Friday, February 2, 2018


I love the idea of traditions, though I have complicated feelings about them. I am one who detests change. Truly. I dislike change so much that when we took out our disgusting white plastic countertops that were stained and broken and completely embarrassing and replaced them with beautiful solid wood butcher block countertops, I had an evening of regret. I felt sadness that I'd replaced the most awful countertops in the history of kitchens with what was, no joke, my dream countertops.

So, on paper, you might think that I would obviously LOVE traditions and view them as being very important and keep up with them year after year. You might imagine that when we partake in annual activities, we do the same festive things, eat the same festive foods, sing the same festive songs EVERY SINGLE YEAR. But you would be wrong, because there's a catch!

I don't actually have my life together at all. And so, even though I place great value on the idea of keeping traditions, a lot of times when the celebration time comes, I haven't gone to the grocery store, or I forgot what month it was, or I somehow lost all the key accessories to our tradition. Take, for example, some of our Christmas traditions. One is the feast of St. Lucy, for which "somebody" (always Anja) dresses up like St. Lucy and wakes everybody up at daybreak for breakfast.  The breakfast is supposed to be these really beautiful Santa Lucia rolls that have these lovely swirls and are beautiful, buuuuuuuut, our rolls looked a little bit different.

Our rolls came individually wrapped in plastic from the Fresh Thyme grocery store and they weren't even rolls! They were these chocolate croissants that I can never decide if they are yummy or gross! We unwrapped them, stuck some greenery on a cutting board, and TA-DA! Tradition! Another mishap with that tradition every single year is the costume. We used to have this white angel dress and long piece of red silk. Then one of the cats peed on the dress after the first year and the silk made it a little longer but eventually just kind of disintegrated into nothing. We still have it, but it looks more like a hankie now. So the night before the sunrise breakfast, I'm in the craft closet trying to find something red that will fit around Anja's waist. Thankfully I found this bit of reddish linen from a skirt project and the chamises from their costumes for our yearly historic festival we attend in the fall.  But then the whole headwreath thing was another--I didn't have any idea where the one from last year was (I made it out of floral wire and fake greenery) so I took this--literally the centerpiece from the coffee table--wedged some little candles in, snipped off some boxwood branches from outside the front door, and, TA-DA!! Tradition!

And while we're on the subject of Advent traditions......... I've pretty much given up on ever beginning lent with purple and pink candles. It's only happened one year when my sister-in-law sent us some.

So we use plain candles and red and pink ribbon instead.

Let's see, what's another tradition that I totally botch every year? Oh! I know! Waldorf window stars! You might think, if you know me, that waldorf window stars would OBVIOUSLY be something I do with my kids every year, probably I have stacks and stacks of kite paper and all the good Waldorfy books about how to fold these cool stars. Well, you would be wrong again. I've been parenting with Waldorf undertones for ten years and this was the FIRST year we made window stars! And you know what else? I didn't even know what kite paper was! But I ordered some from Amazon, and I am pleased to say I really think this WILL become tradition because I love them and they were loads easier to make than I thought they'd be.

The tradition that made me begin this post though is one of my favorites. Today is Candlemas (or yesterday was, since it's past midnight as I write this) and evidently in France, people traditionally eat crepes on this day. I didn't know that before today, but I do love crepes! We don't make them a lot because they're so labor intensive I save them for special occasions, but we probably make them four times a year. But this is my favorite tradition because of my treasured recipe:
I have only ever used the crepe recipe from Strawberry Shortcake's World of Friends storybook. It's a very long, very boring book, but when Anja and Greta were toddlers they LOVED IT, and it's what made us start making them in the first place, and so now every time we have a craving for crepes, our fate hinges on whether or not we can locate the Strawberry Shortcake book. Now this is a real tradition.

I guess what I'm saying is, sometimes traditions can be less than picturesque, or sometimes the picturesque traditions (like my window stars) aren't really traditions at all. They're just fun things we did on a Sunday afternoon before a party.

We do have one other winter tradition, which is going ice skating. It's always fun and it's always exhausting, but this year there was a little twist on the old tradition because I brought my elephant along!
Here's to all traditions, beautiful, junky, or pachydermic

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Downtown Gratitude

Every Thursday evening at 4:45 I hustle all four kids out the door and down to the Ballet School, which is exactly four blocks away from our house, as the crow flies. On leisurely days we cross at the lights and round the corners to get there; sometimes we see a police officer friend, sometimes we get honks and waves from familiar drivers. We always check the time and the temperature on the theatre marquee and all four girls love to stomp across the metal grates in the sidewalk that make the loudest noise. We pass the salon where the girls typically get their hair cut once a year before Christmas (except we didn't do that the years we lived away) and the candy stores where we have lunch with friends or ride our bikes for chocolates in the summertime. These are the things we pass if we take the long way. However, when we're running late, or when it's very cold, or very rainy, we take the more direct route, which is straight across the library parking lot, down the alleyway between the apartment buildings, across the police station/pizza joint parking lot, not crossing at the lights, then finally through the big parking lots to Main Street, where the ballet school is.

One night shortly before Christmas, Martin was home from work in time for me to walk Anja on my own, but we still took the short cut (which is easier with only two people.) It's always nice to have a little one-on-one time with my oldest. I dropped her off at the door of the school--a little white building nestled between a large old building that houses our favorite brewery, and the food co-op, (which at one time was a gift shop where I worked.) Anja delivered safely, I turned and began the walk home the same way we'd come, using the shortcut across the parking lots and through the alley. As I was coming across the parking lot, I was met with a view that really made my heart sing. It was such a blend of modern warmth and Dickensesque charm--ahead of me was the pizza shop, all lit up with neon signs and twinkle lights on the trees outside, then behind that, rising above into the twilight sky were the tops of the old apartment buildings, then to the left the very beautiful stone Presbyterian church. I could see just the top of the library roof, and a ways beyond that, out of sight, would be my little house. It was such a comforting view--the city where I was raised, the downtown neighborhoods where I've lived for fifteen years--such familiarity in this urban setting.

I was so grateful to see that and to know that we are back downtown. It's a feeling of great contentedness, to feel like I'm where I am meant to be. I was never unhappy when we lived in the country--I loved it. We loved the lifestyle there, and it suited us really well. But it's funny, in those three years away, I never stopped referring to this downtown house as home.

Later in December it snowed on a night I was meeting some girlfriends out for a birthday dinner. We were meeting at a new Japanese restaurant on Main Street and had I not been only four blocks away, I probably wouldn't have gone because I don't like to drive in the snow. But instead, I put on my snow boots and walked. When I arrived there were seven of us total, and four of us had walked through the snow to meet each other. It was such a neat experience. As we were getting ready to leave it started snowing again, the most incredible snowflakes, so perfect they were unreal--it was like being on a movie scene, the snowflakes were so light and powdery. Being a Friday night, there were lots of people out and about, and as we parted ways everyone was so cheerful. The groups of strangers making their ways to the restaurants and bars and theatre were all so happy. It was one of the most magical walks home I've ever had, like walking through a perfect snow globe.

And maybe I'm biased. Maybe I look at this area with rose tinted glasses because it is home to me and everyone loves their own home the best. But I really think this place is something special. More than that, I'm just grateful that these views are mine, every day.

Monday, January 8, 2018

I'm Late to my Resolution (surprise, surprise)

It's a new year! 2017 is in the past (I know a lot of people who are pretty glad about that) and a shiny new year has begun. A clean slate. An opportunity for fresh starts and second chances. For resolutions! It shouldn't surprise any of you that I don't do New Year resolutions very well. Some people choose a word to see them through the year, and I've read a lot of really good ones in recent weeks. Some people step into the new year intending to make good, healthy changes to their lives, in their bodies or in their relationships, or just for their own pleasure. I really admire those people who can stick to something, who set high aims and do their very best to hit their mark. I think that's great! However, I am not that way. I try to be sometimes, but as the years go by it's becoming glaringly obvious that I'm really, really far from being an even vaguely organized person. In the kitchen, in homeschooling, in my music, in my resolutions. My life is messy and disorganized, and somehow I don't think people would feel very inspired if the word I chose for 2018 was "Chaos." 

So I did something different this year. Instead of saying, "This is the year that I WILL...(fill in the blank)," I said, "This is the year that I WON'T." This is the year that I'm just going to take what comes and try to use every situation as an opportunity to savor the moment. I'm not going to pile expectations onto myself or my kids. I'm not going to spend the year wishing I had more things or wondering when we can ever do such-and-such around the house.  I'll seize opportunities for action as they arise, but I'm not going to go looking for challenges. Because I'm lazy. Maybe that should be my word of 2018!

Here's really what I AM going to do: I'm going to remember that my kids will only be the ages they are at this time ONCE. I'm going to remember that this day is not plural. I'm going to remember that we seldom get warnings ahead of personal tragedy so if I'm not experiencing something devastating at any given time, I will be thankful. I'm going to remember that my kids are totally awesome and I'm the luckiest to be able to spend every day with them.  I'm going to remember that even though it can be a challenge to get everyone dressed and out the door, spontaneity ALWAYS makes memories. And I'm going to remember that we all have raincoats for a reason.

2017 was actually a really good year for us. We came back to our downtown house and settled in to stay. None of us wants to move ever again, not for land, not for chickens, not for a cow, not for a bigger garden. We love our house. And we've made some shifts and changes within the house that make us all love it even more, but mostly it just feels so much like home to all of us, even to Ingrid who was born when we were living on our first homestead.  Her first experience with this place was as en empty rental (that never rented)!  This year I just want to enjoy what we have. I want us to work our little urban garden boxes together and ride bikes and eat popsicles on the stoop and watch birds. 2017 was filled with all of those things and I think I did a pretty good job of appreciating what I had. I want to do it again this year, that's my only resolution. If I look at my days through the lenses of an outsider, it looks like this: The kids do their school work, we play games, we sew doll clothes, we make music, we draw and cook and talk and learn words and stories and history and myths... and our days just go by like that. There's no reason I shouldn't be looking at my own days just like that and thinking every day--despite the tantrums and the difficulties and the juggling of little girl emotions and bad habits and struggles-- "this is the good life." That can be my word for 2018! Or phrase, I guess. Because it's so true! This IS the Good Life.