Friday, September 30, 2011

{this moment}

Happy birthday, once again, my dear friend!
A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember ~ SouleMama.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

on the book stack

As you can see, the books are not in stacks today, but boxes.  We're moving tomorrow which also means that there are no library books here either.  Yes, it is a rather sad day.  However, I have reserved just one book to keep with me through all the packing.  I have been sneaking reads from it as often as I can and it now sits on my bedside table.

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House.  I had a suspicion when I read page one last week that I would be hooked and it turned out to be true.  In this book, Cheryl Mendelson not only talks you through how to do everything you could ever need to do in order to keep your house well, she also examines the social and relational contexts that are so integral to the home, which are therefore integral to the concepts of keeping a home.  Being a philosophy professor, she will sometimes delve into the meaning of 'home' as well.  I thought that, once I got past the first chapter, the 837 (excluding notes) page book would be mostly charts and bullet points.  Nope.  Prose.  This book is totally packed from cover to cover and I love it.  Please allow me to share just a few quotes that will hopefully give you a flavor of the book.

There were also reasons outside my own home that gave impetus to the idea of a housekeeping book.  Over and over I found myself visiting homes where the predominant feeling was sepulchral, dusty, and deserted, or even hotel-like, as my own had once become.  Perhaps a book that tried to explain not only the hows but the whys and the meanings of housekeeping was something the world could use.

The sense of being at home is important to everyone's well-being ... When you are at home, you can let down your guard and take off your mask.  Home is the one place in the world where you are safe from feeling put down or out, unentitled, or unwanted. ... Coming home is your major restorative in life.

Her real secret was that she identified herself with her home. ... She lived her life not only through her own body but through the house as an extension of her body; part of her relation to those she loved was embodied in the physical medium of the home she made.

Above all, housekeeping must be intelligent so that it can be empathetic, for empathy is the form of intelligence that creates the feeling of home.

Good meals at home satisfy emotional hungers as real as hunger in the belly, and nothing else does so in the same way.  They promote affection and intimacy among those who share them.  Characteristic, familial styles of cooking and dining, foods that "taste like home," are central to each home's feelings of security and comfort and to its sense of itself as a unique and valuable place.  Cooking at home links your past and future and solidifies your sense of identity and place.  When a home gives up its hearth, which in the modern world is its kitchen, it gives up its focus.  (The word "focus" is Latin for "hearth.") And the people who live there lose theirs too.

I chose to share only some of her reflections on 'home' but there is much more that is practical in this book.  What order to wash dishes in, how to set a table, how to make coffee and so on.  Still, I haven't found it to be intimidating since she writes in such a way that is gracious to the many who never really learned how to keep house and she gives you plenty of space to learn by suggesting all of the things you could do and then highlighting the most important.

Her observations of society's affect on housekeeping - generation(s) of women feeling trapped at home, generation(s) of women often too preoccupied with work to learn to keep home, the idea that men don't keep home, advertising of modern conveniences - highlight the emotions and beliefs that are caught up in this seemingly simple task.  It is a breath of fresh air to acknowledge the depth to which we feel about our homes and how important they still are to our lives.  I believe that she truly writes to everyone who wishes to make a home for themselves and those they love, regardless of gender or age.  So far in my reading (just past 100 pages), I have been enlightened, challenged, and above all, inspired.

This is perhaps the best time to be thinking on these ideas for me, since I will be setting up a new home in just a few days.  Many things will stay the same as they have been, but hopefully some things will be improved and a few better habits formed.  But at the end of the day, my house will always feel like a home so long as it is filled with love.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

good-bye home

Last night we picked up the keys to our new apartment.  Even as I think of it, I feel excited but also nervous.  On Friday, I'm leaving a place that I have called home and I will need to put in time and energy before our new place can truly feel like home again.  That in between world of readjusting to a new way of life will hold many adventures I'm sure ... but I hope 'home' happens quickly.  Grady (and more importantly, God) will be with me through all this transition, so I am not afraid.

Good-bye house.  Good-bye mouse.  Good-bye creaky floors.  Good-bye sticky doors.  Good-bye angry drivers and good-bye cops.  Good-bye to the old radiators clanging non-stop. (except when we actually need the heat to be on, then they are strangely silent)

Aside from the quirks of this apartment that I don't like, I will miss these west-facing windows, which are great for afternoon sun naps and growing plants ... and I will miss being next door to the library.  Our new apartment is a number of blocks from the closest library so either I'm going to get significantly more exercise or be reading significantly less - hopefully the former! 

Our building is on the left, the library is on the right.  Perfect.

Oh Brown Cow.  How we will miss you.  Your ice cream sundaes are delicious and your decor just right for a little date night.  Thank you for making mini and kiddie sizes that are just perfect in every way.  Although we may not see you as often, we may have to make a special trip or two to relish in your goodness once again.


We've already spotted a number of cafes and restaurants near our new place (and one just across the street!) that we are excited to try.  There is a park just up the street with a community garden underway.  We will have a back deck, high ceilings, a pantry, and control of our own heat plus laundry is 1 quarter less per load.  To these things and many more, we are looking forward!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

the (living) rooms

In this home, our living has happened in almost every room except the living room.  Above all, our dinning room is the place where we have put in the most time.

Our most recent configuration of the dinning room (excluding the arranging we just did yesterday in order to paint the walls back to frightful off-white) was a bit different than is pictured here, but this was our dinning room all the same.  And here I still sit, at the table with my computer and favorite coffee mug.  This is the place where so much of our home life has happened.

This is the place where I get work done (the kind of work I get paid for, the farmers market stuff).  This is the place where I communicate with the outside world via internet.  This is the place where Grady and I sit before and after meals and talk, sometimes while he plays the guitar or piano.  It's the place where we sit and sing together.  It's where we sort mail and write checks.  This is where we connect to each other and God before we go out into the world and it is where we come back to at the end of the day.


In our dinning room I also have my little corner.  My chair is up next to the windows, where I hope to catch the afternoon sun, and right next to the radiator, where I hope to glean some warmth (which is always less than I'd like).  Sometimes I work in this corner, but mostly I sit and read or knit or enjoy a cup of tea or some combination of all of these.  I keep a little stool with a stack of books just next to me on one side and my basket of needles and yarn on the other.  My two favorite plants live in the corner with me: thyme and rosemary.  This is the place where I remember to breathe.

Our bedroom is our second living room.  Since we didn't like the feel of our real living room, we decided to watch movies, sit and talk, and sometimes even eat dinner in here.  It's the only room in our house that is small and has a door (aside from the bathroom of course!).  This is a very important feature when it's 102 degrees in your apartment and you have one small air conditioner ... or when it's 60 degrees in your apartment and you have one small space heater.  We painted the most mellow color in this room, a light yellow, which makes it feel sunny even when it's not.  For a sun lover such as myself, this is a welcoming place.

When I think of our first home, I'm sure our bright orange dinning room will appear first in my mind's eye (and perhaps my future self will laugh at my bold color choice).  This is the place where we settled into our life together.

Monday, September 26, 2011

this is the place

On Friday, we will be moving to a new home.  We're leaving Forest Park for the big city and we're excited about it too!  But this place is also the first place that Grady and I called 'home' together.  It's the place we came back to when we returned from our honeymoon (almost 2 years ago!).  As we pack our boxes and repaint these walls, I would like to take some time to reflect on what this specific space has meant to me.
My theater group in college played a game called "This is the place where I ..."  You would take everyone to a certain spot in our building and tell the group something that happened in that place that was of significance to you.  We could probably wax poetic about the reasons we played this game but to me, it is because space gives us a corporeal memory.  This table that I currently sit at is the same table that stood in my childhood dinning room and served many big meals to family and friends.  My mom found the table either on the curb or at a garage sale, I don't remember which, and my grandfather refinished it and built more leaves for its middle (little did he know or suspect how important they would be with six children coming into the family!).  It is the table on which Grady and I shared our first meal together in our new home.  This physical table presents more than just a place to eat to me; it carries a reminder of my family in it as well.

This is the place where Grady and I have shared many lovely (and many more plain and simple) meals together.

Of course, the table is coming with us when we move but we will be leaving this space behind.

Over the next few days I will be returning to memories of this place we have called 'home' and sharing some of them here.  Now on to more packing ...

Friday, September 23, 2011

{this moment}

A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week.  A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  inspired by Soulemama.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

on the book stack

Last week I shared my addiction to library books.  As the weather turns colder and I sit in my chair with a blanket for a little more time during the day, I start to pick up more books for cozy reading.  Perhaps, at least for the cold season, I will write one post each week on a book or two that I have been reading - maybe I will write only a little about many books I'm reading.  We shall see.  And it will be called "on the book stack" since I store books that I'm reading by piling them on top of each other.  We ran out of space on bookshelves a while ago in our house.

On the stack this week:

More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, by Joelle Hoverson

Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders, Judith Durant, Ed.

Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson

Shout out to Kate Faith for the last two, which are really the most exciting to me right now.

In fact, last first - Home Comforts.  Can't say much about it yet because I need to read it first ... but it's written by a Harvard Law School graduate/philosophy professor/novelist who grew up on a working farm in Greene County, PA and now lives in NYC (this info is taken from the back of the book).  She begins her book on keeping home in this way,
"I am a working woman with a secret life: I keep house.  An off-and-on lawyer and professor in public, in private I launder and clean, cook from the hip, and devote serious time and energy to a domestic routine not so different from the one that defined my grandmothers as 'housewives.'  ... Until now, I have almost entirely concealed this passion for domesticity.  No one meeting me for the first time would suspect that I squander my time knitting or my mental reserves remembering household facts such as the date when the carpets and mattresses were last rotated."
The back cover and one page in and I'm already excited to read the whole thing.

And speaking of keeping home, I have been eying Super Natural Every Day for a while, hoping for some help in the vegetarian cooking department.  Yesterday, we received a late wedding gift (ahem) from a dear friend containing this book!  She likely had ulterior motives to convert me from my meat eating but I accept the gift with enthusiasm all the same.  We eat very little meat in our house since we have constrained ourselves to eating only animals that have been raised on pasture, which makes great demands on our budget and hence, decreases the amount that we can eat.  My knowledge of making meals without meat has been significantly stretched these last few months and this cookbook will be a welcome addition to my vegetarian repertoire.

More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts is a library find that I have checked out at least 3 times now.  I have yet to make a project from the book, since my yarn stash is rather limited at the moment, but just the photos themselves are inspiration.  All of the projects look so soft and simple but not so simple that you would feel silly giving one as a gift.  There are patterns for all ages and interests and all different yarn weights as well.  My friends need to start having babies so I can make the adorable "easy baby cardigan" or the "pointy elf hat."  For now I will probably stick with the "family ribbed hats" for at least one person on the Christmas List.  As with many knitting books, the back section contains useful instructions for finishing projects and interpreting abbreviations (something I still need help with sometimes!) - but this books does it with pretty pictures.

The other knitting book, Sock Yarn One-Skein Wonders, is a compilation of patterns by many different knitters.  All of them are supposed to use only one skein of sock yarn, but all skeins are not created equal.  I had a hard time finding anything for my one skein that contained only 185 yards of yarn.  I believe I did find a pattern that will work, the details of which will remain a secret, by checking it by other knitters' experiences on ravelry.  Many of the patterns are quite clever though, so I look forward to a time when I will buy a skein with a specific project from this book in mind (probably one of the gorgeous shawls).

I'll let you know how the first two books turn out once I actually start reading and using them.  I'm always open to reading suggestions as well - send them my way!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Prairie Path Garden Plot #204

{the middle}

 well, this is our "window" box, but it still counts

Summer exploded our little garden plot.  One day we had these little plants and tiny seedlings that we worried about with every gust of wind, the next day we have a jungle.  Seriously.  The tomato plants are bigger than I am.  Note to self: pinch out the runners on your tomato plants next year.

There are so many ways and opinions about growing tomatoes that it was a little difficult deciding which way to follow.  I bought 4 foot cages for my plants, thinking that would be plenty of space.  A few weeks later, my cages are falling over as my at-least-six-foot plants expand like mad.  I still think caging is a good idea if you're only growing a few plants, but trim them back!  We probably will get a smaller harvest than we could have because I allowed the plants to split energy between vine growth and fruit ripening.  In the long run, this was probably a good thing for us though since we are already overwhelmed with the tomatoes coming through our farm shares.

The sunflowers are great (and provided my lovely banner picture) and totally an accident.  I planted a little square of "Save the Bees" mix in a corner of our plot, having no good idea what was in the mix.  Had I know, I would have planted them so they didn't shade the whole garden plot!  Sunflowers are also huge.  This just blows my mind ... I put a tiny seed in the ground in May (or a tiny tomato plant) and in just a few weeks, it grows 6 feet.  Insanity.

Not everything took off with the height of summer.  The bell pepper plant has been doing just about nothing.  And while the cucumbers took off, so did the cucumber beetles.  Our infestation was so bad that I cut all of the vines off at the root and let them dry out and we got one little lemon cucumber before it's early end.  I hate cucumber beetles.

Carrots, lettuce, jalapenos, basil, parsley, beans, mustard and turnip greens, tomatoes, (1) cucumber.  I also attempted some cold season planting, but was not diligent with watering, so we may be nearing the end of our harvest season now ...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


:: a near-constant state of upheaval as we work towards Moving Day

:: dessert for lunch - blueberry crisp - yum.

:: a 2 hour skype conversation with a sister in Africa - passes the time spent ironing

:: dinner for one.  The first I've ever really made, I think, since my tendency when I'm eating dinner by myself is to microwave leftovers.

:: love.  celebrating with friends this weekend (at wedding #1 of 2)!

:: a day of recovery, post-crazy-wonderful-wedding-weekend

:: savoring the joyful memories of standing by my beautiful friend on her wedding day

Today I'm pausing to celebrate some of the beauty of the past week. 

Monday, September 19, 2011


Phew!  What a weekend!  Two weddings in four days, so many loved friends, many hours driving, many hours talking (late into the night), nervousness and joy, so beautiful and so full. 

And now, for some rest and recovery. 

Love is awesome.

Friday, September 16, 2011

{this moment}

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.  inspired by Soulemama.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

goin' to the chapel

This weekend, two dear friends of mine will become one.  Although I have been to many weddings in the past 2 years, this is the first at which both the bride and groom are good friends of mine.  I can hardly put words on what joy and excitement this union brings to my heart.  These two very beautiful, godly people make a very beautiful, God-glorifying couple!  I know that each of them has been diligently preparing their hearts for one another and you can read some of the bride's thoughts here.  Love is awesome.  Wishing them so much joy and love this weekend and in the many years to come!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Name Is Courtney ...

... and I have an addiction.

I don't think I could even say that my addiction is to books, exactly, because I don't feel a strong desire to purchase books.  But give me a library card and I will return home with as many books as I can fit between my palms and chin.  Thankfully, we live next door to our library - as in, the library building connects to our building (we still have to go outside to get in though), so my trip isn't too far.  I read in genres, if that isn't apparent from the titles.  This happens because it's what I'm interested in, but it also happens because our library is so small that all of these genres are in the same aisle.  As I walk down the row with my head sideways looking for one type of book, I see another that catches my eye.  Before you know it, I have to force myself to leave - after having visited only one short aisle - or be stuck making two trips to my apartment for all of the books.

Have you read any of these books?  Have others you could recommend?  Want a review of what I've read?  What are you reading these days?

Thank you, dear country, for having free public libraries (and God for all the world and knowledge)!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Socks For Grady

I started these socks quite a while ago, back when it was still cold in the spring.  The hot summer months are just not so conducive to knitting, even small projects, so these were accomplished in fits and starts.  In the past few weeks, the weather has taken a turn for the cooler and I have more happily taken up my knitting needles.  The need to cast-on for Christmas presents is also pressing a bit, seeing as I have a large family and clearly am not the most diligent of knitters.

This is only the second pair of socks that I have ever made.  The first were for myself and a bit of a trial run.  These, I made without any real pattern and was quite pleased with myself for doing so.  I followed the basic instructions in Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitting Without Tears, which is by far the most inspiring book on knitting that I have ever read.  For one, her book is a pleasure to read (and she's written others that are equally wonderful) in that you get her wit and life story along with no-nonsense instructions on how to knit without paying much attention to many rules (except for gauge!  you must gauge!).  After making one pair of socks by following line-by-line instructions, I decided to give her more free-form knitting a try.

Basic socks are great, but they can get a tiny bit boring after a while, which is why I added the cable running down the side.  The calculations for how many stitches I needed to fit Grady's foot at the gauge I was knitting and including a rib pattern caused me some trouble, but I have gotten over my fear of ripping out stitches (also thanks to EZ) and all ended well.  For any knitters who would like more details, they can be found on my Ravelry page.

It may not be here yet, but I know the Chicago winter is coming.  But this year when it comes, Grady and I will both have a thick, warm pair of wool socks to help us make it through perhaps just a little bit warmer than last year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

down on the farm

Every Friday this summer I head an hour west of here to work on a farm.  Montalbano Farms.  These days I feel as though I'm pulling the sun behind me as I go, watching it lift the morning haze away from the miles and miles of corn fields.  Normally I'm not super enthusiastic about corn fields but on these mornings, they are quite beautiful.  The sky gets bigger and the earth gets greener and my breaths just a little bit deeper as I near the farm.

The farm itself is situated right in the middle of a corn field - from the road you'd never know that there was an organic vegetable farm back there somewhere [corn is really tall, for those who may not know].  The farm is also a work in progress, and by that I mean that this is only their second year as a farm and their first year on this piece of land.  "They" are Rob and Christina, farmers soon to be married.

At the moment, it's not much of a "farmy" farm.  There's no wooden barn, no cow with a milking shed, no really old equipment sitting around rusting, there's not even a house much less a rocking chair on the porch.  Just two big, blue barn structures, a camper and a port-a-potty.  But there are vegetables.  Plenty of vegetables to go out and pick and wash and sort and box.

Friday, September 9, 2011

{this moment}

hmm.   apparently scheduling a post doesn't schedule it to be published ... oops!  well, this was meant for friday.

A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Prairie Path Garden plot #204

{the beginning}

We have been with this little plot since it's beginning, or really, before it's beginning.  When it was only an idea floating around a table, being called 'Urban Garden Connection,' I was there dreaming of how I could convince my way in - to get my hands in some dirt.  After much "I could help you!" and "You wouldn't even have to pay me!" I was hired as the farmers market manager, which runs on the same small grant as the garden.  Plot 204 was within my reach.  Grady and I were among the brave few who came out on a very cold spring morning for garden build day.  We laid the plots, filled them with earth, and I picked out what I believed to be the best one.

We took this space on as a way to get more involved in our community and to help encourage our church toward more healthy eating.  I was also hoping to teach the children more about where food comes from and how good it can taste (when it's so fresh!).  Of course, I did also spend the better part of the winter reading just about every book in my library on growing things - from encyclopedias to farmer memoirs.  All of my mid-winter dreaming got put on to paper plans and those plans became seeds and starts in the ground. 

Planting a garden is thrilling.  Really.  You put these tiny seeds and tiny plants in the dirt, sprinkle some water on them, and then you stand back and wait.  Such potential!  Will they make it?  What about weeds?  Disease?  Bugs?!  You just can't know, but you can hope!

Of course, spring has come and gone and something has been happening in my dirt ...