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Taking techie breaks for old-fashioned domesticity

Marianna Bartholomew

Photo by Daniel Bartholomew

How to balance high-tech living and a contemplative spirit amidst modern family life?

Here's a project from last week that instilled a little bliss and peace into my otherwise crazy schedule. I decided to stop fighting my overflow of beloved cookbooks, take them out of the jammed cupboard and display them, covered decoratively so their dogeared covers wouldn't be an eyesore. That way, this collection I treasure is available, ready to use and even adds a style element to the room.

I've been too busy for crafts lately. But the idea of a sanity break, doing something out of the ordinary and just for pleasure, and something uplifting to the whole family, appealed. My Grandmother might have done a similar project, back when scraps of material and paper were salvaged, treasured, and turned into something useful and attractive.

I remember stories of Grandma saving and ironing old gift wrap to reuse. I still have some of her gift tags, cut with decorative scissors from greeting cards she received. People during WWII learned to be the ultimate recyclers. My family inherited a footstool Grandma had made out of quart-sized tomato juice cans covered with fabric. As a newlywed, I reupholstered the "hassock" and presented it to my Mom. It's a surprisingly classy-looking stool, and you would never guess its humble origins.

But it's been awhile since I've stepped away from the daily grind, let the world spin on without me for a bit, and did something crafty and home-beautifying.
We have a galley kitchen in a 1950's ranch-style house. I love cooking and baking, which makes for  too many fun gadgets for the space (like the grain grinder on the middle shelf above and my bean crock on the lower) -- plus a food processor, blender, a juicer, myriads of baking tins and stoneware, etc!

To call the area cozy is being polite. I frequently pray for organization in our home. Grandma and Grandpa (God rest their souls) managed tidily with nine people sharing a two bedroom Chicago bungalow, back when front porches turned into sleeping chambers through sultry summers. In comparison, it seems ridiculous to admit that three children, aged pre-teen and up, and two adults, in a three-bedroom home, feels like a tight fit.

However, a new floor plan and way of using that kitchen space came to me so strongly the other day, it felt like a Holy Spirit moment and an answer to my organization prayers. I jettisoned an extra piece of furniture out of the kitchen, leading to a grand reorganizing: a drop-leaf table dragged before the shelves, and a coffee and toast center set up on a squat, vintage dresser nearby. On a day jammed with way too many other things to do, I cleared my mind of worries, donned an apron and reveled in domesticity for a while. My cluttered, unappealing shelves, suddenly bore a new, cheerful aspect. The minuscule table usually used in the corner for overflow produce and miscellany (we usually eat in the dining room), took center stage and became usable, even offering an alluring snack and reading nook.

No sooner had I taken out a couple of old wallpaper sample books to find some good scraps for covers to complete the effect, when my 17-year-old daughter perked up, and sat cross-legged nearby to work out some great calligraphy and art.

We all love the result. Over the weekend, we found ourselves gathering in the kitchen over coffee in a space that finally works well for that purpose -- making even a galley kitchen the "heart of the home."

I'll think of my girl and that shared time being creative, every time I grab a cookbook embellished with her designs. We were definitely in "flow" together on this project. There is something soothing about paging through fine wallpaper...the colors and textures are satisfying. If you have never gone to your local wallpaper store and asked if they have books of retired samples you can take, then consider doing so, especially if you still have children at home. It's fun just paging through the samples, and we've used the paper for everything from homemade coffee can banks and pencil containers, to greeting cards and paper doll clothing.

Anyway, in this age of hi-tech everything, I loved this project that brightened and made useable an otherwise cramped and unattractive spot in our kitchen -- and carved some pure pleasure into an overly-busy day.

Bill-paying, doctor's appointments, school and sports activities, endless dishes and cleaning, and time spent on computers, iPhones, vocations and careers -- that's daily fare.

But how often do we remember to call even a short recess, put our burdens and gadgets aside, and experience the sheer pleasure of crafting something beautiful to make our house more a home?

Topics: Books , Family , Home Management , Motherhood , Relationships

Marianna Bartholomew is winner of six national Catholic Press Association Journalism Awards and Chicago’s 1993 Cardinal’s Communications Award for Professional Excellence. Her articles have appeared in EXTENSION Magazine, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic Digest and in Chicago’s Catholic New World and other diocesan newspapers across the nation. Former Managing Editor of Catholic home mission EXTENSION Magazine, Bartholomew has traveled to and reported on conditions in the poorest, most isolated pockets of our nation, from Louisiana’s Cajun communities and Appalachia’s hollows to Montana’s remote Indian missions. Blessed to be a wife and homeschooling mother of three, she now teaches in a homeschool cooperative, freelance writes from her Chicago area home, and is completing her first novel for young adults. She blogs at finerfields.blogspot.com.

View all articles by Marianna Bartholomew

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July 31, 2014

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

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Mt 13:47-53

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