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Archive for the ‘English Literature’ 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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I frequently meet for lunch with friends from high school; now we are talking about friendships of 60 plus years!  Old friends are comforting and comfortable.  One never needs explain oneself to old friends.  They know who you are.  They know who your parents were.  They recall your youthful endeavors and dreams.  If you’ve kept in touch with old friends as I have, they’ve tracked with you over the years.  They still know who you are today!

New friends are delightful as well.  Often they come from different locales and family backgrounds. New friends share our interests while widening our perspective and understanding of other places and traditions.

My wise mother once said, “Throughout the years you will have a variety of friends.  Each one will be unique in a special way.”

How true!  I have a friend who shares my love for gardens, rummaging, and English cottage decor—and another friend with whom I could literally spend a long day into the evening, discussing books and films:  not only the plots or subjects of books and films but the characterization, character development, character changes, psychological overtones and undercurrents, humor and pathos, irony and subtle innuendoes, historical significance, literary allusions, and metaphorical content.

I have friends who share my love for God’s Word, friends who are fellow fans of dogs and cats, friends who identify with my passion for nature and the out-of-doors, kindred poet-friends who savor gathering for a morning of reading aloud, friends who entertain me with tales of their travels, knitting friends, spinning friends, music-loving friends, friends who relish meeting for a day of making art, friends who share my passion for Israel and Ireland, friends with whom I can laugh, and friends with whom I can cry. 

A friend is one who knows your heart, and encourages you in those creative pursuits which mean the most to you.  A friend is never sarcastic.  A friend desires what is best for you, and responds accordingly in actions and speech.   

Daily I pray that I can always be a friend!  🙂

©2011, Margaret L. Been

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“One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of a March thaw, is the spring.”  Aldo Leopold, A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC

Sunday, as I was coming out from church, I saw 4 Canadas overhead—travelers with an agenda.  They were heading due north.  They were the gigantic Canadas, the kind pictured above at our northern home, not the wussie little ones that remain in open ponds around Southern Wisconsin all winter.  (Actually, the little ones are not so wussie.  They’re opting to brave the cold rather than fly to balmy Texas gulf shores.)

Although farmers get fed up with Canada geese camping in cornfields, I’ll never get my fill of these harbingers of change.  Up north, we watch them raise their families, as flotillas of Canada (not “Canadian”) geese cruise in our bay.  The Canadas pass up our wild yard, and head for our neighbor Jack’s green lawn.  Jack mows and cultivates real grass—the better for eating and pooping upon, my dear.  We’ve had countless chuckles over Jack’s goose yard, and the price he pays for trying to have a suburban golf course type spread in the otherwise gorgeous north woods!  

Mating for life, the Canadas are diligent parents.  When we canoe up the Elk River in summer, invariably a papa goose will soar out in front of us—flying low and honking like there is no tomorrow, in an effort to divert us from his family nesting nearby.

Now, advancing into March, we’ll see hundreds of straight Vs fly over in the days ahead.  The wavy lines in the sky will be the snow geese, another thrilling species of migrating birds.  March brings excitement to anyone with open eyes and ears!

Every March, I recall high school days and the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caeser:  “Beware the ides of March”, in Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESER—read by most every student in his or her sophomore year. 

Over recent years I’d forgotten what the “ides of March” were—but I recently asked my friend Wikipedia, and he bailed me out.  (How great to have ready reference to the many questions that surface every day and week!)  Here is the answer, which probably most of you readers already know: 

“Ides of March (Latin: Idus Martii) is the name of 15 March in the Roman calendar, probably referring to the day of the full moon. The term ides was used for the 15th day of the months of March, May, July, and October, and the 13th day of the other months.[1] The Ides of March was a festive day dedicated to the god Mars and a military parade was usually held. In modern times, the term Ides of March is best known as the date that Julius Caesar was killed in 44 B.C. Julius Caesar was stabbed (23 times) to death in the Roman Senate led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus and 60 other co-conspirators.”  Wikipedia

Since I have a “chain link” mind—one link leading to another—I couldn’t help musing over the fine quality of education which we received in the 1940s and early 1950s.  The teachers in my high school (in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa) were dedicated to their subjects.  They had been classically trained in their discipline of choice, and they had not been burdened with the necessity of focusing on “studies” in “learning how to teach”.*

An abject passion for English literature, history, chemistry, or whatever, made for good teachers—and immersion in academics created excellence in the classroom.  I know that my high school English teacher, Julia Henninger, was far more wrapped up in Shakespeare and Milton than in whatever material benefits she may or may not have been receiving for her life’s work.  I am thankful for the education I received in school, and for the awareness of history and classical literature that resulted from my privilege of growing up in a family of serious readers.

To tie up this nebulous ramble, by the ides of March we’ll probably have seen many more of those thrilling northbound travelers!

Margaret L. Been©2011

*I went off to Colorado University in 1951, armed with a passion for English and French language and literature.  By the time I enrolled in my sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, I realized that in order to teach I would have to take so many “education” classes that I wuld not have the freedom to immerse myself deeply into all the English and French classes I craved.

So I simply continued in my areas of passion.  I accrued more than the English and French credits required for a double major by the time I left school (after completing the first semester of my junior year) to embark on the amazing career of raising 6 children.  And I’ve never stopped reading!

When we love to read and learn, we continually grow.  Self-education may not put us in the upper echelons of Corporate America pay scale, but it definitely provides a varied and in-depth education.  As long as we have libraries, self-education is free and available to all Americans.

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