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Posts Tagged ‘Antiques’

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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Which one doesn't belong

Remember those kindergarten worksheets where a group of objects were pictured, and you had to circle the one which didn’t belong with the rest?  Well, if you play that game with the above photo, I certainly hope you circle the broken piece of junk in the upper left corner!  That doozey not only “doesn’t belong” because it’s broken, but also because it is BRAND NEW—whereas the other items are vintage or just downright OLD.  And some of us know that OLD is often best!

The piece of junk is (allegedly) a jar opener, recently purchased at (you guessed it!) WalMart for (would you believe?) $3.98 plus our Wisconsin sales tax.  We bought one a few weeks ago.  That very night I used it and it broke in my hands—without even beginning to open the jar. 

Being nice folks, we gave the silly contraption a proverbial benefit of the doubt, returned it to WalMart (they are good about returns there), and bought another identical alleged jar opener.  That very same night Joe used it, and it broke in his hands without even beginning to open the jar.  So we wrapped #2 non-jar opener in a bag with its sales slip and for all I know the goofy thing is still sitting in our van.  Returning purchases, even to “good” WalMart, gets old.  We may save ourselves a hassle and simply forfeit the $3.98 plus Wisconsin sales tax.

Meanwhile, back to “OLD is often best”!  The other items pictured above have been with me (or someone else) for a long time, and I am still using them. To the right of the silly piece of junk is a genuine jar opener which was in my family ever since I can remember.  But some jar lids are made differently today, and my family treasure no longer works on every new jar of jam or whatever.  Yet I will never part with it.

The other vintage items have been picked up for a song.  (I do a lot of singing during garage sale season!) I dearly love them, and they warm my heart for 2 reasons:  1) they haven’t broken with decades of use and 2) they are drop dead gorgeous.  I am one of those odd individuals who cannot live without ambience and charm.  OLD normally abounds in ambience and charm, and NEW often does not—with the exception of babies, kittens, and puppies.  They have charm, plus!

Most of our kitchen and dining room items are OLD:  my Grandmother’s (1880) dishes plus our wedding china and a plethora of auction and antique mall gems, Victorian era glassware, old sterling and silverplate, practical utensils like those pictured above, charming tins (mostly made in Britain), wonderful old mixing bowls, etc. 

Contemporary brides register for exotic cookware.  I always smile inside when the gifts are opened at showers.  I truly wonder if those “out-of-the-home” career women are really going to do all that much cooking!  As the latest in French cookery is unwrapped at bridal showers, I fondly think of my circa 1953 pots and pans—the classic Revere Ware which never wears out. 

Over the years I’ve tried an occasional non-stick this, and trendy-pretty that, always to return to my beloved first choice of stainless steel with copper bottoms.  Along with the Revere Ware, I treasure my old cast iron frying pans and Dutch oven.  There is nothing in the world like cast iron for creating rich brown gravy on a brown pot roast baked for hours in a slow oven.  Crock pots can’t do that, and I challenge the exotic French stuff to even try!

Conversely, we do have a few new kitchen items of which I am inordinately fond:  my lime green digital scale (the above-pictured scale doesn’t measure to the ounce—a feature I need for making perfect soap), my flaming red Kitchen Aid hand mixer with 5 speeds, and a funky orange collander (would you believe, plastic?).  Also our coffee pot is new, but actually the concept is vintage; it’s a percolator!  Not many are made today, but there are a few out there—accessible on AMAZON. 

Percolators make real (strong!!!) coffee with a mellow flavor.  Since my mother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”, I won’t even tell you what I think of that other kind of coffee maker—currently ubiquitous. 

Where is all of this Monday morning diatribe going?  Simply here:  it’s only late January, and already I’m chafing, chomping, straining for those garage sales to start.  🙂  In lieu of garage sales, Joe and I may take a spin over to St. Vinnie’s this week.  Just like our home, St. Vinnie’s is a charming place where OLD is often best!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Vaseline Glass--1

Glass has been a major interest and source of delight for me as long as I can remember.  When I was a child, my parents took me to antiques shops which were often located in homes back in the 1930s and 1940s.  When visiting or traveling via small towns (there were no interstate or toll highways to bypass communities in those days) we would cruise through neighborhoods looking for window signs which read:  ANTIQUES. 

Some children might have been bored to distraction by such a pastime, but I was not “some children”.  I can’t even begin to express the joy I experienced when touring these home shops.  My hands were well-trained to remain with fingers interlocked behind my back, so there would be no temptation to touch anything.  In this rather uncomfortable position, I would quietly inspect every shelf within reach of my eyes, and every table-top arrangement of gorgeous Victorian and Art Nouveau glassware.

My parents were collectors of American glassware—especially abundant due to the soils of states such as Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of Pennsylvania and Indiana, and often created by skilled immigrants from Eastern Europe where glass blowing and molding were time-honored arts.  Thus, in the manner of individuals with a happy childhood, I grew up to continue pursuing that hobby which my parents enjoyed so much.  FENTON, NORTHWOOD, AND HEISEY are practically household words for me!

Given this background, my recent weekend in Toledo was memorable.  Joe and I went with our son, Eric, and his wife, Cheri, to visit their daughter, (obviously our granddaughter) Nicole, and her husband, Travis.  Along with being together, the ultimate highlight of this weekend was attending Nicole’s Christmas concert with the Toledo Masterworks Chorale.

But a runner-up to Nicole’s concert, was the fun of being involved in MAKING GLASS!  The Toledo Glass Museum offers ongoing workshops, in which participants make different glass items around the year:  roses, pumpkins, and whatever.  Since my workshop was near Christmas, I made an icicle.

Here are some photos of stages in the exciting process of making a glass object.  I let the workshop expert do the 5000 degree oven phases—and I just did the easy stuff:  rolling the molten glob and shaping it into a rectangle on a metal table, and crimping my icicle with a pincer-type tool to form spirals while the teacher pulled the substance up at the top.

Glass 1

Glass 7

After a glass item is formed, it must cool down very slowly in an insulated container over a period of 2 or 3 days—depending on size.  Since we returned to Wisconsin the next day, Nicole picked up my icicle and brought it to me at Christmas.  And here it is!  ↓

My Beautiful Glass Icicle

Indeed, there are some instances where a picture is worth a thousand words!

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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At a recent social occasion, a young friend shared that she simply can’t stand the word “beige”.  She said it’s so “You know, beige!”  I agreed that “beige” is indeed a boring, generic word when one could qualify with something more colorful like “pale nutmeg”, “1/2 whole wheat,” or “overcooked chicken thigh”.

Anyway, I got to musing about words that I “can’t stand” (I say that instead of “hate” which my parents taught me never to say except when referring to major issues like war, disease, race discrimination, etc).  I came up with two words, and both of them begin with a preposition:  “update” and “downsize”. 

To me “update” is an unimaginative, harshly pedestrian word smacking of anything that would threaten to ratchet me from the 19th and 20th centuries where I felt at home, to the 21st where I live—although that hasn’t yet made a dent in me and I hope it never will!  And I knee-jerk even more, over that intimidating verb—“downsize”! 

Of course some downsizing is essential when it means moving from a large home to a smaller one (we’ve done that three times in thirty-two years—paring a bit here and there without diminishing our penchant for acquiring antiques and junk).  Lack of space is a valid reason to delete some of one’s stuff, to make more space for collecting at the other end!  Also, it makes sense to give our children and grandchildren some family heirlooms and perhaps some silver, china, or crystal—so we can see them enjoying these items before we depart. 

Obviously, when “things” or “clutter” become disorganized in a home—or when they prove burdensome and inordinately time consuming—then it’s good to take drastic action.  Also, we need to run an inventory if things are overly important in our lives.  We are never to idolize stuff! 

While appreciating these disclaimers, I pray Joe and I will never need to change our modus operandi!  I’ll continue to shout from the highest rooftop and scream from the highest mountain, “Bring on the stuff”.  You can downsize me when you lower me into my grave, because by then I’ll have left this earth for the best Home of all!  🙂 

The currently popular fad of downsizing may be partly due to that horrible contemporary lack of commodious attics in which to stash the extra detritus of bygone years.  What a loss to the human race and quality of living—although heating Victorian houses might not appeal to many of us. 

But I think the contemporary downsizing syndrome implies more than the lack of an attic.  Some late 20th century sterility has crept into the American pop mentality.  And by now, nearly thirteen years after the turn of the century (which to me will always mean from 1899 to 1900) our culture has degenerated full-throttle into the crazed concept that everything has to:  1) move fast, 2) be bio-degradable, and 3) be “easy” to maintain.

Those souls who simply cannot live with dust, rust, stains, or tatter, will definitely choose advancing into the 21st century—perhaps in tandem with some who can’t sit still or walk slowly, but rather need to be metaphorically catapulting from coast to coast with a brief lay-over in Minneapolis or Chicago. 

Fortunately, however, there are others who will always resist the latest trend.  We are those intrepid and dauntless anachronisms—suspended in time, while happily preserving the artifacts of other eras.  We anachronisms don’t care two hoots when our stuff gets dusty—although, because I enjoy the process, I actually dust (most) everything twice (or maybe three times) per year whether I need to or not! 

I love rust, the stains of antiquity (barring spilled food and dog messes), and tatters.  I do draw the line at mold, but only because I have a chronic sinus infection and asthma.

So while some may say (often a bit sanctimoniously, as if there were a “spiritual” aspect to downsizing) “I don’t do antiques shops and garage sales anymore”, my husband and I still hit them frequently whatever the season—antiques shops in winter and garage sales in summer.   (Remember, we live in Wisconsin.  That should explain the seasonal element.)

When we lived up north a woman came into our home, looked around, and made a classically caustic comment (get that alliteration—it’s the poet in me).  She said, “How can you do this to your children?”

Well, at least one granddaughter is very glad we are “doing this”!  Once again on this blog I quote our brilliant granddaughter, Alicia, who maintains:  “I know I can’t take anything with me.  That’s why I’m enjoying it all now!”

Above you will see a view in our current home which is much smaller than past digs, yet equally packed with fun and funky stuff—along with whatever heirlooms, china, silver, and crystal we haven’t yet given away. 

When it comes to plain old wonderful junk, and of course home grown art, the population is ever-increasing!  Our gardens and walls will vouch for that!  We are always “upsizing”!  I didn’t say “upscaling”—that would be stressful and no fun at all.  Just upsizing

Our rooms may diminish in numbers, but never in that overflowing variety of ambience loved by that unique breed of folks known as collectors!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012—yet fondly preserving slower years!

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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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