All kinds of trouble, I have found, is averted by following simple routines. My habit, if I have one, is to regard the new day with fresh eyes, as if I’ve never seen a morning before, and no recollection of what to put in it beyond the next inspiration. This tends to fall apart, particularly as the children need as much reminding of their morning rituals as I do. To avert certain chaos, I write our routines down. Where I write them has been evolving.
To really devote ourselves to a routine, we needed a good home for it, and a simple system. Little slates, double-sided and petite, are our latest and greatest solution. Each child has a chalkboard. On one side is written their morning routine, on the reverse, their evening routine, with space left to check things off. Checking off a list is such satisfying action, isn’t it? The energy of completion. Following the natural order of our days is helpful, as is keeping the list brief enough to complete with ease. Effortless to alter and refine, nothing to print; easy. Best to keep a bit of chalk around, it does get misplaced. I simply ask if they’ve done their evening routine, instead of chasing each detail. I’m still surprised to find beds made, hair combed, dishes put away! And less stress, thank you. Now I’d like chalkboard routines for myself!
The humble wooden spoon has an honoured place amongst my beloved tried & trues. Plain, modest, and common, yes. Impossible to improve upon, remarkably adaptable, ecological, economical, ergonomic, and quite simply, essential, very much so!
I like to keep a collection of wooden spoons of varying shapes. (Why yes, that’s my handmade pitcher, all glazed and grand.) Some are reserved for tall pots of savoury things, others are strong and sturdy and kept for the physicality of baking. I try to keep the baking spoons from doing the work of the cooking spoons, so that I don’t end with a garlicky cake. I’ve a spoon of my grandmother’s with a lovely curved hook to balance the spoon on the edge of a pot. I’ve very old dark ones, rubbed with olive oil over the years, stained by berries and tomatoes. I’ve a weakness for variety and will buy unusual shapes as I come across them. They never scratch a surface, not smooth steel or enamel, nor do they bend, melt, or release toxins of any kind. Easily washed, easily stored. These are the sorts of ancient tools one keeps for a lifetime, or two. I’ve heard that even the finest chefs will point to the ordinary wooden spoon as the most essential tool in the kitchen. One day I’d like to make one myself.
Autumn sets me to baking, mm, maybe apple-cream-turnovers! Did you see appleturnover’s quarterly yet? Fratelli’s recipe comes with every subscription.
Watercolours, in all their simplicity, make my list of indispensable art materials. Like a set of good, rich drawing pencils, and a fine black pen, a paintbox of fine colours is essential.
I like to make sure my children have professional materials to work with, and watercolours are an inexpensive, non-toxic, easy-to-clean solution. We share our materials, though I must watch that the best paintbrushes aren’t left in murky water to permanently turn left!
Archival watercolour paper is tempting, and gorgeous brushes are needful things, never mind box easels and palettes, but I am regularly amazed at the effects that can be achieved with the simplest materials.
Water, pigment, paper. These are so elemental in artistic expression, and we return to the old materials again and again. I bring out the watercolours in the summer especially, inspired by that wonderful old tradition of painting en plein air. Peaceful habit. Ever so grounding. I’d like to sit down to paint more often.
p>These paintings are my children’s experiments, very old and very recent; they’re completely different from their pen and pencil drawings; I love how materials can break you out into new territory. You might like to see some gorgeous pen and ink drawings that my lovely friend Sania Pell made with her child. Ever so inspiring.
Like so many good old fashioned pastimes, playing marbles has fallen out of fashion in the last few decades, despite centuries of popularity all over the world. People in the Indus valley in the Bronze age played marbles, the Romans played marbles, the ancient Egyptians played marbles. I didn’t grow up playing marbles, but like so many good old fashioned games and skills, I’m learning along with my children.
There are so many ways to play marbles, with variations as rich as there are regional accents.
The way that we like to play is with an archboard, shooting marbles through in order. I think my father likes to call this ‘mousehole’ and he taught it to my children. My childhood fondness for the things was almost purely aesthetic. I could still spend long moments absorbed in the depths and beauty of a glass marble.
In our old cottage the phrase ‘losing your marbles’ does come up a lot, as there is an unfortunate slant to the floor that angles toward a gap under the stairs, just the size to take your best marble. The other day I encountered a mouse bowling a horse-chestnut towards that very spot. Mousehole! I can just imagine the games those mice are playing with our marbles, below stairs. It explains a lot, really.
Now, jacks is an old-time game that we adore. It’s not an easy one! Like skipping rope or skipping stones, it takes devoted practice, and it’s a thrill when you get it.
From our beloved set of pewter jacks, made by good old Cooperman Fife & Drum:
Jacks was played in early America as it had been played for over two thousand years, with small sheep astragali (knucklebones). The game was known as “knucklebones,” “dibs” or “jackstones.” Small pebbles or marbles were sometimes substituted for the bones. Metal jacks, which mimic the shape of the sheep bones were probably not in wide use until the mid-nineteenth century, although a pewter jack found at Fortress Louisbourg in Nova Scotia is thought to be of eighteenth century origin. The rules of play are very much the same today as in early America. Before the introduction of the rubber ball, the pick up combinations had to be completed before a bone or pebble tossed up in the air came back down, making for a much harder game. A wooden ball is included in this set so you can try your hand at this older version of the game. Traditionally the game was played with five bones or pebbles. A modern game can be played with any number of jacks and a ball.
Scatter the jacks on the floor. Toss the ball up. For onesies, pick up one jack without disturbing any other jack and catch the ball in the same hand. If you’re using the wood ball you must complete the trick before the ball comes down; with the rubber ball you must complete the trick before the ball bounces twice. Transfer the jack to your free hand and continue to pick up one jack at a time until all the jacks have been taken. If you complete the trick go on to Twosies; if not, play passes to your opponent. For Twosies, two jacks must be picked up at a time and so forth for Threesies, until at the last round all of the jacks must be picked up at the same time. Accomplished players increase the difficulty of the rounds by adding motions which must be performed while picking up the jacks; for example, you might have to pick up the jacks and clap your hands before the ball is caught.
There are tremendous variations all over the world. I love the tinkling sound of the jacks, and seeing a joyful group of friends gathered round them for a good game.