Thursday, November 27, 2014

With Thanksgiving!

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him 
and praise his name."

Psalm 100:4

Whole psalm with nature photos:

Our family celebration in photos:
Happy Thanksgiving from My Home to Yours!

Grace and peace,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

My Cottage Dreams (Why Not Now?)

Dear friends,

I have cottage dreams. There. I've said in public what I've been thinking in private and sharing with a few friends for quite some time: I want to live in a cozy little cottage some day.

It started several months ago with a vintage Emilie Loring novel, Where Beauty Dwells, that I brought home from my mother's house after she passed away last year. The main character is a young woman named Diane who lives in a New England cottage she inherited from her parents. The family had been wealthy but lost their fortune, and this is all Diane and her handicapped sister Merry have left after their parents' death. She's not only guarding this precious legacy with her life, but she's making the most of it with creative beauty and order while caring for her sister. 

Ever since I read Where Beauty Dwells, the country cottage life has appealed to me. Now I love to browse through magazines like Cottage Style and books like Karla Dornacher's Love in Every Room: The Heartbeat of the Home.

I've got my reasons for this fascination.

My house now
First, maybe it's because I live in a suburban ranch style home with the younger six of my 10 children, most of whom tend to be a bit messy. I am an aesthetic at heart, a very visual mama, but I tend to tolerate too much clutter. I get overwhelmed trying to get them to clean up after themselves, so I give up. My mantra is, "I will not curate your clutter," but I still do keep either trying to ignore it or shuffling their stuff around. I've always been a bit messy myself. I know that seems like a contradiction to my love for beauty, but that's my life. It didn't help that I spent the better part of 20 years either pregnant, nursing a baby, or both - and my homemaking habits suffered for it. Well, my youngest is nine already, and I don't have that excuse anymore. 

Now I may still have several years before I'm an empty nester and I do love all of my children dearly, but I keep telling myself, "Hang on, sweetie. Someday you'll be able to set something down and expect it to still be there when you come back, and you'll be able to clean a room and have it stay that way." I have visions of a tidy little cottage with everything in order. If it's small, maybe that means it will be more manageable for me and that I'll be more selective in my collection of stuff. Even now, when I'm thinking of buying something for the house, if I don't absolutely need it right now for raising my kids, it has to pass this simple test: "Will this fit in at my dream cottage?" Maybe I'll be able to focus more and live in sweet simplicity. Practically speaking, less space would also mean less money on utilities, property taxes, etc. Yes, a pretty little cottage would do quite nicely, I believe.

Another reason that cottage life appeals to me is that it seems so quaint and wholesome. I'm a bit nostalgic, and I love my inherited antiques and other vintage pretties like quilts, china, books, and lace doilies. I associate those more with cottages than my own house for some reason. I love flowers and trees, butterflies, and birds, so my cottage will need a sweet little garden with a white picket fence and just the right mix of sunlight and shade. I can see myself as an old lady, merrily puttering around, tending this and that, cutting fresh blossoms for the table, and sitting down for a cup of hot chocolate with family or friends.

The third appeal of cottage life is just the cozy factor. A cottage is small and intimate. I like quiet. I don't mind being in an enclosed space all by myself so I can either rewind or concentrate. I love the pretty rose colored rocker recliner in my bedroom, which I bought at Salvation Army. It's right next to my bookcases and my desk. I'm glad I have a lock on the door for when I want solitude or I have work to do. Yes, I do love people, too. I love hospitality. I love to teach and do public speaking. I can easily work a crowd of strangers. So I'm not shy. I just need to be by myself to recharge every day. Maybe that's a function of being a mother of 10? I think of the serenity of a cottage lifestyle. I like that.
So that's my cottage dream, but I don't want to wait 10 or 15 years until my last child moves out. I must think of ways I can weave the threads of my dreams into my life right now. It doesn't require owning a real country cottage. I can take the three reasons above and live out their essence in my current suburban ranch style home.

Let's take a look at them.

Tidy: I decided a couple of weeks ago that I can't count on my kids to keep the house as clean as I want it, even if they consistently do the chores on my chart. My youngest daughter loves to tidy up the public areas without being asked, but other than that, I can't wait on them to take the initiative. Even if they did, there are certain things I like to organize my own way. If it's gonna happen, I've got to make it so. I divvied up the main public rooms in the house as well as the master bedroom, put them in alphabetical order (bathroom, computer room, dining room, kitchen, living room, master bedroom - which by coincidence are the easily remembered initial sequences of BCD-KLM.) So each day, I go to that room and start organizing or deep cleaning. I may not get everything done, but at least attempt one chunk of it, like sorting the DVD shelf or spot cleaning the floor. I also try to make sure the kitchen is in halfway decent order every night - wiping down the counters, making sure all the food is put away, etc. I'm hoping I can keep up this momentum and resolve, because living in a tidy home is good for all of us right now, not just me in the future.

Pretty: I already have a lot of lovely things around the house, and for variety, I decorate for the seasons of autumn, Christmas, and spring/summer

The key to beauty, though, is keeping the house tidy (see above) and the garden weeded so I can truly appreciate the pretty stuff without the visual detraction of mess. I don't have to hold onto things that I don't love to look at or that don't serve a practical purposes. Big plastic bins are great for storing stuff out of sight, but in the more decorative areas of the home, I prefer beautiful baskets. They definitely fit my ideal cottage style.

One of mom's gardens
Outside, I try to keep my flower garden in good shape, not only because it brings me joy when I walk out my door, but also in honor of my mother, who was quite the green thumb. I always like to have a decorative flag outside, too, and fortunately I inherited a lot of them from her.

Cozy and Quiet: Our moderately large house is a given right now. We don't live in a mansion, but when our tenth child was born, we converted our garage into permanent living space, including a large fifth bedroom. With six kids still here, it's not feasible to downsize our living space just yet. 

However, the master bedroom can be the privacy-loving prototype of my cozy dream cottage. There I can surround myself with the things I lovethat are just mine: quilts, a needlepoint pillow, books, paintings, vintage photos, my own nature photography, stained glass, silk flower arrangements, crafts my kids have made, my desk with the wooden hutch, and my beloved computer. I can be more vigilant keeping my own space just the way I want it - especially if I can convince the kids to stop leaving their stuff in my territory. My bedroom can be my cozy and quiet "cottage" retreat for now.

So there we have it. Cottage dreams meet present reality.

What are you dreaming for the future?
What can you do now to make it happen?

Love in Every Home by Karla Dornacher

P.S. #1: I've been meaning to write this post for a while, but I've just been enjoying my friend Amber's dreamy Facebook thread which started with a photo of a gorgeous ivy covered cottage. I pulled up a treasure trove of cottage photos on Google Images. Give it a try. But you may want to be sure you have some time on your hands to get lost in Cottage Land.  The photo at the top of this post is of a cottage at Hedgebrook, a retreat near Seattle for women who are writers. That's another dream, attending a writer's retreat in a place of beautiful solitude, but that'll have to wait until the kids are grown and gone, if I even have any travel money left by then!

P.S. #2: Related posts you might enjoy:

Beauty and Order at Home:

Room by room:

P.S. #3: Oh, it's well past midnight, and I've got to get my house ready for about 20 people coming for Thanksgiving in 36 hours! I guess I'm glad I don't have a cottage right now.

Love to you all!
Virginia Knowles

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Resilience (Big Words)


That's what my 17 year old son called me the other day, and I told him I had to be that way with 10 children.  Some of my kids are grown and gone, but I still have six at home, including three teens. Oy! I don't always pull off resilience, but I certainly try. I appreciated his kind words of affirmation.

I was thinking of that in the morning when I woke up to the news that one of our toilets was overflowing. "I. Am. Resilient."

What is resilience? One definition for this context is: 
"the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties."

Can you bounce back or roll with the punch?

Can you adapt to changing circumstances and still thrive?

Can you solve problems with confidence?

Can you be tender, yet tough?

Can you withstand opposition with grace?

Can you stick with a necessary task when you find it's more complicated or "impossible" than you expected?

Can you cope with stress in healthy, positive ways?

Can you remain hopeful and overcome a sense of despair?

Can you learn from your hard experiences so you'll function better the next time you face something else?

That's resilience!

Not there yet?

You can learn. You can practice. I assure you that life will grant you plenty of opportunities if you are alert enough to recognize them.

You can be proactive and educate yourself on brainstorming, problem solving, stress management, communication skills, practical life skills, assertiveness, and more.

I have a long way to go. I want to get better. That's one way that This Mom Grows Up.

Check out these very helpful and practical links:

A little musical soundtrack for this? I love this song: "Thrive" by Casting Crowns  - "It's time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive."

About the photos: 

The picture at the top of this post is of a 89 foot tall bald cypress tree called "Lady Liberty" which has been growing at Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida for around 2,000 years. Impressed by the size and age? It's 3,500 year old companion tree, The Senator, pictured below in 2008, grew to a height of 160 feet tall before a hurricane in the 1920s reduced it to 126 feet. Sadly, arson destroyed the tree in 2012, and now only its charred shell remains. Still, that's quite some resilience to survive that long through storm and flood and all the other challenges it faced. Not only that, a few select artists were commissioned to salvage the wood and create a legacy. I've seen some of these masterpieces at art shows. Check out this FB page: A Matter of Woodwork. Beauty from the ashes!

This post is the 5th in my Big Words series. The others are:

See also: Treasures in Jars of Clay

Grace and peace,
and resilience, of course!

Virginia Knowles

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Plimoth Thanksgiving Party

Today, my little girl and I
attended a Plimoth Thanksgiving Feast
at the home of Kelly
for the home school group 
that we joined this year.

Making a Thanksgiving tree

One of my little girl's leaves

Trying out a quill pen

Our hostess, Kelly, 
loves Jesus and the Bible.
She wanted to share with the children
the story of the pilgrims of Plimoth
(also spelled Plymouth)
and the first Thanksgiving,
with an emphasis on
their devotion to God.

Telling the pilgrim story 

Reading Psalm 100 from
the Geneva Bible,
the translation the pilgrims used

Beautifully decorated home!

It doesn't take a fancy house to be beautiful!
I was immediately drawn to the coziness
and the artful placement of pretty and poignant decor.

I love the fact that Kelly uses her home
to encourage and bless others.
Such sweet hospitality 
really touched my heart.

It made me want to go home
and make my house just as homey.
And she inspired my faith.

Then there was the food!

These side dishes were scrumptious!
I made mashed potatoes from scratch.

Such cute turkeys!
Too bad I couldn't eat one since I don't eat sugar!
(I did have a bite of healthy pumpkin pie
sweetened with local honey.)

I'm still sort of new in the group,
but I love how these ladies have
welcomed me into their hearts.
Two of them took the time
to talk and pray with me today.

Kelly also shared a lot of 
helpful health and nutrition
information with me.
So thoughtful!


Tira and Aracelis


When I first arrived,
I noticed feathers all over the yard.
I wondered if they were for some sort
of Thanksgiving activity.

No, they weren't!
They are from the same birds 
as these eggs.

Have you guessed yet?
These are neck feathers.

Apparently, about 100 peacocks
live in this neighborhood.
Dozens of them roost in 
my friend's tree at night.
Imagine that!

Up on the roof!

We saw this male at another house
on the way out of the neighborhood.

I even brought 
a handful of feathers home.

I am very thankful that we went today.
I feel so blessed and refreshed.

Virginia Knowles

Friday, November 7, 2014

"The Golden Hour" by Joanna Knowles

“The Golden Hour”
An essay by Joanna Knowles

“Once upon a once a time, Max and Liz went to the grocery store and they covered themselves in salami and Swiss cheese, over their eyes and their belly buttons and…”

I felt the hot breath of my three little brothers pressed in close, trying to ignore the faint musky scent of their carpet and the solitary Lego poking into the small of my back. I was big sister, and I was silly distraction from various arguments one or two walls over. I spun a new Max and Liz story on many a night, for many months. My homework papers lay untouched for this sacred half hour or so, and in this golden window I was myself - not judged, but adored. They hung onto my words and giggled hysterically, scrunching further into their long stretchy t-shirts and rolling around on the carpet. The faint outline of their teeth glowed by night-light. I prided myself on my creativity, my fluid ability to speak directly from my imagination. I found identity in those moments. I felt a fierce loyalty to those little gremlins. 

I don’t know exactly what happened, or maybe it was dozens of little happenings when I noticed what normal 13-year-old girls did on their evenings. They giggled around lava lamps and played truth or dare, talking about crushes and periods and pimple remedies. I never got pimples and I didn’t know how to talk to boys other than my brothers, but I figured I should. And I started slowly learning the ways of normalcy, or rather, mass-enacted boredom.  

I found my mind going other directions, as I would half-heartedly settle into my storytelling position and merely say, “Once upon a once a time… the end.” And I would shrug my shoulders, saying, “I got nothing.” The boys would pester me, prod me, and even make up their own first sentence, looking expectantly at me to pick up where their words trailed off. I felt frustrated at myself, but I figured that the more distant I was from my silly imagination, the closer I was to being normal, to being cool, to being the new version of myself.

I then found myself making excuses about why I couldn’t tell any more stories. I feigned headaches and busyness. I watched the sparkle in my brothers’ eyes dim and their shoulders fall as they slipped into their bedroom by themselves.  

I didn’t simply lose my ability to tell a story; I temporarily lost my ability to be a part of a Story. I was a main character in these three boys’ lives and then I stepped off the stage. I drew the curtain too soon. I let the opinions of invisible and insignificant critics be my guide as I stepped into what I thought I should be, only to find deep disconnection within the increasingly frenetic search for outside approval. I grew to yearn for those magical nights, when my long hair fanned out on the carpet and I stared at the ceiling, continuing the adventures of Max and Liz and hearing my brothers inhale and exhale in three different rhythms. In my mind, I can still hear their choruses of “Tell another story, just one more, please!” and I know that there had to have been a last night when I obliged, even if I can’t pinpoint that night in my mind.

“Hey, Joanna, remember when you told us Max and Liz stories every night?” my now 17-year-old, six-foot tall brother asked me recently. 

“Yeah, yeah I do,” I said wistfully.


Joanna, my fourth daughter, is 21 years old. A senior at UCF majoring in Interpersonal Communications, she also works in the research library at a major technology corporation and as a Disney World photographer.

Moms, our children do grow up. I treasure the memories in our family, but I realize I'm not responsible for all of them. That's a good thing!

(It should be noted that I originally made up the Max and Liz characters and used them in a Bible based "Alpha Virtues" curriculum I made up for my kids. You can find the song I wrote for it here: "Alpha Virtues Song". I still think Joanna's stories were more fun than mine.)

Virginia Knowles