The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 5: Interior Decoration

It’s Week 5 of  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris where we’re discussing Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking a chapter at a time.

Chapter 5 is about Interior Decoration, and I have to say I think this might be the chapter I feel most at home in so far, because Edith talks about decorating one’s living space, whether a “dream home” or a boarding house room, not with the latest decorating fads for a magazine-worthy decor, but with originality and personality. She says our “spot” should not only express something of ourselves to visitors but should also be a place that is satisfying and feels “at home” to us. She advises the reader not to wait for certain funds or the ideal home (some of my frustrations along those lines are here) or even for marriage, but to start right where we are with personal touches to our space, and as she has said in previous chapters, ideas beget ideas, creativity begets more creativity.

She shares some personal examples that may be beyond the scope of what many of us can or want to do, but they’re good for sparking ideas. Some are time-honored traditions, like making quilts or rugs from scraps, or restoring old furniture rather than buying new. We did some of this when we were first married, transforming a storage barrel used in college into a side table with a long tablecloth over it. Once when the kids wanted a tree house, and new lumber was prohibitively expensive, my husband found some used wooden palettes and took the boards apart, sanded them down and made a great tree house. That was one of the things I hated leaving behind when we moved.

After last week’s chapter about drawing and sketching, I began to wonder why she didn’t include crafts or home arts, like embroidery, quilting, etc., but she mentions them here.

There is nothing inherently wrong with buying new furniture and decorations, and we’ve done a good bit of that as well, but the goal should be to make it homey and express one’s own tastes and personality.

We do need to keep in mind the other people with whom we live. I don’t believe in stripping the place bare when young children are in the house, but that’s probably not the time for antique vases. I have decidedly feminine tastes in decorating, but living with all males, I’ve tried to have the family room, at least, more neutral. My husband has said that if he lived alone he probably wouldn’t think to decorate, but he does appreciate the homeyness decorations add. He usually leaves the decorating choices up to me, but we do major furniture shopping together and consult on paint colors, etc.

We need to keep in mind, too, that “this world is not our [ultimate] home,” that we’re to lay up treasures in heaven rather than earth, that here on earth moth doth corrupt and thieves can break through and steal, and we’re not to set out hearts too much on “things.” And sometimes “we are to be willing to sacrifice in the area of material things as well as in all other areas, to put first the things of God, to put first His use of our time, or money, and our talents” (p. 79). I was reminded of that just yesterday morning with this post about a time of loss. Isobel Kuhn tells of a time early in her marriage when they were ministering to a poor  tribe whose manners were decidedly different from her own. She was pleased with her nesting and her newlywed “things,” but then one of the women blew her nose into her hands and then wiped them on the new couch, and a mother held her baby away from her while the baby urinated on the new rug. Those things weren’t done to express hostility toward Isobel – it’s just the way things were done there. She had to struggle to not let her precious “things” take precedence in her heart over the needs of the people she was working with, and she learned to be very practical with her possessions. The Goforths lost everything four different times in their lives. After the last time, “when, in the privacy of their own room, the ‘weaker vessel’ broke down and wept bitter, rebellious tears, Goforth sought to comfort her by saying, ‘My dear, after all, they’re only things and the Word says, ‘Take joyfully the spoiling of your goods!’ Cheer up, we’ll get along somehow.’” He wasn’t being calloused: he had a generally faith-filled, buoyant spirit, while his wife had…one rather more like my own. We need to hold all of God’s material gifts to us loosely, remembering they are ultimately His and He has promised to supply all we need.

But even within those parameters, He often allows for some expression of personality and creativity in our living spaces.

I shared a tour of my house here, but I thought I might share just a couple of those expressions of personality here.

This one has a story behind it:

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I collected Boyd’s Bears figurines for a while, and this is a small figurine of a flower basket with a teeny little bear hiding in it. I kept it on the windowsill above the kitchen sink for a while. One day I found this little dinosaur next to it, put there by one of the boys when they were younger. I don’t know if the dinosaur was supposed to be after the flowers or the bear. 🙂 Or maybe the boys were just adding to the decorations. But I’ve always loved this as a picture of living with boys, and now I keep these together in a little curio cabinet.

Of course, living with boys, sometimes the “decorating” gets a little out of hand…

Life with boys

I mentioned Boyd’s Bear figurines – I posted some of my collection here. I just love their little faces and the details of them. There is only room for so many, though, before they become just a blur of too many to keep track of, but I tried to get my collection to reflect my interests – there is one holding the music to an Irish folks song, one reading a book, a couple cooking, several “Mom” and “couple” ones. Most were given to me by my husband or Mom.

Another of my favorites is a needlepoint piece I did when expecting my first son. My youngest still had it up in his room until his twelfth birthday, when we took it down so he wouldn’t get teased about it. That was kind of sad – an official turning from little boyhood.

Needlework bears

You can’t really tell from the picture, but there are different types of stitching in different places and the little cookies are raised rather than flat.

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This is one I am hanging on to. I don’t know if I will hand it off to a grandchild (if any of their parents want it) or keep it for a playroom here.

A few years ago I realized that I had done a lot of cross stitch through the years that I had given away for gifts, but didn’t have much that I had done for my own home. I wanted to do a few pieces both to express my own personality and maybe to hand down to progeny. Of course, my tastes are more feminine, as I said, and having all boys, I don’t know if they’d be interested in any of these just because their mom made them, and daughters-in-law will have their own tastes. I hope when I am gone that they will keep some things like this for grandchildren – I often wish I had something personal from my grandparents. But at any rate, these are a couple of my favorites:

Our only investment in “real art” was a set of prints by Paula Vaughan, a gift to me from my husband, who knew how much I liked them. But I have also framed cards and pages from calendars.

I did have one class in Home Furnishings in college, where we learned a bit about elements of art and principles of design, but I am far, far from expert in it. I never did get to go on and take the next class, Interior Decorating, which I would have loved, I think. Sometimes I watch decorating shows and “get” what the designers are saying, sometimes I have no idea. 🙂 I don’t always agree with what they do, but I sometimes enjoy listening to their reasons. But though some of these principles and elements are helpful (i.e., wondering why something looks “wrong” with the end table next to the couch and then realizing that it’s because the lamp there is way too small in proportion to the rest of the furniture), overall what’s most important is what Edith stresses: making a place homey, comfortable, and an expression of your own creativity and personality.

More discussion on this chapter is here.

This post will be also linked to Women Living Well.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 4: Painting, Sketching, and Sculpturing

It’s Week 4 of  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris where we’re discussing Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking a chapter at a time.

In Chapter 4 Edith discusses how to incorporate “Painting, Sketching, and Sculpturing” into everyday life as an expression of creativity and encourages us that we can do so without having formal training or making a career of it. It can be used, just like the other categories of creativity that she’s discussed, to enrich our lives and stimulate our imaginations.

This chapter was a little harder for me because I have absolutely no talent in this area. In fact, a photo I saw on Pinterest pictures this perfectly:

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I don’t even do stick figures very well, though they were useful at times when I had a little one on my lap that I was trying to entertain and keep relatively still and quiet, in church or a doctor’s waiting room. I’d draw something and ask them what it was, and they’d recognize my fledgling attempts to portray a duck or a car (I had to laugh when the Cube first came out because they looked just like the cars I used to draw.)

I don’t even remember doodling much in high school or college. In Junior High a new classmate said something about having had art in her previous school, and I was incredulous and envious. I don’t remember having any kind of artistic instruction in school (until a college Art Appreciation class), and no one in my family, as far as I knew, had any artistic tendencies. Somehow my middle son developed a talent for drawing quite well in his later high school and college years, mostly teaching himself with various art books, except for a year or when he was under the instruction of a gifted art teacher who helped him refine his talents.

I went through a “paint by number” phase in elementary school. I did enjoy a little bit of painting when a talented lady in one church we were in hosted a night to teach other ladies how to paint a flower on a tote bag. She used the same pattern with everyone to make easier to teach en masse but had different paints so we could each choose our own colors. It was exciting to me to learn to use light and shade to make a flat blob of a flower appear more realistic. I took a couple of One Stroke painting classes at Michael’s and loved them, but just never went any further with it.

But though I can’t draw well, I can use aids. I went through periods of using stamps or stencils or even stickers to make cards or decorate various things. I like to buy decorative Post-it notes or notepads rather than plain ones. I disagree with Edith when she says “Original ideas carried out can be an expression of love and care which cannot be made by buying something  ‘ready made’ or plastic” (p. 50). I think that kind of thinking can be burdensome and guilt-inducing, to feel personally or to make our loved ones feel that a gift that’s store-bought doesn’t “measure up” to something hand-made.

She didn’t discuss art appreciation in this chapter, but she has discussed in other chapters that we can come to appreciate forms of creativity that we may have no talent in ourselves.  I did mention an Art Appreciation class in college: I enjoyed it, but didn’t retain much from it, perhaps because one can’t go over the material as readily as one can music from Music Appreciation.

Unfortunately we did not go to museums much as the children were growing up, so I’m afraid I’ve perpetuated my ignorance in this area. I found one neat book about identifying art and artists that I wanted to use some time with them, but we never got around to it. These days, however, there is so much information available on the Internet that one can learn something of classic art if one wants to. I did discover over the years that I seem to like realistic more that abstract art, like that of Normal Rockwell and some of the old masters, though I liked some of the Impressionists, too, like Mary Cassatt. I find that I do enjoy art more by learning about it: the last time we were at a museum, as we were leaving I saw there were headphones one could use for a self-guided tour, and I thought that would be the way to really get the most out of it (for me).

But besides learning about great paintings and painters, one can develop an eye for artistry, for appreciation of color and design. I think for me that happened mostly through a Home Interiors class (thankfully interior decorating is the next chapter!) and then grew through various craft classes and helped as I started doing a newsletter for our church ladies’ group in terms of layout, making a cover page that is reasonably attractive, etc. Someone who really knew what they were doing in that area could probably point out many ways in which I could improve, and that’s fine – we all can grow, no matter what our level of knowledge or talent. But I am thankful for the ways I have grown so far.

I liked her idea of using drawing, even simple stick figures, to not only help keep a child’s interest during a sermon but also to help them grasp what was being taught. A former pastor used to say that it helped him in his Bible study to draw things out as he read.

My favorite line in this chapter, which really could be applied to the whole book, is “Ideas carried out stimulate more ideas” (p 49). I tend to gather a lot of ideas and my imagination can be stimulated by perusing Pinterest or web sites or books, but even that doesn’t compare to actually carrying out those ideas. Whatever area of creativity we’re discussing, just starting in some way or another stimulates more ideas, more creativity.

You can find more discussions on this chapter here.

Previous chapters discussed:
Chapter 1: The First Artist.
Chapter 2: What Is Hidden Art?
Chapter 3: Music.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club, Chapter 3: Music

It’s Week 3 of  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris where we’re discussing Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, a chapter at a time.

In Chapter 1, “The First Artist” (linked to my thoughts) Edith makes the case that because God as Creator is artistic, making the world not just functional but beautiful, and we’re created in His image, it follows that we’re created to be creative and to appreciate the artful and beautiful. In Chapter 2, “What Is Hidden Art?” (also linked to my thoughts), she goes on to explain that she is talking primarily about everyday endeavors, not necessarily pursuing the Arts as a profession (though some are called to that), and encourages us that though we’re finite and limited, though being creative requires some discipline and prioritizing, there are ways we can pursue it. The next several chapters are going to delve into some specific areas where we can learn to appreciate and perhaps even incorporate beauty and creativity. Chapter 3 discusses music in particular.

Experiencing music together as a family or with friends gives an outlet for expression, for relaxation, for “creative ideas and imagination [to be] sparked off” in each other, for enjoyment, and for personal development. She encourages letting children start off with their natural inclination to explore sound and rhythm (I can remember mine banging pans and such as toddlers).

She spends only the last few paragraphs talking about musical expression in the Bible, but that would be a very rich study to pursue further. We have the Psalms with their variety of emotions expressed in song, we have the encouragement to “make a joyful noise” unto the Lord, the instruction to teach and admonish one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. God tells Job about when the morning stars sang together and is Himself called a song: “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).

To my regret, I don’t know how to play a musical instrument, but I do enjoy singing around the house, in the car, etc. I can’t say I know a lot about music, but I have always enjoyed it, and one of my favorite classes in college was Music Appreciation. I did not grow up with classical music but developed a love for it in college. I’m not much into pop music – the closest I get to it is some of Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Il Divo, etc. I love “the standards” – “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” etc. I also grew to enjoy folk songs – American, Irish, Scottish, English – a lot of songs from musicals, and a rich variety of hymns. Music, even secular music, touches the soul in a particular way that nothing else does.

I remember having a little toy drum and piano when my kids were toddlers, and if I remember correctly, our library had a regular time for preschoolers that involved musical instruments. Of course I sang to them from their infancy, we sang a variety of songs together, and they grew up hearing music at home. They all went to sleep listening to Patch the Pirate and other musical tapes. We didn’t start any formal lessons until they were 8: that was the age recommended to me by a friend who is the mom of a very musical family, and coincidentally, the age their school began piano lessons. I wanted them to take piano because it would give them a good foundation for singing, for choir, and for any other instrument they wanted to take, plus it’s a good discipline and use of time. I don’t know if any of them liked it. They were excited to begin, not so excited about practicing. They would have liked it a lot better if they hadn’t had to play in front of people at recitals. Only one taught himself a variety of other instruments (guitar, penny whistle, ocarina). But they do all enjoy listening to music. They all sang in school choirs, one sang in the church choir for a while, and one sang with an ensemble at school.

Edith mentioned at some point in the first couple of chapters that even if we don’t have talent or skill in a given area of art or creativity, we can learn to appreciate it, to see the beauty in it. I had not originally planned to do this when I first started this post, but this morning I was thinking that it might be helpful to some to share a little bit about listening to classical music from an amateur. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t have much exposure to classical music until college. I grew up with “You’re Cheatin’ Heart” and other such lovely little ditties. 🙄 I can remember going to hear an orchestra with my Girl Scout troop and being fascinated, hearing a high school concert of Handel’s Messiah, and a few other exposures, and then when I got to college, I not only heard more classical music from some of the programs we were required to attend, but I had a Music Major roommate who got me started with some basic classical records. Then my senior year I was required to take Music Appreciation and loved it. But the first time or two I heard a whole concert, I was lost. I found a couple of parts that particularly appealed to me, but afterward I couldn’t have told you what they were. Listening more and learning more about classical music helped immensely. I don’t know a whole lot, but here are a few pointers for enjoying classical music:

1. Listen for the theme, a few notes put together in a specific pattern that repeats. This is easiest to do at first with something that is a variation on the same theme, like the second movement from Hayden’s Symphony No. 94, the Surprise Symphony (so called because it has some unexpected loud parts designed to wake up those who were dozing :)) or Ravel’s Bolero or the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The composer takes the same series of notes and repeats them with different variations: different instruments, different themes, different harmonies, different tempos and rhythms, etc. It’s similar to your music leader at church saying, “Everyone sing harmonies on the first stanza of this hymn, men sing the second stanza, ladies the third, then we’ll all join in unison on the fourth without the instruments.”

2. Listen for how the themes work together. This is easiest to do if the themes mean something to you, like in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture: the first part is here, the second part is here – I guess maybe it was too big for one YouTube video. It begins with what some people would consider high church or holy-sounding music, representing the friar, then goes into the the fight theme, representing the discord between the two families (the music picks up, clashes, you can imagine sword thrusts back and forth), then goes into the love theme (which you’ve probably heard at some point),  – and then all these themes start interacting, playing over and above each other as the young lovers try to connect amidst the fighting, the friar tries to help out, etc. Even if you can’t follow it line by line, you can get the overall feel of it. One of my favorite examples is The Moldau by Smetana, representing one of the rivers in his native Czechoslovakia. It begins with two streams that merge into a river, then the river flows alongside a country wedding, through mermaids, rapids, etc. It wasn’t until the Romantic Era that music was made to represent nature or literary themes on a large scale: before that it was mostly “absolute music” the same interplay of themes, but just as themes and not meant to represent something in life. Still nice, but a bit harder to pick out sometimes.

Two good piece for children are Peter and the Wolf and Carnival of the Animals (especially the latter with Odgen Nash’s poems in-between.

3. Listen for the progression. Like a good story, most classical pieces have a beginning, build to a climax, and then resolve.

4. Read up just a bit on the different kinds of compositions. A symphony, for instance, has 2 or 3 “movements,” and each one usually following certain parameters (the second is usually slower, for instance) and each with its own themes. It helps you not to feel so lost if you know a little bit about how it is put together and what to expect.

5. Learn a bit about the piece. Knowing that Dvorak’s New World Symphony was written when he felt America didn’t have a”national sound,” and that he invoked a lot of Native American and African-American-sounding themes in it, helps you get more out of it. The song “Going Home” is from the second movement.

6. Learn about the composer. A friend did this once: chose a composer and read about him while listening to various works of his to get the flavor of them. Knowing that Hayden’s situation and personality were both different from Beethoven’s, for instance, helps to account for some of the differences in their music.

You can see why Easy Listening music is called that. 🙂 It’s not that classical music is hard, necessarily, but you do get more out of it if you put a little more into it. And then just like any other song or story, once you’re familiar with a piece, you enjoy it, anticipate your favorite parts of it, etc.

I wish I had listened to more classical music with my kids. I had planned to have some sessions with one of these pieces playing in the background while we did other things, but I either never thought about it when we could have done it, or it never worked out as they got older and busier.

I mentioned my thirteen favorite classical music pieces here and some favorite CDs here (though I’d have several to add to that list now). Here are some of my favorite selections from different genres:


The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club: Chapter 2: “What Is Hidden Art?”

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It’s Week 2 of  The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club hosted by Cindy at Ordo Amoris where we’re discussing Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking, a chapter at a time.

Chapter 2 is “What Is Hidden Art?” Edith defines it as art found in the “minor” or “everyday” areas of life rather than art as one’s occupation or profession. Because we have different gifts and interests, the “hidden art” in each of our lives might look a little different. Because we have multiple demands on our time, no one can do it all. But incorporating some degree of artistry and creativity will require some discipline and prioritizing:

“All art involves conscious discipline. If one is going to paint, do sculpture, design a building or write a book, it will involve discipline in time and energy — or there would never be any production at all to be seen, felt or enjoyed by ourselves or others. To develop ‘Hidden Art’ will also, of course, take time and energy – and the balance of the use of time is a constant individual problem for all of us: what to do, and what to leave undone. One is always having to neglect one thing in order to give precedence to something else. The question is one of priorities” (p. 32).

But the discipline and prioritizing are worth it.

“It is true that all men are created in the image of God, but Christians are supposed to be conscious of that fact, and being conscious of it should recognize the importance of living artistically, aesthetically, and creatively, as creative creatures of the Creator. If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for us” (p. 32).

That doesn’t mean we can or should “drop everything to concentrate on trying to develop into great artists” (p. 32), nor does it necessarily mean we need to take courses in Art, which can sometimes discourage, making us feel “‘outside’ the magic circle of the talented” (p. 33). But we begin to develop an eye for seeing the artistic and then incorporating it in everyday ways.

I loved this chapter on many levels. I liked the encouragement to seek the beauty in everyday life as well as the acknowledgement that we’re limited in what we can do, and that’s ok.

In the “middle age” of life I’m in now, those limitations actually help provide focus. For instance, I’d love to learn how to play an instrument. I know I could take lessons even now in my mid-50s (I know an 84-year-old who takes lessons!) But I’ve sometimes said I have enough things I want to do to keep me occupied til I’m over 100. The time it would take to practice and learn an instrument well enough to begin to enjoy it is time I’d rather spend in other pursuits right now (though sometimes I’m still tempted!)

But though lessons of some kind can be beneficial and enjoyable, the focus of this book is more on little touches and everyday ways to incorporate creativity. I’m looking forward to the next chapters!

There is a Hidden Art of Homemaking Pinterest Board where members have been posting some of the everyday beauty in their lives, mostly outdoors shots so far. Here are some from around the house (some current, some past):

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You can find others’ thoughts on Chapter 2 here. Normally the link-up post is on Tuesdays. My Tuesday this week was taken up with hubby’s surgery for a detached retina, but I hope to be posting these chapters on or before Tuesdays from here on out.

The Hidden Art of Homemaking Book Club

HomemakingI saw at Sherry‘s the other day that Cindy at Ordo Amoris is hosting a read-along book club for the next twelve weeks or so to read Edith Schaeffer’s book, The Hidden Art of Homemaking. I had read this book some time in my early married years, and it had a great impact on me. I had been wanting to revisit it, and this provided the perfect impetus: it will be inspiring and enjoyable to compare thoughts with others while we work through the book. The idea is to discuss a chapter a week and then link up at Cindy’s to compare notes.

Sadly, I could not find my copy of the book! But I did find it online here, and that will tide me over until I can find mine or obtain a new copy.

As a young woman, I wrestled with the idea of wanting my home and even my dress to be attractive. Would we be more effective Christians if we spent less time on mundane, earthly things that will pass away and lived like John the Baptist? Edith’s book helped me greatly in that regard. In the first chapter, “The First Artist,” she goes into great detail observing God’s creativity and artistry in creation. When He created the world, He called it good. And even though it has been marred by sin, still “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1). God could have made the world just functional, but He also made it beautiful, not only for our enjoyment, but also that we might see something of Him in His handiwork.

She also discusses the ways in which we’re created in His image, and a part of that image which will reflect Him is in the area of creativity and artistry. We’re limited by the fact that we’re finite and inherently sinful, whereas He is not, but still, we can reflect Him in these areas. In later chapters she’ll acknowledge that we have other priorities and limits on our time and finances, but she’ll discuss simple ways of incorporating art and beauty into the everyday, such as this incident when a tramp came to the door, and instead of handing a sandwich out through a barely-opened screen, she made up a nice tray complete with flowers. She’s not talking about investing big bucks buying high-end art, though there is nothing wrong with that if one can afford it: rather, she’s discussing having an eye and developing a taste for bringing beauty and artistry into even the mundane, to bring enjoyment to others and to reflect His beauty.

We’re also supposed to introduce ourselves with this first post. My name is Barbara. I became a Christian as a teenager. I’ve been married for 33 years and have three boys, one of whom is married, and only the youngest is still at home. No grandchildren yet! I’ve been privileged to be a stay-at-home mom ever since my first pregnancy. Maybe because I did not come from a Christian home, or maybe because God just wired me that way, I’ve had a heart for creating a truly Christian home since before I was married (I even listed homemaking as one of the themes of my life.) I think every woman is a homemaker, because every woman lives in a home, and her home will reflect her personality to some degree, whether she’s single, married, with children or without, and even at this stage in life when the nest is almost empty. My husband has often said that if he lived alone, there probably would be nothing on the walls, and he doesn’t always understand exactly why I have certain things there, but he likes the hominess of it. One of my most treasured comments on my blog was from him on this topic.

Besides homemaking, I enjoy reading, some crafts (mainly stitching and paper crafts), and writing.

Those discussing the first chapter are linking up here this week. I hope you can join in! Even if you can’t read the books right now, I’d love to hear your thoughts on creativity and artistry in homemaking.