Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Kids' Book Club: Heidi

Towards the beginning of this school year {this school year!  oh yes!  we are homeschooling and I've been meaning to post something here for posterity about it for months now but haven't done so!} my friend Jackie spearheaded putting together a children's literature club which has turned into a tremendous success already and has been such fun for kids and parents alike.  Jackie hosted the first two meetings, for which we read first The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald and then The King of the Golden River by John Ruskin.  

We had offered to host this month's meeting, and the book was Heidi, which is a great favorite of Nell's already.  She had been eagerly anticipating this day for several weeks now. I think about nine families participated this time in reading Heidi by Johanna Spyri and coming to today's book club meeting.  So many people brought a little something to add to the festivities and altogether we had quite a luncheon spread followed by some fun activities.  

First, the girls wanted to dress for the occasion.  We are tremendously lucky to already have in our possession two beautiful dirndls that fit them nicely and seemed eminently appropriate for the occasion.  These were a thoughtful gift from a woman who knows my love of vintage and classic girls' clothing; they used to be her girls' dresses and my girls are quite lucky to be their new owners.  Molly's little dress was a thrift store find from years ago which seemed to fit the occasion.  And Ree's hat, made in Switzerland, was another thrift store find from some time ago.

And they were not the only ones in costume -- quite a few other Heidis soon arrived, as well as several Peters, a Brigida (Peter's mother), a baby goat, and even the dreaded Miss Rottenmeier!  

I put on a youtube playlist of Alpine music with accordions and yodeling -- it is perhaps a little-known fact about me that I have a disturbing obsession with yodeling, so this was sort of a highlight of the experience for me.  Any excuse to listen to yodeling!  

If you've read Heidi, you know that the main meals consist of bread, and cheese, and goat's milk, and more cheese, and more goat's milk, and more bread.  So naturally, we needed to have these things in abundance.

I baked some fresh loaves of sourdough bread.

{And then Rebekah brought some of hers too, so there was plenty to go around!}

And thanks to Trader Joe's, we had a variety of cheeses in abundance.  I looked for raclette but failing to find it went with a Swiss gruyere, a goat's milk gouda, and a raw goat's milk cheddar.  {The gouda even had this cute rind!}

We sliced up sourdough and topped it with cheese slices and broiled them like an open-faced grilled cheese of sorts.  I was inspired by Heidi's grandfather toasting cheese over an open fire on a fork and then spreading it on bread.  I figured with 24 small children in the house we'd do well to avoid open flames but a bit of broiled melty cheese on bread could lend a similar experience.

A couple of families brought delicious salamis to add to the spread, and we had dried apricots and fresh clementines and fresh strawberries, too, which didn't make it into the picture but were quickly devoured.  Did I mention there were {if I recall correctly} 24 children here?  Did you know that 24 children can pack away a lot of food at an unbelievably fast pace?  Another mom brought Swedish sweet rolls with raisins in them as well -- delicious!  And yet another brought goat's milk for all the children to try.  

Kerrie brought a butter churn and cream and the kids went to work on that -- I only got a very blurry picture but a good time was had.

Quite a few of the kids did illustrations of their own to bring and share, and we went around and shared some of our favorite moments from the story.

Christina brought a little hymn to sing all together, in keeping with Peter's grandmother's beloved hymn book and with the theme of flocks {of goats}!

Charity brought a bouquet of flowers so the children could "pick" a wildflower {despite it being January} and take it home with them.  Some of the little girls tucked them straight into their braids today, and my girls put theirs into a glass of water on my kitchen windowsill. 

And finally, although Heidi doesn't make mention of any chocolate even in the "glittering cage" of her time in Frankfurt, it seemed fitting to hand out bits of Swiss chocolate as the book club gathering drew to a close.  

What a fun gathering it was.  I thought of the grandmother's hymn, with a verse that reads:

God's handiwork
Is seen around,
Things great and small
To His praise abound-
Where are the signs of His love not found?

And indeed, in this little gathering of friends with a shared love for a good book, there was many a sign in the things great and small we enjoyed together.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Dreams of a Kitchen Renovation

The other day I found myself with an exceptionally rare late afternoon entirely to myself, as Nathan took the kids on an extensive errand -- his method of compensating for outings ranging from the bizarre to the ridiculous is, naturally, to offer to take the children with him for a nice "outing" with Daddy.  And of course, it works.  Not only because what child doesn't want to drive over an hour so that Daddy can acquire for himself a new power tool he found on Craigslist for a mere song, but moreso, because what mother doesn't relish the idea of curling up on her couch with a soft blanket by the light of the Christmas tree to the blissful sound of silence?

I told Nathan I'd either use the time to look at ideas for a kitchen remodel, or to clean our master bedroom.  He admonished me to most definitely sit on the couch and look at kitchen ideas on my laptop, and so I did so out of a sense of duty.

We are tossing around the idea, rather seriously actually, of re-doing our kitchen during the coming year.


Because my formica countertops are peeling and cracking, my recently re-caulked old drop-in sink is already black around the edges and gross again, the faux brick on the walls is chipping off {and was ugly to begin with}, the windowsill above the sink needs to be repainted yet again at the very least, the footprint is all wrong for a family that cooks and bakes as much as we do, and also, why not?  We like nice things.  As it turns out, we like things far nicer than we deserve to like or can afford to like, but so it goes.  We can also be quite happy with less-than-nice things if necessary.


What would you expect of a musician employed by a church married to another musician?  Over-the-top-wealth is what you get.  Okay, that was a joke, but we do think if we finagle things just right we could manage to renovate our kitchen sooner rather than later, and thus have more years ahead of us to enjoy it with our children rather than waiting until everyone is grown and gone and we are sad and lonely // calm and happy {depending how that all plays out}.


Soon.  But not too soon.  Not before we have a plan in place.  Because whereas Nathan thrives on mental planning ahead without actually putting things into place too much, I think I would thrive if the kitchen didn't turn into a two-year project that involved myself cooking over a camping stove for that length of time.  {Two-year project?!  I'm looking at you, downstairs bathroom.}

So, when?

Oh, yeah, we should finish the downstairs bathroom first.  So, soon, but not too soon, but after we finish the bathroom.

What will it look like?

I mean, it will probably look pretty much like this:

Image result for officine gullo

Ha.  Ha.  Okay, that was a joke because we aren't independently wealthy.

Anyway, here's where it gets tricky.

Too much large stainless steel in a small-ish space just sort of looks grim to me.  And/or industrial rather than home-y.  But have you noticed it's hard to find alternatives in a reasonable price range?  Black?  No thank you.  White?  Well, maybe.  Some white I like.  But don't try to narrow it down by going to look at appliances in person, because they only have stainless steel options in showrooms.  Very un-helpful, if you ask me.

Now, if you know us at all you know that Nathan and I love nothing more than to marinate in ideas of perfection and then allow ourselves to sink slowly into a depressive state of misery when we cannot achieve said perfection.  I mean, we don't actually love it but it does appear to be our calling card.  We like nicer things than we can afford, I guess.  We have good taste?  But a bank account considerably smaller than our taste.  It's not even that we like extravagant things or McMansions {we don't}; it's just that we like classic things and enduring things and beautiful things over say, formica and pre-fabbed things that all look the same and IKEA {but nothing against IKEA; we actually love IKEA in the right time and place}.

But in all seriousness--

I am really excited about this whole process.  And while it probably looks easy enough to find some images of perfection, and sit around looking at pretty pictures while waiting for Nathan to do the work, this is only partly true.

Did you know it's weirdly hard to find pictures of beautifully-simple-yet-fancy-and-perfect kitchens that strike the perfect balance of all things good, true, and beautiful in my convoluted mind?  If you do a google image search for "the fanciest kitchen in the world," you have to scroll for a shockingly long time before you find a single image that is even remotely acceptable.  Modify the search to "the nicest kitchen in the world" and the results are similarly disappointing.  If you try "the most perfect kitchen in the world" you will at least get some decent results within the first page.  Like, one or two decent ones.  I can only conclude that Google has poor taste, or the entire world does, except for myself and Nathan.

So, in the process of dreaming about redesigning your kitchen, here's a little step-by-step tutorial from a pro interior designer possibly insane individual:

ONE) The very first thing you must do is to read John Ruskin's The Seven Lamps of Architecture.  It's available online for free, so you have no excuse not to read it.  It is unparalleled.  Well, actually, I haven't finished it yet.  It's a slow read.  But read this paragraph {regarding the building of churches} and tell me you don't want to go read it all!  Marinate in it!
I have said for every town: I do not want a marble[Pg 25] church for every village; nay, I do not want marble churches at all for their own sake, but for the sake of the spirit that would build them. The church has no need of any visible splendors; her power is independent of them, her purity is in some degree opposed to them. The simplicity of a pastoral sanctuary is lovelier than the majesty of an urban temple; and it may be more than questioned whether, to the people, such majesty has ever been the source of any increase of effective piety; but to the builders it has been, and must ever be. It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice; not the emotion of admiration, but the act of adoration: not the gift, but the giving. 
TWO) The very next thing to do, after giving considerably towards the building of a church you love, is to use what is left over to build a kitchen that looks like this.  Here I will share two pictures that sum up my long-time dream kitchen of all time, which I have drooled over for literally years. Somewhere between these two pictures lies perfection incarnate, probably.

Planning our DIY kitchen remodel… here is the explanation of how we chose cabinets; I wanted custom, inset cabinets! But we are choosing overlay, semi custom.

Martha Stewart Living editor in chief Pilar Guzman; her husband, Chris Mitchell; and their two boys, Willem and Henry, gather in the kitchen of their Brooklyn brownstone. "We spend about 80 percent of our time here," Pilar says. The couple retrofitted the room, which was originally a formal parlor, as a kitchen; former closets house appliances and dishes, and a marble-top island was built by designer Tyler Hays.

THREE) The next thing you must do is to look at other beautiful possibilities until your eyes nearly glaze over.  For example, while the above kitchens are the perfect kitchens, also acceptable in lieu of the open shelving in the first picture would be something like this:

Or this:

Luigi Fragola Architects:  S. Monaca townhouse, Florence, Italy

Nathan, can you photo-shop the above images together and then build me a kitchen that looks like that?  Yes?  Thank you.

It is also very important that it contain some element of this timeless beauty, this utmost perfection:

Inspiration for our old-house, DIY kitchen remodel… I love the idea of using salvaged or repurposed materials in place of a traditional kitchen cabinets.

I can find very few objections to this:

light blue kitchen cabinets, black countertop, tile floor, brass flush fixtures + range

While we're at it, I would like one of these:

And something kind of like this.
Image result for antique butler's pantry

Basically, I told Nathan, I've been wanting you to buy me The Crane Estate and you haven't done it, but this is your chance for redemption.  As long as I can have all the things in this theoretically renovated kitchen, with ample space for sourdough bread baking and kombucha fizzing and doing all the other things Nathan hates {like making food that contains vegetables}, I will be happy, no purchase of the entire Crane Estate necessary.  I would, however, like library ladders that slide along the walls and lead to my highest cabinets.  Our kitchen ceilings are only about eight feet tall, but never mind that, because maybe we can just borrow the space from the second floor bathroom, and like, raise the floor a little higher.  Or drop the kitchen floor lower and lower the basement ceiling.  I'm flexible with the options like that.

I'm flexible on the details, like I said.  But I definitively must have a butler's pantry.  

Don't you have a butler pining for a pantry?  {We don't yet, but I'm planning to get one when we remodel the kitchen.}

Yes, I realize that my taste for the finer things far exceeds our station in life, and I'm more likely to BE the butler than to have one.  Nevertheless, this knowledge does little to curtail my enthusiasm for all things beautiful and kitchen-related.  What can I say? Coastal elitism.  It's a thing, and it appears to have seeped into my veins after living in New England for over a decade.

FOUR) Eventually you will have to un-glaze your eyes and begin to consider the practical, nitty-gritty stuff like appliances.

I will now confess that I have an appliance problem.   But {don't hate me} I think most appliances are ugly.  And as Victoria Elizabeth Barnes would say, "Bring me fancy or get out!"  I know -- most people have appliances.  So by saying that I find them unattractive I am likely offending approximately 100% of the people I know.  But there you have it.  I do not love the look of most of them.  And while I understand that their primary function isn't to be looked at, I also find it hard to cook with my eyes closed.

As standard appliances go, I have so far found one option that could be a possibility in terms of aesthetic.  They are highly reviewed for function, too!  These are the GE Cafe line of appliances, which offers various styles of slide in ranges, standalone ranges, and even a wall oven that opens with french doors!  You get to customize your trim metal, which of course is everything.

Cafe 36 Inch Freestanding Gas Range Matte White CGY366P4MW2

GE Cafe 30" Built-In Double Convection Wall Oven with Top French Door in Matte White and Brushed Bronze Handles

Now, if you have a small fortune lying around, the thing to do is to go immediately and acquire one of these ranges:

Image result for lacanche range

Oh my. Copper pots and white Lacanche range .

Why are you still here reading this blog?  Go get a Lacanche range already!  These thing are beauties and in my opinion it's just undeniable that I should have one.  I would sacrifice buying groceries for a year to justify the cost.  I would consider selling a kidney on the black market.  I would love it and cherish it and design my whole kitchen around it as a thing of beauty.

The other main appliance to be considered is, of course, the refrigerator.  I asked Nathan if we could just keep ours in the basement, and he laughed at me.  I asked him if he could build me a pantry-like cabinet to put it inside, and he laughed at me again.  "You mean like a panel-front refrigerator?" he asked.  "No, because those look weird and imposing and slightly awkward sometimes.  It needs to be better than that."  At which point he immediately promised to procure for me a panel-front or integrated refrigerator and then make sure it was not ugly or awkward looking.  Yay!  Victoria Elizabeth Barnes, of course, has some good ideas.

This could work:

As could this:

Custom panels help this built-in refrigerator melt into the surrounding all-white kitchen.

And this!  This! I mean, I'm assuming one of those is a fridge but it's anybody's guess.  All of them fridges for a very large family?  A fridge beside a pantry?  Who knows?  Either way, they look like cabinets instead of mortuary coolers so I'm willing to consider it.
Amy Zantziger's #farmhouse kitchen.  When the refrigerator and the cookbook cabinet doors are closed, the room appears elegant and uncluttered.

FIVE) Track down other tidbits of finery:

Have you seen the Rev-a-Shelf website?  There is a bread drawer option.  Need I say more?

...And without too much effort you can go way down that rabbit hole.

For example: We should obviously have a hot water tap to eliminate the need to ever boil water again.  And maybe a filtered drinking water faucet water beside the main kitchen tap.

And furthermore: Not even optional but absolutely required is an ice machine that makes that soft kind of nugget-sized ice because I love it more than anything, so much so that I periodically consider getting myself hospitalized so that I can have cupfuls of it because that's the main place I know of that has it - the hospital.  But what if I could have it in my own kitchen?  Then I wouldn't need to be hospitalized.  Problem solved!

Also!  We could turn an antique piece of furniture into a kitchen island for some historic charm in this old house of ours {but naturally topped with a reclaimed marble slab for all my makings of pie crusts and quiche crusts and other necessities}.

Love all of these unique kitchen island ideas including this antique chest of drawers!

SIX) Try to agree on at least one element so you have a valid starting point that lies somewhere within the realm of reality. Nathan thinks that 50% of what I say {at a minimum} lies within the realm of the ridiculous, but we have both agreed for several years now that when and if we redo the kitchen, we would love to do soapstone for the counters!  

Honed Virginia Jet Mist Granite.  The look of soapstone but not the maintenance or price

The cabinets are still undecided - white or maybe a light blue or gray?  But we have a starting point of agreement.

Except that as of yesterday Nathan is thinking about scrapping the whole project, selling the house, and buying a fixer upper of incomparable proportions (both in terms of current dismal-ness and future potential).  So instead of doing a kitchen renovation we could dream of renovating a{nother} entire house, while living in a ... tent?  The details of the hare-brained scheme are fuzzy at this point.  

In conclusion:

Nell was listening to me blather on about kitchens the other day, and this conversation transpired--

Nell: Mama, wouldn't you like to have a kitchen with a marble countertop?
Me: Yes, I suppose I would.
Nell: Well then you shall have one for Christmas!
Me: This Christmas, or next Christmas?
Nell: Well, probably next Christmas.  Because it's going to take some time.

Okay, then!  If time is all it takes, I've got time!

* * *

Want to live vicariously through me as I live vicariously through others?  Check out my pinterest board on kitchens!  And check out my other kitchen pinterest board here, where I specifically saved some things pertaining to the particular vintage of our 1917 house.  This is also a good way to track down all these image sources, since clearly I've been way too lazy to link them for you -- but most of them are on my pinterest somewhere!  If not, you can do a reverse image search and then pat yourself on the back for being less lazy than I am.