Thursday, July 30, 2009

Sisterly Love

I don't know if I mentioned this on the blog, but about two weeks ago James had to go back to the hospital with a respiratory infection. He's doing fine now, but his sisters have been worried and are going to great lengths to ensure that he is a happy and healthy baby. This is one of their latest attempts at making him happy. An entire gallery of Hello Kitty pictures above his bassinet. If you look closely you can see that the tape that holds them up is in the shape of a cross. It's supposed to be a red cross, because my little Clara Bartons are setting up their own domestic disaster recovery unit right here in our house. They are thoroughly convinced that their intensive regimen of dances, songs, bad jokes and Hello Kitty pictures has helped the patient turn the corner and start down the road to recovery. Maybe they are right.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Reading Nook

I've been trying to come up with ideas to use the $100 my grandma gave Isabella for her birthday. The kids really don't need any more toys, we're pretty well stocked on books, clothes and craft supplies and Grandpa is renewing her Children's Museum membership, so I decided to hold onto it until the right idea occurred to me.

Yesterday, as I was perusing the back-to-school and dorm stuff (I love that stuff, don't ask me why) I saw these pillows and an idea popped into my head. I'd make them a reading nook.

There's a space at the top of the staircase on the way to their room that has always bugged me. It's too large to leave empty. It looks blank and cold, but it's really too small for anything useful. Inefficient, unused spaces drive me nuts. A reading nook is the perfect thing for this space and, with the girls sharing a room, it's something that can give them another place to hang out.

The space is simple, two $12 reading pillows, a $3 IKEA rug, an old wicker basket for books and a set of $20 IKEA decals I had bought for another project, decided against and forgotten to return. I think it looks pretty good and the kids just love it. Finally, that awkward little space will be put to some use.

Baby's First Name Day

A Name Day is an old European custom, similar to a birthday, but celebrated on the feast day of whatever saint you happened to be named after. I'm the kind of girl who is always looking for a reason to celebrate, so we have celebrated our name days as long as we've had kids. Cheyenne and Isabella's are actual holidays, so they have been easy to celebrate. Isabella's falls on the 4th of July (St Elizabeth of Portugal, otherwise known as Isabel or Isabella) and Cheyenne, who's middle name is Nicole, celebrates on the feast day of St Nicholas, which, given our German heritage is like a mini version of Christmas.

Saturday was James' first name day, the feast day of St James the Greater. There is an old tradition for the feast of St James of building grottos with sea shells, sea glass and candles to raise money for travelers making a pilgramage to the burial place of St James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. I had some shells and sea glass on hand from Cheyenne's Purple Mermaid birthday party, so we decided to give a nod to tradition and decorate the table with shells and sea glass, primarily scallop shells, the symbol of St James.

Next we had to figure out the food. Coquille St Jaques (scallops in a white wine cream sauce), the traditional food of the day, is way out of our budget, so Cheyenne and I headed to the bakery to see what we could come up with for a treat. We decided that the cream cheese coffee cake looked sort of shell-like and at $5.99 it was in our price range.

Grandpa came over and we had our treats, said a little prayer for James and spent the rest of the day in the pool. I'm not sure James really noticed, but the rest of us had a great time celebrating.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Image courtesy of Noel Zia Lee

My camera is temporarily lost and nothing terribly interesting is happening here this week, so here's another poem I wrote. I'm having fun with this.


Larger in my own mind than I am in reality, I step off the ferryboat, embarassing grandmother and other baggage in tow.

We eat cheeseburgers at an old cafe with a rainbow on the sign and the faint odor of dead salmon on the patron in the seat behind me. Farewell to civilization.

I am 12 years old and far from home, driving the 10 mile road past ruined cemeteries full of prospectors and fishermen, forgotten names on whitewashed tombstones, to the house my uncle built by hand when tales of his grandfather's travels lured him North and West and into the woods, never to return.

I am loosed from 20th Century moorings and vaguely uneasy, awed as I am by Cathedral Peaks and trees that stretch to heaven. It's a wilder wilderness than I have seen before, older and more fearsome and I can see now in its treatment of the old rundown fishing shacks and the wary eye the dog casts to the woods what is meant by the words "fear of God." It is magnificent.

In a plane the size of a minivan we soar above ice the size of fear. Above pools of water that ring in purple, green and indigo like the drawing of a child who is tired of the colour blue.

I wonder if it is really possible that thousands of miles away there is such a thing as a suburb and a home. A strange calm washes over me as I see myself for the first time in the right proportion, properly small.

I feel shaken and hungry, held on the edge of a vastness reason cannot explain and certain that I will never again worry about getting to math class on time, or the price of milk. Set apart by sanity to wander all my days.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Year of Temperance - Part 1

Photo courtesy of yomi995

I've mentioned before that every year I set an intention (and sometimes one or two sub-intentions) for the year beginning on my birthday. This year is the Year of Love and Joy and last year was The Year of Trust. Well, my birthday is about two and a half months away, so I've been kicking around ideas for year 31 and I think I've come up with a winner. 31 is going to be my Year of Temperance.

It's amazing how one year flows into the next. I don't think I could have tackled this before my year-long focus on love and joy. Like a lot of people, I tend to use indulgence as a cheap substitute for love and joy. Hot fudge and marshmallow sundaes are much more easily attained in times of crisis than real joy and require an outlay of only $3 at Culver's versus the much more expensive humility, trust and sacrifice required to obtain actual virtue. The problem is that the hot fudge and marshmallow sundaes don't really do the trick. 8 months into my experience with the real thing and I don't think I can stomach the substitute any longer. My heart wants more.

Zach, who's birthday is four days after mine, is joining me in my intention this year. We've identified a few areas we want to focus on for the year.

-Food. This is a problem area for both of us, although Zach's metabolism hides it well. I gain weight watching him eat. It's also a hard one to fight in our culture. Not that I'm complaining. An over-abundance of food is a problem most people in the world at most times in history would have loved to counted as their biggest challenge. I was reading the introduction to a cookbook I own that was written by a monk and I was struck by the simple wholesomeness of their diet. The monk, Victor-Aintoine D'Avila Latourette, talked about how Benedictines eat a (mostly) vegetarian diet, in solidarity with the poor. While we will not be going vegetarian I do want to bring that spirit of gratitude for what we have and appreciation of "enough" to our table. That whole "starving kids in China" thing may have been a bit abstract when we were kids, but at 31 and 27 I think it may prove to be a much better motivator.

-Clutter. While there are many lovely things about living in a house passed down through generations, one of the downsides is that you tend to have some clutter. We've been sorting through our inherited belongings for a year and a half now and we are not yet where we would like to be. This coming year we would like to tackle the ancestral clutter once and for all.

-TV. This one isn't really a problem in the summer, but in the winter we watch more TV than we should. Now that the girls are going to be in school we are cutting out TV on school nights except in rare cases.

By cutting things out of our lives and learning new habits we hope to make room for better, healthier blessings.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Poem For James

I am not a very good poet, but I liked this one I wrote....

I cradle you in delirious arms, seven pounds of milk filled sweetness born a little to early and a little too small, wondering, not for the first time and not for the last, what it is you want from me

Blueberry blue eyes, echoes of your sister and grandmother, stare at me demandingly, your furrowed brow insistent and indignant

For a moment you look like a Jim. A little old man with a bald patch and double chin, with hard candy and a driving hat leaving church just after communion in a race with the Lutherans for the best seats at breakfast.

You grunt and squirm and I am humbled by my own ignorance as I offer you breast and blanket and pacifier and your consternation only increases.

Just go to sleep, I think impatiently as you scrunch up your face, bleating a little lamb cry in frustration at my impotence. Not for the first time and not for the last, I want to fix this but can't.

And then, out of nowhere your eyelids close and your body is still and there is nothing but the sweet rhythm of your breath rising in your chest and the sweet peace of hard-fought and well deserved sleep.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Frugal Chair Rehab

My grandma bought these chairs at an antiques auction when I was a little kid. For years they occupied a space in the lingerie department of her little dress shop. When she retired from the clothing business they were passed on to my mother, who eventually passed them on to me. I love them. I love the carved wood detail and the beautiful clawfoot table that accompanies them, so for over a year now I have kept them out in plain view in spite of the fact that the colour of the fabric fights with everything else in my living room. No more. $15 of Amy Butler Royal Garden Fabric has transformed them into this.

I was a little nervous about this project because I wanted the updated chairs to stay true to their Victorian roots. I think we accomplished that. Now we have the perfect little table and chairs for playing chess or sipping coffee in the morning sunshine.

Bella's Birthday

Miss Isabella is four years old today. She's a funny little thing. Mostly quiet with streaks of red-headed hot-temper and an interior life I think I will never be entirely privy to. She is sneaky, eating a bite out of every slice in a loaf of bread or peeing on my shoes because she is mad at me.

My sister jokes that Bella is a changeling because

1) She looks like a baby faerie

2) She's mischievous and unpredictable and

3) She'd rather be outdoors than anywhere else. She's beautiful, fearless, smart and resourceful. I am so grateful that I get to be the mother of such a spunky, fun little girl.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Frugal Deck Redo

My poor deck has been badly neglected this year. It's always been my favourite "room" in the house, but we have been busy with the baby this year and didn't have much time or money to devote to it. Thanks to mom, we got it whipped into shape this weekend for under $50.

I got this table off of craigslist a year ago with the intention of fixing it up and painting it, but it hadn't happened yet. A $10 can of outdoor paint and some clearance rack outdoor cushions later...

I am totally in love with it.

I found this adorable little cake stand of a table at a garage sale this summer for $5. The schoolbus yellow didn't really go with my stuff, so we used the extra paint from the table and voila....

Finally, my mom bought me a bunch of herbs to fill the two weed ridden pots that sit next to my favourite, ugly old lounge chair.

There are still a few things I'd like to get, like a coffee table for the sitting area and a nicer lounge chair, but overall things are looking much, much better and all for about $35.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Party Central

Grandma is in town and that means one thing. Party Time. We've had an impromptu margarita (and chocolate milk) party on the deck with steaks and corn on the cob, a breakfast tea party complete with cookies (cookies for breakfast is the ultimate sign that grandma has arrived) and an upcoming picnic to celebrate Bella's birthday hosted by great-grandma and a great-great-aunt. This will be an all-out affair, I can assure you. By themselves each of these women cooks for an army. Together, there's no telling. I've already been informed that several turkeys are being slow roasted to fall-off-the-bone perfection for the picnic sandwiches. It's a good thing four generations of Montgomerys will be there to eat it all.

All of this indulgence is fun, but the most interesting of the parties on the itinerary this summer is one my friends and neighbors Mary and Sherry are devising. Mary and Sherry are the mothers of two of my childhood friends and in recent years I've developed a friendship with them in my own right. We were chatting today, as it's Old Home week around here, about a friend of Mary's who's son, Greg Mortenson, wrote the book Three Cups of Tea and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. While recovering from a difficult mountain climb in 1993 Mortenson dedicated his life to building schools in war-torn Afghanistan and Pakistan and has so far succeeded in building over 90 schools that educate over 34,000 children.

In support of this mission we have decided to throw a party and invite all the neighborhood kids (and adults) to come and gather their change, allowance and collected donations to give to Pennies For Peace, Mortenson's charity organization. I think it will be a great lesson for the neighborhood kids and a good counter-balance to our somewhat hedonistic summer.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


image courtesy of jenn-jenn

A while back we started giving the girls an allowance. I went back and forth about this for a while because they are pretty young, but they often get money from relatives or, in Cheyenne's case, the tooth fairy, so I decided it was time to teach them how to use it.

There are so many valuable, complex lessons for kids to learn from allowance. Saving, giving and delayed gratification, to name a few. I have strong feelings about money and this is one of those areas where I'm tempted to micromanage. It takes a lot for me to pull back and let them take their lumps and learn their lessons.

Well, it turns out the girls are natural savers. When we instituted allowance, both of the girls picked a toy they wanted to save for. Cheyenne wanted an Ariel doll she can play with in the pool and Isabella wanted a smaller, less expensive fairy mermaid doll to play with in the pool.

We discussed that the Ariel doll is bigger and more expensive, in part because it is a Disney character, and that at $1 a week Isabella would be able to afford her doll sooner than Cheyenne would be able to afford hers. Ever since, whenever we go somewhere and the girls want a cookie or an ice cream or a dollar bin toy I remind them that if they spend their money on what they want now, they'll have to wait longer for their toy. Shockingly, they have decided every single time that they wanted their pool toy more than they wanted to indulge their latest whim.

This weekend the day came for Isabella to get her pool toy. We went to Target, picked it out, brought it to the counter and she proudly gave the cashier the money. She had accomplished her goal. Cheyenne was a little upset at first. We looked at the Ariel doll and I explained that if she wanted something now she could get something cheaper, but she'd have to wait for Ariel. In the end, she decided to wait.

I'm very proud of the girls. I think this allowance thing has been good practice for them.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Prayer Walk

Every year on my birthday in October I set an intention for the year. Without getting into weighty details, I spent a lot of my younger years in the grip of serious depression and darkness and have worked very hard to free myself from that over the years. Year after year in my twenties I have shed the old, unhealthy patterns, shaking up my life and allowing the pieces to reorder themselves into a bold new future for myself, and as they came along, for my family.

Finally I arrived at my 30th birthday, healthy and happy, but still on some level, skeptical that all the beautiful, wonderful things I had cultivated in my life could really be true. It came to me one evening just before the beginning of my new year that this year would be my Year of Love and Joy.

This year has thrown serious challenges my way. 9 months of unemployment, a challenging and sometimes frightening pregnancy, the birth of our tiny little boy, financial struggles and health struggles for both me and the baby. And yet, I think this has been my best year ever. I think the difference between this year and others is a sense of perspective. I'm learning to slow down, pull back and take the long view of things. To stand in this moment and see it for everything it is, the beautiful and the frightening and not back down from it. With this in mind I have been taking Prayer Walks lately. I got the idea when a friend and I visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in LaCrosse, WI and saw the Rosary Walk.

As I walked today I couldn't help but feel grateful for this life I lead. There is such magnificent beauty all around me. It was nice to quiet my mind and just take it all in, the holiness and and peacefulness of it. The heron standing peacefully in the pond, the wild raspberries growing on the edge, the gardens and the trees.

Friday, July 3, 2009

I've Been a Bad, Bad Girl

I am on a dessert kick. The other day I made this rosewater pound cake. It's basically just a regular old pound cake recipe with a hand full of almonds and two or three teaspoons of rosewater tossed in. You can get rosewater at Middle Eastern markets. Mine cost about $2.50. They also sell orange blossom water, which is good in pound cake too. I should not that instead of vegetable shortening, I use a full pound of butter. I figure if I'm going to do something this wrong I might as well do it right.

I added some fresh strawberries bought earlier in the day from the strawberry patch and some fresh, homemade organic whipped cream and I was good to go.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Back to Homemade Cooking- This Weeks Menu

I was raised in a family that spared no expense with food. My parents shopped at tony grocery stores and bought all kinds of lovely foods at outrageous prices. Unfortunately (sort of) I've been broke pretty much my entire adult life. One day, when I was complaining about my first-year-of-college diet of ramen noodles and rice my dad said to me, "I don't want to hear it kid. Every major cuisine in the world is based on making magic out of whatever happened to be cheap and available. If they can do it you can do it." Not exactly the sympathy I was fishing for, but it was an eye-opening moment for me. Ever since that day I've made it my goal to eat what I like on a budget I can afford. With two kids and two adults eating, right now that hovers around $300 a month, give or take.

I normally really love to cook, but while I was pregnant I kind of lost my mojo. Between exhaustion and gestational diabetes, cooking from scratch lost it's allure, and we paid for that big time in the budget. Now that I am recovering from having my baby I am finding myself once again drawn to the kitchen. I am back in the game.

My first rule about cooking is that I have to know my limits. Right now one of my biggest obstacles to cooking from scratch is a lack of predictability. I'll go to make a salad and the baby will cry. I'll go to chop carrots and a kid will come and tell me that her sister just broke a glass in the bathroom. With this in mind I decided my best defense would be to plan ahead and prepare as much as I could in advance. Of course, this involves having a menu.

Monday-Roasted chicken with Northwoods Seasoning, mashed potatoes and gravy and carrots
Tuesday-Creamy chicken and wild rice casserole (Hot Dish for you Minnesotans) and carrots
Wednesday-Thai style noodles with broccoli, carrots and grilled chicken
Thursday- Pasta with garlic and shrimp, salad
Friday- A lady from church is bringing a hot dish, salad
Saturday- Date night. Zach and I will have asian beef lettuce wraps
Sunday: Cheeseburgers, salad and chips

Lunches: Salmon spread sandwiches, baguette with blue cheese pecan spread and sliced apples, leftover thai noodles.

Breakfast: Homemade cherry almond meusli, banana bread, hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt.

After the menu was made, I sliced up the veggies. I chopped the lettuce for salad and peeled and cut carrots. I left one of the romaine hearts whole for Sunday's lettuce wraps.

I decided when I was grocery shopping that instead of cutting up veggies for the noodle salad, I'd just use the Trader Joes broccoli slaw. It's $1.79 and we'll get two full meals from that salad. Some convenience items are worth it to me.

I hard boiled the eggs for breakfast and baked the banana bread and made the spreads.

It's been a week of lovely meals and I only spent $60 at the grocery store. It's good to be back!