Posts Tagged ‘“English Garden”’


Scarves and shawls, plus capes and sweaters, fulfill as much of my creative energy as do paints.

Above are samples of pure silk blanks (available online via Dharma Co., CA) painted with Sharpies fine (brush tip are great) permanent markers (not the oil base ones).  This is too much fun.  Just color/color/color the scarf to your heart’s content, and when satisfied spray (saturate) with rubbing alcohol.  Allow to dry, then press with a hot steam iron.

These recently sold well at a pre-holiday fair.  Everyone loves them.  The selection of blanks is great—Dharma even has dancing veils.


Here Pinkie is happily modeling the world famous Potato Chip Scarf–so named 1) because it curls and 2) because you can’t just make one.  They are as addictive as the edible, salty variety.

And below we have Pinkie again, cowling it up.


Knitted, of course.  I go on yarn surges.  A few years ago, it was Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino.  Then Cascade 220.  Then Cascade Sunseeker.  Now it is Malabrigo Silky Merino:  49% silk and 51% merino wool.  All are wonderful.  All are unabashedly overflowing and falling out of countless baskets, many of which I have made in former years of “also passions”.

And shawls.  I make long shawls—prayer shawls, gift shawls, and some for myself.  A long shawl is the perfect wrap for our autumn and spring weather, either layered over a blazer and sweater or by itself.  And I love these little guys:


(The borders are crocheted.)  No, I didn’t make the penny quilt.  For me, knitting needles are relaxing—but sewing needles and machines are nerve wracking.  This quilt is a beauty.  It was some unknown artist’s masterpiece, possibly during the Great Depression, as the fabrics are apparently used clothing.  The quilt is huge, even on our queen bed.  We won it at a local auction years ago.  It’s been moved two times, stored on a high closet shelf, and now we are featuring it on our bed.  Things are to be used and enjoyed, especially with a good number of years behind us and not quite so many years left.  Why not?  🙂

spinning in the summer

Finally, spinning.  The basket filled with color contains wool roving, and the white fiber in the pink basket is silk.  Two excellent Jensen wheels, Wisconsin made, grace our living room and in this case one of them is (characteristically in seasonable weeks) working on our patio.  What a joy to make yarn, and knit it.  I still have a lot of gorgeous deep brown Shetland from my last two silly sheep, in the late 1990s.

But the patio leads out to even one more of many passions:

Faithful Bleeding Heart

Coming SOON!  I can hardly wait.  How about you?

Margaret L. Been — February 28th, 2016

Read Full Post »

Patio Afternoon

 Brewed in the sunshine

poured over mountains of ice

laced with garden mint . . .

Margaret L. Been August 2015 

Read Full Post »

Swamp Fire

Awhile back I experienced a kind of “painter’s block” where I felt like I would never again be able to paint anything which might serve to slightly elevate my very low blood pressure, let alone anyone else’s.  This has happened to me fairly regularly over the past six years in which I’ve been making art.  Because I love art with a passion, I refuse to give up where my painting is concerned and I’ve discovered ways to boost my psyche out of any potential creativity block.

Along with “keeping on keeping on”, it helps immeasurably to add a new medium or avenue of expression to the art-making so that the process never becomes routine.  I have no desire to become stylized by reproducing cookie-cutter, look-alike work; hence I’ve added gouache to my watercolor stash and periodically I produce collages from a large collection of saved “everything” in terms of visual appeal, textural quality, and treasured memorabilia.  A new-to-me paint color, often from a new-to-me manufacturer, is another exciting form of recharging my art batteries and crashing through the artist’s block.

DVDs and books by artists are an ongoing source of inspiration to me.  I view and read them over and over, constantly finding something fresh and applicable.  Hence I have not one but many teachers.  Recently I received an absolute no-fail “block-buster” via a new-to-me DVD, by a new-to-me artist/art instructor:  British watercolorist, Ann Blockley.

Ms Blockley’s love for nature springs to life through her exquisite paintings achieved with a variety of methods.  She uses acrylic ink, oil pastels, and other materials in her work, reflecting a vitality and sense of beauty in the smallest details of nature alongside a background of landscape bordering on abstract forms which I find tremendously compelling.

Ann’s color choices leap over any possible boundaries which might threaten to confine a painter enamored with, or driven by, objective realism.  Much as I appreciate the incredible skill represented in realistic art, my head and heart are stirred by work that overcomes those boundaries—work that embodies mystery and stirs the imagination.  If I want realism, I enjoy photography—another fantastic art.

In her DVD, Ann Blockley stresses what most artist’s value:  painting what we love, from our experience.  Although Ann paints in her studio (a charming antique outbuilding surrounded by her lush garden on her English country property) she gathers inspiration in time spent outdoors with nature in all seasons.  She sometimes sketches details which capture her interest when walking, and gathers information concerning subject matter to develop in her studio—along with branches of seed pods, leaves, and flowers which bring nature indoors.

I feel akin to this artist, as I never never can go for a walk without bringing in something:  pine cones, some fallen nuts (even just nutshells cleaned out and abandoned by squirrels), stones, leaves, dried on the branch flowers, etc.  Our visiting great-grandchildren love to sort through my numerous stones and rocks—plus shells that I’ve collected myself on inland beaches along with gorgeous ocean shells which have been given to me by friends who spend time on ocean beaches.  Thus, after viewing the Blockley DVD a few times, the above rendering of a swamp emerged.  Like THE GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST, I have always loved swamps, and Joe and I were privileged to live overlooking a Northern Wisconsin swamp for several years.

So thanks to one more British artist, I have leaped over another incident of artist’s block and I’m re-energized—raring to go on.  My list of favorite and most inspirational water media teachers, through books and DVDs, has grown again.  The list includes one Canadian artist, one American, and four from Britain.  Those stats tell me that since the venerable art of watercolor painting (or rather watercolour) was long-ago perfected in England, we “colonists” can be eternally grateful for our heritage!!!  I know that I am!!!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, November 2014

Read Full Post »

soap 3

I think I featured this one awhile back, on this blog.  But anyway, here goes.

My “soap opera” began in 1976, when like so many of that era I was crazy to do every earth mother craft possible.  A group of us women met at a Milwaukee church kitchen.  We brought bacon drippings and roast beef fat trimmings, kettles and cooking spoons, and cardboard boxes for a day of “fun”.  Although I can’t recall having rendered the meat drippings at home, I must have done that—or perhaps I did not render them at all (rendering meaning to simmer with water, cool, and skim off the clean fat for use while discarding the sludge).  Anyway, at the church kitchen we heated our fats and cooled down the mixture.

Someone had brought that old product, RED DEVIL LYE.  We sprinkled this into cold water, and after a bit of cooling time the lye water got stirred into our grotesque mixture of fat.  We stirred and stirred.  I can’t remember that anything significant happened to the stirrings, except for perhaps a slight thickening.  Finally, we poured our stirrings into cardboard boxes lined with something—shelf wrap, waxed paper, whatever—and home we went.

The day was in late February.  As I left the church, Canada Geese were winging northward bringing with them the euphoria that early spring signs always bring.  The Geese were the best part of the day.  By the day I got my box home, loose lye had sloshed and sprayed all over the box.  As I lifted the box out of the (would you believe?) station wagon (where are those beautiful vehicles?  I miss them!), I got nasty little stings from the lye.  At home the mess went to our basement, and finally in the garbage.  It was awful!  In retrospect, I wonder how many of those women ever tried again.  For me, such a colossal failure is like the proverbial red flag to the bull.  I had to succeed at soapmaking, and I persisted until finally things began to work.

Old bacon drippings and fat from roast beef, pork, venison, etc. were the only available base oils on the frontier, but I soon learned that beautiful fats are necessary for beautiful soap.  Most butchers will part with fat cuttings from raw meat.  For years I purchased the tallow from a local butcher (good quality bird suet is the best) and rendered it myself.  Lard is good, also, but beef tallow makes a harder, longer lasting soap.  One fat which will not work at all is poultry fat.  Never, no never use that!  For those who object to using animal fats, pure vegetable oil soaps are beautiful as well—olive oil soap being the best!

Now I order rendered tallow from an online source, along with vegetable oils which make up the soap’s base:  olive oil (the Lamborghini of vegetable oils), palm oil, coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, etc.  All of my other supplies* (except for the utensils) are delivered to my door as well:  sodium hydroxide (generally called “lye”), fragrance oils (or essential oils if you prefer), decorative molds, and colorants.

I will not post instructions for soapmaking, as it is a touchy chemical process.  Friends come on occasion, to observe and take notes—as that is the very best way to learn.  There are plenty of books and online sources for soapmaking as well, and some of these are fine.  But there are also some downright screwy books out there.  Buyer beware!  Learning from another person is the best method.  Nearly every local farmer’s market will feature a vendor of homemade soap—and that’s a great place to make inquiries and possibly find a teacher.  Meanwhile, the entire procedure is so exciting that, as with paints and yarn, it is downright overwhelming

Immediately after making the soap, it must sit covered in a warm spot for twenty-four hours.  For years I poured the mixture into lined wooden boxes, and covered the boxes with wool blankets.  This was fussy and space-consuming in the kitchen!  Now I simply cover the molds with plastic wrap and stack them between heavy cardboard dividers in my oven.  (An insulated, draft free box!)  I put a bit of masking tape on the oven door and dial—just to make sure someone doesn’t preheat the oven and pop in a pizza!  🙂

The soap MUST CURE uncovered, on a platter in your home for two or three weeks.  Then it will be totally, perfectly SAFE AND FOOL PROOF TO USE.  It is safe and luxurious to use on your face, or on a baby’s butt:  perhaps the safest possible cleanser—far better than anything on the shelves at the drugstore or supermarket.

Commercial soaps (with rare exception) are made with some petroleum oil.  That’s detergent.  Cosmetic sales people are absolutely correct to discourage people from using most commercial soaps, as these are rarely good.  But cured homemade soap cannot harm the face or body.  What’s more, the homemade soap will do the face and body worlds of good.  Whereas the skin softening ingredient known as glycerin is removed from most commercial soaps and sold for pharmaceuticals or ingredients in explosives, homemade soap retains its glycerin—a natural byproduct of saponification (soapmaking).

Amazingly, when the fat and sodium hydroxide mingle, they form a complete new thing—SOAP.  The fat is no longer fat, and the lye is no longer lye.  It’s all about soap.  So when you go to a farmer’s market and see a table of homemade soap, you can buy it and use it with confidence—providing the soap has been allowed to cure for two or three weeks.  If you have any doubts about the aging time, just buy the soap and let it sit for two weeks before using it.  You will never regret that purchase, and chances are you will go back for more!

Often venders will offer a line of soap with no perfume or colorants, for those who are sensitive to those additives.  I actually do make plain soap for one family member who likes “plain” best.  But the amounts of perfume and colorant which I use are so slight, and the quality of these ingredients is so fine, that there simply are no problems with my beautiful soap.  People always come back for more!!!

Margaret L. Been, 2014

*For my online sources, just GOOGLE:  Base oils—Columbus Foods; Fragrance and/or Essential Oils—Lavender Lane, Symphony Scents, Brambleberry; Colorants—Symphony Scents;  Molds—Brambleberry; Sodium Hydroxide—The Chemistry Store.

Some of the suppliers listed above carry most of the necessary ingredients:  base oils, fragrances, color, and molds for those who prefer one-stop shopping.  I’ve just mentioned my favorite sources for each thing.  But the sodium hydroxide must be purchased from a chemistry supplier.  The Chemistry Store requires buyers to fill out and sign a form renewable every year, attesting to your age and waiving the company’s responsibility for your use of the sodium hydroxide—a very dangerous, toxic product.

If RED DEVIL LYE can still be found, DO NOT USE IT.  Reportedly, it now contains other ingredients with the sodium hydroxide—things like bleach.  IT WILL NOT WORK.  And DO NOT EVEN DREAM OF USING DRAINO!   Fine for clogged plumbing, but never for soap!!!

Rubber gloves, a cheap disposable mask, and goggles or glasses should be worn when working with the sodium hydroxide.  I NEVER make soap when children or pets are underfoot.  As aforementioned, my first experience at saponifying involved a group.  Poor planning!  Soapmaking is not a groupie thing.  I will invite ONE person to join me on occasion, a friend or family member who wants to learn the procedure.  Rarely, two people will be included.

Here are some extra tips:  You can custom make soap for different kinds of skin.  Check out the properties of various herbs which may be dried, crushed or powdered, and added to your soap.  I use my homegrown lavender, roses, and mint.  Dried herbs and flowers are available online for a reasonable price, at Frontier Herbs.  Calendula and chamomile flowers are especially wonderful.

Most homemade soap is tremendously moisturizing; for years elderly people have loved my soap for this reason.  Coconut oil is the secret to achieving soap which lathers in cold water, but I use very limited amounts of coconut oil to assure a highly moisturizing soap.  However, for teen- agers with acne and oily skin I ramp up the coconut oil.  Acne and other irritating skin conditions will disappear on a regimen of good homemade soap!

ENJOY!2012 Soap 3


Read Full Post »

Yard Sale

I’ve been known to diatribe about something, and then turn around and contradict myself due to an urgent “change of heart”.  Awhile back I was holding forth (I think it was on http://northernreflections.wordpress.com/) on how Spring in Wisconsin is supposed to be cold and rainy, how we can’t expect it to be anything other than cold and rainy.  I guess at that point I was just happy to see a Canada goose!

But now I am turning around and contradicting myself.  I’m ready to at least hope Spring will be something other than cold and rainy.  What did I do in those pre-watercolor years without a palette from which to express my desires!  I guess a recalcitrant Spring was compensated by colorful yarns, and wishful thinking was projected by my painterly poems. 

Well now I’ve added paints.  Okay . . . so let’s get on with it:  “Yard Sale” above, and “My Arbor and Beyond” below.

My Arbor and Beyond 

Southern Wisconsin, at least my garden, will have to dry out considerably before we sink my still-in-the-box-from-HOME DEPOT-arbor between two old-fashioned, hardy rose bushes.  But yard sales could begin most any slightly warmer weekend, albeit by changing the title to “garage sales”.

Meanwhile, I paint.  🙂  And, as afore mentioned in another place, for those of us who love the growing things A COLD AND RAINY SPRING IS ALWAYS THE BEST!

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

Read Full Post »

After six years of direct painting either on wet or dry paper, I’m finally developing the courage to tackle the essence of traditional watercolor art—transparent layering.  Up until recent weeks, any forays into layering that I did were accidental—and if these attempts yielded anything better than the artist’s dreaded “mud”, then they were the quintessential “happy accidents”.

Perhaps I’m a bit thick headed!  It has taken years of constant immersion in books and DVDs—especially by watercolorists Barbara Nechis and Wisconsin’s own Karlyn Holman just for me to decide to focus on layering.  What a satisfying focus!  The subtle nuances of the initial wash shining through subsequent layers of varying color is a never ending source of surprise and delight.  One never knows what will emerge, and each painting is different from the last.

There are some guiding principles for the process:  thin layers of transparent paint work best, with gradual rather than radical color variations, and each layer must be thoroughly dry before applying another.  Some artists speed up the drying with a hair dryer.  I simply move on to another project, and give each wash more than enough time to dry.  It’s fun to go from painting, to soap making, to knitting, to my piano, to a good book.  After all, the name of my stage in life is LEISURE WITH NO STRESS—and that’s a wonderful thing!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how beautiful a city scene can be, when venerable old (or tasteful new) architecture is accented by gardens and the natural life which abounds therein.  Years ago, my husband and I traveled 2200 miles of back roads in Scotland, Wales, and England—staying at sheep farms along the way.  On the last day of our vacation we took a train from the village of Dorking to London, a journey of about an hour.  As the train catapulted (British trains do exactly that!) through back alleys of London residential neighborhoods, I was totally charmed by the gardens complete with picturesque potting sheds in even the tiniest back yards.  The plethora of vines and plantings pressed against old buildings (some being centuries old!) was a sight I love to recall. 

From that day on, I’ve passionately loved the English garden look—not those formal, ostentatiously groomed plantings on the large English estates but rather the cozy “cottage gardens” which ramble in profusion outside back doors of country and city homes across the UK.  When delineated by stonework, a wall, some fencing, or some other architectural detail, the cottage gardens exude a timeless sense of nostalgia and ambience. 

I have created the cottage garden look outside my own door with perennials, culinary herbs, and “garden art”, and this is the kind of garden I love to paint.  Hence the above rendering, the most multi-layered watercolor I’ve done to this date.  Things are finally clicking inside my skull, and I think I’m “getting it” at last!  🙂

My favorite part of the above painting is the shading of hues above and within the arc which represents some kind of architectural detail.  But I also like the “in your face” flowers which shout at you from the foreground.  These were painted in gouache, that wonderful opaque watercolor which builds texture similar to oils and acrylics but does not destroy one’s precious high quality watercolor brushes!

I like to say I am 1/2 Celt, as my mother’s family surnames were either Scottish or Irish.  But according to my records, many of these ancestors married people with English names—Blake, Wood, Soper, etc.  So it figures that I immediately felt at home when I discovered the English cottage garden, and have been (at least mentally) living in one ever since!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

Read Full Post »

Our outside thermometer registered 105° F this afternoon, in the sun.  Later in the day, near sunset, the reading dropped to 100°.  Perhaps the temperature gage (not showing in the above photo) is a bit off, as it was a “cheapie” sale purchase which I bought mainly because the instrument is encased in a cute crow which presides over that area of garden.  But give or take a little, 100° is HOT!

Yesterday Joe and I did something totally unprecedented for us:  we turned on our air conditioning.  We never had AC before we moved to our present home, and certainly never believed that we needed it.  For 30 years we had deep woods homes with large windows shaded by commodious overhangs, and rooms aired by ceiling fans.  Now we have plenty of lovely trees, but no deep woods on our side of the park.  We do have a ceiling fan in each room here, helpful but suddenly not quite helpful enough.  So we are running the AC.

At first it seemed downright eerie to me, being encased indoors with all of beautiful nature barred by closed windows and doors.  But every time I step outside, I realize that nature has gone a bit berserk.  Given the heat and Joe’s heart condition, cooler air has become a priority for us.

Still, we have early mornings and evenings to live outside.  For 2 mornings, I’ve pulled weeds and watered gardens at 6:00 a. m. when the thermometer registered a reasonable 75°.  At night I lie on the patio lounge for awhile, watching fireflies and basking in the warm night air which is pleasant in the dark.  (Happily, we have no mosquitoes!)

For two days I’ve been reflecting on our pioneer history, trying to imagine what it was like traveling west in a wagon train through places like Kansas and Death Valley, California.  Those intrepid souls contended not only with heat (or cold!) but with brutal winds, dust, potential hunger and thirst, realities of sickness and death on the trail without the comfort of a home, arduous labor, and the ominous possibility of getting scalped! 

I’m as comfort-loving as a cat!  I think I might have preferred to stay “back east” in a shady little town, rather than to venture into the unknown!  Yet who knows?  I love to read about the American West.  If I’d been a young wife in the mid 1800s I just might have gone there with my man!

Meanwhile if weather promises count, we’ll experience relief in the next 24 hours.  A forecast of 85° sounds WONDERFUL.  If and when that happens we’ll turn off the AC, throw open the windows and doors, breathe the outside air, and live beside our garden once more. 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

Read Full Post »

Virginia creeper creeps up 2 trellises, reaching for the sky.  Also called woodbine and Engleman ivy, Virgina creeper is my favorite name for this hardy vine because that is what it’s called in English novels.  Behind the creeper on the left, a grapevine thrives—amazingly because it scarcely gets any sun on that wall.

The rest of the plot is packed with numerous perennials and herbs.  Lavender, sage, chamomile, chives, mint—all back from last year—fill our lives indoors and out.

Around the corner—in my garden pictured below—lemon thyme, rosemary, sweet basil, and additional ubiquitous mint rejoice with another grapevine, mums, hydrangea, daisies and other perennials whose names I’ve forgotten.  Whereas the above garden is private just outside our living room, my below-pictured garden can be enjoyed by anyone who walks on the public sidewalk which borders the plot.  Get those delphiniums!  They are nearly finished, yet still gorgeous.

I wonder if those who live where things grow all year can possibly appreciate the fleeting garden weeks as much as we do here in the north.  The cycle of blooming goes so fast, it’s breathtaking.  Roses were blooming in a parkside garden last week.  Now they are gone.  My daisies are just opening.  After their season in the sun, they’ll fade and give way to black-eyed Susans.  The mums will follow, vibrant yet poignant, signalling that the 2011 glory days are nearing a close. 

Bird song will diminish to an occasional whisper.  That final, blatant burst of color will explode in the sumac, goldenrod, wild asters, maples, and oaks—and then, silence again.  Beautiful Wisconsin.  We store the garden moments in our hearts, against whatever lies ahead.


Margaret L. Been ©2011

Read Full Post »

Our daughter, Laura, made this whiligig at a workshop near her home in Washington State.  The beauty is a composite of treasures culled from rummage and estate sales in her area.


Those of us who enjoy junking are NEVER BORED—and we’ll probably never be tempted to go off the deep end financially with our passion for collecting, because the stuff we prefer doesn’t normally cost that much. 

The items we love best are those which many folks disregard, discard, and even look down their noses at.  These people don’t get it.  They’re missing a huge chunk of abundant living to be found in foraging garage sales, scrap yards, and curbsides!

Now that rummage season is in full swing, our joy cups run over on a regular basis.  We come home from a morning of foraging renewed, refreshed, and super charged with creative ideas as to where we will place, or how we will use, our newly acquired treasure.  One thing is certain:  where junkers are concerned, there are no two homes alike.  Our decor is highly individual.  It can be simulated, but never cloned!

In celebration of junk, junk, wonderful junk, here are some outdoor shots of our comfy little condo where Joe and I live contentedly with loads of junk:

↑  The small blue granite pitcher peeking out of the Hosta is mounted on an upside down lamp base from one of those derelict “Made in China” lamps which, after 2 years of use, tend to become electrically unsafe.  The base (hidden in the photo) was too pretty to discard, so I cut off its cord and glued my vintage blue pitcher on its bottom.  Behind the pitcher is a broken, circa 1930 plate.  I never discard broken china or pottery, as it can always find a pleasant home among my garden or house plants.

And observe the old watering can, complete with its “rose” on the spout.  These are pricey now, as most everyone wants an old watering can.  Fortunately, I found mine years ago.  🙂

 ↑   A saxophone playing frog leans against the bird feeder, with our mutant Bleeding Heart providing a background.  Froggie was actually a new purchase, a gift from our daughter Laura. 

Note the Virginia Creeper creeping up the trellis—one of my all time favorite vines, also called Woodbine or Englemann Ivy.  It’s indestructable in our northern climate.  More damaged pottery rests on a handmade-by-Joe bench on the right as you view the photo.

↑  A closer look reveals the frog’s companions:  a bunny and a skull from the Southwest, reminiscent of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

↑  The hangy thingy next to the hummer feeder was assembled by a local artist who has a business called FUNKY FINDS.

You can see the tops of a couple of old screens.  Screens and shutters with chipped, peeling paint are always welcome—indoors or out.  One can never get enough of those!

↑  Here is our patio, right off the living room so that we savor a year ’round indoor/outdoor atmosphere.  The patio is the setting for many lazy spring, summer, and autumn days spent sipping iced tea, reading, snoozing, and cloud gazing.  The patio faces east, so that we can sun bathe in the morning and rest in the afternoon shade. 

This picture was taken in a downpour.  The card table gets covered with a lovely vintage cloth on sunny days.  It also serves as a place for my art equipment and afternoons of sketching and painting.

The smashing antique croquet set was a rummage sale treasure which cost $5.00.  It has all its mallets, balls, and arches—with an old rag tied to each arch.  We can take the croquet set up the berm to the park, just a few yards away, for killer games.


In closing, here is one of my most precious photos of our grandsons, Nathaniel and Joelly, with their creation from their finds from a junk yard near our up north home.  Nathaniel is the driver of this unique vehicle.  I’m not sure what Joelly is doing with the stick—I think it’s a car window cleaner.  ↓

Upon all the evidence, I rest my case!  Junk is wonderful! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »