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Archive for January, 2012

An unseasonably warm spell with lots of sunshine inspires visions of spring.  Certainly we will have more winter.  We could have the blizzard of the century anytime in the next two months, and perhaps even in April.  But today we have 56 minutes more daylight than we had at the December solstice.  The sun is pounding into our sheltered garage opening.  Joe and I sat there this morning, basking in the ultra violet.  Regardless of whatever lies ahead, today we are celebrating our official Opening Day of Sun Bathing, 2012—although only our faces were exposed to the welcome warmth.

I love this season, when each week brings a fresh reminder that winter will give way to spring:  extra daylight, the chick-a-dee’s melodious “chick-a-dee-dee-dee”, a fresh earth fragrance emerging from melting snow.  Every year about this time I recall childhood seasons, and the late winter/early spring tonic administered by my mom.

Born twelve years before the widespread civilian use of penicillin, I grew up on remedies bequeathed by my two grandmothers who were gatherers of herbs and proponents of natural potions.  We had one tonic which was very sound, medically speaking, but not much fun to imbibe—cod liver oil.  I always felt like hiding out somewhere at cod liver oil time. 

But the late winter/early spring tonic!  That was a treat!  Whatever herbs went into the concoction are lost to my memory, but they must have been bitter to begin with because what I do recall is molasses—lots of molasses resulting in a spoonful of something incredibly delicious and sweet. 

Undoubtedly the tonic contained a source of vitamin C, much needed for the immune system as late winter/early spring always set the stage for potentially tragic dramas:  measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox, diptheria, and scarlet fever—spelled out in capital-lettered warning signs on the front doors of homes where disease lurked within. 

I thought of Seasons Past today, as I mixed a beverage with the above-pictured ingredients.  All the good stuff is there—fruit juice with nutrients and sugar, a package of Emergen-C powder, ice cubes, and Sierra Mist® for more sugar and a bit of fizz.  Rather than just a spoonful, I get to enjoy a tumbler of tonic for the Season Present!  :)

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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“There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.”

Robert Service, “The Cremation of Sam McGee”

For some unfathomable reason, every year about this time I get out my COLLECTED POEMS OF ROBERT SERVICE and read through the selections night after night—especially those narratives set in North America’s last frontier.  There is something infinitely exciting and wonderful in reading about the utterly frozen northern reaches of the world—when winter gales are howling outside our windows and we are snuggly secured in a warm bed, in a warm house.

My love for Robert Service goes back to the 1940s, and my Wauwatosa High School days.  Forensics were big in schools back then, and each year I competed in the dramatic reading division.  Always, someone would recite from Robert Service—choosing “Sam McGee” or the “The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and presenting these narratives with hilarious tonal effects as well as body language.

I wonder if (and seriously doubt that) contemporary young people have ever heard of Robert Service, let alone read him!  Do today’s students even know what a narrative poem is?  If not, I wonder if they have a gnawing sense of missing something vital—some integral aspect of the human experience!  The oral tradition of the narrative poem predates written history; it is as essential to the whole person as those material basics of water, food, and air.  Like music, the narrative poem is ancient and universal! 

I grew up on English language poetry—line upon line, volume upon volume, year upon year of it.  Ingrained in my soul are lines from classic narratives such as:

“The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding . . .

Riding . . . riding,

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.”

Alfred Noyes, “The Highwayman”

The spell binding quality of the narrative is unknown to many today; yet it is familiar to the youngest child whose parents have the good sense to read aloud to him or her from small babyhood on.  I have grandsons who love poetry, and write verses with ease, because their mother read to them from Day One—as she nursed them.  Children love narratives and any other poetry containing rhyme and meter.  Even an extremely active child will slow down and go dreamy eyed in the presence of a real poem—which, when read with sensitivity, is a form of music!

Perhaps many of us who write poetry today tend to eschew structure in our lines because of the Greeting Card Phobia!  Greeting cards are fun to receive, and I confess I sometimes send them to friends and family members.  But what is inside a greeting card is normally so generic and predictable, it deserves the classification of TRITE!  We poets tend to shrink from producing anything that might read like a greeting card! 

I know that I have written a number of “poems” which are not really poems at all; rather they are prose paragraphs strung out in lines to resemble a poem!  Contemporary poetry can abound in figurative language, apt metaphors, and depth of content.  Yet if you were to unstring some of my poems, and format them into paragraphs, you would be  struck by their “prosy-ness”!

Surrounded in my home by stacks and shelves laden with centuries of great poetry, I continually fill my hunger with pages from the past.  I honor my “debt” to our English language heritage by immersion—and thereby feed my eager soul in the process!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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When our son, Karl, was five years old he imparted to me a bit of wisdom that will serve me all my days on earth.  We were out walking, and we saw a baby robin hopping on the grass.  Karl commented, “If I ‘ketched’ a little bird, I would not put it in a cage.  I’d hold it for awhile, and then let it go.”

Life is an ongoing exercise in holding for awhile, then letting go.  Currently I am letting go of a beloved young family:  our grandson, Joshua, his wife, Kelly, and their precious children—Ethan, Cole, and Ella.  These Valentines (that is their last name!) are moving to California, where Josh has accepted a new job. 

Josh and his family have been our neighbors for the last two plus years, here in the northern reaches of our county.  They are the kind of people who show up and sit quietly by your side when you have been rushed to Emergency.   We’ve stashed away a treasure trove of memories with these young people—pizza outings, birthday celebrations, strolls in the park, and lots of ice cream occasions.  I have shed tears over losing this family, and I’ll undoubtedly shed more tears.  Yet I smile to think of Kelly enjoying San Diego.  Kelly and I are alike; we love warm weather!

I often reflect on how radical it was back in the 1800s when Easterners went West, facing incredible hardships and dangers.  Even more life changing was the uprooting of millions of immigrant families who came to our land from other continents, for a fresh start and the hope of a better life—or, as in the case of most of my ancestors, for religious freedom.  We can concentrate on thinking with all we have, yet we cannot begin to comprehend what those early settlers experienced—let alone the courage they displayed.

So California is not that far away, and it is not inaccessible!  A few hours by air.  Yet it sounds like the other end of the world to me, now that flying is no longer one of my favorite things!  I would relish a long trip on the Amtrak, but sitting on a train is not Joe’s idea of fun.  We’ll see what we can dream up.  Meanwhile our loved ones will be back to visit, with so much family in Wisconsin.

 ↑ Ethan (in front), Joshua holding Cole, Kelly holding Ella 

Letting go!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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At last, winter has dumped its trademark on our Northern land.  The world around our country condo and quiet park is heaped in the quiet beauty of winter.  Our little patio is heaped.  I love the charming top hats on the bird feeder and saxophone-playing frog—leaning against the feeder as if he were a bit inebriated.  Against the patio door you will see a five dollar poinsettia plant (fake of course) wearing a dusting of snow.  Soon the Christmas plant will be replaced by other fake blooms, until next December.

Now our local ski trials are being groomed for the cross country crowd.  “Downhillers” who long ago exhausted the limited thrills of Midwest runs will throng into airports and board for the high country.  I no longer ski, and I never was intrepid in the high country, although the Colorado Rockies are like a second home and I love to experience their beauty in any season.  While the rest of my family skiied in Colorado, my favorite sport was just sitting outside the lodge in that glorious Western sun and clear, dry air—while savoring a natural Rocky Mountain High.  But there is another winter sport that, in my mind, beats all:  the ceremonial indoor change to spring. 

Here is how it goes around the year.  Late every August I stash my Russel Wright IROQUOIS® dishes, Vaseline Glass pieces, and lemon yellow Depression Glass in a cupboard so that we can adorn our dining table and buffet with Carnival Glass pitchers and bowls, and a harvest-motif set of English china decorated with baskets of luscious autumn produce.  In mid-November, the harvest dishes yield to English Transferware in red and white—paired with ruby red Depression Glass.  Sometimes the red dominance remains in view until after Valentine’s Day, but not this year.  As of today, our village of Nashotah boasts 18 minutes more daylight than we had at the winter solstice.  I’m feeling those minutes.  Extra daylight, winter sun on fresh powder, and the joie de vivre have catapulted me into the new year in celebration of the sparkling season on hand and anticipation of glorious days ahead.

So last evening at dusk we made a seasonal change from red transferware and ruby red Depression Glass—to toothpick holders* and other accent pieces of Vaseline Glass, our lemon yellow Depression Glass sugar and creamer, and (once again) the Russel Wright IROQUOIS® Casual China in soft hues of yellow, green, blue, and pink.  Included in the dining table setting (pictured below), is the Prince Albert MOONLIGHT ROSES® teapot which Joe and I brought home from Cornwall in 1993.  A MOONLIGHT ROSES® cup and saucer accompany the teapot. 

The cliché “What goes around comes around” certainly fits!  Joe and I woke up this morning to sparkling snow outside, and a breath of springtime within—thanks to my passion for, and perennial delight in, seasonal ceremonies.

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

Note:  My parents gave me their gorgeous collection of toothpick holders, many of which are very old.  For years at other homes, we kept the entire collection on glass shelves in large windows.  Now I simply rotate these treasures around the seasons, color-coordinating the glassware with the time of year.

I often reflect on the toothpick holders.  Within my memory are many years before TV, cell phones, and Daytimer agenda books—when folks had time to sit around the dining room table, picking their teeth to remove those shreds of leg of lamb or pork tenderloin. 

Along with fostering a leisurely quality of life, toothpick holders and toothpicks were probably a substitute for flossing.  Certainly a Vaseline Glass toothpick holder and toothpick afford a lot more ambience than could ever be found in that yucky floss which dentists and hygienists badger (no, order!) their patients to use!

As I enjoy the toothpick holders and all the other lovely old glass collections in our home, it is also fun to reflect on how American glass manufacturers produced such exquisite wares during the heyday of art glass—due to special sands and soils in places like Ohio and West Virginia, and the amazing skills of the glass-artisans who immigrated from Eastern Europe.  We have a special cultural history, here in the USA!  MB

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Recently I’ve taken a fancy to Norman architecture.  This Romanesque style became entrenched in Normandy in around 950 A.D., and it was transported to England with the Norman Conquest (Battle of Hastings, 1066, if my memory of grade school days is correct).  The Norman Conquest resulted in the fact that many Britishers have French names (I know, that’s a “DUH”—please forgive me!), and a plethora of medieval castles and cathedrals resulted from the Romanesque/Norman influence.  These aged structures were built by highly skilled tradesmen, and a number of them have been preserved in Britain.

The painting pictured below depicts a Norman style cathedral at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin—just a few minutes from my home.  The Academy was formed in 1888, and the cathedral was built around the turn of the century.  Most of the campus buildings reflect Norman architecture, also called English Gothic.

There are reasons for my attachment to the St. John’s campus, its architecture, and especially the cathedral.   Our granddaughter, Leah, was married there in 2004.   The bell tower at the church issues forth beautiful music every Sunday before the morning services.  The bells also ring on Christmas Eve, at approximately 9:00 and 11:30 p.m.  In the summer, I sit outside and listen to the bells before going to my own church—but even in winter their magnificent resonance permeates our walls and windows.  We can hear the caroling bells indoors, as well as outside. 

The other reason for relishing this church is that I am making a “My Town” series of sketches and paintings, depicting sites around the quaint old part of Delafield—abstract renderings with a touch of realism.  In some of these paintings, the cathedral at St. John’s will be a prominent feature.  Pictured below is one of the Delafield series.

What an exciting adventure, to set off on a local tour—armed with my camera.*  As well as featuring Norman style architecture, the old part of Delafield sprawls alongside picturesque Lake Nagawicka.  The “My Town” series will have to include some of the sailboat races that take place regularly during summer weekends.  Memories are involved, as our family sailed that lake for many years.

Perhaps the friendliest photos and paintings will focus on the winding streets and charming homes in Delafield.  There are Cape Cods, bungalows, Edwardian farmhouses, and Victorian era pseudo-Gothics.  Until one hits the subdivisions which have mushroomed on the outer limits of “my town”, there are no two homes alike! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*Our photo shoot jaunts also include lunch!  :)

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An ornamental crab tree twists and turns outside our south facing windows.  The first summer we were here, Mother Robin built a nest within eye level and it was easy to spot hungry little beaks poking above the intricate basket work of the nest.  That nest came down the following winter in a violent storm, and we wondered if there would be another in its place. 

When spring came, we heard lots of musical commotion in the tree, but could see no signs of a nest.  Yet there was chirping for weeks, and there had to be birds there.  When the leaves came down last fall, we discovered the nest—high in the tree where only a giant could see.  So our ornamental tree is definitely a favorite spot.

For decades I’ve been combing my long hair out of brushes and combs, and saving it to distribute under trees in the spring.  I begin saving the hair in August, when the birdsong has diminished and nesting days are over.  By the following May, I have a commodious bag of hair to contribute to avian ecology.  For years, the hair in my bird bag was red, brownish, or blonde for an obvious reason.  Now our resident Mrs. Robin builds with  a “crown of glory”, my hoary white hair.  I’ve given up on the Loreal® dyed coiffure.  The dye fumes were bugging my asthma. 

(My friend, Elaine, has a beauty salon in her home, on an acre which resembles a park with gorgeous trees and shrubbery.  Elaine saves all her sweepings from hair cuts, for the birds’ nests.  She says her trees contain the most gorgeous, colorful nests imaginable!) 

I have enjoyable reasons for wearing long hair at this stage of.  Long hair is far easier to manage and control than short.  Since I love being a girl, looking my best means more and more to me as the years go by!*  And suppling nesting material for spring housing projects provides additional rationale for hair.  Long hair is literally “for the birds”.   :)

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*Note:  I’ve always maintained that, were I to lose hair due to illness or decrepity I would purchase a couple of long hair wigs:  one straight and Earth Mother Hippie-ish, and another curly and voluptuous like the hair on the old style Nashville singers.  Maybe I could get a Crystal Gale wig, with hair swinging between my ankles! 

Life is short!  Let’s have fun!!!

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