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Archive for September, 2008

It’s worth a try!

I have fallen in love with watercolors and watercolor pencils.  For years I wanted to try painting, but kept holding back because I was certain that I had no talent. 

What I didn’t realize was that even without talent one can learn a few things and have many hours of joy.  So I finally dug in, and have never looked back.  The above rendering was inspired by a photo sent to me by my friend, Mary.  Mary’s husband grows fantastic flowers and edibles, and Mary is gifted at arranging.  She has agreed to send me more photos of her beautiful table arrangements and I’m delighted.  

When we share our hobbies, we encourage each other.  Isn’t encouragement is a big part of what life is all about?  Perhaps you have some creative venture you dream of trying, but hesitate on the grounds of “no talent”.   Phooey!  Just try it! 

Obviously there are a few things that some of us probably won’t be attempting in later years–things like ballet and opera which take years of grueling discipline and training.  But most anyone at any age can pick up a paint brush, or knitting needles, or a garden spade.  

Creative pastimes are exciting and rewarding.  We were made in the image of a creative God!  Margaret L. Been

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It’s interesting how a voice from the past can come back decades later, as if no time at all had intervened.  During the years of World War II, our family listened to a radio commentator, Gabriel Heatter, nearly every day at supper time.  How clearly I recall his quiet, sonorous voice saying, “There’s good news tonight.”

Then just as now, there was plenty of bad news.  But Mr. Heatter was known for inspiring listeners with good news as well as reporting the bad during a time of severe crisis.  I thought of Gabriel Heatter last evening, as I watched the FOX NEWS report of yesterday’s bad news from Wall Street. 

Many of us have said, “America will pay for her fallen morality and materialistic values.”  Are we now witnessing the end of our present state of mindless prosperity?  Are we about to experience another example of what Charles Dickens wrote concerning the French Revolution era:  “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times”?

I’m the first to acknowledge that I enjoy “things”.  I am surrounded by things, most of which I don’t really need.  I like things!  But “things” are not my treasure. 

My Treasure is the Lord Jesus, who died for my sins at Calvary and rose victorious over sin and death.  My treasures are my family and friends, the sun, the stars and moon, the clouds in the sky, the wind, the seasons, and all that God has created for our daily wonder.  I treasure the freedom to speak my mind, to worship, to vote, and to live and work within the gracious framework of godly values.

These are the treasures on which our nation was founded.  I pray that beyond the confusion of Wall Street insecurity, corporate America folly, moral degradation, and the spiritual darkness of our times, the Real America still lives and breathes.

Will the Real America please stand?  We can yet say–as Gabriel Heatter said over and over during one of history’s most horrendous wars–“There’s good news tonight.” 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Highland Fling . . . .

“They came in the night when the men were asleep,

This band of Argyles, through snow soft and deep

Like murdering foxes amongst helpless sheep

They slaughtered the house of MacDonald.” 

Jim McLean, The Massacre of Glencoe

On a recent rainy afternoon, I decided to spend time Googling the ancestral roots passed down to me through my maternal grandmother.  All I knew of the Campbells of Argyll was that dastardly deed which most everyone knows about:  In 1692, Campbell soldiers accepted the hospitality of the MacDonalds in Glencoe and then murdered the MacDonalds in their beds.

I found volumes of information to print out, enough to provide fascinating reading for days to come.  I discovered that the name “Campbell” was the Gaelic nickname for one of their chiefs:  “cam-beul”, meaning “twisted mouth”.  (Nice!) 

According to the Heart of Scotland website:  “Memories run long in the highlands of Scotland and, we’ve heard tell, the bitterness between Clans Campbell and MacDonald continues to this day.  The clash between these two ancient Celtic houses, which has lasted for hundreds of years, is not just about lands, religion, Jacobitism, or even betrayal.  Rather, it is about power.”

The Campbells continually won in the power struggle.  While the MacDonalds were independent rebels, the Campbells aligned themselves with the existing powers.  (It sounds like they were politicians as well as warriors.  Perhaps that’s where the “twisted mouth” came in handy.) 

The Campbells did some good things such as supporting Robert the Bruce, a person worth lots of rainy day research.  And my grandmother, Phoebe Catherine Campbell, was certainly one great lady.  She came from a line of Scottish Protestant preachers and evangelists, and she was pleased with her heritage.

Just as there are Irish who cannot forgive the English, their are people in the Scottish Highlands who are determined to carry their grudge against the Campbells into eternity. 

Meanwhile, clansmen (and women) who immigrated to America have done a better job of getting on with life.  Rather than making war, the MacDonalds are making hamburgers and shakes–and the Campbells are making soup. 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Wisconsin is famous for many things such as cheese, ethnic diversity, severely cold weather, and the Green Bay Packers (although they’ll never be the same to me, without Brett).  

But how many people realize that Wisconsin is the birthplace of Gideons International, a non-denominational Christian organization dedicated to distributing Bibles in hotels, motels, clinics, hospitals, schools, and military bases around the world?

Thirty some years ago, Joe and I took a mini-vacation and stayed at an old hotel in the picturesque town of Boscobel, Wisconsin, on the Wisconsin River.  We were assigned room number (I think it was) 11.  On the door of the room was a plaque stating that the Gideons’ organization was formed in that very room, in 1899.

Although I travel with my own beloved Ryrie King James Bible or my equally treasured Scofield NIV, I always take the Gideon Bible out of its drawer immediately upon settling into a motel or hotel room.  When we check out of the room I leave the Bible open on the nightstand, to some favorite passage  This affirms the importance of the Bible being in the room, and it’s a visual testimony to my appreciation–both for the motel management and the ministry of the Gideons. 

On one occasion, there was no Gideon Bible in a room where we stayed.  Upon discovering this, I went to the head desk and said (with a tone of shock and disappointment), “There must have been a mistake made, as  our room doesn’t have a Bible.”

Well, the desk clerk was unable to produce a Bible, and perhaps that chain of motels has dropped the policy of keeping God’s Word in their rooms.  But I can at least hope that my gentle protest made someone think. 

Today a representative of Gideons International spoke at our church.  I’m always happy to meet these Christian workers, and I’ll never forget the treat of staying in the room where their organization was formed–in Boscobel, Wisconsin.  Margaret L. Been

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What a time of glory!  Even after a lifetime of autumns, the wonder of it has never worn off.  Memories of autumn hikes in Wisconsin woods are renewed each year as we discover new trails, new hideaways in the forest, new backwater streams to explore.

For over two decades we lived in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.  There bur oaks and shagbark hickories abounded.  How we loved the quiet, leathery tones of the oak leaves in shades of mustard, deep burgundy, and cocoa brown. 

Now we live in the North–the land of maples.  It’s as though God saved this special glory for our retirement years.  Up the back hill of our property, we have a guest house.  It’s like an eyrie high in the trees, many of which are maples.  Nearly every day I walk up the hill, to sit for awhile and absorb the growing red/orange circus of color.  Then I walk back down the hill, to savor the beauty of birch and aspen showering their golden glow on the waterfront home in which we live.

How fantastic is color!  It is everywhere in nature, for us to gather to our hearts and replicate in all facets of our lives:  our relationships, our labors, our hobbies, our clothing, and even in the paint on our walls.  

God is the original Artist.  He created color.  We can glorify Him, when our lives reflect the colors He has made. 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Bear season opened this week.  Now when we drive through the national forest just north of us we see pickup trucks, with cages for hounds in the back.  And when we go to town for a meal, we’re apt to hear soft southern speech issuing from restaurant booths.  Hunters come from places like Oklahoma and Arkansas, to hunt bear in Wisconsin.  Evidently the Ozarks’ bears migrated north long ago.

Although I normally side with the bears during hunting season (and later with the deer), I greatly appreciate the hunting culture as I was raised in it.  My Dad loved hunting, and he loved just being out in the woods.  I grew up with rifles, shotguns, and other firearms–carefully locked up in a gun cabinet, with the exception of the revolver which Dad kept in his nightstand.  He was ready for action, if needed.

Mounted on the walls of our lower level living room are the taxidermied head of a pronghorn antelope which Dad shot in Wyoming and one of a javalena that he bagged in Arizona.  (The pig looks ferocious, with wicked fangs projecting from his open mouth.  I had to assure one of our visiting grandsons that the javalena was really dead, and not just waiting to grab him.) 

Dad kept these stuffed treasures in his den for years, and before he died he gave them to me.  I promised Dad that I’d always take good care of his heads, and that pleased him immensely. 

There is something timeless about sitting in a room with wild game preserved on the walls.  It gives me a feeling of continuity with the past.  It’s as though the room has been transformed into an ancestral hall, and I’m transported to the setting of Beowulf. 

The above bear was a teeny bopper when he popped in on our deck one afternoon in July of 2007.  Now, if he’s still around, he’s quite a mature fellow.  As much as I respect the ancient tradition of hunting, I hope our photogenic 2007 visitor lives through the next few weeks!               

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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“The tale that river told was so strange, so mysterious, that all the listening in the world did not explain all that was in it.  Even River, who seemed to be doing just as he liked, was not entirely his own master.  Something the sea had said had got into his spirit . . . .”  Faye Inchfawn, WHO GOES TO THE WOOD

I love water:  oceans, lakes, bays, inlets, even ponds and puddles.  But I have a passion for rivers.  Perhaps the passion came to me through the genes.  It certainly was fed on favorite childhood poems and books.  I close my eyes, and hear a beloved cadence of yesterday:  “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night sailed off in a wooden shoe–sailed on a river of crystal light, into a sea of dew.”  Eugene Field

I often re-read childhood treasures set along river banks–books like THE MOTHER WEST WIND series by Thornton Burgess, WHO GOES TO THE WOOD by Faye Inchfawn, and THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame. 

Now, in this special time of life, we are blessed to live on a small bay off a flowage lake.  The bay and lake originate in “our river”, the Big Elk, just around the bend from our home.  We putter upriver in our canoe with a small electric motor, as quiet as a purring kitten.  After passing a string of summer cabins and one year-round home, we enter what seems like a remote wilderness of winding river–even though we are only a few miles from the county road.

My soul overflows with sights and sounds of the Big Elk and the progression of wildflowers that tell the season, sometimes down to the very week of the month.  Now, in late summer/early autumn, the Joe pye-weed lingers on sunny river banks, but it is diminishing fast.  Glorious goldenrod holds sway, along with tickseed sunflowers.  Purple asters offer complementary contrast to the golds and yellows of the changing season. 

A few leftover forget-me-nots wave their poignant farewell to summer.  Sometimes the sky blue forget-me-nots persist way into September on grassy logs floating in the river, or on secluded shores.

I have made a photo album of scenes from our river, along with quotes about rivers.  My album is a bedside companion during weeks of below zero winter nights.  When the Big Elk freezes over, I go on canoeing upriver in a current of dreams.

“Time is but a stream I go a-fishing in.  I drink at it, but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

 

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The above photo is not at all flattering of me, but come on folks!  I am not here on this earth to be flattered.  I’m here to live every moment God has given me, as fully and joyfully as possible.

The photo is quite flattering of Dylan.  He is a Pembroke Welsh corgi, and a constant provider of entertainment.  Here Dylan and I are responding to my Gypsy fiddle music which we are enjoying in my little “playhouse”—a vintage travel trailer parked out in back of our home.   I am clapping my hands to the music, and Dylan is wishing he could clap his paws.

You will note that we are both laughing in the photo.  Laughter is one of our greatest gifts.  And the ability to make people laugh is a special talent, given to a select few.

Countless famous writers and dramatists have made us laugh by poking fun at society and institutions.  The Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are perfect examples of side-splitting satire.  Stand-up comedians get a lot of guffaws when they mimic people, especially political figures and celebrities. 

But humor based on laughing at other people is not the greatest form of the art.  The truly great comedians are those who cause us to laugh at ourselves.  Four outstanding names of entertainers from the last century loom large in my mind:  Danny Kaye, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Carol Burnett.  These classic individuals have shed more light on human nature and lightened more burdens than we will ever know this side of Heaven, just by laughing at themselves and portraying characters who are every bit as silly as we are.  Inbedded in their surface humor is a profound well of truth:  we are not perfect people, we all have our idiosyncrasies, we all have times when we are very funny.  If we are unable to laugh at ourselves, we will die to any possibility of freedom and joy in life!

I once read that Joseph Stalin had absolutely no sense of fun–that he couldn’t even enjoy a simple pleasure like eating a bowl of strawberries.  It would take a gruesome monster without humor to murder tens of millions of people in cold blood, as Stalin did. 

Conversely, it takes a massive sense of humor to live successfully, with joy in one’s heart, and forgiveness and compassion for those around us.  Most anyone can make people cry.  It takes a real human being to make people laugh in wholesome, upbeat ways.  Laughter is a life-changing gift.  It’s one of our greatest gifts! 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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We have a funny story in our family, about tuna.  One afternoon years ago, I planned to have creamed tuna on toast for supper–a meal Joe and I actually enjoyed once in awhile.  Well, Joe came home from work early that day.  He saw the can of tuna on the kitchen counter, thought for a moment, and then said, “Let’s go out to dinner!”

Our youngest daughter, Martina, was still around then, and she picked up on that clue big time.  Frequently after that Martina would say, “Don’t you think we should have tuna tonight?”  Joe and I would agree, and off the three of us would go to one of our favorite restaurants.

We lived just west of Milwaukee in those days, so we had an abundance of favorite places to eat.  We could choose from Mexican, Italian, Oriental, and the ubiquitous steak house.  And there was always the Friday night fish fry, found most anywhere within easy driving distance.

Now we live approximately 290 miles northwest of Milwaukee.  In our pleasant northwoods town with its 1,600 (give or take a little) population, we still have plenty of tuna outings–for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  The ethnic variety is not here, but never mind.  I make good Mexican, Italian, and Oriental fare at home. 

We have several cafes to choose from, a couple of supper clubs, and–just outside of town–the quintessential northwoods pub with food served in a smoke free dining room apart from the bar.  We manage to hit all of these on occasion, but we do have our favorite–a homestyle cafe smack dab in the middle of our main drag.   This restaurant is called THE PHILLIPS CAFE, but Joe and I call it “Our Social Club”.

Sometimes I try to analyse why it is we always go back to Our Social Club.  We are just as apt to run into, and chat with, people we know at the other restaurants.  The management and servers are friendly and welcoming everywhere; this is a friendly community.  The food is good, or at least highly edible, wherever we go. 

We are not looking for gourmet cuisine–just an enjoyable meal.  We do like ambience.  One of the supper clubs has big cloth napkins–very appealing.  Yet we keep frequenting Our Social Club, with its container of miniscule, thin napkins.  (It takes several of these napkins to get through a meal neatly.)

After cogitating the weighty matter of why we favor Our Social Club, I’ve come up with the answer:  SUNDAY DINNER!  

There is nothing quite like a Sunday dinner after church, cooked and served by someone else.  It is a luxury.  The Sunday specials rotate at our favorite cafe with yummy offerings such as Pot Roast, Baked Ham, Ribs, Roast Turkey with Stuffing, Stuffed Pork Chops, Stuffed Cornish Hen–oh, you get the idea!  We come out of there STUFFED!  Soup/Salad/or Cole Slaw, a nice glob of mashed potatoes, and a piece of pie go with the meal.  I get extra gravy, as I simply can’t get enough gravy!  After these meals, Sunday truly is a day of rest.  One cannot do anything but rest on top of all that real food!

Yes, that’s real food.  With due consideration to the black beans and raw veggie crowd, I vote for the menu at Our Social Club.  We do love fresh fruit, garden tomatoes, Romaine lettuce, and various cooked vegetables.  I’ll sometimes tuck in a raw carrot or two, out of duty to my body.  But black beans can never take the place of meat.  And I believe that if God had wanted me to overdo the raw veggies, He would have given me long sharp front teeth, a cottontail, and a twitchy nose. 

Long live Our Social Club (where Joe and I are pictured above with our friends, Judy and Jerry).  And long live that fantastic can of tuna!        Margaret L. Been

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Each season has its excitement and wonder.  Autumn stirs my blood and rattles my “Gypsy soul”.  Perhaps it’s no longer “politically correct” to say “Gypsy”, but I shall use that beautiful word until I die.  Just the sound of it floods me with a sense of creative freedom!

As a child in a small Wisconsin town, I was warned never to go near the fairgrounds alone as Gypsies might be camping there.  A woman in our  town  claimed that her aunt had been stolen by Gypsies.  (Since then, I’ve read that Gypsies laugh at the rumor that they steal children.  They say, “We have enough of our own.  Why would we want to steal more?”)

Anyway, the story about a child being stolen by Gypsies was wildfire to my mind which loved to dwell on romantic fantasy.   And the story was the beginning of my lifetime interest in things Romany. 

While growing up, I played Gypsy in a closed back porch complete with walls, windows, and doors–severed from our Victorian home during a major remodeling project and abandoned in our back yard for a couple of seasons.  The porch was my Gypsy lair and I spent countless hours in it, arranging discarded kitchen utensils and cast off boxes and chairs, humming minor melodies, and dreaming of what Toad in THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS called “The Open Road”.

Now, many years later, the tinker’s caravan influence permeates our home.  All colors are welcome on and within our walls.  When it comes to furnishings, we think old is better than new (with the exception of mattresses, electrical appliances and plumbing).  All things timeworn, dog-eared, frayed, crazed, or loved from one generation to the next provide an elegant setting for this Gypsy soul who savors an occasional day on the open road but loves most of all to be at home.

Now that we’ve had a good soaking rain, Joe and I can build a Gypsy campfire in our outside pit.  I’ll plug my boom box into an outdoor outlet, and play Gypsy fiddle music.  An evening campfire, the plaintive strain of Gypsy violins, a Pembroke Welsh corgi at my feet, and the man I love beside me:  can anything be better than that? 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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