Woodland Tea Party-Birthday Party

For my daughter’s fourth birthday party, a milestone in my eyes (goodbye toddlerhood?) I wanted to do something very special for this little girl. Inspired by this crafty and enchanting floral fox birthday party, I decided on a woodland tea party in my parents’ almond orchard.

IMG_5448Armed with orange balloons, pink balloons and a helium tank, the grandmothers set the stage.


Literally. My father moved the dance floor he built for our friends’ wedding two weeks past into the orchard. Brought out some rounds and folding chairs and viola! we have a setting for our darling dear. I brought out my mother’s wedding china (easier since the party was at her house), some rustic orange fabric circles for the centerpieces, and flowers I arranged from two large bouquets my mom acquired at a retreat.

IMG_5440We added little felt fox clips to the center piece, and paper cut outs with a sleeping fox made, by a good friend, at each place setting.

IMG_5444The focal point of the party was our special gift to the girl. A dollhouse!

IMG_5424Plus delicious food. On the menu: granny smith apples, Caprese salad (tomato, home-grown basil, and fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil), and a ham with Cajun mayo, pickled vegetables party platter featured in Real Simple.

IMG_5425The cake is a bittersweet chocolate cake, also featured in Real Simple, which we served with homemade pumpkin ice cream. It is decorated with one real homegrown pumpkin and assorted sugar cookies made by my mom.


We served a Citrus Lavender Sage herbal tea, another tea mix and hot spiced apple cider.

The kids had an opportunity to paint birdhouses and play bean bag toss.


IMG_5487After that everyone got balloons and wagon rides!




IMG_5623As the evening progress the white lights were the finishing touch to a perfect evening. A great thanks to all those who made this birthday vision a reality!


A B.A. in Home Economics

What if we brought back home economics courses (culinary design anyone?)? What if there were a degree in home economics. I thought of this some time ago and wanted to share it here today. As a young adult I knew many women who did not attend or finish college because there was never a string enough desire to choose, major in, sweat and bleed for a given career. The work of academics was uninteresting and the labors more costly than their worth. These women took a few classes and then dropped a view classes. Perhaps many times. While they waited, wondering what God would call them to, they continued to pursue the path society laid out as the path of bettering themselves. Their desire to grow in virtue pushed them to consider the question. In their hearts they knew they were called to marriage and called to motherhood. Yet the waiting made necessary by our transient, community-less society made the waiting longer and more difficult.

What do you think? The university I attended required 132 credits (4 credits per typical course). 28 of those credits were specifically major requirements. The list I’ve compiled totals to 135 credits. It it meant to address the who person of the individual who takes them. It is designed to be totally useful for the student who desires to spend his or her career primarily in the home. Music and language courses which fulfill many college requirements are selected to be foundation, so the individual is better situated to help his or her offspring in their choice of music or language studies. Of course, Latin will be no help if the offspring chooses to study Japanese, but by and large, most student seem to choose Latin-based languages. Philosophy courses are selected to help the individual develop a solid belief about the human person and personal growth. As a Catholic program, theological courses are part of every major, and here at selected to direct the individual towards knowledge of the Truth and how to teach it to others. The course of study is lab-heavy, because students in this major are more interested in application than academics. The desire is to have an in-depth approach to an application driven vocation.

Please note: I am not saying any of this is required for being a good stay-at-home-parent. But I think such a course would be enriching and help those who see the advantage of higher education but are not motivated to complete due to a lack of desire for a particular career path.

So here we go:

  1. Philosophy: 12 credits
    1. Philosophy – anthropology and virtue focused
    2. Logic, include research methods/evaluation
    3. Rhetoric, include leadership/organization skills
    4. World Religions (a survey of various cultural worldviews) = diversity component
  2. English: 8 credits
    1. English (literature)
    2. English grammar and composition
  3. Foreign language: 12 credits
    1. Latin 1
    2. Latin 2
    3. Latin 3
  4. Mathematics: 8 credits
    1. Applied mathematics: algebra and geometry (no imaginary numbers here)
    2. Financial planning
  5. Religion: 12 credits
    1. Theology
    2. Catechetical studies
    3. Gender studies = historical overview, Catholic perspective – 2 semesters
  6. Psychology: 16 credits
    1. Early childhood education
    2. Child development
    3. Cognitive-behavioral psychology (psychotherapy)
    4. Marital and family therapy (relationship enhancement therapy) with lab
  7. Music: 8 credits
    1. Music Theory 1
    2. Piano 1
  8. Application courses: 59 credits
    1. Nutrition
    2. Health – with CPR certification
    3. Etiquette
    4. History of design, include basic art introduction
    5. Interior decorating with lab – 5 credits
    6. Woodworking lab – 5 credits
    7. Basic home repair lab – 5 credits
    8. Auto shop lab – 5 credits
    9. Sewing lab – 5 credits
    10. Culinary arts 1 – 5 credits each
    11. Culinary arts 2 – 5 credits each
    12. Agriculture for the family farm (square foot gardening, eco-friendly practices)
    13. Horticulture for the family farm

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Middle Class Illusions

How do American couples make it work? By working. The income gap between those on the lower rungs of the income ladder and those on the higher rungs has been increasing over time and is now the greatest that we’ve seen.

Yet we haven’t shed our sentiments about the American middle class and making it. We get educated, go to college and start looking for a mate. If you’re Catholic you may throw a year or two of “discernment” in there, which means, for some, wandering around waiting for God to tell you what you are meant to do, and for others, active exploration of the priesthood or religious life. Quite likely we all went through a little of both stages, I think.

And then if God calls you to marriage and you meet the mate of your dreams (or your greatest compatibility, perspective changes depending on your personality) then you date or court, engage, and tie the knot. My guess is that at this point it is common for both spouses to start this adventure off with two jobs, two incomes. Readiness and ability to have children varies by couple, of course.

A heavily criticized trend when the economy took a nosedive was the bad habit of Americans to live outside their means. Did anyone else out there grow up with a family that praised middle class lifestyle, saving, preparing for retirement, owning a home, not overusing credit cards? So let’s suppose you’ve played it smart, got married, and lived totally within your means. You’re achieving your dreams. It works great.

So supposing you’ve followed the standard path, the ideal path. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes…

Now what? We’ve set ourselves up with a lifestyle that requires two incomes but then a baby comes. Now either it goes down to one income or one of those incomes get seriously depleted by childcare expenses…or…the extended family gets involved.

There are many different experiences out there. In my upbringing, nether the concept of the grandparents watching the grandchildren nor was one parent staying home imaginable. Paid childcare was the option that fit the image of middle class lifestyle with which I was raised. Because you have to keep working in order to save for retirement and buy your own home, right? You have to do it independently, on your own two feet, right? Owe nothing to anyone.


But now, as a family, we aren’t doing it this way.

For the perspective of my upbringing, we are flipping it on its head. I work half-time. My husband works half or three-quarters-time. One of us is always home with the kids. His goal is to have enough students to provide all our income. I’m not sure yet what I want to do. We rent. But we rent from my parents who bought a second home, so it’s like our home. Is this uncommon? An Indian friend tells us in his culture it’s quite common. It is not so common here, although anyone I talk to who is my age agrees its fantastic because in our professional fields at our age owning a home and having kids is a pipe dream.

How is society structured? With the nuclear family far away from the extended family, living their life, making their decisions, finding fulfillment. We move to big cities, art and culture, have one or two children and make a decision to stop there and celebrate ourselves and the life we’ve built up. It was counter-cultural to me that we should choose to come back, live in a small town and be happy. Our lifestyle isn’t possible because our life is intertwined with my parents. They are a regular part of my children’s lives.

And its’ neat.

So we are low income, but it doesn’t feel like we are because we have help and resources located within the larger family network.

For many Americans, this is impossible. Which is why I found this article by Artur Rosman so fascinating, calling parishes to step up and fill in the gaps left by absent or distant extended families through free childcare, food and monetary assistance. Tying that together with this concept of the “lying in” period of women postpartum assisted by community women or family members and the whole lifestyle, to me, makes sense.

Without this help I just can’t see how a family can raise their children and be able to see them more than just an hour or two each day and on weekends. It’s sounds difficult and painful to me.

I also grew up in surrounded by conservative Republican messages. It is hard to me to empty my mind of the criticisms of receiving free handouts. But I have to. Because I see that we are happy, terribly happy and feel a sense of balance I imagine is lacking for those who have to go the other route of doing it all on their own. I don’t think we were meant for that, but unfortunately it’s been held up as a virtue to do so. The rugged, individual, isolated American. It’s something we desperately need to learn from other cultures during those diversity seminars and celebrations.

Let’s build a better community. Let’s use the Church to do it. And let’s accept help knowing it doesn’t have to hurt our pride because it’s in us integrally to be part of a community. The middle class is a fading illusion. And the happy family? There’s still hope for that. I do believe there is. But it takes a village to make it work.


Postscript: please note: I am not in any way calling on the government to step in and be the extended family. If family in Washington State can’t do it, I just don’t think there’s any way strangers in Washington D.C. can do it without reducing the person to an object/number and diminishing their dignity.

Education and the stay-at-home-mother

Education and the stay-at-home-mother

Sophia Kramskaya Reading

As a society we have changed. In order to secure a livable wage, one must have a college degree. In order to advance in one’s field and make a greater than livable wage, one must have a master’s degree. These wages can be earned without the degree, but often they involve some great physical strain or peril in the type of work required. It is all too common in this modern American society to trust that he who holds the degree has the knowledge to judge what those lesser individuals can judge. He is held on a pedestal. He has this mysterious knowledge others do not have. My goodness, he is licensed in, something. It doesn’t matter what.

So they form the elite class. If Mrs. Obama doesn’t know how to feed her children, is there any hope for the uneducated masses?


They form the meritocracy. Instead of an aristocracy, where one is born into a privileged position, these intellectual higher-ups have used their merit to become the ruling class. They determine what our children should eat (Mrs. Obama’s lunch program), what they should learn (common core applied nationally), how many children they should have, even if they live in Africa (a la the cultural imperialism of Melinda Gates). That a person should be Ivy League education makes him or her the greater judge is absurd, especially since determining the needs of any human person requires creativity, flexibility and risk, and students at Ivy League schools are showing less and less of this.

What does this have to do with stay-at-home-mothers? The title of this post suggests a relationship of some kind. I met a mother once who advocated I become a stay-at-home-mother. I told her I wanted to work with clients in a therapeutic setting (I didn’t use such fancy words then). She told me I can use the skills I gain from any degree with my children. True enough. I can. I can be reflective, use smart words, guide and mold their development with appropriate rewards and punishments, but I will hopefully not be working with victims of trauma in that setting. Ordinarily, there are lots of more advanced skills and learned judgment that just simply are not used day-to-day in the rearing of a four-year old, two-year old and infant.

So what’s a mom to do? Study, I say. Read.


Imagine that. I tend to spend more time on the internet than is healthy simply because I do not have to hold my computer. I can hold my infant and use my eyes without requiring my hands, except for the periodic mouse scroll. I see Moms’ groups leading lovely bible studies focused on motherhood, but hear less about Moms’ groups engaging in academically rigorous study together. We do not need to be engaged in formal education or work in order to advance intellectually.


Perhaps it’s too hard to find a topic of interest. One mom may be deeply engaged in the field of psychology, another in politics, another in theology, another in art. Or a mom may have hated school and be deeply engaged in the rearing of her children, not interested in academics. All these mothers come together either out of values or necessity. They are stay at home moms.

Here I would propose a new program that can bring mothers with diverse backgrounds together, and assist in their personal and intellectual development: a book club, an intellectual, deep, stimulating book club. If interests are too diverse, I propose a book club focused on good literature (aka, not Fifty Shades of Gray or the Twilight series, unless you’re focused on the cultural impact of so many children reading the Twilight Series, and yes, I know this was, like, 7 years ago).

No time to read a book?

Then I say:

Our personhood does not stop when we have children. Sometimes we know this. “I need alone time” and whatnot. Some mothers practice this with greater gusto and determination than others. Some mothers judge the practice of it in others as being selfish.

The reality is, just as we need to maintain our health as much as possible by sleeping and eating, so we also need exercise, physical and mental. As human beings we need to push ourselves. This could be by creating a schedule that masterfully manages five children, homeschooling and an infant. It could be by applying coping skills, psychotherapeutic techniques in the home while still managing to get dinner on the table. It could be playing delightfully with little rascals while keeping the house clean. It does not have to be academic. But for many, we need it in some way. Read a book. Create a schedule. Play. We need it all. And we need to prioritize it.

Moms come together: relational development.

They read: intellectual development.

They do so without toddler interruptions: emotional coping by taking a break from chaos.

They learn: professional/personal development depending on the topic.

If reading great literature: empathy develops, which makes for a better mother.

If the topic is spiritual or good literature, the application of the topic/reflections to one’s life: moral development.

The deeper the reading the more we flex those brain muscles, the better adept we will be to meeting the chaotic and never ending needs of the little people in ours lives.

So start a book club! Make it a priority as you make sleeping a priority (which means sometimes other things take precedence, but by and large we maintain the effort to do it).


Come and stay a while

It looks as though I never posted pictures of my daughter’s room once made over. I painted the walls with left over Collanade Gray (Sherwin Williams color mixed in Clark & Kinsington paint). Before moving to Minnesota in college a print store was going out of business and I found this beautiful print for $5. IMG_5190My father made a frame for it using redwood siding he took off the house following a remodel. Shabby chic before it was chic.


That plaque below was a thoughtful birthday gift from my best friend.


We have an ABC duvet from IKEA and pool colored sheets (or turquoises if you like) to complement the picture and the cool gray walls. Hello kitty is a ballerina here.



I placed my paternal great-grandmother’s wood table with a floral blue and green tablecloth in the corner so my almost-four-year old can have a play place out of reach of her troublesome almost-two-year old brother.


That wild green chair you see in the corner of the photo is getting a gray makeover as well so it can be more versatile. That make over is halfway completed at this point. With little children everything but the children moves in very slow time…


Everything in the room was complete and I was so pleased, and then to make things crazy again we bought a furniture set from an antique dealer who sells pieces he refinishes out of his house on a very busy country road. What a find! A double-size Art Nouveau (read: turn of the century, beautiful organic detail on wood) bed.




My daughter now has a princess bed to sleep on, which will function as a guest bed when company comes. We had the delight of being able to host my husband’s best friend and best friend’s wife. I added our Calvin Klien Queen size “Dahlia” comforter and an extra pillow for our guests. Unfortunately, I failed to take pictures and now the comfortable is back being stored on a guest bed in my mother’s house.



Along with the bed came a vanity and a “gentleman’s dresser” which has it’s home in our walk in closet. Here are some photographs of the vanity. Given the ages of my children, I plan on attempting to use it next spring. The mirror is a little cloudy since it’s the original glass. I’m not sure if we’ll need to change that to make it functional, but it sure is charming!




There are some changes to be made to wall decor in the master and my son’s room. The interior is nearly done! I am taking my time. There is much to do during the autumn season with birthday and holiday parties.

I’m falling more in love with this home as time goes by. I believe the home we live in is more than just a building. I strive to reflect that in my decorating. It needs to have warmth and peacefulness, art and imagination. It should be personal but have a quality that is universal in order to make it accessible and feel like home to those who enter. And that last piece is so very important to me and my husband as well. That he should share my love of hospitality is a joy for me, even though he is the never-say-anything-you-don’t-need-to-say type. We love opening our home to people.

When we first walked into this house, I felt something move my heart. The people I shared this with did not seem to understand. But I believe a spiritual connection to one’s environment can exist. Couldn’t the Holy Spirit move my heart to tell us that this is the place. This is the home our children will grow in. And it’s been beautiful. From the functional lay out to, what’s more important, our amazing neighborhood and neighbors. That is something that seems to me nearly impossible to predict and it’s been perfect!

Thinking about ambition.

Thinking about ambition. I grow eager to move on to the next thing once I feel the challenge of the present has been met. I may still have room to grow, but I no longer feel stressed or challenged by the present circumstances. What is the next thing? I shared feelings with my mom like this when I was a senior in high school. That was the first time she seemed to fully understand. She was just the same. Ready to move on, to a new field or up in the present one, but on…anywhere…on. I would experience this again and again. What is the next thing? Ever ready for diversity. Missionary work, college, Minnesota winters, marriage, full time work, Virginia, graduate school, a baby in graduate school, one baby, two baby, three babies under age four, low income. What is the next thing? What challenge can come next?

I’ve compartmentalized my life. Here is my work, my professional life. I’m looking for networking, for opportunities. I want to progress, want to do more, want to be more. I’ve honed my skills, ready for the next challenge. But I can’t. I’m stuck.

I’m stuck because I have three little miracles under three feet running amok in my beautiful home. The youngest does not yet run, she merely reaches, but she’s definitely on her way, ready for the next challenge. I’m stuck because I am living the greatest call imaginable. We came together and made little people in the overflow of our love and they have to be raised, reared, taught the ways of the Lord and civilized society.


I’m stuck and I compartmentalized. But I was wrong to do that. If I feel like I’ve overcome the difficult, stressful part of my wonderfully important job, isn’t that a blessing? Because the constant challenges of parenting tell me I have not yet overcome that battle.

So some things will have to wait for now. If I can see my life as a whole, integrated, the waiting will not be so difficult. I get up, get dressed for work, dress little people before work, go to work, meet with clients, come home, nurse a baby, put a toddler down for nap, eat something delicious prepared by my debonair husband (actually, geeky-awkward-amazing husband), go back to work. I stop at home before going to meetings in order to nurse the baby. I work only two days a week and I will not work back-to-back days.

My life is one. My vocation is one. I do not need to separate them into two separate lives and think one is utterly challenging and I’m failing, and feel “what’s next” in the other. If I see it as one, there is enough for me to apply myself. I can love those children better. Good gracious, I could start cooking again. That’s challenge enough.


“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” Matthew 6:34

Challenge enough.

It’s you I like

Another month another party! My grandmother celebrated her 88th birthday in August. To celebrate her we held an intimate soiree with family and friends. How lovely that our dear friends have become her friends over the years.


On the menu we served jalepeño artichoke dip, spinach dip with French bread, clam dip with potato chips, bean dip with lime flavored organic tortilla chips, chicken teriyaki skewers (a delicious repeat from our anniversary party),


two fruit bowls –strawberry and grapes, and strawberry and cantaloupe -, and crudites with organic, home grown rainbow carrots, yellow tomatoes and cucumber.


For dessert lemon pound cake with homemade pistachio ice cream!

But what in the way of entertainment? An ipod with a genius song selection? No! My husband played piano for the lady of the hour.

Lydia the tattooed lady
It’s you I like
Yes, we have no bananas
The merry-go-round broke down
What a wonderful world
Blue skies

It was a beautiful to way to celebrate one of the most wonderful women in my life.


Happy Birthday, Yia Yia!

Many happy returns

A lot has happened in the past month so there has been little time to post.

To celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary, I was something special, something extravagant. We had been through so much together. Three children born, two children in heaven, five homes: two apartments, two houses and our home now where we hope to stay for a long time; two attempts at owning a dog, two batches of chickens, two successful ventures at owning cats. With close to five years dating experience prior to marriage we learned a lot about each other, how to communicate, how to love each other, how to hurt each other and how to forgive each other, so we entered our early marriage years with wisdom on those matters, ready to conquer the world as a team.


As single young adults, we gave our lives to God. As a dating, discerning couple, we consecrated our relationship to God. As a couple married in the Catholic Church, we answered his call in this both glorious and lowly vocation.




So now what? He knows almost all my stories (I still surprise him from time to time). I still learn things about him since he talks so much less than I do and doesn’t feel the desperate need to share every single detail. We anticipate what the other will say. We anticipate the other’s reaction. We do things intentionally to arouse that reaction. “Look, you socialized her,” he said to me, when our daughter repeated something very feminine I said to her on a previous occasion. I know my husband doesn’t care a lick about so-called gender socialization, but he knows I consider our child-rearing to be a grand experiment and am thrilled to discovered what traits common to their respective sex our children naturally develop. I’ve successfully managed a reaction out of him, although the occasions are considerably more rare.


We know each other now. It is no longer a whirlwind of romance and transition. We seamlessly and wordlessly navigate the wild and chaotic movements of our herd from leaving the grandparents’ house after swimming to rushing bedtime. My grandmother marvels at his involvement with the home and kids. I’m grateful for his patience with my weaknesses and his generosity in serving our family as chef and groundskeeper. He even loves me enough to write a post praising me.


It just ain’t right to be so happy.


So I wanted to us to do something spectacular to commemorate the milestone. Sangria on the patio at Galletto’s? Sounds wonderful and chic…and expensive. So an intimate after hours (read: after bedtime) party at our home.


The menu:

Stuffed mushroom caps

Chicken teriyaki skewers


Fruit, cheese and cracker platter

Fried calamari

And a caramel, shortbread chocolate cake made by my mother, baker extraordinaire.


To drink: Sangria


On the table: Stargazer lilies: 0855_B2DSC_0285

the flower he had delivered to me for Valentine’s Day while I was in college in Minnesota, the flower of our wedding, the flower he gave me for this anniversary.


The guests: Nearly all our wedding party, excluding the party of our wedding party who moved to Ohio after his own wedding party. What a blessing to still have these people in our life. I learned early that friendships are passing. How joyful to be proved wrong. My parents, my grandmother, and two couples who mentored us in many ways.


The evening went late for us tired parents of young children, but it was a beautiful evening and I cannot imagine the day could have turned out any more perfect.

I like the old phrase “many happy returns.” To me it means, “let the blessings keep on comin’.”  I’m grateful for the sentiment.  To my Husband of five years, many happy returns.