then I come to my senses and realize that I really, really like that idea, mostly because I have seen it implemented so well.

My friend Michelle is a wonderful Irish-Catholic woman, mother to nine children with her first grandchild on the way. She is beautiful, a mix of wit and moxie, full of love and joy. Her kitchen window was the first time I have seen an “altar” window. Though I don’t think she would call it that. In fact she called it something like “the whole solar system in my kitchen window”  she would declare this while gesticulating expressively then go on to explain the amazing array of sun catchers and glass beads strung across the window, each one catching the light and in its own way special and little items on the sill each one with some tale.  All the planets were there each one sparkling.  Her children could tell you about them too. It had become a family story something that unified them, educational in a way and entertaining. But it was more. All creation lived in my friend’s noisy happy home. There was joy hidden in the corners and sorrows swept under the carpets and it was all there all the time. The solar system in the window was just one typical little thing. It was something that sprung organically from Michelle’s brain that became something fantastic. It served the same purpose as all our Church’s stain-glassed windows do: it beautifully illustrated Gods creation and made a tiny little kitchen into something whimsical and lovely.

When they moved and had to sell the house one of the things their realtor had told them was that the solar system had to come down. Apparently people looking to buy houses are not as interested in one if it has an eclectic collection of glass and string hanging in the window. It had too much character, was too eccentric, not really normal. Life in Michelle’s house wasn’t typical. Like so many things that God puts His hand into, it was something splendid, but certainly not marketable, and definitely not for everyone.

It takes a certain amount of insanity to be a person of faith to start with. While faith is the most logical reaction to a supernatural experience, I suspect many people are very afraid of God fearing either he is real or he is not, and deeply uncomfortable with either option. So for safety they pull the curtains shut and lock the shutters least the tiniest bit of unexpected supernatural joy slip in. I fear that many more simply feel it is best not to think about it all too much and turn on the TV and close the curtain to prevent glare on the screen. To be alive in faith is to fling the windows full open and let the sun come in and maybe even be like Pollyanna and string a few prisms across the window just for the added rainbows.

So many of my daily tasks center around the kitchen sink, all the cooking and cleaning that can become such drudgery if it is not done with a well motivated heart is often centered around the sink. Making this area lovely, having it reflect our faith to help bring our reflections back to God is a very sensible step in helping stay focused on not just doing the daily, needed tasks of living but living our vocation through those daily tasks. And that is the genius of the kitchen-window as an altar.


Homemaking · Mary Mary and Martha · My world · Uncategorized

Menu planning

One of my old stand-bys is my 1950, Betty Crocker Cookbook, 1st edition.  (Now, I know that Betty Crocker wasn’t a real person.. but I still find a bit of humor in thinking of the cookbook as “Betty” — my grandmother is another Betty so maybe this adds to the charm, but either way I hope you can bare my bit of madness here as I refer to her as a real person.) My tattered red friend is not the reprint, but the original with all its sexist little comments and admonitions on being an active and productive homemaker.   It is filled with good advice about work habits, entertaining, recipe short-cuts, meal planning and nutrition.  

One thing I find most useful is this book assumes nothing.  It starts from the idea that the reader is a complete homemaking ingenue and goes from there.   So it actually covers things that one would have assumed that a young woman growing up in the 30s and 40s would probably know.  Betty Crocker advises that the homemaker plan menus at least one week at a time and better to do two weeks or even a month at once, to shop only once or twice a week.  The second shopping trip should be for perishables.   She suggests keeping a “well stocked emergency shelf”  to deal with those unexpected guests or inordinately hectic days where the lady of the house is too busy for shopping and cooking.  All sensible and good advice and I think that the starting point is spot on,  nutrition.

Now, Betty Crocker, 1950, is a little behind on the scientific discoveries of today.  But, Betty and her counterparts knew full well that little Judy and Johny needed nutritionally balanced meals so they could grow up and become useful and happy adults.  In the 1950’s cookbook there is no fudging on who is responsible for seeing that happens. Mom is the “go-to” person for healthy meals, clean and tastefully decorated homes and family entertainment.  The world has changed a great deal.  The young homemaker of 1950 was held to a somewhat different set of standards but, she also wasn’t facing some of the same temptations and bad habits that we face.  In the chapter on short-cuts she mentions that in larger cities there are places where you can pick up whole meals and take them home as a modern marvel, almost experimental in their novelty.   It was 5 years before Ray Kroc would open his first McDonald’s, packaged food was almost non-existent,  the first Swanson TV dinner wouldn’t hit the store shelf for four more years.  So, while the details of what was then considered a healthy meal are dated, the principles and the application of planning and preparing are, if anything, even more relevant to today than when they were written. 

Betty Crocker quotes the “Smart Homemaker” saying, “My meals are more nutritious since I’ve been planning them ahead.  I check in advance the basic foods and the daily needs of my family.”   To get a good idea of what those basic needs are I use the Harvard Healthy Eating Pyramid.  It took more tweaking than I would have liked to figure out how to translate the pyramid into meals.  For some reason the geniuses at Harvard figured that spelling things out in “servings” wasn’t how people really eat.  To help out on this and to get a bit of a different angle I also looked at The UMIM Healing Foods Pyramid  which actually turned out to be more practical.  I finally got it worked out and could create a template for menus.  The raw template has “slots” for menu items that I can drop items from the different categories into to create meals.   

 I know there are many different food plans out there, with different claims to what is the most healthy way to eat.  And really, I am not going to sort that out or make any judgement for anyone else on that. Find what works for you according to your family’s tastes, your beliefs and culture and what makes sense to you.  What makes sense to me the two pyramids married with the idea of local and seasonal food and sustainable agricultural practices.   In practice we use too much red meat, I am not giving up my coffee and there are those Goldfish crackers. 

One thing that has surprised me is how much effort it really took to get to this point.  My grandmother learned menu planning in her home and while working as a cook for a ranch.  My mother has often told me how little she learned at home, her mother apparently shewed her out of the kitchen more often than not but mom did have a home economics class in high school.  My mother did the homemaker thing when I was very young then entered the work-force, never to look back and swore she wouldn’t be some 1950s housewife who’s greatest achievement was having the cleanest toilet on the block and by the time I made it to high school home economics was optional and sort of looked down on.  I came to adulthood ill-equipped to manage a family menu, much less a household and I have had to basically teach myself.  

My next menu planning article will break down into a little more detail about how you get from theory to shopping list.



Blogs I Know · Caritas · Mary Mary and Martha

Entrusting his heart to her.

10 When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls.
11 Her husband, entrusting his heart to her, has an unfailing prize.
12 She brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.
Proverb 31
A few days ago I read on Dr Helen about an article written by Leslie Bennetts on MSNBC entitled “Chores for two: Why men don’t pitch in“.   The Anchoress also picked it up here and her insights are well worth reading.  About a week ago I wrote on the subject of housekeeping, and the idea of a good wife.  What I said there applies as I reflect on this newer article.  In the Good wife post I quoted Minette Marrin’s article about keeping marriages healthy, how that might reasonably mean one spouse (usually the wife) putting their career ambitions on hold and wives going back to the idea of picking up, putting out and building up their husbands.  While what Ms Bennetts says is not all that different from what Ms Marrin says in application, the difference in attitude is astounding.   Marrin’s idea of a good wife is someone who puts her husband’s and her children’s needs (both material and emotional) above her career ambitions out of love; Ms Bennetts connives to get her husband to “pitch in” more by figuratively castrating him and “insisting” that he do more around the house because that is what she feels is her due

I find it sad in Ms Bennetts article where she says what she really thinks about her husband.  I couldn’t do it justice so I will give you a long quote:

And yet everyone acts as if Jeremy deserves some kind of medal just for making a run to the supermarket. No one has ever suggested that I’m a heroine for doing the things every mother is expected to do. I admit that my husband helps out more than many men, but here’s another news flash: It isn’t because he’s such a fabulously enlightened being. Left to his own devices, he would doubtless park himself in front of the TV like some sitcom male-chauvinist couch potato while I did all the work. The reason Jeremy “helps” as much as he does (an offensive terminology that itself suggests who’s really being held responsible) is simple: He doesn’t have a choice.

 From the beginning of our relationship, I made it very clear that I wasn’t going to be any husband’s unpaid servant. If Jeremy wanted to be—and stay—married to me, let alone have kids, he couldn’t stick me with all the boring, mundane stuff nobody wants to do. We were going to share the work, or we were going to forget the whole deal.Unlike my first husband, who announced after our wedding that he didn’t like the way the French laundry did his shirts and he now expected me, the Wife, to wash and iron all of them, Jeremy recognized both the righteousness of the principle involved and the intransigence of the woman he’d married, and proceeded to pitch in.

I will let the reader draw their own conclusions here, but I find it sad that Leslie Bennetts decided that her husband, the father of her children, the person she shares a life and presumably a bed with, the one person in the whole world who’s opinion of her should matter most deserves to be publicly exposed like this.  He doesn’t help out because he loves her, because he is a great guy, no no… he helps out because she has found a way to whip him into it.  And now the whole world know the truth.  So much for “entrusting his heart to her.” 

I rather like Aristotle’s  “On a Good Wife“. 

Therefore not only when her husband is in prosperity and good report must she be in agreement with him, and to render him the service he wills, but also in times of adversity. If, through sickness or fault of judgement, his good fortune fails, then must she show her quality, encouraging him ever with words of cheer and yielding him obedience in all fitting ways—only let her do nothing base or unworthy. Let her refrain from all complaint, nor charge him with the wrong, but rather attribute everything of this kind to sickness or ignorance or accidental errors.

Now of course the whole work is hopelessly sexist and all that but the above passage if rendered to fit more with today’s norms has a bit of really good advice.  It is easy to be kind and loving to your husband when everything is good, when the world looks at him and smiles, when he is successful and healthy.   But sometimes men fail.  They loose their jobs, they have problems, they fall ill.  Then is when the marriage vows become a buttress against the world.  When he has tripped and needs a hand, when the world has crushed him down that is when the good wife’s character shows.  When she hides his shame from the world, when she builds him up instead of tearing him down, when she never speaks ill of him, she becomes his best friend, his help and his joy.  That is when his heart can trust in her. 

I have often found it distressing how many  women come online and drag their husbands through the dirt.  How often they complain about the minor little things he does.  How they whine about the things he doesn’t do.  Now maybe they are all sweetness and light to their husbands in real life, but I can’t imagine how heartsick these husbands would feel if they read what their wives say about them.   But it isn’t just that women do this to their husbands they encourage it.  It become at times a sisterly hobby of sharing all the dirt on their husbands.  

My own good husband would be crushed if I said half the things about him I have seen other rattle off as though they were talking about what was for dinner or how to prune roses.   It all goes back to love and motivation.  When you love someone you don’t want the world to see their faults.  People frequently tell me how great Kyle is because he does something or another.  If the neighbor told me how great he was for going shopping the last thing I would think is “nahhhh, he only does it because I bribe him or whip him into it, I am the great one.”  I wouldn’t even think “Well how come you don’t think I am great when I do all the shopping most weeks?”   When someone says something about what a great guy my husband is I think “Yeah!  He is a great guy.”  Because he is.  He doesn’t do it all, he isn’t perfect, but gosh darn it he tries and that means so much.

I can not imagine being Leslie Bennetts husband.  With the insulting things she has written about him I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he decided her over-entitled-ego was too much and left to find someone who wouldn’t verbally upbraid him for the entertainment of the world.  I will hold out the same hope for them that I did with Corinne Maier and her children.  I hope he was in on this all along. Maybe he has a strong enough ego and is secure enough in her affection to see this article out there and be fine with it.   Maybe she is hopeful that this will build up sales for her book and he encouraged the whole thing.   They will open the big royalties check together and laugh at the world as we all get up in arms about what a harpy she is.  She will look at him while they are getting ready for bed tonight and she will smile and tell him he is the best guy in the world and he will know she means it.  I feel very sorry for him if that is not the case.