Beauty in the Kitchen

We all need beauty. It is simply how we are made.  Truth, beauty, and goodness give us a window into the Divine and so while it would seem to be enough for us to have a kitchen that is practical and uncluttered, it would never feel complete.  We need to bring in something beautiful.

What is beautiful?  Surely, there is some aspect of beauty to a space that functions well.  That lacks the excesses and allows the person using the room to enjoy its use.  Then, the space should be clean.  Cleanliness is next to Godliness they say.  Take the time, if not this week, then perhaps during the Lenten season or the springtime to do a deep clean of your kitchen.  You know the feeling when you are done – it is absolute joy.  There is nothing like a sparkling sink and clean floors and an oven with nothing burnt on it to make one feel like cooking a delicious meal for others.

So you have a space that is functional and clean, but what then should you add to it?  The answer is as personal as the person and the family.  I’ll give some ideas to spur your own creativity and then welcome your ideas as well.

Favorite cookware:  Is there a space to hang your dear cast iron pan, show off your wooden spoons, or somewhere to display those copper pots you love so much?  If you reach for it often and love how it looks as well, why not bring it out for others to see?

Favorite serving pieces: Perhaps you love to look at the platter from your wedding or your favorite Polish pottery rather than just storing them away.  Put some pieces on the wall if you have the space and you can enjoy them for their beauty as well as their use.

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Found on Etsy here.

 

Quotes or inspiration:  I personally love the quote I have over my sink from St. Teresa of Avila that says, “God walks amidst the pots and pans”.  It reminds me that when I am doing simple tasks for the love of others, that is often exactly where God wants me most – especially if it is my least favorite chore.  Maybe you could find something equally inspirational for you!

A rug:  Kitchen rugs are useful in spots where floors get chilly in winter or standing on tile can make legs weary.  Don’t feel limited to the selection you find in the designated “Kitchen Rug” section at the big box stores.  Sometimes a runner or area rug meant for another part of the house can have a beautiful pattern that brings a smile to your face each day.

Curtains: Does the room need a bit of simplicity in the way of beautiful, white panels over the sink or perhaps your neutrals in the rest of the space can be livened up with some color and pattern framing the window?

Upgrading just one thing: Is there a small appliance that is on the verge of dying or a utensil holder you just don’t like or some similar item that for you, is the opposite of beautiful?  You don’t need to update the kitchen to love it, sometimes it is just replacing the one thing that really bothers you.  It could be as simple as some beautiful new hooks, new knobs on the cabinets, or getting a new coffee maker.  Donate the old thing if you can and bring some joy into your kitchen with a small upgrade.

This is the time to really think about what brings you joy – what would make you smile each time you saw it?  Add that!

What is your favorite item in the kitchen?

Simplify the Kitchen

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. – Leonardo da Vinci

Simplicity.  It will look different to each of us, but I am asking you to consider it in your home.  It is one of those quiet ideas that can really open up your ability to have time for all the things we want to do.  Why?  Because everything you own takes up your time.  It may be that you have to move it over in order to wipe the counter, or dust it, or take it out and put it away for certain seasons – whatever the upkeep for that item is, it costs you time. It may be just a few seconds or minutes each day, but that time adds up quickly. Now, if that is a delightful activity for you, then by all means continue; but if you would rather spend your time doing something like reading, hiking, painting, or some other activity, it might be time to consider simplifying your space.  Today, we start in the kitchen.

Now, many of us bemoan our kitchens.  They don’t have enough cabinet space, or counter space, or room to move about.  That may be true, but I invite you to consider that you may be trying to store too many things.  This struck me right between the eyes when I began reading great books to my kids and I realized that most of the mothers had no cabinets at all.  Often, it seemed they had just a table, an armoire, or a hoosier in addition to a pantry, a cellar, and a stove.  Most of these books also told the story of families much larger than my own, and so I wondered what I had stuffed into my cabinets that perhaps I didn’t really need.

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Well, it turned out that many modern conveniences are tools that do only one job, and that often didn’t cut it for mothers of previous ages.  I began to look at my kitchen differently and I purged a lot of things.  Then, I realized that many of the items I was hesitant to part with were things I used for special occasions.  They were absolutely useful to me when I held a dinner for many, but on the average day they were just taking up space.  Those items I decided to move to a shelf in the basement so I didn’t have to constantly move them out of my way in my cabinets.

Here is how my cabinet clean out went:

 

 

I am thrilled with the results.  Everything is easy to see and easier to reach.  Things were donated, but more things were simply moved out of the way until they are needed.  Those things now live in what I affectionately call The Butler’s Pantry in my basement.  It is far from what many would consider true minimalism, but it suits our family perfectly.

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If you are looking for some more kitchen inspiration as you simplify, check out this article. I love the use of space and the fact that it is a family of eight makes it all the more inspiring!

For another example that is much less minimalist and a kitchen that serves a family of 10, check this out. Auntie Leila has some good ideas for a hard working kitchen.

Lastly, tackle that junk drawer if you have one.  I always feel so much better knowing that everything in there is useful and has a home.  I used a kitchen utensil organizer and some boxes from IKEA that I had on hand. Labels are helpful in keeping this organized so everyone knows where things should go.

When you simplify, take a photo and tag it #delightfulhome2017 and maybe we’ll post them here with a fun photo round up!  We’d love to see your progress!

The Kitchen

Welcome to the first room in our series, the Kitchen.  Let’s start here, as this is both the heart of the home and where much work of the mother occurs. Before we dive into cleaning, simplifying, and making our kitchen beautiful, it would make sense to think about what we need our kitchens to be. If we think of our rooms as servants to the people who use them, how can your kitchen better serve your family?

Think through the annoying spots.  That counter that is just NEVER clear, that drawer that doesn’t even open all the way and you have no idea what is back there, the cabinet where all the storage containers are in a jumble or the pots are jammed in… You all know what your least favorite spots are.  Write them down.  If you use one, this would be a great page in your bullet journal.  Write down all the things that make your kitchen inefficient or unpleasant right now.  Some of these we can work on this month and it will be so nice to look at this list after the problems are solved!

Related to this is also the idea of where do your processes have a bottleneck?  Is one part of the kitchen where people are bumping into one another as they cook while no one ever seems to be in another spot?  Maybe some rearranging is in order.  We’ll discuss work zones later in the series, but it might be a good time to start thinking about yours and how you can arrange the things in your kitchen to accommodate the people who use them.  In my home, I’d like my kids to unload the dishwasher with less help from me, but that means it would be nice if all the bowls and glassware weren’t on shelves they cannot reach.  Perhaps moving the coffee maker and mugs away from the main cooking area to prevent morning traffic jams would help you, or creating a space where kids can help prep veggies without being too close to a hot oven is your need.  Write down all your thoughts and possible solutions.  Brainstorm here for a while because sometimes a very small change can have a big impact.

When the cooking is through, is it easy to clean?  Do you have a system for getting the dishes cleaned quickly after each meal and the counter cleared as well?  Is the floor swept and the table wiped so that if a guest were to drop in, you could bring them gladly into your kitchen for a cup of tea or coffee?  Do you have a schedule for cleaning out those things that are not everyday tasks – the oven, the microwave, the refrigerator?  Cutting time off of your cleaning means you can use it elsewhere so we’ll focus on this aspect of the kitchen too.  Until then, write down a list of things that don’t get done as often as you like, and another list of all the people in the home who are able to do those tasks.  Caring for the home is a family affair, not yours alone.

Switching gears, what do you love about your kitchen?  Maybe you appreciate the ample cabinet space, or you love an apron that was passed down from your grandmother.  Big or small, make a list of things that are great about your space.  Good light? Charming woodwork? A lovely piece of art hanging on the wall?  We’ll figure out a way to highlight these later and hopefully make the list even longer.

Lastly, I like to remember that when we make our space the best it can be, then it is up to us to improve our attitudes toward the space as well.  I like to think of the fact that there are women who blog daily recipes and write cookbooks out of tiny kitchens.  Ma Ingalls had no cabinets or refrigerator and she raised five children and cooked delicious meals. You need not live in or pine for some imaginary dream kitchen when the one you have now is where your life is being lived day by day. Amazing meals happen in awkward spaces and amazing memories are made in humble kitchens.  Celebrate the space you have now, and let’s make it as pleasant as possible.

 

 

 

Atmosphere in the Delightful Home

 

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We came across this clay heart on a recent hike!

I wanted to stop in to say thank you!  In the few months since we have begun blogging, we’ve had so many kind readers reach out to us with comments, suggestions, and encouragement.  It is a joy to share some of our stories and advice with you.  We were honored to have so many of you join us last night for our first webinar and it makes us excited to create more posts and talks to inspire you in your journey as a mother, teacher, and homemaker.

Since so many new eyes have come to our blog in the recent weeks, we also wanted to call your attention to some of the posts in the archives.  In discussing the home going forward, it might be helpful to look back a bit as you think about what you want from your home and how you can make it fulfill those goals.

We have chatted about how the atmosphere of our home is shaped by our person – the attitude and tone that we set.

We discussed our thoughts on organization and decoration, which often means cutting clutter to make room for other aspects of a full life.

We wrote about the tactile nature of your home – textures, smells, and sounds.

We pondered the fact that we NEED beauty, it isn’t just a want.

Then we talked about our outdoor spaces and the atmosphere outside of our four walls.

We hope this gives you something to ponder as you start critically looking at the rooms in your home!  We’ve been doing it too and we have lots of pictures to show you as we simplify, organize, and add beauty to our spaces.  We hope you are taking pictures too, or will as you follow along.  Don’t forget to use the hashtag #delightfulhome2017 when you post them on Facebook or Instagram!

Thriving in a Delightful Home

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Thriving.  This is what we all want to be doing, but all too often we find ourselves feeling like we are barely surviving.  We are treading water, or worse – drowning.  There are times this is a legitimate feeling.  Illness, pregnancy, new baby, lack of sleep, moving, job loss, etc. can throw us off of our usual routine and send us down a path where we find a temporary new normal in a lower gear – survival mode. If you are in a time where you are in legitimate survival mode, get some rest and take care of what you must do as best you can.  You can come back to this series later, it will still be here.

For those who are ready to Learn How to Liveand to Thrive… read on.

thrive: 1. to prosper; be fortunate or successful. 2. to grow or develop vigorously; flourish.

To thrive is a decision.  The greater part of this decision is mental, but we need to support this decision with changes to our physical space in order to aid our success.  For example, I can make the decision to eat well, but unless I shop for proper food and make a plan to step out of old, bad habits, I am not likely to succeed.  In order to thrive in my home, where I spend a large portion of my life, I need to make a plan.  Not a plan for a home that works for someone else on Pinterest, or a home that looks great in that catalog in the mailbox – a home that supports the people who live in it.  If I am the home-maker, then it is my job to make a home that supports my decision to thrive.

So then, what does it look like to thrive as a homeschooling mother, which is what I am? This is my vision of a delightful home- easy to maintain, pleasant to look at, many cozy spots for reading, a place for everything and everything in its place, a quiet space for prayer, designated toy spaces, organized pantry, bird feeders just out the window to look at, bookshelves (oh, the bookshelves!), neat and easily accessible storage for out of season items… Your list may be the same or radically different, but now is the time to make it.  Now is the time to sort out what you want from daily life – then adjust your home spaces to that vision.

This series isn’t about just cleaning your spaces, or just decluttering them, and certainly not about creating spaces that are picture perfect at all times – it is about creating spaces that will help you to thrive in your daily life.  Your home can’t do all the work, but it can either aid or sabotage your efforts.  Cooking is easier when you can see your ingredients, know your meal plan, and reach your tools with out other tools falling out on you.  Cleaning is easier when there is a schedule of chores and the cleaners you need are neatly stored near to the spot they get used frequently.  Laundry is easier when there is a method to the madness. Schooling is easier when you know where the books and supplies all reside and they are easily accessible for use and when they need to be put away.  When each of these tasks become easier, they take less time.  That is time you can now use for those other things in life that bring you joy – reading, writing, crafting, birdwatching, or any amount of other things.

All of this planning and change doesn’t take place over the course of a day, week, or month.  At least, we didn’t think we could!  We wanted to take our time and do this well.  Amy and I are both in the oddly similar situation of living in a home where things are unpacked, but not… ideally placed.  Maybe you are in the same boat.  Let’s go room by room and make our homes into places that serve our families well and help each member to thrive.

Each week, we’ll discuss some aspect of a room here on the blog.  We’ll talk about the room itself and what the purpose of it is.  What do we do here, and what do we wish we could do here?  What does this room do well, and what can we not stand about it?  Is a big change needed, or would a small change be enough to make a big difference?  Then we’ll declutter – remove all the things that prevent the room from doing its job well.  The rest will be organized so that it can be a room that helps us, rather than hinders us.  Lastly, let’s add in a few things that will add beauty and joy.  Every room needs to be one that we enjoy being in!

Here is the schedule for going through our homes this year.  We will post all the links to this post as we create the posts week by week.

February: The Kitchen

March: Dining Room

April: Pantry

May: Laundry

June: Bathroom

July: Outdoor Spaces

August: Schoolroom

September: Bedroom

October: Living Room

November: Entryway

December: Storage

Resources for a Delightful Home

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When we set out to begin this delightful home series, Amy and I really thought long and hard about why we would do it.  We discussed that we really wanted to share was a series of posts that would help you love your home, right where you are.  We have both recently moved (sadly, farther away from each other, rather than closer), and we’ve fully unpacked, but we needed to live there a while to really let it feel like home – to see how we use each room, what feels out of place, or what we’d like to adjust.  We’re sure you have similar adjustments you’d like to make and maybe you’re on the search for new ideas and to see how other homeschooling moms use their spaces.

We began to discuss the resources that we had used in the past to really bring order and joy to our spaces.  First and foremost, Amy and I both really liked The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  Sure, Kondo thanks her socks for their usefulness before puts them in the hamper and there are some other strange notions to avoid, but the overall message is a good one: Keep only the things that bring you joy through their beauty or usefulness.  It is amazing how much your home will change for the better when you implement that rule alone.  Add in a few other ideas for storage and space saving folding and suddenly you’ve freed up hours of your week because you don’t have to maintain and contain messes.

When you’ve decided on what to keep, there are best practices in organization.  The Complete Book of Home Organization really helps here.  (Her blog also has lots of inspiration and ideas!) Many times, we may have dishes stored across the kitchen from the dishwasher meaning tons of extra steps and wasted time when unloading or other similar inefficiencies.  We may store pans where they are buried under pots and being scratched and dented, and so disorder means having to spend more on replacements.  This book has many tips to keep things orderly, and before you know it, using and cleaning your rooms is so much quicker and easier.  We can also put into practice ideas to make chores easier for younger folks by keeping certain items in lower cabinets or drawers.

The book that taught Amy everything she knows about homemaking and, even more importantly, convinced her it was a worthwhile endeavor was Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. I still remember hearing the NPR story our first year of marriage (yes, 1999) and then heading to the bookstore (there were still lots of those around back then!) to buy it.

When I was in the midst of having a whole gaggle of babies (3, 3 and under!), I would reread  A Mother’s Rule of Life: How to Bring Order to Your Home and Peace to Your Soul every couple months. Pierlot applies lessons from monastic living to motherhood and homemaking for a higher sense of vocation.

We also love Like Mother, Like Daughter, for her very practical approach to homekeeping. It is inspiring to read the wisdom of a woman who has raised seven children and has really reasonable advice for how clean a home should be and great advice to keep it so.

The Madame Chic books are refreshing and elevating. At Home with Madame Chic offers practical advice on “having a happy, fulfilling, and passionate life at home.” Jennifer Scott shares how a little planning and the little details go a long way in refining the tone of your home.

I also loved this 31 post series about having a Heart of Hospitality.  It reminded me that my home is not to be made beautiful in order to puff up my own pride, or to impress those who may see it, but rather I should have a home that is beautiful in order to offer beauty and hospitality to others.  To make them feel comfortable, welcomed, and loved. That goes for people who visit as well as those who live here.  I now think of my rooms as servants and ponder how they serve those who use each spot.

Along those lines is also the book, A Life Giving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson.  It is lovely and was the book we used last year to guide our monthly chats.  There is a lot to enjoy about their story as well as the home life the Clarksons aim for.

Lastly, while not a book or a blog, may I recommend, before starting on a path toward order to take a good hard look at your cleaning supplies?  A few months back, I realized that I disliked cleaning in part because my supply closet was disordered and full of ugly things. A neon broom that was frayed and cracked, a mop that was just not that good at the job it was supposed to do, etc.  Now might be a good time to check the tools of your trade. It may be time to freshen them up. If your mop and broom are in good working order, consider a fresh new caddy for your cleaning supplies and maybe some non-toxic cleaners. Something that is a joy to use and leaves your home cleaner will make the job so much easier.  As Mary Poppins says, “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”  Then organize them in an attractive way.  A few tools neatly arranged on hooks can be pleasant to use and easy to put away.

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We kick off our month of the Kitchen in February.  I hope you’ll join us in decluttering, organizing, and beautifying one of the hardest working rooms in the house.  If you want to share your photos with us on Instagram or Facebook, we’re using the hashtag #delightfulhome2017

5 Steps to Begin Again After a Holiday

Happy New Year! It’s time to begin again in the Snell household after a full holiday season.

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Our Holy Family of Nazareth remains as a reminder of Christmas lessons

“Ordinary Time” sounds like a good idea after feasts, travels, a new puppy, family-time, a teething baby, gift-giving, and more. My 5 year old keeps saying, “I’m so tired and I don’t know why!”

But starting again is often easier said than done. I love Mason’s metaphor of “Laying Down the Rails,” because it rings true. When our whole system is up and running, it just keeps running. When the train falls off the track, it’s so hard to get it moving again…

So here are 5 steps I take to get back-on-track, after holidays, travel, extended illness, or at the beginning of a new term.

  1. Order and refresh your home.

  • Toys: Often on a break, I’ve let out more toys from our toy library or we’ve been given gifts so I take the time to go through play areas and bedrooms and return items to our toy library in the basement.

  • Food: I make sure we’ve restocked our pantry and have a solid meal plan. Over a break, it’s much easier to wing it, but since starting back is hard to do, having all of my meals planned (even breakfast and lunch), means I have one less thing to think about. Also, I try to purge all of the sweets and extra sugar that has made its way into our house and be sure we have lots of healthy snacks around instead.

 

  • Clothes: I try to do a quick purge of items that the children have outgrown or seasonal items no longer needed (Holiday dresses put away, for example). And then we catch up on laundry.

  • De-clutter Hot Spots: It’s easy for piles to start when everyone is in holiday mode–the stairs, the kitchen table, the mantle, a coffee table. We spend time to put things back in their places. After Christmas gift giving, there are usually a few items that need to find a new home.

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  1. Order and Refresh the school room.

 

  • Schedule/Timetable: I look over our time-table to be sure it is still will work for this new season. Has a new activity or sport started? Will the upcoming few weeks entail more travel or any disruptions I need to plan around?
  • Refresh Supplies: It sure is nice to begin with freshly sharpened pencils and to be sure all of our notebooks are ready to go.
  • Organize Bookshelves: I purge any books no longer needed and any books that have found their way to the school shelf that don’t belong. Books have a life of their own, don’t they?
  • Weekly School Prep Page: I walk through “my weekly school prep page” in my bullet journal
  • Pre-reading: I make sure any books I need to pre-read are up in my bedroom so I can skim them at night before bed.

 

  1. Choose one new habit.

Though we have turned the page of our calendar to a new year, for the Charlotte Mason mamma, not much changes…We think in terms of habits, not resolutions. The New Year is a natural time to pause and reflect, but we know that refinement is a slow, steady effort. Not a wild goal. Resolutions tend to be easily broken, frustratingly out-of-reach, quickly discarded. Big goals may help motivate us for a time, but we are in it for the long haul.

  • Habits are part of our regular, every day life.
  • Habits are consistent and reliable.
  • Habits become involuntary. Like eating, breathing, and making our beds
  • Habits are something we do because it is part of who we are.

“Learning How to Live” means we are in the Habit of Building Habits.

What new habit do you need most?

  1. Bullet Journal! (Yes, it’s a verb)

The bullet journal has truly revolutionized my life—I’m better organized and much more at peace. Here’s what I do:

  • Brain Dump: I just list out all of the things that have been swirling in my head—thank you notes, items to be returned, a check to send, a worry about a child, a goal I have. There is no rhyme or reason to the list.

 

  • Monthly Calendar and Project list: I migrate items from the brain dump that belong here and add anything that might be missing.

 

  • Weekly Calendar: I create the new weekly page.

 

  • Planning Routine: I look over my planning routine page just to be sure I’m not forgetting to do what I’ve planned to do to plan.

 

  1. Start with a modified schedule.

 

I plan to start at least a half hour later, if we’ve been sleeping in, so I cut back on a few blocks on our time-table for that day to account for the later start. I also know brains will be a bit sluggish so I lower my expectations. This might mean I read smaller sections than usual before asking them to narrate or I might allow a child who has difficulty writing, draw their narration. I might re-arrange the week to put the books and subjects that bring us the most delight on the first day.

I know the temptation to just jump back in and not take additional time off, but time and time again, I’ve seen this backfire. If education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, it make sense that we need to think on these things for our days to go well. Putting things in place will mean that the train will chug smoothly down the rails and in the end much more will be accomplished.

Often, I am disappointed that I didn’t “accomplish more” when a break comes to an end. But it’s important for us as parents and teachers to take real breaks too. So now I just tack on a few more days at the end of each break and try to fully embrace each holiday. “Work while you work, play while you play, this is the way to be happy each day.
Remember school teachers have in-service days to plan and organize–homeschooling moms need them too!

So take that extra day or two or three, after you’ve gotten off the tracks, and you will find delight again in your home, your children, and your day!

The Delightful Home

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Amy and I love to chat about home.  We could go on and on about books, blogs, and tips we’ve heard from friends that can help us to make our homes more welcoming, more beautiful, and more efficient. Between us, we have nine children to feed, clothe, and love.  It takes a lot of work to keep our homes in order, and even more work when that order falls away!  We love it so much in fact, that a few years back we asked some of our friends if they wanted to meet to discuss our homes once a month.  To get breakfast as a group and have some time for what we considered to be professional development.  If we were going to be homemakers, we should allot some time to discuss it, learn about it, and do it well.  That group is still going strong and has been an enormous blessing to us, our families, and our homes.  We now want to bring many of those pages of notes, tips, tricks, and new ideas to you, our readers.

This is not about having a dream house, or a home that could be showcased in a catalog.  This is about creating a home that is delightful to you and your family because it is both functional and beautiful.  It is about making small changes that make a big difference in how you use your home and how well it serves the needs of your family.  It can be done in small spaces or large ones, a home you rent or a home your family has lived in for generations.  You spend most of your time at home, so let’s work toward making that time enjoyable.

Why does it matter to have a home that is delightful?  Isn’t it good enough to have a roof over your head and a place to cook meals – even if you can barely see your counters?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, because we should be grateful for even the humblest of spaces and no, because we weren’t called to live in disorder.  As mothers and homemakers, we set the atmosphere of the homes we inhabit.  The atmosphere of a home with a calm mother, who is not stressed by the chores because there is a plan in place to complete them, and who has an orderly home ready for drop-in guests will naturally be different than one with a frazzled mother, constantly feeling behind and downtrodden by her workload.  We want your homes to be places of delight for your families, but also for you!

We were inspired by the Home Organization Challenge going on right now.  That is a great site for inspiration and tips!  We also knew that dedicating 14 straight weeks to overhauling our homes wasn’t going to work for either of us.  We wanted to stretch it out over the year and do a great job in each room of our homes.  Taking a full month to dedicate to decluttering, giving some thought to how the space it used and making adjustments, then adding in beauty to complement the improved function.  We welcome you to join us!  We can’t wait to see your photos and comments on Instagram and Facebook.

Atmosphere in Our Home: Going Outdoors

“Never be within doors when you can rightly be without. Besides, the gain of an hour or two in the open air, there is this to be considered: meals taken al fresco are usually joyous… All the time, too, the children are storing up memories of a happy childhood. Fifty years hence they will see the shadows of the boughs making patterns on the white tablecloth; and sunshine, children’s laughter, hum of bees, and scent of flowers are being bottled up for after refreshment.” -Charlotte Mason, Vol. 2, p. 43

Our home extends outdoors each time we look out a window or step out our door and so the atmosphere of outdoor spaces is worth considering.  This is an area that can feel somewhat daunting, but needn’t be so.

Consider first, what words you would like to use to describe your outdoor space.  Would you like a calm, restful space to read and wander?  An adventurous space for romping, muddy play, and climbing trees?  A natural wonderland alive with bees, butterflies, grasshoppers, and pond life?

Next, think about the your outdoor spaces – do you have a few window boxes or a small deck space or acreage?  Is is usually hot and dry? Humid and temperate? Cool, with hard freezes?  Unlike our indoor spaces, where you can fill a room with a seashell motif even if you live nowhere near the coast, the outdoors demand our obedience to the realities of our climate.  Learn a bit about what is native to your area, so it is easier to grow and you are more likely to have success in your endeavors.

Then, start with something small and delightful.  Do you want birds singing at the window?

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This is pretty much why I got bird feeders.

Then get some feeders and start welcoming in some native bird species.  I’ve had great luck with finches, chickadees, cardinals, and hummingbirds!  What lives near you?

Do you want a place to gather for meals out of doors?  It can be as simple as finding a favorite quilt to use for afternoon snacks in the yard or as elaborate as finding just the right table and chairs for your deck space. Do what makes sense for your family and budget, but make sure you find it a delight to spend time there.

Is having a cozy spot to knit, have a glass of wine, or tell stories around a fire your first priority for your outdoor space?  It can be as easy as digging a hole and surrounding it with rocks, or as complicated as going to the local hardware store and finding just the right thing.  Just make sure to not to start fires near dry grasses or too close to home!

What about the winter time?  Many of us assume we should be outside less in winter because it is colder, but in some areas of the country it is the most beautiful time of the year.  In areas with snowstorms, it might be fun to arrange for building a mountain of snow in the yard somewhere as a personal sledding hill.  Better yet, do it in the front yard and entice the neighbor kids out of their homes!  Putting out suet bricks for cold weather birds is also a lovely way to have a flash of red (cardinals) amongst the white scenery.  Or, maybe maple sugaring is up your alley?  I’ve even had my eye on the idea of a backyard ice rink… but it isn’t cold enough where I live.

The idea of spreading the atmosphere of your home outdoors can be as simple as washing your windows to see the outdoors better, or as complicated as calling a landscape architect to make a master plan for your property.  I encourage you to do something this fall that will make next spring more pleasant for your space and that will cause you to desire to step outdoors more often.

Atmosphere in our Home: Sounds, Smells, and Textures

When we discuss mother culture, it seems we focus on our minds and souls, but I’m finding that here, when we discuss the home, I am appealing to your physical senses.  In our homes, whether we do so with intention or haphazardly, we are in the midst of using all of our senses.  From the type of flooring that your feet touch first thing in the morning, to the smell of dinner cooking in the oven, the music you play, the breeze coming in the open window, to the sound of the birds at the feeder outside – each of these has a small, but steady effect on your day and your daily satisfaction.  Now, this is far from saying that we need picture perfect homes in order to be satisfied!  Quite the contrary – your home doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.  (I love that book.  Freeing to the spirit of any perfectionist!)

“[Smell] might be the means of giving Mansoul a great deal of pleasure, because there are many faint, delightful odours in the world, like the odour of a box-hedge, of lime-trees in flower, of bog-myrtle, which he might carry, and thus add to the pleasure of life..” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 26

Smells, delightful or disgusting, and everything in between give our home a certain atmosphere.  So often, a certain smell will bring on a surge of memory in a person and we are transported back to a moment back in time.  Give a moment this week to what smells you would like associated with your home – it could be as simple as baking each Saturday afternoon, winter stews that cook all afternoon, dried lavender kept in the linen closet or planted outside a window, hiking in the pine forest, the list goes on and on… Think about how you can use natural and delightful smells in your home to enhance the surroundings.

“Those persons whose senses are the most keen and delicate are the most alive and get most interest out of life; so it is worth while to practise our senses; to shut our eyes, for example, and learn the feel of different sorts of material, different sorts of wood, metal, leaves of trees, different sorts of hair and fur––in fact, whatever one comes across.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 27

Textures too are so key, yet so often so taken for granted.  In Charlotte’s time, synthetic fibers were not yet invented, and so she waxes poetic about the beauty of wool and its delightful properties as well as the uses of cotton and flax.  While I’m sure she wouldn’t begrudge us a light and effective raincoat rather than a wool one for our drizzly nature walks, it did make me think a bit more about the clothing and fabrics that I use in my home.  There is little more delightful than cool cotton sheets in summertime, or brushed cotton flannel ones for those long winter nights!  The feeling of linen breezing over the skin in hot weather makes it clear why it is so popular in equatorial countries, and the delight of a warm, woolen sweater is unsurpassed when out in cool weather.  Textures then, of course, go beyond the fabrics that touch our skin. Consider textures in your food – while white breads are easy to pick up on the store shelf, I would encourage you to find a bakery (or attempt one yourself!) that offers a delightful bread with seeds and grains in a chewy, flavorful, crusty loaf.  It needs no sugary topping or layers of filling – that bread is simply perfect with a smear of butter and cup of tea.  Extend this line of thought to your other meals – which meal is the one you are most likely to reach for a processed food rather than the more natural one out of ease or convenience?  Perhaps this is a place to partner with an older child and teach them how to help you and how to experience the textures of simple, but wholesome food preparation.

“Then, as you listen more, you hear more. The chirp of the grasshoppers becomes so noisy that you wonder you can hear yourself speak for it; then the bees have it all to themselves in your hearing; then you hear the hum or the trumpet of smaller insects, and perhaps the tinkle and gurgle of a stream. The quiet place is full of many sounds, and you ask yourself how you could have been there without hearing them. That just shows you how Hearing may sleep at his post. Keep him awake and alive; make him try to hear and know some new sound every day without any help from sight. It is rather a good plan to listen with shut eyes.” – Charlotte Mason, Vol. 4, p. 30

Lastly, let’s take a minute to think about the sounds of your home.  Perhaps it is best to take a minute to sit and simply listen to what the actual sounds are, and then assess which we like and which we could do without.  I personally wish I were better at identifying birds by ear, so I attempt to lure them close to my windows with multiple bird feeders and to have open windows whenever I can.  I also will say that the loud purring of my cat is a sound I dearly love and makes a family read aloud or movie night that much more cozy.  On the flip side, I dislike my phone alarms and so when I try to keep to fifteen minute lessons, I found it difficult to keep time while managing a 1- and 3-year-old and trying to watch the clock.  I found silent sand timers to be our solution.  They are beautiful and don’t add to the unpleasant noises in our home.  For this same reason, I don’t keep beeping, honking, or loud toys in our home.  I would simply go crazy and I am assuming that when my children are adults they will not miss that honking car, but will appreciate a sane mother.  I am working on Charlotte’s advice to keep my skill at listening “awake and alive” when we head into nature as well.  All too often, there is talking going on, but I am trying to encounter and enjoy the silence of the hikers so we can hear the concerto of the birds, trees, streams, and insects.  What sounds do you love or could do without?