Archive for October, 2008

Autumn, for all its blatant beauty, brings an inherent mood of melancholy.  For many of us, this autumn–with its ever-growing evidence of our nation’s decay–is especially poignant.  The world in which we were raised and the values we cherish have been ripped apart and scattered to the autumn wind.

For me, disillusionment over what America was becoming proved to be one of the steps God used, to lead me to trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s Cross for salvation.  It was late in the 1960s, when the climate of the Vietnam War led me to realize that I could no longer idolize my country.  I could no longer look to political leaders for hope and encouragement.

Obviously, God works on all levels.  As He peeled away my faith in human government, He worked on a far deeper level–stripping me of all confidence in myself.  Then He went to work on what had always been my foremost “idol”–my family. 

The daily strain of raising a large family undermined my belief that the family was the ultimate source of all happiness, contentment, and joy.  We did have joy, but there were terrific tensions and conflicts as well.  Deep inside, I seethed with anger over things I could not change or control.

I realized that there simply had to be SOMETHING MORE!   I thought that my quest for “something more” was a personal search for inner peace and tranquility.  I read and analyzed many of the world’s philosophies and religions, in pursuit of serenity in the midst of chaos. 

I delved into the ancient Eastern religions, thinking I could glean some age-old wisdom from them.  With every turn of research, I ran into an unyielding wall.  Yes peace was offered by these worldviews, and a life-attitude of stoic acceptance regarding the outside world. 

But I knew that some things in the outside world could never be accepted.  And nothing that I read or observed about the Eastern religions could help me accept the world within me–that “world” which I personally knew to be a tempest of anger and daily frustration.  Calm and serene on the outside, always doing whatever needed to be done, I was a totally depressed mess in my inner soul.

In the search (which I later realized was not me searching, but God drawing me) I examined the claims of Christianity.  I remember erroneously thinking, “That’s nice, but how irresponsible to think that another person could die for my sins.  My sins are my responsibility!”  

Finally, the day arrived when I realized I could never begin to deal with the sin and tumult inside me.  I could not change myself!  There was no eternal hope in my human frame.  I recall one morning in 1971 when I told my husband, “Something is MISSING from my life”. 

The very next day, I knew what was missing.  I visited a church where the Gospel was powerfully, cogently presented.  The lights went on in my mind.  As I left the church that morning, I recall shaking the astounded pastor’s hand and saying in a loud, definitive voice, “It’s TRUE!  I AM a sinner and I DO need salvation.  And Jesus Christ is my Saviour.”

Since that day in 1971, I have never looked back.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  When we belong to Him, He holds our future in His all-powerful hands.  As the storm clouds gather in our nation and around the world, we know that He is in control.  He will equip His believers with whatever is needed to weather the storm.

As our nation and its values are crumbling, we look up with confidence. Once we have trusted Christ for salvation we have the answers to life, revealed in Scripture. 

As the Lord Jesus Christ has promised in His Word, He will return to reign on earth as KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS!  He will establish peace and justice on earth.  He is the ANSWER!  

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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The three prairie girls in this 1986 photo are, from left to right:  my Aunt Lois, me, and our daughter, Martina. 

Aunt Lois was my dad’s younger sister, born in 1900.  I didn’t see a lot of her as I was growing up, as she always lived “somewhere else”–out of state.  I recall her breezing in for an occasional visit, bringing her world of refreshment with her.

When I was about 10 years old, Lois and her family lived in Berea, Kentucky where her husband was a pastor.  He also taught (I think it was agriculture) at Berea College.  Lois had gone in for mountain crafts, big time, and her enthusiasm was contagious.  She made dolls out of dried up, shrunken apple heads for which she sewed bodies and clothes.  Lois gave each doll a persona, and went around giving talks about her dolls–“talks” in which the dolls did the talking.

Aunt Lois learned the art of weaving in Kentucky.  She made her husband a suit–literal “fruit of the loom”.  She wore her own wares, especially flowing handwoven capes.  Lois’s wardrobe was unique and funky.  Although I didn’t know the word “funky” at the time, I loved her clothes.

Something snapped inside me whenever I spent time with this aunt.  I thought she was wonderful, and deep inside I think I knew I’d follow in her footsteps some day.  It took awhile.  As a teenager, college student, and young wife and mother I dressed quite conventionally.  But somewhere in my 4th decade, I came of age.  Like Aunt Lois’s shriveled up apple dolls, I found my persona and said good bye forever to the world of fashion. 

I absolutely revolted from ever again wanting to wear what was “in”, and whole-heartedly embraced the kind of clothes I loved (and still do love) to wear:  ankle length flowing skirts, floppy hats, tunics and vests, bangles and beads, long vintage shifts, wool sweaters, classic wool blazers–and sandals and/or boots.  Like Aunt Lois, I learned to weave.  From years of spinning, knitting, and weaving I’ve built a funky wardrobe.  Now I know the word “funky”.

Aunt Lois spent her last years in a state well suited to her personality:  California.  The above photo was taken at her home in Redlands.  At the time of our visit there, pulmonary illness was taking its toll in Aunt Lois’s energy.  But her zest for living hadn’t flagged a bit.  She died a year later, and I’m grateful that we got to visit her before she died.

Meanwhile, beloved family members never really die!  They live on, and they surface generations later in people who never even knew them.  I smile to see Aunt Lois’s creative enthusiasm popping up in some of the younger women in my family.  It’s in the genes. 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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We thought the bears were in bed for the winter, but here is a cute little hold-out.  He visited our corn feeder last night, just a few feet from our bedroom window.  Joe and I, and Baby Dylan (our corgi who sleeps in our room) slept through Little Bear’s snacktime which was recorded on our outdoor, motion-sensitive camera. 

Our visitor also cleaned up on our bird feeding deck in the front of the house.  He knocked over a large wooden planter, so something must have gone bump in the night.  But we are sleepers.

Since we see no traces of Mother Bear around, we think this little guy was orphaned during the recent bear season.  Our county has one of the largest bear populations in Wisconsin, and many bears are taken out every year.  But there are always more.  Although I don’t care to have them ripping up our porch, I have to admit I like bears:  live ones such as the above-pictured fellow, or the make-believe bears that sit on our guest beds and in cozy corners here and there around our home.  

One of the many fun things about living in the far north, is the fact that you hear bear stories wherever you go.  And judging from the healthy look of the above youngster, I trust he (or she) will provide us with some stories to share out next spring.  

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Yesterday our granddaughter, Alicia, drove 5 hours to spend time with us.  What a treat!!!  We visited over lunch, and enjoyed a mellow afternoon of refreshing conversation about the important things in life:  our Lord, the joys of family, and our creative pastimes.

Alicia is an inspiring young mother, expecting her third child.  Her life is full of things that matter.  She’s a resourceful Proverbs 31 woman, tending to her family’s well being while finding time to feed the creative springs within her.  She makes beautiful quilts for family members and friends–lasting expressions of love that warm bodies as well as hearts. 

Alicia is a REAL photographer.  She’s an artist with film, and she has actual cameras with dials, settings, and lenses.  She knows the ins and outs of developing and refining photos, and looks forward to setting up her own dark room in her home in Minnesota. 

I shrink from making generalizations, but here is one I’ve pondered again and again because I believe it contains a profound truth:  women who keep their minds active with edifying reading and their hands filled with satisfying crafts are (generally speaking!) contented women–even in the midst of difficult circumstances. 

Creative options are endless.  They range from reading, writing, gardening, raising pets, raising houseplants, home decorating, baking, cooking, quilting, weaving, spinning, knitting, crocheting, basket-making, pot throwing, mosaic tiling, scrapbooking, rubber stamping, rock polishing, upholstering, chair caning, rug hooking, woodworking, welding and metal crafts, photography, and jewelry making–to possibilities within the fine arts:  music, drama, painting, etc.  The above mentioned options only skim the surface of exciting things that God has created to fill our minds, hearts, and hands. 

I believe that the woman who fills her life with creative interests is an extremely happy woman–even in the midst of family chaos, economic challenges, or illness.  I know, because I’ve been there again and again! 

When a person is excited about something she is making, dreaming of making, or researching to make, she’ll not be easily discouraged by the ever-present issues of life.  She’ll refuse to be preoccupied to the point of distraction, with the hard things that are happening around her. 

Conversely, the woman who is engulfed in relationships and duties to a point of having no vibrant, creative life of her own often lives in a state of confusion.  She reflects imbalance wherever she goes, and she seems unable to grasp the concept of laid-back, creative living.  She’s unable to carry on a relaxed, refreshing conversation such as I enjoyed yesterday with Alicia. 

To the woman who lacks a creative focus, life is all about “problems, problems, problems”.  She forgets (or perhaps has never considered that) everyone has “problems, problems, problems” to some degree–especially when choosing to view life as “problems, problems, problems.”  

Meanwhile, the woman whose eyes light up when she sees a bolt of colorful fabric, or skeins of slubby handspun yarn, will never be bored–and she’ll share her enthusiasm for life wherever she goes.  Of course she’ll have problems too.  The contented woman will have as many personal and family concerns as anyone else.  She’ll have tremendous heartaches.  We all have them!  

The contented, creative woman will have days when she feels that the ground is collapsing beneath her feet.  She’ll have days when she needs to share a heartbreak, or just “sound off”.  The creative woman may have far more real issues to deal with than those who talk of nothing but “problems, problems, problems”.  And she’ll have compassion and concern for the world’s problems.  

But the creative woman ultimately puts issues in perspective.  She’ll refuse to let problems dominate every bit of her conversation for hours, weeks, months, and years on end.  

The creative woman refuses to live in a state of never-ending frenzy.  Yes, there will be awful days and formidable weeks, but the contented woman will try to avoid spreading an incurable pandemic of bad news.  The creative, contented woman has chosen to give the upbeat, beautiful things top priority in her mind, heart, hands, and life.

How blessed I am to have Alicia and many other granddaughters–and daughters plus nieces–who spread refreshment and inspiration wherever they go!  There is so much beauty and goodness to embrace, while we still have time on earth.  We have no idea what’s around the next bend, but we do have this moment of time–to live in grateful worship with our minds, our hearts, and our hands. 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Recently I heard on FOX news that plastic is under suspicion.  According to a scientist at NYU, laboratory rats are not faring well with food stored and/or cooked in plastic containers.

Although sporty folks who ride bikes and hike mountains with their trendy plastic water bottles may not like this news, I immediately experienced an upsurge of joy.  Why?  I’m batty about glass!

A few years ago I mourned a great loss at our local supermarket.  Mrs. Butterworth suddenly presented herself and her yummy contents in PLASTIC!  No more gorgeous brown glass bottles to set in a sunny window! 

I had only 2 Mrs. Butterworth glass bottles left, from what once had been a considerable collection.  One of our adult sons (I won’t embarrass him by mentioning his name) and I went through a time of hilarity.  We hid Mrs. Butterworth bottles among each other’s belongings, ever time we visited back and forth.  I would find Mrs. Butterworth lurking in my wool basket, and our son would find her taking refuge in his underwear drawer. 

Obviously, that harmless albeit silly tradition ceased after our son married.  Still I had plenty of the brown glass bottles.  But when we moved I disciplined myself to transporting only 2 to our new home–thinking, I can always get more when we need the syrup.  Alas!

Since then I’ve seen an ever-increasing amount of items packaged in plastic, and that has made me very sad!  Glass is so incredibly beautiful, and plastic is so hideous (with the possible exception of my serving spoons and spatulas which I use with Teflon appliances; these utensils come in wild and funky colors, and their colors preserve their respectability). 

There are holdouts.  Olive oil bottles still come in glass, and they are breathtaking as a centerpiece, holding a small clutch of wildflowers.  Smuckers jam and jelly jars are priceless to me.  They also hold bits of flowers, and they are great for pencils and paintbrushes at my art table. 

I always wash glass containers carefully, to keep the labels intact.  The labels are things of beauty in themselves–adding color and interest to a table setting or studio.

And then there are the vintage bottles.  How wonderful they are, especially the ones that are irrevocably clouded and stained.  What stories they would tell if they could talk.  I have scuzzy old medicine bottles, and one cobalt blue bottle that is totally bent out of shape but not broken.  It must have rested for years on a junk heap, where hot metal reflected the hot sun–acting as a kind of kiln to distort the shape of this bottle.  Talk about treasures in the junk heap!

So, kind rats, thank you for your sacrificial indication that plastic may be injurious to our health!  Long live the rats!  And may we see a renaissance of glass on our supermarket and drug store shelves! 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Do you ever wonder what’s happening around you, in your community and quite possibly in your very own church? 

On this blog I’m taking a brief pause from fun and/or philosophical reflections on decorating, solitude, family adventures, and table manners to share what is happening in my community and church.  If interested, please check another blog of mine:  http://hiswordistrue.wordpress.com/

The scenario described therein is sad.  But God is in control!  His plan will prevail!  Maranatha

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Gracious meals are something Joe and I have always insisted on, whether at home or at a restaurant.  The above table setting recalls a special Valentine’s Day tea for two, but even with everyday food and dishes we are committed to being gracious!

At party dinners, Joe has always insisted that no one sit down to the table until I am seated (either by Joe, a son, or a grandson). 

At all meals, he makes sure that no one starts eating until I have taken my first bite.  This was hilarious in the past when we had holiday dinners for 18 or more people, but I’ve always been thankful for a husband who insists on good manners.  I grew up with these kind, gentle traditions.  Pleasant manners add much to a family’s wellbeing.

No one begins to eat at our table until everyone present has food in front of him or her–whether we are eating at home or at a restaurant.  A partially cooled-off meal is of no consequence in light of the lovely consideration shown to others when we wait for them to get their food. 

(The “hog and trough” buffet chains drive Joe and me a little nuts, as we see people loading up their plates and commencing to sit down and pig out while others in their party are still standing in line to get their food.  I call this “autistic eating”.  Unless a person is literally starving, or needs to catch a plane, there is no excuse for self-focused behavior during a meal–unless, of course, we are dining alone!)

In the proverbial nutshell, good table manners (and any manners!) are all about basic consideration for others.  We show our love by being very careful not to gross other people out at the table.  Chewing and talking are never to be done simultaneously. 

In appreciation of beauty and ambience, no cereal boxes–or milk and juice bottles–are allowed on our table.  Perhaps a bottle of salad dressing or a decorative jam jar will be tolerated, but that is as far as we’ll compromise.

I prefer cups and saucers to mugs at the table, but many people can’t stand to drink out of a cup.  So I have some lovely porcelain mugs, made in England, which I purchased for a song at T. J. Max.  (It’s amazing what a person can find in the back of that store!)  A decorative mug is a concession to practicality, and to those coffee drinkers who want more brew than a standard teacup can hold.

I love to browse poetry websites, and today I found a classic bit of doggerel.  We raised our children on this jingle, and they thought it was a riot.  But the message (and our example) must have stuck, because we enjoy eating with our family members! 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S. Here is the poem–a sample of how humor can be a good teacher:

The Goops

The Goops they lick their fingers

And the Goops they lick their knives;

They spill their broth on the tablecloth,

Oh, they lead disgusting lives.

The Goops they talk while eating,

And loud and fast they chew;

And that is why I’m glad that I

Am not a Goop, are you?

by Gillette Burgess 

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Autumn moves quickly in the northwoods.  Much of the blazing glory is over, blown down by this week’s rain and high winds.  We’ll still have some warm, drowsy days for campfires and hikes.  But for the rest of the year any moments of outdoor languor will be shadowed by the realization of what lies immediately ahead.

Nostalgia overwhelms me with memories, when I least expect them.  I recall those years when our children were young–when long dark nights meant extra time for reading, playing games, munching popcorn, and sipping hot cocoa.

I think of our grandchildren maturing seemingly “over night” from babies, toddlers, and young children who have happily filled my days, to young adults who continually bless me with friendship. 

With a sense of fulfillment I think of the new generation, the great-grandchildren who will be treasured friends “tomorrow” if God grants me a tomorrow.

Gut loneliness waves over me as I reflect on my parents, my sister and only sibling, my grandparents, and the aunts and uncles who died leaving me with remnants of 19th and 20th century life.  From these remnants, I’ve fashioned a metaphorical quilt to warm me in the 21st century where I often feel like an alien. 

My quilt is a soul brimming with poignant nostalgia made of genuine, durable cloth rather than sentimental fluff.  It appears whenever needed–providing riches of pattern, texture, color, and the fragrance of joy.

The year is waning.  Soon we’ll be engulfed in the joys of holiday family gatherings.  Then come the long, quiet days–those northern winter months that challenge our creativity and draw us closer to the essence of life.

Meanwhile, after December 21st the sun will head back to our hemisphere–gradually illuminating our winter a little more each day.  How beautiful, how inspiring, is the cycle of the seasons! 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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The recent trend in monochromatic neighborhoods nearly breaks my heart!  What gives?  Why do people in cities across the USA (at least the ones we’ve visited) have to live with 3 shades of taupe and an occasional white? 

Maybe some like those hues, and that’s fine.  But for subdivision covenants and codes to inflict conformity on everyone seems un-American.  Our constitution might be amended to include the freedom to paint a house any color of choice!  Sarah P. seems like a lively lady.  Maybe she’d promote that.

Not so long ago, color was “in”.  It certainly never went “out” for me.  Remember the pink, lime green, and orange of the 1950s?  Those colors live on inside our guest house.  Since the guest house is factory made, we had little choice in the exterior siding.  But I was able to pick a pale pinkish-tan which is really very nice.  In the sunlight, it’s almost a pink house.

The home we live in has wood paneling on the walls, so color must be achieved with art and fabrics.  That works.  The outside of our home has been painted aqua, with coral trim.  You get the picture.  We love color!

Now for some magnificent news.  As of Friday (God willing and the creeks don’t rise) we are getting a RED REFRIGERATOR.  A few months ago, I started searching online, and could find no colored appliances–except for a retro reproduction in a variety of colors for $3000.00 or more.  No thank you. 

We’d nearly resigned to getting a normal white refrigerator which Joe would paint in the color (or colors) of my choosing, when we found that Home Depot now offers a red Amana in a decent price range.  The red model was not on the floor, but we saw it in the flyer and ordered it.

That was quite a few weeks ago.  The refrigerator has been on back order all this time, and we wondered if it hadn’t even hit the factory assembly line.  But today we received the news that our dream is in!  It’s scheduled for delivery.

When I mention the red refrigerator, people who have never been in our home ask (rather anxiously) “Will that go in your kitchen?”  But those who have visited our home know that anything goes here.  I’d have been delighted with any color that really looks like a color.  Just no white, black, stainless steel, or any of the 3 shades of taupe.

Won’t the food taste great, coming from a red refrigerator?!!!  

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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Yesterday at dusk I walked in the silence of autumn.  Canadas murmured their soft gabbles in the river around the bend, but the road where I walked was completely still, foretelling the long quiet season to come.

I was reminded that there are very few places left on earth, where silence reigns and souls are refreshed by nature.  Even when people realize their inherent need for times of solitude, they are challenged to find a place that is outwardly still. 

Our present day mentality militates against God’s directive to “Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:10)  Everywhere, there are means of verbal communication.  Everywhere, people are issuing irksome and unsolicited advice, telling others “how to”, blowing their horns, and sending off an endless volley of words. 

Telephones are no longer confined to homes and offices.  Some individuals keep a radio or television on all the time in their houses–even without listening or viewing.  Can’t they handle being alone in silence?  Are they afraid of their own thoughts, or even worse don’t they have any thoughts on which to reflect?  Perhaps they’ve never bothered to feed their minds with anything significant.

Words are necessary, and often precious.  But every human needs time out from words, time to think deeply so that his or her future words will be more sensitive and honoring to God.  Just as the earth winds down and relaxes in the stillness of autumn and winter, we humans need to find ways to be still.  We grow in proportion to the amount of time spent in meaningful reflection on God’s Word and its application to our lives.  We mature as we process our lives through the grid of God’s truth!

Long ago when my husband and I were courting, we discovered one of the main reasons why we loved each other so much and would be compatible partners for life:  we loved to share a deep, companionable stillness.  Joe and I found that we could walk for hours, hand in hand, without ever saying a single word.  Those were our happiest times, even better than the glitzy formal balls we attended and the frequent social evenings of bridge and lively conversation.  Being together in solitude, holding hands quietly throughout life, has been a major, cohesive factor in our relationship for nearly 60 years.

After our marriage, many children came along to share our solitude.  Although we had plenty of animated conversation–talking with and listening to our children and their friends–we managed to keep our inner core of quietness as we projected the benefits of shared, reflective silence to those around us.  Our family has never detracted from the inner solitude and contentment that Joe and I share.  Instead, our family members have been touched by our lives and they tend to build the same serenity into their souls.  We can be together, while continuing to maintain and nurture that quality of reflective stillness that builds caring individuals, families, and friendships.

After all, creative solitude is an attitude of heart.  Even if we don’t have a place to walk in the restorative silence of nature, we can deliberately fashion a time of silence and reflection wherever we are.  As a survival tool, I’ve had to heed the mandate to “Be still and know that I am God” in many circumstances.  I’ve reflected in “solitude” in some of the noisiest, most hectic places on earth:  airports,  hospital emergency rooms, and sometimes even in the bustling foyer of a quintessential Evangelical church before the Sunday morning service!

As much as we love human society, Joe and I must have our days of shared silence–contentedly holding hands, with like minds and quiet mouths.  Our peace and ongoing passionate romance depend on the times when we are still.  And very importantly, our reflective moments enhance our times of private, personal conversation with one another.  Depth of conversation requires depth of thought.

I love the seasons of growth and active life, the flurry and creative frenzy of spring and summer.  With all my heart, I feel the sadness of the dying year.  But I also love the autumn days of winding down.  I anticipate those deep, silent weeks of winter–those days that offer a visual illustration of God’s command:  “Be still and know that I am God.”

P. S.  Please check http://gracewithsalt.wordpress.com/ for my devotional reflection, “Words that wound, words that heal . . . .” 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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