Miscellany for the New Year

1. Jackson Henry Taylor was born yesterday morning! He has a super cool birthday (1/1/11). Though it isn't the same as getting to actually hold him, we did get to see him via Skype. He's adorable. Between the brothers-in-law making funny remarks, a hilarious misstatement by Marie, and Juliette's antics, we were laughing so hard I almost fell off my chair. And, um, I have a history of falling off chairs during Skype chats, so in the future we're going to have to keep the pandemonium to a dull roar.
2. I don't really do New Years resolutions, though I love the feeling of the first day of a new year. I like to harness it into one big New Year's Day Project (ha... apparently Marie does, too; this year hers was: have a baby). This year I did a major overhaul of the kitchen and pantry closet. It's amazing how much needed to be done, considering we've only lived here since June. Part of it was reorganizing space based on how we actually use the kitchen and phasing out as much plastic as we can (yay for Pyrex storage containers!). And part of it was collecting a ridiculous number of almost-empty bags of slivered almonds. Apparently we eat a lot of slivered almonds, but have an aversion to actually finishing the bag.

3. The other inspiration for the housework was the gift I received from my mother, Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider. I've been a fan of Simplemom.net for a couple years, and have used her Daily Docket off and on. I've gotten so many ideas from her that I've actually used - and have actually improved our lives - that I knew I wanted a copy of her new book. I've already finished it, but I'm looking forward to spending more time with it over the next few months, as I realized the first eight chapters will make for great material to read in the moms group I lead at church. While it isn't overtly Christian and is packed with the sort of practical advice you're more likely to read in an Oprah magazine than discuss at a bible study, the whole foundation of the book is profoundly theological. She writes, "[Simple living] means that all the parts of your life are pointed in the same direction, a direction that has purpose and vibrancy." Part of the task is to discern that direction. Tsh shares her family's shared purpose, which begins with wanting to "glorify God in all we say, do, and are," and she stresses the importance of relationships, learning, hospitality, stewardship, etc. At the same time, it doesn't lay it on too heavily; some of the Christian homemaking stuff out there is, well, out there. I'm really excited to explore this with the women at church. I'd been searching with no avail for good resources for this group, and there it was, under the Christmas tree. still life with bull

4. We've used cloth napkins for the entire duration of our marriage, thanks to Lisa H. Actually, we've used the same cloth napkins (plus a few new sets) for the entire duration of our marriage. I couldn't make up a better endorsement for using cloth. They are the antithesis of disposable. We have two small baskets ($1 each from Target) under the sink; one for clean and one for dirty. They get laundered with whatever load has extra room, so the extra laundry is absorbed into the whole. A couple years ago we also gave up paper towels. That was a little harder. For a while, I rejoiced when my mother would cushion packages with paper towels. We just keep an assortment of towels and rags - some under the sink with the napkins for daily kitchen stuff, some in the extra pantry closet for cleaning. The dirty ones go in the same small hamper as the napkins. After going cold turkey for a year or so, I do like to keep a roll tucked away in the pantry; there are a few things for which paper towels are uniquely helpful, and I like to put them out when Juliette has a babysitter. But they always need to go back into the pantry, because if they are out we will use them, even though we know full well that we function just fine without them.

All of this is to say: if you still use paper towels and napkins, the beginning of the year is a great time to make the switch. Just sayin'. You will not regret it.

5. I almost wiped out at church on Christmas Eve, walking a rarely-used pathway that was unexpectedly icy. The only reason I didn't fall completely was because my boot caught a step, giving me a chance to right myself. Sadly, the boot took one for the team. My beloved black motorcycle boots that I got in 1999 and just had reheeled last winter for my interview weekend (why yes, I did wear motorcycle boots...) are goners; the leather ripped. When I went to the store to replace them there was a buy-one-get-one-half-off sale going on. I couldn't resist a pair of dressy suede ankle boots that are perfect for winter (especially since they were originally $90 and I paid $15). I wore them this morning for the first time, and while they're really comfortable, they're also really slippery. Every time I stood up to do a prayer or distribute the elements, I was repeating to myself don'tfalldon'tfalldon'tfalldon'tfall. I'm going to get them reheeled with special Clumsy Lady Material. They won't make the same click-clack, but I'd rather sacrifice the click-clack to avoid the boom-crash.

6. I will post pictures of the shoes when I get a chance. Other than Juliette being born, the most comments I ever get on this blog are responding to shoe posts. We have our priorities. ;-)

7. I made up a recipe for olive bread tonight. The bread machine will do its thing while we sleep, and in the morning I'll find out if I'm really clever enough to make up bread recipes. I did cheat and learn from the internet that you mix some of the brine into the water. I have no illusions that any other family members will partake of my bread, even if it is a masterpiece, so I'm going on the Olive Bread Diet tomorrow. All you eat is olive bread. I hear it works just as well as the Grapefruit Diet.

8. The same jar of olives was first opened on New Years Day, for pizza. The olives were only on my slices, of course. And my salad. When only one person in the family eats olives and therefore only splurges on olives once a year, one goes to lengths. 9. Ben turned 36 on New Years Eve (he's thirty-six years and one day older than his youngest nephew!). It's nice to have a birthday on a day when one often doesn't have to work. We got a babysitter in the morning and headed to the Art Institute for a couple hours. We bought a membership, as the museum is enormous, the daily rate is steep, and the membership includes unlimited admission for a year. They have a great kids area, so we're planning to be museum rats this year. Around here those memberships are almost always a better deal than the daily rates, but I think we're tapped out with the zoo and the art museum. It was a great date, but the real celebration of the day was that I cooked rib-eye steaks for dinner that were off the hook. Prior to December 31st, 2010, I had never successfully cooked a steak. When Ben said he wanted steak for his birthday dinner, I was thrilled to have yet another chance to ruin expensive meat. Thanks to Mark Bittman, my kitchen guru, those steaks were so good I still can't stop talking about them. (Pan fried: preheat skillet on med-hi for 5 minutes, salt/pepper meat, sprinkle salt in skillet, three minutes on each side, and you better have a great vent). Exquisite. The meal was finished with chocolate cupcakes.
10. We're going to join a CSA this summer. I can hardly wait for our weekly 3/4 bushel. I think it's going to be a lot of produce for a little family, but the plan is to go mostly-vegetarian during the twenty weeks of the season. (I'd say entirely vegetarian, but for my recent encounter with the perfect rib-eye steak.) There's a bit of sticker shock with CSAs, since you're paying for all your produce up front. But if you divide the cost by the number of weeks and take into consideration that unlike most of what we get now, it's organic, I think it will be worth it.

And now, I'm locking myself in writing jail and throwing away the key. The manuscript is due in less than a month!

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