Saturday, February 28, 2015

Homemaking Series Launch!

I’m a big fan of words and “home” is one of my all-time favorites! Comforting, nostalgic, even stressful at times, it’s a tiny word that packs quite a punch. One of my favorite qualities about the idea of “home” is it’s variety. Homes can look as different as any two things might, however, the one shared trait seems to be that many of us are daunted by the prospect of setting up and managing a home, particularly twenty-somethings who are just starting out. 

In turn, it appears only two options arise: give up and give in to the stress, resigning to believe that you don’t "have what it takes” to be successful at managing your home and to enjoy doing so OR become a wild-eyed despot hell-bent on spotlessness, tossing at night with nightmares of soiled table linens and a dinner party where Martha Stewart and Julia Child show up to sneer at your every faux pax ( a fictional example, of course). But after extensive research and years of self-doubt, I’ve recently begun to accept that the real truth about keeping-house is just a rarely discussed secret:

Modern homemaking is entirely doable and enjoyable!

A lack of available education (how many schools still offer home-ec?) as well as the prevailing notion that these practices are outdated, tiresome, and unprofitable may make the above statement seem untrue. And though modern practices may look different than the the end of the day, houses still need to be cleaned and meals still need to be made. Plus, you might be surprised how many young women today are eager to reclaim these skills!

That being said, this Modern Simple Homemaking series will seek to be a helpful and realistic resource for anyone looking to create a simple, comfortable, and manageable home. You won’t find any lengthy discussions on textile fiber origins as they relate to laundering (snooze!). Posts will also be lacking in tips for serving caviar and overseeing household staff, because frankly, the closest I will ever get to household staff is watching Downton Abbey in my pjs. There is a time and place for household scientific data and for hors d'oeuvres with foie gras, just not often in my home. There is, however, loads of room for learning in the in-between. And fun giveaways too!

Keep in mind: Home responsibilities, today more than ever, are shared. Though women are no longer confined by expectations of managing the household alone, and although household tasks can certainly be done by male and female members of the home alike, there are plenty of women who take pride in their desire to be homemakers, stay-at-home or otherwise. These women (like myself) prefer to own the responsibilities of the home and consider it just as viable a career choice as any of the other avenues available to women today. So whether you take charge of things mostly on your own or divide work between all members of the household equally, the important part to remember is: Anyone can create a wonderful home, it’s who you share it with that matters.

So...whether you grew up sitting around the table, napkin tucked in at the neck as your June Cleaver mom served pot roast in heels OR you carefully peeled the plastic off your pre-partitioned microwave dinner while rushing to snag the best spot on the couch, I hope this series helps you believe that creating a place of warmth and order in your home is possible, enjoyable, and rewarding!

                                                                         Thanks for taking this journey with me!

**Note About Pinterest**
In the last few years, the Pinterest sensation has swept the nation and almost anyone who seeks inspiration or likes looking at colorful photos can find something to love. Though I'm a big advocate of this site as an inspiration-finder and will link to it on occasion, be sure to check ingredients/warnings before attempting something that doesn’t seem quite right. There are loads of homemaking ideas on Pinterest, but be cautious when experimenting.

**Author Note**
I am a mid-twenties, newlywed, not-for-profit blogger. I am not yet a homeowner or parent, and generally try to live a pretty simple life. That being said, please remember that despite my research, the info in this series is ultimately just opinion. None of the posts, ideas, or products mentioned have any kind of corporate sponsorship or paid advertising attached to them. And of course, if you have tips or suggestions to add, I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Coffee with Mrs. Beeton

Over 150 years ago, a newlywed in her early twenties (much like myself), became dismayed at the state of homemaking in her generation. Her name was Isabella Beeton and she masterfully set out to create a series of articles to help newly married women successfully face the role of becoming “mistress of the home.”

“What moved attempt a work like this, was the discomfort and suffering 
which I had seen brought upon men and women by household mismanagement.”

Her work was published from 1859-1861 in 24 parts, which would later be bound into a singular volume. Sadly, Mrs. Beeton died during childbirth in 1865 at the age of 28, so she was unable to see the truly lasting influence her devotions had on housekeeping and cooking for decades to come. Fun fact: Downton Abbey creators have relied often on her work for historical accuracy. 

Though the 1800+ Victorian-era recipes included predominate her work, there are also portions on household management. The roles of Mistress, Housekeeper, and various Kitchen Staff are discussed at length, with information ranging from the proper way to pay calls about town to comparisons on cooking equipment dating back to the early Roman Empire.

Some of her writing is entertainingly out-of-date for our modern lives, and a number of the recipes are truly horrible sounding (Boiled Marrow-Bones), but it is amazing to see the similarities that do still hold true today. Some nuggets of her advice include:

“Early rising is one of the most essential qualities....” “Indeed, when a mistress is an early riser, it is almost certain that her house will be orderly and well-managed.”

“Cleanliness is also indispensable to health and must be studied both in regard to the person and the house, and all that it contains.”

“Frugality and economy are home virtues without which no household can prosper. ... 
We must always remember that it is a great merit in housekeeping to manage a little well.”

“Hospitality is a most excellent virtue...for, as Washington Irving well says, ‘There is 
an emanation from the heart in genuine hospitality, which cannot be described, 
but is immediately felt, and puts the stranger at once at his ease.’” 

Though remaining print copies of Mrs. Beeton’s original wisdom are a bit unaffordable (to put it nicely - $3,500), thanks to the University of Adelaide, the first edition text is available in entirety for free in three PDFs here, including scans of the original artwork.

As I pointed out to Strider, I fully recognize that I may be the only one weird enough to be fascinated by this kind of thing. Nevertheless, I think it is just incredible to have such historical household insight at our fingertips. However, if I’m not alone and you might enjoy it as well, check out the PDFs and join Mrs. Beeton and I for a cup of coffee and slice of homemade Chocolate-Chip Banana Bread.

I’ll leave you with a (slightly adapted) version of my favorite quote:

“...there are [no feminine accomplishments] which take a higher rank...than 
such as enter[ing] into a knowledge of household duties; for on these are perpetually 
dependent the happiness, comfort, and well-being of a family.”

P.S. - Don't forget...exciting news is coming this weekend!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

exciting news coming soon!

Hi there blog friends!

You may have noticed the new look here at A Song for the Birds. After 2.5 years, it was definitely time for a face lift. And there's lots more too -- other big and exciting things in the works that you won't want to miss out on. Lots of new content, pics, and giveaways coming in March.

Don't miss it!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

thoughts after one year

An Open Letter to My Husband After Our First Year of Marriage:

It feels ridiculous to think that exactly one year ago, we were in the mountains celebrating our second day as man and wife. In many ways it feels much further in the past, and in others, it feels like no time at all. And truthfully, as fun as our wedding day and honeymoon were, they don’t begin to hold a candle to how incredible the year following them has been. As discussed on multiple occasions, we’ve certainly packed a lot of life into our first year together, including but not limited to: my sister’s wedding, my mom leaving on a cross-country adventure, leaving my hometown and moving back to yours, as well as multiple job changes. It’s been a banner year, to be sure.

In the past year, I have laughed more, smiled more, and watched-minutes-tick-by-till-I-could-leave-work-to-come-home-to-you more than I thought imaginable. I have also learned A LOT. However, my expectations of what those lessons would be and what they have been are very different. I always thought the hard part of marriage would be letting go of the things about your spouse that drive you crazy, learning to live together, and knowing when to take space for yourself. In reality, I have seen several much larger truths come to light, and in many ways, they’re more about me than you. The biggest lessons I’ve learned during year numero uno are as follows: 
     - Choosing to submit and agreeing can be different things. When God calls wives to submit to their husbands, there isn’t subtext saying that you also have to agree with them. To me, this much-debated verse means me choosing to love you and trust you, most especially when mutual agreement isn’t on the horizon. And knowing that in the end, choosing to honor you as the head of our home is more important than taking a stand about being right. 
     - Recognizing that women and men see “Things That Need To Be Done” in very different ways. Just because you may not see it, doesn’t mean you aren’t happy to do it. Most importantly, if I really need/want help and don’t ask, I then relinquish the right to expect mind-reading on your part and being dumpy about undone tasks later.
     - Lastly, that I am an incredibly selfish, impatient person and that although I will always be flawed and saved only by His grace, I want to be a better version of myself for you, as your wife, your best friend, and your roommate. Huge marriage lesson there: learning to put up with your quicks and bodily functions is secondary to me recognizing that I am the one who needs to be better. 

People say that the first year of marriage is often the hardest. Though I’m sure there are lots of different reasons why that is so frequently said, I’d be pretty jazzed if this was the hardest year we ever have to face. I recognize that that won’t be the case, but if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that I can face any obstacle with you by my side.

You have brought so much joy and love into my life and my daily prayer is that I can continue growing into the best possible version of myself for you and for us. You amaze me and I can’t imagine my life without you. Thank you for all the leadership, laughter, and of course, love that you’ve brought to our marriage this year. And thank you for your patience and encouragement as we challenge each other to always keep growing. I so look forward to a lifetime with you!
                                                                                                                             - your sarah

Fun project sidenote: I decided to start an anniversary quilt for Strider and I. Each year for our anniversary, I will make one quilt block representing the biggest thing that happened during that year. For this year, I appliqu├ęd the state of PA with the name of our new hometown. By my calculations, I should be able to connect all the squares into a nice wall hanging for our 25th anniversary! Talk about a long-term project huh? However, it will be so fun to look back at them all when it's said and done! (sorry for the shadowy pic)

Sunday, December 21, 2014

knockout christmas cookies

Okay friends...I'm going to level with you: these are by far the most addictive Christmas cookies I've ever had. They are a bit tedious to make so I haven't ventured to do so for a several years, but Strider's family Christmas reunion was cause enough for me to brush off the recipe. After watching them disappear in a flash, I knew they must be shared. They are delicious and pretty enough to always dazzle at parties. Recipe is courtesy of a friend's mom (thanks, Mrs. S!Without further ado, I give you...

Zebra Cookies or (chocolate-filled cream cheese rugelach crescents, to be fancy about it)
Each batch makes around 24 cookies.
And heads up, the dough needs to be refrigerated overnight so plan ahead at least 2-3 days if baking for an event.

- 1.5 sticks softened unsalted butter
- 8 oz softened cream cheese
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 12 oz bag semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
- 2-3 Tbsp water
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (regular size)

First, gather all your ingredients and make sure the butter and cream cheese are close to room temperature. Cream together the butter, sugar, and cream cheese. Add flour and mix until well combined but not overworked. 
Divide the batter into 2-3 sections and flatten into discs. Wrap in plastic wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight. 
(A double batch makes around 5 discs, as below.)
After talking someone in to helping you, roll the dough out on a floured surface, working one disc at a time, until around 1/8" thick. Using a round cookie cutter about 3.5"-4" across (or the rim of a plastic cup if you don't have a cutter), separate as many rounds as possible. Brush off any excess flour. 

While this is being done, the second person should fill each circle with slightly less than 1 Tbsp of the mini chips. Using a small dish of water, lightly wet one half of each circle, fold over, and press gently to close. (Hand modeling by and a massive thank you to Strider's mom for assisting!)

The trick here is to keep the dough cold until right before you need it, hence just working one disc at a time. Once the cream cheese and butter warm up, it becomes too sticky and absorbs too much of the flour on the table. It's hard to work with when very cold, but that is better than the alternative.
Once each pan is filled with crescents, bake at 350F for 10 minutes. The tops should feel slightly set but not actually be allowed to brown. Once they start browning, the dough gets hard very quickly. They may look slightly undercooked, but they are better that way than when overcooked. (Plus, no eggs = no undercooking concerns.)

Once cooled, mix the powdered sugar and water into a semi-thick glaze. The easiest way to coat each cookie is to just hold it upside-down and dunk the top into the bowl of glaze. Then set each cookie right-side up on your cooking rack with a pan underneath to catch glaze drippings (of which there will be lots!).
Once the glaze has hardened (usually an hour or two), melt the 2 cups of chocolate chips at 30 sec intervals in the microwave. Using a pastry bag and round tip (I prefer a Wilton #5) or a plastic bag with the corner snipped off, pipe a zig-zag of chocolate on each cookie top. Let them cool long enough for the squiggles to harden before storing.
**NOTE: though good on day one, these cookies are best after resting overnight or longer**

Beautiful if I do say so myself. And part of their magic is that the chips inside don't melt completely. Every time I make them people marvel at how they can still see the tiny chips. I've tried lots of varieties (Nutella-filled among them) but always seem to return to the original. Unfortunately, ours are already long gone and now the photos are making me hungry all over again.

Happy baking!!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

home holiday happenings

Hi friends! Between work and cooking, I've been sewing and reading furiously of late. Plus, lots and lots of Christmas decorating and movie-watching. I absolutely love how festive and fun home feels this time of year. (Meanwhile, Strider is being a very good sport!) In lieu of having you over for cocoa, I thought I'd just share some snapshots of our seasonal fun-tivities!
Strider is much more trustworthy with a saw!
Our first-ever cut-it-yourself tree!
Bunting for living room wall - made with twine, scrapbook paper,
index cards, and a little acrylic-paint-time for the letters.
Remember that DIY crate entertainment doubling as a nativity "stable".
No fireplace but still "hung with care" on our bookcase!
Fun story: My family has a longstanding tradition of a mistletoad instead of mistletoe.
Though they don't make 
my mom's version anymore (circa 1988), I managed to snag
this cutie at Hallmark then deck him out with a 
modified wine bottle santa suit
from the dollar store. Silly Christmas traditions for the win!
Oliver the Christmas Owl - our newest (and cutest) addition!
Candy cane pillowcases (because bedroom holiday decorations are scarce)
and a small Santa pillow cover just for fun. Have I mentioned that
I love making pillowcases?! So quick and fun!
Our little dining table all decked out! Tablecloth - Salvation Army $3.
Centerpiece vase - Walmart $3. Napkins - Pier1 via wedding gift card $0.
It may not be Lenox or Spode but I love it's antique charm!
Small glasses were found at Habitat Restore in NC, $3 for 6;
goblets were found at Salvation Army in PA, $2 for 4.
AND they totally match! We are so fancy!

Now back to baking and singing carols!

So, what's your favorite/silliest family holiday tradition? I'd love to know! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

homemaking survey

Hey there blog friends!

Sorry it's been a while...posting is tricky since we still don't have internet at the new apt. 
The comeback will be awesome though, I promise.

In the meantime, please help me out and take this quick survey about homemaking. It should take 5 minutes or less and I really appreciate your feedback.