Blogs I Know · My world · Simply Lovely Fairs

Simply Lovely Picnics

A Picnic Party   William Kay Blacklock

What can be more simple or lovely than a picnic?  You don’t need reservations or a tie and jacket.  There are no tickets to purchase or curtain times to make.  All that is needed is a basket of food, some pleasant place, some beloved company and a fine summer’s day.

We frequently do picnics for lunch.  We pack some sandwiches and head to the park and enjoy a couple hours away.  But our favorite picnics are dinner at the zoo.

My parents have been kind enough the past few years to buy year long passes to the zoo for us.  This makes what would be an expensive trip that we could only afford two or three times a year something we can do frequently.  We pack dinner into a large basket and head to the zoo in the late afternoon.  When Kyle gets off work he joins us and we can all have diner at the picnic area in the heart of the zoo. 

Nothing grand, nothing elaborate.  Just simple and lovely.

If you have something for this fair please send me a note or leave a comment and I will hard link you in.

Thank you

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

Simply Lovely Spring 2008: The Splendor of Spring

Calling all you brilliant Simply Lovely writers out there!

This week I will be hosting the next “Simply Lovely Fair”   the topic is “Simply Lovely Picnics”. 

I will put off posting submissiongs until Saturday  the 31st  to give more people a chance to get their submissions to me. 

If you can leave your link in the comments or you can email them to me.

Blogs I Know · Catholic stuff · Mary Mary and Martha · Simply Lovely Fairs

The Rosary

This week’s edition of the Simply Lovely Fairs is being hosted by Sarah at Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering. 


Lotto Lorenzo, Madonna of the Rosary

This is the time of year where I am so eager to get back outside that spending time indoors seems almost a penance.  Fortunately for me this week looks like it will end up being sun kissed and warm.   One of our plans for the week (weather permitting) is to make a trip over to the The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother known around here as “The Grotto”. 

The Grotto is a beautiful garden of quiet and peace sat in urban Portland, Oregon.  One of the treasures of the Grotto is a Rosary garden. This garden contains a path that wonders through the grounds, around some water features with the three traditional sets of mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful and Glorious) represented, artfully rendered in (I believe bronze) relief work.   

One of the things I find ever so interesting about the Rosary is the way it is so personal.  I remember hearing a talk by Scott Hahn several years ago where he was speaking about the Church in Ephesus, how Mary live there for some time “Look there is Jesus mother, Mary.”   I found it just an amazing thought.

What would you ask her? What would you say if you suddenly had the opportunity to meet the woman who lived so close to  your God the one who gave birth to the Incarnation, who nursed Him, who was there at His first miracle and His last breath? What an astounding thing that would be.  And it is, and we can speak and ask and learn from Mary.  The Catholic understanding of death allows for there to be a connection to those who have died before us.  The communion of saints doesn’t end at the grave. 

The Rosary takes us there, through scripture and through prayer  we see Christ through His mother’s eyes.  We see him from the human perspective as a human saw him.  But not just any human, the first one to say, “Yes” to him.   

Francisco de Zurbarán, Madonna and Child

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.


Mary Mary and Martha · My world · Simplicity

Laundry – the system

I mentioned in my first article, briefly, about laundry systems.  Today I plan to expand on that a bit more.    The USDA survey on the cost of raising a child estimated that parents spend roughly $575 per child per year on clothing.  As with most things of this nature I look at that number and think, “Wow, that seems a bit high.”  But if I was buying everything for the children new, and including foot wear that seems a possible number.   No matter how you look at it clothing is an expense.  Caring for you clothing to keep it looking nicer longer makes sense on every level.   When you have a large family having a system is imperative.  I can think of nothing more frustrating that trying to get three, four or five children out the door while looking of missing socks, the favorite sweater, or the ballet tights that are hiding somewhere in the house only to be discovered under the bed and very dirty.

A long time ago I read about space planning and functionality.    It might even have been in college, but be that as it may, a large family either plans its space for functionality, luck out and creates systems naturally or it fights the chaos that lack of planning creates.  Laundry is no exception.

I view the laundry process as starting when the clothing is taken off.    Clothing coming off a person falls into about 5 categories: it is going to be worn again before it is laundered, it is going into the regular wash, it needs to be hand wash or dry cleaned, it is stained and needs treated, it is exceptionally dirty.  This is the break down of the decision point of the laundry system:

It is going to be worn again: Jackets, coats, “church clothes”, basically anything lightly worn that doesn’t need laundered gets a quick look over for any missed spots and then gets hung up and put away.

It is going into the regular wash: This is the bulk of our clothing.  These cloths go into the hamper in the room they are taken off in.  When I have fewer children (my mom’s system) the laundry was take to a central  hamper in the laundry room.  Or it got left on the floor of the bedroom or bathroom.  This can work for bigger families, but I have found it easier to have hampers in dressing areas so that young children can drop their laundry into it themselves without having to leave the room.

It needs to be hand wash or dry cleaned: These items are mostly mine to start with, they have their own small hamper in the closet in my room.  When the children are wearing something special that needs hand washed or dry cleaned I will make sure that it gets separated.

It is stained and needs treated:  The best time to catch a stain is when it happens, the next best is when it is taken off.  If something has a stain my goal is to nab it right after it is taken off, take it to the laundry room, treat it with the appropriate stain remover and sort it for washing.  Sometimes I miss this and don’t catch it until it is gone into the wash.

It is exceptionally dirty: Every mother is experienced with this one.  I cringe to remember nights where one or more child was ill and vomit covered laundry dominated my life for the day, toilet training accidents,  “Mommy we were playing farm and I got to be the PIG!” – mud covered things can not go into the wash right off.  These items don’t even get sorted.  They just get dealt with.  Sometimes a bucket soak or sink rinse is called for, other times the soak cycle on the washer is needed.  On rare occasions I have looked at something and said, “this is not worth it, I would pay the cost to replace this item rather than wash it”, and out it goes.

Step Two:

Once items make it to the laundry room they are sorted into five baskets.  There is a small basket of kitchen laundry,  the laundry room is right next to the kitchen and I dislike having the dish clothes and such in with the other laundry.  There are also four tall hamper baskets that clothing is sorted into as it comes into the laundry room.  Darks, bath towels, lights and whites (bleach-able) clothing each have their own basket.  Things that need to go through the delicate cycle go into a small basket on the top of the dryer.  In part this system developed because no one hamper was quite big enough for the job and in part because of the system I used while living in an apartment building.  Presorting the laundry makes life that much easier for me.  

While the laundry is being sorted it is given a quick check to make sure there are no missed stains, rips that would be made worse in the wash.  Pockets are checked, zippers zipped, everything is turned right side out or inside out depending on the washing instructions.   One of the nice side effects to the multi-basket system is that it is very easy to see when we are falling behind on the laundry or on a certain aspect (bath towels is the winner here).  It is also a good reality check for the clothing glut issue.  If I can’t sort all the clothing into these baskets then we have accumulated too much.

When a load is ready to be started we pull it out from the hampers.  I try to check again for stains, open closures, turned pant legs, folded socks and the like.  You might have noticed that I have a lot of redundant checking in the system.  This is an example of “the plan” vrs. “the reality”.  In the plan everyone cleans out their pockets, turns out their clothing and let’s me know if there is a stain.  In reality, pens are stuck in pockets of jeans with underwear and socks tangled in the inside out pant legs and since I may not be the one checking for these things in one particular step it make sense for me to check on all the steps rather than deal with the mess afterwards.

 coming soon… Washing, drying, ironing and all that sort of thing

Blogs I Know · Mary Mary and Martha · Simplicity

Simply Lovely Laundry

Six children and two adults make for a bit of laundry each week.  Large family logistics seems to be a topic of interest to the general population.  “How do you do it?”, is one of those very frequently asked questions.  For the most part running a family of eight isn’t that much different than running the more common four person household — the scale isn’t so different as to make that much difference.  But in laundry you can feel the difference.

For many years I have really compounded my laundry problems by simply having too many clothes.  My mother-in-law made the observation when she was watching the children while I was having Josh and I actually did take the advice to heart.  We just have too much in the way of clothing and linens.  At some point after my mother-in-law made her pointed and on point observation I started seriously trying to assess the laundry problem.   The basic situation is frustrating, broken and ridiculously time consuming.  Too many clothes means more time collecting, sorting, washing, drying, ironing (or not), folding, storing  and trying to find the one thing you need when you need it.   It also means the laundry system is more prone catastrophic failure due to the slightest disruption.  One damp washcloth in the wrong basket can lead to a not so nice discovery three days later in the middle of the summer.  So something seriously has to be done.

Pegging the Problem 

I realised that while I was growing up my mother had a system for doing the laundry that I had more or less followed and the problem wasn’t really the washing as much as the management.   She was washing for four people and I am washing for seven usually and that breaks her system.   My bottle neck is one of volume.   Basically for our family laundry problem beings in the closet and dresser, maybe even the store and certainly in those very kindly and very appreciated boxes and bags of donated clothing from friends and family.

The reality is that I have a problem with my laundry and then I also have a problem with the children’s laundry and they aren’t exactly the same problem.

Once upon a time I was a clothes horse.  I love buying clothing, sewing clothing, wearing clothing and I could always find an excuse to spend a little extra on good construction and fine fabrics.  In fact some of my clothing from 10 years before would  still in good shape.  Not because it has been in storage, but because it was quality to start with.   I would meticulously care for my nicer things, my silky under things were always hand washed, the dry cleaner was on a first name basis with my skirts if not myself and (despite being a natural slob) I took care of those items because I valued them.

Somewhere between having children and staying home that stopped.  I am not completely sure why, but I haven’t really thought about it before today and it makes me sort of sad in a way.  It feels sort of like I have given up on that part of myself and I am somehow discomforted by that realisation.

One of the first things I realised that my “fussy” stuff never got washed once I had child number four.   When I was working fussy stuff got dropped off at the dry cleaner, but after a bit of time home I realised that my “dry-clean only” bag was actually a dry-cleaned-never bag and out it went.  But then the few hand washed things started getting washed less and less too.  They just hung around not getting washed.  Little stockings and delicate slips sat accusingly silent on the dryer each time I walked into the laundry room wondering why I had given up on them.  Oh, I had my reasons, I was too tired, too out of shape, pregnant, nursing, taking care of a small baby who would likely puke on me approximately 54 seconds after I put on something special… so why bother?  Socks became a much higher priority.

Maybe since my youngest is two I am starting to think it would be pleasant to wear something other than t-shirts and whatever pants fit this week, or over sized sundresses that hung off my shoulders somewhat resembling a tent.  I don’t know but this is an idea I will have to play around with a bit more.  It is sufficient to say that, for the moment, my clothing needs some serious rethinking but this evening won’t be the time to do it.  It would be nice to be at the point where my clothing is practical for my situation and station in life, but still pleasant and beautiful.  I know how to work this problem, this I can tackle, but it will require some inventorying and planning.

Which is basically how I started working on the far larger problem of the children’s clothing.  Once I realised that the volume of clothing we own surpasses what we need or can even deal with I had to find a way to cut down.  So, being the geek I am, I started researching wardrobe planning for children on the internet.   I found some good basic information on wardrobe planning, it reminded me and reinforced what I had learned in my clothing design coarse in highschool, but these weren’t what I really needed.  I stumbled on a document that was a clothing list for children of various ages in foster care and then that got me thinking and I spent a little time researching the recommended clothing lists for a few boarding schools.  This was mostly to give me an idea of what was sensible for a child to own.  Not that I couldn’t come up with it on my own, but looking at what these various institutions recommended gave me a better and more realistic starting point for my own children’s clothing lists which I eventually made out, put into a neat little spread sheet and then went to work de-cluttering the children’s clothing. 

The List

What does the typical child really need in the way of clothing?  I must admit I really liked the basic, straightforward, practical and simple list of the boarding schools.  They acknowledged, some through centuries of use, that children have lives that require a variety of clothing.  Church and parties, shopping and museum trips, athletics, art, nature hikes and just lounging around.  But they also are places where space for storage is either at a premium or essentially non existent so having too much stuff isn’t an option for anyone.   So the list of what is allowed is basically limited to what is actually needed.  A few were even specific enough to say that extra clothing would be sent home… they mean business apparently, but I doubt any of their charges didn’t have appropriate clothing for everyday and every activity. 

So taking these lists I sat down in front of my spread sheet and thought about what my children do and what they need.  We don’t have a uniform per say,  but it wouldn’t be hard to say that one shirt = one uniform shirt and a study pair of jeans or slacks serves for uniform slacks.  Jumpers and turtle neck sweaters take the place of uniform jumpers and uniform turtle necks and a homey sweater serves for a school uniform sweater quite nicely.  Add in ballet leotards,  swim suits, and dump the school blazer off the list and before long I was looking at something manageable.  For the babies and toddlers I planed on five days of normal wear, a couple extra pair of sleep wear and pretty much followed the same plan.

I got to the end of this, looked at the list a felt a wee bit overwhelmed.   It seemed like a lot of stuff.  Ten ones-ies for a baby, four short sleeve shirts, 4 long sleeve shirts and so forth.  But when I got down the the actual going through the clothing I was shocked.  Even being generous and letting an extra t-shirt or two in I was basically halving the clothing the children owned for most things and in some cases I was getting rid of a lot more.   Then there were a few things that we didn’t have.  Christopher had way too many socks, Josh not enough, this was something I knew but hadn’t taken the time to really sort out because I was too busy digging through a ton of unmatched socks trying to find something close to what I needed.  

But dumping so much of the extra made it possible not to just fit everything in the drawers, but to also store the off season things sensibly.  When I got one of those sweet people in my life handing down clothing I made myself get rid of something old… and this lasted for a long while then I ended up getting about eight bags and boxes of things within about a month.  The structure couldn’t hold up so now I am going through things again and getting us down to the essentials.

On to the laundry room

The system I use for the actual laundry is wonderful for us.  It works, it’s simple, it makes sense.  First off 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. 

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.

 More on my laundry system