Tuesday, January 28, 2014

DONNA BEAR ....a face only a Mother or small child could love!

This is my childhood companion, Donna bear. I have no idea where I got that name from, but I called him that from the begining. He was sent to me when I was born, 61 years ago, from relatives in Germany. I was the first child and grandchild in my family, so that made me special, at least for eleven months. My sister followed eleven months after me and my brother, a year after her. In the end there were seven of us. Donna bear went EVERYWHERE I went . He was my friend when I was scouting around the woods next door and sitting in the tree house I built with my pal Jeff, who was a year younger. Other days, he was my baby when I was playing house with my friends Claudia and Sherry. What a sport good old Donna bear was. I had a baby doll, but for some reason I always ended up with Donna bear instead. He just had so much appeal. As the years went by, hanging out with me and my gang, Donna bear started getting frail.  As you can see, I loved him until his fur literally came off.
 I remember the day when, to my utter horror, his arm fell off, then his HEAD!!! What? How could this be? lucky for me, my grandmother was visiting and she quickly pulled out her knitting needles ( who would think of that ?) and started knitting him some new upper arms. Then she patiently sewed his head back on. As time went on Donna bear also got new felt pads on the bottom of his feet and yup, his head fell off again. So back on it went, along with a newly embroidered nose, ( my Grandmother embroidered too).
 Childhood goes fast and after a time, Donna bear sat in a quiet spot on my doll shelf. My younger sister Cindy always had her eye on MY Donna bear, and being eight years younger, she sprung like a coiled spring on him the minute I left for college.  I went off to school and then after school, I got married. Life took over and since I was now living three hundred miles from home, busy creating my own home with my husband, Donna bear faded into my past. Kinda.... Years went by and my younger two sisters ended up moving up to New England near me, getting married and having kids. One day not too long ago, we four sisters got together and spent some time at my parent's farm. We got to talking about our childhood memories and the things we did. I am not exactly sure how the topic of Donna bear came up, but when he did, I said how I missed him and that I wasn't sure where or who had him.  Cindy sat there kind of quiet and then said " I have him". WHAT? You have Donna bear?
My childhood companion, my baby, my sidekick?  Where is he exactly? I had many questions. Okay, she admitted that she too, loved him. He went from being my best pal to being hers. Well, I couldn't really blame her. He is a girl magnet. look at that face! That sweet little furry body...well it was furry.
 I know it wasn't easy for her, but Cindy agreed that he should be back with me since he was mine from the start.  Home he came after many years apart and I have to say, I thought he was even more beautiful . He had aged it was true but somehow it only added to his charm and appeal. Since coming to live in my house with me, Donna bear has made some new admirers. My three little granddaughters love him.They know that he is old and frail but that he loves kisses and gentle hugs. So he gets many, under my watchful eye. Don't want to traumatize anyone by having his head pop off when kissing him! As I was taking his picture for this post, I explained to him that I was writing about him and people everywhere would know of him. I swear that I saw a sparkle in his eyes...really.  Oh and yes, Donna bear is a Steiff !! My baby has come home....

Donna bear and some of his many lady friends.

Now where did Donna bear go?

Donna bear and Carolina ( who still needs stockings and shoes).

Sunday, January 19, 2014

DECORATING IN THE STYLE OF MISH MASH or generations of things we love.

The old kitchen or front room
 Recently, I was accused by a reader of my blog, of decorating my old 18th century house in a mish mash style, of several eras,and not at all of the style of my home.  Hmmnnnnnn... actually I had to secretly smile at that comment, because it is very true and happily what was intended. The first people to occupy this house, lived here from about 1761 to 1821. You can bet that the house had a few changes and additions during that time. Nothing stays the same. I have always decorated my home with antiques that I thought the early occupants would recognize. Of course, the truth is, we always stuff our houses with many more things then they would have had . I love looking through early inventories to get an idea of what was in the home during the time when it was lived in by the original people. It is interesting that most of the time you see that some things are things that you might not expect in a simple farmhouse, like a fiddle or violin, clocks, lots of china and even silverware. As the 18th century came to a close, people had access to all kinds of goods that previously were not available but to only a few.
 Truth is that I love many things that span several periods of time and have collections to prove it. Actually, the most famous early collectors of the last century, decorated their early homes with all kinds of things. Of those are Roger Bacon, whose home in New Hampshire had some of the most wonderful antiques spanning the 17th and 18th century. His home was filled to the brim, having many things that would not have been in one home but many homes. Nina and Bertram Little , whose house, Cogswell Grant, is one of my absolute favorites. They also decorated their home with the best of things from several generations and styles. There are rooms filled with formal antiques and other rooms filled with folk art. This house is one of the houses owned by Historic New England and is located in Essex,Ma. It is a must see if you love antiques. I actually have a small wonderful medicine spoon that belonged to them. Another great collection, is seen at Beauport, in Gloucester, Ma. It was built by Henry Sleeper in the 1920's and filled with a very interesting assortment of antiques and interior woodwork from houses which were being torn down. The gardens are incredible. This house also belongs to Historic New England. A must see! Besides famous collectors, most museums are decorated with generations of things. Old Sturbridge Village is a great example. The time period for the Village is the 1830's, yet the buildings pretty much date from the 18th century. It is not that far from me and I visit there often. It is a favorite place. Strawberry Banke ,in Portsmouth, New Hampshire is another place to visit and experience several periods of time in early houses. Not only will you see generations of things but you will see how people lived in a particular time in a single house. These are only a few of the many examples of this viewpoint.
 I believe that a house can almost be a living thing. One of my favorite pastimes is doing research on the people that occupied them.  Looking at them in the census and records , we can get a sense of who they were and how they lived their daily lives. I also love looking closely at the details of the house. By examining wallpaper fragments and paint, you can get a clear picture of how the house looked early on. On thing for sure that I have learned is that our ancestors LOVED color and patterns! Sometimes to the point of being a bit jarring to our modern eye. The thing to remember is that in the time when candlelight was all there was, it was necessary to make the room as reflective as possible. One way was to paint with bright color and or whitewash. Drab dark color was not the way to go when candles were the only way to light a room. Paint graining the woodwork to look like a more expensive wood was something that was very popular. Cedar and mahogany were the most popular woods and very expensive. I have seen many early homes decorated with either of these on all the woodwork in the house. So beautiful !! I have also seen walls in first period (1620 to 1720) houses , decorated with bright background colors of distemper paint and black squiggles or comas on top. Amazing! One such house that was built in 1710 and decorated in this way, is the White /Ellery house in Gloucester. When the house was moved, to make way for a traffic circle, the walls were discovered beneath later walls. They are very intact and very interesting. This house is open in the summer on the first saturday of each month. If you are interested, you should go see it. In my next post, I plan on showing pictures of a circa 1740 house in the process of restoration, that had early wallpaper and lots of cedar graining.

 The man who built my home was Oliver Griffin, a farmer and sometime fisherman. His father was Samuel Griffin ,housewright. Samuel's house was in the back of Oliver's , built in the early part of the 18th century . Oliver was born in the old house in the back of this property in 1739. Around 1760, Oliver married Mary Wise. Since his father was a joiner or housewright , I am assuming he helped Oliver build this house. When we were having work done on the roof , I told my roofer to let me know the minute he found the shoe next to the chimney because it was important and I wanted it. He looked at me like I was a crazy person and said okay. I really was kind of messing with him and didn't really think that he would find the shoe but before I opened the kitchen door , he yelled,"here's your shoe!"
 I couldn't believe it! But there it was and wonderful 18th century shoe, in remarkable condition considering where it had been for over 250 years. I was holding a worn piece of history in my hands and a link to the man who built and lived in my house. Wonderful! I am sure Oliver would have laughed to see me and the roofers all reverently holding his old shoe like a thing of magnificent beauty.To us it was.

 Oliver died in 1815.  Mary, his wife lived for a few more years and died in 1821. I have chosen to fill my home with things that Oliver and Mary would recognize when they walked through my door. That said, there are also things that they would not recognize. like an entire wing off the back of the house which was added in the 1920's, where the modern kitchen is. Also the wing off that which was added in the 1940's ,which is our bedroom . My house survived in it's original footprint into the 1920's , but from things that I found in the barn ,I can tell it had some "improvements". We found a couple of early woodstoves and I can tell from bits of wood and other things that it had layers of paint and wallpaper ,which had been scraped clean by the time we bought the house. I did find some evidence of early paint in the cracks and creases of panelling which helped me figure out what colors to paint . The scraped panelling had been abused over the years and looked unsightly. A former tenant had decided for some unknown reason to hammer huge framing nails in the panelling and hang things from them. I think I pulled a hundred nails out!! It really left the panelling scarred. Painting it helped that.

 I have posted some pictures of my house which show it in the early 1900's. It shows it before it got the modern kitchen wing. I was interested to see this photo because the back and side of my house is shingled and the other side of my house is painted white. I can see in the early picture that obviously there are shingles on this side but wondered if my house was painted on the other side. Well it was. I found an early picture, which if you look very closely ,you can see that the other side is painted white. When we were repairing this back section of the house, we could also see evidence of early white paint on a bit of molding. It tells me that my house probably was painted white when it first got paint put on it. White was a very New England favorite. There are many accounts of early travelers to New England commenting on the beautiful crisp white houses in the villages.

 This house is my home and I love it . That it survived is a good thing and hopefully it will continue to survive after I am gone. Old houses have souls and if we are willing to look , they tell us their stories. So mish mash is my style and I am happy to admit it!!
The shoe on left and bottom was next to chimney.
The other fell out of the ceiling during some repairs.

18th century shoes found in house. 

Back of my house today

House before addition of kitchen wing.
1920's kitchen wing

19th c. picture showing the house, in front of church, painted white.
Side of house showing the later additions of 1920 and 1940.
The large barn with connector to the earlier barn in front.

Friday, January 3, 2014


Lobster Cove as the flood tide brings the water up to my neighbor's house and barn.

Lobster Cove flooding
The little red barn surrounded by water

My little Cape across the street from the flooding cove. Nice and dry!

Fearless fearless man of mine!!

Water rising around my neighbor's house

Carolina is fascinated by the snow, having never seen anything quite like it before. She is thinking that once the doll maker finishes her wool cape, she might like to go out and walk in the snow.....


The little Cape covered in snow
 What a couple of days we have had! I actually love this kind of snow storm , all tucked in a cosy house with the fire going..... no complaints from me! I realize that for a lot of people it isn't fun. My husband had to pound and push the back door open this morning because the snow had mounded up against it . After he got it open he stepped off the steps and fell into a 3 foot deep snow drift. Ummmm , not happy when he stood up and saw me laughing. I couldn't wait to get my camera and take some pictures, so I dressed quickly and stepped out or should I say off, since I fell into the same pile of snow. Now he was laughing.
The back and side of house 

Garden room of barn 

Lobster Cove as tide comes in!
We are all waiting to see what the tide does today, since it is supposed to be exceptionally high. Lobster Cove has flooded my neighbor's yard in the past and I think today will be no different. Later I will try to take a picture of it.
The cove last year's storm
 In the picture above, you can see my neighbor's little red barn surrounded by the water in the February storm of 2013. The barn survived and hopefully it will be okay after today's high tide.  Below is a picture of Annisquam lighthouse. It is probably one of the most picturesque places I know. This was also taken after last year's February snow storm. In the distance, you are looking at Ipswich bay and on up the coast toward New Hampshire. On a clear day you really can see forever!
Beautiful Annisquam Lighthouse