The Deyo House 1950’s Kitchen

After visiting the Huguenot houses with our class, the stand out for me was the 1950’s kitchen in the Deyo House. Although replicated, I couldn’t stop thinking about leaving the 1800’s Victorian dining room and walking into what was at the time, a high end kitchen from the post-war era.

According to documents shared with me by Ashley, from 1894 on, the layout of the kitchen hadn’t changed much. One of the biggest upgrades to the house was when plumbing was brought into the house. That made appliances such as the Kohler Electric Sink from the 1920’s to 1930’s possible. Cabinets were created where the dumbwaiters used to be. Woodwork was painted, where previously it had been varnished.

One of the reasons the kitchen hasn’t been brought back to the pre-renovation style is because of what it would take to remove the plumbing. Other factors are also involved.

Ashley recommended I visit the Elting Library to gather more information about the Woods family. They were the residents of the house when the current renovation took place. I will do this in the next couple of days.

A China cabinet grows in Connecticut

If you needed a postcard to send from New England, you could take a photograph just about anywhere in Newtown, Connecticut. It would be perfectly picturesque, completely conveying the feeling of its state and New England. My grandparents Charlie and Elsie Clark, built their home there. It is where they remained until my grandfather died. My grandmother stayed in the house until her health began to fail. Then it was time to let the house go.

What came before the house construction was the purchase and the clearing of their property, which was carved out of a stony ridge that led into a forest. The trees needed cutting before a foundation for their log cabin was poured. From the felled timber, nothing was wasted. It was utilized to make the house, its flooring, walls of knotty pine, cabinetry, and furniture. My grandfather was a garage owner and mechanic, but with typical can-do spirit, he was also an amazing woodworker. Everything that he could do himself, he did.

I am the proud inheritor of two pieces of furniture my grandfather made from his land’s lumber. One is a cabinet that my grandmother used for her fabrics for sewing. The other is a lovely, little china cabinet, a vitrine really, since so much of it is composed of glass.  I don’t know what drew me to this piece specifically. It certainly isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Its carpentry is simple in nature, its drawer pulls basic. I remember it always being in the same corner of my grandparent’s dining room. I know my grandfather made it from trees that once surrounded the area he called home; maybe this is why I am so attached to it.

the China cabinet

My grandmother was an obsessive tchotchke collector, bordering on hoarding. The cabinet was filled to capacity with teacup and saucer sets, petite porcelain figurines, single bud flower vases, crystal animals, and other things that I can’t quite recall any longer. Since my living quarters had never been in grandiose spaces, the cabinet could fit anywhere, taking little floor area.

Since coming out of my grandmother’s home, it has been in six residences. As stated in previous blogs, I have been happily downsizing. Last fall, some serious purging of the cabinet took place. Now it displays items that I truly love, such as champagne flutes that were a wedding gift from my late mother-in-law and a demitasse set from my Oma.

One thing that has changed over time is the smell emanating from the cabinet when the door opens. My grandparent’s home was always heated with a wood stove. When something needed to come out of the cabinet, the singular odor of warm, burned wood would come wafting from its interior. Unfortunately, that fragrance has dissipated over time, but has left a vivid, lingering memory.  

So from Connecticut pine tree, to cherished keepsake in New York, I find so much joy in this china cabinet. It is one of the few items from a family member that I can track its entire history. Hopefully one of my children will want to choose this cabinet for their own, continuing its journey within the family. One can only wonder where it may end up down the road.

Provenance, noun: the beginning of something’s existence;something’s origin: How my favorite purse got from point A to point Me.

Only on rare occasions, does someone know the entire journey something has taken to end up in their possession. In most cases, a woman who gives birth knows where the baby came from. A gardener would know that they grew the zucchini they are eating for dinner, but may not know where the original seed originated from. When it comes to shopping, an item usually has tag. It might say “made in China” or “assembled in Honduras of U.S. components”. Finding something that is truly Made in America is a rarity. I am the proud owner of just such a product.

As a mom, I am not fussy about getting a gift for any particular holiday. My kids and husband know that if they have made the effort to pick out the perfect card, say “thank you” when warranted, and clean out the drainboard occasionally, makes for a happy mama. So imagine my surprise when my four kids pitched in on a Mother’s Day gift, purchasing a handbag I had been eyeing. Although it wasn’t a designer bag, it was still out of my price range. My purse called The Hobby, is from a company called R. Riveter. Named after Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby of Texas, she was the country’s first secretary of the Department of Health. Education, and Welfare and the second woman to hold a U.S. cabinet position. I have carried it almost daily since 2017.

My Hobby bag.

Now what makes this bag special? First, it is black and brown, the two colors I wear most often. Second, it is the perfect size (9”x 11”x 4.5”)crossbody bag. I can wear it over my shoulder, across my body so my hands stay free, or I can carry it as a clutch. Third, it is made of leather and a rugged canvas with brass fittings. It has held up beautifully, its wear adds to its lovely patina. Finally, I am able to know everything about my bag, including the women who made it, because of the amazing company from whence it hails.

R. Riveter is the brainchild of Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley. Being the wives of military spouses can be a rewarding yet difficult one. Many military families move a lot, in addition to coping with deployments, lack of personal family close by, and difficulty securing long term employment. The pair started with the intent of creating their own careers. It needed to be flexible and mobile for their transient lives. They decided to charge $4000 total to their credit cards, buying a commercial grade sewing machine, some canvas, and leather. They designed, created, and produced handbags, then sold them. The bags were popular and soon Lisa and Cameron needed to bring on more people to help. This is where R. Riveter became a company that was truly something special.

Their mission? “R.Riveter doesn’t hire military spouses to make handbags. We make handbags to hire military spouses, and create a greater sense of mission” (R. Riveter website). After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, the 2015 opening of their first brick and mortar store in North Carolina and a presentation on the television show called Shark Tank in 2016, the business continued to grow, as did the demand for the product.

Each R. Riveter bag comes with a dog tag and a leather fob. The dog tag tells the year of manufacture. The leather fob tells us that RR053 (remote riveter), Danie, from Fort Campbell, KY, prepared the leather hides for the strap and flap of the bag. Inside the bag printed on the lining are two more stamps. RR075, liner riveter, Victoria, from San Antonio, TX, sewed the canvas lining. Lastly, RR132, Christa, from Fort Bragg, NC, is the sewing machine operator and assembler who completed the bag’s construction. Although I am awaiting a reply from the company, from what I can ascertain from the website is that all of the components in the purse are also American made.  My bag was purchased directly from the website and shipped to my home. I am not sure what the shipping company was.

***I heard back from the company’s customer service person Stacy. As far as she know, R. Riveter does everything possible to source the materials for each bag from U.S. makers. The leather comes from a company called Weaver Leather which is located in Mt. Hope, Ohio.It’s been in operation since 1973. A limited edition bag that was available recently. was made from cone denim, which ended up selling out. The American company, which ran for over 100 years, was the last one to make this material in the U.S. Sadly, it closed its door recently. If she is able to pass along more information, she will.

In addition to my love for this item, I am also thoroughly impressed by the company and what it stands for. The website has a wealth of information about how R. Riveter came to be, how their mission is able to empower women and support military families, and much more. One of my sons is third generation Army. When I carry my Hobby purse, I hope I am supporting a fellow comrade of his, along with their military family. In the future, I would love nothing more to own another R. Riveter bag and continue to help those in need.

Looks can be Deceiving

It’s a bowl. It sits on a shelf in my library, catching a son’s pants pocket contents. Weighing in at three pounds, it is approximately nine inches in diameter and three and half inches deep. The vessel started as a block of brownish red clay, shaped into a circle. Not created on a pottery wheel, it was formed by hand with coils of clay, rolled out and wrapped on and upward from the slab, added two to three rounds at a time, then covered in plastic wrap to stay moist. When the desired height was achieved, the ropes were smoothed by hand. With a day’s worth of drying time in between, the bowl took about a week to form. Once the desired shape was completed, the piece was thoroughly dried.

The completed vessel.

With this step completed, a glaze was chosen which was made of lime, talc, manganese, feldspar, zinc, and tin, the last ingredient making the glaze white. Everything was mixed together in a bucket. The bowl was dipped one half at a time. With the clay being so absorbent, one needed to move quickly in the application, wiping off the liquid so it didn’t coat the vessel’s base. The lead free glaze ensured the bowl would be food safe. The piece dried for one to two more weeks, kiln fired for 24 hours, cooled for another day, then removed from the oven. Although the surface was dull, the final result was similar to a glass coating.

The white band where the glaze dip overlapped.

Upon closer inspection, the bowl definitely looks handmade. It is quaint and rustic. It’s finish is uneven: a little white, a little beige, with darker brown speckles. A small area by the rim has some of the coils peeking through a whiter, glazed area. Running one’s hand over the bowl, it feels cool and a little uneven. There are no chips or areas of wear. It is sturdy but would break if dropped.

A closeup of the glaze.

So you might be wondering, why write about this piece of pottery? What makes it so special? The thing is, it was made by my late mother, Ute. She left very few things behind when she died. This bowl is precious to me because it came from her hands. As she smoothed the clay roping, she left imprints of her fingers in the surface, especially around the base and the rim. This is similar to hand forming the edge of a pie crust. The added bonus is her signature in its base.

Mom’s signature.

I was able to gather this information about how this bowl came to be during a visit with my mother’s best friend Lynne, on what would have been my mom’s 77th birthday. Lynne is a professional potter. For the last four decades, she has created pieces in clay and porcelain almost daily. The quality of her work is truly extraordinary and art gallery worthy. She taught my mom all facets of this craft and happily shared her recollections. We laughed, cried, and remembered just how one-of-kind Ute was. This vessel holds more than odds and ends; it overflows with memories. I hope it ends up with one of my children, a gentle reminder of a grandmother they never got to meet, but who’s known to them through stories, photos, and a lovingly handmade earthenware bowl.

331 Words

In contemplating photos, my grandmother’s ring, and my beloved Steiff teddy bear, I felt no motivation to discuss them here. A deep dive into these mementos might be forthcoming though. For this post, I could only think about books. From a well-curated collection, what to choose? An extremely well worn copy of The Vampire Lestat authored by Anne Rice came to mind. During its initial read, it wasn’t just me taking in the words. At the time, it seemed everyone in my orbit was reading it too, a book club before Oprah’s. I haven’t read it in many years now, but I still have it. Nope. Not this one. Back to the shelves.

Before I had my first child, I already started to purchase books for their library. Since my mom was a serial purger, very few books from my childhood remain. Ironically, she always lamented not bringing her books with her to the United States when she left what at the time was West Germany, to be with my father. Years ago, I came across a quote that said something like ‘I don’t trust people who don’t have books in their house.’ I subscribe to this adage completely, never understanding how anyone would not have at least a couple of titles in their possession. Needless to say, my home has plenty of volumes in residence.

The children’s books

In my downsizing frame of mind, I am easily able to decide what stays and what goes. My children’s library is another story (pun intended). Unless a title was beyond repair, it remains, a gentle reminder of a sweeter time. My perusal of an IKEA Billy book shelf brought back many memories. My youngest is now 15. I haven’t read a story to him in years. So what do I choose? How about Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Then there’s Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archaumbault. I never tired of reading this to my imps. It still has the best graphics ever. Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss? Ferdinand the Bull, Make Way for Ducklings?, or my daughter’s all time favorite The Araboolies of Liberty Street?

Then there it was. So obvious, so cherished. Corners frayed and worn. A future artist scribbled on the now torn title page. I knew she wouldn’t let me down, Miss Margaret Wise Brown. Now you might jump to conclusions. It’s a no -brainer. Goodnight Moon, right? But you would be mistaken. Yes, I have read that one roughly 7381 times. It has held up beautifully, having had the sense to purchase it in board book form. It is a title that I still give regularly at baby showers. My kids loved it. But if you ask them what their favorite is, unanimously they say Big Red Barn.

Originally published in 1954, two years after Brown’s death, the version shown here was published in 1989 by Harper Collins, with new illustrations by Felicia Bond. Nestled in my brain forever, its 331 words are simple and calming. When read in the hushed tones of bedtime, “By the big red barn in the great green field, there was a pink pig who was learning to squeal” and the lines that follow, take on a lilting quality of comfort and warmth. Whether in a rocker recliner with at least one child, their stuffed animal, and a blanket, or curled up in a toddler bed, holding the book above our heads, Big Red Barn‘s words could soothe the fussiest of babies.

The End

The process of reading also worked in reverse. Being an exhausted mom of three children under five years old (at the time), the promise of a story made wrangling them into bed a little easier. I vividly remember sharing a pillow with my first born, him playing with my ear to comfort himself (no thumb sucking or pacifier. An ear, go figure), cheek to cheek, feeling his sweet baby’s breath on my skin. I turn the pages without prompting, the syllables providing muscle memory. “Only the mice were left to play. Rustling and squeaking in the hay, while the moon sailed high in the dark night sky.” He’s asleep. The book goes back on the shelf….. until tomorrow.

Tidying Before the Kondo Phenomenon

Home is where your stuff is

A tiny, brick Victorian house built in 1871 became a home for a family of six in 2004. The belongings of the original families who took residence here didn’t begin to replicate what our family managed to bring over the threshold. Keeping things running smoothly became a challenge almost immediately. I, Mom, was in charge of this part of the household. Bless Dad; he kept us fed (and still does).

Four children under 11, including a newborn, collect an incredible amount of fodder. Toys, bicycles, Matchbox cars, Barbie dolls, Legos, glorious books, and infant gear, filled the smallest of rooms with minimal closet space. As the children grew, their needs became less and less. Gaming systems, posters, and Magic cards replaced plastic action figures and beanie babies. Clothes no longer having hand-me-down status were donated, clearing the way for fashion chosen by teenagers.

Storage spaces were almost non-existent in our small abode. With limited funds, an addition was out of the question. A little ingenuity and a lot of IKEA, ruled and saved the day. A friend hand-made, built-in bookshelves. Storage creations went vertical and tidying started in earnest. Cherished items were given places of honor in bedrooms, treasured baby clothes were saved, and order was maintained as much as possible.

One thing learned early on was if Mom was organized and put together, the days went infinitely smoother. I used to be the consummate tchotchke collector. Dozens of penguins, years of fashion magazines, hundreds of books, and every piece of clothing I thought I had to have, became stifling and overwhelming. In yearning for simplicity, something had give. I so wish my own mom were alive to see this transformation. She adored the Japanese aesthetic of minimalism before it was cool and trendy. Wherever her spirit resides now, I hear her deeply toned laughter, loving that her oldest child finally gets ‘it’.

Before Netflix

Somewhere along the way, I read an observation that most people wore 80 percent of their clothes 20 percent of the time and 20 percent of their clothes 80 percent of the time. Being a card carrying hairdresser from New York made clothing purges fairly simple. A streamlined uniform of black was adopted early on, giving me confidence and fewer loads of laundry. I got rid of most of the 80 percent that was taking up valuable closet/drawer space and causing me to buy more huge, hideous, plastic storage bins. Although my wardrobe is still minimal, a seasonal tweak keeps things in order. As I have gotten older, I do wear colors and prints on occasion. Shoes and boots are kept to a minimum. I will pay more for one quality pair of shoes, than many pairs of lesser footwear. Does my closet ‘spark joy’? Absolutely!

My closet, currently

As the three oldest children got on with their lives, some possessions went with them. My rule of thumb for what ‘stuff’ stays behind? “Will this go with you when you move?” If not, it has to find a new home. So far, this concept has been embraced fairly successfully, especially by my daughter Isabella. She is unsentimental about things. She told me once her goal is for her worldly goods to fit in a suitcase. What a lovely, attainable way to live.

What matters to me

If my home ever experienced a fire, I would make sure my husband, children, and cat were safe first. If I had time, I would then run to these two shelves and grab whatever I could carry. There are photographs of family and friends, many no longer living. Having binge watched the Netflix Marie Kondo series, I know I should make digital copies of everything. In my next major round of KonMari, maybe I will. There is just something about seeing and picking up a frame and connecting with a captured moment in time. The majority of items that make up my (mostly) tidy life are replaceable. The people, whether in a photo, or in my arms, are not.