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Archive for the ‘American Pioneers’ Category

Reflections on Home

®®New Play Area

My philosophical mother left me with many quotes on which to ponder, one of them being:  “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.”

That certainly is a fact, as each of us was created to be unique.  Each of us is an original piece of art.  Although we may have similarities we were not intended to be prints or reproductions of another human.

I try to understand other people whose style and preferences differ from mine, and it’s just plain fun to discover whom people are and what “makes them tick”.  Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with another person is by visiting in that individual’s home.  I want to believe that most people who spend considerable time in their homes have some pastime they love, some kind of a life within their walls.  This life may be reflected via the books on the shelves, the cookbooks and appliances in the kitchen, baskets and tables overloaded with crafting supplies, the presence of houseplants indoors and gardens outside the windows, a dog or cat (or both), and of course a musical instrument—perhaps more than one.  The presence of art on the walls and family photos on shelves and tables says a lot—if indeed the walls, shelves, and tables are laden with pictures which are worth a thousand words.

But occasionally when visiting a home I draw the proverbial blank.  No books, no projects, no art to reveal a period or style of interest, no messes, no pets, no plants beyond the “tastefully correct” one or two—potted in matching, stylized planters rather than those ice cream buckets and COOL WHIP® containers which frequently hold my overflow of greenery.  Not even a happily messy computer corner!  Sadly, only one piece of equipment normally characterizes the apparently wasteland homes:  that ubiquitous television.

Quite possibly, the homes which appear sterile, sans personality, may not actually be like that at all.  When one is a guest, one seldom sees all the nooks and crannies.  In the most generic of furniture store homes, there are apt to be hidden away places where the residents read, craft, make music, or whatever.  As interested as I am in people and their lifestyles, I certainly don’t want to be crass and ask to see their hidden recesses—the NO ENTRY zones of a house.  So I give my host or hostess that benign benefit of the doubt.  Certainly they have some life passion, some activity that causes them to jump out of bed each day and say “HELLO, WORLD!”  Probably my host and hostess simply have chosen not to divulge exactly whom they are and what they are about.

I accept the preference for anonymity, and I understand that I may be the odd one in today’s world.  I LOVE to share.  I love to be transparent—an open 1000 page book with loads of information on every page.  As much as I love to know, I love to be known.  And as far as I know, that’s the way life was originally intended to be!  Unlike that pair in the Garden after the fall, I have absolutely no desire to hide from God or anyone else!

Meanwhile, since Joe and I have moved into a four room condo it is easier than ever for visitors to ascertain what we are all about.  Our interests pervade every corner of our home, for all to see and enjoy.  We have never had more of ourselves on our walls, tables, shelves, and floors—and we are delighted beyond expression with the overflowing abundance of our current time of life.  Crowded, YES!  Even CLUTTERED—although to me “clutter” bespeaks random chaos, and I will have none of that.

Tidiness and order rule the day, and we can always stuff one more meaningful object into the order of our home.  Minimalist gurus (who for some odd reason find no significance in memories manifested all around them, no joy in the colors and textures of a life well-lived) will call us “hoarders”.  I call us “LOVERS OF LIFE”!  Thus the spinning wheels (which really spin beautiful yarn from luxuriously fleeced sheep’s wool) lurk behind a favorite easy chair, accompanied by baskets of wool and more baskets of yarn—plus needles and other accoutrements of knitting.

My piano hosts an assortment of music books—and musical scores printed out and taped together so that I can play without turning pages.  Our kitchen contains the necessaries—toaster, coffee pot, blender, crockpot—plus a representation of bygone eras in funky kitchen collectibles.  Our dining area buffet serves as a display area for my soap industry—while hundreds more soaps are stacked in drawers and stored in huge plastic bins under furniture and in closets.

Our bedroom is also my art studio, with a messy table for acrylics, collaging, etc., and another table for watercoloring.  Crammed into a bedroom corner is my writing studio with my very own laptop, printer/scanner, and voluminous files (I will always love paper).

My husband’s den is his bit of Heaven on earth with the TV, his own computer/printer/scanner, filing cabinet, posh reclining chair (suitable for snoozing on), and even a daybed for that occasional afternoon “lie down”.  Joe keeps his clothes in a dresser and closet in his den, while our enormous bedroom closet houses my clothing plus bins and shelves laden with more soap and somewhere between 600 and 800 paintings.  I tell our children they’ll have a post-humous fortune on their hands some day.  (Obviously, I’m joking!  My art is amateur stuff, paying dividends of endless and infinite fun!)

Both living room and bedroom have indoor garden areas—with tropicals in the east facing patio door, and succulents in our south facing bedroom window.  And everywhere are BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS.  Shelves groan with books, tables support the weight of them, and floors feature book towers in every room.

All of that—including a zest for collecting with a partiality for Victorian era art glass produced by our great American 19th century glass companies, English china, and most anything vintage and funky—goes a long way toward telling our guests whom we are, in this happiest of homes which I’m inviting you to tour with me today!

The above play area is a magnet for our great-grandchildren (16 children, ages 10 and under) who visit whenever they can.  And my happy little kitchen beyond.  (Actually, it’s Joe’s kitchen for the duration of my post-surgical, arm-in-sling adventure.)

Fiber studio

My fiber studio resides behind a living room easy chair.  The spinning wheels are not for “show” (although they are very beautiful, made from cherry wood).  The spinning wheels spin, and produce luxury yarns for sweaters, scarves, and hats.  Years ago, Joe made the pine dry sink for me.  It houses my collection of English flow blue china and my Grandma Kate’s English (Aesthetic Period—circa 1885) Indus wedding dishes featuring graceful birds and foliage reminiscent of the British Empire in India.

Most of the baskets in our home are homemade.  The one with the coral insert is an Irish potato basket, and below it with gorgeous ultra-marine blue/violet fleece inside is an egg basket—both crafted by moi.  The larger basket, in the style of Wisconsin Native Americans’ basketry, was woven by our daughter-in-law, Cheri Been.

make art

One of the many perks in our condo home is the fact that Joe and I each have our very own bathroom.  What fun is that!  Joe’s is the larger of the two, and it contains a shower which he loves.  (I HATE showers, probably because they remind me of that most detested of all scenarios—high school gym class!)  I have a tiny bathroom, but it contains a TUB (one of the great loves of my life).

I painted the blotchies on the upper walls, and our grandson, Tyler Been, painted the gorgeous New Mexico-ish red lower walls.  This is my Louis L’Amour bathroom—replete with cowboy pictures, and photos of family members on horseback.  As you can see on the above left, I have hung some of my own Southwestern art here as well.

TPJ 2

Here is another shot of my sweet loo.  The Civil War era folding chair is a family heirloom, with needlepoint painstakingly stitched by my mother many decades ago.  I treasure the no-longer-available glass ARIZONA TEA® bottles, plus my collections of all things horsey and Western.  (The oil painting on the left is not mine.  It was a rummage sale prize, unearthed a few years ago.)

Art 3

The messy inner sanctum of my studio is open to all who venture here, since we always have our company put their wraps on our bed.  That’s an old fashioned thing to do, perhaps dating back to when closets were not so prevalent as they are today.  To me, wraps on the bed are the most gracious way to go.

soap 5

No home photo shoot would be complete without a glimpse of my soap.  I brag about my soap way too much.  It’s excellent, and we have used nothing but my home made soap since 1976.  Today my soap is far removed from that crude stuff the pioneers made over an open fire, using fat drippings from their slaughters and kitchen grease cans.

I use the finest vegetable oils (olive being the Lamborghini of oils!) and pure, rendered tallow—all of which I purchase online from COLUMBUS FOODS in Chicago.  High grade cosmetic pigments go into the soap for color, plus quality fragrance oils.  I have online sources for these ingredients, as well.  Soap making is an expensive hobby, well worth ever drop of cash and elbow grease involved!  And we saponifiers always have a beautiful gift to offer our family members and friends—the gift of the finest soap.

Ambience (2)

Old painted furniture, dried hydrangeas, British India style shelves, platters and bowls which don’t fit in cupboards and thus are relegated to the floor, family photos, sparkling glassware including Vaseline glass with glass fruit, cookbooks, a teapot and cups and saucers (just a few of a plethora about the home), and a toy bear (also one of many) co-exist in happy harmony.

Now if you happen to be thinking, “This is really weird!” just remember:  “It takes all kinds of people to make a world!”

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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When our son, Karl, was five years old he imparted to me a bit of wisdom that will serve me all my days on earth.  We were out walking, and we saw a baby robin hopping on the grass.  Karl commented, “If I ‘ketched’ a little bird, I would not put it in a cage.  I’d hold it for awhile, and then let it go.”

Life is an ongoing exercise in holding for awhile, then letting go.  Currently I am letting go of a beloved young family:  our grandson, Joshua, his wife, Kelly, and their precious children—Ethan, Cole, and Ella.  These Valentines (that is their last name!) are moving to California, where Josh has accepted a new job. 

Josh and his family have been our neighbors for the last two plus years, here in the northern reaches of our county.  They are the kind of people who show up and sit quietly by your side when you have been rushed to Emergency.   We’ve stashed away a treasure trove of memories with these young people—pizza outings, birthday celebrations, strolls in the park, and lots of ice cream occasions.  I have shed tears over losing this family, and I’ll undoubtedly shed more tears.  Yet I smile to think of Kelly enjoying San Diego.  Kelly and I are alike; we love warm weather!

I often reflect on how radical it was back in the 1800s when Easterners went West, facing incredible hardships and dangers.  Even more life changing was the uprooting of millions of immigrant families who came to our land from other continents, for a fresh start and the hope of a better life—or, as in the case of most of my ancestors, for religious freedom.  We can concentrate on thinking with all we have, yet we cannot begin to comprehend what those early settlers experienced—let alone the courage they displayed.

So California is not that far away, and it is not inaccessible!  A few hours by air.  Yet it sounds like the other end of the world to me, now that flying is no longer one of my favorite things!  I would relish a long trip on the Amtrak, but sitting on a train is not Joe’s idea of fun.  We’ll see what we can dream up.  Meanwhile our loved ones will be back to visit, with so much family in Wisconsin.

 ↑ Ethan (in front), Joshua holding Cole, Kelly holding Ella 

Letting go!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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At last, winter has dumped its trademark on our Northern land.  The world around our country condo and quiet park is heaped in the quiet beauty of winter.  Our little patio is heaped.  I love the charming top hats on the bird feeder and saxophone-playing frog—leaning against the feeder as if he were a bit inebriated.  Against the patio door you will see a five dollar poinsettia plant (fake of course) wearing a dusting of snow.  Soon the Christmas plant will be replaced by other fake blooms, until next December.

Now our local ski trials are being groomed for the cross country crowd.  “Downhillers” who long ago exhausted the limited thrills of Midwest runs will throng into airports and board for the high country.  I no longer ski, and I never was intrepid in the high country, although the Colorado Rockies are like a second home and I love to experience their beauty in any season.  While the rest of my family skiied in Colorado, my favorite sport was just sitting outside the lodge in that glorious Western sun and clear, dry air—while savoring a natural Rocky Mountain High.  But there is another winter sport that, in my mind, beats all:  the ceremonial indoor change to spring. 

Here is how it goes around the year.  Late every August I stash my Russel Wright IROQUOIS® dishes, Vaseline Glass pieces, and lemon yellow Depression Glass in a cupboard so that we can adorn our dining table and buffet with Carnival Glass pitchers and bowls, and a harvest-motif set of English china decorated with baskets of luscious autumn produce.  In mid-November, the harvest dishes yield to English Transferware in red and white—paired with ruby red Depression Glass.  Sometimes the red dominance remains in view until after Valentine’s Day, but not this year.  As of today, our village of Nashotah boasts 18 minutes more daylight than we had at the winter solstice.  I’m feeling those minutes.  Extra daylight, winter sun on fresh powder, and the joie de vivre have catapulted me into the new year in celebration of the sparkling season on hand and anticipation of glorious days ahead.

So last evening at dusk we made a seasonal change from red transferware and ruby red Depression Glass—to toothpick holders* and other accent pieces of Vaseline Glass, our lemon yellow Depression Glass sugar and creamer, and (once again) the Russel Wright IROQUOIS® Casual China in soft hues of yellow, green, blue, and pink.  Included in the dining table setting (pictured below), is the Prince Albert MOONLIGHT ROSES® teapot which Joe and I brought home from Cornwall in 1993.  A MOONLIGHT ROSES® cup and saucer accompany the teapot. 

The cliché “What goes around comes around” certainly fits!  Joe and I woke up this morning to sparkling snow outside, and a breath of springtime within—thanks to my passion for, and perennial delight in, seasonal ceremonies.

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

Note:  My parents gave me their gorgeous collection of toothpick holders, many of which are very old.  For years at other homes, we kept the entire collection on glass shelves in large windows.  Now I simply rotate these treasures around the seasons, color-coordinating the glassware with the time of year.

I often reflect on the toothpick holders.  Within my memory are many years before TV, cell phones, and Daytimer agenda books—when folks had time to sit around the dining room table, picking their teeth to remove those shreds of leg of lamb or pork tenderloin. 

Along with fostering a leisurely quality of life, toothpick holders and toothpicks were probably a substitute for flossing.  Certainly a Vaseline Glass toothpick holder and toothpick afford a lot more ambience than could ever be found in that yucky floss which dentists and hygienists badger (no, order!) their patients to use!

As I enjoy the toothpick holders and all the other lovely old glass collections in our home, it is also fun to reflect on how American glass manufacturers produced such exquisite wares during the heyday of art glass—due to special sands and soils in places like Ohio and West Virginia, and the amazing skills of the glass-artisans who immigrated from Eastern Europe.  We have a special cultural history, here in the USA!  MB

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For Christmas in 2005, our daughter-in-law Rosemary gave me a wonderful handcrafted gift:  a microwave-able flannel bag filled with corn to provide comforting heat for an aching back (or whatever else might be hurting).  This treasure was called “achey-bakey”, and I have personified it by calling it a “him” with capital letters:  Achey-Bakey.  Most every night Joe goes through the ritual of heating up Achey-Bakey, and bringing “him” as a love offering for me and my degenerating spine.

After five years of receiving comfort nearly every night, I suddenly discovered corn in the bed.  Achey-Bakey had sprung not one but many leaks, as the flannel had begun to disintegrate under the frequent onslaught of heat—four minutes on high power.

I had a nine-patch square on hand, left over from a quilting project.  I added a back piece and fashioned a new pillow for Achey-Bakey—or rather for his corn filling.  My art mania has taken up so much available space in our Southern Wisconsin home, that there is no room at present for my sewing machine to be permanently set up, so I stitched the pillow by hand. 

While stitching, I couldn’t help but reflect on the time-honored art of quilting—and the centuries of comfort and beauty created by women with their needles.  In recent years I’ve read a lot of fiction and non-fiction based on 19th century pioneers and the settling of the American West—an interest shared by many in our nation, and mirrored in the ongoing popularity of quilting as a hobby as well as a tribute to the past. 

Whether handmade from scratch, or machine pieced and quilted by hand (or that fabulous long arm machine), there is a poignancy about pieces of fabric designed and quilted.  Historically many women needed to make most of the clothing, linens, and bedding for their families.  People needed warm blankets and these could have been simply assembled out of two large fabric squares or rectangles filled with a wool batt, sewed at the sides, and secured with tufts of yarn throughout.  Many good comforters were (and still are) made that way.  But the arduous art of quilting pieces of fabric fashioned into a design spoke of another need, less basic yet perhaps more profound—the need for beauty! 

Here is where the poignancy comes in.  I think of the raw realities faced by pioneer families moving west—the constant toil of the trip, the potential famine and/or death from disease along the way, and the dangers of Indian raids.  Women could transport very few objects of beauty with them in a covered wagon.  Perhaps some pretty dishes (if they actually had any) were stashed in barrels of flour or cornmeal.  Only a few homey objects of furniture could be crammed into the family wagon.  Nearly every material object had to be useful. 

Migrating west was a process of paring life to the bone.  In the face of daily fatigue and stress, these women had one recourse—one outlet where they could feed their hunger for beauty, and that outlet consisted of fabric, needles, and thread.  Only in fabric could a pioneer woman indulge in flights of fancy and the luxury of creating beauty.

The popular art of quilting celebrates our nation’s past and the age-old efficacy of women’s hands—ever striving to fill a functional necessity, while expressing that deeper need of creating beauty.  The expression of beauty can even include a bag of heat for aching bones!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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