Archive for September, 2010

Yesterday I wandered through a local art gallery, and enjoyed the creativity displayed there in paintings, textiles, and pottery.  Then I came home and wandered through our condo, and was awed once again by the ambience of home art and the fun of living in a personal “gallery”.  Here is another mini-tour—this one focusing on some of the art and artifacts which comprise our home gallery.

Above is a shot of my Louis L’Amour bathroom.  Yes, Joe and I each have our own bathroom.  What a joy to have a loo of one’s own to pack with stuff!  I have named my bathroom after one of my favorite 20th century novelists.  Oddly enough, I do not at this point own a Louis L’Amour book but I’ve borrowed and read most of them from libraries.  Perhaps someday I’ll run across a L’Amour at a reasonable price.

Pictured are a few of my ARIZONA TEA® bottles with a Western theme.  The bottle with the cattle driving scene was a “once in a lifetime” find at King Sooper’s in Denver.  I’ve never seen this issue anywhere else.  Southwestern pictures, my home made soap, a bighorn sheep horn, a copper sheep bell, a bit of lace, an artificial barrel cactus, and photos of family members with horses fit nicely into this bathroom cranny. 

Meanwhile, out in my garden is a Western steer’s skull—just waiting to be cleaned up and added to the bathroom decor, Georgia O’Keeffe style.

Partially pictured above, in the lower left corner as you face the screen, is a unique bit of home grown art:  two large clay pots joined bottom to bottom to create an hourglass effect, and mosaic tiled with Native American symbols.  I think one of the symbols is a Harley® thing.  It’s orange and black and it has wings.  This gem was purchased at an up-north rummage sale for all of $2.00.

Pictured below in the same loo are switchplate covers decoupaged by my artist niece, Nancy, who lives in Colorado Springs.  Beneath the switchplates you can faintly see a painting of sheep, probably set in the Hebrides, unearthed at some antique shop back in the fathomless mists of time.

Our neighborhood abounds in funky finds.  In fact, the hanging art pictured below was purchased from a local recycle artist who has named her business FUNKY FINDS.  On this hanging wonder you’ll see an assortment of glass bottles, bells, beads, a butterfly, and even a die left over from a board or dice game.  The herb (catmint, I think) in tandem with the art is a snippet from my garden. 

Behind the funky find is a poignant, tinted photograph of my mother at age three.  The photo was taken in 1899.  On the small shelves to the right are some of my parents’ toothpick holders, and a Royal Doulton® Mrs. Tiggiewinkle which Joe and I bought in Beatrix Potter country—the Lake District of England.

Below, you will see an answer to the question, “What does one do with those boring kitchen cupboard doors?”  In past homes I have removed them altogether, as cupboard doors make a house look new—and who would ever want that!?!  Also, I’ve been known to paint the cupboard doors, to liven things up a bit.

When we moved here and I mentioned removing the doors or painting them, I could actually see Joe wince in his chair.  Finally it was Joe who said, “Why don’t you decoupage your art on them?”  So that’s what I did, and we both like the result.

Finally, the gallery pictured below is an integral feature of most every happy home I’ve ever visited:  The Refrigerator Door Gallery.  How precious is children’s art, nestled among snapshots and assorted fragments of family life!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, 2010©

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“We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  George Bernard Shaw

What a profound truth!  I know people who think and act “old”, simply because they stopped playing long ago.  And, conversely, I know individuals in their 90s who are still “young”, because of an interest in life and a passion for hobbies and creative play.  My own father lived to be 102, and enjoyed life nearly until the end when his eyes gave out and he could no longer read!  

Creative play is one of our greatest gifts, as we were made in the image of a creative God.  People who have never learned to play are bored, and they are apt to be boring!

I’m thankful to have had parents who realized the intrinsic value of play!  I’m thankful for years of gluing, cutting, coloring, digging in mud (nearly to China!), and grubbing for tadpoles in the river which bordered my childhood home. 

I’m thankful for a mom who let me keep the tadpoles in a fish bowl in our kitchen (until the critters lost their tails and sprouted legs; then they went back to the river). 

I’m grateful for the live Easter bunny I received one year, and for always having a dog to cherish.  I’m thankful for litters of kittens who entertained our family with their antics, back in the halcyon days when cats were allowed to roam at large and actually act like cats! 

I’m thankful for my mother’s huge box of elegant velvet and taffeta evening gowns from the early 20th century, for her plumey hats and beaded reticules—and for countless rainy afternoons of spreading these garments all over the room and dressing up in them.  (My friends and I were allowed to play “Dress-ups” in my parents’ bedroom, because my mother had a full length mirror before which we could parade, primp, and be absolutely silly!)

I pray that—whatever happens in the future—I’ll never grow too old to create at least some little thing with my hands.  I pray I’ll always have a spirit of pizzazz and panache for living, no matter what!  And I pray that, to the best of my ability, I’ll never stop playing!   🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

Note:  I recently posted the above entry on my Northernview blog, and am putting it here as well.  As I face a major surgery next week, play seems more important than ever to me!  My plans for knitting, collaging, and painting projects will carry me a long way to recovery!

When we have things we love to do—creative activities that stretch the mind, imagination, and hands—we can always manage to focus outward rather than inward!  🙂

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We have a standard joke in our family, pertaining to my wall colors.  Prior to painting a wall for me, anyone who opens a can of paint (which I’ve very carefully selected) always says, “Are you REALLY SURE?”

Joe, who has been living with me since 1953, always asks.  And professional painters (whom we rarely hire) always ask, too.  Four summers ago we were in the process of installing a pre-fab guest home on our up-north property.  I loved my lively color selections:  lemon yellow, lime green, aqua blue, herb green, bright coral, and outrageous hot pink. 

The young man who’d been contracted to paint the home for us actually looked stressed out when he opened the cans.  He kept asking, “Are you REALLY SURE?”

(This sweet young man had a gorgeous pony tail.  Now wouldn’t you think a young man with a pony tail would be able to handle a few over-the-top colors?)

Recently, Joe painted some walls here in our condo, pictured above.  With each can he opened, he asked, “Are you REALLY SURE?”

After the first few swipes of the roller, Joe is always pleased.  Yet he will probably ask me again, next time I add a color to our home.  And once more I’ll answer, “Yes, I’m REALLY SURE!”

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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I’ve been a fan of VICTORIA magazine (now called BLISS VICTORIA), since its inception in the 1980s.  The focus of the magazine is gracious living—as reflected in homes, hobbies, places to visit, and creative lifestyles.

I especially savor this gem of a publication because it has always featured fine writing.  VICTORIA has a “Writer-in-Residence” who changes (I think) yearly.  This week I bought the latest issue, and was treated to a poignantly lovely essay by the current Writer-in-Residence, Catherine Calvert—a piece titled, “The Culture of Collecting”.

While reading the essay, I was struck by the following statement:  “I am an emotional as well as intellectual collector.  I have been purchasing paintings of other people’s relatives when I am attracted to their faces, although again, it is the humor and personality that less-talented artists bring to their subjects that win me.”  Catherine Calvert

How that statement resonates with me.  I frequently foray among the garage sales and curbsides, looking for amateur art—especially portraits.  Pictured above are two of my favorite finds. 

The soldier was unearthed from a garage sale box of odds and ends.  Is he Union or Johnny Reb?  The intense blue background infers Union, but Joe tells me that the Confederates had the longer beards such as the one in the painting. 

Whichever the case may be, this warrior appears reflective and reluctant.  If he were Union, he might have been one of my great-great uncles from Wisconsin or Michigan.  But perhaps he was an overwhelmed Johnny Reb, as indicated by his surround of Union blue.

And the elegant lady!  We found her on a Waukesha curbside, on a pile of refuse waiting for the garbage pick-up.  Incredible, to think that anyone would have put her there.  If she was not wanted on someone’s wall, at least she could have been deposited with dignity at St. Vincent’s or a Salvation Army store!

The lady is truly lovely in her 1950s attire.  Joe and I think she resembles my sister, Ardis—or perhaps my friend, Cindy.  The portrait is hanging kittywampus on a door simply because there is odd hardware on the door which makes things hang that way.  Every time I look at the vintage lady in her gilded frame, I’m thankful that we rescued her from the trash!

Our living room/dining area is host to seven generations of my family—actual photos of family members whose names we know:  great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, my own generation, our children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren.  These relatives span the years from circa 1830 to 2010. 

But along with all the familiar faces, it’s heartwarming to invite some mystery people into our home.  The Civil War soldier and elegant retro lady are no longer strangers to us.

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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My friend Linda is a fellow crafter, collector, and lover of home and hearth.  Her home reflects the warmth and joy of her personality.  Linda put a wonderfully encouraging comment on my last blog entry, which I’m quoting here in the event that some of you readers haven’t read the comments: 

“Your ‘cottage’ is wonderful!  All those authors who want us to get rid of our treasures or call them clutter, don’t have a clue.  I wonder if they ever feel the warmth and love you have painted.  Just makes me want to put a pot of that soup on!!!!!”

Thank you, Linda (alias “Sunshine”, and Linda really is a ray of sunshine)! 

If I have a MAJOR PET PEEVE, it is magazines which feature articles on “getting rid of clutter”.  When I see a title referring to “clutter” on the cover of a magazine, I would (almost, not quite) rather venture into the lion cage at the zoo than buy that magazine!

People who prefer stripped-down, bare-bones digs have every right to pursue their personal taste in decorating.  I certainly agree with the wisdom of giving away clothing we don’t use, or odds and ends that serve no sentimental or aesthetic purpose (like extra plastic food containers).  That’s a huge DUH!  

But it’s incredibly rude for the minimalist adherents to excoriate those of us who cherish beauty, creativity, and the memories evoked by our collections!  

I have never before felt the need to “justify” my personal taste.  But now a bit of justification is appropriate, in the hope of possibly freeing up women who are intimidated by trendy magazine articles—and therefore terrified to let loose and express themselves creatively at home. 

I grew up in a little Wisconsin town full of Victorian era homes with attics—those romantic Mother Lode sources of fascinating family history.  My parents were avid collectors—and they frequently took me to antique shops where I wandered spellbound, with my hands carefully clenched behind my back. 

For me, the antique shops were (and still are!) a treasure trove of euphoria:  cabinets laden with glass and porcelain, the fragrance and mellow patina of exquisitely crafted oak and mahogany furniture, shelves of tattered books, bins of lace yellowed with age, sepia photos of someone’s ancestors, old guns, old fishing poles, old kitchen tools, old everything!  My parents introduced me to the poignant charm and beauty of old stuff, domestic history, and visual memories—and I have never looked back!  

But now we are surrounded by a fast-lane, functional, “throw-away-rather-than-cherish” culture—a culture where family history too often means little, and media-deadened imaginations lie dormant.  In our fast-lane society many objects (which have heartwarming stories to tell about people and places) have been labeled “clutter”, and simply trashed. 

Fortunately these unfairly maligned objects may still be found and reclaimed (recycled!) by those of us who care to preserve and appreciate.  Resale shops, antique stores, garage sales, and even curbsides abound in treasures—some useful and some purely aesthetic and/or interesting, which may be the highest “use” of all!   

Sometimes the bare-bones crowd will equate collections with messiness.  That’s really odd!  Many collectors that I know are fantastically NEAT, because they take joy in their surroundings!  Everything has its place, and artifacts are displayed to enhance the beauty of each room.   

I’ve always been a neat freak.  That’s the way God made me, and I’m through apologizing for it.  Neatness and organization are not burdensome for me.  It would be hard for me to be anything but tidy.  

Yet neat freak that I am, I LOVE to make creative messes.  When I cook, build collages, paint, or design a knitted garment, materials can be happily swimming around me.  For art projects, I spread out on all available surfaces—the floor in my bedroom studio, our bed, and even on top of Dylan’s bed when needed.  Then it’s equally fun to clean up my mess!

When a home reflects the hobbies and interests of its occupants, it’s a relaxing place to be whether tidy or messy—and with young children, home is apt to be messy in areas!  A room brimming with the detritus of family activity is a room that reflects life well-lived.

When they were young, our children made trains out of chairs, and tipped chairs upside down to create tents with old blankets slung across the top.  As neat as I was in my kitchen, our living room, and the master bedroom, I always cut our six children some slack.  Their rooms were their sanctuaries.  Although I insisted that they hang up or put away their clothes and tidy their beds, the children were free to save and collect to their hearts’ content.  Books, rocks, shells, stuff culled from rummage sales, stuffed animals, old toys, and countless oddities were their very own treasures! 

As a mother, I remembered how delightful it was for me to be a child with my collections of stuffed critters, paper dolls, bottle caps, chestnuts, Storybook Dolls, and rocks.  Seeing our children enjoy their rooms brought back the mellow joy of childhood for me.

Today my home is a living history museum.  But nothing here is roped off to visitors.  We don’t have any signs that say, “Do not touch”.  When people visit, they can relax in the serenity we’ve created—while savoring the peace of our vintage, slow-lane decor.

“Home” was meant to be a sanctuary, a respite and reprieve from the outside world, a place where we can truly rest and refresh our souls.   “Home” should be far more just a periodic escape from the “real world”. 

For Joe and me, home IS the real world!

Margaret L. Been, ©2010


P. S.  The tea invitation stands!  You can select the teapot we’ll use for the occasion!  🙂

Although “old” is normally my favorite thing in decor, there are beautiful items out there today—ordinary things worth saving such as glass bottles with aesthetically pleasing labels, especially the olive oil bottles. 

The green and brown bottles and charming labels are works of art!  How beautiful are these everyday bottles and jars, with or without their labels, as vessels for a handful of garden flowers or herbs!  I love to have little bouquets everywhere, in delightful containers.

Always I’m awed by the gracious beauty in simple, ordinary things.  Beauty is EVERYWHERE, just waiting for open eyes and receptive hearts! 

If you are a beauty and nostalgia lover—yet have never sampled the delight of Mary Randolph Carter’s books, try seeking her out!  Her books may be out of print, but they are readily available through online used book sites. 

My most beloved of all Carter’s books is, FOR THE LOVE OF OLD.  Her writing is as wonderful as her photography.  Carter exudes the joy of family, family heirlooms, and that mellow meaning in everyday objects which we all share!  

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Although we still spend a lot of time outdoors, especially throughout the beautiful Autumn, cooler weather draws us inside as well.  Joe and love I being at home.  There’s room for everything we enjoy doing, right here in the cozy corners of our little condo which resembles an English country cottage. 

I’ve switched from iced tea to hot tea.  An English teapot and cups and saucers are ever ready on our living room coffee table (where coffee is served as well).  I love to hostess tea gatherings, fiber sessions, poetry readings, and afternoons of book or art talk.  Joe and I thrive on lunch or dinner company as well, and our fall and winter soup* suppers are special.

Now that the heat and humidity are behind me, one of my spinning wheels is constantly before me—and I’m producing more gorgeous woollen yarn for wearable art.  How lovely to spin away a rainy afternoon beside the fireplace**, while drinking Earl Grey loose tea steeped in an English teapot!

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from Dorothy:  “There’s no place like home.” 

So join me, for a mini-stroll through our “Heaven on earth”. 

My mother would be proud of me.  I practice nearly every day!


My gallery of wearable fiber art is always available for viewing.


Our pretty kitchen!  Lots of wonderful things happen here!


Our great-grandchildren’s play corner features this gorgeous doll house which Joe built from a kit years ago.  Completing the doll house with all the individual “cedar shakes” took him longer than it had taken him to add a room onto our home.

The boys and girls love the doll house.  When they visit, it is theirs to arrange, rearrange, redecorate, or whatever.  Not shown in the photo is the rest of the play corner, with a farm and loads of animals which find their way into the doll house.  (My toy dog collection resides there all the time.)

Also in the play corner the little ones enjoy Lincoln Logs, play dishes, many Teddy bears, and loads of wonderful books!  Bring on the children.


If you are ever in the neighborhood, please stop in for tea!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

*For years when we lived up north, we dined at a restaurant which featured sweet and sour cabbage soup.  It was a thin dinner soup, and I purposed to concoct my own thick sweet and sour cabbage soup.  (I make the kind of soups you can almost prop a spoon in.)

By Googling “sweet and sour cabbage soup” I found the constants—the sweet and sour typical proportions for a medium sized crock pot full of soup.  But many recipes contain cider vinegar.  I wasn’t happy with inhaling vinegar fumes while eating soup.  Finally I latched on to lemon juice—the most wonderful “sour” of all.  Here is my sweet and sour cabbage soup:

In a crock pot, cook overnight (14 to 18 hours on low power) a boneless pork tenderloin or boneless beef pot roast in a cup of 100% apple juice, 1 or 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of chicken base, 1 tablespoon of beef base, plenty of white pepper (it has to be white pepper for that wonderful afterglow in the mouth!), salt, and a few shakes of MAGGI®.

The next day, tear the meat apart with forks until shredded.  Remove two thirds of the meat and freeze for a later meal of meat and rice, sloppy Joes, or whatever. 

Keep the remaining 1/3rd of the meat in the crock pot.  Add 3 capfuls of REAL LEMON®, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, more white pepper and salt, a bit more MAGGI®, about one third or one half of a shredded and chopped cabbage, some chopped up carrots, a bit of tomato (not too much—just enough for color and interest), and 3 or 4 tiny chopped up green onion heads.  Add 1 or 2 handfuls of noodles, or 2 or 3 cut up baby reds.  Cook on low power all day—at least 8 hours.

This soup, with homemade or RHODES® bread, jam or honey, and fresh fruit, is about as close to Heaven on earth (foodwise) as you can get! 

But I say the same thing about pea soup, bean soup, minestrone soup, and that amazing post-Thanksgiving turkey soup (made from the boiling the turkey bones, left-over meat and skin, etc.) which we enjoy all winter!  🙂 

**Our “fireplace” consists of 4 behind-the-scene light bulbs over simulated logs.  It glows and “flames” like a fireplace, and also has a heat setting for nippy early Autumn mornings.  These gems come in many sizes, and are available at Menard’s.  The one shown above has an attractive surround, with a mantle for my collection of interesting and funky clocks.

We have a smaller Menard’s “fireplace” in our dining area.  How mellow is that!

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Although most of my childhood recollections are pleasant, today I am sharing one which is not—my memory of that frightening shadow which touched down each year in early August as I was growing up, and mysteriously lifted weeks later with the first frost.

Our oldest child was born in 1954.  A year later, Dr. Jonas Salk introduced the vaccine which would prevent devastating illness and save countless lives.  Until the vaccine was released in 1955, polio was considered to be America’s greatest fear, apart from atomic bomb.

As a mother of 6, grandmother of 13, and great-grandmother of (soon to be) 14 children, I am eternally grateful for God’s intervention through medical science—and for the researcher, Jonas Salk, who enabled us to raise our children in a polio-free environment!


Summer until . . . .

Spilling from school, we scattered over sidewalks

like marbles rolling from a tattered pouch

and June days unraveled to “Moonlight, Starlight,

have you seen the ghost tonight?”

July exploded, with night skies draping color trails,

afternoons melting like ice cream in sticky hands,

while we believed that summer was forever—

summer until . . . .

August came quietly.  Time awakened—

stretching, turning corners, whispering

ominous innuendoes of change.

And then September, unleashing terror

as the paralyzing hand moved among us

maiming, murdering, destroying illusions of summer–

summer until . . . .

Margaret Longenecker Been, ©2010


P. S.  Although the paralyzing hand has been mercifully removed, reverberations go on.  As a child growing up in the 1940s, one of my friends recovered from a case of polio—and she was apparently healthy for decades.  But now in later life, this friend is stricken with PPS—post polio sydrome.  

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, “Post-polio syndrome (PPS) is a condition that affects polio survivors years after recovery from an initial acute attack of the poliomyelitis virus.  PPS is mainly characterized by new weakening in muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection and in muscles that seemingly were unaffected.  Symptoms include slowly progressive muscle weakness and unaccustomed fatigue (both generalized and muscular)—and, at times, muscle atrophy is common . . . .  According to estimates by the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 440,000 polio survivors in the United States may be at risk for PPS.  Researchers . . . estimate that the condition affects 25 percent to 50 percent of these survivors, or possibly as many as 60 percent . . . .”

With love and prayers, I dedicate this entry to my dear friend with PPS.  May God fill her and surround her with His comfort, and with better days!  MLB

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