Monday, December 26, 2005
I'm very grateful for everyone's comments. I haven't had time to post them all, so if you don't see yours right away, please don't be offended.
My husband and I were discussing family living of the past, and the subject of gifts. One outstanding characteristic of those days was that not everything came from stores. Not everything was bought, but it was not because they didn't have money. They liked being creative and took great joy in using their artistry to make gifts for their family members.
Sometimes when I'm making something by hand, someone who happens by, will ask me why I bother, when these things are so available in the stores and can be bought. Why bake your own bread? Why make your own gifts? They don't understand it. It has something to do with a feeling you get from doing it, and the feeling you have for your loved ones.
And, lately, the things that people place the most value on, are those things left behind by their grandmothers, like quilts, hand-made furniture, paintings, personal letters, original poems and stories, diaries, and hand work of any kind. While they might enjoy having their grandfather's watch, the family photo album and scrapbook are equally treasured.
Even though the items were hand-made, neither one of us can recall that people felt pressured, stressed, or upset by the effort it took. Maybe it was because making things created an inner contentment in the maker. They were thoughtful people, appearing to be musing about something. While engrossed in hand-making an item, one would look up to focus on a far-away scene out the window. There was a two-fold purpose in this: one, to be able to work their creative minds, and two, to rest the eyes from close-up work. I don't know if people know that these days--that you have to look up from your typing or reading, and focus afar, for the health of the eyes.
Our fathers made things from wood, such as little shelves, toys, rolling pins or carvings, and yet, we can't remember hearing fits of temper over the work. Our mothers made tablecloths, napkins, dish towels, doilies and small carpets (which were in past times called "coverings.") At the treadle sewing machines or when hand knitting something, these women had an aura of calm. We couldn't recall them hurrying or trying to do things at factory pace.
I thought it might be interesting to find out more about things people made at home for ornaments or gifts. In my family, we used trash items such as empty egg cartons, tin cans, empty food boxes, or old cards and wrapping paper.
From the egg cartons, our mother showed us how to fashion silver bells which we used as ornaments to hang on the curtain rods so that they would sparkle in the windows. We just covered them with foil, put a bit of string in them with a wad of foil on the end for the bell.
You can make ornamental tea cups from egg carton sections, by using the cup part for the tea cup, and some of the flat lid for the saucer. Cover in any kind of thin wrapping paper, and decoupage it with glue, or, paint it and decorate with glitter. Make a handle out of some of the carboard or use metallic chennile wire.
Any empty container or box from the kitchen could be covered, painted, glitterized and used as buckets and baskets or treasure trunks holding even more gifts. Kitchen supplies such as applesauce and cinnamon, or waxed paper and parchment paper, were used to make everything from writing paper to scented ornaments.
We were enchanted with glitter, in those days. Glitter covered a multitude of crafting imperfections and the sparkle of it was very welcome in the dull winter climate that had hardly any light. Glitterized things would catch the light of the Coleman lanterns and the home seemed like an imaginary enchanted cottage. Old cards could be cut into shapes and the edges glitterized. We made our own greeting cards, so we used glitter liberally.
In the winter, fathers made sleds for their children, and in the summer, little sailboats to play with on puddles and ponds. Mothers made dolls by drawing out the shape of a doll on fabric from worn out pillowcases or clothing. These dolls had either yarn or pen-drawn hair and hand-sketched faces, sometimes embroidered. Now, there are dolls deliberately manufactured to look like these old hand made toys, but I am sure that as girls grow older, they would much prefer to have a sentimental, worn out doll made by their mother or grandmother's own hands, that would truly be one-of-a-kind.
I'm not suggesting that we should try to make everything we own, but that there can be purpose and satisfaction to making a few things, at our own pleasure and leisure, in this life.
Painting: Acrylic paints on wood. (Click for a larger view)
Friday, December 23, 2005
One of the prominent reasons for stress in the home is disorganization. Sometimes when the house is in disarray, people's tempers run short, and everyone is cross. Sloppy living can sometimes lead to sloppy thinking and confusion. Confused thoughts seem to multiply as the mess multiplies.
It is difficult to have real peace of mind and a peaceful, happy home when disorganization reigns. Women of the past knew the value of cleaning out a desk drawer or straightening out a closet, when their minds began to swim in a muddle of confusion.
I heard many conversations while I was a child, about how women coped with confusion and disorganization in the home. This was long before therapy books, counselling, or tell-all TV shows existed.
"I just start sorting out a book shelf, or clean the kitchen," said one, and "I wash my hair," said another. Asked what they did when they were engulfed in loneliness or grief: "Clean house." It took me years to understand this, but it was something that was practiced in times past, that was constructive. Learning what to do with restlessness, discontent, worry or anxiety, is a lesson that future generations need.
I've tried to put together a simple list of things I've observed in families and homes where peace reigns.
1. Have an accounting of your own posessions and know where everything is, so that you can go straight to an item when you need it.
2. Have friends who build you up and give you energy and inspiration. Too much negative information from people whose lives are always fallling apart, can rub off on you.Daytime shows on television are full of people getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, and getting back into trouble. If you wouldn't allow such troubles in your home, it is wise not to let it broadcast into your living room.
3.Simplify by getting rid of things you do not really need and could do without. I'm not talking about a few good heirlooms from your grandmother's estate, but the unimportant things that are never used and don't have a purpose in the home.
4. Create beauty and order in the home by learning a little about colors and interior decorating. This is a worthwhile investment because it results in many happy, contented hours at home.
5.Do something creative in your life every day--sew, write, paint a picture, arrange flowers, build or craft something, or just arrange a table;--engaging the mind with creativity organizes your thoughts.
6.Treat your family members as though they were the most precious people on the earth, even when they are out of sorts.
7. Don't get caught up in the frenzy of "getting somewhere" in life. As soon as you get there, you will only find somewhere else better to go. Instead, concentrate on building character qualities that will get you anywhere.
8. Read something to improve your mind each day.
9. Don't have too much to do. Too many social obligations, or too much activity can burn out your creativity and cause depression.
10. Instead of pressuring yourself to give people "things," write them notes or letters to build them up.
"To live content with what you have;
To seek elegance rather than luxury,
And refinement rather than fashion;
To be worthy, not reputable, and wealthy, not rich;
To listen to stars and birds, babes and sages with open heart;
To study hard;
To think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions,
In a word to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--
This is my symphony." -- William Henry Channing
"Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have." Hebrews
I certainly don't want to be insensitive to those who are starting out with nothing, nor imply they shouldn't have goals toward getting the things they need to set up housekeeping, but the less you have, the easier it is to find it when you need it. Being organized can eliminate a lot of the pressures in life.
Poster by Judy Gibson
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
A few summers ago when our family was all in the same place at the same time (which gets rarer as they get older), we began a discussion about the significance of stars. We discovered that rather than being just a bunch of cute, twinkling lights, they had significance in a physical and philosophical way.
After discussing the different types of stars and galaxies, we retired to the front lawn, where we laid on our backs upon quilts, looking up at the evening stars. On the nearby road, several cars honked at the sight of this extended family of 10, ranging from the newest child of our daughter, to our twenty-something sons, myself (who is ageless) and 60 year old "Papa," laying face to the sky, on the lawn. I'm sure they might have thought it was a strange ritual we were participating in.
The stars are bodies of light that appear at night in cloudless skies. They are fixed, or planetary, however, planets revolve around the sun and do not twinkle, as do the stars. Each month of the year, a different "house" or section of stars appear in the sky, identified by ancient names, such as Ursa Minor, Ursa Major, and others. These names were formed when astrologers drew imaginary lines between certain stars to form figures of men, beasts, and objects.
Throughout the ages, people of different cultures, though they did not know each other, often created the same pictures from the stars and identified them by the same names.
Stars follow an orbit and are always in the same relationship in placement and distance, to one another, which makes each house easily identifiable as the seasons change. Stars are worlds unto themselves containing galaxies within galaxies, exhibiting the astonishing world of space.
The pole star is a bright star that appears in the tail of Ursa minor, commonly known as "The Bear."
Wandering Stars are a different type of star that do not follow a fixed pattern. They have no fixed path and lead into darkness.
Twin Stars revolve around each other, and appear as one when either is behind the other, ora as a very bright light when beside one another.
The Morning Star is not a star, but the planet Venus. It is often called "The Star of Hope," because it is the last bright light before the sun rises, symbollic of hope. which ushers in the greater light.
Symbolism and allegory are legion in the study of the stars. My first observation is of the importance of early training by faithful mothers and fathers who care about what happens to their children; parents who will tirelessly direct their children and train them, eventually setting them on a fixed course of good habits, good manners and sensibility in decisions.
Another observation is that, while it is amusing to follow a wandering star for a season, fruitless pursuits will lead to ruin. Observing the wandering stars can be of value, though, and also stimulate creativity, as long as it is tempered by good direction and values.
The Morning Star is the star that everyone can hope to be one day: that hopefulness and optimism that it is sometimes darkest before the dawn; that when plans and opportunities are crushed, disappointment can be used as a springboard for success. Your (always) brilliant comments are welcome.
In the 19th century, families often amused themselves in the evenings with telescopes, observing these heavenly objects. Conservatories or upper rooms containing special porches for star gazing, can be seen in some historical homes around the nation.
painting: Evening Serenity by Jim Hansel
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The furnishings of the home enhance its comfort and beauty, but how do you know what is needed, and when you have enough? A less expensive home will be more affordable to furnish and decorate. I would much rather have a small home that I could afford, than a large house that needed a lot of furniture.
If you are new at homemaking, it is best not to overwhelm yourself with too much to look after. Keeping house is just a part of life at home. If you have too many dining rooms, living rooms, bathrooms and recreation areas, you will have to spend more time looking after it. Keeping things simple means that the keeper of the home will have more time for pursuing talents and caring for others.
The inside entry requires a handy place to hang coats and hats and a receiving area for any bags or merchandise you have upon entering the house. Add to this a mirror and a place to hang keys.
A seating area should be small enough that people can speak to one another without shouting. A small rug can give the room more comfort and warmth. A table beside each chair for reading or holding refreshments, is always nice. A coffee table is lovely but not necessary. Some people have found that such a table only collects clutter and gets in the way. Lamps on each end table, and a pole lamp in a corner will give adequate light.
Although dining rooms are very glamorous, they are not necessary and often are more work than they are worth, when considering the steps that have to be taken to get the prepared food from the kitchen to another room. The old fashioned farm kitchen, if you are just starting out, is the most efficient and simplest way of serving your loved ones and keeping house. A corner cabinet that houses any fine pieces of china, tea cups and other collectibles, is a sentimental and beautiful addition to a simple home.
In the beginning, opt for only one bathroom, and that is all you will have to buy soap and towels for, and all you will have to clean. In settling on a house to live in, don't bite off more than you can chew. It is easy to get carried away by looking at what others are doing, but if you choose a small house, you will be able to afford the draperies, rugs and furnishings to fill it.
(painting by L. Sherman)
Monday, December 19, 2005
To some people, a home is just a place to be when there is nowhere else to go, and nothing else to do. Here they get their clothes washed and find something to eat, or pay a duty visit to their families.
Home is more than a place; it is a culture of the family. Here the people develop their own language and humour. Here they find out who they really are. In a world that elevates the independent spirit, people at home learn the art of inter-dependence, where one benefits the others, and in return, others aid in the goals of their own brethren.
Home is a place for fellowship; that is, fellows in the same ship. Every family has its unique qualities that can only be understood by other members of the same family. It is a place where such fellowship can be extended to privileged outsiders, but it is not a place where the family identity can be overrun by the public. It is a private, inner social center that includes only a chosen few, and yet, the flavor of it flows outward to benefit the public in many ways.
Home is also a place of recreation. As the years have gone by, I've found it less necessary to go "somewhere else" to pursue my goals and dreams. My adult children have also learned the value of the home, where they can have their own library, their own art center, their own music studio, and their own place of recreation.
Home is a place of creativity. I've spent many evening with my grown family bouncing ideas off one another; exchanging creative ideas to see if they would work. When my children were growing up, they learned that mornings were the most creatively productive times, and spent their early hours of the day pursing writing, drawing, constructing, and any manner of creativity.
Home is a place of enterprise and history. Just about anything a family does, can be turned into something worthwhile to share with others or to give to the next generation. It seems like every detail of our lives at home has a meaning, from the conversation at a meal, to the way we spend our time. As I remember more things about my own grand parents and great-grandparents, I realize how important our everyday, common habits and speech are to the next generation.
When I speak of "home" I am not necessarily pointing to the structure that surrounds the family, or the house. The house is a shelter for the home, and as such, its care and embellishment is a reflection of the values of that home. The dwelling is an extension of that family's values. Its use is boundless. It can be a place of recovery from illness, a place of care for those who cannot care for themselves, or a place of preparation for adult responsibilities.
Home is a place of learning. Having experienced home education myself, I am glad to tell you of its success. There are no boundaries to learning, when it takes place in the home, for here you have a school without walls, a curricula without limits, and a learning without the restrictions of a prescribed course. I've experienced the delights of children learning to read and write, and then taking it beyond what I could have ever imagined. Further though, it is even more reassuring to see that home-education creates in the family a love of learning and a desire for wisdom.
I've seen people walk into a home and be apparently oblivious to its meaning. They barely notice the family photographs or appreciate the arrangement and comfort of the place. They stand there as though they had just walked through the doors of an instutition supported by taxpayers dollars. They lack the ability to appreciate the home.
When my daughter created her first home, she purposed that she would only have things in it that had meaning for her family, not just things that were there for the material benefit or because of a popular style. From the paintings on the walls, to the colors and textures she chose, her home emits that feeling of meaning.
Happily, there are some people who recognize the potential of the home and are doing their best to preserve marriage and the family. The dwelling itself is becoming the most popular place in our country, as television shows that specialize in home makeovers, are becoming more popular. The home improvement business is the fastest growing industry in the country. We will do well to match the bonding of the family --children to their parents, and parents to each other--with this.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
by J. R. Miller, 1894
Home is among the holiest of words. A true home is one of the most sacred of places. It is a sanctuary into which men flee from the world's perils and alarms. It is a resting-place to which at close of day the weary retire to gather new strength for the battle and toils of tomorrow. It is the place where love learns its lessons, where life is schooled into discipline and strength, where character is molded. Out of the homes of a community comes the life of the community, as a river from the thousand springs that gush out on the hillsides...
Home is the true wife's kingdom. There, first of all places, she must be strong and beautiful. She may touch life outside in many ways, if she can do it without slighting the duties that are hers within her own doors. But if any calls for her service must be declined, they should not be the duties of her home. These are hers, and no other one's. Very largely does the wife hold in her hands, as a sacred trust, the happiness and the highest good of the hearts that nestle there. The best husband—the truest, the noblest, the gentlest, the richest-hearted—cannot make his home happy if his wife be not, in every reasonable sense, a helpmate to him.
In the last analysis, home happiness depends on the wife. Her spirit gives the home its atmosphere. Her hands fashion its beauty. Her heart makes its love. And the end is so worthy, so noble, so divine, that no woman who has been called to be a wife, and has listened to the call, should consider any price too great to pay, to be the light, the joy, the blessing, the inspiration of a home.
Men with fine gifts think it worth while to live to paint a few great pictures which shall be looked at and admired for generations; or to write a few songs which shall sing themselves into the ears and hearts of men. But the woman who makes a sweet, beautiful home, filling it with love and prayer and purity, is doing something better than anything else her hands could find to do beneath the skies.
Painting: A Place to Dream, by Susan Rios, available online.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
It has always been amusing to read from "Sense and Sensibility" Fanny's sudden departure from the subject matter which was getting rather heated. "Tea!" she announced. I know several people that use "Austen-eese" (sayings from the Jane Austen novels) in their vocabulary, when the occasion calls for it .
Seeing we have had some heavy subjects lately, I have felt like saying "tea." Truly, this is an astonishing movement across the United States and Canada. I thought when it first came upon the scene about 20 years ago, it would be a passing fad, but here it is going stronger than ever. There always seems to be a new tea room opening somewhere, or a tea party being held at someone's house. Yet, there are still those who have never been to a tea ceremony or taken tea at home.
Once you've attended such an event, you'll understand why it is all the rage in this country. World events and strife can weigh heavily on your mind, and tea is a perfect respite from it all.
Ladies, just because you are minding the business of the home, and not out working, does not mean that your family will be automatically free from the problems of the outside world. You have to guard your territory, keep it free from those things which break it down, and build up your troops. Families that have meals together or stop for tea at home, seem to have less troubled homes. This does not mean you will be completely free from troubles, but it provides a quiet time away from them.
Now, if you cannot go to tea, tea can be brought to you. You can order tea packages and tea party baskets which contain all the food and the tea, plus a porcelin cup and even a tea pot. If you wanted to put the time into it, you could do this for someone who needs a lift, by finding the items you need, adding your own baked goods, and enclosing it all in a choice of containers: a basket, a bucket, round or square box, gift bag, tray, attractive table cloth or dish towel, or other containers that match the interest of the one you are gifting.
Although home is supposed to be a refuge, certain elements of stress from the world can leave you feeling like you have waged war with giants. That is one reason I believe we don't need a steady stream of news media (often called "the enemy within). The home can be vulnerable to an over-abundance of negative information, which makes it easier to break down. You know it is time for tea when the tension has begun to take over. There is no problem that taking tea cannot make simpler. It is a time to settle down and think. Home can be compared to a nation, with its borders, language and culture. Sometimes, when winds of adversity threaten you, it is good to close the borders for awhile and just have tea, talk your "family-eese" (or Austen-eese) and share your common likes and dislikes, unselfconsiously.
Non-tea-drinkers can enjoy the many flavored infusions that contain no tea leaves at all, and still enjoy using a tea cup and breathing in the aromatic fragrance of lemon, orange spice, or berry. Make tea time special by not drinking it all the time. Reserve a tray with all the increments on it for when you need to have that relaxation. Look forward to sitting down and taking stock of your life, looking out the window at a beautiful scene, or just being quiet.
This kind of ceremony adds a new, safe and quiet dimension to your life. One of the best teas I ever had was homemade bread with fresh strawberry jam, and hot tea. That was all, but it settled my nerves enough to give me a renewed vigour for the remainder of the day and its myriad of responsibilities.
My favorite scones are from the Anne of Green Gables cookbook, and the sandwich which gets the most approval is a shredded carrot sandwich from Andrea Israel's book, "Taking Tea," which my husband bought me in Texas when the tea party revival began back in the early 80's. At the time, it was the only book around on the subject, but now there are hundreds of them. Some parts of Texas were settled by the British in the late 1700's and early 1800's, and there are cities there which have a little of the British flair from that period. I particularly liked The Strand, a 19th century shopping area in Galveston. It has been said that some Texans have always admired the British, rather envy them, and want to be British. The old fashioned custom of having tea in the afternoon is certainly well-done in many parts of Texas that I visited.
You can learn more about having a tea ceremony here http://www.brittasteaparties.com/
If you are alone, making time for tea can take the edge of that loneliness and revive your interest in life. Just take a tray with some hot water and your favorite tea, load up a small plate with wholesome bite-size pieces of good food, and carry it to a comfortable seating area. In a little while your mind will be cleared of the clutter of complicated living; free to allow the creative thoughts that bring light to your life. Fifteen minutes ought to be enough time to meditate on something relaxing and supply your body with the afternoon pick-me-up it needs.
I'd like to share a favorite poem with you:
To love someone more dearly every day,
To help a wand'ring child to find his way,
To ponder o'er a noble thought, and pray
And smile when evening falls: This is my task.
To follow truth, as blind men long for light,
To do my best from dawn of day til night,
To keep my heart fit for His holy sight,
And answer when He calls: this is my task.
by E.L. Ashford.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I've been accused of being a prude, mid-Victorian old lady, and well you know it. Victorians, however were not so narrow-minded and repressed that they did not look for better ways to do things. During this era, discoveries included: telephones, typewriters, computers, sewing machines, lawn mowers, electric lights, radio, phonograph (record players), indoor plumbing, washing machines, and the automobile, photography and moving pictures (movies) to name a few, and I mean a few.
Like any good Victorian, I am very keen on modern invention and technology. What I don't like is how it is sometimes used to demean marriage, home, and family. The film industry has had a reputation for assaulting the viewer with unexpected vileness and lewdness, and so I'm always happy to report about a film that gives hope to the human heart. This is a film you ought to run to your nearest Hallmark Store and buy for yourself, and one for a friend or relative.
This was filmed in Calgary, Alberta, which is considered a sister-city to Denver, Colorado. Although the story takes place in Colorado, my husband and I, having lived there a number of years, could only see Calgary. The scenery is beautiful, one of the marks of some of the recent Hallmark Films.
I loved the era of the 1940's that was depicted: the cars, the house and the interior. Life was simple then, and relationships were more important than things or achievements. I enjoyed watching the somewhat independent Livvy learn to admire her strong, good husband. She is proud of her graduate school studies and disappointed she didn't follow a career, but she learns to apply her knowledge in the life that is at her feet. She wanted to travel the world and explore the lost cities of Ephesis and Troy, but finds that the world has been brought to her through her friendship with two Japanese women, a German prisoner, and the historical artifacts of her own land. She's impressed with her own education but eventually becomes more impressed with the fellowship of the family into which she has married. With all the television sit-coms that portray husbands as doltish fools, or programs that capitalize on tension between men and women, this is a film that teaches the opposite.
At first she isn't too keen on caring for homey things. "You'll have the house to look after," he says, as though he had given her a great gift. (And he has--wait til you see the house!) He reminds her that the farm is not his farm, but "their" farm. Cooking isn't her forte and her face falls suddenly when he says he'll get his library card so she can check out some cook books. I'm sure many women can identify with this sudden change of life.
Although this world is now rich in communication technology, our families often suffer from lack of human warmth shown in hospitality from house to house. They sometimes don't have multi-generational relationships to help them learn what is truly important in life. Movies like this help so much in bringing this feeling of what things should and could be like. I think this is a good story for young people because it shows real love, and how it evolves, as well as getting through difficult times in marriage, learning forgiveness, and building relationships at home.
If you want to view this on television in the U.S. it airs on CBS January the 30th. However I don't think you can get the most out of a movie unless you watch it several times. A tremendous amount of work is put into making a film, and some details can be noticed by watching it a second or third time, so you'll want your own copy. If movies like this had graced our theatres and televisions more often in the last 40 years, we wouldn't have the broken homes that we have today. They give a standard for young people; a feeling of being on a mission.
Go here to find out more, http://www.cbs.com/specials/magic_of_ordinary_days/ and be sure to click on the slide show on the right, for pictures, as well as the trailer video online.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Have a look at this! http://twotalentliving.com/?p=379
This makes my heart sing...and look, folks, we got nominated somewhere, I believe. This is such a wonderful idea, because it gives people a worthwhile goal of doing well on the web. It rewards them for doing good, and it motivates others to leave behind something of value in their path. I don't know about you but sometimes in the course of searching for blogs, I'll come across the most ridiculous and insidious stuff. There are some blogs that are blatantly bad, and they speak for themselves, but the ones that are really sad are the ones written by young people about the worthlessness of life. Here, someone has listed a lot of beautiful blogs. I realize in publishing this, it will cause many people to look who otherwise were not aware of these publications, so if you post, be sure to be polite!
The originators of this were both inspired and brilliant, and a positive reinforcement for those who use blogs for a purpose. There is so much creativity going on the world, and so much talent, I think that blogging will become even more populuar.
"Middlebrook" by Susan Rios available from Cherished Gifts on the web