Happy New Year!
I love beginnings, fresh starts. I am very, very good at beginning things, less adept at finishing them. But I’ve finished some projects this long weekend, and am on the verge of finishing two others, and that feels great.
(But I still haven’t done the Christmas cards.)
I completely made over my bedroom this weekend. For the year-plus since we moved into this house, our bedroom has been more like a closet with a bed in it. Books and video tapes shoved willy-nilly onto the shelves during the first frantic days of unpacking remained there, unsightly and gathering dust, all year. Our dresser was piled high with laundry and books. One corner (and this is a tiny room; there is scarcely any corner space to spare) filled up with empty cardboard boxes, more laundry, and random mateless shoes. Really, it was quite disgraceful. But this is the first bedroom off the hall, the easiest place to stash clutter behind a closed door when company is coming.
This has become the room in which I write. In the evenings, after Scott is home and dinner is over, I slip in here to work for an hour or two. When we moved into this house, I thought I was going to do my writing at our big desk in Wonderboy’s room (the only place that had room for the desk), at the quiet end of the hall. Somehow that never happened. I work in here, and I sleep in here, and I needed the space to be pretty, not cluttered. So I worked for two days and cleaned from top to bottom. I moved the haphazard piles of old video tapes to a back closet, put all the laundry away (imagine!), and switched the books around. I have shelves and shelves of lovely old books about Scotland and early 18th-century New England, all the resources I’d collected while writing my Little House novels. They are beautiful books and good friends. I feel quite uplifted now, looking across the bed to the inviting rows of titles: A Naturalist in the Highlands; Old Landmarks of Boston; Weaving with Linen; Our Own Snug Fireside.
I made it a sort of game to make over the room without spending any money. I had bought new pillowcases last month (our old ones were threadbare), a cheerful assortment of lime greens and fresh, cool blues, and it’s amazing how much they brightened up our old blue comforter. For good measure I added a flowery bedspread that used to be on Jane’s bed, long ago. The flowers made me feel so happy, I went rummaging in the craft cabinets and found some faux peonies and daisies I’d bought to make an Easter wreath last spring. The wreath never got made, but the flowers look awfully pretty on my dresser. The green glass pitcher my sister-in-law gave me, gosh, seven or eight Christmases ago, looks quite stunning beneath the peonies.
Why were these things stashed away behind cabinet doors?
Two years ago my resolution (inspired by Robert Frost’s poem, "The Armful," about juggling a pile of slipping parcels) was to "keep hold of the important things, stopping to restack the load as often as necessary," and I think that pretty well describes what I did during these past two years. I had an armful indeed: new baby, cross-country move, work changes, all sorts of adventures. We’ve caught our breath now. This year my resolution, if I have one, is to look closer at the ‘beauty’ part of our family Rule of Six. My bedroom, though not fancy and decidedly low-budget, is really beautiful now. Now that I know we’ll be in this rental house another year, I’ll keep focusing on small corners to make more beautiful. The rooms I tackled during this past week have already brought much joy to our family. It’s an extremely gratifying project.
I like this idea of choosing one focus in particular out of our list of the things we
want to be purposeful in making a part of our daily lives: meaningful work, imaginative play, living books, ideas to ponder and discuss, encounters with beauty through art, music, nature, and I would add to this the home arts as well, and prayer. I think last year, the part of the Rule I focused most on was prayer. That is probably why it was such a good year despite all the hiccups.
This year, then, beauty. I’m ready.
Here’s part of a post about where our family’s Rule of Six comes from:
It got its start, as so many helpful principles do, in the writings of Charlotte Mason. In A Charlotte Mason Companion,
Karen Andreola wrote that Miss Mason believed children needed three
things every day: something to love, something to think about, and
something to do.
I remember it was shortly after we moved from New York to Virginia
in 2002 that I looked at the bright faces of my three little girls in
their big blue room and made a silent promise to myself to give them
that good soul-food every day: something to love, to think about, to
do. I thought about what that meant in practical terms, because a
concept has to translate very clearly on a practical level if there is
any hope of my pulling it off. It’s the logistics that get you, every
time. Broad principles are like umbrellas, and you need a hand to hold
the umbrella with.
And that’s how I got to our Rule of Five. (Yes, five. It was Five
for the first two or three years. Item number Six didn’t join the list
until later—which is why I’ve been tickled to see all these Rules of
Six popping up, because ours was the Rule of Five for so long.) I
thought of it as the five fingers of a hand, the five things that I
strive to make a part of every day we spend together:
• Good books
• Imaginative play
• Encounters with beauty (through art, music, and the natural world—this includes our nature walks)
• Ideas to ponder and discuss (there’s Miss Mason’s "something to think about")
When Mary borrowed my list, she put prayer at the top to reflect its
overarching importance, which makes perfect sense. I have it at the
bottom for the very same reason. I always figure that you’re most
likely to remember the last thing you hear. If I put the most important thing at the bottom of the list, that’s the word that echoes in my consciousness afterward.
Also, when the girls were younger it worked so beautifully with a
little fingerplay we would do at bedtime. We would hold up a finger for
each thing on the list. "What did you play today?" I would ask, and
eager stories would bubble forth. "Who remembers what books we read?"
"Where did we meet beauty today?" It was such fun, at the end of the
day, to listen to their reflections about what we’d done since
breakfast. At the end of the list, we’d all be holding up the five
fingers of a hand, and then we’d clap our hands together and that meant
time to pray.
For us, as Catholics, the word "prayer" in my list is meant to
encompass the whole range of religious customs and practices that are
woven through our day, celebrating the feasts and seasons of the
But what about the sixth item in my Rule of Six? You see, of course,
what’s missing from my original list: work. That’s because when I first
came up with the list, my oldest child was only six, and play WAS her
work. A couple of years later, the list grew—like my children. I added "meaningful work" (as opposed to busywork) to express the importance of doing useful things cheerfully and well, with reverence and attention.
And the five-finger visual works even better now, because you can
tally off the first five things on the list and then clasp your hands
together for the sixth, prayer.