Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - February 2, 2024

Jo's cozy country home

A simple evergreen wreath on the front door was tied with a red scarf. To the left was a "wind chime”"made of a heavy chain and wire, with a metal star attached to the bottom. When I stepped inside, a feeling of warmth came over me.

Husband Art and I spent a couple of nights in early January at friend Jo's cozy home in southwestern Wisconsin. Her house always feels like an oasis - a refuge from the "chatter" of the outside world. Her bear hug greetings amplify the feeling.

Art and Jo were high school classmates who lost track of each other for several decades. They reconnected in 2000, when Jo was working as a vice president in a suburban Chicago bank.

She had lost her husband to cancer years before and had planned on returning to her family farm in Iowa when she retired. But at some point, it occurred to her to find something closer - a place where she could immediately spend weekends. She bought a small farm home with some acreage in Wisconsin's Driftless Area - so-called because the rolling land had never been smoothed by glacial drifts.

I don't know how many times we've visited her there, but we usually try to go at least twice a year - once in the winter and again in warmer weather. The winding Kickapoo River, together with the area's undulating hills, create a spectacular backdrop for people who call the area home.

The sense of serenity I feel at Jo's is due, in large part, to her hospitable nature. She is generous to her neighbors and visitors, and also to the many critters who stop by and sometimes stay. When we were there, the bird feeders near her windows were full. The apples hanging on nearby tree branches provided variety for her feathered friends. In the past, she also has played host to chickens, a donkey, and a mare.

Her adopted cats Deuce, Marvin, and Pearl pretty much have the run of the house, but can roam outside whenever they want. She mistakenly took Pearl for a female when he first appeared, but he is every bit a male as his "brothers." More often than not, I can find one of them snuggled on the quilts on Jo's bed or on the stone flooring of the breeze-way, warmed by the heating pipes below.

Jo probably best described our comfortable connection in a recent email:

Altho we don't get to see you two often, it seems as if we just finish an interrupted conversation the next time we're together. It was fun to relax with you ...

And relax we did. We spent morning hours in easy conversations over cups of coffee and warming our feet on the heated floors. We whiled away an afternoon in a "mall" filled with vintage items, books, clothing, and collectibles. In the evening, we curled up on comfy chairs, enjoying crackers, cheese, and wine in front of a crackling wood-stove fire. One night, we enjoyed a shrimp-and-linguine supper with crusty baguettes and red wine. Friend John, a columnist for the local paper, had joined us and we four topped off the evening by attending a free-movie night at the library in the nearby village.

Jo has a talent for putting seemingly unrelated items together in "tableaus" - "tableaux," if you want to use the correct French term. I always look forward to seeing what objects she has corralled to create new scenes.

This time, her dining table was adorned with a small evergreen centerpiece, and the window behind the table was decorated with fall leaves and a four-leaf clover suspended between two sheets of waxed paper. The play of light on the leaves was every bit as beautiful as any piece of artwork.

The miniature evergreens on the kitchen counter were contained within a tiny white picket fence. To the left stood a pineapple - a universal symbol of hospitality, something the home’s owner has in abundance.

Daughter Katie once commented that Jo's decorating style reminded her of photos she has seen in magazines, adding that most people wouldn't be able to pull it off, instead just creating a cluttered look.

Nell Hill's, a custom furniture company, posted an article - "The Art of the Tabletop Tableau" - that seems to get to the heart of the difference.

... the best interior spaces are the ones that tell the story of those who live there. Well-designed spaces are not just a collection of lovely furniture, artwork, lighting and accents. They are those that add a bit of magic, a mirror into the passions and pursuits of the home’s inhabitants.

... We love tableaux that intrigue a guest enough to pull them in, then reward them with something of wonder or whimsy, a whispered clue about what and who the homeowner cherishes....

Stacks of well-worn and new books speaks to Jo's love of reading. Ironstone dishes displayed in an open cabinet show her appreciation of the past. Baskets and wooden bowls piled with red tomato pincushions illustrate her sense of whimsy. The tiny donkeys and chicks peeking out from shelves, and a collection of pig-shaped cutting boards connect the visitor with her love of animals.

And while she loves all of her things, she emphasizes they are not to be treated as museum pieces to be looked at, but not touched. She likes nothing more than to see some object, once discarded because time has passed it by or it has become worn, find a new role in today's world.

Jo's hospitality and whimsical tableaux draw me in and make me feel cozy in her country home. And, as the article suggested, that's because together they speak to who she is.

Clockwise from top-left: Jo's quirky wind chime at the left greets visitors to her home; Deuce enjoying the heated floor; a photo from when Jo was caring for Scotty; chickens (left) and chicks adorn a shelf; leaves pressed between sheets of waxed paper; re-purposed candy-store containers hold kitchen staples; traditional Christmas decorations receive an injection of red provided by tomato pincushions; classmates chatting

Comments? [email protected].
Other columns from this year may be found at: Current year Index.
Links to previous years are on the home page: Home