Intentional vs. reactive housework

"An increasing number of households do housework without any system, schedule, or routine, more or less reacting to each situation as it arises. This makes things harder, not easier. With systematic housekeeping, most of the time you live comfortably: supplies are not exhausted; dirt and laundry do not overaccumulate; plans and resources for at-home occupations and entertainments are in place.  
"In nonsystematic housekeeping, chores are tended to only when the resources are exhausted: when there are not clean clothes or linens and there is school in the morning and stale beds tonight; when it is the dinner hour and the cabinet is bare; when dirt and disorder are beyond tolerating.  
"When you keep house like this, domestic frustrations and discomfort begin to be felt long before you reach the point where you decide to do something about them. But when this point is reached, often the troubles cannot immediately be remedied because, without rational schedules, nothing ensures that time or resources will then be available to tend to the house. . . . And, worst of all, the only time you get to experience anything like a well-kept house is immediately after the emergency response measures are taken. The rest of the time—most of the time—you live badly." 
—Cheryl Mendelson, Home Comforts (paragraphs added)

I've been meandering my way through Home Comforts again. I read and loved it several years ago, but this time I'm reading it with the idea that I'll go slowly and integrate some of its advice as I go along. The passage above really struck me as I read last night. I've been slowly drifting toward a more reactive form of housekeeping, and I love how it's laid out so clearly for me here why reactive housekeeping tends to feel more frustrating.

In honor of this passage, here's my new daily and weekly schedule. I find that I have to revamp my chore lists every few months to match our constantly changing schedules and lives.

Make beds
Clear kitchen counters
Pick up
Sweep and vacuum as needed
Fake-clean bathrooms and change hand towels
Preschool with Pip

Monday: Clean upstairs and change beds
Tuesday: Errands
Wednesday: Clean downstairs
Thursday: Grocery shopping
Friday: Odd jobs (deep cleaning, baking, projects)
Saturday: Outside chores

We'll see how that settles in!


Something new: Soy curls

Image courtesy Butler Foods

I'm an adventurous cook and eater, and I love trying new things. I kept hearing rave reviews about a new product called soy curls. They're one ingredient—soybeans—and to be honest, I thought they sounded weird.

But, being curious, I eventually tried them (when the price on Amazon got low enough). And we like them! They are hands down the best meat substitute we have tried. They come dehydrated, which makes them a great food storage product. Half a bag is enough for my family of five. You need to soak them for ten minutes in warm water and season well when you add them to the recipe, because they don't have any flavor of their own.

So far I have tried a teriyaki stir-fry and fajitas, and we've enjoyed them both.

Now that I know we like them, I'll be ordering in bulk directly from the manufacturer (Butler Foods) to save money. I'm happy to have this new ingredient in my pantry!


A three-year-old's favorite books

Little Pip is getting decidedly opinionated in his choice of books lately. Here are some of his favorites that he requests again and again.

  • What Was I Scared Of? by Dr. Seuss. Pip can't get over his fascination with the pale green pants with nobody inside them. He has deemed this book too scary to actually take to bed with him, but he still asks me to read it to him almost every night. This book is a favorite with our whole family.
  • Jamberry by Bruce Degen. We read this book every night for months. It says a lot about the book that I still enjoy reading it.
  • The Wicked Big Toddlah by Kevin Hawkes. Too funny! A story about a gigantic baby who gets into all sorts of trouble. It is full of inside jokes about Maine (which I don't really get, but still enjoy), and the illustrations are the best. I notice something new and funny almost every time I read it to Pip, and I've read it a lot!
  • Triangle by Mac Barnett. Pip is fascinated by this book and now wants to play "sneaky tricks" on everyone. This book has also been deemed too scary to take to bed.
  • The Saddest Toilet in the World by Sam Apple. We've been reading dozens of potty books lately, but this one that personifies a toilet who's sad because a little boy won't sit on it takes the cake. Pip loves it.
  • Ducks Away! by Mem Fox. Every. Day. Until I took it back to the library. So cute, Mem Fox can't be beat!
  • The Gingerbread Man by Jim Aylesworth. Pip is fascinated by the gingerbread man and doesn't seem to mind him getting eaten at the end.
  • Snipp Snapp Snurr and the Gingerbread by Maj Lindman. I got him this book because he loved The Gingerbread Man so much, and boy did he ever love reading about three little boys falling into the gingerbread batter and running around town!
  • But No Elephants by Jerry Smath. One of my favorites in my childhood, now a favorite of Pip's.
  • Risseldy, Rosseldy by John M. Feierabend. This is a random book I grabbed off the shelves at the library that turned out to be a hit. The rhythm is so catchy, I would hear Pip chanting it in bed on nights we read it.
  • All for Pie, Pie for All by David Martin. The illustrations are just adorable.


Books for a picky third-grade reader

My Tiger Lily is a great reader, but I've never met a pickier one. She has walked out of the library before complaining that there's nothing to read in there.

This year, as she started third grade, I was frustrated that she was still reading (mostly re-reading, actually, as she'd already read them all) simple, formulaic series books like A to Z Mysteries and Thea Stilton. She could tear through one of them in about 20 minutes, a sign to me that she needed something a little more challenging.

Now, three-quarters of the way through the school year, she's finally moved on. I am starting to understand her reading tastes a little better (and they're similar to mine, if a lot narrower). She likes girl heroines, siblings, good friends, not too scary, and a little bit of magic (especially dragons).

Here are some of the books that have gotten her reading this year. Now that you know her tastes, do you have any recommendations for her?


The Dragon Slippers series by Jessica Day George. Tiger Lily just tore through these books, ordering me to the library when a new one was required.

Ellen Tebbits and Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary. I'm so glad she was able to see the everyday magic in Beverly Cleary's books.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. She tore through this one in a day, but she didn't want to read the sequel: it was a little too scary for her.

The Tuesdays in the Castle series by Jessica Day George. I know that Tiger Lily will like this series, as she likes the author, and I think it is even more age-appropriate for her than the Dragon Slippers books. She's just started it and is enjoying it so far. Getting her to even start a book is half the battle.

The Doll People series by Ann M. Martin. Featuring illustrations by the celebrated Brian Selznik, Tiger Lily has really enjoyed the books from this series that she has read.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate. This is a book that Tiger Lily's teacher read to her, and I keep hearing about it, so it must have been good.

The Oz series by L. Frank Baum. These books have been hit and miss with her: there a few she adores, and others it's been harder for her to get into.

The Where the Mountain Meets the Moon series by Grace Lin. I adore this series and I couldn't be happier that Tiger Lily loves it too.

The 100 Dresses series (starting with If the Magic Fits) by Susan Maupin Schmid. These books are filled with cuteness, and magical dresses, perfect for Tiger Lily.

And, just for my own reference, here are some books I think she would like, if I can get her to try them.


The Dealing with Dragons series by Patricia C. Wrede. She loved the last dragon books she read, and I think she would like these, too. I love the sense of humor in these books.

The Twins at St. Clare's series by Enid Blyton. I'll admit that this series is a bit shallow and didactic, but it's fun, and I think Tiger Lily would enjoy it.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. Every girl should read this book, and luckily it's no chore.

The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace. She has actually already read the first two, and tolerated them, but I know she would like the next two in the series better since she is closer to their age.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Perfect for a little girl who loves to write.

The Rose Legacy by Jessica Day George. This one is coming out soon, and we have pre-ordered it. She's a fan of the author, and it has a horse on the cover. One look at the cover and she wanted to read it.


Spring wash

Tiger Lily woke up with a sore throat. With the end of term at school and a trip coming up for some family members, I decided we needed to do some cleaning and airing out to freshen up our house—and with any luck, it will help us stay healthy.

First I started on the beds, stripping off everything and washing them. It feels good to make up a bed with all fresh bedding. I wish I could hang it out on the line like the lady in the picture, but since we don't have one, I settled with opening all the windows. It rained overnight and the air is nice and fresh and not too cold outside to have the windows open.

Two beds down, two to go!


Pi day preparations

Red Chief's middle school knows how to celebrate pi day the right way! They've requested 250 pies for their math students, and I'll be contributing two of them.

While I was at it, I made peanut butter granola (Tiger Lily's request) and bread (Red Chief's request). I also made another small pie from the scraps of the big ones. Tomorrow I'll make a chickenless pot pie and a fresh strawberry pie for our family.

Pip is having a hard time waiting for pi day. He's been asking about it ever since we bought the pie pans and whipped cream last week. One more day, little man!


Making music

My husband and I brought back a toy instrument–building kit from our trip to Arizona. The kids can't stop playing with it. One morning I looked down to find Tiger Lily and Pip playing a duet.

But my favorite part about the scene is that Pip has his hand in the bell of his "French horn." Why yes, he does pay attention to what his big brother does. He's fortunate to have such a good example, in music playing and in other matters as well.



I played in an orchestra concert last weekend. I have been playing with this group since I moved here about eleven years ago, but the group has evolved beyond recognition. We used to number about fifteen, and we were always struggling to find rehearsal space, performance venues, and cellists (not to mention a conductor).

Several years ago, an amazing musician adopted us. She chooses programs and conducts, and her incredible enthusiasm has attracted a whole stage full of musicians and a whole auditorium full of concertgoers!

Lucky us.


Pink cupcakes

Pip's latest favorite book is Pinkalicious. It brings back good memories for me, since about five years ago, it was Tiger Lily who was obsessed with it.

Today we made pink cupcakes. It was such a simple little thing, but it made Pip's day. Sometimes I think I kind of forgot how to mother littles between Tiger Lily and Pip. Baking together: check! Yes, that's how I used to do it.


Back to it!

Getting back into the swing of things:

  • A new invention to use up what was in the fridge: pasta nachos. Not bad! Night two will be either enchiladas or corn chowder and then it's going to be either a trip to the store or food storage for dinner.
  • Taking Tiger Lily in for x-rays to try to find out about her chronic ankle pain. (The verdict? All bones look good.)
  • Red Chief's first trip to the music store by himself on his bike. He's been waiting for this day ever since he started playing the French horn. 
  • A house fire next door. We have good neighbors who noticed soon and did everything right so the damage was minimal compared to what it could have been. The neighbors whose house caught fire weren't home, so no one was hurt.
  • Pip tried on his daddy's coat. 
  • Snow (meh) and sun to melt it (yay).
  • Flowers, a drawing, and a cake waiting for us when we came home. 
  • Teaching my violin and viola students (one of each). The break gave me time and perspective to come up with a couple of things to help them, so that was good.
  • Randomly pulling down my violin and playing nothing but folk songs even though I should be practicing the insanely hard music for my orchestra concert this Saturday.