In Praise of Privacy

Posted by mrssmythe on March 4, 2015 in Books |


Do you ever find yourself down a rabbit trail in your reading? You start out with one book, and that leads you to another, and then that book leads you to another, and the next thing you know, you’ve spent three months reading books about the experiences of Jewish families during WWII.

This is what is happening to me right now, though I haven’t been at it three months…yet.

It all started with a book I read on Catherine the Great (which I checked out after reading something about her in one of Ginger’s history books). It made me aware of how little I knew about Russian history. So, after I finished that, I found a book about a Jewish family sent to Siberia during WWII called The Endless Steppe. I highly recommend it. It’s nonfiction, was written by the family’s daughter (a young teen at the time), and was both interesting and inspiring. After I finished that, I decided I wanted to know more about other Jewish families affected by WWII, and that led me to The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, which I had always heard about but had never read.

UnknownNow, this book has really surprised me. I don’t know what I expected – that all of those people (8 total) hiding away in that Amsterdam warehouse would get along and speak kindly to one another at all times and always share their food and never behave selfishly or pettishly….? I think that’s what I expected. I expected them to be saints. But they weren’t. There is bickering. There is stress and strife and messy family relations, and everyone is so…human! At first it bothered me. But now that I’ve settled into the story and the shock has worn off, I’m appreciating the real-ness of it all.

I’m also appreciating my own home much more – especially the luxury of privacy, which both families in these books severely lacked. In The Endless Steppe, the author and her family are forced at one point to go door to door in a Siberian village, asking strangers if they can move in with them. This was considered a better situation that the one they had at the time. And, once they found a family willing to share their home (for a price, of course), it wasn’t like they got a room of their own…or even a partition. They were all bedded down in the same space.

Meanwhile, I’m at the point in Diary of a Young Girl where Anne Frank is sharing her room with a fifty-year-old dentist (male). They don’t particularly like each other and they argue over who gets to use the room’s one desk. She wakes up at three in the morning to use her chamber pot (a tin can) and then has to try and get back to sleep, all the while listening to him tossing and turning and making sniffly-mouth-smacking night noises. Ugh!

Now, I realize that all of these people had much bigger problems than privacy issues.  Their very lives were in danger. But I couldn’t help thinking, as I read, that I’m not nearly as grateful as I should be for the enormous amount of privacy I enjoy. It really is a luxury. And, I find books like these are excellent for helping me to readjust my perspective.

From the dining room table, so grateful that all the coffee cans in the house are in the kitchen rather than under the beds,

Mrs. Smythe

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Bird Watching

Posted by mrssmythe on March 1, 2015 in CPT's Lens, Critters |

This morning, CPT America and I took some time to drink coffee and watch the birds that gather outside our dining room window. CPT America has hung two feeders for them there, and their constant comings and goings are a source of entertainment for all of us – the pets included. The birds are so dainty and pretty, and as they come quite close to the window, I’ve often thought that it would be nice to photograph them.

But, there are some definite challenges to photographing things out our dining room window.

First, our dining room window is usually covered with dog nose prints.

Second, the window has a decorative grid on it and the grid gets in the way.

And third, the birds usually notice any movement as we creep up to the window and then fly away.

As a result, any photos I’ve managed to take of the birds have been of very poor quality.

“But, perhaps,” I thought, “CPT America can do better.”

And, as a matter of fact, he could.

Here are some of the birds he managed to photograph today:

A goldfinch – female:

bird feeder (2 of 9)

A goldfinch – male:

bird feeder (3 of 9)

Another male goldfinch – probably a young one:

bird feeder (6 of 9)

And a black-capped chickadee (the state bird of Massachusetts).

bird feeder (8 of 9)

In the past few weeks, we’ve also seen cardinals, a winter wren, mourning doves, a Northern flicker, nuthatches, sparrows, and titmice.

I’m always amazed at how well the birds seem to do in cold temperatures – and in the snow, too, because we had more of that today. Feathers are certainly amazing things.

From the dining room table, with more snow falling as I write…

Mrs. Smythe

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Origami Extravaganza

Posted by mrssmythe on February 28, 2015 in Crafting |


Snow isn’t the only thing we’re buried in here in Massachusetts. We’re also buried in cranes – origami cranes, that is. Pepper has been making them night and day, ever since she saw a display of one thousand cranes at the Springfield Museums. So far, she’s made about eighty.


They look a bit like an army. Or an armada.

They were also really fun to photograph.


Pepper and I spent quite a bit of time this morning playing with them.

For most of the cranes, Pepper has used a special paper that came with an origami page-a-day calendar she received for Christmas a couple of years back. But the calendar pages won’t last forever, and for the other 600-or-so cranes she plans to make, she’s going to have to be a bit creative.

One of her ideas was to use sheets from another outdated calendar we have. It features art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and if you snip off the top section of each page, you’re left with a nice-sized square for folding.


The paper is a little stiff, but it works well if you press firmly.

I used a Van Gogh print for the little box below.


Pepper has also used paper from magazines, cutting squares from pages with the aid of a cardboard template.


In this case, the resulting paper is a bit thinner than most origami paper, but it still works and can look surprisingly nice when folded.


Pepper hasn’t decided what she’s going to do with all of her cranes once they’re folded. For now, they’re hanging out in a laundry basket in the dining room.


In the meantime, the rest of us have caught the origami bug too. Ginger is making swans, and I’m obsessed with those little boxes you saw in the pictures above. Between the three of us, we’re going through a lot of paper.

From the dining room table, ready for a cup of tea – and maybe a bit more paper folding,

Mrs. Smythe

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Amy’s Turn

Posted by mrssmythe on February 26, 2015 in Crafting, Toys |

A while back – in December, actually – Ginger brought me one of her little stuffed cats, hoping I could repair her. The cat’s name is “Jean” and I write “her” a bit hesitantly because Ginger told me last night that Jean is sometimes a girl and sometimes a boy, depending on whether Amy (the other stuffed cat) needs a brother or not. If Amy does need a brother, Jean obligingly dons overalls. (You can read all about Jean’s resulting surgery HERE.)

But, yesterday, it was Amy’s turn.


Amy is actually a bit more threadbare than Jean, and I wonder if it is because she is the favored of the two (Ginger confessed as much). There are actually several places that may need reinforcement soon. But, for now, we concentrated on Amy’s foot and arm, which had developed holes.

(By the way, Amy is usually clothed, but we had to show her naked to highlight the extent of her damage).

I sent Ginger to choose some fabric from the scrap box and, once she had, I started stitching. Amy is palm-sized, so the patches I ended up making were tiny.



I thought they turned out well, though, and Ginger was very pleased. She confessed that she liked Amy even better with the patches.


Which is a good thing – because Amy may need more soon.

From the dining room table, wondering if I might just have to completely remake Amy one of these days,

Mrs. Smythe

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A “Very” Sort of Day

Posted by mrssmythe on February 24, 2015 in Out & About, Seasons |


Yesterday was one of those “very” sorts of days; very cold, very windy, and very bright.

Normally we don’t go sledding on “very” days, but I’d been putting it off for weeks, using one excuse or another. I’d honestly been waiting for it to warm up. I wanted weather that was just warm enough to be pleasant without melting the snow – somewhere in the thirties, perhaps.  (That’s how warped I’ve become. Thirty degrees feels warm!) And, I also wanted the hill where we sled to be relatively uncrowded. Last week was Winter Break, and I knew it would be overrun with kids. “Let’s wait until everyone goes back to school,” I suggested. Being a mother, I tend to think scores of children crashing their sleds into one another is more dangerous than fun. The girls would probably disagree.


We went sledding. And it was fine until we stepped out of the car. Everything looked clear and sunny and lovely. And then the wind hit. It tore at our little plastic sleds. It whipped the hoods off our heads. I wondered how long we would last.


Turns out – about thirty minutes.

The base of the hill is in a depression, so we were somewhat sheltered once we got down there. But up at the top, the wind was fierce. To keep from freezing, I did some sledding, too. It’s surprising how much warmer you get walking uphill!

Because I weigh more than the girls, my sled always went farther and faster than theirs, and I ended up setting all the records, finishing my runs in the deeper drifts where there weren’t any previous sled tracks. And then I had to roll off my sled and stumble through the knee high snow to get back to the main track. My pants got wet. My face went numb. My teeth hurt. (I’d forgotten how your teeth get cold if you smile on your way down). I had a blast.

So, despite the cold and the wind, it was a very fun thirty minutes for all of us. But I did notice that nobody protested much when I announced it was time to head home.

From the dining room table, watching birds at the feeder and wondering how they manage to stay warm on days like this (it’s -15 with the wind chill),

Mrs. Smythe

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