What’s the motto with you?

In the early, emotional, confusing, chaotic weeks of life with Norah A. Babysaurus, I bought and started reading Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living by Tsh Oxenreider, desperately seeking some way to bring peace and order back to our lives.

Oh, how I laugh at that me.

Because her methodology for simple living is based on living with intention — that is to say, everything you say, do, or add to your home is focused on bringing you closer to a core set of principles and goals — Oxenreider suggests that you develop a family purpose statement that clearly identifies those core values. Makes sense.

So when Keith and I finally had our very first baby-free outing to celebrate our eighth anniversary (eighth!) in July, we used it as an opportunity to talk about what kind of family/life we want to build. After eight years of marriage, Keith and I are completely on the same page when it comes to our core values. Neither of us was surprised that it turned out to be an easy conversation, but I’m glad we took the time to have it. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned after eight years and a baby, it’s that it is better to know absolutely what’s on another person’s mind than it is to make assumptions.

At the end of our discussion, we were left with a hodge-podgey list of adjectives and ideals ready for me (the wordsmith) to condense into a tangible thing.

The concept of a purpose statement was a good first step at tying together our thoughts, feelings, and vision, but we wanted something even shorter and sweeter, something easy to remember, something that could live at the very heart of our home. Something that I could hand letter on canvas board and hang on the wall. Something that I wouldn’t have the urge to revise for style and mechanics every six months.

Something like a motto.

I picked at it on and off for several weeks. And then the Olympics came along and we were obsessed and then I had it! The whole point of having a family motto was to have a few timeless words that would inspire each of us to work toward the ideal that we had envisioned together, like Olympic athletes striving for the gold. Faster, higher, stronger. After a little concentration and creative license with comparatives, our family motto was formed, ready to be inscribed on canvas and prominently displayed — which I finally got around to starting (and finishing) a whole week ago.

Kinder, Curiouser, Creativer

There it is. So what does it mean?

Kinder: We try to cultivate a loving, open, and supportive environment for friends and family. We believe in the power of treating others — people, pets, and planet — as we would choose to be treated.

Curiouser: We encourage self-directed learning and exploration. When we have questions, we search for the answers. Each of us deserves the opportunity to learn for ourselves.

Creativer: We believe that creative thinking and reasoning is as important as analytical thinking and reasoning. We are happiest when we’re free to make, invent, and innovate.

Kinder, curiouser, creativer.

It’s now hanging on our living room wall where we can see it every day: when we leave, when we come home, when we’re editing photos, crocheting, feeding Norah A. Babysaurus, or watching a movie. Ready to guide us to a more peaceful, orderly life.

Before/After: Kitchen Backsplash

In November, I spent a day cleaning and reorganizing some of the kitchen cabinets. It was a very successful project, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. No.

I’m here to talk about what happened while I was reorganizing the kitchen cabinets — rather the Magnificent Creative Vision I had while reorganizing the kitchen cabinets. The Magnificent Creative Vision that got stuck in my mind’s eye and would not disappear, or be pushed aside, or drowned in hot chocolate, although I tried. And that’s how I knew it had to be done.

Before

I’m talking about the kitchen backsplash, which was painted a coppery metallic hue. A lovely, rich coppery metallic hue that glowed warmly in the morning light — but stood blandly against the kitchen cabinets, which Keith will not ever let me paint or otherwise permanently alter, never, ever, ever. I’d known for quite some time that the copper had to change. It’s always just been a matter of what would be better than a beautiful coppery metallic paint that looks terrible with the kitchen cabinetry chosen by the previous owner.

Then, it hit me so hard that I had to run straight to the Internet to make sure I wasn’t totally insane. When the house speaks, I obey.

After

Chalkboard paint! It’s perfect. And I’m still excited about it. In case you couldn’t tell.

I love that we can doodle festive holiday decorations, write messages, draw a graphic pattern, or keep it crisp and black, all on a whim. And I have a lot of whims, which makes chalkboard paint the perfect solution. (Plus, the black just looks SO much better, don’t you think?) It’s hard not to add a chalkboard wall to every room.

Sink - Before & After

Have you ever done a project that just seems so perfect, so right when it’s finished that you can’t believe you hadn’t thought of it before?

How Tuesday! Entertaining those pain-in-the-butt dinner guests who are allergic to everything.

Sometimes food is scary

Hi! It’s me again, pretending to write regularly. This week, I want to talk to you about those people: the ones with food allergies and intolerances, or “special dietary needs,” who inevitably end up on your guest list because they’re someone’s plus-one or happen to be inconveniently related to you by blood, and are out to ruin all of your careful holiday menu plans with their pitiful cries of “I can’t eat this,” or “I can’t eat that,” and warnings of severe gastrointestinal distress and/or anaphylactic shock.

Maybe you’ve noticed that they’ve been popping up all over the place lately, attempting to infiltrate dinner parties everywhere and ruin the cooking experience for all of us normal people who can eat whatever the heck we want.

In fact, I ended up marrying one of those people, which really throws a wrench into things. And then there’s the possibility that I produced another one: she came home from daycare a few weeks ago with most of her face, neck, and hands red and inflamed after eating bananas earlier in the day. This cousin can’t have tree nuts, strawberries, or eggs. That friend can’t have dairy or apples. Auntie can’t have gluten. Et cetera. So I consider myself to be something of an expert on the matter.

Fear not, friends. I can say from experience that these people aren’t trying to add to your holiday stress load; they just don’t want to make you feel bad by dying at your dinner table. And with a little bit of planning and a lot of communication, accommodating guests with special dietary needs can actually be a great experience for everyone.

The Sunday Severed Strawberry Massacre

Ask up front.
Some people will let you know about their allergies right away. Others are more reluctant. So check with your guests well before the big day. How? When I don’t know about a guest’s diet, I’ll call or e-mail to say something like, “I’m really looking forward to seeing you next Saturday! Oh, and just so I can make sure everyone can enjoy dinner, I wanted to double check with you about whether [Guest in Question] has any dietary restrictions or allergies that I should know about.”

Please note: It’s easy, when faced with a list of allergies — common or uncommon — to blurt out something along the lines of, “Well, what can you eat?!” He or she has heard this dozens of times, and it falls into that category of fairly tactless things to say, right next to asking, “How much longer NOW?” of a pregnant woman at the end of her third trimester. Try to remember that he or she feels worse about the whole thing than you do.

Get details.
When you have a confirmed case of Special Dietary Needs among your guests, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as it takes for you to understand how to accommodate them. You’ll probably need to ask questions such as,

  • What foods or ingredients do you avoid?
  • What kinds of foods or ingredients do you normally use instead?
  • I was planning to make [Delicious Menu Item]. Does that sound safe?

Avoid cross-contamination.
Just because one guest is allergic to dairy doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to completely strike dairy products from your menu. (But check. Sometimes allergies really are that severe.) Just keep from contaminating “safe” food with “unsafe” ingredients by following basic cross-contamination avoidance practices: Wash your hands. Keep knives, utensils, cutting boards, and other cooking implements separate.

Nom nom nom

Keep ingredient lists.
You don’t have to divulge every recipe, but keep a list of the ingredients you use for each dish. When you’re using premade items (sauces, condiments, pasta, bread, butter/margarine, etc.) — basically anything that has been packaged or processed in some way — save the labels with their ingredient lists, even if it looks okay to you. Sometimes allergens are hidden under foreign-sounding terms. And sometimes things that sound dangerous are really okay. Giving your guest the opportunity to read the labels for him or herself is a really thoughtful way to offer peace of mind about what he or she is about to eat. It also avoids that slightly awkward but polite as possible moment where he or she declines to eat the food you’ve worked so hard on, because hunger is better than the hospital. 

A batch of heart cookies

Relax, slow down, and think clearly.
It’s cooking, not brain surgery. You may not be used to it, but allergies and other food needs aren’t really that hard to deal with, as long as you know what your guests’ needs are and have ample time to plan for how to accommodate them. You might have to change the way you do things, and it might take longer than normal as a result. But you’ll learn a lot, too.

The fact is this: eating away from home can be a worrisome experience for some people. And because the world just doesn’t quite get it yet, it’s easy to feel like the odd man out, like an enormous culinary burden. So trust me when I say that it’s a proud feeling of accomplishment to watch one (or two, or three!) of those people sit at your table and smile and laugh and stuff themselves silly, and totally worth the effort. Sometimes, as it turns out, food really is love.