For my friend Hallie, who believes that our poverty, our multitude of small children, and our status a renters will automatically disqualify our homes from earning a feature spread in the real Southern Living Magazine!
Our May Issue of Southern Living features the humble Carmelite Home of Mrs. Abigail Benjamin
(note: due to the writer's technical ineptitude the viewer will need to rotate her head to the left 90 degrees to view all vertical pictures in this feature)
On a peaceful suburban street in Washington D.C.,
With glamorous views of the Corporate Marriott Headquarters...
... lies a humble Carmelite cottage, whose vibrant interior life is hidden from the outside world.
Please enter our front door,
and ignore the clutter of children's bicycles outside. . .
Once inside this charming domestic church, the Holy Father will send you a happy wave. This cheerful photo by the front door was blessed at the Papal Mass in April 2008. The Papal Mass is a treasured memory of many Catholic families in the D. C. Area.
Notice a detail of the charming wedding photographs elegantly arranged on the front entry way. Doesn't this swell couple look deeply in love?
Once you enter this charming cottage you are immediately greeted with an image of Jesus and his Most Sacred Heart. This antique engraving features the words "Sacred Heart" in four languages. In the 1890s, Irish and Italian immigrants fresh off the boat would rush to replace the clunky Holy Pictures left behind in their home country with this cheap print from Currer and Ives.
The green shamrock to the left is hand designed by the artist in residence, Miss. Hannah. The fact that a St. Patrick's Day decoration is still hanging in the living room after Easter is a sign of Mrs. Benjamin's lack of energy, mobility and focus during the difficult days of her latest pregnancy.
The convenient layout of a joint living room/dining room area offers plenty of play space for young children.
Ms. Benjamin has hit upon a unique technique for furnishing a home with four small children on a tight budget. She simply refuses to buy furniture. These green velvet armchairs came from her grandmother's home. Mrs. Benjamin has a photo of herself as an infant sitting in these chairs in her baptismal gown.
After hoarding these chairs inside her master bedroom for three years, fearful of the effects of peanut butter hands on velvet, Mrs. Benjamin has recently brought them into the living room at Mr. Benjamin's suggestion that guests require place to sit. Mrs. Benjamin expects her grandmother's chairs to last another week in their present condition.
The torn IKEA couch in the middle of her living room, is another nod to Mrs. Benjamin's Catholic faith.
"If I had real furniture," Mrs. Benjamin cheerfully asserts, "I would spend so many extra years in purgatory whenever my five year old son decides to cut up the couch cover just to see what lies underneath!"
The remaining living room furniture is salvaged from the trash heap. This lovely blue chair is one of the children's favorite indoor jungle gyms.
For a decorative finish, Mrs. Benjamin's china cabinet show cases her grandmother's antique wedding china. Mrs. Benjamin inherited this china easily after her grandmother's death, since neither her Mother or her Sister enjoy cooking or entertaining.
One of the show-stopping features contained in this china cabinet, is a antique statue of Our Blessed Mother. Mrs. Benjamin reports that she enjoys contemplating the lovely serenity of this statue on particularly awful homeschooling days.
The steady St. Joseph also finds a place of honor in this Catholic household.
Across from the china cabinet, you'll find a delightful Alter. As two Third Order Carmelites, Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin pray underneath this alter on a daily basis.
A copy of the first Hail Mary, Mrs. Benjamin every prayed at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is a showcase of this unique collection of holy items.
In the middle of the dining room, you'll find the remains of a happy family lunch. One of the main benefits of paying an exorbitant amount of rent, is that Mr. Benjamin is able to join his family each day at the noon hour.
In the spacious open air kitchen, you'll find the all important bread maker. After Mr. Benjamin watched a disturbing documentary on the ingredients of corn syrup on PBS, he urgently requested that all the family's bread be made from scratch in the future. Mrs. Benjamin cheerfully complies with his request. Now, the Benjamin family feasts on fresh bread each day-- unless Mrs. Benjamin forgets, has morning sickness or sciatic nerve pain- on those days her family simply eats peanut butter straight out of the jar.
Mrs. Benjamin reports that this "feast or famine" in the bread department is an excellent tool for building up her children's future tolerance for the hardships of Mission life. "If Hannah is ever stuck caring for orphans after another earthquake in Haiti," Mrs. Benjamin states "she'll know just what to do! A large jar of peanut butter, some plastic spoons, and several water purification tablets will keep all the children in her charge alive for at least 3 weeks."
Another charming detail of City Life are the bus passes for the Benjamin family. This Discalsced Carmelite family chooses to go carless, instead of shoeless, as a sign of their pledge to poverty in the modern era.
Did someone forget to load the dishwasher again last night? Are there no clean glasses left? No matter, those resourceful Benjamin kids will simply use Mama's fine wine glasses as water gobbles for their afternoon snack!
The Benjamin kitchen also shows signs of an Almost First Communicant in the house! This detailed Chalice was painted by Miss Hannah during her recent First Communion retreat.
Down the hall is the parent's bedroom. Miss Mimi is showcasing the spacious double bed which can barely fit 1 regular adult, 1 pregnant adult and 1 toddler.
On the dresser is stacks of Holy Pictures which Mr. Benjamin has yet to hang up on the wall after a recent bedroom transfer.
Here is the rest of the family. Hannah and Alex on their favorite computer games. This is why Mrs. Benjamin is rarely able to blog during daylight hours.
Next to the living room, is the former master bedroom which was recently transferred into "Kids World." Inside, you'll see that there is plenty of space for a fourth crib. "How can you fit four children into one bedroom," the neighbors often wonder? Mrs. Benjamin just smiles mysteriously and states "we don't even use bunk beds!"
On a child's night table, St. Michael the Archangel keeps all the bad dreams away.
The former walk-in closet has been turned into a snug school room. The "jump ropes" on the top shelves were installed by the children themselves as a part of "swinging on jungle vines" game. Nothing quite refreshes a child's brain after a rigorous learning activity like swinging upside down from a high space.
Telltale life of childhood is all around the Benjamin household Here is a picture of Hiccip the Viking by Alex, age 5.
Thank you for touring Southern Living- Catholic Edition! We hope your inspired to do "beauty on a budget" in your domestic church also! God Bless You!
P.S. If you need an easy way to whittle down your "Honey Do List", simply post some pictures of your home on a public blog. I took these pictures on Friday. By 10 AM on Saturday, my husband had (1) fixed a screen that had been broken for the past four months, (2) washed our couch cover, (3) cleaned my kitchen counters, (4) vacuumed the living room rug, and (5) requested I buy him more carpet shampoo at my next shopping trip to Target. All of these "home improvements" were made without a word from me!